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 Origins of Soy in Western Culture

by Ruaidhri Saulnier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Environmental Impacts of Recreational Drugs

by Rebecca Gutteridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] IPCC report, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.
[2] Roberts, Chris, Forbes, ‘It’s Gonna Be A Bloodbath’: Epic Marijuana Oversupply Is Flooding California, Jeopardizing Legalization’
https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisroberts/2021/08/31/its-gonna-be-a-bloodbath-epic-marijuana-oversupply-is-flooding-california-jeopardizing-legalization/.
[3] Westervelt, Eric, NPR, ‘Illegal Pot Operations In Public Forests Are Poisoning Wildlife And Water’ https://www.npr.org/2019/11/12/773122043/illegal-pot-grows-in-americas-public-forests-are-poisoning-wildlife-and-water?t=1650187711984.
[4] Michaelson, Andrea, Smithsonian Mag, ‘The Cannabis Industry Is Not as Green as You’d Think’ https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cannabis-industry-not-green-youd-think-1-180973659/.
[5] ‘Glastonbury Festival: Traces of drugs found in river at site’ BBC, 2021,
< https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-somerset-58710377 >.
[6] Katz, Brigit, Smithsonian mag ‘Cocaine in the Water Is Hurting River Eels’ https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-cocaine-water-harms-european-eels-180969421/.

IPCC Report Results: Disappointed but Not Surprised

by Faye Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brand Investigation: Primark

by Anna Barry

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

Environmental impact

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

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

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

Animal Welfare

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

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

Labour conditions

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

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

Psychology around the climate crisis.

by Hillary Mullen

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of climate change. Some people’s brains and thought processes react differently to the crisis than others. It may be difficult for some of us to comprehend why people are convinced that climate change is not that big of a deal or believe that it doesn’t exist at all (even though it evidently does). However, this reaction of some people towards climate change can be understood through the understanding of the human mind and its psychology. 

Psychology of the Individual towards climate change.

Big movements and big changes usually start at home by a specific individual. It is the easiest way to change something about your life. From recycling your plastics to thrifting clothes instead of buying another t-shirt from H&M, individual changes really impact how one lives a sustainable lifestyle. 

However, beginning with the individual is important in order to emphasise to people that there is in fact a climate crisis in the first place. Under the concept of individual and household behaviour towards climate change, the theory of “overlooked dimensions” fits here (Nielsen et al., 2021). This means that there are choices individuals must make in order to be more sustainable and combat climate change and obstacles putting them off or preventing them from making such choices. For example, it is better to take public transport to get into work than a car. However, it is easier to get the bus if you live in the middle of the city compared to the middle of the countryside. 

Big movements and big changes usually start at home by a specific individual

According to Time Magazine, many psychologists have made the point that it is incredibly difficult for the human brain to fully comprehend the concept of climate change. The point was made by Samuel Schleffer for Time that a human’s purpose is to provide a legacy and work on something that has a significant impact on those living in the future. When people hear about climate change, it makes many feel that the work they are doing is not worthwhile or has any point in continuing if there is no future to look forward to. 

However, the argument could be made that a person’s work is worthwhile if it is to create a sustainable planet for the next generation that is not worrying over climate change the way many young people are today. 

On the other side of the spectrum, many people are struggling with their mental health as a result of climate change becoming more of a reality. This is as a result of people who have been directly affected by the consequences of climate change or are nervous for a future that does not look so bright anymore.

climate change … makes many feel that the work they are doing is not worthwhile

Climate anxiety develops as a result of action or a lack of action towards the crisis. Responses are needed for those who feel that issues to do with the environment are beginning to lose control.

Psychology of people within Government towards climate change

It is submitted that many governmental bodies are not bringing in enough policies and systematic change to help combat climate change. Despite an ongoing demand by the citizens of these countries, the government is hesitant to abide by some points. Governments when deciding on policy observe the mood of the people towards certain issues over others.  

Many people do want to see climate change policies implemented by their governments over the growing concern by the individual over the climate crisis. However, governments are beginning to understand and prioritise climate change policies through agreeing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and signing up to the Paris Agreement. 

the concept of a complete climate catastrophe is too overwhelming for the human brain to fully comprehend

If there’s one thing we know about the human mind it is that it tends to procrastinate. Tell me that you have never procrastinated an assignment or put off doing some housework at some point in your life, I doubt it. There are just some people out there procrastinating about climate change because the entire concept of a complete climate catastrophe is too overwhelming for the human brain to fully comprehend. However, it is essential for humanity to move past this and deal with the crisis head on for a sustainable future. 

Can There Be Climate Justice Without Gender Justice?

by Niamh Donnelly

What does gender have to do with climate catastrophe? The answer may not be immediately apparent if we consider the connections between unequal power relations and natural hazards, for example. It is assumed that such extreme climate events presumably equally affect the lives of all members of a community. To take such a simplistic view of environmental hazards fails to account for the complexity of the political economy and social structures that can impact the everyday experiences of people dealing with the effects of a rapidly changing climate and other environmental challenges. 

It is widely accepted that any monumental environmental crises, including those predicted as a result of human-induced climate change, can be expected to have far-reaching implications for people of all genders. If the planetary boundaries of our physical world are overburdened, most people assume that the devastating effects of ecosystem collapse will be oblivious to our gendered bodies and social identities. Yet these effects will undoubtedly be experienced differently depending on the individual’s gender identity and race for example. As several feminist scholars have pointed out, international climate negotiations thus far have primarily mirrored the structural inequalities of the world economy. That is, they operate within a global political system often dominated by the interests of the most developed, industrialised countries ⎼ and are often debated and dictated almost exclusively by older, wealthier men. 

These grossly unequal economic and political systems often limit the extent to which more marginalised groups ⎼ not to mention lower income countries ⎼ can contribute towards the reduction of growing environmental and socio-economic problems. It is within this framework that grassroots environmental movements, often representing the strategic interests of marginalised groups, are forced to look in from the outside with virtually no power to influence the scope of policy-related discussions. At worst, such environmentalist movements, which are often led by women, can become the target of state aggression.

This movement explicitly opposes the hierarchical thinking that has led to the exploitation of nature and the perpetuation of social inequalities

People have been gradually waking up to the fact that these underlying capitalist market forces and gender structures are too important to ignore in any discussion on environmental policy. This point is one of the main objectives of ecological feminism ⎼ or ecofeminism ⎼ a social movement and philosophical theory centred around the transformative concepts of women’s liberation and achieving social justice while pursuing environmental goals. 

Female activists and protesters have been drawing attention to the parallels between the oppression of women and the destruction of nature. This movement explicitly opposes the hierarchical thinking that has led to the exploitation of nature and the perpetuation of social inequalities. Since the early 1970s, this movement has spread through female-led protests around the globe and is often championed by women from indigenous communities. Recently there has been a revival of the Ecofeminist movement here in Ireland. Local groups such as the Dublin Ecofeminists are mobilising, leading to a renewed interest in the ecofeminist approach to environmental activism. 

Taking the perspective of ecofeminists, it becomes more obvious to see how methods of expropriating women and other marginalised groups are intertwined with the destruction of our natural world. Both, after all, occur as the result of an unjust socio-economic system and are reinforced through male-dominated political processes. Important decisions about our collective future continue to be made behind closed doors, in meeting rooms that are often devoid of any semblance of diversity, despite the efforts of many marketing campaigns to convince us otherwise. 

The release of the latest IPCC report in 2021 highlighted the overwhelming magnitude of the climate chaos facing us in the coming decades. Thus far, our attempts have failed to appropriately address the severity of our climate warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. It may now be time for us to re-evaluate our strategy and consider some more radical ways of thinking about environmental justice. 

We should ask ourselves if environmental justice can be achieved at all without reshaping social power relations

Given the immensity of the task to effectively manage and protect the natural environment on a global scale, the collective input of all people is required. Perhaps we can learn from the philosophy of radical gender and environmental activists to consider what the transformative capacity of climate policy might be? We should ask ourselves if environmental justice can be achieved at all without reshaping social power relations. The ecofeminists among us would probably argue this is not the case. Regardless, the climate challenges that await may force us to finally consider the intersection of complex ecosystems, social institutions and cultural realities encompassed by this pursuit.

Nature is a Human Right

By Aoife Kiernan

The grounding effects of a walk in the forest or by the sea are hard to miss. Many of us instinctively know that spending time in nature is healing, peaceful, a method of recentering ourselves and reorienting our problems in the grand scheme of the world.

Nature is a Human Right is a campaign founded by Ellen Miles, a writer and activist from London. The campaign aims to make access to nature a human right by lobbying the UN while also encouraging people to work within their communities to create space for nature.

Historically the majority of the human population have resided in rural areas, and it was only in the past decade that we crossed the line to become a species of majority urban dwellers. As a result, our access to green spaces has dwindled as land is prioritised for building an ever-expanding urban jungle. More than 100 million American people live without easy access to green spaces within walking distance, as do 2.7 million people living in the UK.

Access to nature is a socio-economic issue, with more deprived areas having fewer public green spaces and people with lower incomes much less likely to have a private garden.

Spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to benefit people’s mental and physical health, as well as increasing our compassion and making it easier for us to retain information and perform academically.

Exposure to green spaces reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, premature death, type II diabetes, stillbirth and high blood pressure. This is often attributed to a corresponding increase in exercise levels for people who spend time outdoors, however other examples of how nature can increase our physical health have little relation to exercise levels.

Patients recover quicker from surgery if they have a view of trees from their window than if their window faces a brick wall, spending less time in hospital post-op, as shown in a group of cholecystectomy patients in a suburban hospital in Pennsylvania. Epidemiological studies show that living in an area with high biodiversity corresponds with a more effective immune system. Living in urban areas decreases our contact with a wide range of microbes, leaving our defences less prepared for infections. Spending time in nature allows for microbial input from the environment, which encourages an immune response, in time helping to protect the body from other infections.

The physiological benefits of access to green spaces are undeniable. Looking at the patterns and shapes found in plants, animals and rock formations reduces stress by as much as 60%. Exercising in nature can boost self-esteem, especially amongst young people, and the sound of birdsong, water and wind reduce anger, fear and stress. Even the presence of trees along streets affects mental wellbeing, with one study showing that for every tree planted per square km of street there were 1.18 fewer anti-depressant prescriptions per thousand population.

“Spending time in nature can increase our memory and attention span by up to 20%”

Sitting by the window of the Ussher library might help your exam performance, as nature also positively affects our ability to learn and retain information. Urban environments require directed attention – avoiding being hit by a car, for example, and contain dramatic stimuli, which is draining and requires a lot of the brain’s capacity. Nature is filled with intriguing stimuli which gently grab our attention. Spending time in nature can increase our memory and attention span by up to 20%. It has also been shown to increase children’s IQ and prevent burnout.

The presence of trees in urban environments reduces violence, including domestic violence, and urban gardens strengthen communities and increase resilience.

The Nature is a Human Right campaign encourages people to create green spaces themselves in their local communities. This includes reclaiming brownfield sites and guerilla gardening. They have also got a petition to the UN to enshrine contact to nature in our human rights.

Conservation of the natural world can feel like a constant losing battle. In our anthropocentric world, it can be difficult to put other living things above the needs and wants of humans. However, we can ensure that nature is valued and prioritised when creating by enshrining access to nature in our human rights.

In need of a Tuning Fork: healing wildlife against noise pollution

By Becca Payling


When we think of pollution, we think of smog-filled cities, a rusty pipe spewing chemicals into an algae-choked river; perhaps if you’ve watched Blue Planet II- a plastic bag in the ocean. Air, water, and plastic pollution are the three major pollutive threats to animals-, but less of a din is made about pollution from excessive sound. As a result, wildlife in the air, land and sea are killed daily from being subjected to the ever-growing anthropogenic auditorium.
The cacophony of the 21st century has introduced a myriad of sounds into the world, predominantly caused by the acceleration of technology and traffic. This has not crept by unnoticed. Humans have a limited hearing range of 64-23,000Hz, compared to other species such as beluga whales (1,000-123,000) and mice (1,000-91,000). Noise- specifically lengthened exposure to loud, stress-inducing sounds like aeroplanes- is the second most significant fatal pollution that kills 1 million people p.a. in Western countries alone and is also hypothesised to cause cardiovascular issues such as type 2 diabetes. And we can’t even hear in ultrasonic. On land, traffic and roads have led to a range of behavioural changes which can inhibit bird and mammalian responses to actions that could affect their survival. We’ve all heard the term “rabbit in the headlights” when rabbits freeze in the middle of the road in front of a car, an evolved instinct to escape predators, yet this ultimately leads to their demise. In a study published in 2013, behavioural ecologists set up a ‘phantom road’ to monitor migrating birds’ actions. They discovered that the frequency of birds resting significantly dropped- these birds are fine-tuned to avoid predatory noises- having repercussions on not only the health of the birds but also reducing pollination in the areas, as the birds land in the area less. Similarly, in bats who rely on echolocation to find food, their returning clicks are drowned out by night noise, leading to 40% less activity and proficiency in hunting. In tropical regions, not only do wildlife suffer from noise from the ever-expanding road network, but this also brings the added threat of greater deforestation and poachers. Clearly, diminished resilience caused by traffic has the capacity to send ripples across entire ecosystems.


Human commotion also makes waves in the ocean. In particular, shipping and sonar. 2020 recorded the largest historical strandings, with 450 pilot whales beached on the Tasmanian Coast. Whilst the cause was not apparent, past strandings of similar magnitude have been attributed to sonar, which operates in the same frequency but at a higher decibel than cetacean’s own echolocation, and haemorrhages in inner ears that indicate distressing noise, as well as sonic blasts, shipping and the oil industry, operate in the same acoustic niches, creating acoustic barriers to baleen whale communication. This includes obtruding feeding and mating calls, which forces the whales to change their calls and potentially inhibit the healthy neurological development of calves in tropical breeding grounds. Smaller sea life do not escape the siren’s call either. Research conducted on juvenile European eels displayed that they reacted slower to a potential looming predator than in a noise-free setting, potentially due to stress when subjected to shipping sounds. As the authors conclude, this deafening in a nursery environment impairs the survival of the eel and other vulnerable species.


When you can’t raise your voice loud enough to be heard, you switch tactics. Like the humpback whales changing their calls, some species are tolerant and can adapt to the loud anthroposphere. For example, hummingbirds who preferentially seek noisy habitats heighten pollination in the area, thus rising in influence as a keystone species in the local ecosystem. Furthermore, harbour seals also successfully utilise noisy infrastructure- wind turbines- as foraging grounds for reefs. Yet, the more comprehensive ecological benefits or drawbacks of this behavioural change are still not yet understood.
Anthropogenic silence is not deadly, whereas media, research and policy silence on the matter is. There is almost a murmuring haziness on concrete laws, a mismatch of frequencies with the increasing crowd of published journals clearly defining the correlation between noise pollution and wildlife and human health. For example, in one of their clauses for ocean health, the EU states that member states should limit noise pollution but do not clearly define or limit noise-inducing activities. However, some places are putting in substantial efforts to muffle traffic. In the Port of Vancouver, a public Underwater Noise Management Plan published in December 2020 details annual targets to monitor and mitigate noise produced by vessels in the area, involving a range of stakeholders to protect marine animal health collectively. Interestingly, the Noise Pollution Act in the Netherlands has a ‘noise emission ceiling’, thus formally recognising noise as a form of pollution by relating it to an ‘emission’ and posing an upper limit on noise. Construction and industrial companies must document their proposed level of noise, which is later monitored by local authorities to ensure it is kept. The long term effects are yet to be assessed, and there is limited citizen inclusivity in both projects, but they are a good start.


Elsewhere, vibrations to counter the effects of noise pollution take a bottom-up and creative response. For example, Alicia Hayden, a recent graduate of Oxford University, artivist and budding filmmaker, drew ‘When the Whale Sang’. This piece won the Human Impact prize from the famous David Shepherd Wildlife Art competition. The work was inspired by a blog post she wrote for the British Ecological Society during lockdown. This piece highlights how these beautiful creatures are being “broken” by noise pollution, she aims to make others aware of the damage noise causes to ecosystems because it’s less visible but no less harmful than other forms of pollution.


Much of the commotion in noise pollution starts with traffic, so research facilities and companies aim to tackle this. ‘Quiet pavements’ – the development of honeycomb-like two-layer porous asphalt (TLPA) has significantly reduced noise pollution in European and US cities. Refining the airflow around aircraft has had a similar effect in the skies over the last couple of decades. The recent development of sound-dampening foams has also shown promise, modelling hummingbirds’ wings. The architecture of nature may genuinely hold the answers to sounds that threaten to destroy it.
Globalisation has radically altered the Earth’s landscape, seascapes and even the soundscapes to an abrasive amplitude. Technically speaking, noise is one of the easiest pollutions to treat as it disperses immediately, but through innovation, policy and individual responsibility, all we need is some quiet.

UN Sustainable Development Goals Explained

By Faye Murphy

All 193 UN member states signed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September of 2015. The SDGs aim to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. These goals replaced the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which emphasised helping those in developing countries. The SDGs are different to the preceding MDGs as it is a global call to action, rather than just assisting the developing world. While the MDGs have a valuable legacy, the SDGs must carry on this legacy while improving and expanding upon it. Furthermore, as SDGs are for all countries regardless of their developmental or economic status, if all the SDGs are achieved by 2030, the entire planet would be better for all.

In the SDG “Wedding Cake” that Carl Folke proposed at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Stockholm University, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are split into three categories: economic growth, social equity and justice, and those goals related to the biosphere. The 17 goals feature 169 targets and 232 indicators, which are all interconnected. The targets for these goals have a wide variety. For example, for SDG 5 (Gender Equality) alone, the targets range from universal access to sexual and reproductive health to ending female genital mutilation and ensuring women have equal opportunities to leadership roles at all levels. We can see from this single example that the targets are well intertwined with other goals such as quality education, good health and wellbeing, to name a few. Targets and objectives allow us to see how each SDG is crucial and interdependent on another.

An example of how these individual goals as a whole are all interconnected can be seen if there is a rise in sea temperature (Climate Action), leading to the loss of crucial biodiversity (Life Under Water). This loss of biodiversity can cause a buildup of pathogens, acidity, and pests in the water (Clean Water and Sanitation). This buildup can cause health problems in those drinking the unsafe water from the source, which is especially prevalent in developing countries where hospitals are few and far between (Good Health and Wellbeing).

In order for the goals to be achieved, the SDGs require policies to be put into place. These policies must include everybody, including subpopulations or minority communities, as these minority communities are usually the most vulnerable and at risk. Furthermore, as the SDGs emphasise no individual being left behind, inclusivity and intersectionality are vital in achieving these goals. This emphasis can be seen in the transformative goals of zero hunger, no poverty, good health and wellbeing, quality education and gender equality.

As the SDGs are a Global Agenda, we must think about them in our individual lives, communities, countries, continents and global roles. Achieving these goals by putting in policies requires partnerships and interconnections between governments, all sectors of society and communities to ensure that there can be a future for the next generations.

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