Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Environmental Science and Studies at DePaul Turns 30 this year: let's party!

ENV at DePaul is turning 30 this year. We are hosting a reunion dinner with Guest of Honor: Dr Tom Murphy, Director Emeritus on 3rd June 2016 from 5-7 pm!

We've made a real effort to contact alums from the past 30 years, but there is still time to respond. If you are an alum and want to join us email me at lhenegha[at] depaul.edu

The dinner will coincide with our annual student symposium on June 3rd from 3-5 pm. All event are in McGowan South, 1110 W Belden, Chicago!

We will be making a quilt to commemorate our 30th anniversary.  Leaves for the quilt will be available on the night!

I would love to see you all at this event!  If you are still in contact with your old ENV pals, please make sure they know about this event.  It will be a blast.”

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Traditional Nexus Hypothesis (Teanga, Ceol agus Tírdhreach) - Irish landscape, language and music

For a couple of years in the 1980s I worked in several of the Irish National Parks collecting insects. Month after month I tramped around these landscapes—they are humanized areas, and yet remain relatively undeveloped and wild.  This work inspired my first research paper, Additions to the Inventory of Irish Chironomidae (Diptera) with Declan A. Murray. By the by, the insects of these parks also inspired my first tattoo, though this was quite a while later.

At that time I regarded the Irish language with mild disdain. My father at one point when we were still quite young proposed that we speak as Gaeilge at home. With him we did not agree (an dtuigeann tú?) Besides I was a middling scholar in my youth and never got the hang of the language. I had more interest in Irish music, but my tastes inclined more towards artists like Christy Moore, Scullion, Paul Brady and so on. I knew very little about traditional music.

In recent years I have developed a feverish interest in Irish music—my spare time is devoted to the tin whistle. I also have a taste for the language although admittedly I have little time to devote to it.

All this is a preamble to saying that recently I’ve  been preoccupied by these three interests: the traditional landscape, traditional language, and traditional music. Here’s the thing: the overlap in these three arenas appears not only to be a mental phenomenon, there is also a geographic overlap: these days where you find one you find the others. The music, language and landscapes flourish together. The map here shows national parks and Gealtacht areas (regions in Ireland where the language is still spoken in daily life). I don’t have a convenient map of the areas for excellence in traditional music; indeed music is the most mobile and diffusely spread-out of the three, but several areas of Co Clare, Connemara in Co Galway, Co Donegal, Co Kerry, Co Cork that are adjacent to the parks or at least to wilder landscapes are epicenters for traditional music.

I’ve been turning over this concordance in my mind in recent weeks speculating about this (literal) co-incidence. More than just a spatial concordance though, I’m hypothesizing that these are mutually reinforcing aspects of the land and culture. The land influences the language (no surprises here but Irish is very rich in terms for aspects of nature), and perhaps the music. In turn the language and music, can influence that way in which people regard the landscapes in which they live and work.  I’ll formulate this a little more precisely in the coming weeks. I call this the Traditional Nexus Hypothesis -  (TradNex for short!)  All this is, perhaps a commonplace conjecture. I recall similar themes emerge in Barry Lopez’ work. The part that interests me most, though, and something that I’ve not heard much on it how the sounds of the landscape influence language and music especially. Last year I started doing some recordings of the landscape and of traditional music to probe the links.  Stay tuned as they say.  Or, fanacht tiúnta, as they say.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dublin, ecologically, no longer fits into Ireland!

Liam Heneghan

By my quick calculation the population of Dublin city and its surrounding county, cannot be ecologically accommodated by the entire land mass of Ireland. Dublin spills over the borders of the country in which it is located.

Henrietta St. Dublin, 2015
This is how I arrived at this conclusion. The population of Dublin city and county combined is 1.273 million (1). According to footprint.org the average ecological footprint of an Irish person is 5.61 global hectares (22nd highest in the world) (2). An ecological footprint is a measure of the amount of land people live on and that is required to both furnish the resources needed for consumption and to absorb waste. The units used in footprint analysis (global hectares) is a measure of biologically productive hectare required to sustain people.  Thus the total footprint of Dublin is 7.24 million hectares (population x average footprint). Since the total land mass of Ireland is only 7.03 hectares there is an overshoot of the population of Dublin beyond the borders on the country to which it belongs. The overshoot is at present about three percent. Dublin, it seems, needs to slim down a bit, perhaps quite a bit.

Of course, Ireland is not resourced exclusively by Irish lands, nor are all 7 million hectare of Ireland biologically productive. Nor is its waste, including carbon dioxide, absorbed in Ireland.  Dublin is part of both the global resource and its effluent economy. Thus the environmental shadow that each Dubliner casts is found in myriad places. A few beans of coffee from Nicaragua for a morning cuppa, a handful of wheat from the Ukraine for a lunchtime sandwich, as as well as a few ounces of mutton that once grazed rough pasture in the Irish midlands and so on. And so on day after day. Dublin’s vast footprint is part of the oddest colonization project the world has ever conceived. In other words, Dublin is no longer "in" Ireland anymore from an environmental perspective. Nor, for that matter, is any major city merely in the regions they occupy.

Would it be reasonable for Dublin to be ecologically contained within its own physical footprint? No, I don’t suppose so! This is, in part, because the very definition of the city includes the notion that a city organizes and is physically connected to a diffuse hinterland surrounding it. And there are inarguable benefits to this arrangement. Densely populated, relatively small, cities benefit from scale efficiencies.  It’s just economically and ecologically cheaper to provide for people in such circumstances.

But have no doubt about it, Dublin’s footprint is not sustainable—meaning that the situation cannot continue without grievous implications.

That Dublin’s footprint is larger than the land mass of all of Ireland is baleful and the consequences may be grievous because there are only two ways in which an overshoots on this scale is possible, at least in the short term.

Firstly, the overshoot relies on the fact that other countries consume considerably fewer resources that we do. Some developed economies are undeniably making progress towards sustainability. Such reductions in footprint can be gobbled up by those who are making less progress. Most countries, however, that have low footprints also have low GDP. These are the countries of the developing world, for example Burundi, Eritrea, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. For Dublin to go about business as usual, we must cross our fingers and pray that global inequalities persist. This is what I mean when I say that a ballooning of footprint is a colonial project: taking over the world one coffee bean, one grain of wheat at a time.

And no amount of charitable giving should salve our consciences on this matter.

Secondly, a city, region, country, or indeed the entire globe, can overshoot its ecological limits by drawing down global bio-capacity and capital. Thus we can maintain an overshoot for a while by exhausting soils, drawing down resource reserves, radically alter global biogeochemical cycles and relentlessly pump carbon into the atmosphere.

On a bright note: by my calculation Cork and Limerick combined fit into Ireland.  You could even add in Belfast city.  Ah sure, we’ll be fine!



Dublin City Public Library Archives, Pearse Street Dublin, April 2016

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

When to Restore a Nose? Can managing artworks informs the management of nature?

Should the nose of “Portrait of a Man, Perhaps a Philosopher” be restored to this 3rd Century AD marble bust? How about that of the Sphinx? Was the restoration of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel a travesty or an aesthetic necessity? In this presentation ecologist Liam Heneghan examines how questions concerning the restoration of artworks can illuminate question about the management of nature – arguably the largest artwork of all. In the process of discussing such questions we shall ultimately be reflecting on a matter that Friedrich Nietzsche took up in his extraordinary 1874 essay "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life."

We shall meet at Portrait of a Man, Perhaps a Philosopher, towards the back of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art galleries at 5:30 pm, May 26th.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My Dad turns 89

The Da clocking up some impressive birthday numbers today. An eccentric, entertaining, and very mildly irrasible man. Indefatigable too.

A good naturalist in his day - very fine knowledge of the Mollusca. And, by the way, a commendable writer. Also a dab-hand with the ole paint brush back in the last century. Pretty good story-teller, I should mention. A compassionate fellow, by the by. A person of solid and inspiring faith now that I'm at it. Not afraid to call out bullshit, for that matter, which got him denounced by the old Monsignor from the pulpit. Did I mention that he laughs till he cries at certain things?

Supportive fellow to his kids. I once woke him up in the middle of the night because a friend who was descending into madness needed to be chauffeured home. Not a fecking bother on him.

Loves the mother, Goddamn but that man loves that woman. I
n his own way, I suppose, though I once saw him slip his arm around her waist in the kitchen when he thought that we, their truckload of kids, weren't watching. Kissed her softly. Has a great fondness for apples, and highly critical of contemporary developments in apple husbandry. Anyway, it's that fellow's birthday.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Quiet Companionship of Beasts

Image from Play With Me, by Marie Hall Ets (1955)
Play with Me (1955)
Story and pictures by Marie Hall Ets

Liam Heneghan

A poorly drawn girl strides arms akimbo into the meadow. The girl has yellow hair gathered back by white bobbles. Before her is a tree, roughly drawn with a series of charcoal  strokes. About the tree grows scattered vegetation, also roughly drawn. A grasshopper, represented obscurely by a black squiggle, has settled on a lolly-pop shaped leaf. The sun smiles a leisurely smile; the background is colored buff and there is dew upon the grass.

The little girl interrogates the grasshopper. Will the grasshopper play with her? His answer is mute though emphatic: he leaps away. Behind him the lolly-pop shaped leaf retains chomp marks, for the grasshopper had been at meal. A nearby frog, cautiously stares at her. He too contemplates food; he is waiting to catch a mosquito. The frog resists the child’s efforts to engage it in play.  In answer to her efforts to catch him, he too leaps away with a marvelous abandon: his legs splay wide, his arms splay wide. A turtle resting on log also resists this girl’s mania for play and plops back into the pond. A chipmunk runs up a tree, a blue jay scolds her and flies from the girl’s pleading and outstretched arms, a rabbit runs for his life, and a snake slinks into his hole.

Deserted by the creatures the child settles into a desultory mood. She blows milkweed seeds from their kernel, and slipping into a milder register still she noiselessly sits down by the pond. She gazes at an insect navigating the surface waters. In her silent watchfulness the animals now return. Not exactly for play at first, but for that sterner form of communion, namely silent companionship. The grasshopper sits near her, as does the frog. The turtle returns to his log. One by one, chipmunk, blue jay, rabbit and snake return. With these animals delicately comes a fawn who approaches the child and licks her cheek, kissing her as if in reward for what the girl learned that afternoon. In their own way, can not each in this merry little community be said to be at play? It is not perhaps the more violent play that the yellow-haired girl had envisioned. There is no romping, there is no cavorting. Rather this is play with the gravitas that attends respectful beings when they convene. No doubt moments later the grasshopper will return his attention to the loppy-pop leaves, and the frog will take up his station hunting mosquitoes. But right now none of this company are making demands upon the others, each animal, a solitary emblem of their kind, is paused in a quite chain of being. The sun smiles a leisurely smile; the background is colored buff and there is dew upon the grass.

The yellow-haired girl learned in that afternoon what we have been unlearned since the time of the Greeks, though the naturalist did not forget it: beings emerge from their literal and ontological un-concealment when we patiently abide by them.