A SYMPOSIUM on sustainability and natural resources took place in the Carlton Atlantic Coast Hotel, Westport, on Sunday last, November 14. Organised as part of the inaugural Rolling Sun Book Festival, the event took the form of a panel discussion followed by a lively question and answer session.
The panel explored the questions “Are our sustainable resources sustainable? Who can you believe?” On the panel were Lorna Siggins, Irish Times Western and Marine Correspondent and author of ‘Once Upon a Time in the West: The Corrib Gas Controversy’; Dr Ken Whelan (pictured), broadcaster and researcher at the Marine Institute; and James Ryan, Manager at the National Wave Energy Test Site, Belmullet.
Speaking first, James Ryan discussed two important aspects of any discussion on sustainability – food and energy production. In relation to the former, he focused on fish farming and the possible shape of its future, arguing that it shows much promise as being a sustainable source of food security in years to come.
With regard to energy production, Mr Ryan persuasively argued that Ireland could be at the forefront of a sustainable revolution, as it is perfectly positioned to capitalise on a future ‘electric tiger’ economy – an economy driven by wind and wave energy. During his detailed presentation, he said Ireland currently aims to source 40 per cent of the energy it requires from renewable sources by 2020. (The country currently sources 13 percent from renewables.) Mr Ryan went on to point out that eventually, Ireland could not only source 100 per cent of its electricity from wind and waves, it could produce between six and seven times what we need, and sell the surplus on to the UK and elsewhere.
Dr Ken Whelan spoke about the importance of two interrelated concepts – an ‘eco-system service’ and ‘green infrastructure’. The former, he argued, provides an economically quantifiable service, while the latter provides an infrastructure that allows interconnectivity between the different ‘nodes’ of eco-system services. He highlighted the honey bee and the importance of pollination in agriculture by way of an example of an eco-system service in operation.
Dr Whelan also pointed out that the capitalist idea of constant growth runs counter to any notion of sustainability, and explained that if the biological cost of growth is not considered, ‘we are fooling ourselves’, as such growth could not continue ad infinitum. He also highlighted the importance of what he said were the three stages involved in harnessing a sound eco-system service and creating a supporting infrastructure – namely, research and planning; socio-economic impact assessment; and political action.
The last of the speakers, Lorna Siggins, focused on the Corrib Gas Project, which she argued provided ‘a template of how not to approach a project’. She argued that a more holistic approach to assessing the project’s impact was required, that the impact was currently being assessed in a piecemeal fashion, a method that she called ‘project splitting’.
Ms Siggins also spoke about the vision of former Labour Party minister Justin Keating, who died last New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2009. Mr Keating, she explained, admired the Scandinavian approach to resource management, and would have advocated the establishment of an energy company similar to Statoil, where the state holds majority ownership.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, the panelists and audience touched on a host of subjects, including the pros and cons of micro-generation, current advances in solar power and the potential impact of climate change.
Overall, the tone of the conference was one of hope – hope for a self-sustaining economic future for Ireland, and hope that the powers-that-be will have the foresight to ensure that such a future comes about.