Friday, August 29, 2014

My Talk: Biodiversity Conservation on a Largely Urban Planet: Is Anything Working?

"Please save the date for the Autumn Quarter CSH College meeting and Dr. Liam Heneghan’s research presentation. As the recipient of the 2014 CSH Excellence in Research Award, Liam will give a talk with highlights from his significant contributions to his field.

Wednesday October 8 from3:15-5:15PM in McGowan South 108
Reception to follow from 5:15-6:15 in the McGowan South Atrium"

Let me know if you care to come along....

My talk has the title: "Biodiversity Conservation on a Largely Urban Planet: Is Anything Working?"

Friday, August 15, 2014

Childish Things: the Impact of Children on the Environment: A note.


By Liam Heneghan

From where I write I can hear young kids goofing around in the playground beside our house. Glancing over I see one small boy heap wood-chips into the bed of a toy truck and rumble it across the lot.  A cluster of children surround a bucket and with small shovels fill it with sand. One of their pals removes some of the sand from the bucket and reinstalls it away to the side of the dig.  No one seems to care.  At the west fence of the lot a boy and girl, both about four or so, are deep in conversation. The boys arms are folded, the girl sits on a tricycle and instructs him on some matter or another; the boy looks incredulous as if he simply can’t believe what he is hearing.  Another girl runs over to their care-giver sitting on the periphery, leans over her legs and receives an encouraging pat on the back. The little girl skips away.

This small troop of children are gentling transforming the environment of the tot-lot. Small changes to be sure. Ones that will be corrected before they leave the playground for the day.  The sand will be returned to the small mound to the south of the lot, the wood chips will all be swept back into place.  The toys will be returned to their shelter. The lot restored, the kids leave for the day.

Kids have, seemingly, a perfectly manageable impact on their immediate environment. That which is disordered can be set to rights at the end of the day. But the total environmental impact of kids may be considerably larger than it appears at first glance. This is because a total reckoning of the ecological costs associated with childhood would take into account the environmental impact of providing for the food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other material needs of children and of disposing of their waste. Measured in this way the impacts can be surprisingly large.

To evaluate the full environmental impacts of children, researchers working with a kindergarten school located on the grounds of the University of Queensland calculated the ecological footprint associated with the seventy five kids attending that school. An ecological footprint is a measure of demand on the Earth and is calculated as the amount of land required to provide for human needs. It is reported in a unit called a “global hectare”. Global hectares are a unit of area that takes into account difference in biological productivity between area. For the students at the Queensland school, 40 global hectares was needed to support their physical needs. Thus, although the physical footprint of that school, like most schools, is fairly small, the land needed to sustain the kids and absorb their environmental waste is vastly greater: it is almost 80 times the size of the school.

An appreciation of the environmental impacts of children is emerging and, as we have seen, it is not inconsiderable. The extent of children’s impact is not, for the most part, something that kids have control over.  Parents, of course, make the most consequential decisions on their kid’s behalf: where they live, what stuff they can have, how they spend their time.  Eventually, though, those carefree kids playing in the tot-lot will make their own decisions, and, invariably their impact on their surrounding world will grow.  Those childhood games in the tot-lot of moving sand, digging and filling-in holes, and all those small rearrangements of the land will be games no longer, and will be on a grander scale. The kids will put away childish things, and taking up the implements of adulthood, they will greatly expand their footprints.

Ref: Heidi McNichol, Julie Margaret Davis & Katherine R. O’Brien An ecological footprint for an early learning centre: identifying opportunities for early childhood sustainability education through interdisciplinary research. Environmental Education Research Volume 17, Issue 5, 2011

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Moral algebra and the life of children

If your moral algebra has the death of children on one side of an equation and you can come up with any terms on the other side of that equation that ease your conscience then you need to think again. This was true in Northern Ireland, true for Hamas, true for Israel, true for all time, true for all places. Fuck this thinking.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

#1000 Urban Miles: An Invitation to walk in the Praeger spirit

Photo by Emily Walsh
It’s possible that you don’t know what walking is, what walking can accomplish, until you have walked a distance across a mountainy bog in Ireland. In the rain.

Earlier this summer, accompanied by a colleague and by 14 of our students from DePaul University in Chicago, I followed in the footsteps of the great Irish naturalist and walker Robert Lloyd Praeger (1885-1953). Praeger, an amateur naturalist and one-time Head Librarian of Ireland’s National Library, traversed Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries mapping the vegetation of that moist and verdant island. More than 60 years after his death he remains Ireland’s most influential botanist; an influence that derives not only the prodigiousness of his output (over 800 scientific papers and articles and 24 books) but in his advocacy for the basic methodology of the naturalist’s trade: walking. He hiked on foot across the countryside looking for hidden marvels.

Our hiking this summer along Praeger’s routes culminated in a trailless hike in the western park of Killarney National Park, a 102.9-square-kilometre reserve of wooded and boggy mountainside. Accompanied by park educator Chris Barron we took boats across the famous Lakes of Killarney and commenced our walk by leaping from the vessels as far as we could across the ooze where the bogland met the water. Only one one of the students lost footwear, and as we retrieved the boots from the slime she hopped onto only slightly more secure ground.

The walk wound up along a valley adjacent to the peak of the Eagle’s Nest Mountain. No eagles existed there for over one hundred years until white-tailed eagles were re-introduced to the park in 2007. This day we were greeted by a peregrine falcon who bolted out from the peak and into a stone-gray sky. We walked on through the lovely, though rarely visited, Eamonn’s Woods. Here oaks hunker down like resting giants surveying lonely terrain. We broke for lunch in a small landscape called Glaisín na Marbh, a name that translates, somewhat terrifyingly, as "little stream of the dead." It is so called because the few families that lived at the base of the stream died off during the Great Famine (1845-49). There is an unmarked famine grave in the vicinity, which may now be covered in a pavement of scree that tumbled down when the stream was in winter riot the year before. It says something about the remoteness of the region that the ground was not consecrated until more recent times when a priest made the hike into this part of the National Park.

Read on here 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Super Awkward Music Time (Playlist for my Study Abroad in Ireland)

Links are to Youtube clips of music (with an occasional poem)

Martin Hayes (and Dennis Cahill).  Martin Hayes (born 13 November 1961) is a fiddler, born in Maghera (between Feakle and Tulla) in East County Clare, Ireland, and now living in West Hartford, Connecticut. He has been the All Ireland Fiddle Champion six times... (Wikipedia)

Mary Bergin was born in Shankill, County Dublin, Ireland. Her parents Joe and Máire were melodeon and fiddle players, respectively. Mary started learning to play the tin whistle at the age of nine. Bergin won the All Ireland tin whistle championship in 1970. (Wikipedia)

Caitlín Maude (1941 – 1982) was an Irish poet, teacher, actress and traditional singer.

Padraic Colum (8 December 1881 – 11 January 1972) an Irish poet, novelist, and dramatist and folklorist. He was one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival.

Horselips  are an Irish Celtic rock band that compose, arrange and perform songs based on traditional Irish jigs and reels. The group are regarded as 'founding fathers of Celtic rock. (Wikipedia)

Luke Kelly (singing Raglan Road). Luke Kelly (Irish: Lúc Ó Ceallaigh; 17 November 1940 – 30 January 1984) was an Irish singer and folk musician from Dublin, Ireland, notable as a founding member of the band The Dubliners. He is often considered Ireland's greatest folk singer of the 20th century. (Wikipedia)

Táim Sínte ar do Thuama  (version in Irish); I Am Stretched on Your Grave (by Scullion)

Seamus Heaney (here and here)

Planxty  Planxty is an Irish folk music band formed in January 1972,[1]:99–100 consisting initially of Christy Moore (vocals, acoustic guitar, bodhrán), Andy Irvine (vocals, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, harmonica), Dónal Lunny (bouzouki, guitars), and Liam O'Flynn (uilleann pipes, tin whistle). They quickly revolutionized and popularized Irish folk music, touring and recording to great acclaim. (Wikipedia)

Seosamh Ó hÉanaí ( AKA Joe Éinniú; English, Joe Heaney) (15 October 1919 – 1 May 1984) was an Irish traditional (sean nós) singer from County Galway, Ireland. He spent most of his adult life abroad, living in England, Scotland and New York city, in the course of which he recorded hundreds of songs. (Wikipedia)

This is a partial list






Monday, June 2, 2014

A short reverie of urban greenspace reduced aggressive feeling, enhanced playfulness and peacefulness.

This is, of course, a study done on a modest scale.  The fuller, more comprehensive study is under-way. But results, such as the one above reports on, that I have conducted in classes at DePaul over the years have been unwavering in their direction: a reverie of a place with a profusion of vegetation always alters self-reported feelings of energy, aggression, playfulness, peacefulness, and general satisfaction with life.  Perhaps most surprisingly students dreaming of green score better on a numerical riddle!

Added: Since some of my colleagues in the environmental social sciences are emphatically pointing out the limitations of this "study" I'd like to emphatically concur that this is indeed a limited study (I'd never have made greater claims on its behalf!).  There is a small number of subjects, the students are in an urban ecology class etc.  That being said (and this is not to undercut an acknowledgment of the studies limitations) these observations were made, and these are the results.  The observations underscore the sorts of results that others have made on the implications of green space for human well-being (meant here in a very general way).  It should be used, perhaps, as a point of departure for examining these other more comprehensive studies.