By Gerry Kearns, Professor of Human Geography, Member Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute, Maynooth University
The geographical community has lost a titan. David Lowenthal brought literary flourish and profound humanity to scholarship on the history of environmental ideas (George Perkins Marsh: Versatile Vermonter(1958); George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation(2000)) and on modern society’s complex and sometimes delusional relationship with its own past (The Past Is a Foreign Country(1985); The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History(1997); The Past Is a Foreign Country – Revisited(2015)). He studied under Carl Sauer at Berkeley before moving to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his doctoral work and was on the staff at University College London from 1972, translating to Emeritus in 1985. Hugh Clout has affectionately evoked David’s life and work in a piece for the Guardian,
By Gerry Kearns, Professor of Human Geography, Member Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute, Maynooth University
By - Ainhoa Gonzalez del Campo, Christine Bonnin, Eoin O’Mahony from the School of Geography, UCD.
The SDGs span a continuum of interdependent social (e.g. no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, and well-being), economic (e.g. economic growth, innovation in industry) and environmental considerations (e.g. life on land and water, and climate). Aptly, Goal 4 which focuses on ‘quality education’, refers to the importance of inclusivity and equitability in access to quality education in order to improve people’s lives and sustainable development. While the targets and indicators for Goal 4 concentrate importantly on gender-equality in education and basic literacy (i.e. primary and post-primary completion), it also includes the provision of appropriate skills to promote sustainable development which are of particular relevance in higher education.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – digital systems that enable us to work with, analyse and visually represent geographic information – are important tools that can help societies make evidence-based decisions to address pressing global sustainable development challenges. While GIS have become an important support tool in the global development and humanitarian sector, at present, very few higher education programmes in development studies integrate it as a key component. This is a problem for the implementation of the SDGs locally. Yet, highly promising opportunities arise for the use and proliferation of free and open source geospatial software in development education and practice. Of particular importance is the easy accessibility of this technology to institutions in the Global South at little to no cost, which can contribute to reducing global spatial inequalities in access to educational resources through its adaptation into online education. However, in spite of the ongoing technological advancements in both the practice of online education and free software, research on the contribution of open source GIS and open data to the educational sphere, and ultimately to student preparedness and employability, is very limited.
In this blog post we would like to showcase how a project we are working on in Vietnam enables university students there to avail of free and open source software to aid in the implementation of the SDGs, particularly around the goal of quality education. All human interventions on human and natural landscapes have a spatial component and GIS software analyses these components in relation to each other. Moreover, they represent key analytical software for seeking solutions to critical current and future global sustainable development challenges like climate change, migration, poverty alleviation and food security.
As a country, Vietnam is relatively well developed, with significant improvements in human health and infrastructure in recent years. The Vietnam 2035 report has however identified numerous lingering challenges, linked to the spatial inequality of socio-economic development, environmental sustainability and climate change. On the basis that these development challenges can benefit from a geographical perspective, as socio-economic and environmental issues are intrinsically spatial, a proposal was put forward to incorporate GIS teaching and learning into development studies in Vietnam. As a result, in 2017, geographers at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland were awarded funding by the official development and aid agency Irish Aid under their Vietnam Ireland Bilateral Education programme (VIBE) to develop an online open source GIS module for deployment by project partners at the Faculty of International Studies, Hanoi University (HANU) in their development studies programme.
Free and open source geospatial software (such as Quantum GIS or QGIS) is now at a sufficiently mature stage to be used across a variety of contexts, and it is used by many municipal authorities, planning agencies and private sector companies. Their use is also growing in research and higher education contexts.
In the light of this, QGIS was purposefully adopted in the project to ensure continued accessibility to the technology by HANU’s staff and students both during and after module completion. Complemented by online instructional videos and task-based assignments, the UCD team developed a fully-fledged GIS module for use at HANU.
The module was provided as a set of practical handouts on GIS tools and functionality with accompanying video tutorials. Vietnam-specific data and examples were used to illustrate applications so that the module context would be directly relevant to the national and local development contexts. The students can access the lesson handouts locally on a USB drive and follow the accompanying demonstration videos on a dedicated private YouTube channel.
Bio-the-economy: Killing multiple birds with one biobased stone: development of diverse global bioeconomies
Dr Laura Devaney is an experienced social scientist with research interests in environmental, food and bioeconomy governance. With a PhD from the Department of Geography Trinity College, she has held postdoctoral positions at Trinity and Teagasc as well as visiting research positions at Dalhousie University Nova Scotia (Dobbin Atlantic Award 2017) and the University of California Berkeley (Fulbright-EPA Scholar 2017-18). She positions her work at the research policy interface, preoccupied with the quest for a more sustainable future and has collaborated with the Department of the Taoiseach advising on the most appropriate development pathways for the Irish bioeconomy. Her research features heavily in the National Policy Statement on the Bioeconomy (released March 2018), the work of the Irish bioeconomy Implementation Committee and the German Bioeconomy Council with respect to international bioeconomy policies and progress (available here).
Not content with addressing just one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I would like to propose a concept that has the potential to address at least nine of them and has formed a central research interest of mine as an environmental geographer. Couched within the quest for a more sustainable future, the bioeconomy represents an alternative economic system to the fossil fuel based economy on which we have come to rely; the very system that caused unprecedented levels of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation that led to a need for the Sustainable Development Goals to be established in the first place. A vicious cycle. But how about creating a cleaner, greener, more efficient and biobased cycle to address, and perhaps even reverse, these concerns?
With potential to reduce waste, mitigate climate change, develop food and energy security, address resource scarcity, cut emissions and minimise pollution, the bioeconomy involves the creation of an economic system where fossil fuels are replaced by renewable biological resources and biomass is processed and transformed to meet everyday needs for food, feed, fuel and fibre (Staffas et al., 2013; Bugge et al., 2016; El-Chichakli et al., 2016; Devaney and Henchion, 2016; Devaney et al., 2017). It combines the outputs of agriculture, marine and forestry resource sectors with the transformative capacity of food, biochemical, biomaterial and bioenergy industries. As a “still-evolving” concept (Bracco et al., 2018), the bioeconomy has been translated in different ways internationally with varying emphasis on its biotechnological, bioresource and bioecology aspects (Bugge et al, 2016). Such alternate visions reflect not only the different motives behind bioeconomy development but the range of opportunities it presents to address global sustainability challenges. The bioeconomy thus continues to gain traction across policy, industry and academic spheres.
Sounds too good to be true? Well of course, the caveat is that the bioeconomy MUST be developed in an environmentally and socially sustainable way so that it does not become self-defeating in its sustainability aims. It must not replicate the extractive, destructive nature of the fossil-based economy that came before it. This requires careful consideration and management of both production and consumption dimensions such that biological resources are produced in an environmentally sound manner and that we simply are not just producing more unnecessary ‘stuff’’ for heedless consumption; biobased or otherwise. Having recently returned from a research visit to the US, I have also become increasingly conscious of issues of environmental justice associated with the bioeconomy so that its benefits truly filter to all parts of society. After all, if executed ‘correctly’, the bioeconomy holds promise to reduce rural-urban divides and revitalise marginalised communities to supply the biomass that forms the very foundation of global bioeconomies. From a consumption perspective, uncomfortable conversations (for some) are required on the need for de-growth alongside bioeconomy developments to fundamentally shift our consumption patterns, practices and behaviours.
Combining these caveats and concerns, there is a need and indeed desires (as experienced in the US context), for the creation of regenerative and socially just bioeconomies worldwide that not only reduce environmental ‘bad’ but also create environmental ‘good’ (e.g. through carbon sequestration) and are enacted in a socially sound and inclusive manner (Devaney and Iles, 2018). Such an ideal sustainable future will require a robust governance system to guide it, one that ensures that all voices are heard, marginalised actors are included and environmental checks and balances are in place to truly achieve sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth (in keeping with the eight SDG). This is a fundamental research interest of mine, and as a geographer, with particular consideration as to how these governing relationships are, and should be, formed, organised and perform across scales from local to global. How and where stakeholders are embedded and invest in the bioeconomy is important to develop shared bioeconomy visions and commonly agreed bioeconomy principles to guide this economic transition. Considering ‘good’ governance in the bioeconomy has been a cornerstone of my work and policy influence, developing frameworks and conditions for sustainable bioeconomy development that have subsequently guided both national and international bioeconomy policy development (for example, the Irish Government’s National Policy Statement on the Bioeconomy (Department of the Taoiseach, 2018) and the German Bioeconomy Council’s analysis of bioeconomy trends and progress worldwide (GBC, 2018)).
This preoccupation has led me to conduct geographical research across Ireland, Europe, Canada and the US, assessing the development and governance of diverse global bioeconomies and the stakeholder influences, supports and hindrances present across scales. After all, bioeconomy development must be geographically tailored to reflect different resource bases, industrial capacities, markets, governing regimes, histories, priorities and agendas at national and local scales. There is also potential for developing regional bioeconomy clusters to provide support and cohesion to the biobased transition nationally and internationally (Devaney and Iles, 2018).
Enacted in this way, the bioeconomy can begin to address multiple SDGs including:
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There are 17 Goals which are all interconnected. This means that success in one affects success in other areas. For example dealing with the threat of climate change impacts how we manage our fragile natural resources, achieving gender equality or better health helps eradicate poverty, and fostering peace and inclusive societies will reduce inequalities and help economies prosper. In short, this is the greatest chance we have to improve life for future generations. (UNDP, 2018)
Looking at the 17 goals it is clear that geography and the work of geographers has an important role to play in the achievement of these goals and this is why the GSI has chosen to focus on this relationship for GEOWEEK 2018.
For the next few weeks we will feature blog posts from geographers that focus on how their work intersects with the themes and goals of sustainable development. If you would like to submit a post please check here for more details.
Ireland has developed 'The Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018 - 2020' in direct response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As part of our GeoWeek activities we are running a conference 'Geography and the SDG's' to create a stakeholder forum for geographers across the state to explore ways to achieve the SDG's.
If you have anything you would like to share or contribute, please feel free to contact us via the email button above!
The writer of this piece, Arnold Horner, formerly lectured in Geography at University College Dublin.
His engagement with second-level has included acting as NUI consultant in Geography for the State Examinations Commission for 25 years. Between 1995 and c. 2011, he also represented NUI on National Council for Curriculum Assessment syllabus committees for senior and junior cycle Geography. He was for more than twenty years a Teaching Council subject advisor in Geography.
The issue of the low level of third level interest in what goes on in second level Geography is rightly raised by Sheelagh Waddington (‘Does Geography have a future’, 24.5.18). Let us hope it is not something that is going to blow up in the face of Geographers in Ireland over the coming decade. News that the numbers doing A Level Geography in Britain declined by 11% in 2017 (admittedly after some years of growth) may be an omen. There the decline seems to coincide with a growing uptake of STEM (science, technology and mathematics) subjects. Here those subjects also deserve a greater level of interest but there is also pressure on Geography from other rising subjects such as politics. With Geography no longer privileged at Junior Cert, the subject will have to fight if it is to maintain its current high take-up at senior level.
In an era of globalization and environmental challenges, the case for Geography as a key component of post-primary education should be strong. Yet one has only to look as far as the United States to see that nothing can be taken for granted. Third-level Geography struggles for a profile, and public ignorance about global issues is manifest daily. Is it possible that a similar situation could develop in Ireland? To repeat, nothing should be taken for granted. Subjects/ disciplines need both a self-critical awareness and a worthwhile, and genuine, public offering if they are to continue to be seen as relevant and worthy of a role in a crowded educational curriculum.
Posts are mostly by Irene the PRO but are welcome from all members of the society. Just email us your articles.