The Hardware of The Cloud

by Bruna Ciulli

So, sharks are gnawing away at the internet. The occurrence of shark attacks on underwater internet cables is rare, especially since companies such as Google have begun reinforcing their cables with Kevlar. That being said, shark interference in the physical system that transports 99% of cloud data, be that Netflix films or corporate cyber security is startling. In what way are our seemingly immaterial virtual experiences and industries impacting the planet in adverse and unexpected ways?

Underwater internet cables lie at the bottom of deep, relatively flat parts of the ocean floor. On average, these cables are about the width of a garden hose containing many fragile, signal carrying glass filaments. They operate with fibre-optic technology, firing laser rapidly to receptors at the other end. There are approximately 1.3 million kilometres of these internet cables which have been laid by massive, highly regulated ships. Along the Irish coastline, 27, often thousand kilometres long, cables terminate. After being laid, these cables cause relatively minimal environmental disturbances, however, they are at risk from more than sharks. Providing vital connection for entire communities, they can become pressure points in geopolitical conflicts, similarly, the recent volcanic eruption in Tonga demonstrated the cables’ vulnerability. Interestingly, cables can also suck up microplastics which can cause malfunctions. These cables are generally owned by telecommunication companies with a great deal of recent investment for multination corporations like Amazon, begging questions about who owns the virtual connections we take for granted.

Data centres are a particularly pertinent topic in Ireland. Across the state, there are 70 operational data centres and eight more under construction. Most of these are located in Greater Dublin area, which has become the largest data centre hub in Europe. Attracted by a temperate climate, skilled workforce, potential for renewable energy in wind, hydro, and tidal, and vitally, the low corporate tax rate, companies such as BT, Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft have set up data centres in Ireland. Though there has been a recent slowing-down in the proposition of new centres, there is no sign of a complete stop as a Tiktok centre will be one of the multiple new additions this year.

“As of 2021, the International Energy Agency estimated that data centres accounted for 1% of global electricity consumption and, thereby, 0.3% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions”

The environmental impact of these data centres is staggering. EirGrid, Ireland’s state-owned electric power transmission operator, calculates that by 2028 29% of Ireland’s electricity will be used by data centres. As of 2021, the International Energy Agency estimated that data centres accounted for 1% of global electricity consumption and, thereby, 0.3% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, which is only increasing. EirGrid claimed earlier this year that “Data centres can play a hugely important role in… utilisation of renewable energy in Ireland… in turn helping Ireland reach its target of 70% renewable energy by 2030”. You would be forgiven for thinking presupposition seems paradoxical. It is. Inefficient computing within the data centres is partial to blame for the obscene emissions. A 2021 Forbes survey conducted at 100 companies that spend nearly $1 million annually on cloud computing found that “for more than half of these companies, CPU utilisation is only between 20%-40%”. What this means is that servers kept on an underused, standby mode are using the vast majority of the electricity.

Corporations have generally investigated two solutions to this problem, on-site cooling systems and offshore, underwater data centres.The former option is more common. Google, for example, uses an “evaporative cooling” method whereby water is evaporated into cool air. Microsoft has previously used an adiabatic cooling method and a two-phase immersion cooling method in which a fluid with a low boiling rate is boiled by the servers but at a very low temperature, therefore, regulating temperature. Microsoft is attempting to convert much of its data storage to underwater, offshore centres after the success of Project Natick. The project, according to Microsoft, went as follows: “the underwater datacenter [sic] is filled with dry nitrogen air. The servers are cooled with fans and a heat exchange plumbing system that pumps piped seawater through the sealed tube”, and the rate of failures within the centre dropped to one-eighth of that on land.

These projects to increase the efficiency of the computers are fine but as Beth Whitehead, Deborah Andrew, Amip Shah and Graeme Maidment point out in their article for Building and Environment journal, these cooling systems often consume electricity just as voraciously as unused computers. Never mind water consumption and potential environmental disturbances of large data centres along the shoreline. As a result, many hyperscale data companies have rushed to invest in renewable energy, with Amazon becoming the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy.

It is not only the large-scale infrastructure that makes up the cloud technologies. Most items that can be connected to the web form a vital part of the cloud technologies. From fitness watches and baby monitors to motion sensors and home assistants, any item with which one accesses the cloud. These cloud technologies can be broadly referred to as the Internet of Things, the analogue connection to the virtual. In the Journal of International Affairs, Shuo-Yan Chou argues that the growing Internet of Things will usher in a fourth Industrial Revolution. This could transform the cloud from being concerned with connectedness in the immaterial and more concerned with production, work, healthcare, big data and so on. Pushing the cloud into all aspects of life already seems to have begun, but can the environment handle it?

From smartphones to electric car components, almost all of these technologies require rare earth elements, including the fifteen lanthanides, scandium, cobalt, and yttrium. As the Internet of Things expands, the demand for these elements has skyrocketed. By 2040 demand is predicted to increase at least six-fold. Extracting REEs from the earth produces “13kg of dust, 9,600-12,000 cubic meters of waste gas, 75 cubic meters of wastewater, and one ton of radioactive residue” for every ton of REE, according to Jaya Nayar at the Harvard International Review. In 2016 China controlled 85% of the market. The lack of proper regulation has led to catastrophic human rights and environmental results, including water poisoning and workers’ health complications. Though some alternatives to toxic mining being research seem positive for the time being it is toxic mining practices which allow us to connect to the cloud.

Physical cloud technologies are complex, spanning firewalls, crypto mining, and satellites. However, each with their own environmental challenges, their complex real-world impacts have been swept under the rug for too long. We see our virtual lives as disentangles from the
land and other species. Between widespread privacy violations and environmental devastation, it is clear that we need a shift in our relationship with the ‘cloud’. There has to be reckoning with the enormous quantity of actual hardware that exists globally; using Google, Tiktok, and even Turnitin has a footprint that we must recognise.

The War in Ukraine Reveals Europe’s Reliance On Fossil Fuels And Insufficient Energy Transition

by Enzo Panetta

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in late February after years of tensions resulted in a series of sanctions adopted by Western powers towards the Kremlin. These primarily economic sanctions have been adopted to hamstring Russia’s economy and indirectly deter war, for fear of direct conflict between nuclear-armed nations. The list of sanctions expands daily as Western powers organise diplomatically and economically. The Kremlin has already deployed measures to hinder the effects of foreign sanctions on their economy with relative success. Moscow also tries to assert its population’s support through tailored propaganda and repression by criminalising any opposition to the conflict and by hindering free press coverage of what the official Russian narrative calls a “military intervention to denazify and demilitarise Ukraine”.

Among the lists of sanctions was Germany freezing further development of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, taken immediately after the Kremlin recognised the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on February 21st. Even though the pipeline is already filled with gas, the move halts the certification process of the €10 million project, initially aimed at countering any energy price crisis. Fossil fuels, being the lungs of the Russian economy, the harshest and most dramatic sanction would logically target this sector, although this would have tremendous implications for the (mostly European) countries relying on Russian fossil fuels. Washington has decided on an embargo and London announced a progressive decrease of its Russian imports. Yet this decision will have lighter consequences for American consumers as the United States is a major producer of gas and oil, whereas the United Kingdom only relies on these Russian imports for 8% of its needs. A similar decision in Europe would be catastrophic in terms of economic and energy security consequences. Even without an embargo, European countries are witnessing rising gas prices building on an existing inflation crisis and higher gas prices weeks before the war. Strictly speaking, banning them would be environmentally good, but if and only replaced by renewable energy which is currently impossible considering Europe’s insufficient solar, wind, and hydropower infrastructures. An alternative would only be importing shale gas from the US, which has significant environmental and health implications, or building more coal plants just like Germany did when they gave up nuclear energy. According to a 2019 report from the European Commission, more than 75% of European greenhouse gas emissions originated in energy production and use, whereas renewable energy accounted for only 17.5% of European final energy consumption in 2017. Energy is therefore a critical aspect of tackling the climate crisis in Europe. Here lies the main problem: Europe’s main energy consumption comes at 36% from oil, 24% from gas, and 14.4% from coal. Environmentally, this is an issue, but the Real Problem: most of them are imported from Russia. This is ubiquitous throughout the Union, and the threat to energy security is not the same in Ireland as it is in Finland. Slovakia imports four out of five barrels of oil products from Russia. Numbers clearly indicate a dependence of Europe as a whole on Russian fossil fuels for electricity production, heating, transport…

One of the main criticisms of renewable energy is its lack of reliable and stable energy production. This is true to some extent. Solar energy cannot work without the sun. Wind energy cannot work without wind. But is European reliance on Russian gas reliable and stable for the continent’s energy prices and security? Buying gas from Russia provided the Kremlin with the financial means to unleash their forces in Ukraine, as former French president François Hollande pointed out, even though Europe condemns this war. In addition to the humanitarian and moral implications of these facts, they’re also very telling of the state of Europe’s persistent reliance on gas for energy production. It reveals the insufficient efforts that European countries have done in transitioning their energy. In comparison, this makes France’s reliance on nuclear energy (17% of final energy consumption against 11% for the EU) enviable, despite the heightened awareness of the danger of nuclear energy in wartime as seen with recent incidents in Ukraine, with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant bombed by and now under control of the Russian army in spite of international treaties. Renewable energy production does not depend on Russia’s foreign policy, it depends on the elements. Russia does not have a monopoly on the sun. The European Green Deal projects Europe being the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, an objective to be reached via a decarbonisation of the energy sector through the promotion of renewable energy sources. 2050 is still a long way away, and the war in Ukraine has abruptly reminded Europe that slowly reducing the continent’s reliance on fossil fuels might not have been the best path to choose. The EU has since then released an emergency plan to cut this dependence on Russian fossil fuels by half this year. It should be noted that geopolitics, rather than the reality of looming climate catastrophe, inspired the EU’s environmental shift.

The answer to this European reliance on Russian fossil fuels cannot be sourcing them from elsewhere, as proposed by Algeria, nor to drill more into untouched European reserves, as Elon Musk and some American officials have suggested (especially considering the American oil addiction). Natural gas is not a rational alternative, despite lobbyists’ success in making the Commission declare it “sustainable”. Instead, a fundamentally sustainable, moral, and logical answer is to bet on renewable energy sources to realistically slow down our greenhouse gas emissions, steps that should have been taken decades ago. The European Union still has a lot to do if they hope to complete a successful energy transition. In the European Green Deal, national energy plans will be updated next year to reflect the European ambition to decarbonise the sector. The deal also bets on a reduction of 50% of greenhouse gas emissions (from the energy sector) by 2030. Considering the recent IPCC report and our dependence on Russian fossil fuels in times of diplomatic and economic breakdown, maybe the New Green Deal is not ambitious enough. The Covid-19 pandemic has proven that crises leave the best window for systemic and radical change. The energy crisis surging from the Russo-Ukrainian War should make us rethink our sustainability goals more radically, if you can call responsible environmental policy in response to both current and future humanitarian crises “radical”. A problem remains: how to increase, overnight, the deployment and production of renewable energy sources across the Union? Debates on morality aside, if the European Union was able to free up €450 million to deliver weapons to the Ukrainian army, then surely they can free up as much for renewable energy, to speed up current initiatives, design and implement new projects, and invest in the sector more broadly. As always, politicians influenced by the oil lobby will claim there is “no money” available for green investment, the same “no money” currently flowing into international defence companies for the Ukrainian military.

Such measures would start a process of building green energy resiliency capable of enduring the paradoxes and crises of globalised capitalism. Energy security is vital for European sovereignty, defence, and ecological transition. It would also be proof that the European Union can react swiftly to international crises with a united front, beyond individual positions from each member-state on each conflict. Rising prices resulting from the war have hit a European working class already struggling with rising inequalities and prices throughout the Union. Member-States must freeze energy and gas prices to prevent further degradation to quality of life, which is a matter of survival for many across the continent. A similar motion was discussed, and voted down, in the Dáil Éireann. An energy crisis alongside the current housing (and general economic) crisis is not what Ireland needs right now. In early March, EU leaders met in Versailles and recognised the necessity of reducing energy dependencies on Russian fossil fuels. They declared that they would work on: “- speeding up the development of renewables and the production of their key components, as well as streamlining authorisation procedures to accelerate energy projects; – improving energy efficiency and the management of energy consumption, and promoting a more circular approach to manufacturing and consumption patterns.”

This is very promising as the EU also recognises the need to change our consumption patterns by promoting more sustainable production and consumption. Once again, though, it must be noted that European leadership is acting in response to geopolitical threats, rather than as earnest environmentalists.

All talk of environmental policy is trivial compared to the life-and-death struggles the people of Ukraine are suffering through thanks to Putin’s war. Still, the potential energy and economic crisis looming over Europe will destabilise our democratic and social foundations, and of the whole continent. Unstable states make an unstable Union, which in turn could incentivise further Russian ambitions and increased American paternalism. Readying Europe for the energy shock by speeding up our energy transition process is strengthening Europe’s stance to stop the war while fulfilling our duty to tackle the climate crisis.

Making Climate Activism More Palatable

by Éle Ní Chonbhuí

While ‘saving the planet’ we often mistake our actions for selfless sacrifices, rather than what they actually are – necessities. Many climate activists, myself included, have painted themselves as paragons of virtue due to their interest in the environment. Yet, suggesting that environmentalists are more morally mature through their decisions, infers that environmentalism is a choice. If the general population were presented with an idea of environmentalism as the next stage in our development, instead of a set of beliefs, it could increase its palatability – and therefore, its impact.

In fact, the very phrase ‘saving the planet’ is entirely misleading. We are only trying to keep it hospitable. We’re not saving any planets; we’re saving ourselves. By placing environmentalism on a pedestal, we have isolated it from other movements, which completely diminishes the impacts that it should have. Questioning the practices of climate activists is sometimes seen as a denial of the existence of Climate Change – or at least denying its urgency. This is completely untrue. There are many aspects of the climate movement that you can engage with, and critique, without having to wholly associate yourself with one point of view. Critique from, and collaboration with, all perspectives is utterly crucial to the proper development of climate justice. We only have to remember that the issues within the movement do not undermine the entire concept.

Environmentalism may be considered ethical, but its history would suggest otherwise. The racist history of environmentalism is far too complex for me to properly discuss, but for reference; many prominent early ecologists believed in eugenics (including the founder of the Sierra Club John Muir), and arguments around overpopulation often have racist overtones regarding poor people of colour globally. Green 2.0’s report on diversity in environmental organisations in 2014 found that of the NGOs that responded 88% of staff, and 95% of the boards were white, not to mention that people of colour tend to be the worst affected by and most concerned with climate change. In far subtler ways, climate action has been limited by decidedly white and western modes of thought. Sarah Jaquette Ray points out in her article “Climate Anxiety is an Overwhelmingly White Phenomenon” that climate anxiety is a continuation of white fragility. I would argue that in a more global sense, it becomes a form of “western fragility”. It distracts from the issue, puts the attention back onto white people, and more importantly, values despair. It also gives rise to apathy and inaction, or zealotry and extremism. The fact is that popular culture is still dominated by black influence, which is partially why it hasn’t been used to full effect to encourage climate activism. The pervasiveness of climate anxiety and fatalism in culture deters people from the movement. The necessity to create new, resilient, traditions in the face of an unlivable future may be new to some, but it most certainly isn’t to all.

“If we recognised that environmentalism is a practical movement, rather than a moral one, it would be easier to take criticism”

Discussions of race and environmentalism favour the USA, but the arguments are highly applicable to class. Low income households around the world are living with the reality of climate change already. As Peter Newell puts it in his paper on “Race, Class and the Global Politics of Environmental Inequality” the “elite control of the framings of problems” has emphasised the future impact of climate change – leaving poorer communities out of the narrative, and therefore out of the solutions. As it stands, environmentalism is run by the people who benefit the most from the global destructive system of inequality we have to change, inevitably limiting our responses. According to Oxfam, the richest 1% of people cause double the amount of CO2 emissions than the poorest 50%. Having that 1% lead environmental efforts has often led to solutionism and connoisseurship in our activism. By solutionism, I mean reactionary solutions that do not tackle the root of the problem. Usually, these are global decisions made by elite groups, that have massive local consequences that go unnoticed. Ironically, grassroots activism frequently gets ignored by major green initiatives. Connoisseurship is a loose term, which generally means the practice of preserving and appreciating beauty. There’s nothing evidently wrong with that, but when applied to conservation – the lack of interaction with nature and the value of beauty fail to really change how we integrate sustainability into our everyday lives. It creates a world where we have National parks as a tourist destinations and communities in cities that have no access to clean water. These failed ‘solutions’ do not tackle the problems, but rather make us complicit in the injustice and harm caused by structures of inequality.

Viewing environmentalism as a belief system has allowed the prejudices of those with the luxury to develop long-term planning strategies, rather than the communities that were forced to focus on the everyday, to seep into the actions and reactions of climate activism. It’s not that we shouldn’t build a movement on a white supremacist, classist system, it’s that we can’t. If we recognised that environmentalism is a practical movement, rather than a moral one, it would be easier to take criticism, not as a judgement on our ethics, but as our logic. Further, the implication of environmentalism as a moral code alienates many people who have rational problems with the climate movement. It remains that a factual approach to sustainability would be more inclusive, diverse, hopeful, loving and resilient.
For my own sake, I would like to add that although I consider environmentalism to be entirely factual and scientific, my relationship with the environment is founded on soulfulness and love. However, my emotions have gotten the better of me in the past. By thinking I had less value in the days that I wasn’t my ‘best’ environmentalist, I started to give up. We have to ask ourselves, who do we need to be environmentalists? Not the best people, but everyone. For us to have our bodies and our minds, we must have the support of the whole earth behind us. It’s true we’re saving ourselves, but selfishness has no place in justice. Rather, it is that we are unified with the earth, so by fighting for ourselves we are fighting for everything. If we have this as our core belief, we can continue to act practically, without jeopardising our values.

The complexity of climate action is compounded by the fact that we want to keep the world we have by radically changing it. In trying to protect the interests of environmentalism, we have only managed to insulate its members – and therefore its achievements. We have to criticise every aspect of our activism, but some problematic elements do not make the whole thing a problem. Environmentalism might not be a moral issue, but it doesn’t have to lack heart. Recognition of the self in nature, and the self in others, are the keys to strategic policy – and the basis of fact.

The Origins of Soy in Western Culture

by Ruaidhri Saulnier

Do you know where the story of the soy that is in the milk and tofu you consume begins? The first English language mention of tofu was in 1603, compiled by Jesuits living in Japan. The second time, mentions it indirectly, believing it to be cheese of which they have plenty.

Tofu was grown in Europe as early as 1737 in the Netherlands, and later in France and England. Although it was grown as a curiosity in botanical gardens, rather than for commercial application. The first American mention comes from former American president Benjamin Franklin who encountered it in the 18th century, and confused tofu for a type of cheese.

Aware of his error he became curious about its origin. How widespread was tofus at this time? Historically uncertainty persists. It was first made in Europe in 1880, although not on a commercial scale. The Society for Acclimatization, founded in 1855, actively promoted research into soyfoods and soybean, publishing more than 30 articles on the topic. The first commercial tofu firm was established in 1878 in the USA, making tofu, fermented and unfermented.

“protein isolate could be used as a substitute for ivory”

Europe’s first commercial soyfoods manufacturer was established by a Chinese man, biologist, engineer, and anarchist, Li Yuying, (Chinese: 李煜瀛). The factory was founded to fund his political actions. A variety of soy-based products were made in this factory, including bean-curd jam, soy coffee and chocolate, eggs and bean-curd cheese in a variety of flavours, as well as flour and biscuits. One-hundred-twenty workers were brought in to work here as part of the Work-Study program to transform them from “superstitious and ignorant” individuals, to knowledgeable and moral citizens when they would eventually return to China, at the founding of the Republic of China under Sun Yat-sen.
Li started working on bringing soy to the west in 1905 at the Second International Dairy Congress in Paris. In 1910, he published a treatise in Chinese on the health benefits of soybeans and soy products, for example, its ability to alleviate diabetes and arthritic pain, which was later translated into French. In 1912, at the Society for Acclimatisation’s annual lunch, he brought a variety of soy products for them to try, in line with their tradition of bringing in new foods from not well-known plants. Following this, with his partner Dr. Grandvoinnet, a 150-page pamphlet, which included their series of eight previously published articles, “Le soja: sa culture, ses usages alimentaires, thérapeutiques, agricoles et industriels”. This 150-page document is considered by historians William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi to be “one of the earliest, most important, influential, creative, interesting, and carefully researched books ever written about soybeans and soyfoods. Its bibliography on soy is larger than any published before that time.”

During Li’s time in the factory, he and his engineers invented and patented new machines for producing soy milk and bean curd. The above historians further comment on these patents supported by original ideas, and allowing French-style cheeses to be made from these machines. These new machines also allowed him to create the world’s first soy protein isolate, called Sojalithe, after its milk protein counterpart, Galalith. Li claimed that this protein isolate could be used as a substitute for ivory, which with a modern vision, could be a sustainable alternative to the current sources of ivory: elephants, rhinos, sperm whales, hippopotami, etc.

The water footprint of soy is fairly high, especially when compared to other plant-based alternatives, but the truth is, the water footprint of similar animal products is much higher. (The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products, A.E. Ercin M.M. Aldaya A.Y. Hoekstra (2011)). The water footprint of 1 litre of soy milk compared to 1 litre of cow’s milk is half that of the most water-efficient country, and almost eight times less than the least effective country studied, and 28% of the global average. The efficiency of soy is even higher when comparing the water footprint of 150g soy burgers compared to equivalent 150g beef burgers, with six times smaller water footprint, all the way up to twenty-two times less, for an average of 7% of the water footprint. For the soybeans studied above, non-organic soybeans have a larger water footprint than organic soybeans.

The world has a lot of work to do to reduce dependency on animal products, but efforts to change diets in the west are nothing new. From the very first mention of “toufu” by westerners to the first commercial factory in Europe to the modern-day, where water consumption can be measured, soybeans, among other vegetable products, are shown to be more sustainable water-wise than their non-vegetable alternatives. We must ask the question: why have we not embraced these products further?

The Environmental Impacts of Recreational Drugs

by Rebecca Gutteridge

The vast majority of us consider the environmental impacts of our bus or car ride into college, try to reduce food waste, and recycle – then why the cognitive dissonance when it comes to drugs?

The legality surrounding drugs often means they are sourced through friends, dealers or the dark web, removing the consumer from the process of manufacturing and transporting the drug to them. Unfortunately, many often don’t want to consider the repercussions for the communities involved in sourcing our good time or the environment, as it can be seen to defeat the objective of said “good time”.

This excuse is under strain. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the impact of drugs on our environment if we hope to reverse climate change and limit the rise in global temperatures to below 1.5℃ and protect our local ecosystems.[1] With a plethora of issues such as deforestation, pesticides, air pollution and the carbon and human footprint of the drugs trade, it is not tenable to consume drugs at our current rate.

Ecosystems are coming under increased strain from the production of cannabis; more than $5bn of weed –legal and illegal– was reported to have flooded the market last year.[2] Banned pesticides used in the illegal Californian cannabis trade are taking a catastrophic toll on the local ecosystem. At one illegal cannabis farm in California, the compound carbofuran (similar to rat poison) was discovered by inspectors, who stated that “it is incredibly toxic. A quarter-teaspoon could kill a 600-pound black bear”. From their expertise, “just a tiny amount can kill a human”, and mentioned that “it remains in an ecosystem for a long period of time”.[3] 90% of the Californian Mountain lion population and 85% of fishers have been exposed to dangerous levels of rodenticide (rodent pesticides).[3] More than 1360kgs of waste was also found at the same Cannabis farm after it was shut down. Aside from the pesticides, cannabis also guzzles water– one plant requires six gallons of water (two gallons more than one energy-saving dishwasher load). The plant also admits toxic levels of ground-level ozone, contributing to air pollution and impacting human health.[4] An average of 220 of these illegal weed sites are raided yearly by the Forestry Service; this is estimated to be only half of the actual number.[4]

Could legalisation be the answer? Legal farms are monitored closely and are required to submit plans for mitigating air pollution.[4] In spite of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of legal weed in California, they have failed to tackle the staggering 472 tonnes of annual electricity-related carbon used in its production –that’s enough to power 92,500 homes.[4] Bureaucratic barriers also mean many growers are unlikely to go legal, and the industry will thus remain largely unregulated.[4]

Soil erosion and pollution of waterways from MDMA are major problems to the environment. Closer to home; after Glastonbury Festival 2021, scientists found “dangerous” levels of MDMA and cocaine in the river Whitelake in Somerset, UK, due to public urination: damaging river life. The damage is forecasted to “derail” eel conservation efforts for years to come.[5] A study from The University of Naples Federico II showed that drugs such as cocaine are also excreted into wastewater and often improperly disposed of by being flushed down toilets.[6] The study suggests that these compounds may also be making their way into our tables when we eat contaminated fish and eel.[6]

The compounds in MDMA and cocaine are highly damaging to the environment. The Glastonbury findings and eel studies reflect that the story of a quick high with few consequences is a fallacy we tell ourselves to excuse the environmental and social destruction of our habits.

[1] IPCC report,
[2] Roberts, Chris, Forbes, ‘It’s Gonna Be A Bloodbath’: Epic Marijuana Oversupply Is Flooding California, Jeopardizing Legalization’
[3] Westervelt, Eric, NPR, ‘Illegal Pot Operations In Public Forests Are Poisoning Wildlife And Water’
[4] Michaelson, Andrea, Smithsonian Mag, ‘The Cannabis Industry Is Not as Green as You’d Think’
[5] ‘Glastonbury Festival: Traces of drugs found in river at site’ BBC, 2021,
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[6] Katz, Brigit, Smithsonian mag ‘Cocaine in the Water Is Hurting River Eels’

5 Podcasts to Stay up to Date With Climate Action

by Rachel Smyth

Told like a true crime podcast, where the offender is Big Oil and ordinary people are the victims, Drilled is a fascinating and shocking look into the deepest secrets of the fossil fuel industry. The show has been running since 2016 and has seven full seasons for you to get stuck into, plus bonus episodes along the way. Each season follows a new story from investigative journalist Amy Westervelt, in which she digs deep into the real factors behind climate policy decisions made in the USA and around the world. I would especially recommend Season 7, The ABCs of Big Oil, where Drilled collaborates with online climate newspaper Earther to find out how Big Oil has been behind pervasive climate denial messaging in American schools and universities.

The Climate Alarm Clock
The Climate Alarm Clock is a weekly Irish podcast where the hosts discuss the latest climate news, interview experts, and chat with the people making a change in their communities. While the news stories discussed incorporate climate impacts around the world, discussions often focus on the Irish context. This is a great way to catch up on our national climate policy decisions and to find out more about the amazing work that Irish activists and small business owners are doing on a daily basis.

“a great way to catch up on our national climate policy decisions”

Looking to get into the nitty gritty facts of climate change? TILclimate might be the podcast for you. This award-winning podcast from MIT presents interviews with climate scientists and experts to explain the societal factors behind the climate crisis, the impacts on our planet and the viability of potential solutions. Broken down into short, 15-minute episodes, you can grab bite-sized insights into the future of climate change without getting overwhelmed!

TED Climate
As a part of TED’s Countdown initiative, which seeks to find solutions to the biggest problems of climate change, they have created TED Climate. Host Dan Kwartler compiles short TED talks from an interdisciplinary range of climate change experts, innovators and survivors. This podcast combines hard-hitting facts and inspiring ideas to drive home the urgency of climate change while leaving you focused on the solutions.

Mothers of Invention
Former Irish president Mary Robinson joins comedian Maeve Higgins and series producer Thimali Kodikara in this inspiring podcast based on climate justice through feminist solutions. The hosts shine a light on the uneven burden of the climate crisis on those who contribute the least, focusing on women and people of colour. Each episode features an interview with a new “mother” of the podcast, including speakers as diverse as Christiana Figueres, a key negotiator in the Paris Agreement, and Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives. Full of eye-opening stories and inspiring people from around the world, this is definitely worth a listen!

Spring is in the Air

by Jessica O’Connor

I would firstly like to thank Dr Anne Dubéarnès and John Parnell for their help. Without them, this article would be very sparse! Now onto the good stuff.

Sometimes we find ourselves getting wrapped up in the many items on our to-do lists that we forget to take notice of what is around us. I plan to fix that with this article on the flowers that are to be seen on campus! Over the last few weeks colour in the form of flowers has begun to emerge on our campus. Anyone, whether you are looking or not, will have been greeted by them. There are currently many different plant types in flower, from small understory plants to shrubs and trees.

You will hopefully have noticed the many daffodils around campus. Daffodils mark the beginning of Spring and good weather for most of us. These bright yellow and often cream flowers are throughout campus, planted around the trees by the cricket pitches and dotted throughout some of the garden areas. These plants are part of the amaryllis family and are known botanically as narcissus. They are hardy plants that are not too bothered about soil or the amount of light they receive. This is probably why we see so many of them. Daffodils return year after year during the spring meaning they are perennial. Daffodils emerge in Spring after going dormant during the winter. After they have finished their growth season in Spring, they will use their foliage to accumulate food sources so that they may flower the next year. A tip is to let them die back naturally and when the leaves have lost their green colour cut them down to grass level.

Another yellow flower that may be seen around campus is the dandelion. Some call it a weed but I would have to disagree! Like the daffodil, dandelions are also perennials so they come back yearly. Dandelions are a favourite with pollinators as they provide food early on in the season. For example, they provide both nectar and pollen to many insects including Bombus ruderarius, also known as the red-shanked carder bee or red-shanked bumblebee. We all probably have memories and plucking fluffy headed stems from the ground when we were younger and making a wish as the bits of fluff floated away from us in the wind. This is how dandelion spreads, ensuring pollinators have food and we have a bit of colour the following year.

Primrose is another famous flower we know can be found in the physics garden. Primroses are extremely diverse in both flower shape and colour, ranging from blue to pink to yellow, and are one of the first species to flower in spring. These flowers are also good for our pollinator friends- the bees and maybe lesser-known hawkmoths.
Another common plant throughout campus is the hyacinth. The ones on campus are generally purple and white and can be found surrounding many of the great trees, especially in New Square, where they bring a lovely colour to the otherwise green lawn. They are also in the small garden plot near the Museum Building. Although they are pretty for us to look at and exude a lovely smell, they have little to no pollination value.

Onto some flowering plants that are a little larger! The Japanese cherry tree or as we probably know it the cherry blossom is arguably one of the prettiest flowering trees on campus. The flowers range from pink to white depending on the variety and flowering usually only lasts a short time, around 2 to 3 weeks. After this time the petals begin to float down and the brief beauty is over. The trees on campus are of the ornamental variety and are therefore grown for beauty as opposed to fruit production. Interestingly they are quite short-lived, some only living between 15 to 20 years!

Another stunning flowering tree although lesser known is the Amelanchier. This tree goes through multiple colours in a year. It flowers on bare branches adding colour when little else is in bloom. These star-shaped blooms are followed by orange-coloured leaves which then mature to green before turning a deeper orange or red in Autumn. This tree can be found in the Provost’s Garden.

Another, though much smaller plant you may not have noticed is the purple Anemone, this plant is in the same family as the buttercup. If you want to have a look for these, they can be found in the shaded area that lies between the rugby and cricket pitch. As the name suggests, the flowers are purple in colour. These plants are sometimes called windflowers. This is linked to the frailty of their petals which can easily break and be blown off in the wind.

Another flowering plant in the same family is the Winter Aconite. The flowers are small and yellow with the overall size of the plant rarely going above 10cm. This plant, somewhat like us, is a sun lover! This plant has a short life cycle during the spring. Its flowers bloom when sunlight is at a maximum and dies off completely into an underground tuber after flowering.
Another plant that is in flower at the moment is the Silene dioica, or as you and I can call it Red Campion. This plant can be found in the wilder patches of grass around campus, its flowers range from pink to as the name suggests red. This plant usually flowers in the later Spring so it is somewhat unusual that it is in flower currently. This is likely due to climate change and the warm weather we have experienced recently.

A plant that is growing in the flower patch just before the rugby pitch by the Museum Building that some of you may have noticed is the Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis). This plant is imposing with a large stem that can reach over a metre in perfect conditions, orange bell-shaped flowers, and a tuft of green leaves on the top. You can’t miss it! While pretty to look at it is also a known source of nectar and pollen for bees.

I would like to thank Dr Anne Dubéarnès and John Parnell who were both a great help with this article providing a comprehensive list of the plants on campus. A little extra information for those who are interested: Dr Anne Dubéarnès also mentioned a flower which would be a shame to leave out. Although this is not found on campus, I do feel it is worth mentioning. The scented violet or as it is formally known Viola odorata. Warning this next bit is a bit botanical: Interestingly, (well to me anyway) this flower has an ephemeral scent which means that you can only smell it for a few seconds. This is because the aromatic molecule that gives it its scent, ionone, binds to our smell receptors and blocks them for a moment.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to some of the plants on campus (and one that is not!). Keep an eye out when you are on the way to your next lecture or to the library to catch up!

IPCC Report Results: Disappointed but Not Surprised

by Faye Murphy

On the 27th of February, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. The publication was the second volume of the sixth assessment report from the IPCC, which analyses 34,000 studies, including 270 authors from 67 countries. It provides one of the most comprehensive examinations of the escalating impacts of climate change and future risks, particularly for marginalised communities and countries with poor resources and facilities. The 2022 IPCC report also describes which climate adaptation approaches are most effective and feasible. The findings further proved what many of us already knew: the world is dying at an unbelievable pace. Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, described the report as “a dire warning about the consequences of inaction”. 

“the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk”

Previous IPCC reports suggested a link between human activity and climate change, but this volume concluded with “high confidence” that humans are the primary instigators in driving global warming and causing issues such as ice caps melting and heatwaves. The report states that “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in response to the report, echoed, “the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk”. 

The recent edition of the IPCC report contained a chapter dedicated to short-lived climate forces such as aerosols, methane, and particulate matter. Previous editions had mentioned the importance of safe methane levels in the atmosphere, but none have had chapters dedicated to it, further highlighting the importance of methane levels. It is important to note that methane levels are currently at the highest levels in 800,000 years. The IPCC report 2022 highlighted two significant examples of what could happen if we continue at our current rate: Forests could start to die. As temperatures continue to rise, forests could begin to die off. Trees play a key role in absorbing CO2, so if deforestation occurs, this will mean forests stop growing and hence have disastrous consequences both globally and locally. The report’s second example was that sea levels would continue to rise. As global warming occurs, ice caps continue to melt at a rapid pace, meaning sea levels rise, and towns and cities around coastal areas are in danger of being engulfed by the ocean. Research published in Nature suggests that if nothing is done, sea levels could rise more than a metre by 2100 and 15 metres over the next 500 years.

“half the global population faces water insecurity at least one month per year”

The report discusses how urgent action is required to deal with increasing risks. The report outlines how weather extremes, such as droughts and floods, are causing mass mortality of biodiversity, which further causes food insecurity. The report mentions that half the global population faces water insecurity at least one month per year. In order for change, the report suggests “deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions”, as progress on this initiative is “uneven”, which increases gaps “among lower-income populations”. Lee emphasises “the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

The report also discusses how safeguarding and strengthening nature are vital to securing a liveable future for all. The report mentions that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanisation, social inequalities, potential pandemics and hence decline in development. Co-chair Hans-Otto Porter believes that “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon”. Porter believes this would allow us to “accelerate [the] progress towards sustainable development”, despite this “adequate finance and political support are essential” for progress to occur. 

The IPCC report discusses the importance of urban areas in the solution to climate change. Over 50% of the human population lives in urban areas and endures different consequences and effects of climate change. Poorly planned cities in response to unthinkable levels of population growth, increasing unemployment and poverty due to growing urbanisation. Increasing land usage, industrialisation of green areas and urbanisation into agricultural land are causing increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions within cities and therefore have confounding effects leading to future livelihood insecurity. 

The report emphasised how the window for action and opportunity is closing more rapidly than expected. The findings showed that 2 degrees of global warming in some regions would prevent climate resilience development. This is clearly a threat to human life and wellbeing. According to the IPCC Report Press Release, “this key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice”, but “adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership” is needed for “more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions”. Time is running out; we must all unite to ensure a future for all. 

10 things I’d do if I were Minister for Transport (if I Had an Endless Amount of Money)

by Hillary Mullen

  1. Put the Vienna model in place in Dublin

As part of the Green Party’s 2020 election manifesto, they promised voters that if elected they would put in place steps to introduce a “Vienna model” of public transportation into Dublin city. As someone who was living in Vienna for their Erasmus at the time of this election campaign, it was somewhat encouraging because I could not get over how reliable and efficient public transportation was in this city. You had buses (that showed up on time), a tram system with more than two lines that connected in multiple locations and an underground system that has actually been built and used within the last twenty years instead of only being spoken about like its Chinese Whispers. 

Viennese people pay €1 a day for unlimited use of public transportation. When I lived there I paid approximately 60c a day as a student for the entire semester. You could literally spend the entire day sitting on public transportation and it would cost you pennies. It would be a dream for Dublin to have this system.

Let’s just say that Eamon Ryan is a few naps in the Dáil away from achieving this goal. If I had an endless amount of money as the Minister of Transport, I would put steps in place to make this a reality, getting the metro built as soon as possible and develop above ground transportation over time.

2.  Grants to Hybrid motorists

By 2030, it is planned by the Irish government to have 1 million electric cars on the roads. I feel this number could be achieved sooner or later if more cars on the road could become electric if better incentives or grants were given to motorists to encourage them to switch.  

3. Improve cycling roads

In recent weeks, it was announced that Oscar winner Rami Malik, famous for his iconic role as Freddie Mercury in the film Bohemian Rhapsody, spent his lockdown days in Dublin. He revealed that one thing he enjoyed doing was cycling around the city. My first thought was that he is clearly a daredevil. I love to cycle on my bike back home but I couldn’t imagine cycling in the city centre, it’s absolute chaos for our poor cyclists. How many times have we heard on the news of cyclists having accidents next to Dublin buses and on Luas lines? The cycling system in Dublin is all over the shop. I would make more roads in Dublin pedestrian/ cycle friendly to prevent these accidents from happening, by implementing segregated cycle lanes that protect the cyclists from oncoming traffic.

4. Revise LEAP card system

Miss Leap needs a makeover sis. I feel she could be used more frequently on other services where paper tickets are still used. For example, if I were to take the train from Dundalk to Connolly Station, I would need a paper ticket, whereas if I took a train from Connolly Station to Maynooth afterwards, I can use my Leap Card. Leap Cards are a staple in Dublin and other major cities in Ireland but cannot be used further than the suburbs. I would allow people to use LEAP cards nationwide on buses and trains anywhere in the country. There are many bike stations across Dublin where people can borrow a bike for a small fee. The machines in which you borrow these can be quite confusing and it could be a lot handier for Dubliners if they could tap on and off these bikes with their Leap Card instead

5.  Improve national roads

Not every road has to lead to Dublin you know, just saying.

6.  No longer make Dublin a focus point

There should be no need for me to come through Dublin in order to leave Dublin a lot of the time. How come people have to go through Dublin to travel somewhere outside Dublin? There should be more public transport stops focusing on taking people to other parts of the country. If bigger train stations were made bigger in the likes of Longford or in Cavan with more lines going to places outside of Dublin, it could divert a lot of unnecessary travel out of the city. 

7.  Give Donegal a damn train station…

…and improve Irish Rail overall. How does one of the most remote counties in Ireland not have at least one train station, you would think that would have been ticked off the to-do list years ago. Alas, that’s how Irish Rail works. 

8. Give students better ticket rates

I was glad to hear in this year’s budget that people ages 23 and under would receive 50% off public transportation rates. This was long overdue as the prices to use public transportation in Ireland is far more expensive than many other European countries. I would continue this or potentially make student rates cheaper or as they do in France, anyone under 25 gets a cheaper fare on public transport.

9. Provide funding for scientific research on more sustainable eco-friendly transportation

This may sound a bit extravagant but in the last number of years, Ireland has really proven itself to be at the helm of scientific research. I would love there to be some investment from the Minister of Transport on scientific projects that focus on making transportation more sustainable and eco-friendly. Imagine if an Irish scientist created a car like the DeLorean in Back to the Future where you used your leftover compost waste as petrol or a teleport so that you never had to sit on a stuffy bus for 3 hours a day ever again, you’d be lying if you said you did not want to buy one. 

10.  A carpool bonus

For those of us who commute to the city on buses and cars going through motorways, you may be used to seeing cars with just one passenger inside. If the government were to give some sort of bonus or tax break for people commuting into the city by car through a carpool arrangement, it could encourage less congestion on the roads of dozens of cars heading to the same commuter towns. It would make the roads safer and would greatly reduce CO2 emissions produced. 

I hope I haven’t bored you all but this is what I would do as Minister for Transport. I know some of these things cannot be achieved so quickly in reality (the DeLorean I mean unfortunately). However, with a bit more push from the current Minister and a bit more funding put in place to prioritise some things on this list, then we could see things improve for public transport sooner than expected. 

Brand Investigation: Primark

by Anna Barry

Penny’s, as it is known in Ireland, first opened its doors in 1969 in its capital city, Dublin. It is known around the world as Primark, and has over 380 stores worldwide. Primark is a fast fashion chain and has a large range of products, including womenswear, menswear, baby and children’s clothing, accessories, footwear, homeware, beauty products, and confectionery. Fast fashion can be described as inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Primark offers trendy clothing and day-to-day products at cheap and affordable prices. This all sounds great until we ask ourselves: how can Primark afford to make these items for as cheap as they sell them for, in a sustainable and ethical way AND make a profit? That is when the question of how ethical and sustainable Primark is, comes into play. 

Environmental impact

On a good note, Primark is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a global alliance of retailers, brands, suppliers, advocacy groups, labour unions, and academics, who aim to create “an apparel, footwear, and home textiles industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on people and communities” – The Guardian. Another good step made by Primark was implementing the use of paper bags rather than plastic bags, which was done in 2002. However, how environmentally friendly can any fast-fashion brand be? According to researchers, a pair of jeans requires approximately 7,600 litres of water to make. It can also take around 2,700 litres of water to make just one T-shirt. Already, we can see how damaging selling these items for €20 or less is to our environment. The cheaper the clothes are, the more we can afford to buy, and basically, the more water we use up and the more damage we do to our environment. Primark has recently started to use organic cotton and recycled materials to make their clothes but what exactly does this mean? It is true that cotton is renewable and biodegradable but growing conventional cotton has had a detrimental impact on our environment. It takes approximately 10,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of conventional cotton. Many manufacturers use artificial means such as chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides to make cotton grow faster. This causes massive damage to the soil, resulting in fields being unsuitable for growing other crops. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is much better for the environment as it doesn’t require the use of synthetic pesticides or any toxic chemical fertilizers. Its production also sustains the quality of soil and protects the native ecosystems. Recent studies suggest that the energy demand of organic cotton is 62% lower than conventional cotton. Organic cotton also uses approximately 91% less water than regular cotton and in turn produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the use of organic cotton is a pivotal step for Primark and other fast-fashion brands like H&M. As well, cotton does not contain microplastics. Therefore, cotton does not give off microplastic pollution when washed which is an added reason why to choose cotton items over the likes of polyester, viscose, etc which DO cause microplastic pollution. 

a pair of jeans requires approximately 7,600 litres of water to make. It can also take around 2,700 litres of water to make just one T-shirt

In terms of ‘made by recycled materials’ Primark states on their website that “We have partnered with specialist suppliers to produce our recycled products. First, waste plastic is recovered, flaked into pellets, and melted down. The plastic is then spun into yarn and used to create our products. In 2020, our products made using recycled materials more than doubled to 40 million items”. It is a great idea to try to use up our already existing plastics but this still promotes the idea that recycling is the answer, when cutting down on our overall consumption is the real answer. Primark has introduced a lot of great changes, but they still mass-produce items of often low quality and sell them at cheap prices. We must also consider transportation and packaging methods before giving them a gold star. Overall, the best way to be sustainable is to use what we already have but we are human and that’s not always easy. Primark has provided some more sustainable ways to buy fast fashion but you have the real power. Companies always listen to the consumer as that’s where the money is. So if you are buying in Primark, shop smartly and support the sustainable cotton items and other more sustainable alternatives.

Animal Welfare

Primark does NOT use fur, angora, down feather, or exotic animal skin or hair in its products. However, it DOES use leather and wool without stating its sources. They also do NOT provide evidence that they trace their animal products to the first stage of production. This withholds information about the condition and wellbeing of the animals used.  In terms of cosmetics, Primark state that animal testing is NOT permitted on Primark products, but it does retail cosmetics from other brands that do test on animals. 

Primark has also been called out for showing no evidence of workers being paid a living wage

Labour conditions

On the Primark website, it states that “Primark does not own any factories and requires all its suppliers’ factories to meet its Code of Conduct, which is based on the standards of the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations body”. Primark uses the likes of GY Sen to supply their clothes and this is where some of the major ethical questions for Primark lie. In good terms, the promotion of organic cotton protects a lot of workers from the toxins present in conventional cotton and Primark is a signatory to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Cotton Pledge and a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and has adopted their Code of Conduct. Primark has also set up “Primark Cares” which is an initiative to support the people who make their clothes and vet the factories being used. However, as Primark does not own these factories it means there is no real responsibility for them to ensure ethical practices are taking place. Over the years, we have all heard about ‘sweatshops’ making the clothes we see in Primark and other fast fashion brands. As recently as 2021, Primark hit the papers again with ‘Primark supplier accused of locking workers in a factory in Myanmar protests’- The Guardian. This supplier being GY Sen. In 2019, a report was issued by CIR who interviewed 73 Sri Lankan employees from six named supplier factories to Primark. It stated that no supplier met the retailer’s code of conduct and that some were involved in breaches of local law. Primark has also been called out for showing no evidence of workers being paid a living wage. Altogether, this is just not good enough. We expect when buying the Primark cares products that the workers behind the item are getting a living wage, but it seems that Primark isn’t being as transparent as we would like. 

Overall Primark is no worse than any other fast-fashion brand and they are making a big effort to be more sustainable. However, until people change their shopping habits and cut the amount of clothing they are consuming down, the situation will not improve. 

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