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And then there was one

So this , is it my last and final blog. I must say at times they seemed an annoyance but all in all I generally liked the blogs we would have to write up . I liked the fact we got to express our own ideas and opinions on the topics discussed each week in the lectures. As a module it really gave us a break from the humdrum normality of other quiet frankly boring lectures I did like this module also for the broad range of fields it explored over the last 12 weeks and I feel personally like I have learnt a lot and in some ways feel less ignorant to things and issues worldwide where as before I was somewhat in the dark.

This week we were asked to basically sum up or ask ourselves what we have learned in Sustainable Development throughout this semester and I can truthfully say a lot.  On certain subjects such as ‘climate change’ and environmental damages, I felt like I knew a lot about the topics but my horizons were really broadened as we had a more in depth look and learnt lots of interesting facts.To be honest it really makes you look at yourself and makes you ask your self how much do I contribute to these problems and frankly do you want to do something about it.

In my opinion possibly the most interesting experience of this module was the visit to Cloughjordan in north Tipperary. It was fascinating to see the Sustainable community in function first hand instead of reading about it off slides. We got to have an insight into how these people live with their main priority the environment and it’s well being. We got a tour of the village and a quick overview of the development. I particularly liked the solar panel field and the round houses made from what was essentially wattle and daub , similar to houses were built centuries ago. I learned a lot this day and got a real belief that the community will be a success and that not only a sustainable community but a sustainable economy is possible and achievable some time in the future with hard work and persistence.

One topic and issue which I learned a lot about as knew very little about before is that of oil. Although I was aware that oil levels were dropping , truthfully I knew very little of the real situation we are in. For these reasons I decieded to base my essay on this topic as it was a field and sector I wanted to learn more about and I really did.

Coming into Sustainable Development I had a simple idea of what to expect. Although such subjects as oil , climate change , environmental issues were all interesting and very informative ,it was other sectors which I simply knew nothing or basically had never heard of  , such as CSR , Sustainability indicators , wicked problems , public policy process , moral obligations etc… that grabbed my intention. Even that of a simple product life-cycle and the amount of energy and resources used for all products even as simple as a toothbrush.

Overall I have enjoyed this module , found it very interesting and worthwile , especially as the topics discussed are so important to our lives our at least will be. It almost makes you feel like something should be done and the first place to start looking , is looking at yourself.

 

Public Policy Process , what exactly is public policy process. Basically it is a collective name for sensitive issues that must be addressed by governments , organisations , communities , unions and so forth.  These issues may concern delicate areas such as transport , energy , social planning , fuel , infrastructure , the environment etc… These sectors are know becoming what are referred to as ‘wicked problems’. Originally the term ‘wicked problem’ was first used in social planning to describe a difficult or impossible problem to solve because of incomplete or changing requirements that are hard to manage and measure. Nowadays it is more commonly used for problems that seem to have no simple solutions may realistically never be solved .

SOMETIMES THINGS AREN’T AS EASY TO SOLVE AS WE WOULD LIKE TO THINK!

 It is quite easy to imagine some scenarios where difference in views and opinions will slow the progress of certain plans especially when it comes to social planning . One scenario I can think of is that of the re-development scheme in Ballymun, Dublin. It was quite clear to see that hundreds if not thousands of people were living in unacceptable accomadation in their ‘flats’. There were no amenities and something had to be done. The government decieded to relocate the locals and ironically flatten these ‘flats’. The reason it was a wicked problem is because many of the locals would not accept their houses being destroyed. Their was conflict between local councils and it’s people. This was a perticularly sensitive issue seen as it was the locals homes at stake. Fortunately the conflict was deceided as the locals were in fact re-located to fabulous new modern accommadation so the correct solution was in fact found. I choice this as a simple example just to show how their can so easily be conflict with these so called ‘wicked problems’.

 

 

 

 

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Essentially it is the government and to some extent other organisations such as the EU  who are in charge of Public Policy Process. They are in charge of addressing these sectors. Simply put they deceide who gets what , when , how much and why. Important planning must be implemented before hand and this is very important. From the lecture it seems their are five essential steps that must be discussed to solve any problem or implement any policy.

  1. Understanding the problem and all concerning issues
  2. developing solutions                                                                 
  3. choice of best solution                                                              
  4. putting best solutions into effect                                          
  5. monitoring and evaluating results                                      

All these steps must be enforced for there being any hope of any such wicked problem being succesfully ( if possible) dissolved. After these steps are taking , questions must be answered . Were the initial goals met? Can it be improved? Was it cost effective? Is it fair and what impact to those closely involved? Also very important to new policies is what we discussed in last weeks lectures and that is Indicators and how we can interpret these results effectively.

A simple example of a problem solving process 

 One wicked problem that in my opinion was certainly not handled correctly is that between Shell and the Corrib Gas field. This is an example of an environmental issue that has led to high levels of disagreements. Although it is Shell an not the Irish government involved in the extraction of the natural gas , they too became heavily involved. Originally the plan was to build an on shore gas refinery at Ballinaboy but there was major upheval through-out the local community. The locals wanted for the refinery centre to be built off-shore as it would have a major impact on the surrounding environment. Shell’s argument was that it would not possibly be cost-effective to build an off-shore centre. This led to protests and large scale unhappiness amongst locals.As of today there still has been no solution found as the correct balance or public policy has not been introduced. This is unfortunate as the gas field has potential to produce billions in revenue for the country. These sums up for me what a ‘Wicked problem’ is as there are environmental issues , government issues , corporation issues and social planning issues all wrapped up in one singular dispute.

An interesting ( well what I found interesting at least) side issue was brought up about the EU , and it’s involvement both directly and indirectly in Ireland. Collectively as a class it must be said that we knew quite little about the part it plays on our lives directly. Personally off the top of my head the only examples of a direct effect I could think of the the perk of being able to freely travel and work in other member states. Also I could think of the motorways that were funded by the EU  and thats simply because there are signs that say so. Maybe we should look closer for other signs that aren’t necessarily at the side of the road. What is important to know that almost all new public policies that are used by our governments have passed through the halls of the EU HQ in either Brussels or Strasbourg. They are discussed and evaluated by other members and in some cases modified. It is important too, that we remember that we , even as a small nation have a say in what goes on in Europe as that is the privilege of being one of the 27 states in a democratic society.

 

OIL

Many people may ask the question , ‘ what makes the world go round and tick’. In my opinion the answer is simply OIL. As everyone knows oil is a fossil fuel , that has been made over millions of years deep in the earths crust from the remains of dead animals and vegetation fused together due to immense heat and pressure. Like all fossil fuels oil is a finite resource and once it is gone it will be gone for good. In reality however oil is much more then that , oil is one of earths most important assists as it powers the machinery and technology used by humans every day. Without oil the world we live in today would be unrecognisable and unfortunately it may be a problem we will face sooner rather then later . In this essay I will try and look into the impact and consequences of global oil level depletion on an island like Ireland.

In relation to other countries Ireland’s level of oil usage pales in comparison mainly due to our size as a nation and our population. Statistics show Ireland has been consistently ranked between 58th and 61st according to the amount of oil used annually in the last decade. Although in comparison levels may be low , oil is still  hugely important to Ireland  as it is our primary energy source. According to statistics from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, over one third of Irelands energy is provided by oil imports.1. http://seai.ie/  The given figures are

  1. oil 37%
  2. coal 22%
  3. gas 20%
  4. renewable sources <15%
  5. nuclear energy 6%

It is clear to see from these results that oil is by far Irelands most important source of energy and unfortunately this does not bode well for the future. It does not take an expert to see that Ireland seems nearly over dependent on oil and changes will need to be made. If something is not done soon Ireland will soon find itself in deep water as there is a real fear nowadays in how much oil there actually is left.

According to 2. www.wikipedia.com greater than half the energy/oil levels consumed in the last two decades is greater then that since the beginning of The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century to the end of the 20th. This is in spite of the improvements in efficiency and technological advances. There are many reasons for this , including consistent population increases , advances in production equipment but also the emergences of such countries as Brazil and China. China in recent years has emerged as a huge economy with substantial advances in all areas and this has hugely increased their demand for oil. They are now second only to the US in oil consumption with estimated figures of almost 10% of global production and in 2009 demand rose by 12.8%.  http:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_depletion   The E.I.A. (Energy Information Administration) an American organisation forecast that total world oil consumption will grow by an average of  approx. 1.6 million bbl/d (barrels per day)  throughout 2012. It also estimated  that crude oil and liquid fuel consumption grew by 2.4 million bbl/d in 2010 to 86.7 million bbl/d. This information can be worrying for Ireland because if the current trend of crude oil consumption continues to spiral up the levels of relitavely cheap attainable oil will drop rapidly.

The fact of the matter is that there is a reduction in the global availability of oil and it will have big impacts on Ireland and the whole world. One major problem facing the world is that the rate at which new oil reserves are being discovered is simply not keeping up with the level of which existing fields are depleting or the remaining oil is becoming uneconomically viable to source due to cost or quality. Since the 1960’s very few major fields have been discovered and this is very worrying. The most recent major oil reserve discovered is The Sugar Loaf off the coast of Brazil. The Sugar Loaf is estimated to have between 25-40 billion barrels of oil that could be produced. The American Petroleum Institute estimated that the global supply of oil would be depleted between 2062 and 2094 although it is hard to say for certain how accurate these forecasts are , however in recent years it is clear to see that the once large difference between oil demand and oil availability has begun to narrow substantially.

PEAK OIL

 Unfortunately the lack of new fields discovered is adding strongly to the theory that we have surpassed or are soon to reach Peak Oil . www.wikipedia.com defines Peak Oil as ‘ the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached , after which the rate of production enters terminal decline’. They are many arguments and theories behind peak oil with some experts suggesting we have already passed it and simply some denying it exists.

3. www.independent.co.uk  A London based research group ODAC (Oil Depletion Analysis Centre) have spent years researching and trying to raise international public awareness on peak oil which they believe will be mid 2012. They suggest that crude oil consumption will outstrip the discovery of new reserves and will begin to deplete our known sources. Colin Campbell , head of the depletion centre uses a simple analogy to explain the basic idea of peak oil ‘it’s quite a simple theory any beer drinker would understand. The glass starts full and ends empty , the faster you drink the quicker it’s gone. The problem with peak oil is that once the maximum level of oil is obtained there is a rapid decline off it’s pinnacle. The oil that is left may not be of as high a quality and also may be much harder to reach. Many oil fields are left with large quantities of oil due to these problems and also the fact that it may be far too costly to source the oil.

www.independent.co.uk Even with all the disagreements with peak oil one theory that most experts agree on is that field depletion follows a predictable bell curve called the Hubbert Curve. In 1956 a Shell geologist by the name of M. King Hubbert derived a mathematical formula to predict what would happen in the future to US petroleum production levels. The curve showed a sharp rise in production at the beginning , which soon levelled out at a more constant rate , hit a pinnacle and then fell into rapid terminal decline , hence giving a bell shaped curve on a graphical image. According to the Sunday Independent online archives , Hubbert predicted that inland oil production would peak in the USA in 1969 but his estimates were ridiculed and labelled preposterous. It eventually peaked in 1970 and has been in decline every since. Throughout history oil fields in general have obeyed the Hubbert Curve.

Many organisations and people in high positions have their own opinions and statistics to disclose to the public

  • Tony Hayward (C.E.O. of British Petroleum)  13th June 2007 ” BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy finds that there is enough ‘proven’  reserves for the next forty years of consumption at current rates”

 

  • Sadad al Husseini (retired head of exploration and production for Saudi Aramco) interview with Steve Andrews 14th September 2005 ” oil capacity is not production but rather processing limited… I believe  the production outlook will be gradual production increases over the next ten years , limited by slow refining capacity expansions. Given the current outlook in terms of global expansion and development , the rate of investment in the oil value chain , I believe oil production will level off at around the 90-95 bbl/d by 2015. This plateau can be sustained beyond 2020 at continuously higher oil prices and with rapid improvements in overall energy efficiencies throughout the world”.

 

  • Faith Birol, Chief Economist of the International Energy Society Agency – 2010 The Sunday Independent ” According to our projections , even if we were to presume over the next twenty years global demand growth was flat , with no growth at all in order to compensate decline in the existing fields we have to increase the production by about 45million bbl/d just to stay where we are in 20 years , which means to find and develop four new Saudi Arabia’s , and this is a major challenge.

RISING OIL PRICES

So far I have mostly talked about how and why global oil resources are depleting and not the effect it will have on Ireland and it’s economy more directly. Of coarse one of the biggest effects that will surely effect Ireland is the rising oil prices that are inevitable. Unfortunately due to known levels of oil falling and the demand rising the only likely outcome is a rapid rise in prices verified by the IMF(International Monetary Fund)  on 4. www.ft.com that ‘ the global economy will have to weather higher oil prices for the forseeable future’.  The rising oil prices will have widespread consequences globally but especially on Ireland which is a small open economy who is so dependent on it’s oil imports and is subject to international energy prices. On 5. www.finfacts.ie the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) confirmed that if ‘ if oil prices remain at $120 (as of early 2011) , Irelands GDP is forecast to fall by nearly 3%.  This could have a devastating effect on Ireland as the country is still struggling with the harsh economic recession that began with the price of properties falling late 2006. The problem with rising oil prices is that it has many knock-on affects both directly and indirectly. Of coarse if people have to pay more for their energy source of oil , they will have less disposable income. This means there will be less income generated , and it will be most likely the small business’ that will feel the largest hit.

According to 6. www.ey.com (Ersnt & Young.com) Diron commented ‘ The first and immediate impact is higher transport , heating costs , production , electricity  and trade costs. Energy and oil costs account for nearly 10% of households expenditure’. It is sometimes hard for people to realise that it won’t just be at the petrol pumps or our energy bills where we will feel the impact of rising prices. Everything will go up in price as people would be amazed at the amount of products dependent on oil. A very high percentage of production centres throughout Ireland are run on oil and once the prices rise , the price of production rises and sure enough the price of the goods are sure to rocket. On 7. www.independent.ie Michael Kellehen – for Boird Gais stated bluntly ‘ you can’t produce anything without energy and oil is that energy’.  If the price of oil was to rise rapidly it would have devastating effects on the already fragile  Irish economy, which could effect our level of import simply as the cost would be too high . This could have a negative backlash on Irelands international trade , and effect it’s exports which are essential to the countries income.

Although it is quite obtainable to predict short term oil price rises and falls , it is not so easy to predict long term prices, though an upward trend is the most likely outcome for the forseeable future. The main indicators that affect prices are                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        -supply                         -demand                          -market expectation                  -current affairs                                                                                               Essentially supply and demand are the most important factors as prices regularly rise and fall due to these., as is clear to see due to rising demand and falling supplies. Current affairs are more random and sporadic , one example is that of the Arab uprisings across North Africa. ( Although this isn’t essentially linked to falling oil levels) It to has a big effect as we have seen prices rise rapidly due to the unavailable oil supply from Libya due to the rebel garrisons fighting in the Sirte Basin region north of the county.

Experts are worried that sooner rather then later oil prices may return to an all time high of $140  as of 2008 .  .8 www.independent.ie/business had an article with Nouriel Roubini a New York University economist 11-3-2011 that have him quoted ‘ if you have the oil price going up to where it was in summer 2008 , at $140 per barrel some if not many of the advanced economies will have a double dip’. I believe his expression ‘double dip’ refers an extra large dip in economic circumstances and unfortunately this group of ‘ advanced economies’ includes Ireland as a developed country. During the summer of 2008 where in Ireland motorists were expected to pay approx.€1.30 for a litre of petrol. Conor Faughan , the Director of Policy with Automobiles Association says that if ‘ oil prices were to hit $150 per barrel and consistently stay at that level , drivers could easily be paying €1.50 on average for a litre’. If what Mr.Faughan says becomes true this could have a devastating effect on the Irish motor industry. It comes back in a full loop , if motorists have to pay this much for petrol their disposable income will dramatically drop and have harsh effects from low levels of communities to that of governmental  income.

ALTERNATIVES TO OIL

One of the most important questions that must be answered for Ireland is what WILL we do and WHEN will we implement a proposed solution because the time is upon us to find an alternative to oil and develop a sustainable future. There is one direction that seems the most likely and beneficial for Ireland to act against global oil level depletion and that is to invest and promote renewable energy and ‘green technology’. The Irish government are more then aware that we as a country are far too dependent on our oil imports. One may ask why , why should we rely so much on other countries when as an island have the potential to become one of the world leaders in many areas such as wave energy , wind energy , hydro-electricity (unfortunately probably not solar as this is still Ireland).

Under the Sustainable Act 2002 SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) was established as Irelands national energy authority. 9. http://seai.ie/  The SEAI define their role as ‘to play a leading role in transforming Ireland into a society based on sustainable energy structures , technologies and practises. The SEAI will be very important to Ireland to develop as a green economy. According to their website http:www.seai.ie/’ SEAI actions will help advance Ireland to the vanguard of the global green technology movement , so Ireland is recognised as a pioneer in the move to decarbonised energy systems. The reason why SEAI was set up is simple , the government saw that Ireland has tremendous potential when it comes to renewable or alternative energy sources and needed a specific organisation to concentrate and galvinize this potential. Ireland can become a world leader in these innovative sectors due to organisations as SEAI and also a new emphasis on third level education to promote these potential commodities. SEAI have set out a new 5 year strategic plan that which ‘ hopes to transform Ireland into a society based on a sustainable energy structure and make Ireland a global leader in green economy’.  They hope to achieve this with the following strategic objectives

  • implementing energy efficiency actions that radically reduce energy intensity and usage
  • lower carbon energy sources , accelerating the development and adoption of of technologies to exploit renewable energy
  • innovation and and integration supporting evidence based that engage all actions.

With the continued help from organisations such as SEAI can help Ireland greatly to deal with the issue of global oil level depletion  and the effect it will have on us in the future. It is not just ourselves that see we have the potential it is common knowledge that because of our location Ireland has possibly the highest potential to harness both wind and ocean energy and other countries are aware of this. According to 1o. www.siemens.ie/contents/news/2009 Dr. Werner Knuckon (CEO of siemens LTD.)  travelled all over the world on a three month tour where he gave lectures in universities across the globe on potential energy opportunities and he cited Ireland as the goose with the golden egg ‘ the challenges ahead present Ireland with an opportunity to become a leading green economy’.

RENWABLE TECHNOLOGY

Unfortunately it is now time for a few statistics , according to the SEAI website in 2009 14.4% of Irelands energy use was renewable , which exceeds EU targets of 13.2% by 2010. Although this is positive for Ireland there is still a large dependence of oil at 37%. In many fields Ireland has began or is beginning to make progressive steps although there are still some issues. An example is that of heat energy which is now at 3.6% for renewable sources. This rose from 2.6% in 1990 to 3.4% in 2004  but has only rose .2% in last 6 years. According to the Eire Grid webpage by 2020 Ireland has a target of 40% renewable energy sources as they hope to be at the forefront of innovative renewable technology in Europe. The only way for Ireland to achieve these aims is to invest in such potential fields as wind energy , ocean energy , wave energy , bio-energy etc… That is what the government is currently trying to do.

Although the Irish government and many other organisations have looked into replacements for oil especially in the green sector such as , solar , wind , bio-fuels etc .. I believe Ireland has the potential to become the world leader in the wave/ocean-energy sector and this should be a primary focal point to develop to help solve the problem of oil levels depleting. . Peter Coyle chairman of MRIA (Marine Renewable Industry Association) says on 11. www.energyireland.com that ‘ ocean energy represents perhaps the greatest economic opportunity this island faces over the next 20 years. Due to our location as an island nation on the forefront of Europe our coastlines receive the full brunt of the Atlantic Ocean. According to 12. www.renewableenergyworld.com Ireland can receive up to 25 TWh of wave energy with 21TWh ‘accessible’ if harnessed correctly. This is a considerable amount seen as total consumption for electricity in 2006 was 27.8TWh. The problem with wave energy is that as of yet there has been no real break through solution on how to best harness it’s energy . Ireland is very hopeful of developing such equipment which could be the key to unlocking the oceans ability and also end Irelands dependence on imported oil.13.  www.newswhip.com promotes the idea that ‘Ireland is the Saudi Arabia of wave energy’. The website also says that SEI has set up a wave energy test site off the coast of Spiddel in Co. Galway. The site will be used for entrepreneurs and engineers to test proto-type ocean energy generators.

It is clear to see that in the future Ireland will most definately be affected by a reduction in the global availability of oil but through research , investement and development Ireland can combat these challenges if change is accepted now and implemented correctly.

REFERENCES

  1. http://seai.ie/
  2. www.wikipedia.com (oil depetion)
  3. www.independent.co.uk
  4. www.ft.com
  5. www.finfacts.com
  6. www.ey.com (Ernst & Young)
  7. www.independent.ie
  8. www.independent.ie/business
  9. http://seai.ie/
  10. www.siemens.ie/contents/news/2009
  11. www.energyireland.com
  12. www.renewableenergyworld.com
  13. www.newship.com

Project Poster

Indicators

PERFORMANCE RATINGS

 

The issues , thoughts and beliefs of Sustainable Developement have already been discussed in many lectures but in week 10 the topic was not if we should implement Sustainable Development but how to track it’s performance. The solution is indicators. Indicators or Aggregated Indices , we were told are used sort of like scientific controls. They are pieces of informaton that are used to pass on or show complex pieces of information and to highlights trends of perticular systems. Indicators are used to manage and monitor huge quantities of information and to indicate wheather or not for example a new project has been succesful or not. No two indactors are the same as they should be relevent to the information needded or the results you are trying to gather for example . If a government was trying to measure the hapiness or standard of life of it’s people it may look at , proximity to health services , unemployment levels , education etc… Where as a company may look for info regarding new sales of a product and such areas as sales , is it competitive , do consumers like the product etc…

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These two images show clearly how different indicators can give different results. Both are trying to protray the quality life index. In the above Ireland is ranked 1st where as France does not feature in the top 15 although is number one in the second graph. Table two shows a number of indicators brought together to try establish a scoring system for Life Quality such as

  1. cost of living
  2. leisure and culture
  3. economy
  4. environment
  5. freedom
  6. health
  7. infrastructure
  8. risk and safety
  9. climate.

These are the indicators this perticular organisation has choosen to give them a result for overall quality of life rating.

As we know Ireland is striving to become a frontrunner in establishing a society based on sustainable development. It is important that suitable indicators are chosen to accurately protry or not if it will be succesful . The  three most important and basic functions of Indicators are

  • Simplification
  • Quantification
  • Communication

The information must be attained in and my simple means as too avoid confussion as so it will be clear to have a proper analysis of these results. Quantification is essential as for large sacle projects such as monitoring Sustainable Development huge amounts of data must be collected and analysed. It is important that these information can be quantified to means by which peolpe can see and compare standards. Last but certainly not least is communication . In my opinion the most important thing about indicators is good communication as they must be easy to understand and easy to compare so that people do not get confused or receive in accurate conclusions from results.

For an issue such Sustainable Development , one must look at interactions between socio and environmental relationships , for these are the main issues where Sustainable Development is concerned. To go along with this the correct policies are also of the utmost importance . The policy cycle gives a very simple but important cycle on how to obtain the best policies.

  1. Select Policy: It is very important that a clear and obtainable objective is set for and guidelines are set out
  2. Implement the Policy: this is where Indactors will come into use as the policy outlined in stage one will take shape
  3. Understanding the issues: No matter what new policy takes place there will always be challenges that must be tackled and an essential way of combating these issues is to fully understand the problems. With a tricky subject such as Sustainable development there will be lots of problems to face as for one there will always be dissagrements between the policy makers and those most effected by the policy. In truth policys involving the environment will always have issues.
  4. Evaluate: This is where Indactors will come into play as they will be used to give feedback and results and help ‘evaluate’ wheather or not the policy has been a success or not.

The reason it is known as the Policy Cycle and not the Policy chain is that most policys never really end but more evolve or become improved. After evaluations are taking policy makers can find strengths and weaknesses and build on these.

SOMETIMES THINGS AREN’T AS EASY TO TELL APART AS WE WOULD THINK!!!

One of the most natural human instincts that we all have since we are young is that when something goes wrong we look at who is responsible or who is to blame. Similarly if we know it is our own fault we will always look for a scapegoat to get off scott free. The example of the playground is useful here. Whenever there was a fight or an arguement in the school yard , once it was broken up and the teacher would ask what happened , the first answer was always the same ‘Well he did this , or she did that’, even from a young age we are always trying to shift the blame. Unfortunately this is a trait that many will never lose and shall bring into their adult lives. Just like ourselves businesses and companys don’t like the term ‘Responsible’.

When something has happened that was not in the plans of the business they shall always look for a scapegoat such as a leak into a river , faulty goods , pollution etc… Although it is not through to say this about the majority of businesses , there are those who try to swindle their way out of responsiblity. They may try this by loop-holes in the law , blame the consumers themselves or simply cover up their mistakes and act like nothing ever happened. A show I always enjoyed on tv was ‘Rougue Traders’ , even though this may seem slightly off track , the idea was to record well known untrustworthy companys and how they deal with customers. With many cases the traders was try to rip off the people on price but the main issue was when the did a job not up to scratch but would take no responsiblity , and do anything but compensate such as avoid calls , make fake appointments etc… Although this are small scale cases I think they can be seen to relate to the bigger picture. We all remember the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico where millions of tonsof oil seeped into the sea out broken pipes and did terrible damage to surrounding areas ans wildlife. The company BP refused to take full responsibility for the debarcle and relied on the US goverment to solve the problem.

The idea of responsibilty is hard to grasp as a whole , as sometimes it is generally hard and inconclusive to see who is responsible. An example discussed in the lecture is something that apparently regularly takes place in such countries as South Africa. Out in the desert if a mine of some sort (gold, silver , oil etc…) is discovered and a wealthy business moves in to obtain the resource this attracts alot of poor people. The people come in search of jobs, but not only do the workers come but also their family’s and before you know it new communities have been established in proximity to business. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE???? Many may say they are the firms resposibilty to take care of as generally this make-shift dwellings have no ammenities or services.  But of coarse the companies reply will be it is the goverments problem as they are all citizens. Sometimes a clear answer is simply not there.

Also from the lecture on Mon. 2st March the idea that all peoples ideas of responsibility was brought to light. We were told of the story of The Baroness and The Mad Man. The story itself is a simple one , but the differnt responses it produced suprised me. We were asked to judge 1-7 who we beleived the most responsible. Of all the groups none had the same scores as everyones idea of who was responsible was differnt. A good example was that of the mad man, who either scored relitively high or relitively low. I thought the task was interesting as it proves that something is not always one persons fault or may be seen in many diffenrnt ways.

So far I have in a way talked of the negativity of Responsibility which is not really what CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is all about. The concept of CSR is a business model used by firms to help ensure it monitors its outward and inward impacts both on themselves , the local community , the goverment and it’s ethical rights. According to Wikipedia.com ‘ the goal is to embrace responsibility for the companies actions and encourage a positive ipact through it’s activities on the environment. There is many examples of businesses putting CSR to positive effect both locally and globally. An example of an Irish company supporting local communties is that of ‘Truely Irish’ , a sausage and rasher company who only source local Irish farmers , this has a positive effect on the communties as the locals have a buyer which creates jobs and pours money back into local communities. There can also be global examples such as large multinational companies promoting recycling etc… Fairtrade was an organisation set up to help monitor production of  such products as coco beans and fruit in tropical america. They strive to improve working conditions and pay as feel responsible for their workers. Sales of  fairtrade products rose 100% in 2009 which proves people are supportive of these corporate initatives. 

 Aswel as companys being responsible for communities etc.. they must also take responsibilty for their products or assets. If a good is faulty , it is a requirment for the company to take action and compensate if necessary and not pass on blame. Also sometimes  it may be nothing to do with the firm and are in no way responsible but must still take action as it is they social duty . An example is that of the power plants in Japan. Due to the horrendous earthquake in Japan this month , Tsunami spread across the county and inflicted large scale damage and many nuclear power plants across the country. There has been radioactive leaks at Fukushima 1 , and it is the duty of the goverment and firms involved to take responsiblity and clean up this problem and try and find a solution.

In the last twenty or so years there has been a radical change in the amount of products availible to us. Gone is the time when there was one product to satisy one need , nowadays there are countless contenders in all fields that offer no , if not very little difference. When you walk into a supermarket there are hundreds and thousands of different brands trying to grab your attention but when we think about it what is the real difference. Personally I find it hard to distinguish 7up from Sprite , dolmio from rago sauces , my clothes come out clean weather i use Percil or Fairy. Alot of this brands are similar and the ones we chose are usually simple down to innovative marketing. Every little detail of these products is planned to a specific target , the colours , the logo , shape , size material etc.. Not only are there a multitude of products to choose from there are also thousands of products availible that we don’t really need.

 Markets have become flooded with products that are constantly updated.  A perfect example is that of the apple ipod. Every year apple produce new innovative products that exceed the earlier models. For some reason people find it necessary to then upgrade to these new models at high expense. These products are not produced to last , and to stay up to date but are to eventually faulter , or for the technology to become inferior. This kind of production is called ‘Planned Obsolescence’ , where the product is produced to fail and become outdated so the consumer will purchase the newer superior version.

Today the simple fact is that people , especially those in the developed world have to too much belongings , and when these products brake or become old they are simply disgarded with no thought to the consequences. Statistics show that everyday there is at least one new product on the shelves , where as one is removed every three days. This rapid production cannot continue as there will be an overflow of products. There is some strong evidence of this , as in the developed world we have

  • for each household we have 1000 items
  • 560KG per person of waste
  • 1000kg of products bought annually with only 100kg kept
  • 1 in 10 products were fully functional when thrown out

What I am personally worried about is what happens to all this waste and unfortunately the answer is simple , brought to landfill sites and dumped. This can have large scale negative impacts on the environment as green house gases are released from these areas. Another problem with waste is that some developed countries sell their waste to poor countries such as Nigeria. This waste is then scavenged by the locals looking for any scrap with value. Such wastes as computer parts etc… are dissembled or burned as there may be valuble components inside , such as gold , copper , silver etc… These can then be sold , altough this is an income for some of the worlds poorest people , the effects on health can be disasterous. I think it is damn right immoral for such developed countries to unload thier waste on these poorer economies.

When people think of product waste they tend to forget the steps involved in initial production and sometimes dissembly . The idea of the toothbrush was taking as an example , a tremendous amount of energy was put in to the production of one simple toothbrush. First of all there is the assembly when all the differnt models have to shaped , produced and moulded together. This all has to be done in a factory that uses up alot of oil or electricity. Then when the product is finished it must be pacaged , shipped to the shop , which adds to transport costs and fuel used then finally sold. All this energy used even before the product is brought home and also not including all the accesories such as toothpaste, mouthwash , special holders etc… Altough recycling is very important it is important to remember it does take a substantial amount of energy to break down the recyclable goods to a state that they can be made into something new.

WE MAKE CHOICES ON PRODUCTS EVERYDAY , EVEN THE ONES WE THROW AWAY , SO TODAY DO YOU WANT A COKE OR A PEPSI OR ARE YOU SIMPLY HAPPY WITH WHICHEVER ONE IS THERE???

With all these choices and varity the mind can become muddled. Some experts pose the questions are we happier now then people were without these products.  A question which I found interesting that was poised to the class was ‘ do you beleive your father was more or less unhappy at your age’. What I found interesting was I couldn’t answer , of coarse many things are better now then 30-40 years ago , but is that down to our actuall possesions. I don’t know about others but I found this a perticulari interesting question. Of coarse one can arguee that in no way it does as today products are all over priced , not made properly , the media tells us we are unhappy without new up to date products. Then of coarse there is all the consequences of these material goods which I have disscussed before such as

  • non-renwable sources depletion
  • acidification, eutrophication, chemicals with release of toxins

Personnally I believe the currrent market trend of new products is not sustainable and who knows in the future , things may change as people become more aware of these problems to such innitatives as ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’.

Tax a way of life

This week the emphasis of the lectures looked away from the environment and its resources but focused more on the global economies and the Irish economy. We were asked collectively as a class what was our views and opinions on taxes. The main suggestions were that most were happy to pay them but there was an under-lying feeling that no-one knew exactly where their hard earned money actually ends up.  Everyone knows that taxes are a way of life , taxes are the main source of incomes for our goverments and without them the countries infrastructure , public and private sectors would be derelect. Many queations were put towards us

  • is the taxation system fair
  • are we taxed too much or too little
  • is there any alternatives
  • are we happy to pay taxes
  • could the money be put to better use

These are tough questions that can give alot of different opinions and views. As one of the younger students of the class my experience and opinions may be very different to those who have been paying large sums of their annual incomes for years towards tax. Personally I think taxes are very important and must be payed for the country to run. It is a very touchy subject for goverments as it is always dangerous to raise taxes as no-one wants to pay more. On the contrary to what sum may believe I think different rates of tax is the fairest , altough they should be calculated in the most fair way possible. I believe a new higher rate of tax should be introduced to the countries richest in the region of 47%-50% and the cap at approx. the 300,000 annual income mark. This is my view altough i do respect the fact that some in the class believe a higher rate would be unfair.

Altough it seems no-one will ever agree entirely on the tax system it does seem clear that in geneal most people are happy to pay it as they realise it’s importance. One theory put forward which I found interesting was that it seemed in Ireland people of possibly older generations never liked the idea of taxes as in Ireland for generations taxes were always payed to the “Crown” as we were ruled by the british and that it was installed in peoples mines for hundreds of years that tax was a bad thing to be avoided. Altough this obviously isn’t a topic to concern us knowadays , the idea of tax dodging and people avoiding taxes  is a global problem as well as here in Ireland.

One well documented example of this is that U2 frontman “Bono” of coarse pays little if no tax to the Irish goverment as his profession is that of an artist, which have no guarenteed income so can apply to have tax cuts. This seems ludicrious but is entierly legal , this is just one of the many loop hole that the worlds richest seem to find everyday. For many people especially with substaintial incomes try to find ways of avoiding taxes as they try to “hide their money”. This can be done in many ways but the most known is to put money in off-shore accounts in countries which are regarded as “Tax Havens”. According to Wikipedia.com a tax haven is defined as

A tax haven is a state or a country or territory where certain taxes are levied at a low rate or not at all while offering due process, Good Governance and a low corruption rate.[1] 

Individuals and/or corporate entities can find it attractive to move themselves to areas with reduced or nil taxation levels. This creates a situation of tax competition among governments. Different jurisdictions tend to be havens for different types of taxes, and for different categories of people and/or companies.” Such examples of tax havens are Switzerland , The Caman Islands etc… Countries known as tax havens can have a negative impact on their international relations.

There is one figure that almost all Irish people know , and that is the rate of corporation tax of 12.5%. For many years this low coporation tax has lured foreign investment into the Irish economy along with many MNC’s such as DELL , Intel , Pfizer etc.. setting up their european headquaters. Unfortunately due to this low rate of tax some beleive that Ireland may infact become seen as a tax haven which may have adverse impacts to the economy.

Possibly one of the main issues of tax is that no-one really knows precisely where or how there money is spent by the goverment. It regulary angers people when they hear of politions freely spending thier money on lavish things such as cars houses etc.. when the bill is payed for by everyone else. Altough  I imagine it must be very hard for even the tax consultants to track down whos money is who , people seem to want to know if it is spelt on healthcare , infrastructure or something they may not support such as war or back to the example of beeing squandered by politions.

 

Do you have a negative view

of TAXES???

 

 

 

 

 

This is raises the questions is their alternatives to taxes. Some people seem to forget that everyone pays taxes all the time , whenever they make a purchase , or buy products from abroad due to excise duties , VAT etc… On the topic of VAT  I find it quite confusing to see what determines a luxury good and a necessity item . Shelia Killian informed us products such as caviar are classified as essential while all types of everyday goods such as ketchup is a luxury. It is always hard to find alternatives altough one succesful scheme by the goverment was to introduce a tax on plastic bags. This was introduced to help with the rubbish problem as these bags are non-biodegradable. The solution provided was that all major shopping outlets must provide an alternative such as “the bag for life”. This was succesful as the alternative was there for replacement. Other issues such as rising petrol costs so as to raise numbers useing public transport are harder to see if can be succesful.

Of the 178,000 Terawatts of energy avalaible to earth , only 100-200  TW can be captured by plants, this is a very low percentage and in my opinion could give serious cause for concern with respect to future plans for bio-energy. There will not be a great level of productivity to help solve a solution for the ever increasing problems of higher energy demands and needs. In a similar case , of the 40,000 TW available to the hydrological cycle only approx. 0.01 TW or .1% can be derived from that of hydro-electricity.  Altough ethically and theoretically the ideas of these bio-energy sources seem very positive , one must not look through rose tinted glasses and realise , this poor energy retention can have a serious impact on their means as sustainable sources.

Across the world there are hundreds of examples when man-kind are not realising the full potential of their available ressources. On earth there is 13billion hectares of  land , of which

  • 5billion is used as agricultural land
  • 1.5billion is used or nurished icorrectly as has potential to become good agricultural land
  • 3.5billion is grassland which supplys animals their food and energy , which humans then consume
  • 3billion is unsuitable land such as desert or frozen

Along with worries of the amount energy available , the problem is becoming more complicated due to the increasing population of the world. Some believe it may rise to between 7.5 and 11.5 billion by 2050 , this will put substaintial pressure not only on energy demand but also food demands globally. Ever since the Industrial Revolution there has been a global population explosion. Although it is well within the earths capacity to produce enough food even if the population does rapidly continue to rise the main problem is distribution.

 Developed countries in the west usually have a surplus of food which unfortunately ends up just beeing dumped or left to waste. While this is happening millions of people and children are starving in poor developing countries. I think there is a very large problem with food distribution which should and must be looked at by world leaders.  It is estimated that if all the world productive lands operated at maximum (including irrigation) to high level productivity could theoretically rise by 10 times. This in my opinion is hugely signifigant as if the arable lands, many which are in the developind south could be rised to european production standards, this would lwad to huge steps taken towads solving world hunger.

Altough there are cleary many challanges ahead , I believe that there are achaivable steps that can be taken to help provide for the future

Unlike what many people may perceive , Climate Change is not a new phenomina. The climates we live in have been changing for millions of years long before the dawn of time. There are many sources of information that can help give us a clearer indication of the climate was and how it has changed over time. Scientists can record data from dendrochronology , carbon dating, plant and animal remains etc…. Also throughout the ages ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians , Greeks and Romans kept records for hundreds of years. Reliable data can be dated back to the late 1800’s. All these sources come to same conclusion that the environment , climates and temperatures are constantly changing. Personally I found it interesting to learn about the changing climates long before the impact of humans. There are many natural causes that led to these changes  that include

  • plate tectonics
  • solar output
  • meteorites
  • volcanic eruptions and super-volcano exploisions
  • both  growth and decline of marine and terrestrial vegetation
  • destruction and formtion of large landmasses

What also grabbed my attention was the process of the ‘Natural Greenhouse Effect’. This is when UVrays from the sun or greenhouse gases such as CO2 are released naturally into the atmosphere. I was unaware this process occured natuarrly as I believed was due to the burning of fossil fuels and release of CFC’s into the air by humans. All these have resulted in the constant change of climates across the globe , and in many areas radical changes. A good example of how radical and sustantial these changes can be is if we look to the past. Over the millenia there has been times of rapid heating and cooling that have affected all continents. One point that i had not necessarily considered was that climate change does not just refer to temperatures rising. It is estimated that there has been approx. 18 ice ages , this is basically when there are dramatic drops in temperatures and the earth basically became covered in ice and snow for most parts of the year. Scientists also know that these ages seemed to cease rapidly within 100 years or so , this is an example of how radical climate change can be. These changes have large scale impacts on all plant and animal life. The last ice age which is estimated to have been within last 20,000 years killed off such mammels as the wolly-mammoth and the saber tooth tiger , these animals were unable to adapt to the climate change.

Although it is clear to see that climate change occurs naturally , I for one am not fooled as it is also very obvious to see that mankind has had a large scale effect on the environment too. Every since the ‘Industrial Revolution’ , man has hugely increased the production and usage of fossil fuels such as coal, oil , gas etc… The burning of these non-renewable sources has led to high amounts of harmful gases such as CO2 to enter the atmosphere. These gases along with other harmful chemicals seem to have aided a rapid increase in global temperatures in the last 30 years or so.  This type of unnatural climate change is known as ‘Climate Forcing’. Climate forcing is ‘ any impact that results in global climate warming beyond that which might result from natural causes’. These damages have been felt all over the world with raises in temperature rapidly rising. Temperatures in the artic have rose by 3degrees alone in the last 100 years. This has led to largescale damages to the icecaps as many are melting which then leads to rise in gloabal sea levels. These high temperature rises and gases present in the atmosphere have also led to extreme weather patterns around the world, EG. a tycoon in ChristChurch , New Zealand February 2011 , or the snow storms in the USA that affected 49 of the 50 states.

The  Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC)  defines that ‘Global Warming is that which is caused by human activities that release increasing quantities of greenhouse gases’. The IPCC along with other organisations strive to improve the environment and encourage countries to cut down on their impacts to the environment and help improve and cut down on global warming. At world conferences such as Rio 1992 and Kyoto 2002 , world leaders came to together to discuss cut backs on damage done and their carbon footprints. I don’t think personally that the large and most powerful countries are doing enough, especially China and USA who both have both the largest impacts towards climate change due to huge fossil fuel production and consumption. Another congress in Durban 2011 is proposed where once again world leaders will meet to discuss the ongoing problems. Now more then ever there is a need for unity and reform for countries to come together and set acheivable goals to combat the challange of climate forcing. Personnally I believe that it should be the larger developed countries that should take the deeper cuts and have higher levels of percentage cutbacks.

Visit To Cloughjordan

This was a very interesting week as we went on a field trip to the self-sufficient community in Cloughjordan , north Tipperary collectively known as ‘The Village’. What I personally found most appealing about the trip was the chance to see an active ‘Self-sufficient Green’ community first hand instead of hearing about it in the lecture. Although I didn’t know what to expect the insight we were given somewhat suprised me. Although the community makes no claims to being 100% sufficient the lenghts and challanges they hope to overcome and achieve is in my opinion admirable. They have certain beliefs and how they would like to live their lives and they are willing to take sacrifices to achieve these aim’s together.

When we first arrived we were warmely greeted by drinks and biscuits which brought about possibly the most enthusiastic reaction of the day (although promises of pizza at lunch would also be a contender).  The initial introduction soon followed as an overview look of the project was presented in a slideshow format. A map of ‘the village’ gave us an idication of not only how close they are situated to the main street of Cloughjordan which has obvious advantages but also how close knit the community will become as the idea is that no space is inteneded to be wasted. A history of the development was then shared and how and possibly what it was that attreacted people from all walks of live to the project. As of yet i was still sceptical as I thought the aims seemed to large and too costly for the small community to achieve. Ideas like own energy and heat source generation seemed a mountain to high to scale , but as we were brought out to what is yet still a building site i got a clearer insight to the project.

Personally i was very impressed with the solar panel station which turned out to be the largest in Britain and Ireland. As the linguistics were discussed and the science behind station were explained , I must be honest I didn’t quite grasp it. However I did pick up that because it is a closed system heat generation for the households was infact very managable and should cause no real panic for the residents. As the tour continued and were learned of possible projects such as a man made lake and possibly and amphitheatre , the sense of community became more clear. Altough these plans are ambitous there was a sense that they all believe that they will achieve these goals. I must saw when I first saw the circular house I thought it more comical than anything. Just the idea of a completely round house made out of what appeared to be mud just didn’t make sense. However we soon realised the walls were made of  ‘cob’ which is a type of earth reinforced with winds of straw and the like. The tradition of cob goes back hundreds of years in Ireland but I still found it interesting that someone in modern day Ireland would want to build a house this way. We were assured however that when it settles and the outside covered with ‘hemp-lining- it will become as hard as concrete and be more than satisfactory to live in.

The idea of the houses is for the people to have their own input and say to how they are built but there is certain criteria that must be meat. Such as  the energy consumption that will be used , the materials they are made from , the capacity for the houses to retain heat and most importantly what if any effect it will have on the outside world. Collectively we were shown many differnt houses of all different features and shapes. But there was a clear sense of pride about them , the idea that your home is your castle would fit in nicely.

It is important to remember that sustainabillity is not all to do with their houses and energy sources etc… This is where these people will call home and they want they community to be sufficient as a whole. Of the 67acres bought much has been dedicated to that of farming and land use. They are not blind to the fact they no they cannot produce everything but why not support what is possible. Production of own food will create a guarentee of freash food , cut down on carbon footprints and help the community  prosper. There is also an emphasis on jobs , there are business outlets set aside , prospects of a micro bakery etc… The community is trying to prosper as a whole and jobs can only help fuel these ambitions as money is essential to peoples lives. Also because of the eco-tourism centre trade is brought into not only the village but the cloughjordan area as a whole. For example the pizzaria sold well in exsess of 20 pizzas on our trip, this I am sure is a great boost as it was midday on a wet windy Friday.

One thing that struck me however was the normallity of the project. Some may have mis-concieved ideas that these are possibly ‘hippy’ or old age believes, but this certainly is not the case. Although in some cases the aims are somewhat radical , the way in which they are carried out and how the are to be sustained are not. These are real people who have a certain idea of how they would like to live and are willing to work hard to achieve it. From the visit unfortunately it is very clear to see that this is a working progress that has years to go before completion. For one i hope they stick with their guns and continue to try and achieve these aims. From meeting the people and listening to how passionate they are i have no doubt that it will be a thriving success for all those involved.

I was very glad to have had this experience as I got a real insight to the ideas of a sustainable lifestyle. It also proves that it can most definately be achieved. It also changed my opinions on some of these topics also. Although Cloughjordan is clearly not the finished article and there will be many obstacles and mistakes made a head , i would see them as an inspiration and it would be great for possibly other innitiatives to be inspired by the people and their beliefs.  Altough I wouldn’t go as far to say I am fully for Ireland to look as a country to the ideas of Cloughjordan it has definately been a positive experience. The most obvious problem I would see however would be that of money. It will surely take millions for these goals to be reached and in our economic climate things are not going to get easier any time soon.