Beyond the Obvious: novel podcasts for enquirers

Our pilot podcast series, Beyond the Obvious, was co-organised by Feasta and the European Health Futures Forum.

The hosts, Seán O’Conláin and Caroline Whyte, explored a range of topics with guests from a wide variety of backgrounds. There are six monthly podcasts of 20-30 minutes, released between March 15th and September 17th 2019. (We took a break in August.) Please feel free to comment below.

Seán Ó Conláin

Topics include:

• decarbonisation
• decreasing energy consumption
• measuring wellbeing
• reviving biodiversity, which is taken to include local culture and language
• drivers of health
• monetary reform

Our thanks to Laoise Kelly who gave us permission to use her harp music. The piece is ‘Lon dubh’ (Blackbird) from her Album ‘Ceis’.

Podcasts are listed below from the newest to the oldest.

Podcast 6: Revitalising agriculture

September 17 2019

In this podcast we discuss agriculture, a highly problematic sector of the Irish economy. We talk to two farmers who are working hard to improve this situation: Nathan Jackson, an agroecological farmer involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects in the Dublin area (including Derrybeg Farm in Celbridge) and Fergal Anderson, who runs the Leaf and Root Farm near Loughrea in county Galway and who is also a member of the core group of the new farming organisation Talamh Beo, part of the Via Campesina network.

Topics mentioned include the experience of running a CSA, the potential effects of Brexit, the damage caused by overly globalised agriculture and how to stem rural decline. More broadly, we discuss wider policies that are needed in order to radically shift the focus of Irish farming towards regeneration within a very short time frame. Priorities include shortening supply chains for vital goods by localising agriculture, and supporting initiatives that provide access to land for farmers along the lines of Terre de Liens in France.

Podcast 5: The future of healthcare

July 15 2019

For our fifth podcast we welcome guest host David Somekh of the European Health Futures Forum. David hosts a round table discussion with three guests: Zuzanna Cichon, a master student in Global Health at Maastricht University who is currently in Barcelona working on her thesis about the predictive capacity of climate variables for dengue epidemics in Venezuela, and who provides an overview of the state of global health; Matthijs Zwier, who is involved with the Health Pact project in Utrecht which facilitates a collaborative movement to help citizens have direct input into the development of a healthy and happy urban life for everyone; and Mike Bewick, a doctor and former national deputy medical director for the NHS in the UK, who describes some of the major changes that are happening in health care.

Other topics covered include the opportunites and crises that healthcare is now facing on a global level; the need to build solidarity; the potential for place-based initiatives to improve health in communities; the impact of the energy transition on mental health; the need to focus on upstream measures to improve health; and the societal factors that contribute significantly to illness.

Podcast 4: Reinterpreting money

June 17 2019

As Greta Thunberg has observed (and as Professor Clive Spash explained in our second podcast, back in April), ‘green growth’ isn’t a realistic option in an economy that is hitting against resource limits and severe ecosystem degradation. So we need to think hard about how to transition to a growth-neutral financial system. There are plenty of good social reasons for this transition, too. 

This podcast begins with a brief excerpt from our archives in which Richard Douthwaite explains the link between our current debt-based money system and economic growth. This is followed by a discussion with Mary Mellor, Emeritus Professor at Northumbria University, who has published extensively on alternative economics integrating socialist, feminist and green perspectives, and Graham Barnes, a Currency Innovation Strategist and co-organiser of Feasta’s currency group.

Topics covered include the role that debt-free money has played historically, money as a commons, sufficiency provisioning to ensure everyone’s needs are meant within ecological constraints, participatory budgeting, myths about the role of the market in the economy, and complementary currencies.

Podcast timeline:
Richard Douthwaite on debt-based money : 0:50
Discussion with Mary Mellor and Graham Barnes: 3:20

Podcast 3: Identity, ownership and the commons

May 16 2019

This episode questions some assumptions that are commonly made about identity and ownership and explores the commons as an alternative paradigm. First we hear the poet Paddy Bushe reading his Migrant Poet’s Ecological Manifesto, in which he interprets the Song of Amergin, and the story behind it, in a way that reflects the reality of a migratory world, largely post-national, threatened with extinction because our overwhelmingly exploitative relationship with the land and the sea.

Then we interview Órla O’Donovan, a lecturer in Applied Social Science at University College Cork who has done extensive research into the commons as an alternative to state- or market-based ownership and management. She gives us her reaction to Paddy’s Manifesto and goes on to discuss the cult of the individual, the Nowtopia movement and the politics of water in Ireland, among other topics.

Podcast timeline:
A Migrant Poet’s Ecological Manifesto, written and read by Paddy Bushe : 1:39
Órla O’Donovan reacts to Paddy’s manifesto and answers our questions about the commons: 4:05

Podcast 2: Measuring the immeasurable?

April 19 2019

In this episode we examine the notions of progress and improving welfare for all. We start with a poem by Zheng Xiaoqiong about her experience as an assembly line worker in China’s industrial belt. Then there’s an interview with Doctor Benjamin Held, who discusses the research he and colleagues at the FEST institute have been doing on developing an alternative index of well-being to GDP. Finally, there’s an interview with Professor Clive Spash, who critiques the claim that countries such as Sweden are managing to decouple their GDP growth from their greenhouse gas emissions.

Podcast timeline:
Assembly Line by Zheng Xiaoqiong (with overlaid translation by Yu Yan Cheng): 1:10
Interview with Dr Benjamin Held: 4:05
Interview with Prof Clive Spash: 16:56

Bonus (‘appendix’) podcast: An uninterrupted reading by Zheng Xiaoqiong of her poem ‘Assembly Line’ in her native Sichuan dialect, followed by an English version read by the poem’s translator Yu Yan Cheng, and finally a Mandarin Chinese version.

Podcast 1: Climate obligations – our children are wakening

March 15 2019

We hear from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movement, and from Professor Barry Mc Mullin, who takes us through the pros and cons of the possibilities for decarbonising Ireland’s energy supply: nuclear; fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage; BioEnergy; wind; renewable energy with electrofuel; and reducing consumption, particularly by high emitters. This last option, which is supported by Feasta’s climate group members, forms a key part of our Cap and Share and CapGlobalCarbon initiatives. (There wasn’t time for Barry to go into a final possibility – Carbon Dioxide ‘removal’ – but he’ll do so at a later date.)

Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members. 

3 Replies to “Beyond the Obvious: novel podcasts for enquirers”

  1. More 11 year olds and less common un-wisdom from Seán Ó’Conláin please, the latter making it sound like the real problems that need to be addressed are personal choice and efficiency issues, we should be WAY beyond this type of discussion and if that is the kind of experts you wish to consult with then I don’t see the point of the series… Let’s get real and talk emergency like the kids are telling us to — they are right!

    Tony Phillips

  2. Hi Tony, thanks for the feedback. I totally agree that decarbonisation is a systemic issue that can’t be resolved solely through individual choice. I had a different interpretation of what Barry said (I assume you’re referring to Barry rather than Seán) – to me it seemed that he was emphasising the need for top-down government action to bring about radical supply-side transformation in the energy sector.

    We ran out of time for going into much detail about the demand side (energy consumption) but we’re planning to discuss it more in future podcasts because it’s so crucial. But there again, I would say that many (of not most) of the changes that are needed are systemic rather than individual choices: for example changes to the monetary system, to taxation and to infrastructure.

    And yes, we plan to include young peoples’ voices more as well in future podcasts. So I hope you’ll stick with us!

  3. If your name “Beyond The Obvious” has real meaning I, for one, would hope you will present some ideas and subjects that really are ‘beyond the obvious’. From a quick look at the topics you have planned, they seem very obvious things to me, both historically and conceptually, things that have been tried over and over, in one form or another, and don’t work. Food for thought, perhaps.

    Truly new and un-obvious solution sets (I call it ‘z-axis’ thinking) are rarely presented anywhere by anyone. They are there, I am certain of that. But the only ideas that are given credence on the tables of serious discussion, by the left or the right, are those attached to wealth and power. Those subjects are all quite obvious, in intent and design. They are the tropes of a perpetual either/or war that we cannot exit until we discover real replacements that, as Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy have both said, are things we can say “Yes” to.

    Presented with the problem of finding non-obvious solution sets for climate change and healthcare, to name but two, solutions that required neither government permission nor corporate approval, I was able to come up with them with little difficulty. I’m no expert in either subject by any stretch. If I can do that much, certainly there are others who are well-versed in such matters that can do much better than I can.

    (Climate Change:)


    As Diane Di Prima astutely warned us in 1985, “THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION.”

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