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Efforts to Address Climate Change will Change Landscape Forever

17 July 2019 – The potential removal of an estimated 5000 trees in Dublin to accommodate new bus routes and flood control measures which will see the erection of a wall protecting Clontarf’s sea front are just some of the examples of how landscapes will be permanently altered due to measures to save the environment.

A new project funded by the Irish Research Council (IRC) Creative Connections Grant, is seeking to show how our relationship to our landscapes and environments are key to the formation of our identity, highlighting many of the reasons these government measures have received push back from the local residents impacted.

Examine Europe: Examining European Cultural Identities through Interdisciplinary Methods will explore how our shared landscapes and cultural heritage are in fact at the heart of what it means to be European.

Climate Change and Identity

According to Dr Sarah Kerr, Principal Investigator for Examine Europe and Project Officer for two of Trinity’s Arts and Humanities-led research themes, Identities in Transformation and Making Ireland, people often don’t realise how important landscape is to them until it changes. “That’s when we realise how much landscapes contribute to our sense of rootedness in the world – we act out our lives within them, they are the backdrop and the stage, but more than that, they are a character to which we respond”, Dr Kerr commented.

Speaking of the recent proposals for Bus Connect which may result in the loss of almost 5000 trees in the Dublin area, Dr Kerr said that people are concerned about the massive impact this is going to have. “Tree loss in our landscape means more noise, more pollution, less shade. It is a big change aesthetically and in our sense of connection to where we live.”












“Not only is climate change threatening the landscape itself, but how we respond to it – in an attempt to  be sustainable – is also impacting the landscape”, Dr Kerr says, alluding to the potential changes to the Clontarf seafront in North East Dublin which aim to reduce flood risk.  Residents have argued that the original proposal for an 8-foot wall would block a view of the seafront which is central to the character of the area, and to residents’ relationship to it. ACDEH

Flood preparedness and climate vulnerability will also feature in the follow on workshop organised by Dr James Smith on Aquatic Cultures and the Digital Environmental Humanities also funded by the IRC. Looking at the relationship between water and culture, Dr Smith argues that digitally-assisted environmental humanities has a growing role in a globally-informed Irish response to the relationship between water and culture and the big societal challenges, such as the climate crisis. “We cannot understand human culture or water separately”, Dr Smith explains, pointing to the social constructs of water and how this has contributed to the story of water in the twenty-first century. Looking at histories, rituals, deities, therapies, sports and bathing, the workshop brings into focus the need to place human practices and beliefs at the centre of any measures to address environmental change.

Contested Landscapes

Central to the Examine Europe project is the belief that landscapes create people and people create them, however different groups may view their landscape differently, even in the same environment.

The upcoming workshop at the Trinity Long Room Hub in early August will also explore the idea of ‘contested landscapes’. One key example is Northern Ireland, Dr Kerr explains, commenting on the recent 12th of July marches commemorating the Battle of the Boyne.

“[The marches] are taking place along traditional procession routes. However landscapes change over time, and now, some of these routes are populated by mainly nationalist communities who don't view that landscape as an appropriate space for  Battle of the Boyne commemoration."

The border issue in Northern Ireland, which has been propelled back into discussion since the UK voted to leave the EU, is another example of a contested landscape. “A hard border would drastically change the landscape and people’s sense of identity. Some people don’t necessarily see, or want to see, the border area as a divided landscape. Not only for practical reasons, such as land ownership, but some peoples’ identities are connected to, what is currently, an essentially borderless landscape.” People are viewing the same space in different and contradictory ways. Understanding what a hard border could mean where people don’t see a division, raises further problems and signifies another change in Europe’s landscape.

Water is also central to the discussion around landscapes that are contested, Dr Smith says. “Rivers, reservoirs, groundwater and the ocean are all seen as a raw resource to be managed and exploited, often to the detriment of those who live with water.” The tension between utilitarian visions of water and the cultural values and meanings it holds for many societies has been a key contributor to environmental degradation across Europe and the world.  "Sharing approaches and research methods as well as perspectives and digital tools can help to imagine, visualise and address environmental challenges on a local and global scale."

Can Culture Save Europe?

Examine Europe logo

Brexit and the debates about EU versus national interests which have surrounded it are part of a wider trend throughout Europe which has seen the rise in support for right wing populist parties. This trend towards nationalism has presented a type of ‘crisis in European identity’, Dr Sarah Kerr argues.

These parties are critical of the European Union, and seek to distance European citizens from a sense of shared identity, emphasising the national identity above all else. But arguably, a European Identity was never really at the heart of the institutional structures of the European Union . The Examine Europe project takes a cultural perspective rather than an institutional one, Ms Mendola, Research Assistant for Examine Europe, explains. “It’s about looking at the cultural roots that link us together and asking if it’s possible to have a national identity while at the same time feeling European?” Ms Mendola argues that instead of focusing on our shared cultural identity, people have often tended to focus on the more institutional and shared political structures in Europe, which has led to a sense of detachment among many people. “How can we now rebuild trust and reconnect people with a European identity through landscape? Our landscape has allowed the movement of people from before the Roman Empire to the present day .”

In subsequent workshops to be held in the autumn, the Examine Europe project will also look at sport, education and media with project partners National University of Ireland, Galway and Queens University Belfast, as part of a puzzle to understanding what a shared European identity might look like. “Cultural heritage comprises tangible heritage, such as biodiversity, material culture and the structures that surround us in everyday life; but it also includes intangible heritage such as sporting competitions like the Tour De France and Giro D’Italia, the Italian bicycle race that was held for the first time in Northern Ireland in 2015”, Dr Kerr comments.  

The movement of people has been a key feature of the European Union but it also comes back to landscapes. In contemporary Europe, cities and towns are shaped by new cultures and identities, with each group bringing something of their own culture, but the influence of different populations throughout the ages is also a key part of our national identity today, Ms Mendola comments. “National identity is complicated because we’ve been moving around Europe for centuries now, even before the European Union, people were moving or travelling, or marrying each other or building things that were half Irish, half French, half Italian - this is European culture.”

Workshop highlights:

8 August 2019: Europe’s shared cultural heritage and the crisis of European identities
10.30 - Plenary address of the Examine Europe interdisciplinary workshop  delivered by Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Prof. Audrey Horning (The College of William and Mary, Virginia). Tickets available here 
Full programme here

8 August 2019: Human Engagements With Water: from dominion to conviviality
18.30 - Keynote lecture by Prof. Veronica Strang (Durham University) as part of the Aquatic Cultures and the Digital Environmental Humanities (ACDEH) knowledge exchange for impact event (9-10 August, 2019). Tickets available here 
Full programme here

© Cover image Lucas Miguel @lucasmiguel


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