Monday, May 25, 2009

13/05/2009 - Conclusions from the low carbon society symposium

Overall the symposium achieved one of the main goals of TrinityHaus, to communicate on a multidisciplinary level in order to achieve unique solutions to ubiquitous problems. A common theme that emerged from many of the speakers was that communication of the facts, be they about actual energy usage and production, biofuels or microgeneration, to the general public is essential if we are to take a realistic step towards a low carbon society. Science and technology will always be important in achieving our goals but people and communities must be informed and involved. It is also important to think globally but act at the local level as tangible results can be observed quickly which will encourage people to continue to work towards a low carbon society.

13/05/2009 - Low carbon society symposium. Professor Mark Dyer - The wasteful way of treating polluted land.

Professor Mark Dyer from TrinityHaus gave a talk on sustainable remediation of contaminated land. `Mark opened his talk with some startling statistics, 2% of the EU’s agricultural soil is lost annually due to construction and 75 billion tonnes of soil is lost globally every year. Clearly this is not a sustainable approach. Contaminated sites can be remediated and development on such treated sites may be preferable to development on green field sites.

In the past the tendency when remediating brown field sites has been to dig up the contaminated soil and dump it somewhere, but in situ remediation is also possible using a multidisciplinary approach of biology, chemistry and engineering. Mark discussed a site in North London of what was once a furniture factory and the soil there had become contaminated with chlorinated solvents. Rather than digging up the contaminate soil he used sulphur reducing bacteria to degrade the solvent. The site was also contaminated with hydrocarbons which the bacteria could use as a food source and then transfer electrons to the chlorinated solvents and degrade them. This provides a much more sustainable approach to the treatment of contaminated soil especially as the majority of soil that is disposed of is sent to countries like Germany or the Netherlands which creates a greater carbon footprint to the remediation process. The development of bioremediation in Ireland offers a great business opportunity.

13/05/2009 - Low carbon society symposium. Professor William Prarie - Sustainable waste management.

Professor William Prarie from Southampton University discussed sustainable waste management. He discussed the need manage existing landfills under the EU landfill directive; the outputs from the landfill must be released in a sustainable manner. In the past landfills were frequently capped this may serve to isolate the waste from some time, however as the waste in the landfill degrades and settles the caps cracked. In order to manage the output from landfills effectively we need to understand how degradation occurs. This requires an understanding of the structure of the waste, and how liquid flows through the landfill. The permeability of the waste changes overtime because as the waste settles and degrades the particles sizes decrease and the material becomes less permeable thus changing the rate at which the waste degrades.

13/05/2009 - Low carbon society symposium. Harry Eyres - Recovery or Reappraisal

arry Eyres writer of the column “slow lane” for the Financial Times ( provided a counter balance to the day’s more technological discussion with poetic insight into the benefits to low carbon living. He suggested that given current economic crisis we are at a crossroads, the crisis may be an opportunity for reappraisal of our value system rather than merely a desperate attempt to recover our economy to the way it used to be. In the past decade we in the West had become passive consumers rather than active doers, but perhaps we would lead better lives if we consumed less energy.

Harry quoted Ivan Illich who wrote extensively in response the oil crises of the 1970s, however the energy crisis we now face is more ominous as it is both an energy crisis and a pollution crisis. Illich wrote a book called Tools for conviviality in which he described ways for human to live with rather than at odds with each other and nature. Harry promoted the use of the bike as a tool for conviviality as it slows us down and allows us to appreciate our surroundings much more while also being very energy efficient as it allows us to travel four times as fast as on foot while only using one fifth of the energy expenditure. Low carbon living may be an opportunity to rediscover the local and therefore develop a greater understanding and awareness of the consequence of our actions on the world. Harry concluded by promoting the city scale as the venue for change rather than the national or global scale. In other words think globally but act locally where the effects of actions are tangible and there rewarding.

13/05/2009 - Low carbon society symposium. Professor Nick Taylor - How sustainable is sustainability?

Professor Nick Taylor from UCL discussed how to design a sustainable transport system that will not negatively affect future generations. Current transport models frequently ignore behavioural change and there needs to be a more organic approach which includes people and their propensity to change in future transport models. We also need future transport models to be able to deal with sustainability.

In order to do this Nick suggested that cities be viewed as an organism which has the ability to evolve and change. There is no way of predicting what future generations will demand of their transport system therefore it is essential to develop one that can adapt. He made a comparison between the rate at which a city changes and the metabolic rate of an organism. Small organisms such as mice have faster metabolisms and therefore faster rate of change than larger organisms such as elephants. Does this comparison then suggest that large cities change slower than small cities, this may not be the case if you view a large city as a group of small urban environments, each of which evolve quickly and independently. The development of the urban village would significantly reduce the need to transport and work and recreational spaces would be closer to residential centres. From the audience discussion after Nick’s talk it was concluded that centralised control of transport in Dublin is key to the future development in the city, the DDTA will help this but it still involves too many agencies.