Heat, Greed and Human Need – Prof. Ian Gough

Yesterday as part of Maynooth University’s Social Justice week, Prof. Ian Gough from the London School of Economics spoke on his new book Heat, Greed and Human Need: Climate Change, Capitalism and Sustainable Wellbeing.  Prof. Gough has been working on climate change for the last 10 years, looking at the issue through the lens of capitalism and the welfare state, and drawing on his earlier work on the theory of human need.

He began by explaining that the book focuses on the following questions:

  • What are the social impacts of climate change?
  • How is capitalism driving climate change?
  • How can we improve wellbeing?

Prof. Gough suggested that climate change research is dominated by scientists and economists, and now it is time to bring in the social sciences. His book explores the intersections between economy (Greed), Society (Need) and Environment (Heat). He suggested that social policy and climate policy often ignore each other, and that we need to look at “eco-social policies”.

He contrasted between the “moral economy” and “political economy” perspectives (below), and used Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics model to expand the “moral economy” model. He then outlined the main points of each section of the book.



Prof. Gough briefly outlined the science of climate change, identifying three climate policy agendas – Mitigation, Geo-engineering and Adaptation – explaining that he only focuses on mitigation.


He then discussed capitalism and the concept of “legitimate greed” as the driving force of the economic system, stressing that economic growth is the key driver of emissions. He noted that eco-efficiency has improved but has been outpaced by growing output. Prof. Gough also highlighted the difference between production-based and consumption-based emissions, explaining that richer countries consume far more emissions than they produce, while the opposite is true of countries such as China and India. He argued that it is consumption-based, not production-based emissions that matter, and explained that consumption emissions in the UK are increasing. He also introduced us to the concept of the “Plutocene”, the world’s richest 10% who are responsible for 50% of consumption emissions (below).

M4365-GOUGH_9781785365102_t (Colour).indd

Prof. Gough also argued that along with the double injustice that poorer countries suffer more from the negative impacts of climate change, there is a “triple injustice” – reducing emissions can also harm poorer groups i.e. climate policy can cause rising inequality. Rising inequality drives excessive consumption, longer working hours and more debt, which drives up emissions. It also hinders collective action to control emissions, eroding trust and solidarity. He suggested that we must move beyond “green growth” for two reasons:

  • Pragmatically – eco-efficiency will not be enough
  • Morally – issues of equity and justice are sidelined


Moving on to human needs, Prof. Gough returned to the Brundtland Report, explaining that the famous definition of sustainable development, which references the “needs” of future and present generations, contains two key concepts: Needs and Limitations, but needs are not referred to during the rest of the report. Drawing on his earlier work, he proposed that humans have three core universal basic needs in order to act and to flourish: social participation, health and autonomy. He referenced this Lancet study from 2017 on the impact of climate change on human health. Prof. Gough explained that human needs are central to sustainable wellbeing because they are:

  • Universal
  • Objective – unlike happiness
  • Plural and non-substitutable
  • Satiable and sufficient – unlike wants or preferences
  • Cross-generational

He stated that because of these qualities, needs provide a moral metric to move beyond green growth.

What can be done?

Prof. Gough explained that welfare states still perform crucial roles in meeting human needs e.g. social services, income security, which strengthen security and resilience in the face of climate change. He then outlined the various climate policy instruments e.g. carbon taxing, UK climate change act. His thesis is that we need to join up these two areas – social policy ignores climate sustainability and climate policies can be inequitable e.g. carbon pricing hurts lower income households and current UK policies to retrofit housing exacerbate fuel poverty (Hills report).

He identified three strategies towards a sustainable future, to be developed consecutively in this order:

1. Equitable green growth

  • Green new deal to retrofit the housing stock
  • Invest in low carbon public transport
  • Social tariffs for electricity, gas and water
  • Stronger policies to reduce inequality

But he cautioned that this calls for active state-steering of markets, incompatible with neo-liberal capitalism… what Naomi Klein calls the “tragedy of bad timing”

2. Recompose consumption in rich countries

  • Bring human needs and “need satisfiers” centre-stage
  • Interrogate consumer preferences and consumer sovereignty
  • Distinguish necessities and luxuries
    • Consumer demand is driven by wants and incomes
    • Bring together citizens and experts
    • Citizens’ forums that are inclusive and empowering
    • “public engagement through reasoned deliberation”
    • Must be a problem-solving process, not a way of aggregating people’s preferences
    • This happens already with the calculation of the UK Minimum Income Standards (MIS) at Loughborough University – emissions would be reduced by 37%

Eco-social policies:

  • Promote and invest in co-benefits – cycling and walking, eating less meat
  • Tax high-carbon luxuries – smart VAT, remove incentives for frequent flyers
  • Control advertising and product placement
  • Trial carbon rationing – introduce carbon cards?
  • Expand and strengthen social provision e.g. Universal Basic services – water, energy, transport, housing – improves equity and sustainability
  • Decarbonise welfare states – shrink carbon footprint of public services, upstream prevention throughout public services

3. Degrowth/post-growth – reduce total demand in rich countries

  • Can we envision a transitional strategy to such a radical future?
  • A starting point – reduce paid work time
    • Share work and reduce consumption
    • Move away from 40 hours to release time to live more sustainably

In conclusion, he called for a “new social settlement”, with sustainability goals as a central feature of eco-social policies. He closed with four imperatives:

  1. We must stay “within the lifebelt” of ecological boundaries
  2. Greening capitalism is essential but not enough
  3. It is vital to change consumption patterns in the rich world
  4. We need to find alternatives to growth itself

Kilkenomics 2017


Last month the annual Kilkenomics Festival, a economics-comedy festival, took place in Kilkenny, and as usual featured a number of interesting panels on environmental and social issues.

Doughnut Economics

This year UK economist Kate Raworth came to Kilkenny to discuss her theory of “Doughnut Economics”, which reorients traditional economics around the planetary boundaries concept, as the diagram below illustrates. She began by explaining that “at the beginning of the 20th century economics had no goal and it got a cuckoo goal of GDP growth”. Now “it’s time to chuck out the cuckoo from the nest and get a goal we actually want”. Kate explained that the hole in the middle of the doughnut is where “people are falling short of lifes essentials”. She stressed that “we want to get everyone into the doughnut but not go outside the crust of the doughnut”. Related image

The panel went on to discuss how 20th century economic theories are not appropriate in the context of 21st century ecological changes. Much of the discussion focused on the difficulty of valuing natural and social capital in pounds. One of the panellists, Henry Leveson-Gower, founder of Promoting Economic Pluralism, noted that the approach to environmental economics in the 1970s and 80s was to value everything, but “for this to work you have to keep the threat to the environment in place; we’re going to destroy it unless you pay us money not to destroy it”.

Another panellist, Peter Antonini, an economics lecturer in University College, London, suggested that a common denominator is needed for decision-making and that money is a useful measure in this regard. He suggested also that economics is not suited to being used in an activist way, to achieve a goal.

Henry countered that some branches of economics e.g. complexity, feminist, institutional economics, “don’t need pound signs”. He suggested that measuring everything in terms of money means we “crush things and don’t properly value the things that don’t fit neatly.”

Kate agreed, arguing that the assumption in mainstream economics that money is the best incentive is not borne out in behavioural economics. She noted that “different approaches bring out different behaviours in people”. She also highlighted the power of words, suggesting that the more we are told about the concept of “economic man”, the more we come to believe it.

Kate suggested that we need to talk about “planetary household management”, highlighting that the economy has “four provisioning sections – market, state, household, commons”. However, the household and commons are not included in GDP “because there’s no money; utility cannot be measured in money”. Supporting her point, Henry concluded that “mainstream economics tries to start from the individual and work out, but it doesn’t work”. Instead, it is about the “values and behaviours of tribes… we need to create organisations and institutions where people will act on values, and we need to reorganise our companies”.

Social Capital

Naoise Nunn, co-founder of the festival, hosted a panel on “Social Capital and Public Life: Why we cannot prosper with broken communities”. Although it had no common panellists, this session picked up where Doughnut Economics left off, discussing the “associations that we have that are typically outside the market” and the value of community networks.

One of the panellists, Robert Shrimsley, the Managing Editor of FT.com, described social capital as “how many people around you who will do something for you that isn’t in their immediate interest…It works when people have a common cause that overrides their individual needs”. He also cited the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. However, he cautioned that things that work well at local level don’t always work at a national level, which is more diverse, with more opinions.

Another panellist, Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics, introduced the idea of the Dunbar number, developed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who suggested that we are only capable of having close social relationships with up to 150 people. After 150 you need to develop institutions to function. He also suggested that social capital cannot be developed from the top down i.e. from government level, and mentioned the Family by Family initiative in Australia as bottom-up social capital building.

The final panellist, Simon Kuper, a journalist with the Financial Times, stressed that “loneliness is increasing and there needs to be some kind of collective intervention”. He suggested that populism brings people together and appeals more to lonelier people.

The all-male panel ended with an interesting discussion about gender balance, after an audience member asked why there were no women on the panel. Naoise Nunn explained that more women than men are invited to speak at Kilkenomics, but every year they end up with more male panellists. Robert Shrimsley suggested that women might “turn up, see what we’re talking about and say no thanks”. Do female economists feel alienated by current economics paradigms and discourse? Something for Kilkenomics to address next year perhaps.




‘The Transition to Sustainability in Europe post-Brexit: The Periphery, Populism and Progressive Politics’


Last Sunday the European Green Foundation, together with the Green Foundation Ireland, organised a workshop in Queens University Belfast (above) on “Brexit: Populism and Progressive Politics”. The one day event was divided into four panels featuring speakers from a number of sectors, including academia, politics, think tanks and NGOs.

Panel 1: Brexit and Progressive Politics

The first panel began with Steven Agnew, leader of the Green Party Northern Ireland. Discussing Brexit, he made the point that while the Green party will fight for the rights of people who aren’t included e.g. women, LGBTQ, it is less effective at including people “who are not as educated as us, people who have been victims of the policies of the right” i.e. many of the people who voted for Brexit. He asked “how do we let them tell their story, people who the working classes can connect to? Our big prejudice is education. We need to have these conversations in community centre as well as Queens University”

Ray Cunningham, Co-ordinator of the GreenHouse think tank, was the next speaker and he explained and challenged the idea of a “Green brexit”, as proposed by Michael Gove, among others. He highlighed that the people who voted for Brexit were not particularly sympathetic to green or progressive ideals, citing this YouGov survey in February 2017. Ray pointed out that “these outcomes require a government willing to pursue them and an electorate ready to support them, this is wishful thinking. You can’t push something through without a democratic mandate”. He also drew our attention to two relevant books on the topic: Ruling the Void and the Lure of Greatness. He concluded that there can only be a “progressive brexit” with the break up of the UK into republics within the EU, arguing that “Britain is aleady breaking up through how brexit is being handled”, e.g. Teresa May’s “very Southern English” cabinet.

The final speaker was Stephen Nolan of Trademark, who discussed the ideas of “radical munipicalism” and “solidarity economy”. Radical munipicalism is about “dispersing power and building social power” e.g. the Department of Commons in Naples, Barcelona en Comú and Cooperation Jackson. Examples of the solidarity economy are the Mondragon co-operative, the  Red Belt in Italy, where 50% of the workforce are in co-operatives, and the town of Marinaleda in Spain, which has 0% unemployment. Inspired by these examples, Steven has supported the development of several workers co-ops in Belfast in the last few years, including the Belfast Cleaning Society in 2011, the Creative Workers Co-op, Farmegeddon brewery, Lunasa cafe and Thats Arts. Read more about them here.

Panel 2: Brexit and Sustainability in Northern Ireland, the UK and Europe

The second panel focused on the impact of Brexit and the environment. Viviane Gravey, a lecturer in European Politics at Queens, suggested that Brexit creates challenges not only for environmental law in the UK but in the EU. She noted that while the UK government has often opposed EU environmental law, it has been a key leader in particular areas such as agriculture and climate change, and it is unclear who will replace the UK in this role e.g. the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) may become less green.

Nichola Hughes of Sustainable Northern Ireland spoke of the challenges related to waste, climate change and energy. On waste, she drew our attention to the EU’s circular economy package, warning that products incompatible with the package could be shipped to the UK and used there. On climate change, she noted that the UK government has recently adopted its fifth low carbon budget, but it the UK is not part of the Emissions Trading Scheme, how will the government be accountable? She also noted that getting local authorities in Northern Ireland to act on climate change is difficult because, unlike in the Republic, there is no NI legislation to require them to do climate action plans. In relation to energy, Nichola observed that there is an element of the Tory party that is pro fracking and nuclear, but if renewable energy turns out to be “the better option financially” then it will be adopted.

James Orr of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland focused on environmental issues around the border. For example, he noted that in the case of opposition to fracking in Fermanagh, industry played one side of the border off against the other. He suggested that “ecocide” is happening along the Irish border, citing the results of this project. His proposition was that we need to “rewild” the border, along the lines of the African transfrontier rewilding project.


Panel 3: Brexit, the Border and Futures for Ireland and Northern Ireland

The first speaker was Katy Hayward, a reader in Sociology in Queens, who took us through the impact of the EU on the border. She explained that the EU has changed the border in a number of ways, such as the depoliticization of cross border co-operation, common EU citizenship, the right to cross border work and education and research co-operation.

Claire Bailey, MLA for the Green Party NI, spoke of how, in the UK, the impact of Brexit on Ireland is not being considered, and Ireland is often seen as something seperate. She added that “we have never made people feel comfortable with the multiple identities we can have in Northern Ireland”, and explained that Brexit complicates this further.

The next speaker was John Kyle, Belfast city councillor and member of the Progressive Unionist Party. He noted that Unionists are very divided on Brexit, even within their parties, and that “tribal divisions between nationalists and unionists are worse than they have been for a couple of decades”. He argued that in Northern Ireland people view the EU institutions as remote and bureaucratic. He suggested that we need a North-South ministerial council, an active civic forum, a British-Irish council, a common travel area and to see the cultural rights of NI citizens protected.

Lastly, David Phinnemore, Professor of European Politics in Queens, set out his ideas for “differentiated withdrawal” for Northern Ireland, whereby the terms of withdrawal and the future relationship with the EU could be different for NI. He suggested that there is precedence for treating part of a State differently e.g. Greenland, Svaalbard. He observed that a language is beginning to emerge around “flexible and imaginative solutions” to reflect the unique situation of NI, and Teresa May also recently spoke of finding “special solutions” for NI.

Final session: Roundtable discussion on Populism, Brexit and the European Green Movement

The first speaker in this sessions was Dick Pels, Professor of Sociology at Brunel University in London. He discussed global politics in 2017, with an emphasis on Brexit and Trump, suggesting that what we are seeing is a clash between two types of democracy – populist (plebicitary) and pluralist (liberal).

Lee McGowan, Professor of Politics in Queens, looked at the rise of populism in Europe, drawing our attention to the reduced support for the major parties in the recent German elections. He noted that centre right parties e.g. in Austria, are now starting to adopt the slogans and themes of the far right parties, “making political capital out of it”. He asked “are we seeing a Silent counter revolution – revenge against the establishment and left-wing elites?” Prof McGowan used the image below, which shows how people accross Europe feel about non-EU immigration, to illustrate his points.

Image result for Fast facts on the backdrop to politics

Sophie Long, a recent doctoral graduate in politics in Queens, offered the following advice on how Greens can respond to populism:

  • Deconstruct populist narratives because they don’t offer any truth e.g. they dont tell us how to deal with capitalism, automation, industrialisation
  • Reclaim reason and challenge anti-intellectualism
  • Look at feminist and queer responses to brexit. The narratives of leavers are masculine and about control. This LSE blog on voter values tells us about gaps that Greens could be addressing
  • Be critical and vigilant about the idea of a white working class, e.g. one third of Asian voters voted for Brexit
  • Offer alternatives e.g. green values of co-operation, non-violence, evidence
  • Consider how women are impacted by all this – there is only one woman on the nine person Brexit negotiating team

Finally, Eamon Ryan, TD and leader of the Irish Green party, discussed Brexit and the rise of the right. To conclude, he had some inspiring words on how Greens can use Brexit as an opportunity to offer people an alternative to populism:

“If ecology is about connection and interconnection, we need to talk to the other side, we need to go out and talk to everyone. You have to engage in a way that’s respectful. We can’t completely cut off the right. In doing this we will be true to our original principles.

Grab the space by being decent, by talking to everyone, by working with everyone, not by trying to be the boss; start listening”


European Ideas Lab – Greens meet Changemakers


Last weekend the European Greens came to Dublin for an innovative event, the European Ideas Lab, the second of four to be held in various regions of Europe in 2017 and 2018. The event, held in the Law Society in Dublin, was subtitled “Greens meet Changemakers”, with changemakers being representatives of various NGOs, Universities and other organisations around Ireland. As Ska Keller, MEP and Co-Chair of the Green Group in the European Parliament, explained in her welcoming address to delegates, the aim of the two day conference was to “bring civil society and greens closer together, exchanging experiences and ideas”.

The event opened on Friday night with a plenary session entitled “The Path Forward: towards a sustainable future”, featuring three speakers: David O’Donoghue, Ireland’s former permanent representative to the UN and co-chair of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) talks, Stephen Humphreys, Associate Professor of International Law in London School of Economics, and Ruth Davis, a writer, campaigner, political analyst and conservationist.

David O’Donoghue gave some insight on the process of developing the SDGs, which he said involved “a lot of luck and a fair amount of patience”. He explained that the real challenge of the SDGs is understanding the interconnections between the different policy areas, and the need to work across them in a coordinated way. He also stressed how countries have to work together on this “mutual learning exercise”. David noted that each country will have to submit a voluntary report on progress on the SDGs, with an accompanying action plan. Ireland’s report is due next July and he noted that “no country wants to be humiliated based on lack of progress”.

Stephen Humphreys focused on climate migration, explaining that the issue is “intractable” because it raises contradictory feelings for all of us. He noted that a number of uncertainties make it difficult to estimate the numbers of climate migrants, both now and in the future. He suggested that “we need to mobilise real money quickly and effectively towards the most vulnerable countries and people”.

Dr Humphreys made an interesting point regarded the language of climate migration, suggesting that there is a worryingly popular view that there is “no such thing as a climate refugee”, because the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is wary of diluting the convention on human rights. He commented that “we seem to have developed an uneasy consensus that our system to manage migrants might break down if the numbers increase”, adding that “refugees get a pass but we can pick and choose with migrants”. To conclude, Dr Humphreys offered five ideas for what he termed “decent thinking”:

  • Hug your inner nomad
  • Practice hospitality
  • Remember your history, we are a nation of migrants
  • Learn to live with less
  • Speak up, start the conversation

The final speaker on Friday, Ruth Davis, contrasted the climate movement with the wider environmental movement, suggesting that the climate movement is “powered by a sense of momentum”, but she doesn’t see this in relation to other key areas such as deforestation, resource exploitation or extinction. She highlighted what she saw as “things that make for powerful campaigning”:

  • Evidence, even in a post-truth world
  • Learn about money and power and start to disrupt it
  • Understand how to organise e.g. spreading information through digital platforms
  • Convince ourselves that this is possible e.g. we can feed ourselves without chemical agriculture, we can change our diets.
  • Establish an alternative discourse

The panel was followed by a “Forward Thinking Agora” where delegates were sent to cluster around and discuss some “subvertising” posters by the Brandalism project (below).

IMG_20171028_131112  img_20171028_131129.jpg

Day 2 began with a similar plenary session, in which six invited changemakers spoke about their work or organisations:

Transition Towns – Jay Tompt

Jay focused on the work Transition Towns is doing in Totnes to explore alternative economic systems. He spoke of the need for “new economic actors, relationships and models” and for “investment and financial entities to support entrepreneurs”

ACES: Livelihoods and land use change in Mozambique – Estrella Lopez Moya

Estrella outlined the findings of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) project, which look at livelihood changes for commuinities as woodland is converted into agricultural land in Mozambique. She suggested that “we need to manage trade offs at a landscape scale, through participation, negotiation and cooperation”

Cloughjordan Ecovillage – Davie Philip

Davie gave an introduction to the ecovillage, explaining how it has driven citizen-led development

All-Ireland Pollinator Plan – Dr. Una Fitzpatrick

Úna explained how the Pollinator plan was developed on a voluntary basis, without funding, and has now been supported by 68 government and non-governmental organisations. There are now related documents targeted at different stakeholders e.g. farmers, industry. She noted that biodiversity is a problem that people can understand and relate to, and progress can be quite easily tracked and measured.

Black Protest: Ania Glogowska and Magdalena Galkiewicz

Ania and Magdalena spoke of their activism for womens’ rights in Poland. In 2016 the Polish government proposed a Bill to make abortion in Poland illegal and send any women caught undertaking an illegal abortion to jail for 5 years. This sparked the rise of the Gals4Gals movement, who collected signatures to propose their own counter-bill to legalise abortion. After the counter-bill was rejected, the government started to process the anti abortion law, leading to the Black Monday protest and national womens strike on October 3rd 2016. The government has taken a step back from the bill but is still trying to get it through, so it is expected that there will be more protests in Poland next month.

Cork Food Policy Council – Dr. Colin Sage

Dr Sage outlined some of the work of the Cork Food Policy Council in promoting food sovereignty and sustainability around Cork, including hosting a “Feed the City” event, launching “Incredible edible” boxes, greening the “historic spine” of Cork, running the Food Harvest festival and helping organisations such as University College Cork to grow food directly in Cork.

Energy/Climate workshop:

There were 18 workshops across three sessions on Saturday, so only three workshops are discussed here. The first was on “Energy/Climate”, facilitated by Eamon Ryan, Irish Green Party Leader, and Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP and Co-Chair of the European Green Party.

Eamon Ryan took us through the proposed North Sea Grid wind energy project, which would have the potential to produce 8% of Europe’s energy and reduce the amount of onshore pylons required. He noted that it is difficult to develop these kinds of projects as, based on his experience as Minister for Energy, energy ministers tend not to think outside national boundaries. He presented the illustration below of the proposed grid.

Related image

Eamon highlighted the uncertainty of the energy markets e.g. the costs of wind energy have come down by over 50% in the last three years due to bigger, more powerful turbines and change in the market systems. He commented that we are starting to see big ambition at scale and that the “next quarter of the revolution will come by changing the entire system”.

Reinhard Bütikofer, who is currently working to form the next German government, offered six core ingredients for succcessful transition to low carbon:

  1. Guiding vision (which we have)
  2. Local initiative and regional initiative – we need to build the foundations of an alternative
  3. Strong research and innovation
  4. Transform the markets through regulation – institute price for carbon around Europe and scrap fossil fuel subsidies
  5. Fight hard to avoid fossil fuel lock in – block big infrastructure projects
  6. Democratic accountability, to make sure that regulation is implemented and international cooperation is pursued

Reinhard commented that “everybody in energy policy talks about the energy triangle – sustainability, affordability and availability”. He stressed the importance of engaging with business but making changes structural, reminding us that “short-termism is the crux in business”. He argued that:

“If you’re just the happy and the knowledgeable few, you won’t change the world, you have to find ways of bringing other actors on board.  If you want to engage business people you have to talk to them in business terms”

Eamon also highlighted the role of business in developing renewable energy systems. He suggested that while “small is beautiful… we will not run a data transmitter or a steel industry on a local system, we need a transnational, renewable production and storage system”. He stressed however that we need the political system to show leadership and put a regulatory framework in place.

Brexit workshop

This workshop, which looked at the potential impact of Brexit on the environment, was facilitated by Michael Ewing, Coordinator of The Environmental Pillar, and Craig McGuicken, Chief Executive Officer of Northern Ireland Environment Link.

Michael Ewing outlined the layers of environmental law and guidelines from the global to national levels:

  • Global conventions e.g. UNFCC
  • Regional conventions e.g. Aarhus convention
  • EU legislation e.g. water framework directive. Also fundamental principles of “polluter pays” and the “precautionary principle” (Article 191 in the Lisbon treaty)
  • Various international conventions which are not binding, and countries are given a slap on the wrist if they contravene them
  • UK Law – legislation transposing EU law. Many EU laws will be transposed through the UK government’s Great Repeal bill.
  • EU strategies, policies and programmes e.g. EAP, CAP, IMPEL

Presentation of the legal framework and a discussion of current cross-border environmental initiatives was followed by a group discussion on Brexit and the environment.

Economy/Community workshop

This workshop was led by Jay Tompt of Transition Towns, who explained the Totnes “Reconomy” project. He described the programme as “community-supported entrepreneurism”, the principles of which are as follows:

  • Citizen led economic change
  • Fair and inclusive
  • Regenerative and resilient
  • Inspiration from a variety of sources e.g permaculture, degrowth, community wealth building, open source and commons

He explained that the aim of the project is to “create the conditions for new economic actors, relationships and models to emerge and flourish”. To do so the project seeks to:

  • Catalyse entreprenuerial problem solving culture
  • Mobilise local financial and social capital
  • Build out ‘enterprising ecosystems’
  • Weave ‘convergence networks’ e.g. community energy talk to the community housing people, to the community agriculture people

A key element of the Reconomy project is the “Local Entrepreneur Forum”, where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to the local community, who can then invest in the idea. The community can make financial and non-financial investments e.g. time, in the company. The results of the LEFs to date are shown in the image below, which illustrates that of the 27 businesses established from the LEFs, 23 are still in operation.



Jay concluded with some advice on how other towns can approach running an LEF. He indicated that first comes “preparing the soil” – assessing local conditions (mapping networks and allies, import substitution survey) and then engaging and building support. The LEF itself is the next stage, “planting the acorn”. Finally there is “cultivating the garden”, which involes nurturing relationships, setting up an entrepreneurs’ incubator, and expanding the reconomy to include elements like a mutual credit system, a local bank, social enterprise networks and local investor networks. Further information can be found in the Local Economic Blueprint publication.


The Law Society, venue for the European Ideas Lab

IMG_20171028_125755 IMG_20171028_151727








Some of the recycled tyre sculptures dotted around the Law Society for the conference


EPA Climate lecture – Communicating Climate Change


Last Thursday evening the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted its annual climate lecture on “Communicating climate change – why so difficult?”, delivered by Prof. Chris Rapley, climate scientist at University College London, who spoke for about an hour to a packed room.

The lecture was introduced by Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA, who explained the role of the EPA in supporting the national dialogue on climate action, creating awareness, engagement and motivation to act. She said that the aim of the annual public lecture is to “engage a wider public dialogue on the issue of climate change”, suggesting that “the gap between science and society can lead to a disconnect between evidence and action”.

Chris Rapley spent the early part of his lecture presenting basic climate science, explaining how “humans have upset the energy balance of the planet”, causing “a change in the metabolism of the planet”. He used this graphic to illustrate the change in the average temperature of the planet between 1850 and 2017. He also highlighted that the small overall change has a big impact on hot and cold extremes e.g. as reflected in the temperature of 53.7C recorded in Ahvaz in Iran earlier this year. Prof. Rapley also showed a satelite graphic of the polar ice caps, stressing that we need to realise that “this distant place is connected to you and me in ways that are very poorly understood”. He summarised the impact of climate change as a “cascade of consequences of upsetting the energy balance of the planet”, as summarised in the slide below.


Prof. Rapley also spoke of his belief in human ingenuity, citing green technology and the reducing cost of renewable energy, a technological optimism consistent with ecological modernisation theory. He also spoke of his work with Shell’s scenario planning team, taking us through the graph below. He suggested that rather than the crash abatement program represented by the red line, we need a much more ambitious plan now, represented by the blue line.


The later part of the lecture looked at issues around communicating climate change. He suggested that it is a very difficult problem for us to deal with as it induces fear and anxiety, and “evolution left us incapable of dealing with it”.


Prof. Rapley argued that what we feel when we hear about climate change causes cognitive dissonance, and scientists have not thought through this emotional aspect, so we find ways to deny it. He stated that “the issue is a threat to the neoliberal belief system because it requires collective action, regulation and government interference in your freedom, anathema to neoliberals”. He suggested that individuals of a “more communalist” view will see climate change as a threat, and stressed the need to recognise the emotional and ideological aspects of climate change.


Prof. Rapley went on to explore the psychology behind climate change denial, drawing on the work of Kahneman, as seen in the slide above. He explained that 90% of our brain activity is unconscious, and we make sense of the world around us through automatic perceptions and associations. We respond to the reptilian brain, to emotion, and “we are much less rational than we think”. He also stressed that “we cluster with people who have similar views and values to our own, and tend to see the other side as the enemy”. He stated that “human beings are very tribal”, and like to go into an echo chamber where they reinforce their views.

Prof. Rapley finished by offering some advice on how to communicate climate change in creative ways. He explained that scientists use ‘information deficit’ mode to communicate, offering facts and evidence and trying to remove passion and emotion, but that this doesn’t happen outside the world of academia. He argued that people make sense of the world through storytelling, and that this is “the compelling way we engage the rest of humanity in making sense of the complex issues in the world around us”. He characterised effective storytelling as:

  • Engaging
  • Meaningful
  • Hopeful
  • Actionable
  • Experiential

Prof Rapley spoke of his experience in creating and performing in the play “2071“, which allowed him to deliver climate science in the informed expert mode, but in a different way. He suggested that this allowed the audience to engage in the emotional and ideological issues in a safe space. His parting message was that we must find a way of engaging people with the story of climate change but leaving them with hope. He believes that working with professionals in the arts community, and finding the fusion of skills in art and science can help us to deliver the message in a “hopeful but realistic way”.


UCD Rosemount Open Day 2017



University College Dublin is a town in itself, with over 30,000 students attending the 300 acre campus in Dublin 4. As such the campus has many little-known areas and facilities hidden around its fringes. Walkers through the woods at lunchtime might come across the running track, the School of Archaeology’s experimental archaeology site or…a field of cows. One of these hidden areas is UCD’s Eden, the Rosemount Environmental Research Station, which is generally closed to the public but held an open day yesterday.

Rosemount is UCD’s centre for plant research, with lots of fascinating studies taking place in its glasshouses. It also hosts the historical Irish apple collection i.e. an orchard with lots of different apple varieties, and the UCD bees which are producing Rosemount honey. The sunny pictures below give an idea of what sort of research is going on and the general bucolic pleasantness of the place.



The Rosemount Orchard and historical Irish apple collection



Research greenhouses and polytunnels at Rosemount


Research with Bord na Mona assessing if organic by-products of the Agrifood industry can be used as compost


Research investigating the GHG emissions of the invasive Gunnera tinctoria plant


Enjoying Rosemount’s natural classroom

Visions 2100


Earlier this week the Dublin launch was held of Visions 2100, a book which brings together the visions of 80 people, including many environmental scientists, policy-makers and campaigners, imagining what the world might look like in the year 2100 (http://www.visions2100.com/).

The book’s editor John O’Brien, entrepreneur, author and MD of his own cleantech company, envisaged the book as a way of gathering ideas on how to address climate change. Everyone is invited to share their own vision on the book’s website. In the book contributors such as Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, outline their 2100 vision in (usually) less than 200 words.


At the launch four experts spoke on climate change and their vision for the future, while John O’Brien chaired a Q&A. John Gibbons, an Irish Times journalist who hosts his own blog on climate change (http://thinkorswim.ie/) entitled his vision “The Age of Madness”, featuring a look back at 2015 as a time when “everyone was competing with everyone else – for money, resources, status”. He stressed the importance of a clear vision and suggested that Ireland has shown a lack of vision in undermining the EU 2030 climate targets.

Next was Aideen O’Hora of Sustainable Nation Ireland (http://sustainablenation.ie/), who argued that we must have a global perspective on climate change and when creating a vision for the future, citing the example of migration of people around the world. She also mentioned the EU’s Climate-KIC initiative – http://www.climate-kic.org/ – and a couple of its programs, Climathon and Climate LaunchPad. Her message was that action starts with a conversation.

Academic and activist Dr Cara Augustenborg (http://www.caraaugustenborg.com/) highlighted the importance of localised environmental and social sustainability, using the example of local food production in Cuba. She suggested that “we need to replace the consumerist dream with wellbeing, equality and connectedness”. Dr Augustenborg also drew our attention to an excellent video by GOOD magazine – If the world were 100 people, which features this infographic:


Finally, barrister and former Minister Alex White spoke of how his most difficult job when in office was persuading colleagues of the urgency of what needed to be done on climate change. He suggested that “the argument doesn’t travel very far unless people see it close to them” and that the further away the target is e.g. the year 2030 or 2050, “the more alibis people have to do nothing”. He cited a lack of political leadership as a significant issue and argued that a “great national project” is needed.

In response to a question from the audience on what needs to change for the optimistic Visions 2100 to be realised, Mr White called for a national dialogue on climate action, a forum including everyone, especially farmers. Cara Augustenborg echoed that climate change must become a “doorstep issue”, where voters urge politicians to address it. She also stated that if she was in charge of the country for a day, she would take over the media and broadcast wall to wall climate science. On the same question, John Gibbons suggested that the national curriculum needs to be rewritten, bringing climate and sustainability education into every level.

So now it’s our turn… submit your 200 word vision at: http://www.visions2100.com/#!write-your-vision/rjqdl


Cloughjordan Ecovillage Experience Day

On Saturday 25th June Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Co. Tipperary held one of its regular “Ecovillage Experience” days, where people are invited into the ecovillage to learn about more sustainable living. The day is a balance of classroom and interactive elements, combining presentations on the history and science behind the village with tours of the community farm, research gardens, green enterprise centre and some residents’ homes.



At the entrance to Cloughjordan Ecovillage


What it’s all about

The first residents moved into the village in 2009 and it is now home to over 100 people in over 50 houses. The village is powered by a wood power heating system (soon to be supplemented by solar) and, according to a recent study, its ecological footprint of 2 global hectares is the lowest in Ireland. This is equivalent to one planet living, as opposed to our standard 3 planet living.

Walking around the village, it is striking how the common spaces and “gardens” are natural, rather than cultivated spaces. Some of the residents had “edible gardens” and one of the highlights of the village is the apple tree walk, featuring 65 varieties of native Irish apple trees. In the future it is hoped to build a large kitchen on site and produce Cloughjordan ecovillage food and beverage products.


Artichokes in one resident’s edible garden  


Thriving wildflowers on the village streets

Enterprise is a feature of the village. The Riot Rye Bakery is on site, and runs regular bread-making workshops (http://www.riotrye.ie/), while the co-operative Sheelagh na Gig bookshop and cafe is in Cloughjordan village (http://www.sheelaghnagig.com/). Djangos eco-hostel is situated at the pedestrian entrance to the village. The impressive WeCreate centre has also been created, with shared workspace and the “FabLab”, complete with laser cutter and 3D printer. Individuals or organisations can rent out these spaces.


Riot Rye Bakery, with fuel for the wood-fired oven

DSCF1858       DSCF1859

The 3D printer at the Fab Lab (left) and some Fab Lab creations (right)

The village is registered as an educational charity, and provides certified permaculture courses, along with workshops and courses for schoolchildren in the Fab Lab. Academic research has also been conducted in partnership with the village; during our tour we visited the “RED Gardens”, where eco-villagers are exploring how much land is required to grow enough food to sustain a family, using a variety of different farming methods. See more on the RED Gardens Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhzIpo2yIYg.

DSCF1840  DSCF1842

Onions in the polytunnel at the RED Gardens (left) and the entrance to Apple Tree walk (right)

The community farm operates adjacent to the village, and each villager takes a share of the produce every week, with the excess sold on site at the entrance to the village on Cloughjordan’s main street. The farm is an operational example of Community Supported Agriculture, with the aim of connecting producer directly with consumer. A biodynamic farming method is used, as are horse-drawn ploughs. The vegetables included in Saturday’s excellent lunch illustrated the quality of the farm’s produce (particularly when combined with Riot Rye bread).


Polytunnel on the community farm (with grapes in the foreground)

Prospective residents of the ecovillage must subscribe to its eco-charter when designing a house or starting a business there. Many of the houses we saw were built using permaculture design principles, and alternative materials such as hempcrete and cob were often used. All of the houses have extremely high BERs (Building Energy Rating), with over 6% of Ireland’s A rated houses situated in the ecovillage.


Cob house in the village


This ecovillage house contains the European offices of the US South by Southwest festival

Our hosts explained that the ecovillage is striving to be a sustainable community, building resilience through growing together, building together, celebrating together and using a consensus-based approach to decision-making. Future plans include co-housing – where a number of invidual houses are built in a cluster, with a “common house” containing a laundry room, large kitchen and guest bedrooms – and a community ampitheater. In August of this year, the village will host the All-Ireland Permaculture Gathering. In the meantime, residents have the book swap and Unicycle-versity to keep them busy.

DSCF1864  DSCF1865

Book swap in the market square (left) and Unicycle University (right)

For further reading, here’s some resources and links on ecovillages and self sufficiency:





Click to access John_Seymour-The_Complete_Book_of_Self_Sufficiency.pdf

Click to access e2e_ulab.pdf


Energy Show 2016

A few weeks ago the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) hosted the Energy Show, a two day renewable energy showcase incorporating seminars on topics such as energy efficiency for business, Ireland’s energy targets and SEAI’s energy research projects, along with a workshop on community energy. The show also gave energy providers and innovators a chance to show off their products, with some, such as electric cars and bicycles, available for attendees to try out.

The SEAI led several seminars which typically featured some of their own research, followed by a number of industry speakers. The first of these was a fascinating session on electric vehicles. The Irish government has set a target that 10% of all vehicles on the road by 2020 will be electric. To support this, an enhanced charging infrastructure will have to be put in place e.g. petrol stations would need 12 chargers, 11 standard and one “fast”. A proposed fee of €4.50 per slow charge and €9 per fast charge was mentioned. For more on electric cars, the following are good sources:

Energy show attendees could test drive both electric cars (smooth and quiet) and electric bikes (great for the wind and hills). Bikes were provided by Greenaer (http://www.greenaer.ie/)


Electric bicycles at the Energy Show


Car of the future – Tesla Model S with over 400km range

Another great SEAI presentation was on Ireland’s energy use, which covered energy sources, uses, trends and targets. Among the statistics quoted were that Ireland currently imports 85% of its energy, and that transport is the largest emittor of energy-related CO2. The SEAI has an excellent report, Energy in Ireland 1994 – 2014, available here:

Click to access Energy-in-Ireland-1990-2014.pdf

…and has also produced this nice infographic:


On Day 2 of the Energy Show, Friends of the Earth Ireland hosted a very well-attended workshop on community energy. This began with a presentation on EPISCOPE, a fascinating study of energy efficiency in northside Dublin housing stock (http://episcope.eu/monitoring/case-studies/ie-ireland/). It was noted that a deep retrofit of 75% of Ireland’s residential housing stock will be required to meet our 2050 energy efficiency targets.

Also presenting were the Tipperary Energy Agency (http://tippenergy.ie/) and the Energy Communities Tipperary Co-operative (https://energycommunities.wordpress.com/), who gave participants the benefit of their experience in setting up community energy projects. They suggested that co-ownership is key: it is better, for example, to have a small share in a large turbine than to have your own turbine. It was also noted that the difficult part is preparing projects for financing, rather than obtaining financing. Some useful resources for communities looking to set up their own energy projects were mentioned:

A different focus was provided later in the day by a session on energy efficiency for large businesses. We heard about the work of Jansen in partnership with the Cork Lower Harbour Energy Group (http://www.clheg.ie/), and Kingspan ESB, who are helping companies to use their office or factory roof as a “solar farm” (https://kingspanesb.com/about/). The latter’s representative stressed that there must be a “business case” for such initiatives: “everybody likes to be seen to be green, but the figures have to add up at the same time”.

Finally, SEAI gave a fascinating presentation on Irish consumer behaviour around energy use. Their extensive survey revealed four categories of consumer, as shown in the infographic below:

SEAI suggested that regulation will be needed to change the behaviour of the final group, the “disengaged”. In the meantime, lets hope that the thousands of visitors to the Energy Show came away inspired. SEAI also have a very interesting report on attitudes to energy use in business; read the PDF here:

Click to access Survey-of-Consumer-Behaviour-in-the-Commercial-Sector-in-the-Republic-of-Ireland.pdf

Environ 2016: Other highlights

Over the course of the three day Environ conference at the University of Limerick at least 90 speakers presented on a wide range of topics related to the 2016 theme of “Ecosystem Services for a Sustainable Future”. Here is what some, including the three keynote speakers, had to say.

Prof. John O’Halloran, Chair of Zoology at University College Cork, gave the first keynote of the conference. His presentation focused on his research on forest ecology and biodiversity, and the balance between forest management and ecosystem services. He noted that deforestation of at least 3 million hectares – an area the size of Belgium – occurs worldwide every year. Prof. O’Halloran called for forest diversity, citing the results of his recent research which suggest that more diverse forests attract more birds. He also offered this attractive graphic illustrating the connection between humans, biodiversity and ecosystems.

Prof O’Halloran also spoke briefly on UCC’s Green Campus initiative (https://www.ucc.ie/en/greencampus/). As part of the initiative UCC started a Sustainability module, held over 35 events in 2015, and linked 35 courses to Green Campus. The University now has a recycling rate of 35% and has saved 1m in waste costs. Green purchasing is part of all tender contracts and it is the first third level institution to reach ISO90001.

Finally, he stressed the importance of education for sustainability, noting that between 8 and 10 years old is the optimum age for environmental education. He also cited the Government’s 2014 policy for sustainability education:

Click to access National-Strategy-on-Education-for-Sustainable-Development-in-Ireland-2014-2020.pdf

The next keynote speaker was Katy Tsemelis of the International Aluminium Institute (http://www.world-aluminium.org/), whose presentation highlighted the new ways of managing the environmental impact of bauxite residue, a by-product of aluminium production. She also stressed that global aluminium demand will have to be met increasingly by recycled aluminium products..

She was followed by Prof. Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, who gave an illuminating presentation on his work on the impact of insecticides on bumblebee populations. In particular he looked at the impact of neonicotinoids, or “neonics” (http://bees.pan-uk.org/neonicotinoids). He also drew our attention to the WWF’s statistics on biodiversity decline worldwide.


Aside from the keynotes, some of the other presentations included:

Dr. William Finnegan of NUIG looked at the impact of the dairy industry on climate change, and showed us which dairy products have the greatest global warming potential (GWP):

Drs. Brian Lennon and Niall Dunphy, part of the major new ENTRUST research project at UCC (http://www.entrust-h2020.eu/), explored the possibility of a “new energy paradigm”, and discussed the need to move beyond “energy as a commodity” towards “energy citizenship”. They also presented this gif from skepticalscience.com on “milestones in climate science”:

Another interesting presentation came from Teresa Hume at Queens University Belfast, who discussed the University’s large EPA “energy transitions” project, which is looking at the societal process of energy transition, drawing from the socio-technical transition studies literature. She stressed that energy transition must be a multi-level, multi-phase and multi-actor process.

Finally, here’s a few of the many excellent poster presentations from the ENVIRON delegates.