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ECO EYE SERIES 20 (2022)

In the 20th season of Eco Eye, hosts Duncan Stewart, ecologist Anja Murray, Dr Lara Dungan and psychologist Dr Clare Kambamettu explore critical environmental issues affecting not just our natural world, but often our health. This season reflects the latest science from a wide range of environmental topics of huge interest and concern to the public, from Ireland’s ageing water infrastructure, to marine mammal conservation. Filmed all across the country and further afield, it reveals the challenges and opportunities of building a low-carbon society.

Watch all 9 episodes of Eco Eye 20 here

EP1: ‘Towns in Transition’

Duncan Stewart investigates the relentless demise of Irish towns and asks what is being done now to reverse their decline. Central to how towns survive and thrive is the system of exchange between town centres and the surrounding lands. Up to the 20th century, town centres were bustling with life; families lived above the shops that lined the main-street, food and goods were exchanged in the market square. Those who lived out of town worked the land and provided livestock, food and goods for the town markets. But over the last 50 years, the townscape and this system of exchange has completely changed. The market evolved into out-of-town shopping centres and online shopping. Over time as more shops on the main-street closed down, so too did essential services like post offices and banks. Town centres hollowed out as those who lived in the centre relocated to the suburbs. Today, towns all across Ireland no longer function as primary economic or residential hubs. They are rapidly declining into abandoned ruins that were once vibrant and critical social centres for communities. What would it take to bring our towns back to thriving compact communities, suitable for all demographics once again? A new Urban Regeneration Fund and a town centre first policy sets to reverse the decline of Irish Towns and Sligo town is earmarked for the largest investment of new funding. Will this help to turn Sligo town around?

EP2: ‘Blue Horizons’

With unprecedented new development earmarked off Ireland’s coasts, Anja Murray examines the balance between expanding Ireland’s blue economy and protecting and enhancing our marine ecosystems.

EP3: ‘A Matter of Degrees’

6 years since the famous ‘COP21’ Paris Agreement that was said to be a landmark deal to finally get the world to address climate change; Today global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, but will ‘COP26’ in Glasgow be any different? Dr Clare Kamambettu is there to find out, but discovers that change is indeed happening, just not in the way she expected.

EP4: ‘The Climate of Farming’

Duncan Stewart gets past the noise and unpacks the controversy around Ireland’s agriculture and climate change ambitions. The culture of livestock farming goes back to the beginnings of Irish civilisation. It has been the lifeblood of rural Ireland for generations and today there are over 150,000 families directly reliant on the family farm. As the debate around what should happen in farming has become fraught and polarised, there is genuine frustration and fear in rural communities about what farmers will be asked to do to help meet these climate change targets. Ireland’s agricultural industry accounts for a particularly large proportion of our climate change impacts. Making up over a third of our greenhouse gas emissions footprint, and over 40% of our emissions if land use change emissions are included. Our scientists have made it clear that we have no hope of meeting our emissions targets without agriculture making a big contribution. These impacts are often framed as the fault of Ireland’s farmers, but in fact it’s actually Ireland’s agri-food strategy and subsidy system that promotes and incentivises intensification at the expense of the environment. Many argue that our farmers should diversify into less damaging, more economically viable farming practices such as tillage and horticulture, but is this really a viable solution? What are the challenges for farmers today and what is the science really saying about what should become of Ireland’s green grass pastures?

EP5: ‘Climate Friendly Farming’

Duncan Stewart explores what it would mean for Ireland’s agricultural system to play it’s fair share in climate change targets. Agriculture in Ireland has come under sharp criticism in recent years, not just for being Ireland’s largest contributor to climate change, but also because it has by far the biggest impact on biodiversity loss and is the sector that is most responsible for the demise in water quality in Ireland. But is sustainable farming possible in Ireland? and if so, what does it look like? In a search for solutions, Duncan Stewart visits Dowth research farm in Co Meath where the team are aiming to restore soil fertility and achieve carbon neutrality on a suckler beef farm. With a farmer from Offaly, Duncan will also explore another system of livestock farming that’s growing traction in Ireland which benefits biodiversity, water quality, climate change and farmer’s profits. ‘Regenerative Farming’ sees farmers completely cut out their chemical fertiliser inputs and imported feed while offering a premium product. Could what’s happening on these farms be the way forward for Ireland’s livestock farmers?

EP6: ‘Keeping the Heat On’

With 94% of Ireland’s heat energy coming from imported fossil fuels and Irelands new climate change ambitions committing to slash fossil fuel emissions in half in the next 8-years. Dr Clare Kambamettu explores if and how this can be achieved without leaving many of us out in the cold. —— Because Ireland doesn’t produce our own fossil fuels, Ireland is locked into a global market which puts us at the mercy of other countries. It often means rising prices and could in the future lead to shortages. With fuel prices already on the rise, how will this affect how we keep ourselves warm in the winter? In this episode, Dr Clare Kambamettu will explore if and how advanced technologies in the areas of district heating, home retrofits and even tapping into geothermal heat could be used to decarbonise Ireland’s heat supply and become more energy independent.

EP7: ‘Derelict Ireland’

Duncan Stewart investigates why in the middle of a housing crisis Ireland has one of the highest rates of vacancy and dereliction in all of Europe and what can be done about it.

Dereliction has plagued most Irish cities and towns for so long, that many of us have become normalised to it as we go about our daily lives. If left unaddressed, vacancy leads to dereliction which then has a contagious effect, spreading through the urban environment, eroding the cultural and economic potential that can eat away at the morale of communities. With close to 15% of the total building stock in Ireland lying vacant, it is clear that the problem of vacancy and dereliction are twin challenges that need specific focus. Could tackling the problem of vacancy and dereliction be key to solving Ireland’s housing problems? Addressing vacancy and dereliction could be the key to repairing sprawl, increasing housing stock and improving urban environments. In this episode Duncan Stewart will identify why dereliction is so prominent in Ireland, what impact this is having on our communities. He’ll also look at the policies and incentives being used in other countries to prevent and reverse the blight of vacancy and dereliction.

EP8: ‘Higher Density vs Urban Sprawl’

With spiralling house prices, an insatiable demand for new homes in urban and suburban areas and a building boom set to try to meet this demand, where should we build? Is it possible to redesign communities to densify and ensure good family living or are we set to continue the pattern of more sprawl that locks in car dependence and congestion?

To meet the housing demand and needs, Ireland needs to build as many as 200,000 new homes over the next three years to resolve the housing crisis. There have been decades-long arguments between politicians, planners, developers and city dwellers on whether we should build up instead of out to solve these housing shortages. While the debate still rages on, Ireland has by far the lowest apartment rate of any EU countries at just 12%, and still is struggling to make higher density attractive and sustainable. Other European cities have shown how higher densities and attractive communities can be created within existing built-up areas, that are not just accepted but welcomed by existing communities. How can we replicate this in Ireland’s cities and how high is too high? Using Dublin City as the example, Dr Lara Dungan will explore urban densification, the need to build upwards and make better use of under-utilised urban land, while providing attractive, affordable urban housing. It will also cover the importance of proximity, density and diversity in city life by exploring the “15 minute city” model, where everything needed for a good life is available within 15 minutes of where you live by walking or cycling, which reduces the need for cars and urban sprawl. And will explore the obstacles to achieving this urban utopia.

EP9: ‘Water Pressure’

Dr Clare Kambamettu investigates the state of Ireland’s ageing and fragmenting water infrastructure and explores how we can safeguard future water supply with demand growing daily.

Water is our most precious resource, without it life would not exist. As an island nation with 70,000km of rivers, thousands of lakes and over 100 days of rain annually, we have an enviable supply of freshwater. And it’s understandable that when surrounded by so much water, there is an inclination to think that it just ‘falls from the sky’. But how many of us know and understand the true cost of supplying a growing population with an estimated 1.7 billion litres of drinking water a day? It’s not just domestic use, Ireland’s biggest industries, pharmaceuticals, tech, agriculture and data centres also have enormous daily water demands and are putting new pressure on an engineered water system that’s already stretched past it’s capacity. This demand is further compounded by an ageing infrastructure that leaks close to 40% of water back into the ground. Having an increasingly urbanised population combined with increasing demand, threatens the Eastern region regularly with shortages. How will the system cope with future impacts of a changing climate?