Cloughjordan ecovillage: ecological footprint of 2 gHa just announced

Cloughjordan ecovillage community close to sustainable ecological footprint

 Cloughjordan ecovillage now has strong evidence that it is bringing its ecological footprint down well below the national average. It has achieved an ecological footprint of 2 global hectares (gHa), it was announced at a meeting of the ecovillage community on Monday evening (Nov 24th). This compares very favourably to estimates of other urban settlements in Ireland and of international estimates of Irish people’s average ecological footprint. A survey of 79 Irish settlements found an ecological footprint (EF) of 4.3 gHa.

The global hectares measure estimates the amount of global hectares required to sustain the lifestyle patterns analysed. It has been estimated that 1.8 gHa is the limit that the planet can sustain for any individual. The ecological footprint is an international measure of pressure on the environment. It measures stresses on natural resources and on ecosystems due to people’s patterns of consumption and mobility. The Cloughjordan measure was derived from a survey of residents which covered energy, waste, transport, water and food.

Undertaken by Tipperary Energy Agency (TEA) in conjunction with the ecovillage’s education, research and training group (VERT), the response rate of 94% of households was far higher than has been achieved in other communities. Dr Vincent Carragher of TEA revealed the results in Cloughjordan. He showed how the ecovillage footprint compares others nationally. Along with the average of 4.3gHa for 79 settlements, a commuter community surveyed had an EF of 3.9 gHa. Ballina, Co. Tipperary, having introduced a four-year planned campaign to reduce its footprint, ended up with an EF of 2.9 gHa.

The first inhabitants moved into the ecovillage at the end of 2009 and it now contains 55 homes and around 140 residents. This is the first measure taken of its ecological footprint.

The Living Planet Report estimated ecological footprints for every country in the world. Though using a methodology somewhat different from that used by TEA in Cloughjordan, the 2012 LPR report found the average Irish person has an EF of 6.2 gHas while the EU has an average of 4.7 gHas. The 2014 LPR estimated that Ireland has the 14th highest EF in the world.

The EF is also used to calculate how many planets would be needed to support our current patterns of consumption. The Living Planet Report estimates that we would need one and a half planets today and if we keep living as we do now, almost three planets by 2050. By contrast living in the way Cloughjordan ecovillagers live requires 1.1 planets at the moment.

Having achieved this excellent result, the ecovillage community now plans a process to reduce its ecological footprint systematically over the coming years. Furthermore, as our political leaders negotiate a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at their summit in Lima next week, Cloughjordan ecovillage is a model of how we can move towards living sustainably for the decades ahead, both in showing how we can live with a relatively low ecological footprint and in putting a place a process to reduce our footprint. This is the way of the future for the whole of society. 



Degrowth: a concept to free the imagination for a better future

The concept of degrowth has been late in arriving to a monoglot English-language readership though the concept of décroissance, decrecimiento and decrescita in French, Spanish and Italian respectively has for decades inspired a rich and varied literature. A new book in English, just published, at last fills the gap for English-language readers and introduces them to the key debates on the subject. Entitled Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, the book is edited by Giacomo D'Alisa, Federico Demaria and Giorgos Kallis and is published by Routledge. The editors are all associated with the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona so that the book to an extent reflects the ground-breaking work going on at ICTA. 

Following a useful introduction by the editors that outlines the origins and development of the concept, and how it has linked with debates in other fields, the book is divided into four parts, on Lines of Thought, The Core, The Action, and Alliances. Each part contains short three to four-page essays that reveal the richness and plurality of the subject of degrowth and how it links to core themes of the social sciences. As is clear from the titles of the four parts, this is an ambitious book, covering the epistemology, conceptual substance and politics of the concept. It therefore opens the eyes of readers to the potential and importance of a concept that often tends to be dismissed by left and right alike.

The book presents degrowth as offering a way beyond the multiple crises that characterise our phase of capitalism today, crises to which both left and right seem unable to offer any original, hopeful and viable responses. Thus, as President Michael D. Higgins of Ireland often says in his speeches, today's crisis is far more than a financial or social crisis, it is an intellectual crisis, a crisis of the political imaginary. This book offers a response to this intellectual crisis through identifying degrowth as a response to six core crises of the global economy and society today:

'The continuing degradation of the natural environment; resource depletion and the challenge it poses to economic growth; exhaustion of the growth potential due to the unsustainable contradictions that capitalism remains locked into; renewed interest in seeking a path of civilisation not based on utilitarian exchange; a growing counter-productivity of institutions, namely their tendency to act as barriers with respect to users, rather than tools; and finally the "crisis of meaning" and the attempt by many to disconnect from mass consumption and give new meaning to their lives (through frugality, Do-It-Yourself, eco-communes, etc.).'

Degrowth therefore offers a realistic response to the crisis of growth, both the ecological limits it has now clearly reached and also the ways in which the concept of growth has colonised our social imaginations giving priority to measures like GDP and foreclosing serious consideration of alternatives. Moving beyond growth allows serious consideration be given to the urgent need for a repoliticisation of our societies, freeing politics from its subservience to the interests of global corporations, to decommodification and the potential of the gift economy, to living well beyond peak oil, to the many grassroots practices emerging around the world and the new conceptions of social progress that inspire them such as Buen Vivir coming from Latin America, Ubuntu from South Africa or Gandhian Economy of Permanence from India.

How do we develop welfare institutions without growth? How can global poverty be resolved without growth? What are the politics of a degrowth transition? These are the sorts of questions addressed in this book. Of course, for a radical new concept that questions the fundamental conceptual category of our society, namely limitless growth, one book cannot give all the answers. But in opening our imaginations to think in new ways about our future, this book can mark a beginning, throwing up as it itself acknowledges a myriad of research questions on which sustained and rigorous academic research is required. Reading this book in an ecovillage, arguably Ireland's leading degrowth project, confirms for me that we in Cloughjordan ecovillage are planting the seeds of a new future for society as a whole.

Mar fhocal scoir, cén focal Gaeilge a bhféadfaimis a chumadh don choincheap seo? Ní thugann aon leagan Gaeilge dó. Úsáidimid an focal fás don choincheap growth sa Bhéarla nó croissance sa bhFraincis. Mar sin is dócha gurb é dífhás an leagan Gaeilge is beachta. Go n-éirí leis mar choincheap saibhir sa Ghaeilge, ag oscailt ár n-aigní do shaibhris ár n-oidhreachta dhúchais. 

An IPCC agus an Ghaeilge

An IPCC agus an Ghaeilge

Bhí sliocht an-tábhachtach san tuarascáil ba dhéanaí ón IPCC (Painéal Idir-Rialtasach ar an Athrú Aeráide) a tháinig amach ar an 2ú Samhain. Os rud é go bhfuil an tuarascáil foilsithe i mBéarla, tabharfaidh mé an lua sa teanga sin: 

'Indigenous local and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples' holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge into practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation...' (alt 3.3).

Ar ndóigh, iompaíonn sé seo an cur chuige a bhí in uachtar le 500 bliain anuas i stair an domhain, 'sé sin go gceapann muintir an Iarthair go bhfuil an ceart acu a gcuid luachanna agus cleachtais a bhrú ar an gcuid eile den chine daonna sna Meiriceánna, san Aifric agus san Áise. Is é seo an chéad uair a léigh mé i dtuarascáil údarásach ó ghrúpa tábhachtach domhanda moladh go gcaithfimid  foghlaim ó shaíocht na mbundhúchasach ar fud an domhain. Is admháil í nach bhfuil na freagraí againn do mhór-dhúshláin an athrú aeráide agus go bhfuil orainn filleadh ar an ndúchas.

Tá tábhacht an-mhór aige seo do phobal na Gaeilge. Is pobal é a chothaíonn teanga agus saíocht dúchasach lán de shaibhreas agus d'achmainní a chuideodh go mór linn luachanna agus cleachtais a aimsiú chun sochaí iar-charbóin a bhaint amach in Éirinn faoi 2050. Glaoch é go mba cheart don rialtas agus do phobal na Gaeilge freagra dearfa a thabhairt dó, trí foirne taighdeoirí a mhaoiniú agus a thabhairt le chéile chun luachanna agus cleachtais na nGael a fhoghlaim agus a scaipeadh. Luachanna ar nós an t-ardmheas a bhí ann i meoin na nGael ar an ndúlra agus na neacha beo eile go mairimid leo sa saol seo. Cleachtais ar nós na meithil ina chuidíonn comharsana lena chéile a chothaíonn an t-idirspleáchas a bheidh gá leis amach anseo nuair a éiríonn an saol i bhfad níos déine orainn go léir de bharr an athrú aeráide. Agus an t-eolas ar acmhainní an dúlra atá ar fáil saor in aisce timpeall orainn, agus a bhféadfadh cuidiú lenár sláinte agus len ár mbeatha.


Is gnéithe iad seo d'ár gcultúr agus d'ár n-oireacht go raibhamar beag beann orthu le fada an lá mar is ionainn le cultúr na mbundhúchasach ar fud an domhain. Agus anois, go bhfuil athbheochain agus meas nua á léiriú ag pobail dhúchasacha eile ar shaibhreas a gcultúir agus a saíochta, tá sé thar am againn in Éirinn filleadh ar na hacmhainní iontacha atá againn in ár gcultúr féin seachas a bheith i gcónaí ag cothú spleáchas ar gach a thagainn chugainn ón dtaobh amuigh. Bíodh muinín againn asainn féin.    

Science Week but what science?

So it's Science Week (at least here in Ireland). Newspaper supplements revel in the adulation of science telling their readers that researchers are puzzling out great new discoveries that are going to improve our lives and our societies. But nowhere in these supplements, nor in the academic institutions gaining ever greater income from research funding (both public and private), are the fundamental questions being asked that can unmask the deeper structural realities of the uncritical worship of a very narrow view of science that characterises our times. 

Three fundamental questions need to be asked. Firstly: who sets the agenda of what is being researched? Who funds it? Who benefits from it? Though fundamental questions, it is most troubling that they seem to form a minimal part of the public discourse on science. Yet, the answers to these questions reveal what gets researched and what doesn't get researched, what types of institutions dominate the funding of research (thereby having huge influence over the agenda) and who benefits primarily from the outcomes. Few may be aware that in the OECD around two-thirds of all scientific research is funded by private business organisations and only 10% by the state. Clearly, therefore, the public interest is a very minor criterion in determining what gets researched. And, of course, the reality also is that the research agenda of states increasingly mirrors that of private corporations, indeed effectively offers a public subvention for research that primarily benefits the private for-profit sector. The bottom line is private profit, not the public good.

US Sociology professor Kenneth A.Gould makes a useful distinction between production science and impact science. Production science is what leads to 'increases in the production, distribution, and consumption of profit enhancing goods and services (including military)' while impact science is what increases our understanding of the environmental and human health impacts of production processes and products. Given that most research funding is for the first kind of science and that the second kind depends on meagre funding resources (often funded by NGOs on shoestring budgets), he concludes that the agendas of our science-supporting institutions 'are largely inconsistent with the goal of attaining a sustainable development trajectory'. 'The result is that there is a growing mismatch between what we need to know to assess our progress toward, or retreat from, sustainability, and our total stock of scientific knowledge' (Kenneth A. Gould: 'Unsustainable Science in the Treadmill of Production: The Declining Salience of Impact Science in Environmental Conflicts in the US', in Mercedes Martínez-Iglesias, ed.: Experts and Campaigners: Scientific information and collective action in socio-ecological conflicts, Valencia: PUV, 2014, pp 35-48; quotes on page 36). 

In other words, most of the work of researchers and the vast amounts of money being spent on it (even what comes from the public purse is a sizeable amount) contribute little to the huge challenges facing society of moving to a low-carbon society by 2050 and doing this in a way that enhances equality rather than further worsening it as has been happening for decades now in most countries (see Piketty, 2014). Does this matter? Judging by how little it is discussed, it seems to matter little to our leaders and our opinion formers, and is certainly no active topic of debate in our universities in my personal experience. For, as the Barcelona-based Professor Emeritus of Sociological Theory, Joaquim Sempere, puts it in the same book, much scientific output today serves to strengthen a 'productivist consensus' that benefits large corporations and their profits but is increasingly at odds with the good of societies (see for example, debates on GMOs, on fracking, on pharmaceuticals, and more generally on conceptions of human and social wellbeing versus GDP growth). As a result, scientific research and academic output more generally is more and more being co-opted to serve one side of the struggle between those who seek to maintain the present high-carbon, growth-based consumer society and those who espouse its transformation into a more low-carbon and sustainable society if we are to avoid a catastrophic future. These are the issues that should dominate science week but who is going to raise them?   

Turkeys voting for Christmas?

So a majority of SIPTU-organised workers at the Bausch and Lomb plant in Waterford have voted to cut their core pay by 7.5 per cent and to accept the loss of bonuses, as well as to accept 200 redundancies, almost a fifth of the workforce. What a choice to ask of any worker! But amid the commentary on it, I have seen no one who has referred to the wider implications of this type of vote. It may be a victory for capital which has all the trump cards in its hands, but it also shows just how far contemporary capitalism has gone on the road to self-destruction. 

Any socio-economic system depends for its long-term legitimacy and success on its ability to achieve social reproduction, namely to meet in some vaguely efficient way the core needs of a significant part of society. Over the course of the 20th century capitalism found its inherently exclusionary dynamic constrained by countervailing forces such as the trade union movement in the early part of that century and then social democratic governments from mid century onwards.

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