Notes from the Environ 2013 colloquium

The 23rd Irish Environmental Researchers’ Colloquium was held at the Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland (NUI), Galway from Wednesday to Friday January 30th to February 1st, 2013. The theme of this year’s colloquium was “Environment: From Ecosystem Functioning to Human Health”.

My main interest at Environ 2013 was “Environmental Planning and Sustainability”.

In summary I found the key lectures from Steward Duncan and Tony Juniper very good.

I also attended a number of selected workshops. All were good in terms of the quality of research and presentation, albeit very specific. Some of them were in my general area of interest such as the evaluation of methods for sustainability analysis of a local authority, others were very specific and tied to specific research projects.

I found Steward Duncan’s “introduction” very interesting and also more relevant for my taste. Duncan emphasized our generations’ responsibility towards future generations. If we don’t change our lifestyles, the next generations will suffer a lot. If we want to change our lifestyles to become sustainable, we need to work from the bottom up and facilitate (political) orders which would allow and foster such changes.

Tony Juniper’s lecture was more a grand view on the economic and ecological benefits of biodiversity. I thought that he was quite positive, perhaps too optimistic in his assessment. He basically said that a lot had already been achieved towards a more sustainable lifestyle. He explained that these positive changes were primarily driven by human needs especially health needs or concerns. He seemed to me to be determined to avoid getting into the political sphere. But perhaps I was also quite familiar with the topic from the regular briefings I get from TEEB (The Economy of Ecology and Biodiversity) so it wasn’t that new to me.

In general I found a good awareness of the environmental issues of our times amongst the presenters.

I liked the positive attitude of Travis O’Doherty, for example, on the socio-economic benefit of his study “Trialling a method for sustainability analysis in a local authority”. It was a very good paper. When questioned as to the societal benefit of his study Travis very upbeat that his study would be used by Cork County Council (his study was based on County Cork). In fact he seemed to indicate that other County Councils might use it as a template. I mention this in light of the fact that the Chariman of this session, Dr. Eoin O’Neill has complained in his introduction about the weak link between academia and (political) decision makers.

In general I sensed a disconnect between the people of Environ2013 and say the people in County Councils or Dail Eireann. A number of speakers lamented that the environment doesn’t bring any votes. I got the feeling again and again when I talked to researchers or other participants that there seems to be a serious lack of awareness as to the responsibility towards future generations amongst public representatives. As one participant put it “the future generations have no vote, they don’t count”.

I don’t know how many, if any public representatives were in fact at the conference.

This is something which in my view for example the Ryan Institute or ESAI or the UCD Earth Institute could move forward from the session “Collaborate to Innovate”.

Featured image: Water drop. Author: Penny Mathews. Source:

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