A University?

1. What is a university and what does it do?

According to Wikipedia a university is “an institution of higher education and research which grants a wide range of academic degrees in a variety of subjects.”  State-supported universities award degrees of different levels to their graduates. They offer Level 7 or Ordinary Bachelor degrees, Level 8 or Honours Bachelor’s degrees, level 9 or Master’s degrees and Level 10 or Doctoral Postgraduate degrees. Universities are usually located in larger towns and cities and people come from the surrounding hinterland in order to gain an education from a usually broad range of courses ranging from business and science to engineering and humanities. It lets students experience a wide range of cultures as it usually has a wide multinational community. It also gives students the chance to experience different cultures through the Study Abroad or Erasmus programs. Students from other countries also have the chance to come and study there. A university is a community that gives a student a chance to grow academically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. A university also offers students the chance to take part in extra curricular activities ie clubs and societies. The university usually provides the equipment and location for these clubs and societies.

2. What should a university do?

A university should first and foremost provide its students with an education in their chosen degree area. It should let students experience a wide range of cultures through its wide multinational community as well as through work experience or travel to different regions of the world.  Its degree programs should be able to provide graduates with the skills and ability to get a job regardless of the economic situation of the country at the time when they graduate. It should be an example to other higher education institutions in terms of innovative ideas. The university should have policies that create a good learning environment and strong well educated graduates that will become a driving force in their field. A university should allow a student to grow not just academically but also emotionally and socially. It should provide postgraduates with the opportunity to research and develop new ideas.

3. What will a university look like in 2050?

I think something like this.

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“Water, like energy in the late 1970s, will probably become the most critical natural resource issue facing most parts of the world by the start of the next century.”

This week we talked about whether the earth would be able to sustain a growing population with regard to food so I decided to learn more about its ability to sustain a growing population with regard to water.

The following diagram shows the stress that is currently put on the water supply of each area of the earth.


In 2030 the world population is expected to reach 8.3 million. This will cause a 50% increase in the earths demand for energy and food, and a 30% increase in the demand for water. Currently the World Bank reports that 80 countries are facing water shortages that threaten both health and economies while 40% of the world, which is more than 2 billion people, have no access to clean water or sanitation. If population growth continues at the rate it is going today these numbers will also grow. We all know that water is our most precious resource so what problems will the world face when the demand for water grows?

Obviously a larger amount of countries will face water shortage problems. The scale of the problem will also increase in countries that are already facing these difficulties. The number of people who live without access to clean water will grow. This will create health problems for many people.

The number of conflicts in the world will increase. Many countries get most of their water (75% or more) from rivers that cross borders of neighbouring countries that can be viewed as hostile. (e.g. Botswana, Cambodia, the Congo and Sudan) If the water supply to these countries is lessened due to an increase in water use in the neighbouring countries huge problems will be caused for the people living there. In the Middle East getting and maintaining adequate water supplies is a very high political priority. In recent years Iraq, Syria and Turkey been verbally threatening each other over the shared water supplied. If water shortages reach crisis point countries may take it as far as war in order to find a solution.

Water shortages will also cause an agricultural crisis. Food and agriculture are the largest consumers of water. They need one hundred times more water than we use for personal needs. As the per capita water use increases due to changes in lifestyle and as population increases the amount of water available for agricultural use will decrease.

We can make changes in order to try and solve or at the very least lessen the water crisis problem. If drip irrigation was used in agriculture rather than the type of irrigation that is used today a huge amount of water saving could be made. Currently in a typical household in the developed world 45-50% of the drinking water used in the house is flushed down the toilet. If this percentage was decreased huge savings could be made.

Everyone can make a difference by making a few small changes that wouldn’t affect their day to day life. I found some water saving tips here http://www.greenbusiness.ie/saving-water/water-tips/. It appears to me after learning more about water shortages that though it could become very difficult for developing countries to cope with demand in the coming years, especially considering they are not currently able to do so, it should be relatively easy for developed countries such as Ireland to control their water consumption and decrease the amount of water they waste.






What if Global Warming Comes to Ireland?

After having a week of interesting lectures regarding climate change this week I decided to find out more about global warming and its specific impact on Ireland. Though an increase in temperatures may not seem like such a bad thing for us (who wouldn’t want warmer summers?)  But the negative consequences appear to far outweigh the positive. So what will happen in Ireland if global warming continues?  (http://www.epa.ie/news/pr/2007/mar/name,13680,en.html)

1)      There will be an increased likelihood and an increased magnitude of river due to increased rainfall during the winter months. Towns such as Clonmel in Co. Tipperary already face large problems with flooding which has been becoming more frequent over recent years. A flood relief scheme costing 35 million euro is currently being put in place. If other towns begin to suffer from more extreme flooding many other towns may need flood schemes.

2)      There will also be an increase in coastal flooding due to rising sea levels. 60% of the Irish population live within 10 km of the sea and so this could cause huge problems for the country. A rise in sea levels of even 1 metre could cause a dramatic change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that by 2100 global warming will lead to a sea level rise of 1.8 to 5.9 m. You can see what difference a change of 6m would make to Limerick city here –>http://flood.firetree.net/?ll=52.6541,-8.5824&z=5&m=6

3)      A decrease in rainfall of up to 20% in the east during the summer will mean there will be a need for crop irrigation for certain crops such as potatoes. Farmers will face new costs as they try to adapt to climate change. Earlier planting and harvesting dates may be required as well as lower fertiliser application rates and large investment in irrigation equipment.  (http://www.ria.ie/getmedia/eba45f46-3070-4818-acc5-3241eda85ac9/12214-Ria-Agr_climate-chang.pdf.aspx)

4)      There will be changes in the distribution of species and possible extinction of vulnerable species requiring cooler conditions.  For example the Arctic char which is found in mountain lakes in Ireland. It only lives in deep cold lakes. If temperatures in Ireland were to rise conditions would become unsuitable to the Arctic char and it would become extinct in Ireland.

5)      There will be an increased amount of pest infestation. Plant diseases that are currently rare will occur more often and farm animals may begin to suffer more from a range of tick borne pathogens.

It would appear to me that these increases in Irish temperature would have a generally negative affect on the country. Many changes would have to be made in order to cope with this change and money would have to be spent. All in all I believe that the country would be better off without climate change even if it does mean we don’t get our warmer summers.

So Ecofriendly Housing Isn’t All About Huts?!

This Friday we went on our fieldtrip to Cloughjordan. The trip was very interesting and it was a great opportunity to see the things we are learning about in class put into practice. I was very surprised to see how much like a normal housing estate the ecovillage looked. The houses I had in my head were much closer to the following, some of the 10 most eco friendly houses in the world.

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Houses like this however would find it much harder to become mainstream than houses such as those that we saw in Cloughjordan. It would take a lot to make people feel happy with the idea of living in a wooden caravan or a hanging sphere treehouse. Its also not practical to expect these houses to be suitable for everyone. Thats one of the main reasons why I feel that Cloughjordan is such a good idea. Is shows people that their homes don’t have to be radically different looking or any less functional than the house they currently have in order to be eco friendly.

Taking a look at the Cloughjordan website paints us a picture of the completed village.


»  114 low energy homes and 16 live-work units.
»  A solar- and wood-powered community heating system.
»  Pedestrian pathways lined with fruit and nut trees.
»  A streamside walkway.
»  50 acres of land for allotments, farming and woodland.
»  A green enterprise centre and hi-spec broadband.
»  A centre of education for sustainable living.
»  An eco-hostel for visitors.
»  A nearby train station and local car-sharing scheme.
I think it would be very interesting to visit Cloughjordan again once all of this construction work is completed to see the village and to find out if the project is a success. If the project is a success I believe that it is an idea that should be implemented in more places around Ireland.  Hopefully in a few years there will be an ecovillage or 10 in every county in Ireland!

If The Oil Runs Out

This week we had an interesting lecture about peak oil and it got me thinking about what the world is going to do when we run out of oil and what we’re going to have to do before we run out. According to http://www.theinsider.org/news/article.asp?id=0423 sometime before 2020 the world’s supply of oil and gas will fall below the level required to meet international demands. So what will happen when the oil runs out? I found an interesting video on YouTube that looks at some things that could happen.

They are other options out there as an alternative to oil. Let’s take biofuels as an option. They provided 1.8% of the world’s transport fuel in 2008. So would it be viable for them to provide all of the world’s transport fuel? No. There just isn’t enough land and water to grow bio-fuels as well as growing enough food for the world. And obviously food would be more important. It would take half the land mass of the continental United States to grow enough biofuel to fuel America’s cars and trucks. That’s an awful lot of land.

There are two alternative fuels that could be produced in the required amounts and that would not add to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One is algae. Algae can double its mass every two hours under ideal circumstances. This would mean that it can be harvested daily. The US Department of Energy believes that to provide America with enough algae to replace petrol would take 1/7th of the amount of land that is used in the US to grow corn. This appears to me to be a viable option, especially as it seems it would take a lot less land than biofuels.

The oil produced can be used in unmodified engines and is basically carbon neutral. The biomass that is left after the oil has been extracted can be fed to cattle or fermented to produce alcohol. There are now lots of companies looking at ways of growing and processing it and companies like Shell are looking at it as an option as well. The main problem at the minute is cost but if oil costs continue to rise it will soon become competitive.

Another option is combining carbon dioxide with hydrogen to make a synthetic octane fuel that can be used in cars. The carbon dioxide is sourced from exhaust gases or from the air. Getting hydrogen however requires energy and is only carbon-neutral if the electricity used to split it out of water comes from a  source like solar, wind or nuclear. Combining the hydrogen with carbon dioxide avoids the storage refrigeration and high pressures problems that are connected with using pure hydrogen as a fuel. (Reference:http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=163646)

It appears to me that these 2 oil alternatives are something that the world needs to take a good look at. They are ideas that need to be developed. The sooner we can have a viable cost effective alternative to oil the better it will be for the earth. The problems that the earth faces regarding high oil costs and uncertainty about the stability of the major oil producing countries will also diminish. Development of these alternative sources seems to me to be a win win situation.

Finding a Value System

On Thursday this week we had what I felt was the most interesting Sustainable Development lecture so far. Hearing about the spectrum of positions was very informative and it really helped to cement my own personal views on where I stood regarding our value system. Looking at each of the individual positions it became apparent to me which viewpoints I agreed with and which I disagreed with.

The first position we looked at was “Free Markets”. This position had several views which I strongly disagreed with, including the view that climate change does not pose a serious threat to the future of the planet. It is evident that this position will not work. It is the position that the world has held for many years and it is clearly not working. In fact when I googled Free Markets the second result that came up was the Celtic Tiger-a clear sign that this is not the route to take!

The next position we looked at was “Technology and Market Pricing” While I agreed with some of the points that this position made e.g. that climate change is a serious problem, I did not agree about is stance on global inequalities- it doesn’t address them. Considering that 85% of the world’s population live in developing countries (Reference: Human Development Index) this is obviously a viewpoint that will not work.

Third position was “Sustainable Development” and this was the position that I most strongly agreed with. It believes that economic growth needs to take place- something I agree with because of the world’s growing population. This position does address global inequalities and it believes that the developed world must help the developing world e.g. with finance and technology. It also believes that international targets can be set to curb carbon emission. It places environment, society and economy at levels of equal importance, another view which I would support.

The fourth position was “Green Economics” While I agreed with several of the views that this position supports such as recycling, energy saving, investment in renewable energy and spending more money insulating homes it had one point which I did not agree with- prosperity without growth. Personally I believe that with the population of the world expected to double by 2054 if growth rates remain as they are today economic growth will be needed to cope with this growing population. (Reference: http://geography.about.com/library/faq/blqzworldgrowth.htm) You can see how fast the world’s population is growing here http://www.worldometers.info/.  Developing countries will most definitely need to have economic growth to ensure that their people (85% of the worlds population) can have a higher standard of living.

The final position we looked at was “Deep Ecology”. I do not agree with the views that this position holds. The bioregion idea which states that the world needs to have localised economies is something that I would strongly disagree with.  Again this would mean that the world would be unable to cope with the population growth that it is going to be facing in the coming years as localised economies would mean little economic growth. Personally I believe that this view is too extreme and so would be very difficult to implement. People would be too reluctant to change by such a large amount.

It was interesting to listen to the different views of the class during the debate as well as to see which position each person chose. I would have to say though that their arguments would not sway me to change my position! Sustainable development would appear to me to be the most effective and best way forward.

The Week of Strings and After Eights

After a semester of classes where we sat in our seats for hours it was nice to start a class where we have to draw posters and eat chocolate! (I think a tin of Roses would be good for next week.)

The most important thing I learned this first week is that it seems like it’s basically impossible to save the world. Fixing one problem only seems to create more problems. For example in London in 1952 4,000 people died because of the smog that covered the city. Britain introduced its “Clean Air Act” to try and prevent this from happening again. Burning smokeless coal became compulsory and the generation of power was moved outside the city. This improved the quality of the air in the city but the longer power lines meant that amount of carbon dioxide released increased. By solving one problem another problem was created. And this seems to be an issue with attempts to solve many problems.

Here’s a map of the current energy consumption per capita.

As countries develop they are going to be using more energy. If the whole map turns red then that can’t be good. Non-renewable sources of energy will be used to feed the energy needs. But there just aren’t enough fossil fuels to sustain all those countries. But that’s not the biggest problem. As a former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani  said “The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones and the oil age will not end because the world runs out if oil” Greenpeace believes that if we burn more than a quarter of the fossil fuels that can be recovered cost effectively we will not be able to stay in safe climatic bounds. Fossil fuels can’t be the major energy supplier for much longer without causing irreversible climate change. This means that we will have to change our energy use whether we like it or not. And we can’t be waiting around until we have no other choice.