Page 1

May 2013

Urban Farm

Ruralising Dublin’s inner city

BELO MONTE DAM Amazon project: The story so far

ECO-RECESSION Is the environment a priority nowadays?

LARSEN B Ten years on from Antarctic collapse

ORGANIC FARMS Is the organic sector at a crossroads?

VIRTUAL WATER The hidden content of what we consume

Editorial W ELCOME

The Reed Team Al McConnell


It’s the time of year for sitting outside with a good read, and the following pages might be just the thing for a sunny spot in the grass or at your favourite café. In the early stages of producing this magazine, we looked around us for similar publications. After being directed to farming sections, lifestyle sections, current affairs shelves and gardening corners, there was nothing to be found. That’s why this year’s DIT MA Journalism group decided to turn an environmental eye on many aspects of everyday life. We explore society, politics, food, fashion and the world around us, from this perspective. Creating The Reed gave us the chance to meet and work with some of Dublin’s most up-and-coming talents in photography, journalism, innovation, art and fashion. We would like to think that The Reed wouldn’t be placed in a cordoned-off ‘environmental’ section in your newsagent, rather we hope that it would be at home on any shelf. If you think there’s a place for The Reed in Dublin, do let us know. We hope you enjoy reading. Follow


Miina Rautiainen Design Editor

Luke Holohan

Features Editor

Amy-Nora Fitzgibbon

PR Manager & Revise Editor

Chief Sub-editor

Photographers: Ruth Guest Bettina Lundmark Kifah Ajamiah

Paul O’Connor

online at:



Illustrator: Sona Harrison Cartoonist: Robbie Bonham

Stylist: Evin Dennehy Model: Alannah Beirne Make-up Artist: Ailbhe Ní Riain

With special thanks to: Harry Browne William Hederman Michael Foley DIT School of Media

The Reed was printed by Dublin-based Grehan Printers, using 100% post-consumer recycled paper, unbleached to minimise our impact on the environment. All ink used is vegetable-based, and environmentally friendly, all cutoffs are subsequently recycled, and all boxes used for transit in post-printing are environmentally friendly. No animals, plants or writers were harmed in the making of The Reed.


Contents Reed News

6 Environmental News 8 Ireland’s Incinerators Controversy continues


9 S2S Cycle Track

Dublin Bay sea-front cycleway has hit troubled waters as project stalls


10 Polar Explorations

Irish woman Eimear Carlin realises her dream of an Antarctic expedition

12 Ian Lumley

A candid conversation with the An Taisce planning and heritage officer

14 Climate Change and Gender

A new perspective on the climate crisis

Cover Story

16 Urban Farming

Rooftop agriculture from the heart of Dublin and around the world

Bites & Brew

22 Environmental Cafés

Eco-bites around Dublin; a look at the demand for earth-friendly food


24 Eco Home-brewing

How to brew a harmless pint, and how commercial brewers are going green

26 Kinsale Growers

Bringing organic food to local doorsteps

Life & Style


28 Sustainable Fashion

Bucking fashion trends: reducing waste, producing one-of-a-kind designs

34 Green Weddings

A big day without a big footprint

36 Permaculture

A way of life in Finland

38 Day in the life: Eco-village

A first-hand account of sustainable living






In the Long Reeds Belo Monte Indigenous tribes, environmentalists and industrial developers are fighting a war that will have an immense impact on Brazil’s economy or become a disaster to the local environment, depending on where priorities lie. Luke Holohan explores the conflict raging along the Xingu River, right in the heart of the Amazon rain forest.


Economic Crisis With so many economies in crisis, green issues have fallen down the political agenda. Some say recession has had a positive impact on the environment, others say it is damaging green concerns, and a few see crisis as an opportunity for an eco-revolution. Al McConnell looks at where green issues stand when the country’s in the red.


Larsen B Paul O’Connor takes you on a journey to the Antarctic Peninsula via the Amundsen Sea, riding on the tidal waves generated by British Sea Power as he marvels at Werner Herzog’s ‘mad penguins’, salutes the noble retreat of Prince Gustav, and offers up a paean for five hundred billion tonnes of the purest pack ice and snow.


Organic Farming Organic farming in Ireland is facing challenges ranging from controversy over its regulatory controls, and criticism of its environmental and health benefits, to public relation conflicts with vested interests from the chemical food industries. Amy-Nora Fitzgibbon asks: what are the future prospects for the organic sector?


Virtual Water Miina Rautiainen discovers the hidden water we eat – the virtual water. She interviews, among others, the man behind the water footprint concept, Arjen Hoekstra, and finds out what exactly is “the burden of an orange”. Experts also give their view on whether we should be prepared for water wars in the future.



Reed News

News in numbers €1.3b

Mafia-owned wind and solar energy assets, seized by Italian police investigating money laundering in April


Clean energy jobs have grown four times faster than other areas of employment in the US Bio Intelligence Quotient house uses algae to produce heat.


Number of emissions targets included in Ireland’s delayed Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill

Algae power

Hamburg building’s novel energy solution Amy-Nora Fitzgibbon


Years since the burning of fossil fuels was linked to global warming, by Guy Callendar in 1938

94 million

People who pledged acts of green on 22nd Earth Day, sharing how they plan to make a difference


Number of solar panels per resident in the German state of Bavaria, with a population of 12.5 million


Estimated percentage of crop genetic diversity lost last century as uniform varieties become common


Photo: Gerhard Kemme

the world’s FIrst algae-powered apartment complex has just been built in the increasingly trendy river-side quarter of Wilhelmsburg in Hamburg, Germany. Clad on its two south-facing sides with transparent panels containing millions of micro-algae, a large tank at the centre of the five-storey house burns the microscopic plants as bio-fuel in order to warm the building’s 15 apartments. The glass bio-reactor panels also conveniently provide thermal insulation, noise reduction, and shading from direct sunlight for the apartment’s inhabitants. The project, which took over three years to complete and cost €3.4 million, was designed and built for the International Building Exhibition (IBA) by a team of sustainable engineering and architectural firms. Part of its function will be to test the feasibility of algaecultivation as a source of renewable energy for city buildings in the future. Dr Stefan Hindersin, a biologist with Strategic Science Consultant, one of the main firms behind the project, said: “The reason we are using micro-algae is because they have higher efficiencies

than any other crops, especially for energy purposes.” Algae don’t take care of all the building’s heating requirements. Instead, they are a component of what the IBA describe as the house’s ‘holistic energy concept’, which involves the apartment complex producing renewable sources of energy, such as solar and thermal, as well as being part of Wilhelmsburg Mitte’s integrated energy network, a network of local energy generating buildings linked to a main bio-methane plant. Attempts have been made to recreate optimum growing conditions for the plants by supplying them with liquid nutrients and compressed CO2 via a separate water circuit. However, sunshine is an essential ingredient in the reproduction of algae, which may cause a problem for the building in the darker winter months. Hindersin hopes to have addressed this dilemma by storing excess heat produced in the summer months for the wintertime. “Should the façade generate too much heat, the energy can be stored in buffers for later use or sold back to the local grid,” he explained.

Dodging disaster liability Accountability for environmental damage remains unclear Al McConnell

Oil drilling in Lofoten? Miina Rautiainen the norwegIan government has agreed to complete an oil drilling impact study in the waters around the Lofoten islands, an area that has to this point been protected due to its environmental sensitivity.

town, which led to the spilling of what is now estimated to be the equivalent of 7,000 barrels of oil. It has been suggested that the pipeline contained a diluted oil mixture which is thought to be more damaging when spilled than conventional crude. Exxon, however, has only referred to the substance as “heavy crude”. The distinction will affect liability. Meanwhile, Japanese company Tokyo Electric Power has refused to pay €81.5 It is estimated that 8 per cent of Norway’s undiscovered oil and gas resources are held in waters around the islands. Seismic tests have revealed that reserves could hold the equivalent of 1.27 billion barrels of oil. This year Norway’s oil production, which forms the basis of the nation’s economy, will fall to its lowest point in 25 years. Oil drilling in Lofoten will likely be the hot topic in parliamentary elections, which will be held in September.

After the study, there will be another vote in 2015 before any drilling could begin. According to Reuters, however, Norway’s top three parties now favour exploration in the Arctic area, which raises the chance that the next government would actually begin drilling. Environmental groups and the tourism industry oppose opening the area to oil companies, fearing that the unique cold water habitat in the area would be destroyed.

Photo: Tar Sands Blockade

companIes contInue to avoId footing the bill for some of the largest environmental incidents of recent years, as three major cases make headlines in April. In America, the Arkansas Attorney General has vowed to hold Exxon Mobil accountable for the costs of clean-up after a pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, on the 29th of March. Exxon has offered to buy the homes of residents in the affected area, and has covered incidental costs incurred by local residents, but it has rejected a request to pay $4 million for the investigation into the cause. The company initially stated that it will pay “all costs” related to the spill. The Mayflower oil spill occurred due to a 22 foot rupture in a 65-yearold pipeline running through the small

million for decontamination work in the area surrounding the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant, claiming it is under no obligation to do so. The March 2011 accident caused the release of radioactive substances into the area. The Japanese Environment Ministry claims that the amount is part of TEPCO’s obligations that were established in a special measures law following the accident; this claimhas been rejected by Tokyo Electric Power. British Petroleum (BP) is also involved in a long-running dispute. On the third anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico of the 20th of April 2010, which resulted in the death of 11 workers and one of the largest spills in history, representatives of BP denied gross negligence, but placed blame on Transocean and Halliburton. The legal case is on-going.

Exxon oil spill, Mayflower, Arkansas


Reed News

The Reed Report

Fire and Limestone: Ireland’s Incinerators By Paul O’Connor In the past decade, the island of Ireland has been a hot-bed of proposals, controversies, stalled planning, recriminations, court battles and all round confusion in the realm of incineration. While the estimated costs for the construction of the Ringsend incinerator in Dublin have spiralled in the last five years, incorporating vast consultancy fees with RPS Group PLC, the Indaver project in Ringaskiddy, Cork ,has been tied up in the courts and by An Bord Pleanála. In cases taken to the High and Supreme Courts, in 2004, Cork Harbour for a Safe Environment (CHASE) successfully reversed the decision made by An Bord Pleanála in 2002 to grant permission to the Belgian-based waste management company Indaver, to build a hazardous waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy. Gayle Pierce, a representative for Indaver, maintains that Indaver intend to continue pursuit of planning permission, “probably sometime in 2014… with no major modification to the original plan… as it is viable and needed in the area”. CHASE would beg to differ as, according to the organisation’s chairperson Mary O’Leary, the facility is “not welcome in the community”. O’Leary also contends that the facility is designed for an excess capacity, would lead to coastal erosion, and is located in an area with no major road.The fear implicit in an excess capacity is that Indaver would use this opportunity to import waste from other countries and dispose of it at the Ringaskiddy site.This concern is based on O’Leary’s assertion that Ireland produces 30,000 tonnes of toxic waste in Ireland whereas the capacity for the Ringaskiddy site would be 100,000 tonnes; a 70,000 tonne shortfall. O’Leary quotes Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data in arriving at these figures, but Pierce of Indaver maintains the capacity figure is based on the National Waste Management Plan, produced by the EPA itself. An analy8

Eastcroft Incinerator, England. Inset: artist impression of Ringaskiddy Incinerator

sis of the National Hazardous Waste Management Plan 2008-2012 suggests that, as of 2006, there is a minimum of 32,430 tonnes of waste potentially available for incineration in Ireland that is currently incinerated abroad. This 32,430 tonnes of hazardous waste is on top of the 35,121 tonnes incinerated on the island as of 2006. Indaver currently operates an incinerator in Meath and has recently been given permission to increase capacity for the facility from 200,000 to 220,000 tonnes. It would appear that there is more than just a quota of 30,000 tonnes of waste produced for disposal via incineration. Interestingly, the plan states that investment in an Irish hazardous waste facility, or alternative treatment technologies, is “a matter for the private sector to judge…whether it would make sense in the context of the evolving European market”. The Plan goes further, stating: “Incineration will be needed in order for Ireland to move towards self-sufficiency in the treatment of hazardous waste.” O’Leary contends that “40 to 60 per cent of tonnage can be extracted from landfills…and 1,000 jobs can be created via recycling and technologies other than

incineration, whereas the maximum number of jobs that would be created at the Ringaskiddy site would be 50.” Another of CHASE’s major concerns is the remnant waste left over from the incineration process itself. A recent study carried out by the Institute of Environmental Engineering, Zurich, discovered the persistence of engineered nanoparticles in a municipal solid-waste incineration plant. Ringaskiddy would also be a municipal solid-waste incineration plant and Pierce confirmed that “8,000 tonnes of the 100,000 tonne capacity incinerator would comprise flue gas waste and would be transported to Germany every year for disposal.” The Swiss study found these nanoparticles invariably end up in landfills or recovered raw materials, and only proper filtering technology can efficiently remove the cerium oxide nanoparticles from the flue gas.While the effect of nano-particles on the human body is still unclear (out of three human studies, only one showed a passage of inhaled nanoparticles into the bloodstream), according to the EU Commission on Public Health, it nevertheless represents another variable in the complex formula for the safe disposal of human waste.

The Reed Report

Dublin Bay cycle track left in the dark over future

Photo: Ekaterina Gerasimova

By Al McConnell aFter over a decade of planning, Dublin Bay looks set to wait longer for its proposed Sutton-to-Sandycove, S2S, cycle track. Environmental concerns are said to be the significant factor in preventing the completion of what would be Europe’s longest seafront and urban cycle path. However, the cost of the project is also understood to be a barrier. Specifically at issue is a 4km stretch of the planned cycle track that would pass through areas of eel grass in EUprotected habitats between Strand Road in Sandymount and Blackrock. This concern relates to the potential disturbance caused to the habitat of Brent Geese, which migrate from Arctic Canada to Ireland each winter, and are labelled a ‘medium concern’ for conservation by Birdwatch Ireland. One patch of eel grass around Merrion Gates and the Booterstown nature reserve is of particular concern. If completed, the S2S cycle way would run continuously for 22km from Howth, into the city centre, and south along the coast via Sandymount, Booterstown, Blackrock and on to Sandycove. However, due to the concerns, the track may be forced to move away from the coast to avoid protected areas, as has been advised by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. On top of these environmental concerns, it is understood that cost has also been an issue. Environmental concerns are referred to by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLRC) as the “significant barrier”, but it also states that “cost is always a key factor in developing any infrastructure project”. In the

last two years, the Sunday Times has reported that the project’s cost had risen to several times the original estimate. Many stakeholders are frustrated with the current impasse. The planned cycle track, which would form the longest continuous seafront cycle path and urban cycle path in Europe, has been lauded as a major environmental boost to the city.


S2S would be the longest urban seafront promenade and cycleway in Europe


The distance travelled by Brent Geese to reach Dublin Michael Collins of the S2S group recently told the Irish Times that the project “has the potential to transform the city’s commuting culture.” But Shane Foran, spokesperson for, told The Reed that any benefit will depend entirely on the design of the project, which, for the southern section, remains entirely unclear. “If these things are designed well they can be very good, if they’re designed badly they can be worse than doing nothing. “A lot of the time the engineers involved in these things haven’t been on their bike in 25 years, or if they have it’s only been a little spin on their holidays. There’s a huge question mark at the moment over the training the engineers get, and whether roads are being designed by people who understand cycling.” The northern section of the cycle way is now well on the way to completion, with only the last stretch from the East Wall to the Liffey to be completed.

South of the river, from Sandymount to Sandycove, there is a lack of clarity as to where the project currently stands. Councillor Barry Ward says his main problem with the current impasse is that he does not consider the lack of any progress south of the river to be justified. “The National Parks & Wildlife Service [NPWS] objection really only relates to a very small stretch of it,” he says. “One of the things the other councillors and I are asking is that they complete the other stretches of it that aren’t affected by the objection.” Ward also contends that the NPWS, a section of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has not made its concerns known very clearly. “We know the objections are there,” he says, “but they didn’t make a submission [to the original report on the proposals], and that’s what’s really holding everything up.” However, the Department argues that it has provided input at various stages of the project through the NPWS, and that it has detailed some aspects of concern. The Department also told The Reed: “The S2S south element has not yet been submitted to An Bord Pleanála, therefore, the Department has made no formal comments. As there has been no formal application, no building can commence.” However, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Council claims to have put it “on hold” due to the environmental concerns. Councillor Ward says the next step forward for the project should be a proper assessment of the issues in question, which has yet to be begun. DLRC confirmed that the cycleway remains a part of the County Development Plan 2010-2016. 9


Antarctic through Irish eyes Eimear Carlin was the sole Irish person to take part in the 2041 Antarctic Youth Ambassador Programme expedition to the Antarctic in February 2013. Miina Rautiainen caught up with her to hear all about her experience on this mysterious continent


longsIde her admInIstratIve work in the Alliance Française,

Eimear Carlin has a secret passion for taking off on challenging expeditions around the world’s polar regions. Having travelled to the Arctic only a few months after her graduation, in September of last year this energetic young woman raised enough money to secure her place on the 2041 Antarctic Youth Ambassador Programme. The programme’s vision is to create an international youth coalition that will champion renewable energy as a means of protecting the continent in time for the year 2041, when the moratorium on mining and drilling in that part of the world will be up for debate. The founder of the programme is Robert Swan, the first person to walk to both the South and North Pole. The expedition lasted around two weeks and, according to Eimear Carlin, “the time flew”. When she returned to Ireland Carlin stopped smoking. At the time of the interview she had not smoked in three weeks, the longest time in years. So the expedition to the Antarctic was obviously a life-changing experience. “It was past any expectations I had of the continent,” she said. The first leg of the trip was Ushuaia in southern Argentina, where the partici10

pants practised team building, survival and rope training. While climbing to the Martial glacier they saw the first impacts of climate change in Patagonia. “There were signs saying ‘Please do not step on the glacier’ but the glacier was actually very far back from that sign. We were then told that the glacier was much closer three to five years ago.” In February the summer was ending in Patagonia. On the boat to the Antarctic they did more training and exercises and learned about the Antarctic Treaty and the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). The Antarctic Treaty was first signed in 1959 by 12 countries and today it has 50 members. “We were told what you should and shouldn’t be doing on the Antarctic,” Carlin said. “For example you’re not allowed to bring any food with you onto the continent. “The continent is so pristine, it needs to be protected and nothing should be left there,” she added, “not a sign of human life. And nothing should be taken, not even a rock or a piece of snow.” The first night on the boat they hit the Drake Passage, between the Antarctic and Latin America, where they experienced “seven meters of swell on the way down”.

“Only twelve of us stayed standing, all the others were sea sick”, she said. But after two days on the boat, the group started to see icebergs and soon also land. “The first day we landed it was like the Antarctic had put on her best dress for us.You can’t really describe it,” she said. “It was like you were going to burst with excitement. It was that incredible.” On the first day alone the group saw lots of wildlife, including seals, orcas, minke whales, and penguins. “When we stepped off the boat, there were hundreds of penguins all around us. I spent my first day just laughing at them. They are absolutely hilarious.” The visitors are not allowed to interfere with the penguins or touch them, but the penguins can do whatever they want. “They climb all around your feet; they bite your trousers and get caught up between your legs. They are very clumsy, they fall over a lot, and they’re very smelly.” During the visit the group participated in programmes on sustainability and climate change, and attended presentations given by oil companies and others about geology and wildlife. Sky News, there to film the expedition, also taught them how to tell stories in an effective

The first day we landed it was like the Antarctic had put on her best dress for us

way. The schedule was very tight, with the team working from 9am till 9pm every day. Musing on the continent, Carlin said, “It’s very hard to judge scale down there, because there’s nothing man-made. We went through a channel which was one kilometre high, but you can’t really process it. It’s so magnificent and beautiful, you just can’t believe what your eyes are seeing is real.” Group members camped out on the snow and dug snow holes under the stars just in sleeping bags, not in tents. At night the temperature could be around -15 degrees Celsius and during the day it was only some ten degrees warmer. But Carlin didn’t have any problems with the cold. “You are prepared for it and with the adrenaline and excitement I didn’t even feel it. I loved it.” They also did the polar plunge, where you jump from the back of the boat to the water. “I’ve a bit of a fear of water, but you know you have to do it when you’re down there.” As for the other participants on the expedition, which included representatives from 28 different countries, Carlin said she was very lucky with the types of people she met and that she is still in daily contact with some of them. “There was everyone there from corporate senior vice-presidents to children who had just finished high school. Everyone realised that we were all working towards a common goal to protect the Antarctic.” Carlin said it is hard to describe how precious the Antarctic is. “While the rest of the world goes on with its daily business, fighting with one another, this enormous continent is just sitting down there. It’s quite phenomenal.” The explorer said she didn’t see any direct signs of climate change in the Antarctic, but satellite images taken by glaciologists that were shown to the group displayed ice shrinkage happening on a yearly basis, especially on the western side. However, although these events are not indicative of climate change, they did see “a lot of glaciers caving in, with massive chunks of glacier just falling off and crashing into the sea.” “We also saw quite a few icebergs that

Eimear Carlin and Robert Swan Photos: IAE 2013

obviously came directly off ice shelves,” she added. With the focus of this year’s Youth Ambassador Programme being energy consumption, energy production and the choice of renewables, Carlin believes that governments need to be looking more at mixes of different energy types. “More funding needs to be going into research on these fields,” she said. Carlin was also happy to notice the expedition did not fall into the category of the green corner versus the corporate corner. Rather it opened up discussions for working together. “I found that really inspiring.” She also said the climate solutions are already there, we just need to engage with them. “Learning about the solutions in the setting of the Antarctic made me want to protect it, not so much for the next generations, but just for itself, to know that it’s down there and doing well.” When asked to compare her experience on the Arctic to the southern continent, Carlin concluded she found both experiences to be very different. “I found the Arctic more threatening in terms of the elements and the weather but I think this had a lot to do with the season. “However, there are similarities in terms of temperature,” she smiled. While on the Ant-

arctic expedition, Carlin was told by someone who had spent 700 nights on the continent, “it’s not that the Antarctic is trying to kill you, it’s not that it’s threatening. It just doesn’t care that you’re there. “I think that’s very true,” she agreed. “It’s just so still, so vast and so huge.You have massive chunks of glaciers falling down that don’t care that you’re there.” Now that the memorable expedition has ended, Carlin wants to look at more companies in Ireland who are working in renewable energies, resource exchange and community development projects. “I’ve discovered a network of very strong players in this field in Ireland. This has opened up my eyes to what’s already going on here in the country. It’s not only about energy production. It’s about energy consumption and looking into resource exchanges. That’s really what I would like to investigate and get more people interested in.” She also plans to give presentations in schools, some of which she has already visited. “In the schools the reaction was incredibly positive. The children were very informed and asked very intelligent questions about climate change and renewable energies and about what they should be doing to protect the environment in their daily lives.” “The Antarctic is an easy sell,” she added. “It’s very easy to get young people interested in and inspired by it.” O 11


The outspoken planning and heritage officer for An Taisce speaks to Amy-Nora Fitzgibbon about some of the most pressing environmental issues in the world today

Ian Lumley shoots from the hip o

n a sunny but snowy day in March, I went to interview Ian Lumley at the National Trust’s head office in Tailors’ Hall near Christchurch. As requested, I had sent Ian a list of questions before the interview, but was unprepared when he launched into the first answer only seconds after we had met. I hardly had time to turn on my dictaphone before he was half way through the dangers of climate change. “Oh, am I being recorded?” he asked. “Yes, is that all right?” “Oh perfectly all right, yes excellent, now where was I?” Although the sun was pouring through the windows and the radiator was turned to the highest degree, Ian sported a black beanie throughout the interview. But he didn’t seem to be feeling the heat. The heat in the room that is. Global warming was another matter altogether. “Climate change is without a doubt the overriding issue confronting the planet at the moment,” he told me. “Science is telling us that we cannot absorb Co2 at the rate we are producing it. But science is a weak voice in the ears of politicians and big businesses.” And what, I asked, about scientists who say that global warming is a load of hot air? “When we analyse the nay-sayers on global warming,” Ian said, “we see they are a handful of maverick atmospheric scientists who are disputing the truth that is known and accepted among the wider scientific community. The media play these scientists up for controversy. But more seriously


than that, there are vested interests in the media. How do you know if someone being interviewed in a paper doesn’t have a personal involvement in the oil and gas industry? Or what about media that is itself dependent on consumer advertising?” Lumley holds strong views on most matters relating to the environment, which is not surprising as he has been working in his current position at An Taisce for over ten years. “It’s hard, old-fashioned work that we do at An Tasice,” he said, “but it’s worth it for the sake of the environment.” Some of Lumley’s views, however, were surprising, and pleaded for further investigation into so-called sustainable practices in Ireland and the world. For instance, Lumley confidently stated that recycling in Ireland is a “sham”. “Most glass, for example, is not recycled into new glass bottles. It’s made into things like road-topping materials which are sent to the UK or it’s used for football-pitch flood lights. That’s not real recycling if you take into account the massive embedded energy that goes into the making and transporting of glass beverages.” And that’s not the extent of it. “Plastic bottles, if they’re not incinerated, end up being compressed, bailed and transported to the Far East or China, allegedly for recycling. “Clear transparent plastic never goes back into plastic of the same quality,” he continued. “It usually ends up being turned into cheap garden furniture or traffic cones which invariably end up in ditches. So there isn’t any resolution.

Proper recycling is a closed circle, and Ireland doesn’t have that

Proper recycling is a closed circle and we don’t have that. What we have is an ever-opening pattern of extraction and consumption which is not closing the circle on resource use.” Another of Lumley’s main concerns is how Ireland and the rest of Europe have begun to “dump back” on other nations with poor working conditions in order to support Western lifestyles. “Increasingly, ‘clean’ Europe is getting off the hook when it comes to calculating its amount of per capita waste,” Ian said, “because it has externalised its manufacturing of goods to China, which is now the biggest producer of aerosol, sulphur and water-borne pollution.” “We now have a situation where countries like China, India and Mexico City are bearing the brunt of nitrate oxide and aerosol emissions since, as well as dealing with a lot of our waste, they are producing the goods that we buy to supply our consumer demand.The problem is that countries like China now want to match our consumer demand, so who knows where that will lead.” Lumley also expressed dismay in relation to the paradox posed by the effects of small Western families’ lifestyle patterns on indigenous populations abroad. “Figures show that the poorest populations of the world, for example, people living in the delta area of Bangladesh, with large family sizes, are, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the lowest per capita in the world. Paradoxically, the highest emitters are the Western people with smaller families, who fly all over the place and who have huge houses with multiple electrical appliances. “The irony is that those countries that are emitting the least carbon emissions, and who are entirely dependent on their indigenous produce, are most at risk of climate change wrought by Western consumption patterns. A Western country that faces lower crop yields can buy its way out on the global market, but African countries don’t have the purchasing power to buy themselves out of a bad year caused by climate instability.

That’s where the risk lies.” In 2010 the Living Planet Index placed Ireland at number 10 globally in terms of countries with the highest per capita ecological footprint. “That figure has changed somewhat since the recession,” said Lumley, “as it was looking at tonnes of steel per capita. We’re no longer using the same amount of steel we were using for construction during the Celtic Tiger.” So is the recession having any other effects on Ireland’s environmental performance? “Well, one negative side of the crash, apart from the terrible deprivation caused by youth unemployment, is the complete lack of critical judgment shown by local authorities in assessing planning applications. County councils are simply not refusing anything that’s creating construction or employment. “On top of that, during the boomtime, developers like McNamara and Treasury Holdings were, to their credit, developing buildings that were of a very high standard environmentally, and that

were in excess of the legal requirements for energy usage. This wasn’t explicitly for ecological reasons but it was part of their marketing so that they could get a higher rental per square meter on the basis that the energy cost would be lower. “A primary example of that would be the Google building on Barrow Street which is also right beside the DART line and has no available surface car parking.” Despite the positivity of this last point, I couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by the extent and severity of the issues facing the planet, so I finished by asking Lumley if he ever got discouraged in his line of work. “Well, let’s put it this way,” he said. “The more the issue of waste and resource consumption is confronted, the greater the understanding of underlying cause and urgent need for action.” With that reassurance, the An Taisce officer shook my hand, and headed off to continue his important business of confronting the issues that most of us like to sweep under the proverbial carpet. O



Climate Change in a man’s world

By Al McConnell


of firewood and water is a risk, and the walks are getting longer. As the effects of climate change worsen, they are having a disproportionate effect on those who do the majority of the everyday tasks in communities of the Global South.This has tended to be women, but the contention that climate change is a “gendered issue” has attracted controversy. “Bonkers, baseless, and bad for women” was the reaction of Marina Yannakoudakis, Conservative MP for London, when a row erupted in the European Parliament this time last year over statements made by French Green Party MEP Nicole Kiil-Nielsen. She had claimed that climate change is not gender neutral, in a European Parliament report which was subsequently adopted. “When it rains we all get wet,” said Yannakoudakis. But what about when it doesn’t rain? Raymond Chimsale works with Cadecom, a local organisation in Chikwawa, southern Malawi, which helps vulnerable rural communities cope with the effects of climate change. The Chikwawa region has experienced severe climate patterns in recent years,


very walk In search

including drought, intense rainfall, and flooding, which have impacted on crop production and soil erosion. “The climate changes have adversely impacted on food and water security, energy and the sustainable livelihoods of many Malawians,” says Chimsale, “but women and girls have been the worst affected by the climate change.” Women and girls are up to 14 times more likely to be killed in a natural disaster, a statistic originally produced by a study at the London School of Economics. What’s more, with climate change forcing the mass movement of people, conflict over land will increase. Women and girls almost always suffer most in such situations. Much of the gendered impact of climate change stems from already existing inequalities and discrimination against women. The effects of climate change have been seen to exacerbate these inequalities. As women are almost always placed in a domestic role, the effects of climate change can be very difficult, says Chimsale. “Due to climate change, women and girls have to walk for longer distances in search for firewood and water. They have been exposed to risks such as rape

in forests and distant places where they fetch water in Malawi’s rural and semiurban areas. “They also have to do the arduous tasks of searching for and collecting

Climate changes have adversely impacted many Malawians, but women and girls have been the worst affected

food. This task is more pronounced in years of food insecurity due to dry spells arising from climate changes. Inevitably, this means more girls have to drop out of school – this widens the potential poverty gap between the girl and boy child in later years.” These impacts, arising more directly from climate changes, can have severe knock-on effects on the lives of women and children, who are at risk of becoming “double-victims” in climate change-

related natural disasters. “There have been reports of women and girls being pressured into extramarital affairs in order to access food as a survival strategy due to climate change,” says Chimsale. “Women and girls have been made more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.” “Climate change has also had a fundamental impact on orphans and vulnerable girls. There are reports of early marriages, as they have no one to take care of them, and there are increasing reports of children, especially girls, engaged in labour as a source of livelihood due to food inadequacies arising from drought or flooding.” Since its publication in 2011, the ‘Gender, Climate Change and Health’ report, produced by the World Health Organisation, has begun to bring gender to the forefront of climate change discussions. According to the report, “globally, natural disasters such as drought, floods and storms kill more women than men, and tend to kill women at a younger age… The gender-gap effects on life expectancy tend to be greater in more severe disasters, and in places where the socioeconomic status of women is particularly low.” The report also points to general issues of inequality, and how this can severely impact on safety when a natural disaster strikes: “Women tend to have much lower access to critical information

on weather alerts and cropping patterns, affecting their capacity to respond effectively to climate variability…[however] women make an important contribution to disaster reduction, usually through participation in disaster management and acting as agents of social change.” Groups such as Cadecom, supported by Trócaire, now emphasise gender equality as a primary tool for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and for general development. Women such as Aidhe George, pictured, have taken themselves out of genderdefined roles in their communities with the help of groups such as Cadecom. Many disaster response programs and early warning initiatives now place an emphasis on engaging women as key actors. Although much work is being done on gender equality, there are still significant barriers to overcome. Chimsale explains the situation in Malawi: “Women make up 52 per cent of the population and contribute to Malawi’s socio-economic development significantly. Yet, there are serious gender disparities existing in terms of access to, and control of, productive resources, and opportunities for participation in the country’s development. “Around 67 per cent of women are literate, compared to 77 per cent of men.There may be gender parity in primary education, but

Photos: Alan Whelan/Trócaire Opposite page: Aidhe George, from Lole village, Chikwawa, Malawi, who has worked with Trócaire in empowering women. This page, from top left: Christy Masamba of the disaster risk reduction committee in Nyambio village, Chikwawa; Edesi Flyton, of Mtuwa village, Chikwawa.

more girls than boys drop out because of social values and expectations. Situations such as these militate against women and girls in the face of climate change.” As Nicole Kiil-Nielsen says, “during every crisis and every revolution we always hear we should first solve the problem and that women’s rights will come later. But that reasoning is dated and ineffective.” In Malawi, as in other parts of the world, if direct action is not taken soon, the suffering of many individuals, not only women and girls as the majority, will continue and worsen. At present, 85 per cent of those who die as a result of natural disasters are women. “Compounded by existing unequal gender relationships in Malawi,” says Chimsale, “the impacts of climate change on women and girls have had a far reaching effect on their livelihoods. Unless there are clear climate change and environmental management programmes for sustainable livelihoods, women and girls in Malawi will continue to bear the brunt of its effect.” O


Cover Story

Ruralising the heart of Dublin Chickens, worm towers, and rooftop mushrooms – Luke Holohan gets behind-the-scenes at Dublin’s first urban farm


t a glance, the

old Williams & Woods Ltd factory on Dublin’s Kings Inn Street might look like any other inner city concrete skeleton. It’s old, grey and not particularly pleasing to the eye. Inside however, things are beginning to change – and up on the top two floors an injection of life and colour is taking place in the form of an urban farm. Once a confectionary manufacturers and wholesaler, the building was constructed in 1910 and was the first concrete structure of its kind to be built in the city. A medley of pleasant aromas would have hung in the air around this time; smells of chocolate, fruit from the sweet jams in summer, spices in winter and the scent of freshly baked aniseed macaroons. It was also a place where the much loved Silvermints used to be wrapped, and I’m also told that Toblerones may have been packaged there at some stage too. When the factory eventually moved on in the early 1970’s and became a data storage warehouse, it seemed that the building’s best years lay in the past. Not so. After lying idle since 2006, the board cladding has just recently come off the windows and the building now looks set for a new lease of life. The four storey space is now known as the ‘Chocolate Factory’ and is home to a creative community comprising artists, designers, photographers and, since last year, urban farmers. At the top of the long and winding steel staircase to the third floor is where you’ll find the entrance to Dublin’s Urban Farm. It’s a busy environment; there are barrels, mannequins, aqua-ponic systems and tools scattered around the place. It’s a bit of a mess, but out of meagre beginnings good things grow.

Illustration: Sona Harrison



Cover Story

When the farm is up and running, people will be able to come in and just pick and mix their salad off the roof - Andrew Douglas

Under the stewardship of founder Andrew Douglas, Urban Farm is trying to transform an unwanted, negative space into something that can be useful to the whole community. The idea behind it is to grow food in an urban environment while researching and demonstrating innovative farming techniques. It’s also a bid to cut down on waste and reduce the carbon footprint of food production, as well as creating an environment conducive for learning. The farm has also just begun hosting events and workshops that provide teaching on energy saving systems, healthy food production and neighbourhood regeneration. As it stands, people coming down expecting to see an urban oasis of plants and animals might be a little bit disappointed, but it is the idea and the steady progression of such a unique project that has many Dubliners dying to get a peek. I met Andrew Douglas, the founder and all-round ideas man for the project,


on the rooftop of the farm, surrounded by views of the city in the full glare of the midday sun. It is unusually warm for Dublin and some of the farm workers have set up a portable barbecue to take advantage of what might just be our summer. There’s vertical plant beds, blue grow barrels, a composting heap and even worm towers – oh and yes, there are chickens at our heels. Definitely not your average interview but then again there is nothing average about setting up an eco-friendly urban farm in the centre of town. “I always wanted to be food selfsufficient and to be self-sufficient in my living manner, to have my own area to grow in and to live off,” says Andrew Douglas, or Dougie, as he is also known. “Living in the city and having an 11-year-old daughter, and with most of my work based centrally, moving out to the country didn’t really make sense. It made a lot more sense to have my food security and a food oasis in the city itself.What we’ve basically started here is

a project to bring the countryside to us.” The idea, he jokes, could be construed as a selfish act: a man’s craving to bring the countryside and all the trappings that go with it to his doorstep. However, there is a more egalitarian aspect to the initiative, with a huge community surrounding the farm as well. One of the initiatives has seen the farm begin working with local schools. “We’re working with a few schools now. One over on Parnell Square; we actually started helping them compost their waste to achieve the Green School Flag,” he said. “What we are trying to do is showcase to people different food growing initiatives, be it through the aqua-ponics, where you have fish and plants living in a symbiotic environment, or through our micro enterprises such as collecting coffee waste from coffee shops and growing produce like oyster mushrooms on it. We think ideas like that are going to be a big success here in Dublin.” Building community relationships and trying to get everyone involved in the farm is an impressive feature of the project, but no doubt the main advantage of having a farm in the centre of town is that it cuts out the need for food to be transported long distances. Added to that, people have a greater opportunity to buy fresh food. “Farming actually fits so well in an urban environment, we have our market just around the corner; the consumers are here,” he tells me. “When the farm is up and running, people will be able to come in and just pick and mix their salad off the roof. There’s actually a chance for people to be in contact with their farmer.” According to Andrew and his colleague Paddy O’Kearney, who also runs

City Composting, all the materials used to make the farm are “ucycled”. “Up-cycling” is basically the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for enhanced environmental value. Paddy and a group of volunteers are actually busy making plant beds out wooden pallets as the interview unfolds. Dougie explained: “the ethos of the farm, through necessity almost, is that we upcycle all our materials. We are trying to keep the farm as one of the only fully upcycled farms in the developing world.” Inside, down a dark and narrow staircase, I am shown the beginnings of what will soon be a fish tank. Even though work hasn’t finished yet the set up still looks impressive. Into another room and there’s seed potatoes for what must be a hundred different varieties, and I can’t help but get a little excited about the prospect of this food being served in the cafe which is currently being built downstairs. Dublin Urban Farm is still some way off being functional and productive. However, if Dougie and his team manage to do half of what is planned, it will have been a worthwhile and commendable project. Instead of the memories of sweets and chocolate, the old Williams & Woods Ltd building could soon be filled with an abundant array of fruits, vegetables and farm animals. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to buy floury Dublin Urban Farm potatoes or fresh rooftop raspberries. O

Checking in at the “hen hotel”; Above: Vertical grow beds; Top left: No space goes to waste for growth Photos: Bettina Lundmark


Cover Story




Food from the Sky

ood from the Sky” is a world first in that it is a permaculture and educational project located on the rooftop of a city supermarket. Set up by Azul-Valerie Thome and her co-founder Andrew Thornton in 2010, the community-run initiative is about inspiring a healthy and sustainable relationship with food in cities and supermarkets around Britain. One of the main advantages of farming from the top ofThornton’s Budgens supermarket in Crouch End, North London, is that the journey from producer to consumer is minimal. In fact the organic fruit, vegetables and herbs only have to travel a total of 10 metres from soil to shelf, in what must be one of the shortest supply chains in the world. That’s pretty much a guarantee of freshness with the added bonus for the consumer of being able to meet the grower. Growing and harvesting food in the local community is also used as a means to educate, and “Food from the sky”,


Urban Orchard

he Perth Cultural Centre is home to some of the city’s most visited cultural institutions; it includes the likes of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Blue Room Theatre and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. Since 2008, with the aid of the State Government’s urban renewal agency and a handful of volunteers, an urban oasis of fruits and vegetables has also sprung up in the area. The urban renewal initiative has revitalised the previously sparse district, with a mixture of innovative landscaping and design features to create a space with strong sustainability objectives. Today the Perth Cultural Centre contains a fresh water wetland, an interactive natural play space for children and an urban orchard. Throughout the year many people visit its workshops and demonstrations on environmental farming and edible gardening – not to mention its many


along with its many volunteers, provides a training program called “seed2seed” which focuses on food growing, biodiversity and sustainable living. All food is grown to organic standards and waste from the supermarket’s produce is fed back into the soil through composting and a wormery. To date the rooftop growing space has produced an abundance of fresh and colourful fare such as yellow raspberries, purple curly kale, red mountain spinach and rainbow chards. You’ll also find the fundamentals such as peas, tomatoes, onions and much, much more. Azul-Valerie Thome believes that urban farming is a very important activity and one which could be vital for future sustainability. “If we want to carry on living a healthy and peaceful life in the future, urban food growing skills and experiences will become vital for our children and their children’s survival.”

outdoor events. As the name would suggest, a variety of trees are grown in the Perth Urban Orchard; from citrus and stone fruit to almond and olive trees. The really special thing about this orchard, however, is that it is situated on the roof of Roe Street multi-storey car park, where thirty assorted fruit trees reach high into the sky, 5 floors above the sounds of the city. Beneath the trees is over 300m2 of green composted garden beds dedicated to seasonal vegetables. Each year the orchard harvests numerous crops such as courgettes, iceberg lettuce, snap peas, carrots, watermelon and just recently

Photo: Courtesy of Perth Urban Orchard


Photo: Courtesy of Food from the Sky

Cherry Belle radishes.There is also an area dedicated to perennial herbs and shrubs where you can pick garlic chives, chamomile, lavender and Vietnamese mint. All harvest is shared equally among the volunteers who participate in the Harvesting & Planting Day events while the general public get an opportunity to try the fresh food at annual events like the Perth Fringe Festival.



perating across two rooftops

in New York City, Brooklyn Grange Farm is by far the largest rooftop soil farm in the world: 108,000 square feet to be exact. Founded by Ben Flanner, Anastasia Cole Plakias, Gwen Schantz, Brandon Hoy and a group of volunteers known as “The Farmily”, the farm grows over 40,000lbs (18,000Kg) of organically cultivated produce per year. It also provides urban farming and green roof consulting and installation services worldwide. Partnering with non-profit organisations around New York to promote healthy living and environmental care, “The Farmily” strives to foster strong local community relationships. Brooklyn Grange Farm is now a wellknown commercial and profitable city farm, but it came from humble beginnings. In May 2010 the city farm project and its founders literally came up from the underground of 36th St. Subway

Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Grange Farm

Grange Farm station, Northern Boulevard. Once they emerged into the light, work began on transforming the rooftop of the six storey Standard Motor Products building into a sustainable and working farm. According to the group, they “donned hard hats, and armed with shovels and shears, they set out to build the largest soil rooftop farm in the world”. It took six days, with some two dozen friends and family to move hundreds of 3,000lb soil sacks to the roof. Work didn’t stop there, however, and while the West side of the urban farm was being fitted and renovated, the east side of the project was getting underway in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This comprised of a 65,000 square feet space located atop Building no.3 in the legendary New York ship yard. Both farms use green roofing systems which consist of a layer of root barrier, which prevents plants’ roots from penetrating the concrete roof. A thick

layer of felt, drainage mats and storage to hold excess rainwater is then added to reduce water usage, before one last thin layer of felt is applied. This final layer prevents soil clogging the drainage system. In its entirety the farm grows thousands of crops each season which they then sell “directly to the community from several farm stands, local restaurants and retail stores”. The crops include salad greens, peppers, kale, chard, bacchoi, tomatoes, carrots, radishes and beans.There is even an apiary where bee husbandry produces honey, wax, propolis and honey comb. According to the Brooklyn Grange team, “Roof farms have the potential to improve urban quality of life, create jobs, increase access to healthy, fresh food and provide environmental education.” Indeed their work continues to be driven by the desire to make “a more sustainable and delicious NYC”.


Bites & Brews

Eco-eateries of Dublin

Photo: Sona Harrison

Luke Holohan goes in search of environmental cafés and explores Dublin’s demand for an eco-friendly bite






closing of the environmentally friendly Lurve Cafe in the space of just six weeks got us wondering, is there an appetite in Dublin for ecofriendly dining? Are restaurants and cafes with an environmental ethos a nice idea but ultimately too idealistic to work? Luckily the answer is no and despite the closure of a promising start up there are plenty more places in Dublin to eat and drink without compromising your environmental outlook. After meandering between various marketplaces around Dublin, Lurve Café had finally found a permanent home in Dublin’s city centre. Marketed as “Dublin’s first ethical vegan kitchen” the café operated using locally sourced, seasonal and organic produce. Motivated by the desire to provide good quality vegan food, the cafe was dedicated to minimising its environmental impact through using green waste disposal, biodegradable packaging and eco-friendly cleaning products from Irish companies. It seemed like a marriage between an environmental and ethical business model, with 10 per cent of its turnover allocated for donation to support animal welfare rights. 22

When The Reed went to visit the cafe we got to spend time with owner Katy Falkingham and her group of international vegan volunteers who helped to run the cafe. Katy had started the business after realising that there were very few places around Dublin that catered for vegans and even fewer that operated with a full focus on the environment. “I just remember this really stressful day when I was working in accounts for the Dublin Fringe Festival. It was a really busy day, and I stepped out at lunchtime to get something but there was absolutely nowhere I could get a proper lunch.” During its short existence as a cafe Lurve was trying to promote the benefits of veganism. “The vegan diet has the least environmental impact of any diet,” said Katy Falkingham. “All we want to do is sell really good food in an environmental and ethical way and hopefully if people like it they might just change their attitude a little bit,” she explained. Good, honest and wholesome vegan food was exactly what we experienced when we visited. Listening to the sound of the Doors in the buzzing cafe, we tasted various vegan dishes not to men-

tion even more vegan treats such as their hazelnut milk lattes and delicious chocolate cake. It opened our eyes to a diet most of us had never really experienced or even considered, and it has ultimately led me to explore what other environmental eateries are hidden around Dublin. Unfortunately, Lurve Cafe has since closed its doors due to problems with the lease on their premises. It is a shame because it had such encouraging plans to continue its environmental work with other green projects around the city such as the Dublin Community Gardens and City Composting Ltd. During our lunch the owner had expressed concern over consistently attracting its target market to the somewhat off-the-vegan-track location of Mary Street, and it’s quite possible that the Lurve Cafe had tried too much too soon at a time setting when all the ingredients have to be right for a prosperous business. While our first “Lurve” of vegan food may be gone forever, we felt it was only right to bring to your attention other great places in our city that incorporate a similar ecological attitude towards food and business. O


, located on Dublin’s Wicklow Street, has been providing vegetarian and vegan meals to its customers since 1986. With a passion for home produced and locally sourced organic ingredients, Cornucopia offers a variety of delicious breakfasts, main courses, snacks and desserts. The menu changes on a daily basis so there is always something different to have and all food is freshly prepared in-house each day. The restaurant also caters for special dietary needs such as dairy free, coeliac, gluten free, yeast free, raw/living and sugar free. The spacious, well-designed dining areas make for a relaxing atmosphere and facing out onto Wicklow Street makes it an ideal location to enjoy a coffee while partaking in some good old fashioned people watching. Cornucopia has live instrumental harp and guitar music between 7.30 – 9.30 pm each Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They also host talks on health, nutrition and the environment.

The Farm is an Irish owned, family run restaurant which takes culinary inspiration from

far–flung destinations but uses as much locally sourced and organic products as possible. The restaurant employs a green philosophy which opts to steer away from GM foods, artificial additives, fertilisers, growth promoters and herbicides, believing that this is “better for your health, better for the environment, better for farmers, and more delicious.” There are two Farm restaurants in Dublin, one on Dawson Street and another which opened up just last year on Upper Leeson Street, close to the popular leafy location of St. Stephens Green. The menu boasts a wide selection, offering both meat and vegetarian options so there is something for everyone. Their sleek and snazzy interiors are perfect for a night of fine dining but booking is advised especially on the weekends. However, if it’s a night in you are after then the restaurant also does take-away dishes. The Reed recommends you try the ‘Beet Yourself Up’ savoury vegetarian cake; it’s a feast.

Hibiscus Wilde

is a charming vegan food bar which makes its home within the quirky Ferocious Mingle Marcade on Thomas Street. Started by Laura McGlynn, the 100 per cent vegan kitchen prepares ethical earth–friendly dishes, from delicious vegan burgers and salads to cookies and zingy lemon drizzle cake. For McGlynn, “It’s not just about reducing the number of animal deaths, but also about the positive aspects which leading a vegan lifestyle can have on the planet and your health.” Since opening, recycling has become a natural instinct for Hibiscus Wilde, which is supplied by Independent Irish Health Foods and local organic growers where possible. Hibiscus Wilde is open Thursday through Sunday from 11am to 6pm. The great vegan food is just one reason to visit, but the interesting and ever-changing Ferocious Mingle is another. Enjoy a fresh fruit smoothie while browsing through records and bric-a-brac, or just take in the live music that takes place every weekend.

Cafe Rothar

is a hidden gem is great for two reasons. The first reason is the great coffee, the second being that you can get your bicycle fixed while you get your caffeine fix. Cafe Rothar is a chilled out, bicycle-themed cafe tucked between the trendy bars and restaurants of Fade Street. You may have to look twice before recognising it as a place where you can grab some grub but once you get inside you’ll be glad you found it. We’ll save you the hassle of getting lost; it’s between Market Bar and Rage records. Downstairs is a fully fitted workshop where you can get repairs done on your bike, meanwhile upstairs you can enjoy the three s’s of the Irish diet; a selection of sandwiches, soups and stews that are both vegetarian and vegan. The cafe takes donations of any unused or unloved bikes and since 2008 it has “diverted 2,500 bikes from landfill”. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday, although on Fridays they stay open a little later for some open mic. Photos: Luke Holohan


Bites & Brews

Harmless Pints... Home brewing is making a comeback. Al McConnell and Paul O’Connor take a look at the ‘green beer’ revolution, and how major breweries are getting involved in eco-brewing


n a throwback trend reminiscent of

fondue and lava lamps, home brewing is back, and a growing community of eco-brewers are aiming to make their beer as ‘green’ as possible. Plus, whether you brew your own or not, the options available for environmentallyfriendly pints have never been wider. Amelia Loftus, an expert eco-brewer and an authority on ‘greening your beer’ from California, told The Reed about how home brewing can be more ecofriendly than mass-produced brands. “Home brewing is like buying fresh draught beer straight from the brewery. Beer is at least 90 percent water, plus the additional weight of packaging in bottles and kegs adds to the carbon footprint of transport. When you home brew you are only transporting about 10 per cent of the finished weight of the beer, plus you can re-use bottles and kegs.” While working for Greenpeace in mid-nineties California, Amelia took up home brewing and immediately began looking for ways to keep the environmental impact to a minimum. “It’s pretty easy to make sure your home brewing is not harmful to the environment; by nature it’s more ecofriendly than packaged beer. Water 24

waste can be a problem as it can take up to twenty gallons of water to make one gallon of beer, if excessive water is used in cooling and cleaning. Most home brewers use less than this by using efficient cooling systems, and it’s easy to re-use the water used in cooling for clean-up, washing clothes, or watering the garden. If only environmentally safe cleaning and sanitising agents are used, the solutions can also be re-used in gardening or elsewhere.” Although eco-brewing is rising in popularity, many home brewers at present may not be aware that it can be a destructive hobby (not just for the liver) if certain precautions are not adopted. “Some home brew habits are not quite so eco-friendly,” says Amelia. “Using bleach to sanitize is harmful, and highly processed ingredients like pre-hopped malt extract often contain filler ingredients with a large carbon footprint, plus many people still use refrigerators that are very harmful to the environment.” On the plus side for home brew novices, ‘greening’ the process can save even more money than brewing your own already does. According to Amelia, home brewing is always cheaper than buying beer, if it

is done properly. Organic ingredients, which are often more environmentally friendly, can be more expensive, but heating and cleaning costs can be kept low through energy conserving practices and re-using water. Amelia’s top tip for starting out in home brewing is to keep it clean, and she estimates that around 70 percent of brewing failures are caused by poor sanitation. Eco-brewing can offer a chance to put a ‘green’ spin on a popular hobby, and some opportunities for creativity – Amelia’s favourite non-traditional addition to the mix is coffee. On the other hand, these tips aren’t only meant to be deployed in the garage; major breweries are beginning to take on board environmentally friendly practices in their mass production. According to a 2012 report on the Environmental Performance of the European Brewing Sector, commissioned by the Brewers of Europe, there are indeed a myriad of environmental measures being put in place by modern breweries. The report showed that many are striving to reduce their environmental impact by switching to, for example, lightweight bottles, PET bottles (which have a smaller carbon footprint) and

Photo: Garrett Coakley

Good beer will never be wasted; it’s the most efficient use of ingredients possible

plastic kegs. The last creates significant savings on transport, cleaning, and cleaning equipment, as plastic kegs are intended for single use and can be recycled. However, the most critical issue regarding brewing beer and its effect on the environment is the use of water. Considering the value of water as a resource to local communities and its manifold use in the production of beer,

it is not surprising that breweries are striving to minimise its use. For instance, the report states that SABMiller’s Ursus breweries in Romania reduced water consumption by 15 per cent. This was achieved by recovering water throughout the brewing process to be used in cleaning processes, which do not require high quality water. More innovative approaches applied

by breweries to reduce their environmental impact come in the form of utilising potential waste as secondary products. Biomass can be produced from solid waste streams from breweries and, in some cases, brewers’ grain is used in boilers to power the brewery, providing a renewable energy source. The report documented an initiative undertaken by Czech brewery Plzensky Prazdroj, whereby evaporated liquid carbon dioxide was used for cooling glycol and water. This, combined with shortening and insulating steam pipes, has led to an 8 per cent reduction in energy consumption per hectolitre of beer produced. Emissions have also been reduced by light-weight packaging and making use of rail transport for distribution. Another example of reducing water use is the Warsteiner Brewery in Germany, which made important water savings in the bottling process. It installed a Liquid Efficiency Spraying System (LESS) which slows down pumps used on the bottling line for cleaning; cleaning takes place during periods when the conveyor belt is temporarily stopped. Water usage was significantly lowered and savings were made. So, whether you are brewing your own, or sticking with economies of scale, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a beer without an environmental hangover. We can all drink to that. O

Obama-Brew: The White House gives porter a twist According to Sam Kass, the White House Assistant Chef, “The President certainly thought it’d be a good idea to see if we could join the American people in that time-honoured tradition and brew some of our own beer.” For the White House Honey Porter, the recipe for which was released following a ‘We the People’ petition of over 12,000 signatures, honey is added along with the malt, to give the beer a sweeter edge. Kass also says there is a long history of Presidents making their own alcohol. George Washington had a whisky distillery and brewed beer, Thomas Jefferson made wine, and there is some evidence of drinking in the White House during prohibition. But, Obama’s White House Brewery is the first example of brewing on the premises.


Bites & Brews

Wishing everyone at DIT a great summer

Having a class break-up at end of term?

Contact us about our function room and free finger food

Phone: 014789455 E-mail: 26

KINSALE By Paul O’Connor


Photo: Courtesy of Kinsale Growers

Farmer, grower, sower, supplier - Aimi Pinder tending her organic farm Left: Bees and flowers in Kinsale sun


hat does a course in Perma-

culture and Practicable Sustainability and 2.5 acres of land get you? For Aimi Pinder, an organic farmer living in Co. Cork, it provided the foundation for Kinsale Green Growers, a self-started business based on the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model of growing organic vegetables and distributing them directly to people in the local area. Originally from Britain, Pinder moved to Ireland four years ago and decided to harness her work experience on farms into developing a system in which locals from Kinsale pay for the vegetables that she grows all year round. Membership is paid before the growing season in order to contribute towards improvements to Pinder’s farm, as well to provide a source of income for the ‘budding entrepreneur’ when she is not working off-season. The reciprocal nature of this arrangement – which conveniently cuts out the middle-man and funds the farmer you have a direct line of communication with – is

now in its fourth season, and Pinder believes the system has been successful in some ways, but needs some more work in others. When the scheme was set up four years ago, the priority was the environment. During this time Pinder worked for nine months of the year growing organic vegetables based on a biodiversity system of pest control, and on a philosophy that if some crop has a major pest, then it should simply not be grown. However, over the last year Pinder says the priority has shifted from an environmental to a more economic perspective. The biodiversity remains, but the nine-month work period has shrunk to a four-month cycle. “After a while I found my energy was spread too thinly throughout the year,” Pinder said, “and soon I began to ask myself, ‘Wait a minute, what about my holiday?’ ” The fact that last year’s season was a “wash-out”, and provided Pinder with many headaches, did not help the situation. Nonetheless, all the orders were met, resulting in another year of satis-

fied Kinsale Grower members. This “economy of scaling down” has also manifested itself in a clever, and for Pinder a necessary, financial proviso for membership to the scheme. If a person has not signed up before a set deadline, then a ten per cent increase in the cost of their box of vegetables applies for the year. Pinder felt that “people were dragging their feet when it came to committing to membership,” and that this had an adverse effect on her business confidence. For example, planning the season became difficult in relation to crop types and quantities, and reassurances regarding an income during the off-season were cast into doubt. “Such reassurances form the basis of the reciprocal nature of the scheme so it was important I addressed that,” she said. Pinder’s priority today may be more economically than environmentally driven, but with her continuing efforts, perhaps we can all see the potential for sustainable perspectives to flourish in the modern world. O 27

Life & Style

Blocked Shift dress â‚Ź79 28

the Reed


Rediscover Fashion

Photography: Ruth Guest Words: Luke Holohan

ince its expansion out of an apartment high in Dublin’s iconic Ballymun flats, Rediscover Fashion has grown to become a recognised producer of high quality sustainable fashion. Rediscover Fashion is part of the Rediscovery Centre, a long term project set up to divert waste from landfills, provide community employment, and inspire sustainable living. The green fashion studio is a relatively new addition to the ever-changing landscape of Ballymun, but as designer Carrie Ann Moran tells us, the idea of an eco-friendly clothing label is something she has been working on since her college days. “Sustainability and the environment was never something you were taught about in fashion or any areas of design back then. My interest in this came from querying the textile waste in college and having a big interest in retro style. So with this in mind I began remaking vintage pieces.” Carrie Ann’s interest in environmental fashion developed from there, and, spurred on by the fact that nobody in Dublin seemed to be taking notice of the sustainable aspect of design, she began working full time in 2008 to build the fashion side of the Rediscovery Centre. All of the materials used by Carrie Ann and her team of designers are from fabrics donated to the Rediscovery Centre. The label is currently looking to expand their number of retailers around the Dublin area but for anyone looking to purchase unique designs from their spring collection, they can now be found at Atelier 27 on Drury Street, Dublin 2 or the Designist store on Georges Street. A fantastic feature of Rediscover Fashion is that there is great scope for pieces to be customised to personal taste and style. “Clients can come into us with one of our designs in mind, pick out their fabric and we’ll make it to their size. It’s individual and it will fit perfectly as well.” the Reed


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Linear Shift dress â‚Ź109

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the Reed

Pyramid skirt €79 Blouse: model’s own the Reed

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the Reed

Linear Shift dress Sleeveless â‚Ź99


Life & Style

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Structure Dress €79

Photography: Ruth Guest Model: Alannah Beirne Stylist: Evin Dennehy Make-up: Ailbhe Ní Riain the Reed

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Life & Style

A nice day for a...


Wedding As environmental awareness grows in Ireland, Amy-Nora Fitzgibbon takes a look at the phenomenon of ‘green weddings’ taking place around the country


rIends and FamIly oF Stuart Nolan and Mary Colhoun, a young couple from Dublin and Mayo respectively, were a little surprised when the two announced their intention to have their wedding reception on a camp-site called the Whispering Willow. However, they were even more surprised when they said the wedding party would be staying in a series of eco-friendly yurts dotted around the venue. “Some of them, including my parents, weren’t too happy about that,” Mary laughed. “The venue isn’t a typical camping-site,” she added. “It’s something known as glamorous camping, or ‘glamping’, which means, although it’s eco-friendly, it still has a luxurious feel to it.” A trend that is already popular in the United States,‘green’, or ‘reduced-scale weddings’, are a growing phenomenon in Ireland, with wedding venues around the country beginning to take note. Joe Burke, owner of the Whispering Willow, which is set along the banks of the Abbert River on eleven acres of protected natural conservation between Tuam and Claregalway, has been offering the site to couples as a wedding venue since last year. “It’s the perfect place to have an environmentally-friendly wedding because of the ecological advantage to staying in yurts and celebrating in an area of great natural beauty,” he said. “The yurts are modelled on the traditional portable yurts used by Turkic and Mongolian nomads in the steppes of Central Asia and are made from wood covered with pieces of felt for insulation. Yurts are very energy efficient due to the felt insulation, so they naturally appeal to couples who want to reduce their carbon emissions on the day.”

To enhance the environmentally-friendly impact of their wedding, Stuart and Mary have informed friends and family on how to reach the venue by public transport, while using a number of local suppliers for the catering. “We’re also by-passing ovens and using the one spit for cooking all the food, including a pig roast,” said Mary. “We definitely wanted to be eco-friendly on our wedding day, so we were delighted when we discovered this option,” she added. Kippure Estate, an alternative get-away venue on 240 acres in Co. Wicklow, began offering its ‘Green Wedding’ service around five years ago. Grainne Eustace, wedding co-ordinator at the venue, drew up the plan when she realised a lot of couples were primarily looking to reduce the cost of their big day out. “This made me notice how much waste comes from having a conventional wedding,” she explained, “so we began to look at ways in which waste could be reduced. “For example we would only source local and seasonal food to reduce food miles, use organic and fair trade ingredients for the wedding menu, organise eco-friendly confetti such as real petals or dried leaves and use biodegradable soaps and detergents to wash up the plates and cutlery. “So far, only a few couples have requested the whole green package. But most will opt for some of the package and end up reducing their costs and carbon footprint in the process.” Couples can also have a civil ceremony in the Wicklow mountains, overseen by a spiritual practitioner – provided the practitioner is registered with the Health Service Executive (HSE). Photo: Stock image


Above: Alternative wedding venue Kippure Estate, Co. Wicklow; Far right: Grainne Eustace, wedding coordinator at Kippure, with her pet sheep Sunny; Right: Whispering Willow Yurt

“It’s a popular option as the surrounding area is really beautiful,” said Grainne. Like many of the couples who choose Kippure, Clare and Eamonn, both from North County Dublin, started out by looking to reduce the cost of their wedding day, and ended up by making it more environmentally-friendly. “My mother knew we were on a tight budget,” said Clare, “so she kindly offered to make our wedding cake. A friend of mine has also offered to decorate it for us. So that will hopefully cut down on emissions that would have come from the supply and delivery of a commercial wedding cake. As well as that we’re having the civil ceremony and the reception in one location so that will cut down on car emissions.” Clare is further reducing her impact on the environment by using locallygrown, seasonal flowers for her bouquets and by hand-making the handkerchiefs for the groom, best-man and groom’s man. As for her wedding dress, the future bride has decided to have her grandmother’s wedding dress from 1936 recycled by Ireland’s only green eco-fashion label, Rediscover Fashion (see Rediscover’s fashion shoot on pages 28-33).

After dealing with a number of more traditional dressmakers, Clare was on the verge of giving up when she heard about this option. “At the Rediscovery Centre, I spoke to programme manager Carrie Ann, and we talked through the history of the dress, what kind of style I was hoping to achieve, and how to minimise the changes required,” she said. “The change in approach from a dressmaker who typically makes pieces from scratch to someone who routinely re-makes clothes was the missing piece I was looking for.” Carrie Ann Moran said she receives a lot of enquiries at Rediscovery from brides-to-be in relation to altering vintage or sentimental wedding dresses. “It’s also more cost-effective to do it this way,” she said, “as prices for our alterations range from just €70-€200.” Finally, One Fab Day, Ireland’s only online wedding magazine, recently posted a number of handy hints for couples who wish to lessen the carbon footprint of their wedding day. Tips include printing wedding stationery on recycled paper, using ‘cut plants’ instead of flowers, staying local for one’s honeymoon and asking people

to RSVP by e-mail or phone. Naoise McNally, editor of the magazine, said that inspiration for the post came from noticing the effects of the recession on young couples’ budgets, as well as a growing environmental awareness among the 25- to 35-year-old age group in Ireland. “I found that as well as looking for more cost-effective ways of getting married, young couples were starting to feel more guilt about the carbon footprint of their wedding so the post was put up in response to this,” she said. “A lot of it is about reverting to the mentality of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations,” she continued. “They were more conscious about waste than we are. Environmentally friendly weddings don’t have to be about being a complete hippy on the day. Little adjustments can make a lot of difference.” As for Stuart and Mary, they’re skipping the yurt for their wedding night and opting for the eco-friendly stone house instead; built with lime mortar it dates all the way back to the 12th century. “It’s a bit bigger than a yurt,” said Mary. “But we won’t let the rest of the guests know that until they arrive.” O


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in Finland. Miina Rautiainen met Lotta Laaksonen who lives with her family following the principles of permaculture Photos: Miina Rautiainen & Stéphane Poirié

permaculture a way of life S

windows and reveals the delicate dance of dust and animal hair in the air. It is warm under the duvet and you can hear the cock crowing in the distance. First one to get up from the warm bed will have to light the fire. Before breakfast, the dogs will have to go out and the animals will need to be fed. Between the routines there might just be a moment to stop in the sun and listen to the quietness of nature. Lotta Laaksonen, 35, lives in southwest Finland with her four children. She owns a small farm with hens, ducks, sheep, two horses, two dogs and a cat. The family applies permaculture throughout their daily life. They have lived in the house for two years now without warm water or even a toilet inside. Out the back of the house they have a dry toilet which produces comun shines through the


post for the garden. Permaculture is a system mainly related to agriculture, but as Lotta says, nearly anything in life can be approached from a permaculture perspective. “Before, we knew how to do things in a more sustainable way and how things functioned as much on their own as possible. Today’s intensive agriculture has gone far from this kind of thinking.” So, how can we put permaculture into practice? “All the pieces are already in place, that what is made more often is closer to the idea of permaculture than the things which are made less frequently.” Permaculture introduces zonal think-

ing where the activities and actions belong to zones from zero to five. For example, your working place would be located in zone zero if you go there every day by your car. Travel that contributes more to your carbon footprint is located in zone five, like if you travelled to a place by plane maybe once a year. In agriculture, zone five would be natural unmanaged areas, zone four forests where you collect fire wood once a year. Zone three would be ranges, zone two gardens and zone one the animal pens that you visit daily. “At our farm, feeding animals is a routine which takes about 15 minutes.

In permaculture everything you do is useful in some way and creates a circle

The hay is next to the sheep and the water tap next to the hens,” Laaksonen says. “My aim is that the daily routines are as simple and easy as possible.” One of the core ideas is that everything you do is useful in more than one way and that everything fits into the whole. Permaculture follows the patterns and rhythm of nature and is, for Laaksonen, always organic as well. In the garden everything starts with soil enrichment. Therefore Laaksonen is going to plant nitrogen fixer plants, alders, in the old field to replenish the nitrogen in the soil.The soil has become tighter because of the overuse of machines. Now it needs roots and organic material to become fertile again. “In permaculture you should return to the soil what you take from it.” While the alders grow Laaksonen is also going to make living furniture out of them. By trade she is actually a cabinet-maker. “In permaculture everything you do is useful in some way and creates a circle. You add an element and it benefits the whole system. It can also be just aesthetics.” In her mind, Laaksonen still has many plans which are just waiting to be realised.The time scale with most of them is closer to ten years which might ask for too much patience from today’s fastsociety people. “I’ve been observing the way water is running here and I’m going to dig swales to harvest the rain water.” With the swales the water will go through the plot as it would in nature and there should not be any more need for irrigation. Next summer, Laaksonen is going to have a yurt built in the garden. It will offer accommodation for the WWOOFers (Willing workers on organic farms) and other workers or trainees coming to the farm. Currently Lotta is working with a WWOOFer volunteer from France. For Laaksonen, living in the countryside being close to nature has always been the way. “My own grandparents were my greatest teachers.” She believes that her children will learn spontaneously the way of sustainable living.

“When you have grown into it, approaching it becomes easier.” “Many people wonder how I can manage everything, the children and the animals. When you live in a way which differs from the mainstream you can be subject to ridicule.” Laaksonen doesn’t want to start debating and tries to avoid discussions where she feels her way of life is being questioned in a negative way. “To each his own,” she says. “Many people are also really interested and want to learn more.” “I try to live as ecologically as I can. On my own I could live around the year in a yurt and eat very simply.” “But I don’t want to!” shouts the youngest daughter from the next room. “But you have to make compromises in life,” Laaksonen continues. “The car I have is for the sake of the children.” Normally permaculture is taught on courses by certified teachers. In Finland there is not yet a teacher who would be able to give an official course. Laaksonen’s aim is to organise introduction courses on her farm. She is also preparing an information package which could be used in schools. Laaksonen’s dream is to be entirely self-sufficient within a few years. Besides the farm she has her own company which delivers organic products to its customers. In Finland there are thousands of people involved in permaculture in some way. Around permaculture there is a strong network of people. Lotta says that while there is a very close and unified culture around permaculture, it is very easy to get involved if you are new to it. “When you get interested in permaculture, you normally start to apply it in your life in some way.” O From top: Lotta and her youngest daughter; The house has electricity but no warm water or toilet inside; The firewood is collected from the forest next to the farm; Sheep stay outside the whole year


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A day

n a f o e f i l e h t in d o o h r u o b h g i eco-ne last year in a t n e sp t, n e d u st oung Irish Alicia Falvey, a y unity called Eva Lanxmeer. fe is like in a Dutch eco-commora Fitzgibbon what everyday li ability She told Amy-N tirely on environmental sustain village based en


own this shape is cause studies have sh co-operative and be nx La travelled to nducive to a ere was a rt of the more co meer last year as pa rvice friendly environment, and th of each re Se European Volunteer Com- community garden in the cent an pe (EVS), a Euro ership formation. e houses had solar panels for mission-funded partn nity Most of th lople the opportu pe g un yo es ctricity and solar co t giv ele at th ary service nt lu What is an bu vo r, te do wa to t ad ho r ro fo lectors to travel ab teco-neighbourhood? ec nn in another country. Voluntary Service some were still co se of Eco-neighbourhoods, by ca d in ar id rw the gr I was put fo sh volunteer ed to ld winters. Iri popular all over the ly on e th s wa I t co Ireland bu EVS very r he ot e I Th world, combine an e. g, tim nin In the mor going out at that e were from lag environmentallyin vil d ove ec ol e inv th t in uld ge volunteers I shared accom- wo inistrative work sustainable approach d an ce an Fr d an adm Greece to housing and lifestyle bers of them. modation with one get up around 8am with the core memThis with community decision. d ity ul un wo m I m ys co Most da to of the ing go re fo be d making. The aim of an st an kfa g and have some brea the permaculture meant attendin the eco-neighbourhood, on in s en ng participati feed the chick along with supporting the farming is farming d on farm. [Permaculture natural rhythms; discussions base erenvironment, is to foster an ’s alt rth of sibility based on the ea rmaculture the fea ing systems, pe a atmosphere of communal th wi w vie er native liv see our int - respect and cooperation n on page 36]. The dif ne of so e ak us La e th tta as Lo ch er su farm and e farm is that in each philosophy behind th ld be enough land ferent currencies different ou sh of e n er th tio ea ity s. commun - the cr ergy heating system e whole neighbour to grow food for th o worked on the kinds of central en highly aware of enwh The Dutch are hood. The farmer t outside the neighe Eva Lanxjus e us ho ental issues and th many ecohis m d on vir farm ha m co e th t one of come into meer project is jus e Netherlands. The bourhood, and he’d rk. th wo in s to y od da ho y ur er neighbo munity ev 24 hectares, began ich was on the top Our apartment, wh uses, had a bal- neighbourhood, on nsists of 250 dwellco o-ho floor of one of the ec community garden, in 1994 and now re meters of office ua e sq th ing 00 ,0 ok lo 40 er ings, ess cony ov ation centre, a welln ent kinds of trees inwhich had all differ e trees. The houses space, an inform ntre, bar, restaurants ce pl cluding pear and ap rmed in a U-shape centre, congress fo e ar r ee m nx La in Eva



s a holistic ming that emphasize d on the far nic ga to e m ulture base oment it is ho and a hotel. At the m d residents, most approach to agric the earth, soil and re of nd ip hu sh e ion interrelat more than on me or on the farm, plants.] CSA schemes are where particito of who work from ho live/work. mer enough money in a system known as d the neighbour- pants give the far nter and The principle behin s different ur- buy seeds in the wi are prorate ey hood is that it integ erefore provides a then in summer th seasonal of th x d bo an a vided with ban functions week. The tween educational, healthy balance be ral and sustain- vegetables every d an area ltu ha cu o CSA farmer als economic, social, ld flowers, inable measures inable interests. Susta circuit, an integral where he grew wi e edible, ar r clude a closed wate stem, use of sus- some of which provide sy water management rials and organic and some of which for the ts ate ue m uq ing bo ild ul bu beautif tainable residents. food production. t ou ab t os m uld I like In the evening I wo m One of the things o view sustain7p als nd ey the Dutch is that th w it relates to the make dinner arou lunteers ho vo r of he s ot rm e te th in th y wi ilit ab or her well-being. t, or I human being and his ences and work- in our apartmen e comer th So many of the conf on discussions of would eat with factory up ity in the shops were based and spiritual mun that was run by a ble ina sta su ing br space how to in raw rk place, and how practices to the wo life is headed in chef specialising more ur is yo od at fo th w re food. Ra to make su body as through advice from the right direction, r spiritual practi- nutritious for the food e he th ot in d the enzymes life-coaches an stroyed de en be t tioners. for haven’ sit by ba to ess. I also had the ed oc us I pr the cooking by In the afternoon at . od ho ur bo e neigh with the family th families living in th provide me with choice of eating below me and the lived in the house They would often ingredients bought other volunteer. nic ga or ing us h nc lu e in the neighm the ingredients I loved spending tim a great interest from the shops or fro aculture farm. I have provided by the perm bring the children bourhood. Now practices after seed ing ul liv wo in sustainable Some days I a we d an , od ho ur lly applied on such around the neighbo ganic café on the ing them successfueer. It’s an inspiration or m would stop in the the local Steiner scale as Eva Lanx mitted to creating a m m co fro le n op re see pe farm. Child the farm once to e sustainable space for themselves on rk wo to e m ca mor t school out permaculture ent. I recently spen a week to learn ab always a very busy and the environm o-village of Cloughs some time in the ec ary, and it’s very principles so that wa Co. Tipper e. tim e zone jordan, in s great to see these ideas re r-f ca a is ity un similar. It’ The comm inn is within walking parts of the world, but the train statio get to the near- spreading to all untry. n co distance and you ca in around fifteen cluding our own used to unwind with rg we bo r, ne lem din Cu After d est city of ilies car-pool but projects or we coul minutes. Some fam for around seven our own artistic ic nights that were s -m that still only allow families. I used to attend the open lots of singers and e re fiv we ty fif e n er ee Th held. cars betw od here as the cycle in the neighbourho to walk or cycle everyw ds are excellent musicians living y nit rtu po the op lan so we would enjoy rform something routes in the Nether land! pe Ire or – much better than rmaculture farm listen to them, lves. Along with the pe mic farm which for the group ourse d by 11.30pm and na I’d usually get to be be ready to face there was also a biody Supported Agriity un m m xt morning I’d Co a ed offer sidents. by the ne over again.” O re e th to ) SA (C e the day all cultural schem is a method of or[Biodynamic farming

It’s an inspiration to see people committed to creating a more sustainable space for themselves and the environment


In the Long Reeds

Belo Monte dam:

The story so far By Luke Holohan

Building in the Amazon rainforest has always been a contentious issue. The desire to develop within this unique environment and harvest its abundant natural resources has often clashed with calls to protect the diverse terrain and species that are found there. Recently a new frontier has emerged in the depths of the Amazon along the Xingu River: a battle between industrial development and environmental and cultural sustainability. It is a conflict which will have a huge impact on the economy or the environmental landscape of Brazil. Photo: Dida Sampaio/Agencia state



‘The Real Life Avatar’, perhaps crudely by some individuals and media outlets, the controversial decision by the Brazilian government to go ahead with the construction of a hydroelectric dam complex on the Xingu River has garnered fresh condemnation from environmental and indigenous rights groups. Whatever your view on the comparison, fundamental similarities between the blockbuster movie’s storyline and the construction of the Belo Monte dam do exist. The Amazon Basin, a lush area of land and water, over 3 million square miles in size, has a unique ecosystem consisting of many different types of plant and animal wildlife. This Amazonian region with its diverse tribal culture and beautiful landscapes is also said to have inspired much of the backdrop for the alien Avatar world of Pandora. The principle of the story is all the more comparable, the major difference being however, that unlike in the movies, large-scale corporate and industrial interests look likely to roll over the activists and local indigenous tribes putting up a fight. Thousands of plant and animal species make their home in the Amazon Basin region.Trek in the sweltering heat through the dense jungle canopy and you have the potential to come into contact with a vast array of exotic flora and fauna, like its 1,800 species of birds, 60 kinds of reptiles, 2,000 fish varieties or 30,000 types of plants. One of the most remarkable of these plants is the bromeliad. Its flower blooms in wonderful shades of orange, blue, red and purple; in addition to its beauty, the plants wax cupped leaves act as buckets, collecting rainwater which helps sustain the regions wildlife. In fact many more species are still only being discovered. But, the Amazon Basin is also an area rich in natural resources such as iron, steel, wood, gold and tin, and, moreover, it contains 15 per cent of the world’s bauxite reserves. It is because of this wealth in natural resources that scenes of devastation have visited its natural environment. Although statistically deforestation oined as

Photos: Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera

Top: Workers set explosives to break solid rock Left: Belo Monte construction site

rates have dropped, it is estimated that roughly 224,000 square miles of the Amazon Basin forest has been lost since 1980. This region will soon be home to the Belo Monte dam, which will be one of the largest hydroelectric dams ever built. It could also be home to more than 30 other dams if the plans to solve Brazil’s energy deficiency get the goahead by the Brazilian government. Owing to its large amount of natural resources and scenic landscapes, Brazil has long been regarded as a country with a bright economic future. However it is only recently that it has been pushing hard to fulfil that potential. In 2007 the government under President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva launched the Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (PAC) or accelerated growth plan. This two stage programme, made up of economic policies and investment projects, highlighted the Brazilian government’s aim to modernise infrastructure and stimulate economic growth. As part of the PAC programme an estimated $900 billion was budgeted to be spent in areas of logistics and energy and social development between 2007 and 2014, with the money being accrued from federal

and state government as well as public and private company investors. Stage one of the programme (PAC1) ended in March 2010 amid the global economic crisis. During this time the Brazilian economy grew steadily, remaining relatively resilient to the economic downturn. So far, however, the accelerated growth programme has had mixed success. It’s been reported that only 14 per cent of the originally estimated $306 billion PAC 1 fund has been fully invested and many of the projects put forward by the scheme have been delayed. One of the projects announced as part of the PAC 1 programme was the Belo Monte Dam. Brazil’s Federal Environmental Agency (IBAMA) approved a licence permitting the dam’s construction on June 1st, 2011, and development on the $14billion project is already fast approaching the halfway mark. Locals of the area have opposed the project saying that it has been given the go-ahead despite the fact that it will displace a number of communities and destroy the natural habitat which many rely on.To build the dam, more earth will have to be moved than was the case when building the Panama


In the Long Reeds Photo: Atossa Soltani/Amazon Watch

Canal and a 500 square kilometre area of land will be flooded. Alongside thisprospect, Amazon Watch, a non-profit organisation that campaigns for the protection of the rainforest and indigenous rights, outlined that “in order to feed the powerhouse of the Belo Monte dam complex, up to 80 per cent of the Xingu River will be diverted from its original course, causing a permanent drought on the river’s ‘Big Bend’, directly affecting the Paquiçamba and Araraindigenous territories.” Since the beginning of its construction the Belo Monte dam has been littered with controversy. The project has already been halted by a court injunction and disrupted by numerous protests. When asked about how Brazil stands to benefit from the dam, the press office for Norte Energia, a consortium of 18 companies behind the construction, said that Belo Monte would provide cheaper and more reliable renewable energy to meet the growing energy demand in Brazil. While it refused to be drawn on questions over an energy crisis in the country, it explained that “the project will add 4,751 megawatts per year to the Brazilian energy matrix, enough to power 18 million homes in the country.” Critics of the project have questioned the benefits of the dam, stressing that the negative impact on the local community and the environment significantly outweigh the benefits of the clean energy that the dam will be able to create. It has also recently come to light that even though the dam will certainly have green credentials when built, it will only generate a fraction of its originally planned output and even less during the Xingu River’s three- to four-month month low water season. Norte Energia’s assurance that 18 million homes will be provided for with energy from the dam all sounds very beneficial until you consider that the dam actually has the ability to generate up to 11,000 megawatts, almost triple the amount that Norte Energia is forecasting. As a result, before it has even been fully built, the Belo Monte is now being considered by many to be one of the most unproductive dams in the world. Zachary Hurwitz, policy coordinator for International Rivers, which is an organisation that works to halt destructive 42

river projects, spoke about this substantial fault. “The Belo Monte dam is hardly a source of sustainable energy. Firstly, the dam’s provision of energy is not sustainable in itself – it has a capacity factor (efficiency rating) of 39 per cent, which is low for dams. And it will produce on average close to 4,500 megawatts a year, far less than its 11,233 megawatt capacity. During the dry season, Belo Monte is expected to produce only 10 per cent of its capacity.” He added that developers were even accepting this problem, saying they believed the low percentage of output was complementary to the existing energy network. “The dams in the southeast are to make up for the lack of energy coming from Belo Monte.” The Amazon Basin contains 60 per cent of the world’s tropical rainforest and it is the area through which the Amazon River flows.The river and its 1,000 tributaries account for nearly 20 per cent of the total water carried to oceans by rivers. It is this volume of water that the Brazilian federal government hope to harness into energy by way of hydroelectric dams. The Belo Monte Dam is seen as an important part of this drive, which aims to improve national energy resources and provide support for the country’s growing population. Current President Dilma Rousseff has been a keen sponsor of the project throughout its proposed development, having worked on the accelerated growth plan during her time as Interior Minister. She also held the position of first Energy Minister under former President Lula Da Silva and boosting the country’s energy resources has been a key theme of Rousseff’s tenure since being elected President in January 2011. Despite the dam’s obvious criticisms, the government bid to increase Brazil’s energy output is understandable. The country has an important few years ahead of it. It will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in Rio in 2016, both potentially a huge support for the Brazilian employment market and economy.To make sure these events run smoothly, essential infrastructure has had to be built and improved on, such as stadiums, roads, railways, airports and marinas. In addition to these grandstand events, according to the country’s Ministry of Energy & Mines, Brazil needs

Human rights and environmental protection cannot be subordinated to narrow business interests

Stop Belo Monte: protesters send a powerful message


In the Long Reeds Photo: Brent Millikan

to add 580,000 megawatts of capacity to its hydroelectric power system over the next 10 years to deal with growth in population and development in infrastructure. The weight of the world’s expectations are almost certainly weighing on the minds of the powers-that-be in the South American country, and in order to meet these growing energy demands, 34 additional dams are being planned for the Brazilian Amazon.These plans have been highlighted in the government report entitled ‘Ten Year Expansion Plan for Energy 2020’.


he site of the Belo Monte dam is

located in an area known as the ‘Big Bend’ on the lower course of the River Xingu, a 1,979 kilometre long stretch of water in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The state is home to the Xingu National Park which is located near the river’s source. It was established in 1961 as the country’s first protected indigenous area and since then a number of similar conservation areas have been recognised in Pará. The dam is being built just north of these areas, and is home to such species as the zebra pleco fish (Hypancistrus zebra), the Xingu poison dart frog (Allobatescrombiei) and the endangered white cheeked spider monkey. Together with the main powerhouse, Pimentel, and a smaller overspill dam known as the Bela Vista, Belo Monte will operate at three separate points


along the river. A system of dykes and reservoirs will also support the dam meaning the overall construction will span 1,500 square kilometres. The government focus on renewable energy and the decision to use hydroelectric power is based on the commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 36.1 per cent to 38.9 per cent by the year 2020. However, so far, Belo Monte seems to be doing more harm than good. In the plans released by the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Brazilian Energy Research Company (EPE), the Belo Monte dam is “expected to begin commercial generation in January 2015, with full plant automation targeted for January 2019.” According to Norte Energia those plans are very much on track and don’t seemed to have been hampered too much by opposition. “The Belo Monte follows the planned schedule,” it said. “The first turbine will go into operation in February 2015 and the last turbine in January 2019.” On completion, the dam will be the third largest dam in the world behind the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Itaipu Dam, which is owned by both Brazil and Paraguay. It is interesting to note that a previous proposal to build a number of dams on the Xingu River was abandoned in the late 1980s when widespread opposition to the plans led to the World Bank withdrawing loans to fund their construction. In fact Belo Monte might not ever have happened

were it not for a similar reliance on bank investment. Due to lack of commercial interest, last November the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) stumped up an unprecedented $10.8 billion loan to build the dam. A spokesperson for Movimento Xingu Vivo Par Sempre (MXVPS), a collection of social organisations and environmentalists based in the nearby city of Altamira, said that 10 tribes were in contact with them over opposition to the dam. “The indigenous groups affected by Belo Monte are the Arara, Juruna, Arawaté, Xipaya, Kuruaia, Xikrin, Apiterewa, Assurini, Parakanã and Kayapó Kararaô people, as well as some groups in voluntary isolation,” said Verena Glass, MXVPS communication coordinator. Officially, the number of people that will be displaced by the dam stands at 19,000. Locals believe any compensation that they stand to receive is miniscule compared to what they will lose, and the conduct of some of the authorities involved has left many with little hope of ever receiving the full payment. “The Norte Energia did not comply with many conditions regarding the rights of the affected, and this is something the Indians and others are using to put pressure on them,” explained Glass. Speaking to The Reed, Norte Energia sought to distance itself from its past mistakes. “The Norte Energia respects the rights of demonstrations against the project and has contributed to the dialogue with all stakeholders through various channels and institutional communication. It is worth noting that most of the demonstrations were against aspects of the project that have been altered.” Despite opposition, Joao Pimental, the director for institutional relations for Norte Energia, has spoken of the importance of the dam. In an interview with Al Jazeera late last year he stated that, “Brazil needs Belo Monte”, and went on to explain that limiting the environmental effect of the dam has been incorporated into the plans. The damage limitations also seem to have vastly limited the dam’s productiveness, which begs the question, why build the dam at all? The answer to that lies in the lucrative contracts of the companies involved; large amounts of money have swapped hands. In February 2011, Al-

stom, described as ‘The World’s Leading Energy Solutions and Transport Company’, signed a contract with Norte Energia worth €500 million to provide power equipment to the Belo Monte construction. The Metso Corporation, a company which specialises in mining equipment, has made €30 million so far while Norwegian engineering consultancy firm, Arcadis, has been paid over €112 million for its services. There are a further 15 multinational and Brazilian companies that stand to benefit financially from the project. In his interview with Al Jazeera, Joao Pimental referred to the increased opposition against the dam as largely based on misinformation. “We did the Belo Monte project differently from the Itaipu Dam and Three Gorges Dam. We opted to use minimal flood plains,” he said. “Belo Monte might be considered controversial because of the idea that the Amazon is a fully intact virgin territory, absolutely full of people walking around half-naked, surrounded by monkeys and birds. The area is not virgin forest, it’s just the opposite – these are areas already degraded with deforestation.”


nvironmentalists, indigenous groups and members of the local area

won a small reprieve last August when building had to be suspended. A federal appeals court ruled that, because indigenous groups had not been properly consulted, building had to

stop,announcing that “human rights and environmental protection cannot be subordinated to narrow business interests.” Work has since resumed however, attracting many protesters along with it. In September 2012 a group of 150 fishermen from the Jericoá indigenous community descended on Belo Monte occupying the Pimental site for 24 days. The occupation stemmed from the fact that fishing had become impossible in the region due to the diversion of the river. During the protest, work on the Pimental completely stopped and 30,000 workers had to be removed from the site. The group had demanded that their lands be demarcated from the construction area and non-indigenous people removed. They also requested access to a better healthcare system and better drinking water as partial compensation for the destruction of their land. The government and contractors say that all the communities affected have been compensated and yet the protest continues. Five occupations of important building infrastructure have taken place since last year and indigenous groups like the Jericoá community haven’t yet given up the fight against the “attempt to assassinate the Xingu and the people that depend upon the river for their survival.” Anger over the dam has increased so much that troops have had to be deployed to the area to protect the construction site. A statement from the federal government defended the move,

saying “troops will ensure the safety of the people, property and the maintenance of public order.” As we near the middle of 2013, the war on Belo Monte is gathering pace. Zachary Hurwitz now thinks it is unlikely the dam can be stopped. Latest images from the site clearly show that the local environment has paid a price for its natural resources. The creation of the coffer dam has led to erosion of riverbank soil and the diversion of the river has destroyed fish stocks. Indigenous tribes such as the Juruna and Arara have had their access to freshwater cut off and transport routes to the nearby city of Altamira have been blocked. Another problem that seems to have been forgotten about is the inward migration of workers. The influx of close to 100,000 people involved in the construction has almost doubled the city of Altamira’s population and put huge pressure on social services that are already stretched. In spite of the increasing outrage and number of protests, the dam continues to be built in what has been termed the lungs of the world. Brazil may be heading towards a brighter economic future, but it could very well be an environmentally bleaker one, as it gradually erodes the Amazon, its greatest natural resource. O Left: Locals march on Belo Monte Below: Indigenous protest along Xingu River Photo: Atossa Soltani/Amazon Watch


In the Long Reeds

Clockwise from top left: Tomasz Szustek/Uspecto Images Photo: Peter Patau Caricatures: Donkey Hotey Photo: IAEA Photo: University of Ulster Photo: Bob August Photo: Porchlife


Economic Crisis

} What happens to the green agenda, when countries are in the red? By Al McConnell


an goIng For a walk ever be more than just going for a walk? In Poppintree Park, North Dublin, the Ballymun Walking Group has gathered every Wednesday for the past few months, regardless of weather, more often than not wrapped up against the elements. “It’s strange,” says Lynn Boylan, community project coordinator with Global Action Plan, an organisation aiming to promote sustainable development. “People’s motivations for our environmental projects have changed due to recession, but the way we look at it – well it’s still having the same outcome.” Originally set up as a way of promoting walking as an alternative to driving – “even around Ballymun, a lot of people would drive almost everywhere” – the group has found a lot of people joining to get fit (no gym membership

needed), looking for something to do with their spare time (with many now out of work), or simply seeing it as a way to meet new people. “Going for a walk in Poppintree Park has replaced meeting in a coffee shop,” says Boylan. The recession has also had knock-on effects for the organisation’s other projects. There has been a spike in volunteering for Tidy Towns since fly-tipping became a scourge in Dublin, driven by waste collection charges and privatisation. “Obviously we’re not engaging the people who are doing the dumping,” Boylan adds, “but volunteering is up. Then again, are they real positives if they’ve happened because people have lost their jobs?” It’s an intriguing question. Across Ireland, and across all western countries touched by the economic collapse, the environmental agenda is at a crossroads – has recession drowned out green voices, or does crisis provide an opportunity for a green revolution?

Opposite, clockwise from top left: Dublin protest; Protest against Koch brothers’ political influence; Caricatures of Bill and David Koch; Phil Hogan meets IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano; Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Quebec Pollution; Barack Obama.


In the Long Reeds


tightened. Collapse has pushed the haulage sector off the motorway, and with so many jobs lost, the number of commuters has decreased. With energy demands also down, the overall result is that emissions have decreased in recent years. Some have seen this as a positive impact of the recession. Last year, we were told that the Irish environment was becoming ‘cleaner’ due to recession, and emissions of almost all main air pollutants fell throughout the EU in 2009, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). In fact, Ireland was able to meet its Kyoto Protocol target for emissions in 2012, and is apparently on course to meet its 2020 EU emissions targets (of 20 per cent reductions on 1990 levels), according to the National Economic and Social Council. Unfortunately, a study carried out by the Global Carbon Project highlighted that any decrease in nations hit by economic decline have been far outweighed by the rampant growth in emissions elsewhere in the world, with carbon dioxide emissions hitting an all-time high in 2012, and showing little sign of slowing. “When you take a global perspective, I think a lot of these positive news stories about emissions dropping become much less positive – displacing carbon dioxide emissions to elsewhere is not a benefit,” says Dr Henrike Rau, lecturer in Political Science and Sociology at NUI Galway. Rau, who specialises in environmental sociology and sustainability research, also argues that recession’s positive impact on transport emissions is likely to be only short-lived. “I don’t envisage the haulier industry, for example, going back to more polluting practices per se, but efficiency gains are often cancelled out by an increase in volume at national and global levels.” Professor Frank Convery, Chairman of the UCD Earth Institute, takes a more positive view, arguing that the need to raise money in recent years has pushed the Government to make some positive changes for the environment. Companies will now have to empty their pockets as they empty their bins into landfill, he says. he commuter belt has


Worrying about the environment only when we have jobs and growth is putting the cart before the horse - Dr Padraic Larkin

“We’ve raised the levies for delivering into landfill, and we’ve increased the carbon tax, so there’s a real incentive to think about driving on a day-to-day basis. Skewing the tax to strongly favour fuel-efficient new cars has also shifted the composition of the car fleet pretty dramatically. “Of course, if you don’t have policies in place to continue the reduction, you’ll go back to where you started from.”


ecession has prompted myriad proposals for overhaul of

our economic system. As Rau explains, “There’s a whole range of proposals that have been suggested: the ‘green economy’, ‘green new deal’, greening existing production and consumption processes, and more radical suggestions of de-growth and steady state economy.” On this radical side of things, Professor James Speth, of Vermont Law School, recently challenged the prevailing emphasis on economic growth. He said: “Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries…Environmentalists will continue to live in a strange place where they can save the planet only if it helps the economy.” But, even the more moderate idea that environmentalism and desire for economic growth could be combined has not yet made it into the mainstream. As Dr Padraic Larkin, former Deputy Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),“worrying about the environment only when we

have lots of jobs and growth, is putting the cart before the horse”. In reality, he points out, the idea of conflict between the environment and economic growth is a falsehood, a perspective that others are trying to promote. According to Thomas Legge, Senior Program Officer of the German Marshal Fund of the United States, it is an unfortunate association that people consider environmental protection to automatically have a negative impact on economic growth, and consider the two to be mutually exclusive. “It’s certainly part of the rhetoric,” says Legge, who was a member of the Climate Gathering’s advisory board in Galway. “Many politicians often say that environmental policy would have a high economic cost, but in reality the facts show the reverse. You might have to look beyond the standard economic models, but the real effects can be economically beneficial.” However, this message has not yet been taken to heart by many western governments. “The political willingness to engage with greening of the economy is certainly not as far advanced as I would like,” says Legge. “On the one hand, we have economic crisis, on the other we have environmental crisis, or catastrophe, in climate change. But surprisingly, no one is talking about merging these two crises, and that is the thing that could have real long-term benefit for both issues. “Unfortunately, governments are simply unwilling to take on the debt that would be involved. Some have done so, such as South Korea with their stimulus package that went almost entirely on green enterprises. In Europe, on the other hand, we’ve gone for austerity.” Although recession may have some environmental upsides, long-term benefit for the environment would require hefty investment, rather than recessiondriven cuts. But, Legge also points out that a long-term investment in environmental protection would be the rational choice for economic growth. “The economic costs of de-carbonising economies would be vast, and we’re not sure yet how vast exactly. But look at the 2007 Stern Review, which estimated the costs of climate change could

be up to 20 per cent of worldwide GDP. It described climate change as the greatest market failure the world has ever seen. The economic cost of neglecting the environment is so clearly much higher than the cost of addressing it. “The problem with addressing environmental crisis is that there will actually be winners and losers. And the losers, such as stakeholders in fossil fuels, are better at making their case. The winner is society as a whole, which doesn’t have a clear constituency or a lobby, whereas the losers have been more concentrated, politically vocal, and they have something direct to lose.” Rau is equally sceptical that a green economy might be brought about by the current crisis. “There’s a lot of discourse around getting the economy back on track and increasing economic growth,” she says. “That indicates to me that people are trying to get back to pre-crash levels, without discussing an alternative economic model that would be less environmentally harmful. “I’m not overly optimistic that we can get over the growth-based system because of the recession, but perhaps it has opened the door to some debate. “People have taken their eyes off environmental issues, however, and that is a disadvantage if you are trying to promote a greener approach to production and consumption. At the moment environmental protection is seen less as an opportunity, and more of a burden.”


emphasised is the crucial role of the State in supporting and providing the conditions for sectors such as renewable energy to succeed – we have witnessed fiscal pressures lead to a withdrawal of State support in many regions, alongside a drop in private capital investment, which has been unable (or unwilling) to pick up the environmental slack. In Germany, swathes of countryside are marked with the blue-black sheen of solar panels, reflecting a high point of environmental intervention through subsidies in the last decade. This longterm support, however, has been rocked in the past year, as the high financial cost ne thing recession has

Photo: Ronan Hickey

to the country began to be questioned by government. The Czech Republic has also threatened to block cross-border German wind power, in order to maintain market incentives for its planned new nuclear power plant, while Spain slashed its support for wind farms, and other EU member states have made retroactive cuts in support for renewable energy. According to Convery, it’s a question of priorities. When huge unemployment and social problems exist, as they do now, the environment is going to fall down the list. He adds, though, that in this case, environmental concerns have suffered “disproportionately”, as it isn’t seen as something we need to fix now. “I would say that some of the cutbacks are not smart,” he says. “It’s poor decision-making basically…but I can understand it.” In both the EU and the US, governments have been erring on the side of familiarity, and leaning towards conventional fossil fuel investment. In March of this year, the EU Commission changed its long-standing tune by backing a gradual shift away from renewable energy subsidies, while in the United States, President Obama has been juggling the two arguments in deciding whether to proceed with the Keystone XL oil pipeline. On the one side are environmental concerns that have been strongly against

the project from the outset, especially following the Mayflower oil spill in Arkansas. On the 29th of March, the equivalent of 7,000 barrels of oil was spilled across residential areas and into Lake Conway, in Mayflower, Arkansas, as a result of a faulty ExxonMobil pipeline. Against the environmental concerns are economic arguments from American and Canadian officials from across the political spectrum, as well as some workers’ unions and significant sections of the population, that the pipeline will create jobs and lower the cost of fuel in the US (see Yetsuh Frank on this issue – page 53). In our own country, Rau points to the recent Tuam motorway investment as an example of the Government’s conventional leanings. “Even if you get some investment in green initiatives,” she says, “the bulk of the investment still goes to basic conventional technologies and infrastructure that have a large ecological footprint. At the moment it is still about conventional economic growth; the Gathering would have been a great opportunity to promote eco-tourism in Ireland, which is an emerging sector, but far too little was invested.” Convery holds back from outright criticism of the environmental measures that have emerged from the 34th Dáil Eireann, but not by much. “For the current government, I don’t think green issues are a priority. The


In the Long Reeds

priority is to meet the Troika requirements, and everything else is incidental. “They haven’t unpicked general policy much, so I don’t see a sign of significant moves backwards. At the same time, you don’t get the impression that there’s a strong forward strategy.” With a highly-rated recycling system being “dismantled before our eyes”, as Rau puts it, it is difficult to argue that there is real green commitment in the current Cabinet. “Galway had an excellent recycling system, and some very positive environmental views, but this has been challenged.There have been cuts, and a lot of services have been privatised – I’m not against that per se, but when you look at other examples across Europe, privatisation has at best a very patchy record, and most of the time it doesn’t work. “Private companies want to make profits and they will pick the most lucrative routes.” After Greyhound Recycling brought in charges for household recycling in December, the basis of a system designed to incentivise recycling over domestic waste has slipped, and with fly-tipping now a widespread problem across the country, the signs are worrying. Larkin points simply to the absurdity of watching two recycling lorries pass each other in the street, covering the

For the current government, green issues are not a priority... You don’t get the impression that there’s a strong forward strategy - Dr Frank Convery

major emitters. Damian Ryan, who was present at the talks and covering them for the Climate Change Group, of which he is a Senior Policy Manager, says any real steps forward were inhibited by the hard-line position taken by developed countries with regard to investment, which demonstrates, at least in some part, that when budgets are tight, environmental protection doesn’t get much attention. At Doha, raising ambition was taken off the table at an early stage. With money tight, there was no incentive to expand on previously agreed deals. “Governments were unwilling to be

these climate change conferences is a controversial issue, but it is telling that in February of this year, the Guardian reported that anonymous billionaires have donated $120 million to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science. This is not including the funding and influence of billionaire, climate changedenying brothers Charles and Bill Koch, who employ 30 lobbyists in Washington alone, and are deeply invested in maintaining fossil fuel reliance.


wo trends of environmental thinking have emerged in recent years, fuelled by the harsh impacts of recession – Screw it, it’s too late…and screw it. According to Rau, “one trend is that it is too late to do anything about climate change; we’re all doomed so we may as well not bother. The other is that people are totally disengaged from the environmental debate – people just don’t care.” “The two trends are there,” agrees Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party, and former Minister of State, “and it’s understandable that many people can’t even think about environmental issues at the moment, when they’re just trying to get a job or keep a job and feed their family.”

Two trends of environmental thinking have emerged in recent years. Screw it, it’s too late...and screw it same area of collections, to show that something is not quite right. As Rau states, “When you start charging for recycling bags, it sends out a clear signal which is that we aren’t really interested in people recycling – it’s about the money.”


nternationally, the

18th UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, in December of last year, was no more pro-active on the environmental crisis. Although some very limited successes were achieved, there was no improvement in the ambition shown by the


seen to be pledging large amounts of money at the same time as tightening budgets at home, though the current narrative internationally that economic growth and environmental protection are mutually exclusive is wrong.” For an example of Legge’s contention that “the losers are better at making their case”, these negotiations are a good place to start. Under the calming blue lights at the Doha conference, discussion was far from mellow, and behind-the-scenes, thousands of lobbyists were part of the frenzied negotiations. Where the power really lies behind

Climate change denial remains most stereotypically linked to the US, and on the 2nd of April, the Washington Post ran a story headlined: ‘The public’s interest in climate change is waning’. Although this story is a bit late to the party, it captures a pattern that has been evident in the States. This year, and for the fifth consecutive year, Gallup polls show that more Americans prioritise protecting economic growth than prioritise protecting the environment, although the disparity between the two options is slimming, perhaps due to a slowly recovering

economy. It remains, however, a significant reversal of historic findings. In Europe, the extent of what seems to be public disengagement from environmental issues has been less striking. However, Eurobarometer polls do show environmental concerns dropping down the priorities list of European citizens. Between 2005 and 2011, State of the Environment surveys showed that while social and economic factors became more and more important to citizens’ perceptions of their quality of life (with economic factors rising most rapidly), environmental factors dropped off after 2008. In polls on citizens’ top two priorities, the environment has fared particularly badly during recession years (see Figure 1). Researchers at UCLA and Yale also found that an increase in unemployment is associated with a decrease in online searches for terms such as ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’. “The general pattern is clear,” say authors Matthew Kahn and Matthew Kotchen, “higher unemployment rates – at least when levels reach those observed during the recent recession – erode public concern about the environment.” Rau agrees that public concern has decreased in recent years, and public interest is only piqued when a major incident occurs, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Sandy late last year. “There is a general trend at the moment of ignoring environmental issues,” she says, “as economic issues have a much greater priority. “What we see now is people responding to very prominent cases of environmental catastrophe, but only as shortlived reaction. Fukushima, for example, caused a lot of discussion and debate and there was a backlash in electoral terms in some parts of the world, but that disappeared. “When you look at the long-term trends in Europe, people are overall more concerned about the environment than they were many years ago. At the minute, however, the media are more concerned with the economy, and that has a knock on effect on public opinion.” This is certainly the case in the Irish media. Writing of how the push to set environmental targets in legislation

Figure 1

Eurobarometer Public Opinion Survey, May 2012 Citizens choose the two most important priorities for the EU EU:








Condition of EU Member State finances

Condition of EU Member State finances





1% Environment

3% Environment

Source: Eurobarometer

has stalled in Ireland, Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee wrote that the number of articles on climate change in Irish newspapers fell from 2,780 in 2009, by almost two thirds to 972 in 2012. This significant drop in attention has been repeated worldwide. The New York Times, a leader in environmental coverage, closed its environmental desk in January of this year, much to the surprise and disappointment of many onlookers. As Obama told his American citizens in early April, “you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not rising to your number one concern. And if people think, well, that’s short-sighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by.”


eople haven’t completely forgotten about the environment, though

– especially not in Europe. They feel, however, that private capital has. Eight out of ten EU citizens now say that corporations and industry are not doing enough to use natural resources efficiently, and more than seven out of ten Europeans say national governments are not doing enough to use natural resources efficiently. The signs from recession are that

corporations will be the first to abandon ship when the purse strings tighten. BP, the oil giant behind the Deepwater Horizon spill, significantly reduced its commitment to invest in renewable energy in 2009, which led to the resignation of its Alternative Energy chief, Vivienne Cox. The company has taken some action, however – it has allegedly altered 44 per cent of its Wikipedia page via a representative, including the environmental section. Shell Oil also pulled out of a £2 billion project to put turbines in the Thames estuary in London, according to the London Independent. Clean energy investment is also down in recent years, something Convery calls “a particularly worrying aspect of recession”. Bloomberg recently revealed that investment in clean energy (defined as that which does not pollute the environment) fell by 22 per cent in the first quarter of 2013, to its lowest level in four years, as nations “pared subsidies” for clean technologies, and financing in China and Brazil stalled. The data also showed a 96 per cent fall in clean energy investment in Spain compared to last year. Last year, venture capital and private equity investment in special-


In the Long Reeds

ist clean energy companies also fell to its lowest figure since 2006. If green doesn’t look like selling, green won’t get investment.


f recession has forced, or prompted, states and corporations to drop green initiatives, individuals are certainly in no better position to pick up the slack. In Ireland, most homeowners simply don’t have the means, let alone the

found that the key factor in explaining why people behaved in such a ‘clean’ way without ever turning that ‘green’, was that in their everyday life, the systems dictated their actions. Recycling wasn’t a choice to be made, for example, and it certainly wasn’t one that required additional effort. Many people who had ‘grey attitudes’, it was found, had ‘green behaviour’. As Rau points out, this should be where

Photo: Arend Kuester The spider sculpture, ‘Maman’, by Louise Bourgeois, which was placed in the lobby as the Climate Conference failed to produce ambitious targets

willingness, to take on additional debt to make changes to their homes, such as retrofitting for reducing energy use and heat loss. It is no small matter, either, as Irish dwellings emit, on average, 47 per cent more carbon dioxide than those in the UK, according to a 2005 study by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Emissions are also 92 per cent higher than the average for the 15 original EU member states, and 104 per cent higher than for the average of all 27 member states. Leaving it all up to individuals has an additional downside, in that it is just not as effective as creating a context of ‘green behaviour’. In Sweden, a study 52

institutions within society come in. “Continuity in environmental concerns depends on a number of factors, not just consumer views, or corporate action, but also the extent to which institutions within society provide a relatively stable environment in which those concerns can flourish.” Damian Ryan does, however, point out that there are positives to be seen in the heavy emphasis that private finance now has on reducing waste and increasing efficiency. In particular, energy investment now must take a long view, and with the possibility of carbon tax increases, climate change impacts, and disincentives for fossil fuel investment, many companies are now deciding against going into the non-renewable sector as the longterm returns may be cut short. “Changing attitudes within financial sectors are now leading to fossil fuels

being seen as a bad investment. If you build a new plant that is to last for 50 years, there is going to come a point, eventually, where governments take action on climate change, and your plant may be shut down.” It’s a worrying thought that perhaps much of the green debate, and the rhetoric of environmental protection that is thrown around, is actually seen as a political hobby that wins favour in boom time. We will see later this year if our own Government can step up and adopt any meaningful measures in the Climate Action Bill, as the Department of the Environment has made a commitment to, when it might mean compromising elsewhere. Of course, there must be priorities in an economic crisis. After all, the greatest concerns nowadays involve life’s basics – employment, housing, and food. These take priority. Perhaps the opportunity provided by recession may be seized. If there can be some small benefit, as the intrepid walking group marches through frosty Poppintree, then it is still a benefit. But much larger moves will be required for lasting change. As Convery says, “the collapse does create opportunities. When nothing is happening, you can think things through and ask – well, what do we actually want here? To take that opportunity you need values that say what exactly it is we want, and you need the organisation to achieve it, to keep this show on the road.” Recession may have brought some temporary relief to pollutant emissions, and encouraged some debate of how a greener economy might solve both our prosperity woes and environmental crisis at the same time. However, the nature of the green agenda as battling against a somewhat hidden force remains the same. Fossil fuel lobbyists continue to hold sway, dollars continue to flow against sustainable progress, and shorttermist politicians avoid any measure that entails delayed political gratification. Recession might provide an excuse for politicians to continue on this easier street, and shirk their environmental responsibility. But it might also open a door to a drastic paradigm change. As Larkin says, channelling Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” O

Photo: Matteo Bagattini

the big green apple speaks to Yetsuh Frank on how recession has affected a city with a green core Architect, writer and educator Yetsuh Frank has worked in sustainability in New York City for over 15 years, and was one of Al Gore’s Climate Project representatives to present his work on the global climate crisis. So, Yetsuh, where are you now?

“Right now I’m working with a New York City-based non-profit called The Green Light, which advocates for energy and lighting efficiency in the built environment, especially for downtown Manhattan.” Have you noticed an impact of recession in your work over recent years?

“There was a huge sensitivity about the perception of having spent money, especially in government projects. So people were wary of anything that looked expensive – nothing could look frivolous in any way. But, the good thing was that projects didn’t start to neglect green projects. There was also heightened sensitivity to every dollar saved. With people aware that the financial climate is going to be restrictive for the foreseeable future, they are very willing to look at what measures might save money down the line.” Is it only those who can afford to invest in green initiatives who can get the benefit?

“Actually, a lot of people I know who work on affordable housing projects say that those are the ones on which they can do the most progressive things. That’s because it takes a long time to be able to piece together the funding for those, but once it’s in place, it’s in place. It doesn’t get reduced 75 per cent of the way through construction. You have your budget and you can do whatever you want with it. “In the market-based world, the eco-

nomic downturn had a big impact and the budget of a project can shift monthto-month. You can be all set, and about to break ground, when you get a call saying you have to reduce your construction budget by 15 per cent – immediately. That makes it very hard to make integrated choices about a project. Not only does it mean that there’s less money to spend on green things, but most green strategies work because they are the answer that solves several faults, or issues. So when you have this blind approach in planning and budgeting, it can really kill a lot of these measures.” Has New York’s reputation for having a ‘green core’ survived the recession?

“For better or for worse, most people who identify themselves to being committed to environmental issues are just wired that way. The big challenge for environmental issues is convincing people outside that deep green core, and we probably haven’t done that yet.” Recent stories have suggested climate change belief in the US might be falling – what do you make of that, as a New Yorker?

“I’m always surprised when I see those polls – I don’t know anybody that doesn’t believe in climate change. Partially that’s because I live in a bubble – NewYork City, you know? I don’t live in Oklahoma...thank God! “I’m always suspicious about polling things that are relatively vague. Climate change being man-made, for example.

What do they mean climate change, what do they mean ‘man made’? Many people wouldn’t be sure of that. “We still see people on national TV networks saying things like ‘well it’s a really snowy winter – I guess global warming has turned out to be absolute bunk’. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but there has been a very well-funded campaign to obscure all of that science, and I think that has been quite successful largely because the populace have a lot of other things on their minds. I don’t think the environmental movement has done a very good job of selling these issues to folks who aren’t naturally green thinkers. A single mom with four children and one-and-three-quarter jobs probably isn’t going to be swayed by an e-mail saying she has to save the polar bear cubs. She’s trying to save her kids. I think if the polls asked more specific questions, you’d see some very different results from Americans.” The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline has been a hot topic in the US recently, what do you make of it?

“I’d be surprised if it didn’t end up going ahead – the forces of darkness are powerful. There’s no reason that they should be doing this, except that you can sell that stuff for money, but I don’t think it’s the right place for the whole environmental movement to direct its resources. If you don’t want that pipeline to happen, then drive down demand for fossil fuels – work on alternatives.”


In the Long Reeds


Larsen Ten years on


By Paul O’Connor he steel archway at

the front of the stage is wreathed in climbing plants, a homage of Hedera hibernica to the Irish devotees of British Sea Power. The greenery motif is complemented by the band members donning World War One British helmets that have thin wheat stalks protruding from their tops. The ultimate marriage of metal and mother earth will take place later, on this night of weird but true adventures, when the lead guitarist climbs the verdant archway, hanging by his feet at the midway point to really turn all logic on its head. I stand in the middle of the dancefloor an hour before this will happen, not knowing what magnificent music awaits on the odd stage before me…or what earth-shattering news will befall me. I stand there sipping at my beer,


doling out the expected platitudes to friends who have been following the band for a couple of years now and can hardly wait to see them live. “Oh yeah, I can’t wait for this. I’m getting really excited now”. I had not so much as heard the name British Sea Power before that night, but felt it was at least polite to express some form of excitement in the lead up to a gig I hadn’t expected to attend earlier that day. I was just grateful to take advantage of a free ticket for a mid-week night out in Cork, to ease the stress of searching for a job after recently graduating from college. Ten minutes into the gig and my disingenuous disposition is radically transformed into that of excited anticipation, as the ethereal but jarring sound is beautifully complemented by lyrics of lush beauty such as ‘Turgid calls the winter charge, true adventures of awakening hearts, nights are overwhelmed by gloom, we will see foxes in the moon’.

The Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, prior to its collapse


In the Long Reeds

25 minutes in, and the excited state has transmuted into a pure ecstasy as the quixotic quintet on stage produce a show of immense power and sophistication. The music itself is a whimsical but ferociously ardent guitar-based sound that has absolutely everyone on the dance-floor jumping. The force with which the music consistently keeps us jumping is quite staggering. I am profusely sweating after half an hour but my energy levels are still strong, as are those around me who have almost coalesced into one single mass of hopping euphoria. It’s after 45 minutes that this euphoria is tinged with an odd sense of foreboding. It is only on a sub-conscious level, barely registering amid the throng of bodies and incandescent lyrics, but it is there…and it disturbs.

My sweat has now turned cold as the band members are within touching distance… a cold to the touch distance. The air from my staggered breath is now visible, its icy fog clouding my vision of the stage. The four standing members now stand in a white haze, towering over me as some kind of helmeted snow men, armed to trumpet the winter of my discontent. The pounding on the concrete dancefloor, impossible to hear in such a setting, now registers and aches in my subconscious as a tolling doom…You’re fractured and cold but your heart is unbroken… and it’s getting louder and louder, faster and faster, stronger and stronger… my favourite foremost coastal Antarctic shelf. I can feel the ground beneath my feet reverberate; the walls to my left are freezing over,

my right explode and engulf the band on the stage, completely disintegrating them. I look down before the backwash carries me away on another true adventure, I look down and I…Five hundred billion tonnes of the purest pack ice and snow, Oh Larsen B, Oh fall on me, Oh Larsen B, Oh won’t you fall on me?…


t is now 11 years on from Larsen B’s

collapse in the Antarctic Peninsula, eight from the night I discovered the true might of British Sea Power, and a lifetime since I first thought of a dreadlocked Swedish striker whenever I hear the name Larsen. In February 2002, the continental ice shelf known as Larsen B collapsed into the Weddell Sea. As the Brighton-based group elucidated in their lyrics, 500 bil-

Larsen B: The unprecedented collapse ►The ice shelf had been 200 metres thick ►Surface area 3,250km ►500 billion tonnes of ice disintegrated in less than a month The jumping increases in pace as the songs get faster and even more guitar driven – all salt has been secreted from my body at this stage, my retro Argentina football jersey soaked through completely. I have just come to the realisation that they stopped playing their more melodious and slower numbers at least 15 minutes ago; the last one coming to mind being the ballad ‘Oh Larsen B’…Oh Larsen B, Oh won’t you fall on me. Again this lyric along with the realisation of a dearth of slower songs barely registers, but again it is there and the physical effort needed to maintain the ‘big push’ is now undermined by a persistent mental nagging that something is not quite right. Oh Larsen B, desalinate the barren sea. The force and momentum of the revellers is reaching an overwhelming level and propels me towards the stage. 56

the ones to my right melting. I’m now hemmed in at the front of the stage. With each pounding of all these feet, a stronger reverberation issues from the surface beneath us until a crack forms, its hollow sound acting as a nauseating counterpoint to the booming noise from the stage now completely covered in snow, the band members now only recognisable from the thin wheat stalks protruding from a mass of white. It won’t be long until the crack turns into a fissure…You had twelve thousand years and now it’s all over…the pounding has reached a crescendo as it achieves jack-hammer levels. It really is all over now as the ground has finally given way and shatters into a myriad of ice crystals, but I’m still jumping, still sweating my cold sweat and still leaving my mark. I look around and see the melt-water from the wall to

lion tonnes of ice sheet disintegrated in less than a month. The Antarctic ice shelf was 200 metres thick and had a surface area of 3,250 kilometres; the scale and speed of the collapse was unprecedented in the Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula itself is a long, mountainous landmass which is dotted with ice shelves such as Larsen B. In the past 50 years, temperatures in the region have risen by three degrees Celsius, and as a consequence there has been an increase in the level of melt-water produced each summer on the Peninsula’s ice shelves. Each shelf can only tolerate so much of this before they weaken and begin to retreat. The term used by scientists for this process is the ‘limit of viability’, and this limit for ice shelves has moved southwards; previously stable ice shelves are now retreating. Larsen B’s retreat was permanent as the build-up of this melt

Larsen B in the process of collapse, February 2002 taken only weeks after the previous satellite image


In the Long Reeds

water had a cumulative effect until, in the space of less than one month, the entire ice shelf disintegrated and a key defence for the land ice behind the shelf was lost forever. This land ice is critical to the rising and lowering of tide levels across the globe, and the first line of defence for the land ice is the ice shelves. Ice shelves are the floating extensions of a grounded ice sheet, and while a few small ice shelves exist in the Artic, most occupy bays around the coast of Antarctica. Larsen B and its freezing fraternity lie – or lay – between the coastline and the grounding line of the Peninsula, thereby having a buttressing effect on the land ice and preventing it from dropping into the ocean. The grounding line marks the area where the land ice is sitting on rock below sea level, i.e. it flows on its own weight. The ice shelves themselves are already floating on the water, so a loss of an ice shelf on its own, even one of the size of Larsen B, has a minimal effect on sea levels. As Dr Paul Holland of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) puts it: “Imagine you have a ship tethered to a quay. The ship has no effect on the water as its stationery disposition prevents any displacement on the water. However, if the line is cut and the ship floats free, then water displacement occurs and the ship very much has an effect on sea levels.” Such massive ice sheets dropping into the ocean would have a profound impact on tide levels across the globe. In another colourful analogy, Dr Holland compares what happened to the Larsen B ice shelf to that of a bridge collapsing: “The dynamics of an ice shelf are similar to those of a bridge; the curve shape is very similar. Once you take away the keystone of a bridge, the entire structure collapses.” Asked whether human-generated global warming could be behind a three-degree rise in temperature for the summer period in Antarctica, and a six-degree rise during the winter, the glacial expert is reluctant to definitively confirm such a hypothesis. “Winds in Antarctica have gotten stronger, but no-one knows exactly why that is the case. There have been some recent papers suggesting a causal link

between global warming and the hole in the ozone layer. The area is warming rapidly but I’m not willing to say that such a causal link exists.” He was however, willing to expound on the adverse effects of such an increase in temperatures on the Peninsula. “If temperatures cool over a long period of time, then presumably the ice would return, but certainly at the current temperature levels, these ice shelves do not grow back.” The good doctor was also willing to point out that while the collapse of Larsen B was indeed unprecedented in terms of scale and rate of disintegration, ice sheet collapses are by no means unprecedented in the Antarctic Peninsula.


ince the 1950s, a total of 28,000 square kilometres of ice shelf have been lost from around the Antarctic Peninsula. Put into context, in volume terms this is the equivalent of the UK domestic water requirement for more than 1,000 years. For instance, Larsen A collapsed in a similar manner to its brother in 1995, but was on nowhere near the same dramatic scale. The other shelves comprising the Peninsula are the colourfully named Muller, Prince Gustav, Larsen A-C, George VI North and South, Wilkins, Jones and Wordie. All of these ice shelves have massively retreated since the 1950s, potentially exposing the ice sheet to further thinning. The George VI ice shelf is unusual. It is constrained within a narrow channel and sheds most of its mass to melting rather than iceberg calving. Iceberg calving is the primary means of discharging ice from the Antarctic Ice Sheet into the Southern Ocean and, although large calving events occur sporadically, when they do occur they remove large amounts of mass in a nearinstantaneous fashion. The fact that the George VI ice shelf is more susceptible to melting suggests that it may be more sensitive to changes in ocean conditions, but less sensitive to atmospheric change than its neighbours. The Larsen C ice shelf has, to date, not shown any evidence of climate-driven retreat, but UK and US researchers, supported by BAS, continue to monitor it in an attempt to understand more

fully its current condition and likely vulnerability to future change. The Prince Gustav ice shelf has seen a progressive retreat throughout the late 20th century. In 1995, it finally collapsed, leaving open water between James Ross Island and the main Antarctic Peninsula. The Wilkins ice shelf is the largest and mostly southerly ice shelf to have retreated, and has currently lost around one third of its original area. This retreat is expected to be repeated by the Larsen C ice shelf in the coming decades, according to BAS. Thankfully, Dr Holland has reported that the biggest ice shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula, the Ronnie-Filchner ice shelf which is roughly the size of Spain, is showing no signs of thinning and seems to be “quite stable”. However, the area of concern that usurps even the dramatic collapse of ice shelves such as Larsen B, for glacial experts such as Dr Holland, is the activity in the western part of the Antarctic Peninsula; specifically the Amundsen Sea. While continental ice shelves may only be the tip of the ice-berg regarding global sea levels, it is the Amundsen Sea where the concern over sea levels are at their highest. The first question to ask is, are sea levels rising today? BAS maintains that the sea level has risen throughout the past century. Satellite measurements since the early 1990s indicate that today it is rising at a rate of 3cm per year. The importance of sea levels is critical, as around 10 million people per year are affected by coastal flooding. A study by the UK Met Office identifies that as populations migrate towards coastal regions, this will increase to 30 million by 2080. The same study suggests that if sea-levels were to rise by 44cm (a mid-range estimate), the number of people suffering would increase to more than 100 million. Put into an economic context, BAS extrapolates that the cost of protecting London against flooding could exceed £20billion, including the replacement of the Thames Barrier and the 300km of sea defences around the capital that need to be overhauled by 2030. The aforementioned ship analogy from Dr Holland applies here, as the Images: NASA Modis Satellite


Satellite image dated 2005, showing the complete retreat of the Larsen B ice shelf


In the Long Reeds


Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut Wiard

The research vessel Polarstern cruises through the ice on an expedition to the now disintegrated Larsen B shelf

water lost from shrinking glaciers and ice sheets, which was held above sea level, finds its way into the ocean. If ocean volume increases, global sea level will rise. This process has occurred on numerous occasions throughout geological history. The Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE) has bedrock beneath the ice that is a long way below sea level, and the ice is only kept in place because it is thick enough to rest on the bed. Thinning of the ice around the coast could lead to glacier acceleration, and further thinning of the ice sheet. Basically, the ice sheet may be unstable and the recent pattern of thinning could be a precursor to wholesale loss of the ASE ice sheet. This loss would translate to a sea-level rise of around 1.5m. In concert with Dr Holland’s circumspection regarding the human cause of these changes in the Antarctic ice sheets, BAS on their website does refer to recent studies which suggest that the observed atmospheric warming on the Antarctic Peninsula is the result of human activities – both greenhouse effect and ozone loss have a role to play in this. However, BAS research is on-going as to whether the thinning of the ASE ice sheet is not the result of atmospheric warming, but is more likely due to changing ocean circulation patterns. Although these ocean patterns have yet to be observed, scientists are currently investigating whether these changes could have been caused by human-induced climate change. Essentially, BAS feels the jury is still out, but it remains an area of active research. Alas, this research is not easily carried out, as the ASE is a notoriously difficult place to access. The undertaking of fieldwork is undermined by high winds, extreme cold and remoteness (the area is 1,400km from any research station). If the subject matter weren’t so macabre or potentially devastating to the world’s population, then it may read like a 1980s John Carpenter script… oh, wait a minute. Superfluous segues aside, BAS has taken the lead in opening research into this area since 2004. Indeed, in 2007, US researchers joined BAS in collaborative projects to gain an understanding of the area so as to predict changes in the ASE ice sheet.


o, 11 years on from the phenomenon, which the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) described as “the largest single event in a series of retreats by ice shelves in the peninsula over the last 30 years”, the experts continue with their endeavours in this complex field. Of course, it takes a special kind of human hubris to assume that any mind, no matter how searing in its brilliance, can instigate a change to this on-going process in the Antarctica. One only has to watch Werner Herzog’s documentary ‘Encounters at the End of theWorld’ to understand the sheer complexity of the Antarctic and the inherent bizarreness of its makeup. Of course, the director’s nihilistic proclivities tend to provide the Antarctic with a certain dark hue, but it is hard to argue with the odd nature of the region. For instance, in a classic scene from the documentary, a penguin is observed standing in the middle of an ice sheet with his fellow penguins, faced with the decision of either moving to the right, towards the feeding grounds at the edge of the ice, or to the left, leading back to the colony. The lone penguin choses neither, and instead heads directly for the mountainous region 70km away. As the magnetic voice of the German documentarian explains, even if a person were to catch the penguin and bring it back, it would immediately proceed back on its previous course. This level of derangement and contradictory behaviour is hardly surprising in a continent that contains 90 per cent of the world’s ice, and yet is technically home to the world’s largest desert. It is so cold in the centre of the ice sheet that there is zero moisture in the air, hence the curious classification. Such bleak thoughts are hardly helpful in fostering of a positive disposition towards the future of the Antarctic Peninsula, but it does highlight the stark beauty of paradoxical imagery. Just like British Sea Power, who specialise in such paradoxical beauty, we must once again offer up a paean to the Antarctic. However, instead of ‘Oh Larsen B, won’t you fall on me?’ perhaps it should now ring true as ‘Oh Amundsen Sea, won’t you prevail on me?’ O


In the Long Reeds

‘The soil must be man’s most treasured possession. So he who tends the soil wisely and with care is assuredly the foremost among men.’ Sir George Stapleton

Organic Farming


By Amy-Nora Fitzgibbon ust before sunrise on the morning of July 19th 1983, farmer Josef Finke, his wife Marianne, and their two young children, left the small village of Bad Kreuznach in Germany, bringing with them tractors, trailers and other farm machinery, in order to establish Ireland’s first intentionally organic farm in Cahir, Co. Tipperary. Today, the name of Finke and Ballybrado Farm is widely associated with the rise of the organic sector in Ireland. Up until that point, several farmers in Ireland had been producing food without the use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers, but this was not done explicitly for environmental reasons. At the time Ireland was tied with Portugal at the bottom of the European wealth scale, so it was mainly due to a lack of funds available to the agricultural sector to buy these chemicals. In the early years, the primary operation on Ballybrado Farm was organic grain production, most of which had to be exported. These were difficult years


for the family, as an Irish market for organic produce was virtually “non-existent”. However, the BSE or ‘mad cow’ scandal of 1989 proved a catalyst for change in this respect, as it had the positive effect of making Irish people more aware of what was going into their food. For Josef and his family, this was the turning point they’d been waiting for. Over the next few years, Finke collaborated with a number of other organic farmers, growers and consumers across Ireland in order to develop organic standards and certification and inspection systems for organic production in the Republic. Finally, in 1994, as Director of Organic Trust Ltd, currently Ireland’s second largest organic certification body, Finke’s input was sought by the Irish government for its “Committee for the Development of the Organic Sector”. Finke, 64, now a grandfather, looks back on those years with a mixture of pride and regret. “While I’m happy to be associated with the pioneer years of organic farm-

ing in Ireland,” he said, “lately I’ve become quite disillusioned by the sector’s performance and by its representation in the media.” Finke feels the many benefits of organic production, which dominates only 1-2% of the Irish market, have been lost in the clamour from scientists with vested interests in the chemical agri-food industry and global food industry. According to the German farmer, these industries have identified organic food and farming as the major obstacles to achieving their goals of more control over the food sector. “The media has been happy enough to comply with this campaign against organic production,” Finke said, “so we now have a situation where any claim made about the benefit of organic food is immediately contradicted by ‘credible’ scientists who often misquote university funded research, or who take it out of context. “The organic sector does not have the time or the resources to challenge these scientists on a constant basis,” he continued, “so in my opinion the best way to put our views across is by using common sense communication strategies that leave no room for confusion.” For example, Finke said it should be

made clear to consumers that pesticides not sprayed on their food can never become a problem either for their health or for the environment. So even if people don’t credit the scientific studies linking pesticides to autism, cancer and Alzheimer’s, this argument should still make sense based on the precautionary principle: if in doubt, leave it out. He said consumers should also be told that a naturally-grown tomato is better than a fertilised tomato, the latter of which has a 20% increase in water content, meaning that, even at an organic premium rate, the consumer is still paying the same price as conventional food on a dry matter basis. Alongside these arguments are those explaining how organic farming protects natural bio-diversity and cares for the top soil, most of which is being destroyed by conventional farming. “A few inches of top soil feed the world,” he said. “This top soil, which needs to be protected and cared for, is being lost in industrial farming at an alarming rate.” In Finke’s opinion, the main reason why the organic sector is failing to get these messages across is that issues of food quality and environmental impact only interest an estimated 25% of the

Pat Lalor, from Ballard Organic Farm in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath

Irish population. “The rest don’t care too much about where their food is coming from. So when organic farming is portrayed as hopelessly idealistic or ineffective by the media, people don’t bother to investigate any further.” For example, a 2012 study carried out by researchers from Stanford University, California found there was no strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, although it did find that eating organic produce reduced the risk of pesticide exposure. These nutritional findings, however, conflicted with the results of a study done in April 2011 by scientists from Newcastle University in England, who found that organic produce, farmed without the use of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides, was more nutritious, with more vitamin C on average, and had many more of the plantdefence molecules that help to shield people against cancer and heart disease. According to Kirsten Brandt, the lead scientist in the Newcastle Study, differences in methodology led to the


In the Long Reeds

contradictory findings of the two studies. While both performed meta-analysis, which is a statistical compilation of earlier work done by others on the subject, the two studies differed in terms of how the data was combined in order to reach their conclusions. In setting up such a meta-analysis, “you just can’t take an average of everything,” said Brandt. So, for example, she decided that if a paper produced by an earlier study reported results for crops grown in separate years, each separate year should be regarded as a separate data point, because weather conditions vary so much from year to year. Instead the Stanford group averaged the multiple years into a single data point. Finke believes there was an agenda behind the decision to give much less attention to the Newcastle study than to the Stanford paper, which appeared to great media analysis on September 4 2012 in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine. Proponents of the organic movement also dismissed the Stanford study on the basis that it ignored the main advantages of organic production: the avoidance of pesticides, protection of farm workers’ health and its environmental benefits. Helen Scully, national co-ordinator and certification manager of Organic Trust Ltd, says that organic farming’s environmental benefits are one of the main reasons why countries should invest in this form of production. “I think the argument that organic farming is better for the environment is accepted by anyone with expertise in environmental matters,” she said. “If we take inputs alone, organic production avoids the use of petrochemical herbicides and pesticides. These are dwindling resources and have huge impacts on the environment through their extraction from the earth and processing into products for use on the farm. Then the application of these products is both energy consuming and has a negative effect on the soil and waterways.” Unlike Finke, Scully also believes that the public perception of organic food is quite positive, saying that “untainted by the recent plethora of food scandals, such as the horsemeat scandal, organic food is something the consumer can 64

Above: Felix Cropp, organic farmer in Co. Cavan. He says the recession has taken a toll on smallscale organic production; Right: The hens on Corleggy Farm provide Felix with his own organic eggs

have faith in. “Organic food production is the most highly regulated method of food production in the world,” she said, “as every aspect of its production is inspected and certified from field to plate. The public’s trust in organic food is exemplified by the large proportion of organic baby foods being bought; parents want to be sure the food they’re giving to their young children is safe.” Organic farming regulations in Ire-

land are set at European Union level, before being handed down to and implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Department in turn accredits the organic certification bodies, of which there are five in Ireland, who take care of licensing and inspection procedures for organic farmers. Organic Trust Ltd and the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) are the two largest certification bodies in Ire-

land, and between them they certify about 98% of the organic producers in Ireland. Of the last three, the Institute of Marketecology and Global Trust certify aquaculture operations only, while BDAA-Demeter UK certifies the biodynamic or Rudolf Steiner method, one step beyond organics. Moreover, both the Trust and IOFGA have agreed a set of common standards in consultation with the Department, and so, according to Scully, “there is in fact great transparency when it comes to organic regulations.” In contrast to Finke’s pessimistic view of the performance of the organic sector, Dan Clavin, organic farming specialist with Teagasc, Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority, is optimistic about the future of organic farming in Ireland. Clavin estimates that the area farmed organically in Ireland, which currently stands at 58,566 hectares, is going to increase in the future due to the strong demand for organic produce, the suitability of many farms to organic conversion and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Scheme incentives. He has also expressed satisfaction with Teagasc’s on-going organic training courses, which allow farmers to apply for the popular Organic Farming Scheme. Under the scheme producers can enter into a contract for a minimum of five years, while qualifying for yearly payments of up to €283 per hectare during the conversion period, and up to €142 per hectare upon achieving full organic status. The training courses are held regularly throughout the year and Clavin asserts “they are an excellent way of learning about what is involved in organic farming across a range of enterprises so that farmers will be more informed when it comes to switching to organic.”


at Lalor, father of four children and fourth generation owner of Ballard Organic Farm in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, turned to fullycertified organic production in 1999. The 120 hectare farm, owned and operated by the Lalor family since 1844, produces organic cereals for human and livestock consumption, and sells in excess of 200 animals per year. Ballard Farm’s famous Kilbeggan Or-

ganic Porridge is only sold to local food shops around the country, since Lalor is not interested in selling to supermarkets. “They tend to mess the producer and consumer around in terms of payment and mark-ups and they are very impersonal,” he said. “I much prefer the personal element of selling to local food stores.” Lalor initially turned to organic

Environmental benefits of organic farming at a glance: ►Organic farming reduces carbon emissions by not using chemicals and fertilisers which consume huge amounts of energy in their production as a result of being by-products of the fossil fuel industry. ►Sustainable farming methods increase soil carbon which reduces greenhouse gases. ►It keeps waterways clean by releasing no pollutants into this valuable resource. ►It protects animal welfare through providing more space, better food and more humane slaughter methods. ►It protects biodiversity by supporting a greater number of species than non-organic farms. ►Organic farmers ensure a healthy soil by using croprotation methods and adding natural fertility such as farmyard manures. ►Organic food is closely linked to the local and seasonal food movement, resulting in less aviation emissions from produce being flown half way across the world.

production in order to make more money, and, as far as cereal production is concerned, he is rewarded in this respect. Sales of organic cereals have increased in Ireland over the past year and factored into that is the money saved on the cost of artificial chemicals. But now Lalor says he also experiences much better job satisfaction, a lot of which comes from the way in which organic farming impacts on the environment. “I acknowledge it’s a subjective business, this whole ‘better for the environment’ argument. But I don’t put any chemicals, fertilisers or applications on my crops, so the way I see it, the argument that organic is better for the environment is a no-brainer.” For comparison’s sake, the Westmeath farmer says a colleague of his in conventional farming sprays his crops up to eight times a season. “I don’t have to do that because organic farming protects soil fertility. Conventional farming deals with soil chemistry whereas organic farming manages the fertility of the soil much better through an understanding of soil biology. So people who say that organic farming has nothing to do with science are completely wrong.” Lalor protects soil fertility in three main ways on Ballard Organic Farm: farmyard manure, sustainable crop rotation, and legume or plant growing. “The first method ensures the incorporation of potassium and phosphorus into the soil,” he said, “through the breakdown of farmyard manure that is produced in the winter time from housed animals. And the aim of the second is to recycle nutrients around the farm through two years of growing one crop and then another. “The third requires growing a legume such as red clover, which takes nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil. This, in effect, is a supply of ‘free’ nitrogen which is very nourishing for the soil. “Conventional farming could be done in a laboratory,” he added. “It uses chemical fertilisers and chemical sprays which don’t work with the soil. Rather the opposite, these sprays dictate to the soil how it should function.” Unlike small-scale organic farmers, Lalor says he has not felt the effects of the recession. “The only thing I’d say is


In the Long Reeds

Protest against genetically modified crops used to produce rapeseed oil in Oxfordshire, in southern England Photo: Andrew Wiard

that the higher price of organic produce might have put a number of consumers off since the crisis, which could pose a problem for farmers with lower levels of production. “Organic produce is more expensive than non-organic,” he continued, “but that’s only natural due to the higher price of feed and supply and demand issues. For example, without the use of fertilisers to boost production artificially, I can only grow two tonnes per acre of cereal, whereas a non-organic farmer can grow three tonnes per acre.” When it comes to the higher yield arguments to be made for genetically modified organisms or GMOs, which currently cover 170.1 million hectares of the earth’s surface, Lalor says he is all for science but that he is wary of companies like Monsanto who patent their crops which, he feels, makes farmers in poor countries dependent on seeds that are only available through profit-driven companies. “I have a brother in Malawi who has seen the effects of this first-hand,” he said. “The farmers over there are now completely dependent on Monsanto for the seeds for their maize crops.” Grace Maher, development officer for IOFGA, currently Ireland’s largest organic certification body, says the global food crisis is a complex issue and that, while crop yields are a factor, issues such as food distribution and food waste are far bigger players which, if addressed successfully, would reduce global food poverty. “Yields of GM crops have in fact declined over the last 15 years,” Maher 66

said. “And although organic crop yields are lower than conventional yields, when you consider input versus output they are more or less equal. The environmental and economic costs of inputs required for conventional food production are staggering. “All of the multi-nationals who are involved in GM crop development and sales like Monsanto patent their seeds,” she continued.

Chemical agrifood industries have identified organic farming as the major obstacle to achieving their goals of more control over the food sector - Josef Finke

“For them they say that it is expensive technology to develop, and therefore patents allow them to recoup research and development costs. However the argument still prevails about whether it is correct to patent a live organism. Also the manner in which the biotech companies develop their patents is questionable. To try to patent things like basmati

rice when it has existed for almost two thousand years is bizarre. The overriding issue with this is that we are placing ourselves in a dangerous position if we allow a small number of biotech companies to control the seed industry as it will severely limit our access to real choice in the foods that we consume.” One of the most controversial current advocates of GMO technology is Mark Lynas, a man who spent years destroying genetically modified foods in the name of the environment. In mid-90s England, Lynas belonged to a group of anarchists who were intent on ruining the reputation of companies like Monsanto. This year, on January 3rd, he gave a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference apologising for his behaviour, saying that he greatly regretted his role in assisting the demonization of “an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment”. That moment, he said, “was a complete demolition, not just of anti-GMO but of the whole organic thing”. One of the examples given by Lynas in support of GMOs is the golden rice crop that has been modified through the insertion of genes for the chemical beta-carotene in order to provide more Vitamin A. “Vitamin-A deficiency is one of the leading causes of death in Southeast Asia,” said Lynas. “It’s led to blindness and death of about a quarter of a million people per year.”Yet campaigners, including Greenpeace, lobbied against the rice.


Cropp, organic livestock farmer and owner of Corleggy Farm in Belturbet, Co. Cavan, says that GM might have a role to play in terms of addressing the global food crisis, but that he would not be in favour of growing such crops due to the lack of knowledge surrounding their longterm health risks and impact on the soil. The more pressing issue for Felix is the toll the recession has taken on smallscale organic production. Felix, 24, who lives on the farm with his girlfriend, inherited six hectares of the 32 hectare farm from his father at the age of seventeen. His main business is rearing calves and lambs to sell to bigger farms and marts, meaning he keeps the young animals for approximately six elix

The GM debate in Ireland Experts give their views on the controversial trial of GM potatoes in Oak Park, Co. Carlow


the worldwide GM debate rumbles on, Ireland has seen its own GM controversy erupt in the last two years. A trial for growing GM potatoes in Ireland began last July in Teagasc’s research centre in Oak Park, Co. Carlow, amid much outcry from the country’s organic sector. Dr Ewen Mullins, head of GM research at Teagasc, said one of the primary aims of the study, due to conclude in 2014, is to evaluate the impact of GM potatoes on the soil, adding that Teagasc is neither for or against GM. “If we were leaning either way then we wouldn’t even be conducting the study,” he said. The main motivation for the trial is to assess the resistance of GM potatoes to blight, a disease which currently requires farmers to spray their potatoes with fungicides up to twenty times a season. However, Kaethe Burt O’Dea, local food activist and coordinator of Sustainable Potatoes United Development Study (SPUDS), who is against the GM trial, says that spraying and GM potatoes are not the only alternatives. “Seeds for growing naturallybred blight resistant potatoes are available on the shelves right now. Moreover, preliminary results from a community-based study carried out last year by SPUDS have shown that over 90% of these potatoes did not get blight, and the majority of the people who grew them said they tasted delicious and that they would grow them again. “Naturally-bred blight resistant hile

Irish potato crops are sprayed up to 20 times per season to prevent blight

potatoes,” she continued, “don’t require spraying with chemicals. And some, such as the Sarpo varieties, are even drought, weed and virus resistant and don’t need refrigeration, meaning they have a very low carbon footprint.” Organic producers have welcomed these potato types as they reduce the need to spray blight affected potatoes with copper, a method currently employed by organic farmers instead of fungicides. Although copper use by organic growers is strictly regulated, with only 6kg per hectare allowed per growing season, Professor Anthony Trewavas, a plant scientist from the University of Edinburgh, has said that copper compounds are 1,000 times more toxic than fungicides and that at high concentrations they can lead to kidney, liver, and blood disease. However, Grace Maher, of IOFGA, has said that unlike fungicides, copper is not absorbed by the

Teagasc is neither for nor against GM. If we were, we wouldn’t be conducting this study - Dr Ewen Mullins

plant and, moreover, the level of copper in the soil is kept at a safe level due to crop rotation methods used on organic farms. Only last month Mullins revealed that Teagasc is trialling for naturally-bred blight resistant varieties alongside the GM potatoes, but he is not anticipating any particular outcome. “The late blight pathogen is a very resistant disease and it may find ways of overcoming both types of potato so we will just have to wait and see.”


In the Long Reeds

Organic farming in numbers: ►Number of organic producers in Ireland: 1,346 ►Hectares of land under organic production: 58,566 ►Sales of organic produce in Ireland for year ending November 2012: Overall market value of €100 million ►This is a decline in value of 3.5% compared to the previous year, although yoghurts, fresh meat and biscuits gained market share and demonstrated growth versus 2011 ►Figures show that shoppers buy organic produce on average 21 times a year ►91% of the population have bought organic with the majority buying an organic yoghurt ►Organic vegetables are the largest single market worth over €25 million ►Organic fruit is worth just over €8.5 million ►The typical spend on organic in 2012 last year was €66.40 €1.80 down on 2011

Source for number of organic producers and hectares: Teagasc Source for organic sales figures: Kantar Worldpanel


to eight months before selling them to be “finished off ” or killed by these other buyers. One would think this would make his line of work less gruesome, but when I went to visit the farm in March, I was shocked to come across the lifeless body of a three-week old lamb in the stable. “He must have gotten crushed by the other sheep when they went to the trough to get their food,” Felix said, hunkering down, his bare hands covering the entire length of the little white body. Registering the look on my face, he added, “It’s a pity but this kind of thing happens in farming, organic and nonorganic. Even when you’re not finishing off the animals, you see a lot of death. It’s something you get used to.” To return to his financial difficulties,

The environmental and economic costs of inputs required for conventional food production are staggering - Grace Maher

Felix says he is finding it increasingly difficult to justify the acquisition of expensive organic feed, which he feeds to his sheep before lambing, when customers are more reluctant to pay a higher cost for organic produce. “Organic feed is very expensive,” he told me. “A larger commercial farm would be able to make a worthwhile profit out of livestock but for me selling a few cows and sheep is not enough.” However, as for Pat Lalor, the environmental benefits of organic farming are a source of satisfaction to the young farmer. He does not use pesticides or fertilisers, though he admits he would like to when it comes to dealing with

the rush weeds that grow at a rapid pace in his fields, overshadowing the grass and preventing the sunlight from reaching it to enhance growth. Rush weeds are a professional hazard for farmers in Cavan as rain is so frequent. At the moment Felix has to cut down the weeds every day with his tractor, whereas a conventional farmer only has to spray the ground with chemicals. Untreated grass is the main food stuff for his lambs and calves, but this year the rush-weed problems were compounded by a particularly cold and snowy March, which prevented Felix from putting his lambs out to grass until mid-April. Felix attributed this delay to the death of the lamb we found in the stable. “If I’d been able to put them out earlier, that would never have happened.” Felix changes the straw beds for his sheep and cows regularly and, once they are put out into the fields, he does an intensive clean-up of their pen, which has also been delayed this year due to the snow. “It’s much better for the animals, the straw. On conventional farms they don’t have a soft bed to sleep on.” Back at the house, which displays many signs of the feminine influence in his life through the number of potted plants and well-thumbed cookery books dotted around the place, Felix hands me a thick tome from the Organic Trust (the certification body with which Corleggy Farm is registered) that lists all of the rules and regulations governing organic production. After the regulations are handed down from the EU through the Department, certification bodies such as IOFGA and the Organic Trust interpret the regulations in a “user-friendly” manner for their organic producers, and the result is the heavy folder handed to me over the lunch table. Over a delicious meal comprised of his own home-grown vegetables, warm crusty bread, and thick slices of smoked salmon, Felix agrees that most of the criticisms made of organic farming in this respect tend to be based on farms where regulations are improperly implemented. “If they’re not doing it properly then they should be penalised. But unfortunately these mavericks give the whole sector a bad name.”

Moreover, out of the 500 organic producers registered with the Trust, all are subject to at least one pre-arranged annual inspection, while 10% receive a spot-check which is determined on a risk basis. “The Department of Agriculture also carry out spot-checks throughout the year,” Felix said, “so contrary to what a lot of people think, the sector is very well regulated, a lot more so than conventional farming.”


organic farming in Irish waters, however, the environmental and regulatory issues are slightly more complex. Organic salmon farming, in particular, has been at the centre of much controversy over the last few years. Both An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, and the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) have been united in their objections to this type of fish farming. Their concerns include anxieties over the weakening of the genetic pool of wild salmon through interbreeding with farmed fish varieties, infestations of sea lice in areas of caged salmon and, most controversially, the unsustainable elements of organic salmon fish feed. A press statement released by the IWT this March expressed concern over the lack of transparency surrounding the sources of fish feed for organic salmon in Ireland, and questioned whether it’s coming from sustainable fisheries as stipulated under European Commission council regulations. The statement continued to say that it believes the feed currently given to Irish organic salmon is taken from fish stocks in the North Atlantic and Baltic, 50% and 80% of which are overfished respectively. Therefore, the IWT concluded that “to describe the feed given to salmon as being from a sustainable source is erroneous and misleading and that, as a consequence, farmed salmon in Ireland cannot be considered organic.” Gerry O’Donoghue, co-founder of Mannin Bay Organic Salmon, located off the west coast of Clifden, Co Galway, says the instances of farmed salmon interbreeding with wild salmon species are very rare. “First of all, the fish would have to escape, and given the sound engineering that goes into the building of hen it comes to

Organic salmon farmer Eugene Casey off the coast of Co. Galway. The IWT has claimed that organic fish feed is sourced from unsustainable fisheries

our cages, this is very difficult for the fish to do. The fish would then have to swim to where the wild salmon live in fresh water during the short three month interval when breeding takes place. Scientific evidence over the last 20 years has shown the chances of all this occurring to be very slim. “Sea lice affect all types of salmon,” he continued, “farmed and wild. So our role, as monitored by the Marine Institute, is to ensure that infestations do not go above a certain level, especially in March, April and May when the young wild fish are going up to sea.” Finally, Gerry said he could not comment on the figures released by the IWT, but that he is happy that Mannin Bay fish feed is certified in accordance with EU organic regulations, while at the same time acknowledging that part of these regulations is that the feed is sourced from sustainable fisheries. “I can’t comment on those figures from the IWT but I know they should be sure they have their facts straight before they accuse organic farming of unsustainable practices. Organic salmon farming is a very small industry in Ireland but it’s very well audited and has been shown to be much better for the environment than conventional fish farming. Moreover, research has shown that consumers like to know where their fish is coming from, what it’s been

eating and how it has been produced.” When asked about the commonly held perception that there is something ‘unnatural’ about farming a naturally wild species, Gerry said that most people are around today in a happy state as a result of the evolution of our race into one that domesticated and then farmed some of its co-inhabitants. “So there is nothing wrong with farming another species,” he said, “especially one that is on the verge of extinction.” To return onto dry land, and to where it all began, in Cahir, Co Tipperary, Josef Finke of Ballybrado Farm is ultimately divided over whether the organic sector will one day emerge from the shadow of conventional farming and live up to its promise of 1983. “Today the organic sector is at a crossroads. Unless it begins to utilise clear communication strategies to strengthen the importance of its environmental and health message for the public, it runs the unthinkable risk of being consigned to history as a failed idealistic experiment. “On the other hand, organic production will probably be the only option for the earth in the future. This will only come about, however, due to a lack of choice in terms of how we handle the soil. So, in the end, I am certain we will reach a point where the only alternative to destroying the earth’s surface will be organic farming.” O


In the Long Reeds

“He hangs in shades the orange bright, like golden lamps in a green night.” Andrew Marvell - The Mower to the glow-worms

Virtual Water:

The Burden of an range


By Miina Rautiainen

of orange juice in a café, the origin of this yellow nectar rarely comes to mind. Oranges that we consume in different forms – juices, marmalades, fresh fruits – have travelled a long way, often from the other side of the globe, before reaching us. This is not surprising to most of us, considering that the weather in Ireland isn’t the sunniest. But have you ever thought of how much water this small vitamin bomb has needed before arriving here? Most of the world’s oranges are produced in Brazil. A large amount of water is used every day to irrigate the plants and to wash the picked fruits. It has been calculated that to produce one orange 80 litres of water is needed throughout the whole supply chain. This means each orange we buy in a supermarket has a virtual burden of 80 litres of water. This burden is also known as the water footprint. The idea of water footprint is simple. It looks at the whole supply chain of a product and calculates the volume of water that has been used at each stage. In other words, it calculates virtual water. Water footprint was introduced by Arjen Hoekstra, and it has now been further developed by the Water Footprint Network. Hoekstra is professor in water management at the University of



02/Flagstaffotos ir00 F : to

hile enjoying a glass


Twente in the Netherlands. He developed the water footprint in 2002, while working on the relationship between water use and consumption. “I realised that national water use statistics, as they are usually presented, tell us very little about how people really use water. All imported products need water as well, in other countries. The water footprint of national consumption has an internal as well as an external component,” he says. The amount of water on the earth has been stable since the beginning of the time. Thanks to the energy from the sun, we have a hydrological cycle. Water evaporates from seas and continents, rains down from the clouds and flows from land to ocean through run-off. However, only a tiny fraction of all water is available for humans to use. About 70 per cent of our ‘blue planet’ is covered with water, but only 3 per cent of this is fresh water. Furthermore, about two thirds of fresh water resources are captured in glaciers and snow.


t is said that there is enough water for everyone. But the problem is water is not equally distributed. Currently, there are around seven billion inhabitants on the planet, and the United Nations has estimated that nearly half of that number is already living with water scarcity or water stress. While the total amount of water doesn’t change, the amount of drinkable and non-polluted fresh water does change, and it is decreasing at a rapid pace. By 2050, the world population is predicted to be nine billion. This means that increasingly scarce water resources need to be shared between an ever-increasing number of thirsty mouths. Most of the available fresh water, around two thirds, is used globally in agriculture for food production. One fifth is used by industry, and only eight per cent is used domestically for drinking, cooking and washing. As the standard of living gets higher in developing countries, diets change towards consuming more meat; producing meat requires eight to ten times more water than growing crops. Scientists and academics have been discussing the upcoming water crisis for years. In the 1990s, Professor Tony Al-

Photo: Wonderwater cafe


In the Long Reeds

lan introduced the term ‘virtual water’, which was originally called ‘embedded water’. He argued that virtual water might help to avoid the imminent water crises in the Middle East. Since then, the concept of virtual water has produced heated debate in academic circles. Allan is the co-leader of the London Water Research Group in King’s College London. A member of the group, Finnish PhD researcher Suvi Sojamo describes virtual water as a concept that “illustrates the global interdependencies of our water supply and consumption, and the shared nature of water resources”. Virtual water is a theoretical approach for examining the movement of water in today’s globalised world. For an ordinary person it may feel useless and distant. However, realising the effect of our own water use, and the global impact that it has, is important as water stress increases and the population keeps growing. Recently, virtual water’s practical applications, such as the water footprint, have brought it into the daily lives of many people who would not have heard the term before.Water footprint is used in the same way as the more commonly

known ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘ecological footprint’. “The water footprint is a new measure of water consumption and pollution, a supply-chain based indicator that didn’t exist beforehand and already has become an essential element in the discourse about water allocation,” says Hoekstra. “It has proven to be instrumental in raising awareness, but is also increasingly used to inform governmental policy and company strategy. Of course, information about water footprints is only one input in decision making.” Naturally, virtual water is only virtual from importers’ and consumers’ point of view. In places where oranges grow, virtual water is as real and refreshing as the water we see running from the tap. Through the whole supply chain, on each step, real water has been used for irrigation, washing, transport and processing. The virtual water concept can help people understand the impact of their consumption. Suvi Sojamo says: “If meant as a concept targeted to people as consumers, it can make them aware of the global impact of their consumption. They are therefore empowered to make more sustainable choices and pres-

sure the companies to shift towards behaving more sustainably. As citizens, virtual water could empower people to demand more sustainable trade and development policies from their governments.” Getting the information to different groups of people across society can, however, be challenging. Questions such as how to communicate it and which target should be prioritised are not easy to answer. “The way it is currently communicated to consumers, citizens, governments and corporations could be clarified,” says Sojamo. “There’s still some confusion and disagreement on accounting and assessment methodologies, but it shouldn’t undermine the original value of the intent of making us aware of our total water consumption.” There have been many attempts to make these rather theoretical issues more accessible. Numerous online calculators have made it possible to work out your water footprint. But still there is a question of turning the figures into something understandable. According to Hoekstra, “The water footprint as a concept, and water footprint assessment as a methodology, is firmly established in the scientific literature. The main barrier to

Virtual water glossary Blue water Fresh surface and groundwater; water in lakes, rivers etc Green water

Rain water which is stored temporarily in the soil and used by vegetation

Grey water footprint

Indicator of fresh water pollution; calculated as the volume of water that is required to dilute pollutants to such an extent that the quality of the water remains above agreed water quality standards

Virtual water Freshwater used through the supply chain and embedded in a product, hence virtual Water footprint Volume of freshwater used in production of commodities and goods; can be calculated for individuals, nations, products etc. Ratio of freshwater to freshwater availability Water scarcity Source: Water Footprint Network


Image: Arjen Hoekstra

The origin of Ireland’s water footprint, which is calculated at 1301 cubic metres per capita per year

its application in policy making is still a lack of data and experience on how to integrate new insights on water footprints into the daily practice of policy makers. Currently, a lot of pilot projects on water footprint assessment are going on worldwide, in both the public and private sector, which will help to create a portfolio of case studies.” Italian Angela Morelli works on spreading the word about virtual water and tries to bring it closer to people through information design. Her infographic story on water can be read on the website of The Reed.


et’s take an example: according to the Water Footprint Network, an average Irish person’s water footprint is 1301 cubic metres annually. This is the total water footprint for Ireland, divided by the population, so it doesn’t show differences in individuals’ water use. In litres, this totals 1,301,000 which is about half the water of a 50 metre-long Olympic swimming pool. A bit more than two thirds of this water comes from outside the country. This means that only one third of the water in Irish water footprint originates directly

The main barrier is still a lack of data and experience on how to integrate water footprints into the daily practice of policy makers -Arjen Hoekstra

from Ireland.The rest stands for indirect use, or, in other words, virtual water. Interestingly, the Irish water footprint is lower than the average global water footprint, which is 1385 cubic metres. This may be down to climate and less reliance on imported agricultural products. However, a big water footprint is not necessarily a bad thing. The important


In the Long Reeds

Images: Wonderwater cafe


question is: how is water used? Therefore, water footprints are divided into three colours which clarify water use: green, blue and grey. The blue water footprint stands for use of surface and groundwater.The green water footprint means the use of rainwater, as far as it doesn’t become run-off. The grey water footprint refers to water that has been polluted during the supply chain. In the Irish example, it is likely that, as the need for irrigation is very small due to the climate, the green part of the footprint is significant. But can knowing our water footprint really change the way we consume or use water? “This crude sort of information will create some awareness of hidden water needs in general,” says Hoekstra, “and it may also point to the main water consumers in a person’s consumption pattern. For many people, this would Wonderwater be meat, dairy and cafe menus cotton. People may illustrate adjust their conthe water sumption pattern footprint and reduce waste, and origin but probably even of different more important is courses that the increased level of public awareness motivates companies to start working on reducing the water footprint of their products and stimulates politicians to put freshwater concerns higher on the political agenda.” Hoekstra also says water footprint has had an impact in his own life. “My perception of meat has changed in particular, and I have been motivated to reduce my meat consumption. Animal products are responsible for 25 to 30 per cent of the water footprint of humanity.” The question of making water footprint easier to understand was also at the core of a project called Wonderwater café. One of the curators, Jane Withers, tells that she had been familiar with the idea of water footprints for several years, and tried to explain the concept to people first in an exhibition. However, she found that this was not the most efficient way.

“This made me realise that it could be more effectively communicated in a live situation, where people were participants confronted with choices rather than observing it through info graphics in a gallery. As agriculture uses by far the largest share of global water, food was the obvious place to begin. Hence I developed the idea for the Wonderwater café,” she says. The Wonderwater café project was launched last year, in cooperation with Arjen Hoekstra himself and academics from Aalto University in Helsinki and King’s College London, who were responsible for the calculations. It opened in London, Helsinki and Beijing, with the same concept adapted to fit the host venue, and the menu, space and facilities available. “At the core of the concept is using the existing menu as a vehicle for explaining the water footprint,” Withers says. The modified Wonderwater menu (see images on the left) illustrates the water footprint and the origin of each course.The diner is also informed about how the water has been used. The feedback around the project was positive. “Most people are amazed and have no idea not only about the water footprint but also how much water is used in food production and where this comes from,” Withers says. “It certainly opened the debate on global water consumption among an audience who were largely unaware of the impact, and helped to raise awareness and debate around global water issues.” Water footprint seems to be a good way of raising consumers’ awareness about direct and indirect water use. However, Withers says more work is needed. “It is a useful starting point but it is an immensely complex issue. For instance a high water footprint isn’t necessarily negative – emphasis should not be on the figures alone but how we interpret them. There needs to be further work on simplifying the messaging around the water footprint and establishing a set of guidelines for a general audience.”


life. Therefore, it is no surprise that water might be one of the main causes of future conflicts. Already, ater is vital for

Photo: Axel Rouvin

Photo: Arivumathi via WikiCommons

Increasing productivity in the waterrich parts of the world is part of the solution, according to Arjen Hoekstra

changing the flow in rivers and building dams has caused tension between nations, and forced people to move. This kind of conflict of interest is likely to increase when resources get scarcer, but the number of water users grows. Some have even argued that future wars will be over water. Suvi Sojamo says that “the talk about water wars is often misleading”. “Water has been a contributing factor to the escalation of several predominantly local disputes, but has never been the sole reason for a large scale international armed conflict,” she says. “Water wars are just not economically,

Most people have no idea about how much water is used in food production and where this comes from -JaneWithers

technically nor politically feasible: it’s much cheaper to ensure water security via virtual water imports or desalination than via waging an international conflict. However, this doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be billions of people suffering from inadequate access to water due to political reasons, national and international.” Also Hoekstra doesn’t find talking about water wars very relevant. “Wars are generally political or ethnic. Political or ethnic tensions are often fed or aggravated by economic crisis and conflict over scarce resources. In this sense, severe overexploitation of freshwater resources can surely contribute to the risk of war. But conflicts are generally complex and have a diversity of underlying factors, so talking about ‘water wars’ is probably a bit simplistic,” he says. Allan suggests virtual water as a one part of the solution to crisis in the Middle-East. However, it is not a magic cure that would bring peace on Earth. “It would be difficult to prove that the concept itself had prevented any specific wars or crises,” Sojamo says, “though in practice especially the Middle Eastern countries have very likely benefited from importing virtual water embedded in food rather than using their scarce resources for water intensive agricultural production.”

Alongside the virtual water concept has grown the concept of virtual water trade. By analysing the virtual water streams, it is possible to see which countries are importing and which countries exporting virtual water. Through trading, the streams could become more balanced. This means that water-scarce countries could import water-intensive products, which require lot of water during production, and in this way save their own local water resources. There are already some examples, such as Jordan, of countries importing waterintensive products in order to save their own water resources. According to Hoekstra, “The most water scarce regions in the world – where water footprints exceed sustainable supplies – include North Africa and the Middle East, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, Southern Europe and parts of the US, India and China.The solution to water scarcity in those regions doesn’t lie solely within these regions. An important part of the solution will also be to increase water productivity in the water-abundant parts of the world, for example by increasing the productivity in rain-fed agriculture. International virtual water trade patterns are likely to change in the future.” Suvi Sojamo would divide virtual water trade into two different forms, either “the on-going economically invis-


In the Long Reeds

ible and politically silent process, or informed trade policy and practices”. “When it comes to the former, virtual water imports have ameliorated water scarcity in certain arid areas. However, the global agro-food political economy is power-asymmetric, as the global ‘West’ and ‘East’ are racing towards securing their food supply internationally, protecting their markets, or subsidising their own export producers at the cost of the underdeveloped agricultural sector in the global ‘South’. When it comes to the latter, possibilities vary from more efficient to more equitable water use, both locally and globally.” Sojamo also emphasizes the informing nature of virtual water: “Virtual water can inform production and trade, but volumetric assessments need to take into account the wider environmental and socio-political context in any given location; whether the local context could be improved and developed by contributing to water sustainability and security in the catchment area, or whether it would be better to allocate the water resources for some other use.” Arjen Hoekstra says that “understanding water footprints and virtual water trade is part of the same challenge. The concepts are related.Virtual water flows in the global economy are factual. “We better understand these flows, because we can never formulate policies towards sustainable, efficient and equitable water use and allocation if we don’t understand water footprints and virtual water flows,” he continues. Some argue that virtual water trade could help us to find solutions for famine. Others criticise it for letting countries play with their water resources at the expense of others. Analysing the trade with different products might be the key to understanding the movement of virtual water.

One glass of orange juice has a water footprint of about 200 litres


However, it is also very difficult as the global trading system has become more complex.


or instance, we could

look at the oranges traded to and from Ireland. In 2010 according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Ireland imported 25,500 tonnes of oranges, 28,400 tonnes of concentrated orange juice, 44,600 tonnes of single strength orange juice.The major supplier country was Brazil, from which 15,000 tonnes of single strength orange juice was directly imported. Nearly 4,000 tonnes of fresh oranges were imported directly from South Africa and about 3,000 from Egypt. Large amounts were imported through the United Kingdom, Germany and Netherlands. However, not all the imports were consumed by Irish people. More than 30,000 tonnes were exported as concentrated or single strength juice, mostly to the UK. The exports mostly stayed within Europe but a small proportion was exported as far as the United States (103 tons single strength juice) and Chile (2 tons of concentrated juice). On a global level, the biggest importer of oranges is Russia. The Water Footprint Network calculated that one orange has a water footprint of 80 litres. Of this 72 per cent is estimated to be green water, 20 per cent blue water and 9 per cent grey water. In total, orange juice has a water footprint of 1020 litres per one litre of orange juice. Hence, one 200 millilitre glass of orange juice has a water footprint of about 200 litres. From this, we can draw the simple conclusion that the Russian people eating oranges imported from Brazil are indirectly using the water resources of Brazil. Through fruit trade, the water used in production of oranges is virtually transported abroad. From the Russian point of view, each orange has 80 litres of virtual water in it, and each glass of orange juice is embedded with 200 litres of water.Though, they will never see this water for real. However, from a Brazilian point of view, 80 litres of water was actually used for each growing orange, which reduced the amount of local fresh water resources. Agriculture is the biggest water user

globally, and water efficiency in agriculture can vary a lot between different countries. Therefore, the first step before attempting to create an intensive virtual water trade, is to take a look at the way water is actually used. “According to several studies, the virtual water trade is already contributing to global efficiency gains, especially when goods are traded from green water to blue water locations. However, first and foremost there is a lot of room for improvement in agricultural water use all around the world,” says Sojamo. “Currently only some 15 per cent of agricultural produce is traded internationally, but the volumes are growing, mostly fuelled by growing demand and changing diets. Whether this is sustainable depends on the nutritional value provided, for example soy for food or feed, and also on the wider ecological footprints of production and trade flows,” she adds. Virtual water has stirred discussion and criticism within academic circles for years and still there seem to be many unanswered questions. Creating the water footprint concept has brought it closer to the public and helps to illustrate the invisible ‘virtual water cycle’. But the work is not finished yet, as new problems around water will arise and cause tensions between nations. According to Sojamo, virtual water is often misunderstood. “It was not intended as something economically or politically imperative. A lot of caution is needed when making any type of sustainability claims. As with actual water, it is important to consider management and governance interaction and actors: whose behaviour should be changed and how if different outcomes are desired?” Virtual water and water footprint are essentially tools for raising awareness. They don’t tell us what we should do but help us to understand the wider impact of our consumption. So, next time you are peeling your delicious and juicy orange, think about the long distance this fruit has travelled to you and the 80 litres burden it is carrying. Not so long ago it was still hanging in shades, somewhere in a Brazilian orchid, “like golden lamps in a green night”. O

Water footprints of different products: 1 kg beef

15,400 litres

1 l biodiesel 11,400 litres (from soy beans) 1 kg chicken meat 4,330 litres 1 cotton T-shirt

2,500 litres

1 kg rice

2,497 litres

1 kg potato

287 litres

A glass of milk

255 litres

A baguette

155 litres

A cup of coffee

140 litres

1 egg

200 litres

1 banana

160 litres Source: Water Footprint Network



Pollutio r i A t o n

vironme he e n t l l a

ntal rubbish that’s f

“I would like to improve the world a bit. I will fly around the world doing good for the environment.” Leonardo di Caprio, in conversation with German newspaper Bild “We have 250 years of coal – why wouldn’t we use it?” Mitt Romney campaign ad, in run up to last autumn’s US elections


it t o p rint

“Tobey Maguire has also officially banned all leather products from his house. He makes everyone take off their leather belts and shoes and leave them by the door” Seventeen Magazine, ‘Celebs Go Green!’

Our Environmental Champion Tom Cruise (pictured) signing autographs at the Dublin premier of Oblivion. Tom spent 90 minutes with fans who had braved the April cold snap. Fortunately, Tom had no need to wrap up, as an electric heater was provided, and carried behind him as he met fans.

“Even as a junkie I stayed true [to vegetarianism]. ‘I shall have heroin, but I shan’t have a hamburger.’ What a sexy little paradox.” Russell Brand, ‘My Booky Wook’


The Foggy Dew, 1 Fownes Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

A pub that rocks! Situated in the heart of Temple Bar, The Foggy Dew offers a charming blend of oldworld tradition fused with an appealing contemporary atmosphere. Enjoy funky rock tunes every Saturday and live music each Sunday.

Phone: 01 677 9328 (Bar) 01 677 9659 (Office) General Enquiries:

The Reed  
The Reed  

An environmental magazine based in Dublin that looks at food, fashion, politics, culture, and all aspects of the world around us through 'gr...