Degrowth: A ca-Truss-tophe

by Nathan Hutchinson Edgar

When Liz Truss came to power, she promised three things: “Growth, growth and growth”. How was she going to “grow” the economy? An environmentally catastrophic series of measures were proposed: repeal huge amounts of environmental legislature, set up investment zones on national parks, and allowing fracking (while banning solar panels across much of the country). These were the measures needed to pursue the neoliberal economic growth she had promised, and if the planet was going to suffer as a result, well that was just too bad.

The craziness of Truss’s government never played out in the real world, but nonetheless her vision highlighted one of the key dilemmas of our time: we can’t keep economic growth up without crossing planetary tipping points. It’s impossible to have infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources. It looks like a choice between the planet or the economy. With the cost-of-living and energy crises at hand, many people will intuitively choose the latter. You can’t worry about the end of the world if you’re worried about the end of the week!

Degrowing the Economy
That’s where the concept of ‘degrowth’ comes in. Promoted by economists such as Giorgos Kallis and Jason Hickel (author of Less is More), degrowth dares to imagine a radically different and new economic system. The usual narrative is something like this: “Growth is good! It is only by growing our GDP that we can create jobs and generate income.” Degrowth questions this narrative, asking whether we really need economic growth to improve our standard of living. On closer inspection, Hickel finds that we can improve our society, making it more equitable, while simultaneously shrinking our economy and consumption levels to within planetary boundaries.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted what was really essential to our society: people who work in healthcare, food production, and transport. Whereas these sectors of the economy are carrying out necessary services that help people in everyday life, other energy-intensive industries serve no function whatsoever other than continuing economic growth. The advertising industry, for example, has the aim of psychologically manipulating people into buying more stuff they don’t need. Most people could survive day to day without it. Or the arms industry, or the tobacco industry, or the SUV industry… the list goes on. The constant need for expansion driving these industries is also simultaneously exacerbating inequality. On a global level, the richest 1% have around 50% of the wealth, and growth normally just makes the rich richer. By shrinking some sectors of our economy, we can decarbonise faster, reducing resource-use alongside inequality to improve our quality of life.

“You can’t worry about the end of the world if you’re worried about the end of the week!”

Degrowth in Dublin
Although our society seems to largely favour a hyper-competitive constant growth model, there are already signs of movement towards more sustainable economic models. Companies around Dublin are starting to consider alternatives, such as Tropical Popical nail salon, whose founder has said: “Resources are finite … you can’t keep grabbing for more, the environment is just going to get worse”. She has called for a rethink around the purposes of our businesses, structuring them more around community values and less around the endless drive for profit.

This call was echoed by Stephen O’Dwyer of Tang, a sustainable café with 3 shops based around the Dublin area. Tang is committed to “operating within planetary boundaries” and while it does grow, the focus is on “internal need, providing roles for staff, running English classes, supporting families if they get in trouble”. This moves away from the idea of chasing growth for growth’s sake, to the degree that the company donates roughly 10% of profits to effective altruism, and also redistributes a proportion of profits amongst team members. Does he envisage a point at which Tang may stop growing? “That’s a really interesting question, if you look at the natural world, something grows, matures and then begins to die”. He’s right. It’s all about trying to maintain that mature stage. In nature, uncontrolled endless growth causes cancer.

A Post-Growth Community
In Less is More, Hickel suggests 5 steps towards a new society. Some of these will require government legislation, such as preventing planned obsolescence (that annoying thing when your iPhone is programmed to stop working so you have to buy a new one). Others can be more community led, such as a shift from ownership to usership. The principle is fairly simple. For example, how often do you use a drill? Unless you work in construction, probably very rarely. Yet most sheds in the country will contain several drills, lying there sad and unused for most of the year. Rather than produce so many drills, wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to have access to a communal drill which anyone in the community (be it a housing estate, a township, an apartment block) could use when they needed it? The same principle could be applied to lawnmowers, dishwashers, and even cars. Other ideas he suggests include reducing food waste (which we can all do) and restoring commonly owned land.

The idea of the eco-village seems to illustrate in practice, what a post-growth society might look like. These are community-based sustainable settlements that are focused on renewable energy, small-scale farming, and connection with ecology. The only eco-village in Ireland is found in Cloughjordan, Tipperary. Fig, a resident, described how it works: “The community farm where I work is a big one, members pay a monthly amount for as much vegetables as they want, and we produce them. The result is that the farm doesn’t have to be pushed to maximise production for profit or to scrape a living [so] we can use more regenerative growing practices.” This also takes away the stress of endless work “to scrape by … It’s refreshing to work in an environment where the board … aren’t pushing … just for endless turnover”. This leads to people working “on projects that improve life for the community rather than for money.”

“Trinity College itself has recently divested from both the fossil fuel and arms industries. These may be just the first steps towards shrinking some of the most damaging aspects of the economy”

System Change not Climate Change
While these community-based projects and individual reductions in consumption both fall under the idea of degrowth, we also need radical changes in legislation and structure. Currently, Local Enterprise Offices provide grants for businesses to expand, whereas when it comes to initiatives moving away from growth, there is much less support provided. There is “probably zero support for these initiatives” says O’Dwyer, in reference to the steps Tang has taken towards a community structured model of business. Surely there needs to be reform when it comes to government aims for growth in business, rewarding sustainability and services provided to the community and not growth for growth’s sake?

On the other hand, there is some good news. The Dutch city of Haarlem was the first to ban meat advertising in September this year. Trinity College itself has recently divested from both the fossil fuel and arms industries. These may be just the first steps towards shrinking some of the most damaging aspects of the economy, but if groups of people worldwide come together and call for similar radical solutions, a real movement could be created: a movement towards a better world, based on community, sustainability, and equality.

Could Dublin Become a 15-minute City?

by Ruaidhrí Saulnier

I love Dublin Bus. It is one of the worst services I regularly use in Dublin, and yet I am an enthusiastic supporter. If Dublin Bus has 1,000,000 fans, I may not be one of them, but I am definitely not a hater. It needs improvement, something that the city is sort of working on, at least when they aren’t privatising routes. More bus lanes would help or allowing them to ram through any vehicle that is smaller. In all seriousness, the existence of Dublin Bus is great, but its reliability issues and inefficient routes are something that needs to be addressed. Especially when as soon as a drop of rain hits Dublin, all hell breaks loose, and us bus users are punished. This causes issues for people not relying on cars and harms any attempts to change our way of life, turning fifteen minutes into fifty.

The concept of 15-minute cities derived from historical ideas about proximity and walkability, first presented in the early 1900s, called neighbourhood units. They were first presented at a time when cars were rising in prominence in American cities, at a time when they weren’t as ingrained into society as they are now, and they weren’t managed as they are now. They were conceived as islands in a sea of vehicular traffic. 

“pedestrianisation allows a city to become more pleasant and healthier and helps tackle the climate crisis”

The 15-minute city is a residential concept in which most daily necessities can be completed within walking or cycling distance from the resident’s home. The term was first coined in 2016, and popularised by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who promised to turn Paris into one. 15-minute cities are built from a series of 5-minute neighbourhoods, which are also known as complete communities. These would increase density, reducing the need for a car, contrasting with the urban sprawl we are familiar with. The land would be mixed usage, with ample employment opportunities, reducing the need to travel. In addition, public transportation needs to be available. This concept has been described as a return to a more local way of life. A re-imagination of towns not divided into discrete zones for different purposes, but as mosaics of neighbourhoods. In which most residents’ needs can be met within 15 minutes of their homes, by either walking, cycling, or using public transport. This in turn, reduces pollutions and brings people closer together. 

In parts of Paris traffic has disappeared, and the space they occupied is now mainly dedicated to pedestrians, with trees where asphalt once was. This was helped by lack of traffic during covid, and the travel restrictions forbidding people from travelling too far. These efforts are backed by €300 million in funding from the regional, local, and national governments. The 15-minute city calls for a return to a more local and somewhat slower way of life, where time is better spent locally rather than commuting faraway to experience life. 

We sort of have these ideas applied to Dublin. Grafton Street was first pedestrianised in 1971, and this was made permanent in 1982. Despite initial objections to this by business owners and councillors, the change was for the better. This demonstrates that even forty years ago, people were able to see that cars weren’t the be all and end all. History seems to repeat itself with the resistance to pedestrianisation in College Green and Capel Street. But pedestrianisation allows a city to become more pleasant and healthier and helps tackle the climate crisis. Other cities were able to start this process with much more haste than Dublin, so what is the hold up? 

Several models are used when discussing 15-minute cities, with emphasis placed where is believed to be important. What they all have in common is the ability to travel to key areas within a community within 15-minutes by walking or cycling. Moreno’s model ensures that six essential functions are fulfilled: living, working, commerce, healthcare, education, and entertainment. With four key components: density, proximity, diversity, and digitalisation. Another model, D’Acci’s model, presents the idea of Isobenefit Urbanism, which states that within one kilometre, you should be able to reach: natural land, shops, amenities, services, and places of work. A third model, Weng’s model, using Shanghai as a case study proposed a 15-minute walkable neighbourhood with a focus on health. This found that rural areas are generally significantly less walkable.

Several cities around the world, on every continent, have had some attempt at creating 15-minute cities. These are still in their infancy but are showing promise. So why doesn’t Dublin take some initiative, and showcase to the world that it is able to create a healthier, better world, and become a 15-minute city? A metro with several lines, a hospital that isn’t the most expensive building in the world, and increased density would be a good start. So, when do we begin?

Mushroom Mayhem

by Jessica O’Connor

There is no word in the English language to describe the appearance of the fruiting body of a mushroom as it emerges through the soil. In the same way, there isn’t a word I can think of that can aptly describe the joy I feel when I see it- from the glistening of a yellow-green parrot waxcap, the deceptively ordinary white mushroom cap to the fan favourite Fly agaric (think Mario Bros.!). I hope that after reading this article you will take a little more time to look at the ground so that you may be as captivated at these little wonders as I am.  

Puhpowee- It is the Native American word to describe the overnight emergence of a mushroom. I feel, the way the word rolls out of the mouth, perfectly encapsulates the act of defiance of a soft fruiting body of a mushroom emerging through the soil. As if to say- Look! I am here. Mushrooms, I feel, are some of the most fascinating, unknown, and underappreciated organisms. Yes, they may be all over social media throughout October and November, but they exist year-round, although mostly underground, waiting for their moment to emerge. So now is your chance to get out and admire them.

“Coral fungi exist in a vast variety of colours and forms. Some are complex and branched while others exist as a simple single stump”

Mushrooms are so much more than what they first appear to be. The cap and stalk (stipe, for my fellow nerds) are only a small fraction of what they truly are. Think of a tree for example, their root system can be thought of as a sort of mirror image of the vastness that exists above it. Mushrooms too have a sort of root system called hyphae which grow below the ground but in contrast to the tree analogy, this ‘root’ system is significantly larger than the visible mushroom above ground. Most people are unaware that such complexity exists, but these hyphae play important roles in old-growth forests that we are only beginning to understand. Suzanne Simard, who carried out paradigm-shifting work in this area, opened the world’s eyes to the complexity of mushrooms and the roles they play in ecosystems. Now it is up to us to ‘look’ and I mean really look! 

These mushroom networks below the ground, also called ‘The Wood Wide Web’ enable trees to share their resources. Mothers give their offsprings extra sugars to aid their initial growth. It has even been shown that when a Mother Tree is near death, she will send one last burst of sugars to her offspring and other trees connected to her by this vast mushroom network. In this way, there isn’t one tree that is better off, as all the trees connected are joined in this sharing circle- giving what they don’t need and receiving what they are lacking. Maybe we as humans should take a leaf (excuse the joke) out of this old growth forest’s way of life- we might be better off! 

In case you could not tell from the outset of this article, I am a proud mushroom fanatic, and you should be too. We owe the proper functioning of our Earth to these seemingly unimpressive creations. But if you take a deeper look into them, you shall learn about their magic. Although simple genetically and sometimes in looks, there are a few spectacular examples. Now I shall enlighten you with some of my personal favourites. 

“the use of birch polypore as a medicine exists in folklore and more recently an active ingredient has been identified that may have medicinal potential”

It may surprise you to know that there are corals in the woods-not that kind, or rather in my biased mind, cooler! (No offence great barrier reef, which is cool, to be honest!) Coral fungi exist in a vast variety of colours and forms. Some are complex and branched while others exist as a simple single stump and then there are a few that form those massive, brightly coloured arrangements on the forest floor or on top of tree stumps, aiding the breakdown of nutrients and enabling their reuse- the ultimate recycling enablers. 

Next, the earthstars! Initially emerging as dare-I-say boring brown spheres. They later emerge as a star-shaped plate with a puffball-like centre which when disturbed, send millions of tiny spores into the air to continue this lifecycle. Google it, you won’t regret watching a slow mo!

It may surprise you to know that mushrooms can glow! In fact, there are over 75 species that can! (Although most of them are found in the tropics). Decomposing organic material fungi produce carbon dioxide and light. Luciferin is the name of the molecule responsible for this process as it is an energy-carrying molecule. When luciferin reacts with the enzyme luciferase, light energy is released. Fun fact- the name of the molecule is derived from the Latin lucem ferre, meaning light bearer (although now it is associated more with Lucifer). However, the reasons why fungi glow are still debated. From insect attraction to no function at all, it must be a truly marvellous site to witness. Famously, there is a letter from a soldier to his wife in which he writes, ‘Darling, I am writing to you tonight by the light of five mushrooms’. These glowing mushrooms have also proved useful in WW1, for soldiers in trenches, who would attach bits of rotting wood to their helmets so that they could be seen by each other when darkness fell. 

“Lions Mane mushrooms could potentially be the cure or at least the saviour to many people over the world who suffer from Alzheimer’s”

Fungal biodiversity is mostly unknown and underappreciated. These fungal marvels may hold the secret to many medicinal cures. Birch polypore fungus is one of the many examples. Found along with the infamous Otzi the Iceman, many theories exist to explain the purpose of this fungus- from religious significance to a possible medicine to treat worms (which we know Otzi had). The anti-worm theory is controversial. However, the use of birch polypore as a medicine exists in folklore and more recently an active ingredient has been identified that may have medicinal potential. Another medical marvel ought to be the Lions Mane mushroom. This mushroom is thought to have many health benefits, ranging from anti-carcinogenic to neuroprotective properties. Most interesting are the neuroprotective properties as that means it could potentially be the cure or at least the saviour to many people over the world who suffer from Alzheimer’s. Although not fully confirmed yet, results are promising and with more research, the answer may be found!

Well, I hope, whether you are a die-hard mushroom fan or a newbie to this topic, you may have learnt something new and that you may begin to appreciate the diversity we have at our feet! 

Algae- ‘Green Gold’- or Something More Valuable?

by Becca Payling

World Algae Day falls on Oct 12th each year, but with algae’s growing importance in society, it is likely to be an area of great interest, development, and research for many years to come.

Once only associated with eutrophication (the green sludge on the surface of water bodies), algae are now the material darling of the 21st century. From their incorporation into trainers, bioplastics, dyes, fuel, and now even touted as being able to reduce methane emissions from ruminants by up to 99%, it seems that there is nothing that algae can’t do.

Algae are often split into two categories: microalgae and macroalgae. Microalgae include blue-green algae (cyanobacteria- one of the oldest life forms in Earth history) and diatoms, whereas macroalgae include kelp, seaweed, and red algae, including calcifying algae that make up corals. Just like their physiological diversity, all species of algae provide a wealth of uses and services- often as the source of energy within the marine and intertidal ecosystems in which they bloom. As part of my breakfast each morning I have a spirulina tablet- with an abundance of B12, omega-3, and other vitamins and minerals like calcium- an ideal vegan supplement in a plant-based-returning world.

Spirulina has a rich indigenous history, with the Mexica people developing farming techniques, recipes, and rituals surrounding these algae before colonisation that is now being reclaimed (DeRenzo, 2021 for BBC Ancient Eats), and there are numerous ethnobotany studies between First Nation or Sicilian communities and red algae – showcasing uses spanning from food, medicine, mental health, and even fibre, highlighting their vitality in local communities and culture (Turner, 2003; La Rosa et al., 2021). Vertical farms are being installed globally for spirulina, a  physical representation of the skyward trend in consumer craze the algae ‘superfood’ has seen, whilst below sea level, seaweeds and zooxanthellae algae that live symbiotically with corals reefs are a steady storm buffer (James et al., 2019) as climate change brings more extreme weather events. Time is precious in the midst of the climate crisis, and algae acting as a low-carbon material alternative, and their ability to mitigate climate effects, buy us some.

“With attention to the energy sector as the most game-changing industry to foster innovative solutions for climate change mitigation, algal lipid use for biofuel is less controversial than other biofuels.”

For environmentalists, it is a fact well known that there are more microplastics in the sea than there are stars in the galaxy. Whilst there are no estimates for the total number of algae on Earth, (only that there are up to 1 million species), the total biomass is 0.5 Gt C (gigatonnes of carbon) (Bar-On & Milo, 2019), far outweighing estimates of total microplastic mass. Biology: 1, Humans: 0, happily and for now. Whilst winning the weight game on Earth, certain microalgae also can break down the worst synthetic plastic offenders such as LDPE and PET so they can no longer accumulate in organism tissue (Kaur & Redderson, 2022).

Algae, particularly green algae, are also effective adsorbents of heavy metals such as cadmium and nickel found in wastewater, making them an effective remediate during mine clean-ups that will probably be used more and more in the future as critical metal extraction with a rocket for renewable energy infrastructure. Excitingly, whilst algae can also break down plastics, they are also the backbone for a new wave of bioplastics (and foams) for packaging, clothing, single-use plastics, and footwear, as other bio-based plastics such as corn require intensive land use in an age of growing food insecurity (Kaur & Redderson, 2022), whereas water has a depth dimension to allow greater cultivation of algae. However, care must be taken when creating these plastics, as the limited ability of some types to compost, and the intensive processing needed to recycle or repurpose bioplastics, means that integrating this material into a circular economy requires careful planning (Rosenboom et al., 2022). 

“Seaweeds can reduce pollution levels and even grow better if grown alongside fish farms”

The process of dyeing using algae to replace synthetic, non-degradable, and often toxic dyes used in clothing, has been successful so far at inspiring creative circular innovation, particularly where waste sidestreams of algae and seaweed are utilised, and inadvertently improving wearer health through their antimicrobial properties (Mona et al., 2019). Here the joy of creating something beautiful has cultivated a whole other range of- what could be seen as more functional- benefits.

With attention to the energy sector as the most game-changing industry to foster innovative solutions for climate change mitigation, algal lipid use for biofuel is less controversial than other biomass sources, and numerous sources highlight its greater efficiency than other biofuels. With the current interest in developing widespread use in jet fuel, algae may be useful in the green energy transition, as well as powering aquaculture and pastoral feeds. These cases highlight algae as a creator and destroyer of various industries in the Anthropocene, but they also forge a respectful carbon sink, and are collectively and quietly responsible for 70% of oxygen in the atmosphere, making them the real lungs of the Earth. 

Seaweed such as kelp and the secondary school exam question classic- bladderwrack- are the most familiar forms of algae. It’s hard not to see what is now seen as ‘bougie’ seaweed food products and insect bite creams in Holland Barrett, along with varying moisturisers and other cosmetics in TK Maxx and La Mer adverts in the airport hailing the organisms’ unrivalled moisturising property. Due to Ireland’s affluent waters, 501 species thrive in the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with folklore extending into use as fuel and in local crafts (Cork Nature Network, 2021).

“In the climate crisis, should we be only favouring ‘useful’ algae, or is it better to adopt an ecocentric view as all algae being intrinsically worthy and explore our interrelationships?”

It is perhaps also unsurprising that cutting-edge research is being conducted into Atlantic kelp in Dr. O’Connor’s Beyond Biofuel research group in Trinity, testing new cultivation methods for seaweed for a ‘Blue Carbon Strategy’, mitigating oceanic climate change, as well as for medicine and biofuel in Ireland’s growing bioeconomy. Frank Spellman, a second-year Ph.D. candidate focuses on the biodiversity aspects of kelp-growing methods of the species dabberlocks, sugar kelp, and oarweed to close the knowledge gaps of Irish kelp forest ecology. This focus on ecosystem health is particularly important as demand for algae grows, with an 8% p.a. increase in kelp farming predominantly in Asia. He writes about his research and potential for kelp farming in Ireland: 

“What appealed to me about kelp farming initially was how clean it was compared to other aquaculture like fish farms. The kelp is put out as babies on a rope and it just grows. No polluting fertiliser, feed, or waste is caused by the likes of fish farming. Seaweeds can reduce pollution levels and even grow better if grown alongside fish farms. Unfortunately, change comes slowly. Many in coastal communities are sceptical of the potential benefits and afraid of how they may change the look of the coastline. The industry also has a lot of hurdles to jump before it can become profitable in Ireland from both financial and legislative points.  With kelp forests being one of our most important habitats for marine life in Ireland, increased demand for seaweeds worldwide, and the continual decline in marine life in Irish water, I hope my research will help develop a young Irish seaweed farming industry that provides long-term, profitable and environmentally sustainable jobs for coastal communities around Ireland.”

Simon Benson, a Ph.D. candidate also on the Beyond Biofuel Project, and Fossil Free TCD Lead Campaigner explores the genetic diversity and biotic interrelations between the Irish brown seaweeds oarweed, cuvie, and Atlantic sugar kelp, in a quest to propose how biodiversity can proliferate in line with diversifying agriculture and staying in line with climate targets. He aspires to “be able to promote a sustainable and biodiverse seaweed bioeconomy focused on producing a range of specialised alginate hydrogels for biomedical and research applications.”

He adds “An Irish algal renaissance would undoubtedly make our agricultural sector more resilient as a whole, however, we should be careful to not just repeat the same extractive, polluting, and habitat-destroying practices that have dominated our terrestrial landscapes for approximately the last century.”

In human-nature discourse, there is a propensity to discuss nature with what benefits it gives to humans, in anthropocentric terms, exemplified in the UN’s ecosystem services. Algae can provide regulatory, provisioning, and supporting services, in the case of kelp farming, for minimising water contamination, for fostering biodiverse marine healthy habitats, and for product application respectively as Frank discussed. Whilst it can be argued that the following feature can be placed under ‘cultural services’, some algae- dinoflagellates called Noctiluca scintillans (sea sparkles)- are bioluminescent as a byproduct of a chemical reaction. This lustrous blue-green glow attracts people to beaches far and wide across the Americas, East Asia, and Oceania, providing touristic revenue to the communities in these regions.

“Algae are looking to be our lifeline in the future, not only in their capacity to hold CO₂ like our own haemoglobin, but in their ability to transform our diets, the many fabrics in existence, and potentially the energy that society runs on”

In the climate crisis, should we be only favouring ‘useful’ algae, or is it better to adopt an ecocentric view as all algae being intrinsically worthy and explore our interrelationships? Assigning varying values to nature is inevitable in a capitalist society, but amid a biodiversity crisis, the sixth mass extinction, it’s important to protect all our algae, or the cost will be high.

An entrepreneur or economist may nickname algae ‘green gold’. After all, algae are becoming high in worth, and like ‘black gold’ coal, algae have the opportunity to revolutionise society- and the carbon in the atmosphere and ocean. Perhaps even more so since nature accelerates most abiotic processes on Earth. However, algae are living and are connected, to the atmospheric composition, and lives and our livelihoods, so it may be more appropriate to term algae ‘green blood’. The members of the polyphyletic group Algae are looking to be our lifeline in the future, not only in their capacity to hold CO₂ like our own haemoglobin, but in their ability to transform our diets, the many fabrics in existence, and potentially the energy that society runs on. But maybe most importantly, in a worn-out and rapidly changing world, algae are healing, at an organism scale and at the planetary scale.

Biodiversity Week with The Botanical Society

by Eva Dreyer

It’s no revelation to those of us involved in the climate action sphere that the protection of our planet’s biodiversity is integral to combating climate change. However, while interning in the sustainability office over the summer, Lisa Cleary (SS Environmental Science, Envirosoc committee) and I couldn’t help but notice how Trinity paled in comparison to other major universities when it came to biodiversity advocacy, especially at the student engagement level. It was then that our idea for Biodiversity Week spawned into existence. We quickly pitched the idea to Professor Jane Stout, Vice President for Biodiversity and Climate Action of the Provost’s Office, who gave us her utmost support and encouragement. With that, we began planning the many weeks ahead. 

Biodiversity Week took place from Monday 10th to Friday 14th of October 2022, and it was a huge collective effort from the Botanical, Environmental and Zoological societies, as well as the Biodiversity Subcommittee of Trinity’s Green Campus Committee (GCC). It was so exciting to see so many people working together to bring this week to life, and we could not have been happier with how it went. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone involved – I’ll be giving my proper thank-yous at the end – and it is because of this large coming together of people from so many different corners of the university that we saw such success. So, without further ado, here’s my rundown of everything that went on in Trinity during Biodiversity Week 2022!

“Trinity Urban Garden is situated between the O’Reilly Institute and the bike storage by the Science Gallery exit, and is open to volunteers”

The week kicked off on Monday with a lunchtime tour of Trinity Urban Garden, a new project set up by a group of student activists this summer with the use of the Provost’s COP26 Climate Change Fund. The tour was accompanied by a talk on the importance of green urban spaces by Professor Marcus Collier, a member of the Botany Department whose research surrounds land use and how land use is changing, resilience thinking, societal transitioning and collaborative management. Trinity Urban Garden is situated between the O’Reilly Institute and the bike storage by the Science Gallery exit, and is open to volunteers. A huge thank you to Marcus for the engaging talk and to Anangi Sumalde, JS Botany student and head of the Biodiversity subcommittee of the GCC, for organising this event!

On Monday evening, we all packed into the Lombard pub for our Biodiversity-themed pub quiz. Myself and Ryan Brennan (SS Environmental Science, Botsoc committee) lost our voices calling out questions (sans microphone) for six thrilling rounds of trivia, including plants & fungi, animals, music and film. The night was great fun, with over 60 people participating – thank you to all who came, and well done to our winners!

On Tuesday, Ryan transitioned from quizmaster to the only known lichen representative in Trinity College Dublin, and ran a lunchtime Lichen Walk. Lichens are a unique (and beautiful) symbiosis between photosynthetic algae, a fungal partner and oftentimes some bacteria. For this event, Irish lichen expert Paul Whelan began a tour of lichen diversity on campus outside the Botany Building, and worked his way through the rewilded triangle beside the Pavilion Bar, and along the cricket pitch for the rest of the hour. This was both a relaxing and fascinating event, and many thanks go to Paul and Ryan for bringing it to fruition. An extra thank you to Carla Harper, Professor of Mycology, for not only allowing, but encouraging her entire JS Mycology class to ditch their lecture and come along! 

“The Trinity Swift Project is an effort driven by postgraduate students to encourage the return of this beautiful native bird species back to campus”

One of my favourite events of the week, our Biodiversity Panel Talk, held in the historic Botany Lecture Theatre, was held on Tuesday evening. Aoife Kiernan (SS Environmental Science, Chairperson of Envirosoc, editor of this wonderful magazine) chaired the panel with three speakers: Professor Yvonne Buckley, Chair of Zoology, TCD; Lorraine Bull, Biodiversity Officer for Dublin City Council; and Declan Doogue, renowned Irish botanist, ecologist, teacher and author. It was a brilliant and inspiring discussion, and we all enjoyed some tea, coffee and cakes in the Botany Kitchen afterwards. Well done to Aoife for doing a fantastic job, and thank you to all three of our speakers for sharing their ideas and giving us their valuable time. 

On Wednesday afternoon we hosted an interesting and inspiring talk on the Trinity Swift Project, delivered by Jamie Rohu in the Maxwell Theatre. The Trinity Swift Project is an effort driven by postgraduate students to encourage the return of this beautiful native bird species back to campus. It was great to learn more about how this project works, and a big thank you to Jamie for speaking to us. 

On Thursday at noon, our casual BioBlitz kicked off. A BioBlitz is a 24-hour collective effort to identify as many species as possible in a given area, bringing together students, activists, enthusiasts, professors and many more. We decided that for our BioBlitz, it would be an informal project (requiring no formal identification skills) in order to inspire students and staff alike to get more familiar with the nature around them on campus. It was great fun to see the observations flooding in, and an impressive total of 187 observations of 144 different species were made. A special congratulations to Simon Benson, botany graduate and PhD student in zoology, for winning with the most observations made in the 24 hours!

At dusk that evening, Scott Bastow (SS Zoology, Chairperson of Zoosoc) ran the first half of the Nocturnal Animals event, which involved setting up fox trail cams and bat detectors in order to investigate some of the zoological diversity on campus. At the crack of dawn on Friday morning, Scott revisited the equipment to assess its findings for the second half of the event, and revealed images of a European red fox and recordings of both the common and pygmy pipistrelle bats! Huge thanks to Scott for his efforts here, and for bringing some much-needed zoology to Biodiversity Week – us plant people can’t do it all!

When noon on Friday rolled around, our BioBlitz came to an end, and we celebrated the end of the week later that evening. This involved pizzas, prizes for those with the most identifications made, and an outing to the pub afterwards for continued celebrations. It was a great way to finish off the week, and for us to finally kick our feet up after many weeks of planning.

And just like that, Biodiversity Week came to a close! It was a hugely successful week, and I had an amazing time taking part in running it. The experience as a whole gave a great sense of community and fulfilment, and I would really recommend volunteering in projects like this in future. I’m hopeful that this can continue a legacy of biodiversity advocacy from Trinity students for years to come. Some milestones we’d love to see for Biodiversity Week in the future include running a fully-fledged BioBlitz/24-hour biodiversity audit with expert identification and potentially making it an official week in Trinity’s calendar!

Finally, I’d like to give special thanks and acknowledgement to anyone who hasn’t already been thanked thus far; 

  • Lisa Cleary, for being an enthusiastic and ambitious partner during the planning and running of the Biodiversity Week,
  • Professor Jane Stout, for being a great source of inspiration for the week and for her continued support and encouragement throughout its organisation,
  • Jane Hackett, Sustainability Manager, for being so helpful and supportive with administrative tasks and college-wide outreach,
  • Aoife Kiernan, for being so keen to get Envirosoc involved and taking the project onboard,
  • Roisin Dolliver (SF Engineering and Environmental Science, Botsoc and Envirosoc committee) for designing our fabulous posters, and Jessica Mahon (JS Engineering, Botsoc committee) for distributing them, and
  • All of our classmates, professors, peers and society members for taking part and offering their support.

Consumerist Culture and the Climate: A Crisis

by Ella Hussey 

With the false reality that social media has created over recent years, the younger generation has developed a lack of awareness of how their desire to consume fast fashion has significantly damaged the environment. In a study completed in 2020, students of Aalto University found that fast fashion produces 92 million tonnes of pollution a year, which accounts for 10% of global waste. Village Magazine reported that the fast fashion market holds one-third of the world’s industry and employs one-sixth of the world’s population; fast fashion companies have capitalised on the human instinct to desire the unattainable.

Turbo consumption, which is the accelerated consumption of products, is central to fast fashion’s impact on climate change.  Prioritising profit over the planet, the fast fashion industry and its many facets promote a lifestyle of constant consumption and constant changing of your wardrobe. This creates a conflict in the mind of consumers that can be attributed to the idea of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a conflict between what we believe is right and our actions and choices. The culture of consuming vast amounts of clothing to wear only once or twice has contributed to the capitalist nature of society. As a society, whether consciously or subconsciously, we are aware that consuming this level of disposable clothing won’t be good for the environment. We need to move away from this feeling to be closer to our actions, matching our equal thoughts. 

“Prioritising profit over the planet, the fast fashion industry and its many facets promote a lifestyle of constant consumption and constant changing of your wardrobe”

With this generation, our interactions with people’s daily lives are often through social media posts, and it is so easy to expose ourselves to the idealised lifestyle of influencers. They have immersed themselves in their image’s perfections, the clothes they wear. Fashion brands now advertise their products as a feature of someone’s identity. Fashion Consumption is now a thoroughly socialised process in which actions are motivated by image.

The change is due to the lack of consumption for need and the increase in want. In recent years with the increased awareness from young climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg, the younger generation is aware of the problem. However, we continue to buy from fast fashion companies because we think the problem will not affect us in the global north. The fast fashion industry has created a social and psychological aspect surrounding consumption—a culture which contains system one versus system two of thinking. Companies have been able to capitalise from system one consideration, which is our initial response with little to no thought process behind it. If you see a great offer on SHEIN, your mind will immediately know the appeal rather than the damage it is doing to the environment. 

Although consumption is necessary, the lack of knowledge accessible to the younger generation has formed its being. The lack of transparency and disinformation between multi-million-dollar corporations and consumers is a problem. Companies have faced a lack of accountability for contributing to the climate crisis. To tackle this issue, in 2016, the Fashion Transparency Index was founded to track human rights and environmental issues among 250 of the world’s leading fashion retailers. Although transparency is not sustainability, the index disclosed that “When Fashion Revolution published the first Index in 2016, only 5 out of 40 major brands (12.5%) disclosed their suppliers and now seven years later 121 out of 250 major brands (48%) disclose their suppliers.” With activism movements such as Fashion Revolution taking action against climate change through the index, it contributes towards tackling the greater issue of climate change.  

“younger generations are growing up in a more consumer-saturated world, in a world in which market mediation is so much more important in defining their own identities, subjectivities and social dynamics”

In an interview with professor and author Juliet Schor, she discussed the acceleration in more youthful generations’ consumption. “younger generations are growing up in a more consumer-saturated world, in a world in which market mediation is so much more important in defining their own identities, subjectivities and social dynamics”. She expanded saying, “This is really the expansion of market culture, of consumer culture”. Village magazine wrote that the fashion industry has exponentially gained a “400% growth in the industry in the last 20 years”. The shift in the culture surrounding fashion has proved detrimental to the environment. 

America is a primary example of how turbo consumption accelerated the climate crisis. Schor again stated, “what I found is that in 2003 the average American consumer purchased 57 pieces of apparel each year. That’s more than one new piece of apparel per week.”.  She continued, “In 1991, the figure was 34, an increase of 23 pieces over a mere 12 years, or about two more each year, every year for more than a decade”. Cheapening of products has led to mass imports of units, which has proved to be destructive for the environment due to the over-exploitation of products and increase in waste. 

Schor, discussing the issue, said, “I think we need to move in the direction of those assets being held small-scale, and locally, as opposed to large-scale and in large collective public units”. The problem with this issue is not consumption as the action; people need to consume to live. By creating a unified vision on a localised scale, they can slowly impose stricter laws on fast fashion companies – they need to make their costs and actions transparent. But it is how we directly do that and what type of consumers we want to be. 

To tackle consumerist culture, we need to create something unique and translate it into the same appeal that designer products hold, as there is only a tiny amount of them. We need to replace this with something good or better. Getting social influencers on board will create a desirability that comes from their influence on the younger generation. Sustainable consumption needs to be aesthetically pleasing, so it becomes a trend. 

One Minute To Midnight

by Emma Gallagher

We’ve all heard the phrase One Minute to Midnight used to catastrophize the world’s use of resources and encourage a sense of urgency about the way we treat the earth and the emergency hurtling towards us. One particularly gripping use of this phrase comes from Dan Brown’s Inferno;

 “A beaker, with a single bacterium in it, one that divides and doubles every minute, if you place the first bacterium into the beaker at 11:00 and it is completely full by 12, at what time is the beaker still only half full? 11:59. That is what time it is for us. In 40 years, 32 billion people will fight to survive. They’ll fail. We’re a minute to midnight.” 

A compelling argument, throughout the book you can’t help but consider the side of the villain. Yes, he wants to kill off half the population, but he truly believes it’s in society’s best interest. The threat of overpopulation, of a doomsday future where we fight with our neighbours over basic resources, where we have finally stretched the earth past what it is capable of sustaining and cause our own extinction. It’s not a new idea, but it’s also not necessarily a correct one. 

“it feels like the world is spinning out of control. And honestly, it is, but the number of people isn’t the problem. Greed is.”

It took mankind about 100,000 years to reach the first one billion people, but only 100 years later we reached two billion, 50 years after that we reached 4 billion. It’s difficult not to be slightly intimidated by those kinds of numbers. It feels like the world is spinning out of control and honestly, it is, but the number of people isn’t the problem. Greed is. 

If we want to talk economics for a moment (bear with me), let’s look at the Malthusian trap. This is the idea that as we advance technologically, we begin to live above subsistence level; everyone has more than enough. Rather than maintain this level, however, we expand the population, so we’re right back where we started. We grow to keep up with our capabilities. But things are starting to change, we’re stretching the limits of these capabilities, why all of a sudden does it seem like these ever-expanding resources are becoming finite? 

“greed is why Ireland has a record breaking 10,000 homeless people, but last year reported over 180,000 vacant homes”

Humans are driven by greed; we cut, we destroy, we take, we consume. We have done irreparable damage to habitats, wildlife, and nature as a whole, all for our own progress. That greed is why Ireland has a record breaking 10,000 homeless people, but last year reported over 180,000 vacant homes. There is a global energy crisis, with millions of people fearing for their livelihoods this winter, and we watch the super-rich pick cars to match their Instagram aesthetics and shoot themselves into space for fun. Yes, I am still going on about that, because, yes, it was ridiculous. 108 billion pounds of food is wasted every year in the United States, and yet the numbers of people registering with food banks are growing exponentially, because philanthropy isn’t profitable.

The rhetoric of overpopulation as the most pressing issue right now is ridiculous. It’s a way for those who know they are the problem, to pass blame onto others. Pass blame onto those who cannot afford contraceptives, or who may not have been able to access the education to know they even needed them. This rhetoric is a dangerous one, it’s discriminatory, and, honestly, it’s racist. 

“This rhetoric of how overpopulation is the biggest issue right now is ridiculous. Its a way for those who know they are the problem, to pass blame onto others.”

The Global South is made up of a cruel paradox: it is filled with communities who do the least environmental damage, yet somehow bear the worst of the effects of climate change. Subsistence farmers lose significant portions of their income due to irregular weather patterns, caused by the actions of the Global North. The average family size in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the highest regional rates globally, so the claim that the problem with society is that there are too many of us directly targets the conversation towards communities in these areas. It shifts the blame away from those who know they personally are actively causing damage to the environment, and onto those who are doing the best with the consequences they are forced to suffer. There are many ways this rhetoric can cause damage, such as encouraging white nationalism as people refuse to accept climate refugees. Yet again those suffering the direct consequences of our actions are not welcome to our help in times of need. 

Maybe humanity will be a self-destructive force, the cause of our own downfall, but it won’t be because of overpopulation. We have enough food to feed everyone who is hungry, we have the money to help everyone who needs it. We do not have an overpopulation problem; we have a sharing problem. It might be one minute to midnight, but we are capable of entering into tomorrow, safely, sustainably, without greed, without selfishness, and without overconsumption. The future lies in the hands of the 1%, don’t let them blame the other 99% for being too big.

Rewilding in the Knepp Wildland

by Anangi  Sumalde

Last summer I read a copy of Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree. This book recounts how twenty years ago Isabella and her partner Charlie Burrell turned their traditional dairy farm (located on the 3,500-acre Knepp estate in southern England) into a thriving eco-tourism business. At the heart of this land lies the Knepp Wildland, which has become one of the U.K.’s most renowned and inspirational rewilding projects. 

“Rewilding” is a holistic form of land restoration that looks at the entire landscape of a given site rather than focusing on the conservation of just a few species. This allows natural processes to takeover and create a highly complex ecosystem that has the ability to reverse biodiversity loss and habitat fragmentation. Rewilding helps the ecosystem build a better resilience towards the effects of climate change.

The opportunity to gain a first-hand experience of the Knepp Wildland arose when I discovered an organisation called Operation Wallacea. It is composed of a network of academics, scientists and field biologists who organise biodiversity research expeditions, field training courses, and wildlife holidays. The residential field course, located at a camping facility onsite at Knepp, is designed to teach participants essential ecology training skills such as: field surveying methods, habitat classification and identification of a range of taxa, all while gaining an appreciation for the Wildland. 

Isabella and Charlie’s daughter, Nancy, led one of the surveys which involved walking the lengths of selected fields in search of young English oak trees. Specifically, we were looking for trees of approximately two metres in height that had developed without the protection of a nurse species (for example a surrounding crown of brambles) in order to assist Nancy in quantifying the survival rate of exposed young oak trees. Nancy’s research has shown how exposed oaks tend to gain more mass on their root systems, perhaps as a way of helping to develop their resilience against herbivory. Evidence of herbivory came in the form of ‘topiary’ executed on some of the tree and shrub species by deer, who as browsers, prefer to do their munching above ground. 

“Rootling encourages opportunistic annual plants to colonise these bare patches and creates hollows that fill up with water, attracting wildlife to the disturbed area.”

Pivotal to the Knepp Wildland is the rewilding practise of ‘grazing ecology’. Knepp’s “Big Five” species consist of Tamworth pigs, red deer, fallow deer, Exmoor ponies and old English longhorn cattle. The Big Five is a set of free-roaming, large mammals that have been adopted by the estate to intentionally disturb the process of vegetation succession. They mimic the herbivory patterns of some of the extinct, wild, megafauna species of temperate-zone Europe, such as the wild horse, ox and boar, through behaviours such as trampling, browsing and rooting.

The result is that rather than reaching its climax as a closed canopy forest system, Knepp has become a dynamic and open wood pasture instead, composed of interconnected microhabitats of grassland, hedgerow, scrubland, wood groves and free-standing trees. More habitat variety has led to more ecological niches for species to inhabit, resulting in a surge in plant and animal life on the estate. For example, during a plant quadrat survey, we found abundant numbers of several grass species, including Yorkshire Fog, Creeping Bent, Rough Meadow-grass and Timothy, all nestled within a haze of native wildflowers.

In addition to their grazing and browsing behaviours, Knepp’s Big Five facilitate disturbance by their ability to disperse seeds and transfer nutrients in their manure. Since the project avoids the use of pesticides, their dung serves as a microhabitat for invertebrates, such as the eponymous dung beetle. Our guide mentioned how dung sampled at Knepp belonging to horses merely passing through the estate with their riders was found to contain far fewer dung beetle species than dung sampled from the Big Five, possibly due to being contaminated with pesticide residues. 

During a continuous distance sampling survey of large mammals, we saw Tamworth pigs a few metres away, foraging in a grassland habitat with their snouts to the ground. Evidence of their rootling behaviour was present in the form of distinct, bare patches of earth. Rootling encourages opportunistic annual plants to colonise these bare patches and creates hollows that fill up with water, attracting wildlife to the disturbed area. 

“I found there to be an interesting irony in how all meals served on the course were fully plant-based and made by the same kitchen that processed the meat obtained from the animals at Knepp”

I admired the longhorn cattle at dusk one day from a treehouse at the camp site. The herd was making its way across a field. Their presence was known again when my surveying group was out looking for somewhere close to water to set up our pitfall traps. These traps aim to catch ground-level insects in saucers filled with water. A drop of biodegradable soap is added to the water to break its surface tension, which causes any insect that lands in it to drown. As we approached a nearby stream, we passed a previously installed Malaise trap; a tent-like structure used for catching Diptera and Hymenoptera invertebrate orders. However, we found that it had been utterly destroyed. Besides the wreckage, we spotted some tell-tale hoof prints, all the more impressionable in the heavy clay soil that characterises this part of West Sussex. 

My first observation of Knepp’s deer was when I saw a pair of fallow deer resting beside a lake, basking in the midday sun. Without the presence of apex predators such as the wolf or the lynx, they have the luxury of being able to remain relaxed for long periods of time. To maintain optimal levels of species richness and to prevent the open wood pasture from developing into grassland through overgrazing, excess numbers of deer and livestock are removed and processed into organic, pasture-fed meat. Therefore, I found there to be an interesting irony in how all meals served on the course were fully plant-based and made by the same kitchen that processed the meat obtained from the animals at Knepp. Reflections on my time spent on the course evoke the vivid, the unexpected and the wondrous. There were cold nights shivering under a sleeping bag while listening to the sound of a nearby shrew and hot days battling the effects of heatstroke from long days out in the field during a summer heatwave.

There was the disconcertment felt with intentionally catching invertebrates in nets, gassing them with ethyl acetate and pinning them through the thorax in the name of science, and a feeling of relief when my overnight-soaked oats, chocolate brownies and sweet potato shepherd’s pie were all 100% plant-based. I think about the micromoth species I examined up close while they rested on egg boxes inside a moth trap I had helped to install and the Purple Emperor butterfly that had to be enticed down from its dwelling quarters in the heights of the sallow scrub. Midnight conversations with fellow course participants under a moonlit marquee brought a sense of comfort and comradery that made waking up at the crack of dawn to join a bird mist netting session more manageable. Operation Wallacea’s field course in the Knepp Wildland has served me up a generous portion of newfound skills, knowledge and friendships.

The Importance of Herbaria

by Jessica O’Connor

On my first day of college starting in Botany we were shown the famous botany building with its wisteria growing on the front, which were beautiful even though they weren’t in flower. Attached to the botany building is the herbarium. I have to be honest; I was unaware we had a herbarium in the college let alone one that holds such wondrous samples, including specimens from Charles Darwin himself.

When one enters the herbarium, they are greeted by dark, old, wooden cabinets filled to the brim with plant specimens from all over the world. Plant ID books both old and new line the walls and small desks by windows are scattered with notecards and papers. Most people are unaware of its existence. From that day I knew I wanted to write about herbaria and their importance: this article is the result. 

“Herbaria hold vast collections of plant specimens from all over the world, with some specimens dating back hundreds of years”

What are herbaria and why should you care?

Scientifically, a herbarium is defined as a collection of dried plant specimens, but it is more than that. To me, a herbarium resembles a library and it is important for the same reasons. Libraries hold vast amounts of knowledge about our history, science, language, art, the list goes on. If a library were to be lost, the knowledge it held would be lost along with it. The same can be said for herbaria.

As described herbaria hold vast collections of plant specimens from all over the world, with some specimens dating back hundreds of years. These old plant specimens may seem like relics especially when one sees the browning paper and broken book spines, but they have a key use in some extremely important scientific research, such as identification of plant species, informing us of the uses of certain plant species, their ecological spread, and assistance in climatic research.

Historical samples enable scientists to examine these specimens and compare them with newer samples collected. The difference between them can help scientists understand the changes that were occurring in the wider environment such as changes in temperature. By having these collections scientists are also able to monitor changes in the spread or location of certain plant species. As each plant sample in a herbarium must be labelled, the label should carry basic information such as the plant species’ name, where and when it was collected, and by whom.

From this information future scientists are able to see where certain plant species were once abundant and monitor their distribution. Herbaria also help to ensure that plants are named correctly. By using what are called “type specimens” scientists (taxonomists) are able to compare the collected material with the original sample gathered. Type specimens are defined as the original material that was used to give the plant its description. Trinity’s own herbarium hosts an impressive amount of type specimens, including a cone nearly the size of a small shoebox, collected on the coast of America in the 1800s.

Herbaria are of significant cultural importance along with their scientific value. University herbaria around the world hold vast collections of their national flora along with international samples over the years. They aid in the recognition of the contributions made by the people of their countries to the world of science. For example, Trinity’s herbarium has the biggest collection of algae in Ireland, and one of the biggest of any University globally! Trinity’s herbarium has a vast collection (roughly 300,000 specimens), some being unique, meaning that as a herbarium it is of great historical value. Because of this historical importance and vast collection one can assume that the herbarium has a long history. You would be correct!

“Historical samples enable scientists to examine these specimens and compare them with newer samples collected. The difference between them can help scientists understand the changes that were occurring in the wider environment”

Trinity herbarium dates back to the 18th century with the donation of a volume of dried specimens to the Trinity Museum by Sir Hans Sloane, however, the museum curator deemed this volume of no value as the specimens within were mostly plants grown in his own garden. Around the same time other notable donations were made from the voyages of Captain James Cook as well as a set of Wallich’s plants.

The next step in the development of Trinity’s herbarium was taken by Thomas Coulter. In the Summer of 1835, he was given 3 rooms in House 28 where he housed his personal herbarium of 20,000 specimens. Two years later Coulter had to leave 2 of the rooms, this is thought to be due to a difference of opinion between himself and the new provost. However, in the June of 1840 he was appointed, by the provost (must have mended that bridge!) to be the curator of the herbarium and was given rooms in a newly built house 40. This marked the separation of the Herbarium and the College Museum.

William Henry Harvey was the next curator from 1844 until 1866. Harvey was a leading expert on algae at the time and wrote and illustrated many books, some of which are housed in the Botany library. E.P Wright succeeded Harvey as curator during a time when the herbarium experienced unsatisfactory conditions. Despite these troubles, it still accumulated a small number of donations. H. Henry Dixon, who saw the completion of the school of Botany in the year 1907 took over following E.P Wright.

He, with a grant from Lord Iveagh, ensured that the herbarium was built in the year 1910. The current building that I saw that first day of my degree (and that you may see if you choose a degree in Botany) was, thus, a result of Dixon’s work. D.A Webb then took over as curator and is also responsible for writing a synoptic Irish flora, which has gone through 7 editions as of today.

After Webb, John Parnell became curator and helped bring the herbarium up to date, including some rewiring and reroofing. He oversaw the incorporation of old specimens into the collection and the expansion of the collection, with the addition of modern collections coming from Thailand. He was also responsible for the expansion of the botany library, which is now considered one of the best of its type in Europe! 

I set myself the task of answering two questions at the start of this; what is a herbarium and why should you care? The first question was a relatively easy one to answer as it merely requires a definition, however, the importance of herbaria will depend on personal opinion. I believe they are important not only so that crucial scientific work can continue but to remind us of the richness of our natural history. The intricate and multifaceted history of Trinity’s Herbarium above is just one example. Think of the history preserved globally in buildings such as these, waiting to be appreciated!

Inaccessibility of Veganism

This article discusses eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers.

From culture to dietary restrictions to recovery from eating disorders, there are many reasons why veganism is still inaccessible. 

by Clara Roche

In recent years,  both veganism and vegetarianism have left the fringes of society to become one of the fastest-growing dietary trends of this century. Once associated with counter-culture caricatures like the bohemian Phoebe Buffay or the Buddhist saxophone player Lisa Simpson, veganism is no longer an outlandish and unconventional lifestyle, but instead increasingly viewed as a reasonable response to the climate crisis. As veganism has entered the mainstream, vegan options and resources have improved. Interest in adopting a vegan diet has surged as it has become, for many, a viable course of environmentalist action. However, even as veganism becomes progressively more convenient and its benefits widely recognised, veganism is still an inaccessible option for many.

“For example, a standard Cadbury Dairy Milk can be bought in SuperValu for €2.50, while the plant-based alternative of the same size is €4.00, almost double the price.”

Dublin students with the wherewithal to explore the city beyond The Perch will find a host of tried-and-tested vegan restaurants to choose from, namely Cornucopia, Veginity, and Vegan Sandwich Co. There are very few well-loved snack foods that have yet to see a plant-based alternative enter the market, with Cadbury’s recently announcing the creation of the Cadbury Plant Bar, its first-ever vegan chocolate bar.  Yet, availability of plant-based options depends almost entirely on where you live. Almost 90% of the world’s vegans live in urban areas, largely due to the increased prevalence of vegan cafés and restaurants, the proximity of supermarkets with satisfactory vegan options, and the ease of joining a vegan community. Beyond the urban versus rural divide, some 200,000 people in Ireland are experiencing “food poverty” or living in “food deserts”, adversely affecting the choice of food they can afford to buy, and where they can buy it from.

Students often find themselves committing to a sort of involuntary veganism when confronted with the price of meat. While it is true that veganism as a whole is generally cheaper than a meat-based diet, it is disingenuous to suggest that price does not inhibit the transition to veganism, especially when it comes to everyday changes that particularly affect those on tight budgets. For example, a standard Cadbury Dairy Milk can be bought in SuperValu for €2.50, while the plant-based alternative of the same size is €4.00, almost double the price. Starbucks only recently dropped the surcharge that was in place for plant-based dairy milk alternatives. (The same fee still exists in many coffee shops around the country.) Furthermore, those relying on food provision schemes due to financial disadvantages, such as free school lunches, have limited access to plant-based meal options. 

Any evangelical vegan will reassure you that, with careful planning, veganism can be equally as nutritious as an omnivorous diet. Putting together three well-balanced vegan meals a day generally takes more preparation, both in sourcing and cooking food. For people with time constraints, certain health conditions or disabilities, such intensive planning and preparation is undoubtedly a barrier to becoming vegan. Although many resources are available online to assist in planning and sourcing vegan meals, reports suggest that, on average, vegans skip more meals than non-vegans, likely due to the additional time needed to plan and prepare meals. 

“Unfortunately, the association between veganism and “clean eating” or low-calorie diets sometimes attracts those looking to lose weight or restrict their food intake to veganism”

Excluding the consumption of all animal products, veganism is inherently restrictive. Due to its restrictive nature, vegetarian and vegan societies advise against converting to veganism without first being fully mentally and physically healthy. An eating disorder clinic in the United Kingdom found a correlation between those suffering from eating disorders and those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Unfortunately, the association between veganism and “clean eating” or low-calorie diets sometimes attracts those looking to lose weight or restrict their food intake to veganism. This means that veganism occasionally becomes a sustaining factor for an eating disorder, and may need to be avoided by those in recovery. 

Beyond eating disorders, other dietary restrictions may render some individuals incompatible with veganism. Coeliacs may struggle to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, as gluten is a common ingredient in many meat substitutes. The fibre-rich nature of fruits, vegetables, and some dairy substitutes may also make veganism a difficult diet for those suffering from IBS. Lastly, those with soy allergies often struggle to find alternatives to tofu, tempeh, and most meat replacement bars. 

The benefits of veganism are well-documented, and as resources continue to improve, veganism will become a more accessible option for many. Vegan communities around the country, like those at Irish Vegan located at, are working on compiling useful lists of vegan restaurants and groceries. However, as it stands, veganism is not a suitable lifestyle for everyone. Luckily, veganism doesn’t demand anyone practise it who lacks the ability to. The pressure to become a ‘perfect’ vegan might turn some people off the diet entirely. But, of course, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ vegan. Reducing your meat intake in any aspect is better for the environment and likely for your health than doing nothing at all. A plant-based lifestyle doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, a bit like how it’s better to buy more of your clothes on Depop than Shein, even if you still buy your socks in Penneys.