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Critical Ecologies

Critical Ecologies

By Patrick Bresnihan
A series of short interviews with postgraduate students in the Geography Department of Maynooth University. Students discuss their original research on diverse topics relating to environmental and spatial justice in Ireland. The series is part of the Critical Ecologies class on the MA in Geography and Spatial Justice.
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The Hurting Heritage of Bogs: Waste and Enclosure

Critical Ecologies

The agro-food industry and climate change: Environmental justice in contemporary Ireland
In this podcast, Jennifer O’Malley discusses the complex relationship between the agro-food industry and climate change in contemporary Ireland. Jennifer describes the emergence of the metabolic rift in the context of colonial Ireland in the nineteenth century to examine the complex interconnections that exist between nature and society. This system was based on extractive economic relations that resulted in Irish labour, soil and ecology being appropriated for consumption in the imperial core. Today the implications of this process are still relevant as Ireland’s thriving agro-food industry is reinforced by political and economic forces that see nature as a natural resource exploited. The interconnecting relationship between climate change and capitalistic processes of agricultural production in Ireland can be mostly determined through complex global commodity chains which sees the relationship between Ireland’s economy, exportation and climate change as a mix of social and environmental processes that are produced and re-produced across various sites and systems with each mutually constituting the other resulting in human and ecological consequences. We need to understand that Ireland’s contribution to our planet's ecological crisis remains one of unequal exchange which can only be corrected through new and innovative reforms to our agro-food industry.
June 20, 2022
Dispossessed by Decarbonisation: Rural Repercussions of Irelands’ Agri-Emissions Trade-off
Ireland has been an exemplar case for the struggle between green commitments and democratic responsibility and, since the Irish Agri-Food sector speaks for over one third of the nations’ emissions profile, the sector has been placed on the frontline of the struggle to combat climate change.  By all appearances, Ireland’s climate responsibility division debate is shifting from the classic rural-urban divide to a conversation of intra-rural inequality and recrimination, driven by bottom-up power dynamics. The potential sacrificing of Irish beef to make way for dairy expansion, remains a dominant source of contention within agri-discourse and amid whispers regarding national herd reduction, it is the aim of this discussion to shine light on the need for a Just Transition to low-carbon living, where the social and economic sustainability of all rural lives and livelihoods are more carefully considered. Fundamentally, climate action must be fast but, it must be fair.
June 17, 2022
Slow Violence and Sacrifice Zones - Understanding Afforestation in County Leitrim
The concept of slow violence is one that has gained recognition in recent years, providing a definition for events that are violent but not normally seen as such, due to its slow nature and continuation over many years. The current destruction being caused to communities and the environment in Leitrim by Sitka spruce plantations can be viewed as slow violence, as well as the area itself being referred to as a ‘sacrifice zone’. Leitrim’s small population, lack of media attention and small electorate have resulted in the area experiencing extreme changes to its environment, with afforestation also affecting community life. This podcast discusses the terms of ‘slow violence’ and ‘sacrifice zones’ and how they can be used to better understand what is happening in Leitrim, while also detailing an account of the field trip Maynooth University Geography students took in April to Leitrim, and a discussion of the impactful work of the group Save Leitrim.
June 17, 2022
Inchicore, Gentrification and Cycles of Violence
This podcast episode explores the ideas of gentrification and slow violence. It also discusses how gentrification can be seen as the eventual product of a long period of slow violence through disinvestment and is functionally dependent upon a history of violence in an area. In order to make the links between the two spatial justice frameworks it looks on the case study of Inchicore. Dr. Bresnihan and his interviewee, postgraduate diploma student Séamus Murray, briefly go over a history of cycles of state disinvestment and disregard in the area before moving with particular focus onto the currently unfolding redevelopment and gentrification project on the last of the St. Michael's estate sites - and the work being done to resist it.
June 14, 2022
Beyond bricks: buildings and questions of environmental justice in Ireland
This podcast examines the intersections between issues of the built environment, sustainability and environmental justice in Ireland. Discussion around the environmental impact of buildings has become more prevalent in both policy and public discourse as we look towards zero-carbon futures, with Ireland taking on board the policies of the European Green Deal. In the public eye much of this topic has focused on retrofitting and issues of fuel poverty. Through these there are large questions as to how equitable and inclusive a roll out of retrofitting measures will be, especially following the Government’s recent moves to ban turf cutting. However, beyond this there is a need to bring together issues around the built environment (such as lack of housing & public space and high vacancy rates)  with our current ecological and climate crises. While this has already started to some degree (e.g. Anois Agency in Cork) furthering these links could usher in a new mode of environmental politics and activism which links both the rural and the urban.
June 10, 2022
What’s place got to do with it? Climate activism, inclusion and democratic change
In this podcast, Will Stringer discusses his research into climate activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) and their demand for climate citizens’ assemblies. Drawing upon the idea of participation as an issue of justice through the work of political theorist Nancy Fraser, this episode explores what approaches to inclusion we can see within XR’s structures and demands. Before finally considering what implications these structures and demands have for two different affiliate groups, XR Aotearoa and XR Ireland, and how these can reveal the need to be attentive to local particularities when building inclusive movements for climate action.
June 08, 2022
Ireland in the global economy: does Ireland contribute to ecological damage in the global south?
It is becoming ever more clear that we face widespread and worsening ecological breakdown. However, while these issues are global, their causes and disastrous effects are not evenly distributed. The poorest often already facing the worst of the disruption, endangering lives and livelihoods. Is there a connection between what has made regions poor and the climate harms they face? In this podcast, Paul Goldrick-Kelly discusses the concept of uneven ecological exchange. Over the course of the conversation, Paul discusses how this theory developed, how it might explain the link between material and ecological poverty globally, where Ireland fits within global uneven ecological exchange, and the implications of all this for spatial and environmental justice.
June 06, 2022
Agriculture in Ireland: The past and potential futures of an imperialist industry
In this podcast, Nicola Whelan traces the historical development of Ireland’s agricultural industry since the colonial period. Starting with a discussion of Karl Marx and his account of the Irish ‘metabolic rift’ under British rule, we consider some of the lasting impacts this period of intensive production has had on the farming landscape of Ireland today. Nicola suggests that following independence, Ireland inadvertently turned to other forms of imperialism, looking particularly at the power that modern science and technology continues to hold over conventional farming methods. We discuss both the opportunities and risks presented by an agricultural future built around digital and techno-fixes. Nicola then introduces the concept of agroecology, outlining the potential of this growing movement as a solution to agriculture’s most harmful practices. To finish, we consider some of the systemic changes that would be needed to mainstream an agroecological approach, highlighting the important work that Irish farming group Talamh Beo are doing in this regard.
June 02, 2022
The Hurting Heritage of Bogs: Waste and Enclosure
Katlyne Armstrong joins Patrick Bresnihan in this podcast to explore bogs as a living intersection where heritage, planning, and resistance collide. More specifically, Katlyne introduces the borrowed concept of a hurting heritage and how this might be playing out in the Irish context. Colonialism, for example, continues to structure life in Ireland and it is important to consider the ways in which this has implications for how we think about, use and engage with landscapes such as bogs. Here, we discuss enclosure, waste, and value through colonialism’s robbery of nature as well as Bord na Mona’s beginnings and present day climate enterprise. Despite these colonial mindsets, local resistances and knowledges emerge and provide for alternatives, which is illustrated through community projects at Sliabh Beagh, activism for the rights of nature among Friends of the Ardee Bog, and Leitrim groups blocking forestry developments and wind turbines on bogland. 
June 01, 2022
We need to talk about Intel: Foreign Direct Investment and Environmental Justice
In this podcast, John Bohan asks: who are the polluters, the big energy consumers, the tax dodging tech giants, the water devourers in our communities? Why do I see the Intel logo all about North Kildare? What’s the craic with that factory by the river? When the benevolent corporate presence in my community says they’re committed to maintaining “environmental stewardship” and “provide jobs and investment in the community, what do they mean by that? We need to talk about Intel. We live on an island overrun by tax dodging and resource ravenous multinationals, with a state dedicated to their profit at any cost. Saving our planet and climate systems is going to mean more than just “taxing the polluters”, but if we’re to win in any form of struggle it will have to happen on, and be organised at, a community level. We need to understand what a corporation like Intel does at an everyday level - how they are tangibly placed within our communities and what they do with the power and influence they have built for themselves. There’s a sleeping antagonism in the community here, between the needs of a profit driven multinational like Intel and the needs of the community.
January 26, 2021
Green Gentrification in Dublin
This podcast with Rúadhán Clerkin looks at an environmental injustice issue (Green Gentrification) that is becoming an increasingly more prominent urban phenomenon. Countries all over the world are putting forward new and more radical greening policies and objectives to tackle climate change. However, the outcome of these greening polices can sometimes lead to green gentrification. This podcast takes a lot at what green gentrification is and where it is happening. This podcast also discusses the greening policies and objectives taking place in the Dublin City Region, most particularly those that were put forward by Dublin City Council in their Dublin Development Plan 2016-2022. The podcast then takes a look at who is benefiting from these greening polices, focusing on the greening polices in the Liberties in Dublin 8 as an example. Finally, this podcast looks at the ‘Just Green Enough’ strategy which offers a possible solution to the phenomena of green gentrification from taking place.
January 26, 2021
Feminist political ecology and poetic dwelling - what do Irish forests have to do with it?
In this podcast, Sophie Thiessen discusses feminist political ecology and poetic dwelling in relation to forestry in Ireland, focussing on County Leitrim. Sophie describes the history of forestry in Ireland and how forestry policy has developed in the present day in relation to climate change. Situating our discussion in Leitrim we talk about how forestry in Leitrim has been and continues to be contested and resisted by locals, through pre-existing complaint channels, pickets, and protests, with a focus on the Save Leitrim Action Group. More broadly, we discuss how individuals have found alternative ways to practice forestry that are more sustainable and permanent. Sophie talks about the examples of Sioned Jones in County Cork who took direct action against sitke spruce forestry, and Cathy Fitzgerald in County Carlow who formed a slow art practice around transforming a plantation forest into a close-to-nature forest.
January 26, 2021
Thirsty Industry: Investigating Foreign Direct Investment at the Water Frontier in Ireland
This podcast with Rob Keogh examines the role the state has played in creating enabling environmental and material conditions for inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ireland from the 1950s onwards, by focusing on a particular case study. The initial investment, and subsequent expansion, of Pfizer in Cork Harbour in the 1970s is examined, with a focus on water resources and infrastructures. While Ireland’s success in attracting FDI is conventionally attributed to policies such as the low corporation tax and generous financial grants, as well as factors such as access to EU markets and an educated, English-speaking workforce (all of which are certainly important), environmental factors have generally been overlooked. This case study suggests, however, that water resources have been an important material condition for enabling FDI in Ireland. While the future is uncertain, the existence of an extractivist logic that values Ireland’s water resources as a “competitive advantage” in a world of climate crisis might lead to the further targeting of water-intensive industry as an opportunity for FDI in Ireland. Attention to the material conditions for FDI,  and the state’s role in creating these conditions, raises important questions of environmental and social justice that should be central to any discussion of Ireland’s economic policy.
January 26, 2021
Housing Quality & Environmental Justice
This podcast with Laure Detymowski offers a brief insight on how housing quality and environmental justice have been linked both in the literature and in social and environmental justice campaigns, mostly in the US and Irish contexts. In this discussion, the issue of housing quality is extended to encompass physically and mentally harmful living conditions that may have received less attention than toxic exposure so far such as overcrowding, pest infestation, dampness and other forms of material hazard. While green, climate and other environmental policy is increasingly being implemented along with innovative eco-housing concepts, this generalised green turn has also been criticised as mostly disconnected from existing social inequities. In a context of growing risk of extreme weather event and pandemics, it appears more important than ever to ensure that everyone is included in discussions around what constitutes a safe, healthy, quality home. Failure to secure inclusiveness in these discussions may lead to historically-marginalised social groups continuing to bear the burden of health-damaging, life-threatening housing conditions in the face of existing as well as future hazards and their cumulative effects.
January 26, 2021
Supply Chain Justice and the Rural Geographies of the Just Transition
The Irish government plans to produce 70% of its electricity from domestic renewable energy by 2030. Onshore wind production is the cornerstone of these targets, with projects developing across the country that seeks to reassemble the energy system. New pressures and tensions are emerging at different scales between private networks, the state, and the communities enrolled in these new renewable energy regimes. In this podcast, Conchúr Ó Mhaonaigh describes developments within the Finn Valley region of Donegal, Ireland, paying particular attention to the Meenbog wind farm. Using secondary analysis of state documents, newspaper articles, and social media posts, Conchúr explores the relationship between Meenbog Wind Farm’s political-economic configurations and the agency and knowledge expressed through the anti-wind politics found in the Finn Valley region. We discuss the politics of scale that is playing out in Meenbog and Finn Valley’s onshore wind developments, opening up useful questions for future scholarship and activism on renewable energy and decarbonization.
January 26, 2021