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 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.