Invisible Deadline- (climate forcing)

Week 5 was definitely one where it payed to go to all three sustainable development lectures. You see, after the first lecture with Richard Moles you would question whether or not climate change is as big a threat as it is hyped up to be, aswell as the extent to which we are contributing to the problem. He outlined the natural factors that influence the global climate which included solar output variations over hundreds of years, major volcanic eruptions, carbon stores in rocks, plate tectonics. The question you could have asked yourself at this point was; are we being self-important in making a big deal about a process that is purely natural? If the mammoths and sabre toothed tigers had to deal with it, why shouldn’t we have to?

In the next lecture we learned  the grim reality. According to climate research scientists, additional amounts of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.) are resulting in global warming beyond which could be attributed to natural causes. Of course this is old news, but it is the scale of the issue and how it appears to be so mismanaged that makes it so worrying.  The most recent UN climate change negotiations held in Cancun saw  a goal  put in place to limit global temperature increases to, at most, 2 C. The scientific consensus on this figure is that up to this level of increase, there shouldn’t be any runaway impacts. However at the same conference in Cancun, the emissions reductions pledged by individual countries would actually result in a global temperature rise of 3-4 C. This is a typical outcome of these major summits. Many countries are unwilling to cooperate fully as they feel they are getting a raw deal. This is particularly true of America who feel developing countries need to come on board.

So who will make the necessary changes, and will they be made on time? You could use the school metaphor to explain our global predicament. It is like the person who leaves their homework to the very last minute to do. Of course this doesn’t matter so long as it gets done,but imagine if the teacher brought forward the deadline and you were left to face the implications. You see, as of yet we are still procrastinating in taking the appropriate measures, and when we finally do feel the need to implement drastic change it may be too late. Many feel we may  be lucky to stablise Co2 at 550 ppm(parts per million).That is 100 ppm above the “safe level”. There is a deadline with regards to the action we must take, but will we be diligent students and carry out the necessary measures or will we leave it too late and face the punishment. If I was a gambling man, and I am occasionaly, I’d be leaning towards the latter scenario at the moment unfortunately.

References:

Lecture Notes

http://oilprice.com

 

Critical Thinking- WHY?

I think the week 4 lectures on critical thinking were very appropriate when it comes to the sustainable development module. As we progress with the module and are presented with more and more information, I believe it is important to keep an open mind and remember the various facets of critical thinking that make it easier to research a topic and get an accurate picture. While I’m sure the information the lecturers present is as unbiased and accurate as possible, there are many sources that we may come across in general research for blogs etc. that employ various tactics that sway the reader or appeal to their emotions. This includes the use of rhetoric or fallacies that are designed to appear rational, e.g. in the debate about climate change,parties confuse association with causation. See the link below which shows a number of logical fallacies that I think provides a strong case for critical thinking.

http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx

When the word critical is used it never seems to be good, and so even critical thinking harbours some negative connotations when first introduced. But critical thinking is a positive exercise and I think it is a pity is wasn’t given another name. It is not about being overly negative or giving a critique as criticism or arrogance. In fact, these are some of the barriers to critical thinking. The result of proper critical thinking is a well-balanced, and accurate portrayal of the topic in hand.

 One of the things from the lectures that stood out for me – I suppose because I can relate to it – was one of the barriers to critical thinking. That is focusing only on operational learning(“know-how”) rather than on conceptual learning (“know-why”). I think this is something that I and many more have always done. The important thing when in school was getting thins done, and what you needed to know for this was “how” to do it. Who cared “why” you had to do whatever it was the way you did, once you had it done you didn’t have to worry about it and you were free to do what you wanted, and if I’m honest it is still a bit like that in college. So, at least there is room to improve if we ever feel like improving. You have to say though, Joe Meehan is probably right, the real questin is:  WHY?

Cloughjordan

Friday morning of week 4 and we were up bright and early, and thanks to the new motorway we were in Cloughjordan before you could say eco-village. I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand from the village with respect to where one would put it on the scale of green,where 1 means that you are basically Amish, and 5 means you made some minor eco adaptions to your house. In hindsight I suppose Cloughjordan struck a balance at about a 3, but it was clear from the pre-tour talk that i wasn’t the only one who possibly expected something a bit more radicle from the point of view of new, green technologies. I’d say we could be forgiven for having been of this mindset however since we are undertaking a course that will ultimately lead us down this path.

However, thanks to Davey and the other speakers who are part of the village initiative I was set straight. It is the aim of Cloughjordan to encompass so much more than advanced eco-friendly technology, and you have to admit that in this country with our inhibitive regulations and reluctant county councils that this is a good thing. Would Cloughjordan benefit from reed beds?….probably. And are there more advanced green technologies than are present in the village?…possibly. Then is Cloughjordan as a project, all that radicle?,… the answer is yes. Cloughjordan is not just a village where there are a cluster of houses with reduced carbon emissions. The aim of Cloughjordan is that it becomes a sustainable community, and this is where the village really ties in with our module. The project has as much to do with social aspects as it does with environmental ones. The village aims to bring together a group of like-minded people who will work together as a community “that can be successfully continued into the indefinite future”,”where direct human involvement in the institutions is promoted”.It aims to be a “place supportive to healthy human development”.

The social and sustainable aspect are seen in the community farm project whereby the 12 acres of land on site along with another 28 acres locally, will be farmed to produce a wide variety of foods that are the made available to the community.The people of the community pledge support to the farm with a small weekly contribution and the initiative itself is not-for-profit.This is the essence of sustainability, where people are willing to come together democratically and decide to enrich the whole community through a project such as this, all the while creating local resilience and less of a dependence on foreign corporations and governments.To quote an old African proverb I found on the village website, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  The Cloughjordan project is probably going to be the fore-runner to many other similar projects. The village and it’s aims are certainly a large step in the right direction when it comes to sustainability.It comes down to us again, whether we will accept this as the the way forward,how long this will take etc. I think it is a given that we will have to emulate Cloughjordan from a social point of view. The days of plentiful supplies of cheap energy are dwindling along with all the get rich quick schemes that go with it.Cloughjordan’s not-for-profit farm initiative has set the bar, now it’s up to us.

http://www.cloughjordan.ie/mainpage/index.htm

References:      http://www.thevillage.ie/

Silver Lining-(oil reserves)

I think week 3 proved to us that no matter what way we look at the situation regarding oil production,be it through the eyes of  optimist,realist,or pessimist we are on the brink of a major global crisis, or for us energy heads, a major challenge. There are endless amounts of publications on the area of global oil reserves, and predictions  about both demand and production trends,but suffice it to say that opinions vary widely between all the parties involved in this situation. There is however, no getting away from the facts that Colin presented to us last week.  Peak oil,- which if it has not already been reached,is fast approaching- will pose obvious problems.Oil prices will increase dramatically due to supply not meeting demand and the demand for oil is increasing due to the development of countries such as China and India. Even Africa has seen consumption of  its own oil increase steadily in recent years.see chart of production and consumption in the Sudan.

Another issue that will fuel the pending crisis,(pardon the pun),is the firmly held belief that Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern countries have exaggerated the size of their oil reserves in order to attract and maintain foreign foreign investment. A recent wiki-leaks publication has outlined how these countries have oversold themselves.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/08/oil-saudiarabia?CMP=twt_gu

The recent rise in prices has seen oil hit a two year record in reaching $100 a barrel, and  according to Paul Harris,Head of natural resources risk management with Bank of Ireland this figure will rise to $120.This will have implications for us in that it will:

  • trigger a rise in some food prices due to increased transport costs
  • lead to higer energy bills as oil is a raw material in electricity generation
  • cause petrol and diesel prices to increase further

 While this all seems like impending disaster and we are now counting down the months until oil ceases to be a viable option as a fuel source, it is not all doom and gloom. Every cloud has a silver lining and on a positive note, we as an energy class, are the people who will be tackling this problem, and therefore you could say we are undertaking the most relevant course of all.And just think of the benefits to the environment if a clean and  efficient alternative to oil becomes widely available as a replacement.The likely turbulence of the next few years could be seen as an opportunity to change for the better.This brings us back to the idea of sustainability. If we were to reevaluate what is important to us and to strip away the unnecessary elements that make up “the good life”, doing things for ourselves,we would become less reliant on distant, and lets face it, dishonest governments and corporations.

References :

Anthropocentrism V Ecocentrism

Week 2 and the module has really kicked off. In our first lecture of the week Mags took us through the development of environmentalism. This was  practical in that it is often easier to progress if one knows where they are coming from,and progressing in this field is what many of us will probably aspire to do, be it in alternative energy or any other form.

In lecture one we touched on what I would call our first real cause for thought,the idea of anthropocentrism versus ecocentrism,which was echoed in lecture two with Peadar Kirby and again with Mags in lecture three. Anthropocentrism is the idea that we as human beings are central and we can do what we like when it comes to environmental management. As far as anthropocentrism is concerned we can take and use as much of the earths resources as we want so long as we fulfill our innate greed and make a profit. Although I don’t think our energy class agrees with this idea since nobody stood in the Free Market group in friday’s exercise.

Ecocentrism, on the other hand is more centered on nature of which humans are only a small part,and therefore should act accordingly, giving the earth the care and respect it deserves. This correlates with the Deep Ecology group on friday, in which there were a few supporters but were probably a minority.

Ecocentrism

Ecocentrism

Most of the class lay in the in-between groups of Sustainable Development and Green Economics, and this for me is the hard part, deciding exactly which group your values puts you in. This  requires serious thought, so if there is anything to be taken from this week it has been some real food for thought. And just to touch on Peadar Kirby’s lecture, the question for us is; whether we will content ourselves with the locally produced,ecocentric food, or whether we decide we need the production line, widely travelled anthropcentric food.Oh, the dilemma! The matter of food/biofuel production is a serious one ,seehttp://climaterealists.com/?id=3229.

 This issue is one that im sure we will be addressing in our lectures as it is one that is particularly relevant when you consider the rising global population and therefore food demands, and also the need to tackle climate change.See

 It is going to make for interesting blogging. And that reminds me, it was good to see that a couple of us had heard of this thing called sustainable development when Peadar Kirby asked in lecture number five of the module,Ha!

Sustainable Development

Week 1 and we were introduced to this new concept of sustainable development. It soon became clear that this is not the easiest concept to pin down under any one heading, and this is why we are to expect numerous different lecturers from a wide range of fields. Sustainable development encompasses so much-(environmental,social,political and economic factors)- that to limit it to one single lecturer wouldn’t do it justice.

It certainly looks as if  it is going to be one of the more interesting lectures, and since it is more interactive and there are no formulae or equations we might not be falling asleep in this one. I’d say we might actually engage with this module more because of this, and rather than cramming in useless information before exams we will learn along the way. All in all this module appears to be a very relevant one that will bring us face to face with the global challenges that exist today.See http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/1791