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Easter 1916 is a key date in Irish history. A watershed moment of enormous significance to the nation. The attempted revolution on that date failed, but the brutal treatment of its leaders gave a renewed impetus to the campaign for Home Rule. The compromise that was reached with the majority Protestant population in Ulster was not popular in the rest of the Island, and led to a bloody but mercifully brief civil war. The centenary of the 1916 rising last year was the inspiration for a programme promoting creativity in all its forms across the nation in the five years that echo the years between the rising and the establishment of the Republic.
A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending an event that could not have happened except through the support of the programme: the world premiere of a new work by Belfast born composer Ian Wilson. Composed in collaboration with people involved in agriculture and nature conservation in the Irish Midlands, as a celebration of the importance of pollenators to the human food chain, Thresholds consists of a collage of recorded sounds and speech, overlaid by live performance by solo saxophone. British saxophonist David Roach, who performed the solo, has worked with Wilson before.
But that is just one of thousands of initiatives across all aspects of Irish life for which Creative Ireland is the inspiration. Take, for example, this article from the Irish Times, which describes how merging creativity with technology is generating incredible opportunities for young people.
Sometimes it seems that technology is driving the human race into a dark and dangerous place. I am a firm believer that creative thinking can ensure that human scale solutions will be found to the problems that scare us, just as they did in the past, and just as the young people of Ireland are demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate between now and 2022, the centenary of the formation of the Republic.
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Rebecca Bryn writes excellent historical fiction. Like me she also has opinions which she doesn’t mind sharing. Unlike me she has a natural wit that shines through her writing even when it is opinionated. And, surely, few would disagree with the views she is expressing here.
Source: Stark naked in Tesco
Global warming and climate change – while closely related and sometimes used interchangeably – technically refer to two different things:
- “Global warming” applies to the long-term trend of rising average global temperatures.
- “Climate change” is a broader term that reflects the fact that carbon pollution does more than just warm our planet. Carbon pollution is also changing rain and snow patterns and increasing the risk of intense storms and droughts.
Read the rest of the article here.
How should we respond to disasters? Natural events – earthquakes, floods, forest fires – usually evoke an outpouring of sympathy accompanied by the dispatch of all manner of aid. Engineers, medics, machinery and food are flown in to the disaster area to ensure that victims receive succour. Appeals raise millions of dollars to support such efforts.
Is our response to famine different? Should it be? Are we more inclined to seek the cause of the catastrophe before making a commitment to assist? How deeply ingrained in our knowledge of Judao/Christian history is the story of how Joseph taught his Egyptian captors the importance of conserving the surplus from good years in order to provide for years when the harvest failed? We may not subscribe to Malthusian theories about the relationship between population and food production, but common sense tells us that there is indeed some form of interdependence between the two.
Natural disasters are just that. Largely unpredictable events beyond our control. Science has provided us with tools that reduce the unpredictability of earthquakes. Engineers have shown us how to design buildings capable of surviving any but the most intense. The same is true of floods. Even so, there are few circumstances in which we would blame the victims of such events. We might argue, after the event, that warnings had been ignored, that building design regulations had been flouted, flood defences neglected. In such circumstances we would be justified in apportioning blame to those responsible for the neglect, not to the victims.
Often potential victims are able to insure against such risks, although the premium might be prohibitive if the risk is high. And an insurer’s reluctance to underwrite the risk should act as a warning to anyone choosing to dwell in an area prone to floods or earthquakes. In such circumstances we might well withhold our sympathy on the grounds that they were aware of the risk when they took the decision to build their home on a flood plain or near a fault line.
The causes of famine – crop failure, drought, floods – are potentially just as predictable as are earthquakes. Tools and techniques to mitigate such events are well known. Could there, then, be some justification in attributing blame to the victims of famine? Maybe they failed to install proper irrigation systems; they chose not to plant disease resistant strains of their preferred crop; they did not make use of other agricultural techniques, such as spraying with insecticides, or sensible crop rotations to conserve soil fertility whilst allowing the disease bearing organisms to die before re-planting with the susceptible crop.
The Elephant in the Room
There is another factor in all these situations: population pressure. As populations grow, demand for food and housing increases, forcing people to build their homes, or to grow crops, in unsuitable locations. The corollary is true also: in good times people reproduce. Infant mortality reduces. The elderly survive for longer. Population increases. The likelihood of disaster grows. So, too, does the likelihood of war. Another lesson from Judao/Christian history concerns the wresting of the “promised land” from its occupants in order to provide a fertile home for former exiles.
Were I not an optimist I would say that, even without climate change, our planet is headed for catastrophe driven by the inexorable rise in population. Why do I remain optimistic? Because I believe in the power of education, of science and of technology. There will be great suffering, for sure, there always has been. Wars, natural disasters and famines will continue. Perhaps they will intensify.
In the past these would often have been attributed to providence, or the wrath of some invisible deity. The response would have involved religious rituals and invocations. But the advance of knowledge has given humankind an understanding of the causes of these calamities and the means both to mitigate their effects and to prevent their recurrence. I believe it will give future generations the power to find a sustainable balance between population and resource use.
I’m reading about John Clare, the nineteenth century English poet. He spent the last years of his life in a mental institution, suffering from delusions. One of these being that his unattainable, and by then long dead, first love would come to him. Earlier he had been courted by some of the better educated members of the aristocracy who were quick to drop him as soon as his mental health problems became apparent.
I see parallels in the way the delusions of ordinary English folk are being fostered by the better educated members of the’ leave’ camp in this referendum about Britain’s membership of the EU.
One such delusion is that we will have greater freedom to act in our own interests from outside of the EU. The fact is that we are now, and always have been, free to pursue our own best interests.
Thirteen years ago the then British government pursued its own grand delusion, against the advice of European allies, and popular opinion at home. The disastrous invasion of Iraq, a decision based on the false delusion that the Iraqi government possessed weapons of mass destruction, has ramifications that continue today, not least in the exodus of people desperate to escape the horrors of religious wars in the Middle East.
There can be no greater irony than the fact that the arrival of these refugees in Europe is cited as a reason for Britain to leave the EU.
Another delusion is the one that says we were alright before the EU and will, therefore, be alright again after we leave. Stop and think for a moment. We have been members of the EU for 46 years. That means no-one under 60 has a first hand memory of what life was like back then.
Of course the EU has evolved over that time and is not the same as it was when we joined. But we have played our part in shaping that evolution with our contributions to the contents of the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties, for example, which contain ‘opt-outs’ so that we are not tied-in to elements of those treaties that are not in our best interests.
And then there’s the idea that the EU is undemocratic, that the other 27 member states dictate to us. In 46 years it’s perhaps not surprising that no-one seems to remember that we in Britain did not always elect our members of the European parliament. They were appointed by the government of the day. One thing the other members (then only 8 in number) did dictate, is that we should elect our MEPs, and do so by proportional representation. The first such election took place 37 years ago this month.
It has been said often enough by now, but some people are apparently so deluded they do not believe it – no law or regulation comes from the EU that has not been agreed by the parliament and by the council of ministers representing every member state. Every one of the 28 member states can make that same claim, that it is being dictated to by the other 27, including Britain. The truth is that every member state fights its corner in the tortuous negotiations that precede the adoption of any new regulation.
To pretend that Britain does not do well in such talks is insulting to those of our fellow citizens who conduct them. Nor should it be forgotten that, after we leave, those same people will be charged with negotiating new deals individually with each of the 27, as well as the rest of the world. The idea that they could achieve better results, faster, is surely the grandest delusion of all.
John Clare’s poetry and pamphlets celebrated the English countryside and what he saw as its destruction by the enclosure movement. I suspect he would have welcomed those European regulations that aim to preserve the English countryside and wildlife by limiting pollution and encouraging the retention of hedgerows and other habitats.
Protecting the environment is about a lot more than climate change. It’s about all the other damage we are doing to the planet we call home. Like plastic that finds its way from the seas into the human food chain; it’s about the pollution of water courses by the improper use of fertilisers or the careless disposal of industrial effluents. And it’s about the loss of species whether as a result of the use of insecticides or the destruction of habitats.
In my mind, if I want to ensure a sustainable future for the world into which my grand-daughter will one day bring her children, then having Green voices in governments across the world is essential. And the great thing about the system of voting used here in the Republic of Ireland is that there is no such thing as a wasted vote. With the UK’s ‘first past the post’ system voting for a candidate who has little chance of winning reduces the chances of the front-runner being defeated by the candidate with the best chance of achieving that outcome.
Here you can give your ‘No.1’ to the candidate you most favour, safe in the knowledge that, if he or she doesn’t quite make it, your vote will be transferred to your second choice.
I first became aware of Theresa several years ago when I came across her website dedicated to sustainable development. Some time later I received a telephone call from her after the County Arts Office had given her my name as a contact for the Laois Writers’ Group. Theresa became a regular attender at the group’s meetings, where she shared with us her poems and other writings in which she expressed her concerns about the environment, and about what she sees as widespread economic injustice, exacerbated as it was by the political response to the banking collapse.
As time passed it became clear that her involvement in campaigning gave her less time for writing.
In a recent blog post she outlined the extent of that campaigning which has resulted in several of the principles she has consistently advocated being incorporated into the Irish government’s White Paper on Energy.
I am flattered that she granted me an interview which I can share on my website. I hope it receives many more ‘hits’ than do my usual posts. It is quite long but it is also inspirational.
What prompted you to begin campaigning to change Ireland’s energy policy?
Concern about climate change led me to the Transition movement in 2007. Transition is a network for grass roots, community scale, action to address climate change and diminishing resources. As I worked on projects I began to unwrap policies, seeing the pros and cons of our system. Somewhere in the coming years our economy crashed and the extent of corruption began to emerge. It became evident that developers and financially powerful people run the country.
How successful do you think you have been?
That depends on how one measures success. The main success was collaboration and building a network that could communicate and work together. People’s Energy Charter was the starting point. Then we met other groups and NGO’s. We shared information and submissions. We reiterated each others points. In terms of lobbying the system I think we have achieved a lot on paper. I see a lot of what we’ve been calling for included in the energy policy.
In terms of action on climate change I’m not happy with the progress on addressing it. While Ireland is open to the concept of action, signed up to agreements and targets, there is little by way of meaningful action to show our government intends to act with the urgency climate change warrants.
In fact the laid back approach indicates that they really don’t understand the gravity of the situation.
Infiltrating the energy system was only one battle. Getting half-hearted commitment to action on climate was another inch on to no mans land. This is a massive war.
What have you learned from the experience?
“green capitalism is not the answer”
I learned that keeping a network going is time consuming and requires ample diplomatic skills.
I learned that lots of people do not collaborate naturally – they work in isolation. I’m not quite sure if that’s to justify their own existence or protect their work. It may be an ego thing. People in paid positions are few and far between in the environmental sector so validating your job, aka your funding, can be a job in itself – you have to be seen to be worthy. This can hinder collaboration.
I was reminded that perseverance pays off. Having been a civil servant I knew not to expect open arms to change or a speedy reaction to anything.
I learned a LOT about the system, how our government is interdependent and interconnected yet our departments are working in isolation. Policies get passed around lots of different government departments before sign off to make sure that what’s being proposed will not negatively affect them.
I learned that green capitalism is not the answer. We cannot simply replace our industrialisation and destruction of the planet by changing the raw materials.
“We need more women in the decision making process”
I learned that developers are not in it for the good of the planet or the people. Good people may start out with good intentions but get caught up in the capitalist model which isn’t the answer.
I learned we need more women in the decision making process!
I learned that our political system needs to change. Big time.
I learned that our planning system, infrastructure managers, political system and civil service for the main part all favour working with business over communities. I have less trust now.
I was reminded continuously that profit is more important than people.
I learned that most people think our politicians know what they are doing when really they don’t know even half of it.
I learned that politicians read the brief they are handed whether or not they believe, understand or support it.
I learned that there is little appreciation and hardly any money for the environmental lobby despite the fact that they are probably the only people considering the state of the world we leave our children. It’s an absolute disgrace.
I learned that NESC (National Economic and Social Council) is a well-intentioned think tank that may well have shot itself in the foot by exploring the stark reality of climate change.
Do you think any of the politicians with whom you have engaged have learned anything as a result of your persistence?
I am pretty confident that Alex White learned a lot about public participation and community engagement as a direct result. I believe that while he was Minister for Energy he learned a lot about climate change which was more to do with his trip to international climate conferences than from me, however I hope I showed him that there are a lot of people concerned within Ireland.
Alan Kelly (Who succeeded Alex White as Ireland’s Energy Minister, FP) learned that I believe we need to build resilience to the uncertainty ahead. Although I think even after the third time I said it he wasn’t convinced.
How has the experience effected your personal life?
I’m now separated and I’m sure that my outside passion and the lack of support at home played a part in that. I believe that my commitment evoked resentment in our relationship. It took up time but given that I do not watch TV or have any other hobbies that most people spend time on the jealousy was not justified.
I also feel that if I had been paid for the work there would have been a different attitude. It cost money to do some of the work but I did my best to get expenses covered.
Many of the meetings you participated in took place in Dublin. At the start you were living an hour or so from the capital. Part way through the process you moved to Clare. That must have made it harder to maintain the momentum?
Fortunately my move coincided with being elected to a representative role on the steering group of the Environmental Pillar. This now meant that my expenses would be covered. For the first time in all of the years I was being supported financially. At the time when I needed it most. This actually made me more resolved. I felt this was meant to be – an uncanny coincidence. However funding to the Environmental Pillar was since cut and so there is less support available for me. It’s cheaper to get people in Dublin to participate.
What makes you believe that your opinion is any more representative of public opinion than that of an elected member of the Dail?
“I represent my children. We are robbing from our children, using their share of natural resources, polluting their air, water and soil“
I never claimed to represent public opinion. I represent my children.
I’ve come to realise that the system does not really allow elected representatives look beyond local issues. In order to be elected representatives must look after their voters. Climate change is not their priority. Energy policy doesn’t bother them until it’s affecting them directly. All the while developers work away on local, regional and national plans.
It was also a matter of timing. I was already working on community participation in energy planning. I expect most of our elected representatives were and many still are, oblivious to the policy. Most policies actually. That ignorance is even greater at local authority level.
Groups opposed to wind farms often point to ‘evidence’ cited by people who question the science behind global warming. Do you think we are any closer to helping them understand the danger, and that we all have a duty to do everything in our power to avert it, including the acceptance of turbines as part of the future landscape?
“when your world … is threatened by developer led change … you are well within your rights to rebel.“
I believe people are becoming more concerned about climate change. It is unfortunate that it had to be seen first hand to be believed.
I also believe that when your world as you know it is threatened by developer led change and you’re the last to know you are well within your rights to rebel. It’s a natural reaction to find whatever you can to fight your cause so the circumstances lend themselves to climate deniers monopolising the situation. Our government failed the public on this by allowing developers run the show.
To what extent does being a mother influence your determination to influence policy?
It is the reason I am involved. I was shocked when I realised the state of the world we are leaving for future generations and I cannot justify inaction. I have an inherent sense of justice and what’s happening is inter-generational injustice. We are robbing from our children, using their share of natural resources, polluting their air, water and soil. That’s just inter-generational. The inequality across the globe currently is another massive injustice. As with most mothers, indeed parents in general, my heart wrenches at the sight or thought of anybody’s child dying. Yet this is happening all the time and we are making it worse by abusing our shared resources like air and sea. Then we have the audacity to turn refugees away?
What’s next for you? What other issues do you hope to influence in the years to come?
I hope to be involved in pushing for participative implementation of the energy white paper and I expect to continue watching the system, lobbying when needed. I am still convenor of the environmental pillars climate and energy group and I hope to stay involved with that despite the distance.
I have also acquired knowledge about other environmental issues and am continuously learning. There are so many battles to be fought, so many worthy causes to be supported, so much destruction that I cannot just ignore it.
I am involved with Clare Public Participation Network and I will be working to make the PPN a success – a forum for meaningful public engagement in the decisions affecting them, their environment and future generations.