Why We Should Let Dead Trees Lie

by Eva Dreyer

Why are we inclined to remove dead trees in the first place?

As most of us already know, we have a very fractured and exploitative view of nature. We like to profit from what we can and clean up what we cannot. Our “clean up” attitude leads to weeding, trimming, pruning, mowing, fencing, replacing important habitats such as thorny scrub with more “favourable” ones that please the eye, and the list goes on. We are very aesthetically inclined, and we project these views on nature, seeking out perfectly shaped and shined fruits and manicured parks. So, it is plain and simple to understand that we have a very hostile relationship with nature’s “uglier” sights; those involving death and decay. This article’s point of discussion is on why we need to change our attitude toward dead and dying trees, and how this acceptance of death can bring more life. 

This topic is near and dear to Trinity staff and students’ hearts after the falling and felling of the campus’s iconic Oregon maples in 2018. These trees were in poor health from stress and fungal disease, and experts made the tough decision to remove the Library Square maples after the tragic collapse of the huge Front Square tree due to the risk of safety hazards and damage to buildings. This was also an example of “salvage logging”, the practice of removing trees that have been damaged by disease, insect infestation, wildfires, and other natural disturbances for the purpose of preserving the economic value of the tree that would otherwise be lost if left to decay. Supporters of salvage logging argue that it is the more sustainable option, however there is much more to the issue than simply the economic benefits of recovering wood.

“we need to change our attitude toward dead and dying trees, and how this acceptance of death can bring more life”

Why should dying trees be left to die?

While the death of a tree marks the end of one life, it brings benefit to thousands more. At least 80 species of bird and 100 animal species rely on dead or dying trees for the resources they provide. Birds use snags, limbs, and logs from dead trees for perching, foraging, and nesting. There are also countless wood-decaying insects and fungi whose entire life cycles take place on or within dead or dying trees. Therefore, allowing dead trees to decay in their ecosystems is a huge opportunity for increased biodiversity. A collapsed tree also serves as groundcover to lessen soil erosion and protect young seedlings from overgrazing. The breakdown of organic matter from dead and decaying trees also allows for natural nutrient recycling within ecosystems, increasing soil health. Regrowth that occurs after human disturbance is dramatically different to that which occurs after natural disturbance of a fallen tree, meaning a single dead tree being left alone can change the trajectory of succession for its entire surroundings. Salvage logging allows for open areas to be colonised by light-demanding, highly competitive species, sometimes completely inhibiting vegetative succession to progress to late successional trees. In fact, studies on the ancient Białowieża Forest in Poland, one of the closest to pristine old growth forests in European Lowland, found that salvage logging actually had greater negative effects on forest regeneration than that of insect pest outbreaks themselves. 

When and where should dying trees be left alone?

Unfortunately, letting dead trees lie is not a one-size-fits-all solution. As seen with Trinity’s Oregon maples, there are times when we must intervene and remove unhealthy trees for the sake of safety and to prevent potential damages. Dying trees should not be left alone in busy public spaces or urban areas as there is a risk associated with the potential for trees to fall and injure people, cause damage to nearby buildings or block roads. They should also not be left alone if they are carriers of highly threatening diseases that could spread to other trees. However, there are special exceptional cases here. For example, live trees infected with Ash dieback disease should not be felled to avoid further spore dispersal and to attempt to keep as many disease-resistant trees as possible. These trees should only be felled if they are a damage or safety concern. 

Leaving trees to decay should be prioritised in rural areas, on farmland, parkland, or public land where it is safe and possible, in our personal home gardens and so on in order to increase biodiversity and improve ecosystem health. The size and species of the tree in question should be taken into account – for example, deciduous and hardwood trees produce far more cavities than evergreens or conifers. It is therefore ideal that there is a diversity of trees left to decay in one environment for the best biodiversity opportunities. 

“If we want a healthy planet, we need to get used to the “ugly” sights of nature. Perhaps our distaste for the sight of a rotting tree comes from our own fear of ageing and death”

Full circle moments

While it is straightforward to list all of the ecological benefits of allowing dead trees to decay, the most important takeaway is that we must change our perspective. If we want a healthy planet, we need to get used to the “ugly” sights of nature. Perhaps our distaste for the sight of a rotting tree comes from our own fear of ageing and death; Western culture harbours a hatred for ageing, one of the most innately natural aspects of life. Maybe we can collectively learn a lesson from the full circle nature of life, and all of the beautiful benefits that decaying trees can bring to their ecosystems.

Formula One: The Forefront of Sustainability

by Faye Murphy

Formula One is one of the most resource-intensive sports, but only 1% of its emissions come from racing, with 72% of its emissions involved in shipping the cars, tyres, personnel and motorhomes over five continents to 22 races a year. And it’s not slowing down – F1 has been consistently expanding its calendar in recent years. To combat this, on November 12th, Formula One announced its plan to become carbon neutral by 2030. Recently, on June 27th, they published an update on this plan. In a sport where cash is king, they have the resources and finances to produce worldwide change.

In 2014, the sport switched to hybrid V6 turbo engines, the change did not only reduce each car’s emissions but directly impacted road-car engines. This impact is proven through Mercedes optimising the efficiency of their S-class road car’s V6 turbo engine and EQ power from F1 development. As a result, the industry relevancy of the sport is and will continue to be essential in the development of sustainable transport.

In 2007 F1 first tested their “energy recovery system”, which was first fully implemented in the 2014 season, the same year the V6 engine was introduced. The energy recovery system has become automated in current F1 cars and allows for the management of batteries and energy to ensure maximum power through a race. This technology is now used by many manufacturers, such as Renault, to ensure efficient energy usage in their hybrid/electric vehicles.

Many other technologies first introduced in Formula One have now been used in the average road car. These include; lightweight materials such as carbon fibre, used to reduce the weight of the chassis to reduce fuel usage, and flywheel energy storage systems, which use rotors to store energy as rotational energy. The “flybrid” technology has been used on construction sites to power cranes, reducing fuel consumption by 40% and eliminating the emissions of 17 cars from each crane.

“sustainably-fueled hybrid vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions more significantly than electric vehicles”

In the June 27th update, Formula One gave further information on their plans for the new 2026 regulations. The new regulations will focus on “low-carbon fuels, electric batteries & autonomous vehicle technology”. The regulations will “restrict the use of unsustainable materials in battery production” and use “100% sustainable drop-in fuels”. In addition, the 2026 regulations state that hybrid engines must receive “more power from electrical means”, which will directly affect the automotive industry, as seen from previous technologies. These developments in the automotive sector can create a cycle and reduce the sport’s emissions from travel and shipping.

With the transport industry producing 14% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, the low-carbon fuels being developed by F1 has the potential to reduce CO2 levels by “85– 96% (Wheel-To-Tank) or 70% (life-cycle analysis)”, according to Concawe’s research. Research also indicates that sustainably-fueled hybrid vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions more significantly than electric vehicles. This is due to these fuels having more potential compatibility with the entire transport industry, including aviation, marine, infrastructure and automotive, whereas electric vehicles are limited to the automotive industry. In addition, sustainable fuel can use the current infrastructure of petroleum products, which will prevent the need for large engine modifications to suit the fuel.

There are many issues with current biofuels, but the “advanced sustainable fuel” currently in development within Formula One aims to overwrite these. Problems with current sustainable fuels include the fact the material is being directly displaced from the agricultural industry to produce the raw materials used to create biofuels, which could slowly be causing food shortages and inflation. To combat this issue, the F1 fuel will “only permit 2nd generation bio-content or fuel sourced from waste or e-fuel sourced from Direct Air Capture/flue CO2”. The drop-in nature of the fuel in development will also have higher acceleration uptake speeds, which will be “commercially attractive” for fuel producers, especially in the current global fossil fuel inflation rates. Formula One is in the optimal position for this development as the intense competition within the sport directly impacts the efficiency and quality of development. The sport’s regulations also allow for a plethora of sustainable options to be examined while acting as a stepping stone between lab and industry.

“[F1] believes in leaving positive change in each place they visit and increasing diversity within the sport”

Currently, in the 2022 season of Formula One, cars are only using 10% sustainable fuel, which must be increased to 100% by 2026. In order to achieve this in a safe manner, the 2022 season will be focused on research, while 2023 and 2024 will see fully sustainable fuels introduced in F1’s sister championships, Formula Two and Formula Three. The next step will be ensuring the F1 engine suits the new sustainable fuel before being implemented in 2026. In addition to the 10% sustainable fuel usage, current F1 cars receive between 17-21% of their power from electricity, while the new regulations will increase this to 45%. To achieve this, F1 is focusing on limiting unsustainable and high-risk materials such as cobalt while increasing lighter yet higher power density and battery management. Similarly to sustainable fuels, hybrid engines and the energy recovery system, this development will have the potential to influence the transport industry. The sport has also stated its aim to “offset unavoidable emissions through a mix of biological and technological sequestration”, although the exact method of this sequestration has yet to be confirmed.

The Formula One ethos not only includes the decarbonisation of the sport but also believes in leaving positive change in each place they visit and increasing diversity within the sport. They aim to achieve these by ensuring all waste from each Grand Prix is reused, recycled or composted while creating initiatives for more young people to follow a career in STEM regardless of their background. According to their latest update, the sport is also working to form a “culture of inclusion and creating a diverse talent pool within F1”. They have begun progress on this action by officially partnering with the W-series, an all-female racing competition, and introducing fully funded scholarships.

From all these developments, it is clear to see that Formula One is in a unique position to trial new sustainable options before they enter the industry, giving information on their progress and possible changes before they enter the worldwide market. Due to the popularity and huge capital within the sport, they have the opportunity to reduce the transport industry’s impact on climate change and help in meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals. Formula One gives us hope for the future, and during a global heatwave, hope is needed now.

The Buttery’s Vegan Campaign

by Rory Chinn

The famous vegan sausage rolls and chips; it’s the staple vegan option at The Buttery. Many post-night out stomachs have been healed by this plant-based dish. Despite this, seeing it sit alone as a vegan hot meal leaves students wondering if more choices will ever be available? I would like to make the case that there is a need for these and have outlined how vegan options can be integrated into the menu at The Buttery. This article takes the view that in life there is always room for improvement, with a greater variety of vegan options being such an area.

It is often a good idea to address the main underlying argument for environmental issues and in the case of veganism it is the devastating effect of meat on our planet. Whilst there is certainly a valid discussion surrounding the value of consuming meat, there is no room for argument regarding the environmental impact. PETA has found that it takes 25 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of wheat, whilst the equivalent amount of meat requires 2400 gallons of water. Clear as it is, what this figure does not expose is the additional issues such as deforestation to make room for grazing and greenhouse gas emissions from animals. Shockingly, Ireland produces more carbon emissions from agriculture than from heavy industry.

“having a position focused on student diet as a full-time or even intern capacity could be a valuable opportunity for students studying or interested in nutrition”

Concern for negative outcomes, however, is not the only way to approach encouraging veganism. Another is supporting emerging Irish businesses. One start-up that should attract the attention of Trinity as an institution is Plant-It, an Irish ‘alt-protein’ company, that received “overwhelmingly positive” reviews when it made its debut in the US last year. Supporting Plant-It by selling their products will encourage vegan companies to set up shop in Ireland. Furthermore, it also signals to students that environmentally friendly start-ups are a path to follow, a move that will pay dividends. I need not even mention that the name Plant-It refers to the company’s policy to plant 20,000 native trees around Ireland and the UK.

Environmentally conscious food can also be part of a socially conscious college. Professor Sarah Ray of Humboldt State University in California argues that environmental agendas require us to also reject social issues often associated with meat production. Furthermore, the current interest in vegan living in Dublin, like California, is considerably more accessible to wealthier students. Less financially well-off students, often minorities and under-represented groups in Irish society, deserve equal access to a healthy and environmentally conscious lifestyle. Supporting more vegan options in The Buttery means addressing social ills in our society in a green (and tasty) way. 

What a vegan lifestyle means to students is continuing to enjoy food with the added external benefits to the planet. What this does not mean is ‘rabbit food’ of salads and kale every day. Vegan meat substitutes are viable options popular for the sake of being similar to meat but also for their own merits and taste. Jackfruit can be put in a stir-fry, tacos, or kebabs as an alternative to chicken. Seitan can be substituted for fried chicken. Deep-fried soy curls make for a spice bag that won’t leave your gut in twenty different places.

Price often concerns both students and vendors when it comes to implementing a vegan menu, but there has never been a more affordable time to serve vegan food. A cursory look at the options provided by Dunnes Stores speaks to this. Searching on the Dunnes Stores website reveals that vegan options and meat alternatives are often comparative in price or cheaper than meat. For example, a Vegan Tikka Masala will run you €4 whereas a non-vegan option costs €4.65. It is a similar story with bolognese: a vegan option costs €3.50 and an equivalent portion made with meat €3.00. Dunnes also stocks vegan foods that are not substitutes or vegan for the sake of being vegan. A dinner portion of falafel costs €2.50 or 2 for €4. Vegan meals do not have to be pricey.

Other world-leading universities have taken a committed approach to the vegan diet. Stanford, a university of comparable size (17,000 students), employs a vegan and plant-based food coordinator. What this means is that the ‘buffet-style’ food service has been designed with a balanced and exciting vegan diet in mind. Furthermore, a nutrition team on campus helps in designing student diets (if they enquire about it) to make sure that when they eat vegan, they do so in a nutritious way. This is a worthwhile expense in the interests of student health and well-being. Whilst Stanford certainly does have more funding than Trinity, having a position focused on student diet as a full-time or even intern capacity could be a valuable opportunity for students studying or interested in nutrition.

I reached out to The Buttery about this and received a quick and open response. The answers are from Moira O’Brien, the head of the catering department. She stated that “vegan options are always available”. These options can be found in the breakfast, lunch, and soup options with pre-made salads and sandwiches every day. The Buttery, (the focus of this article) does certainly provide all these options however it may be noted that there is no ‘buffet style’ service. The effect of this is relatively little vegan choice over a whole year where the options do not change all that much nor is there much choice when it comes to warm vegan food. 

In response to a question about expanding the number of vegan options in The Buttery, O’Brien noted that whilst they are “looking to increase our (Trinity Catering) range of vegan options” there are “commercial targets we must achieve”. Furthermore, The Buttery is “not a subsidised department” and from their current research, vegan options are “much more expensive to source”. Hopefully, this article will shed more light on some of the options available and encourage renewed efforts at affordable vegan food. Regarding staff working on vegan options, there is the Trinity Healthy Eating Committee, a team made up of O’Brien and Dr. Annemarie Bennet, as well as others such as qualified nutritionists. 

What may be drawn from all of this is that there is room for improvement in the variety of vegan food options offered at The Buttery. What makes financial sense must always be considered in running a catering service, especially for such a large group of students. The hope is that greater variety will in turn encourage greater interest and make Trinity more accessible to vegan students.

Climate Change and Biodiversity Decline Documentaries

by Ailbhe Cannon

Uncertain about how to become more informed about the environmental challenges our planet faces and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the climate and biodiversity crisis? Documentaries provide easy, quick ways to become more knowledgeable on these issues. This collection of eight documentaries offers an accessible and digestible look at climate change and biodiversity decline as well as simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your negative impact on the environment. By the time the end credits roll, you will hopefully have a better understanding of the world around you, and will feel better equipped to play a part in environmental protection. 

Our Planet

This groundbreaking series is a collaboration between David Attenborough, Silverback Films, and the World Wildlife Fund which exhibits the stunning diversity and beauty of the natural world while providing an overview of how climate change threatens this precious biodiversity. The series is divided into eight episodes, with each episode devoted to examining a different habitat and the unique environmental challenges particular to the flora and fauna who live there. While other documentaries produced by Attenborough such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet are certainly essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in the environment, Our Planet marks a departure for Attenborough as it focuses more on how humans impact the environment than his previous nature documentaries. Each episode is available to stream free of charge on YouTube. 

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet 

 In this film, Attenborough draws on his over half a century’s worth of experience with the natural world to assess the scale of the climate and biodiversity crisis. Rather than proposing a single solution to the sixth mass extinction event, Attenborough asserts that saving our planet requires an overwhelming transformation of our mentality vis à vis the natural world. “We need to work with nature, rather than against it,” Attenborough declares. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is an elegy to the beauty of the natural world and all we stand to lose as we grapple with the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. This documentary is available to watch on Netflix. 

Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet 

In Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet David Attenborough and acclaimed environmental scientist Johan Rockström present a dire warning on the future of our planet. The nine planetary boundaries, a theory pioneered by Rockström which outlines the boundaries within which the global community must operate to prevent the collapse of our planet’s life support systems, is at the heart of this documentary. Röckstrom explains that his reaction to the inaction of the global political community in response to the climate and biodiversity crisis is not one of despondency, but of anger. This film will undoubtedly inspire viewers to join Rockstöm in his quest to save our planet and is available to stream on Netflix.

“The crew behind Before the Flood spent three years travelling around the world, documenting the catastrophic impacts of climate change, interviewing climate scientists, innovators, and policy-makers”

Before the Flood 

Between starring in blockbuster films and spending copious amounts of time on his yacht, Academy Award winner and passionate environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio produced this award-winning documentary. The crew behind Before the Flood spent three years travelling around the world, documenting the catastrophic impacts of climate change, interviewing climate scientists, innovators, and policy-makers, as well as delving into the pressing issues of climate inaction and climate change denial. National Geographic, who helped produce the documentary, proved their commitment to covering the extent of the climate crisis by making the documentary easily accessible and free to watch on several streaming platforms. It is currently available on YouTube and Disney Plus. 

Chasing Coral 

This film examines the phenomenon of coral bleaching; the process by which coral becomes weakened and more susceptible to disease as a result of various stressors, including climate change. This documentary not only features stunning underwater cinematography but a grim and important message which will undoubtedly serve as a call to action for all those who want to preserve our planet’s beautiful underwater world. Check this film out on Netflix. 


Released in 2014, this landmark documentary explores the link between animal agriculture and climate change and will make you want to embrace a more plant-based diet. A must-watch for anyone interested in the environment, and for animal lovers in particular. Cowspiracy is available on Netflix. 


From the makers of Cowspiracy comes Seaspiracy, a documentary that takes a deep dive (excuse the pun) into the environmental impacts of fishing. While debates over plastic straws and single-use plastic have dominated conversations on marine conservation in recent years, Seaspiracy demonstrates that the risk posed by plastic straws is minute in comparison to the devastation wreaked by the fishing industry on marine life. Not for the faint of heart, this film will open your eyes to the destructive effects of fishing on marine ecosystems and the urgent issue of marine conservation. Seaspiracy is available on Netflix. 

The True Cost

Are you wondering what all the fuss about fast fashion is about? Then this documentary is for you. Not only will it give you an insight into the unscrupulous machinations of the fashion industry, The True Cost skilfully portrays the importance of ethical consumption to environmental protection but also to human rights. It may not make you swear off consumerism forever, but it will certainly make you rethink your spending habits. The True Cost is free to view on YouTube. 

Inside the Fight for Old-Growth Forests

by Nadja Burkart

When logging roads were discovered being built into the old-growth valley known as Ada’itsx or Fairy Creek in August 2020, land defenders from all over Canada responded quickly by gathering and setting up various camps and blockades throughout the forest in order to prevent the logging company, Teal Jones,  from clearcutting the area. They were soon joined by thousands of other people, and since then more than 1,200 people have been arrested in the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Located on Vancouver Island in the western province of British Columbia (BC),  Fairy Creek is one of the last undisturbed old-growth valleys on the island, and some of its trees such as its towering yellow cedars are thought to be more than 1,000 years old. However, what started as a protest to protect Fairy Creek has rapidly spread to include all of BC’s giant old-growth forests which have been unsustainably logged for centuries and only make up a tiny percent of BC’s remaining forests. 

All old-growth forests in BC are essential to a functioning ecosystem, but the remaining giant old-growth trees have especially important roles in biodiversity maintenance as well as acting as highly efficient carbon sinks. Canadian old-growth forests in coastal areas are defined as trees that are 250 years or older, and while there are 13.5 million hectares of old-growth forests left in BC (for size reference, Ireland is 8.4 million hectares), only around 2.7 million hectares are able to nurture the classic giant trees and about 1.7 million of these are unprotected. The trees in these functioning areas can stretch 180+ feet into the sky, which is more than half of the height of the Dublin Spire! When these giants eventually fall and decompose naturally they become “nurse logs”. These logs aid forest regeneration because the fallen trunk is tall enough so new seeds that fall on the log can access light above the shade-producing ferns on the ground. Nurse logs also slowly release their stored nutrients and water, both of which are essential for the new seedling and for countless species of fungi and insects who also live on these tree skeletons.

Clearcutting, the main practice used by BC loggers, doesn’t allow for trees to slowly decay and also disturbs the underlying mycorrhizal (fungi) networks which have recently been proven to allow “communication” and distribution of resources between networks of tree species which is critical for forest prosperity and regeneration. Clearcutting has led to the forestry industry becoming the highest source of carbon emissions in BC because the bare patches left behind to rot and release carbon faster than the young, artificially planted, and often monoculture trees can absorb. Old-growth forests also provide important habitat for salmon– yes, salmon! When they’re not living in the open ocean, their life cycle actually begins and ends in inland streams where they spawn, reproduce, and die. Large trees are essential near these rivers because they support insect life (fish food) and their roots prevent sedimentation and erosion of stream banks. Because salmon are considered a keystone species they are needed by bears, wolves, seals, and whales, with Chinook salmon being the primary diet for the endangered southern resident killer whales. Clearcutting in these areas like the Fairy Creek watershed puts almost all BC species in unimaginable danger. 

Since clearly, the survival of these forests is critical to the wellbeing of citizens, then shouldn’t the government urgently act to stop the clearcutting of these areas? Sadly, they are not. The BC premier John Horgan continues to claim he’s going to implement the 14 proposed recommendations from an Old Growth Strategic Review Panel Report, but it has been 2 years he has yet to apply anything. Then, after more than 18 months of talks within the BC government, the province suddenly “consulted” First Nations communities by only giving them 30 days to decide on whether they want to defer logging. This is an issue because many First Nations are reliant on the industry as an important source of revenue, which is needed because many are left with limited resources after facing centuries of continued systemic racism from government policies such as residential schools and the Indian Act. This decision to “consult” in only 30 days essentially passed the hot seat to First Nations while simultaneously providing absolutely zero financial support, making it less likely to pass. The land that Fairy Creek lies on is a part of the Pacheedaht First Nation’s traditional territory, and along with the Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht nations, they agreed to defer logging (of around 2,000 ish hectares) in Fairy Creek for 2 years until they make their own plan of action for old-growth.

The elected Pacheedaht Chief has stated that he doesn’t welcome the protests and wants people to leave, but Elder Bill Jones of the Pacheedaht Nation and many other members and indigenous youth from other nations across BC are in favour of the protests and are still actively inviting people to defend the last trees (not only in Fairy Creek but all of BC) from destruction. The UBCIC (Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs) has also called for an immediate halt of all industrial old-growth logging and support for First Nations alongside this. 

“Clearcutting has led to the forestry industry becoming the highest source of carbon emissions in BC [British Columbia]”

The blockades themselves consist of various camps spread around the woods where people can eat and rest in between blocking logging roads. One method of slowing operations is called the “sleeping dragon” where people’s arms get chained underground in a pipe, which is then cemented under the logging road. They also perch on top of tripods of logs leaned onto each other high in the air, or camp on platforms high up in the trees which interrupts loggers because it’s difficult to get them down. The protestors often remain there for hours to days and are brought food and water.

Unlike the protestors, the RCMP (police) often have little patience and this leads to dangerous altercations. Jackhammers and excavators are used to quickly dig up the sleeping dragons which is obviously risky because they’re not precise and dig inches away from people’s bodies. They also use chainsaws to cut down the tripods which topple the land defenders to the ground, leading to someone becoming hospitalised for a concussion. Additionally, the RCMP have set up legally questionable media exclusion zones which block media and others from viewing these arrests, and this is concerning because they’ve acted quite violently towards protestors. Videos of unprovoked mass pepper spraying and one RCMP officer stomping someone’s guitar into pieces are just a few examples of their excessive force and an insight into what the province has paid 6.8 million dollars for the RCMP to do! 

The protests will continue throughout this year and for years to come unless the government acts to end industrial old-growth logging and seriously consult and listen to First Nations voices. In the end, these trees are essentially irreplaceable. It shouldn’t matter how much they’re financially “worth” (it’s arbitrary anyway) because the intrinsic value of forests alone should be enough motivation to save them from further destruction, and that is true for forests around the world. 

The Search for an Environmental Esperanto

by Becca Payling

Recently I’ve started to learn Esperanto. It’s a language envisioned by 19th-century doctor L.L. Zamenhof to bridge the cultural and linguistic gaps in the Southwest of the Russian Empire in what is now Poland and promote harmony between different communities. I’m very much only starting out, barely past Level 1 on Duolingo (mi estas komencanto, don’t you know), but I can see both elements Zamenhof brought in: a posteriori of Latin-derived languages like Spanish with Polish grammar and structure, along with a priori novel words and movement that makes the language unique in its own right. The appeal to such a language is rare given its synthetic evolution; supposedly spoken in almost every country but belongs to none. Yet those who do speak it form a pocket-sized global community, meeting and chatting online, even offering Airbnbs halfway across the world to others bound by this tether of a spoken connection. All this made me think of collectivism, and how communication may be used to resolve the climate crisis. As someone who would consider themselves in the environmental circle both on and offline, it’s interesting yet frustrating to participate in scenarios where various parties are accusing one another of gatekeeping, gaslighting, and jargon-overloading, yet also all supposedly are acting in the best interest of the planet. Is it possible to create an “environmental Esperanto” or structure of cooperation in what time we have left?

If we delve into the vowels and syllables behind Individual and Collective ideologies, we find that the word individual has 3 ‘I’s –whereas collective only has one ‘I’, and 3 syllables compared to the former’s 4. I think this echoes the mentality behind these words in dominantly Latin-derived (Western) speaking societies (French, Spanish and Italian also echo this). Individuality is a sentiment by name and by nature. Be it companies suddenly becoming ‘sustainable’ despite years of not having any transparency, or indeed an actually qualified sustainability officer, Bill Gates and his book or adverts guilt-tripping us to buy an overpriced product- ‘because it’s bamboo not plastic!’. Carbon tax and the whole idea of a carbon footprint were invented by fossil fuel companies, the latter by BP, to shift the environmental onus from them rather than tackling the issue at hand. Perpetuating individualism can also be dangerous when activists suffer burnout or are expected to fight for ‘every issue’ because of the way climate, social, racial and other issues are interconnected. Collective on the other hand, only involves one ‘i’- one ‘me’ amidst a whole host of other forms. Even the very etymology shifts to a refocus on the inclusion and variety of skills needed to make changes and the sustainable sharing of this work. 

On Instagram a while ago, there was a post circulating around that upheld that ethical consumerism is bad and consumer activism is good. Unfortunately, it is not a polarising matter, action is a spectrum that is contextually different for groups and people—a bit like an N-S transect of Irish accents. Ethical consumerism, although for positive individual feelings of goodness, collectively advocates and boycotts certain products, promoting some businesses and demoting others, and politically signalling our consumer values. This is termed quiet activism and can be effective to rally people who don’t like to appear political in the public eye. For example, The Collective Craftivist group created ‘Mini Fashion Statements’ that they placed in pockets of department stores’ clothes to get consumers to question companies and their own habits. Consumer Activism, the act of contacting brands to ask for transparency and better practices, may seem effective, but I have yet to receive a meaningful response from any companies I’ve sent one to. However, overall, it is a population attitude shift that creates systematic change. That comes from individuals having a vision, a want and a plan and coming together to enforce this. Furthermore, individual change is magnified in positions of power CEOs, politicians, and religious leaders. As the real influencers to large spheres, they are the ones that can change the direction of the train away from the cliff of over-extraction and exploitation. Even as younger people today will soon become the leaders when this ‘crisis’ is more severe, it is important to instil some sense of environmental awareness, if not responsibility. Individualism and collectivism are thus two sides of the same coin and require dialogue from both.

individual change is magnified in positions of power CEOs, politicians, and religious leaders. As the real influencers to large spheres

This theme of ecological responsibility is considered in the broad approach of ecolinguistics, using language to understand environmental degradation, and that language vulnerability loss and biodiversity loss are connected. The field also explores how technocratically-enforced use of terms to describe extractive and polluting activities in a positive light, such as ‘growth’ and ‘sharing/network’. Industries, in particular, tend to shift the focus from the ones creating this damage to the damage itself, allowing the reader to perceive the event as self-enforcing (Fill, 1998). Whilst environmental laws are growing more explicit in their use of active language to hold nations, companies, and the general public accountable, the inherent ability of Western language to create terms such as ‘water’ as if they are infinite (Fill, 1998), is the root of societal issues in lack of coordination, fair management of resources, and neglection of responsibility. However, decolonising environmental vocabulary becomes difficult when these are embedded into a country or region’s linguistic evolution, especially when current Western policy does not properly interrogate the systematic obstacles that allow global warming to persist (Cameron et al., 2015). Although Inuit people have not caused climate change, their term for it is silaup asijjiqpallianinga, which refers to the dynamism of the various components of the earth system, rather than highlighting the inequity and anthropogenic causality as mechanistic Western language refers to it as. Sungiutivallianiq is a term that could have far-reaching implications in adoption to aid the autonomy, adaptation, and healing of the Inuit people towards resilience and justice rather than quiet acceptance of climate change as a natural phenomenon (Cameron et al., 2015). An example where collectivism is working well is the Indigenous Environmental Network based in North America, which actively leads campaigns, creates alliances centred around Climate Justice and grassroots movement, and knowledge-sharing events. On the other side of the world, Southeast Asian ideologies foster a more holistic, collective mindset that focuses on how the individual can fit in with structures and people. As we strive for an ecologically enhancing new normal, asserting our individual views and lived experiences before entering the entwinement of collectivism is key. Every piece of twine plays its part in the knot that fuses us to act in societal interest. It is important to consider our own thoughts, implicit biases, knowledge gaps, and lived or shared experiences before addressing the passivity and dampening down of language to explain and resolve environmental damage: using destruction rather than decreased quality, knowledge-sharing, or development rather than knowledge production. Fossil fuel companies, billionaires and government leaders need to stop shirking responsibility and using passive, self-serving language in the climate crisis and instead look more broadly at the issue at hand. We are all part of this picture and can still achieve social economic and environmental sustainability when keeping our own goals in mind but simultaneously speaking the same values.

Therefore, like any language, being able to speak Environmental Esperanto requires immersion; regular cross-disciplinary conversations and partnerships to understand ourselves and our different roles in our own and other species’ survival. Like Esperanto, it need not replace specialist dialogues, but its role is to create and strengthen connections between different groups and prevent the erosion of smaller groups and ideas by raising everyone to the same stage. What does this look like? Is it even possible given the multi-directional oscillations of all those under the umbrella of ‘environmentalists’ that at the moment, resemble a heavily under-rehearsed orchestra? The varying amplitudes of climate talk created by systematic inequalities further the language barrier. As I see it, equitable solutions and feminist grassroots efforts supported by top-down policy and innovation should be at the core of Environmental Esperanto. Diplomatic signalling (see COP26) only gets us so far, but indigenous rooted solutions and shifts in power will get climate conversations moving from disjointed to fluent. To be honest, I’m not sure what the true definition of an Environmental Esperanto will be, but I think it will have more than one author, more than one Zamenhof, to capture all of the dimensions in our world that need nudging in the direction of mutual understanding. 

Zamenhof’s Esperanto translates as ‘one that hopes’. This motto of hope can also be translated into Environmental Esperanto as a key to avoiding climate doom, denial, and inaction. Perhaps, whilst there are only two million Esperanto speakers globally, and most are based in Europe, Environmental Esperanto can become a worldwide phenomenon. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a bryologist of the Potawatomi Nation, notes that “finding the words is another step-in learning to see”. Environmental Esperanto enables not only shared dialogues, but the same vision and diligence to combine perceptions of our multi-layered Earth. Positively and collectively, policies, mindsets and eventually emissions can be overturned, if we, for a moment, turn from the familiar and address what’s important, using the same language.

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?