Gather yourselves: Climate Conversations V

The end of Climate Conversations is the beginning of the real process

It was fitting for Climate Conversations to wind up its five-session, eight-week process in the Abbey Theatre. Since its inception by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904, The Abbey’s artistic policy has set out “to produce… diverse, engaging, innovative Irish and international theatre”. Climate Conversations could be said to have set out to shape a “diverse, engaging and innovative” Irish response to an international – or rather, global – threat. Given the commitment to engage the creative thinking of the artistic community in the conversations, it was apt that the same artist who spoke at the opening session, Emily Robyn-Archer, returned to create an art piece on stage as this final conversation progressed. And it was fitting that the first speaker at the Abbey Theatre was an abbot.

Change the mythology

Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, reminisced about watching the first men walking on the moon – an event that “destroyed the many-thousand-year-old mythology about the moon – and about ourselves”. There was no man in the moon, he said. Like our earth, it was just “a piece of floating rock”. I was reminded of the famous “pale blue dot” photo of Earth from 6 billion kilometres away, of the mind-altering “overview effect” experienced by astronauts who have seen the planet from the outside. Now, Dom Hederman said, we have to change the mythology yet again, because “the whole wide world now placed in [our] hands is a hand grenade with the pin out, and the time-bomb of the twenty-first century is ticking away.” Continue reading

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Faith, atheism and climate justice: Climate Conversations IV

Floods on the Ganges River, submerge a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Rishikesh, India June 16-17, 2013
Floods on the Ganges River, submerge a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Rishikesh, India June 16-17, 2013

As an atheist (albeit with a recent curiosity for Buddhism), I approached the fourth in the series of Climate Conversations – Prophetic Voices – with some trepidation. Though the main two NGOs involved – Trócaire and Christian Aid – are overtly faith-based organisations, Climate Conversations has so far focused squarely on the practical and empirical challenges of climate change, with only a brief and rather esoteric homily early in the first session. I have a lot of admiration for Christian Aid and Trócaire in tackling global poverty and inequality. While they are motivated by Christian beliefs, they don’t seek to impose those beliefs and they conduct their development work responsibly and equitably. But what concerned me about this session of Climate Conversations – introduced as a “reflective space” ahead of the final call to action – was its explicit focus on the place of faith in addressing climate change.

I had two fears. First, that the pragmatic, down-to-earth approach of previous sessions would give way to vague and nebulous idealism. Second, that what thusfar had been an all-encompassing and inclusive process would be effectively ringfenced for the religious, with the non-religious nominally welcome but tacitly excluded. My hope, however, was that the discussion would be more philosophical than explicitly religious – that the reflection would focus on our moral and ethical responsibilities to act, rather than on divine expectations or imperatives; that it would envision a common human endeavour that transcended the divisions of different faiths. In the end, I got perhaps the best that could have been expected – an uneasy balance between what I hoped and what I feared.

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Earth Day on the Pale Blue Dot

Today is Earth Day – and no better day to revisit Carl Sagan‘s mesmerising and humbling perspective on the famous “pale blue dot” photograph of our planet. I find myself coming back to this time and time again – just to remind myself of what really matters. If you do one thing for Earth Day, take three minutes to watch it.

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Living with enough is our task and duty: Climate Conversations III

As if there were no end to plenty
we plundered earth.

Peter Fallon, “Late Sentinels

Image: Climate Ireland
Image: Climate Ireland

This line from poet-farmer Peter Fallon, quoted at the close of the third session of Climate Conversations, captured the root of the climate crisis perfectly. It is a line that beautifully encompasses the imbalance of human acquisitiveness and the finite resources we draw on. The words “as if” illustrate the mistake in our thinking, in our assumption that our actions are without consequences. Whether that mistake is deliberate or accidental, the result of the plunder is the same, and the need to redress it just as urgent. It is what Peter Fallon’s poem goes on to call “the mandatory sentence/that became our task and duty.”

This session – The Sustainable Use of Our Land – highlighted the scale of the challenge for Ireland and the quandaries and dilemmas we will face in restructuring our own economy, in which agricultural food production plays such a huge role. Continue reading

Building a sustainable economy: Climate Conversations II

Sen. James Inhofe and his hard evidence that global warming is a myth

“Do you know what this is?” Senator Jim Inhofe, standing in front of a picture of his snow-bound family, holds up a snowball and tosses it to the sitting president of the US Senate. “It’s a snowball… It’s very, very cold out.”

This was his supposedly damning evidence last week against the reports that 2014 was globally the warmest year on record, his proof that climate change was a hoax. That a senior politician in the world’s only superpower is still incapable of grasping the primary-school difference between day-to-day localised weather and long-run global climate trends is astonishing. As world leaders blunder from one failed climate summit to the next, wasting what little time and opportunity remains to avoid the worst of the ecological crisis we face, such fatuous irresponsibility at such high legislative levels almost leads me to despair. Almost. At the very least, it is deeply frustrating.

At the end of the inaugural meeting of Climate Conversations, the 300-strong audience in Dublin’s Liberty Hall were asked to write one word that summed up how they felt about the subject of climate change. Though there were many varying responses, frustration was the dominant sense.

In an excellent, stark and comprehensive article in today’s Guardian, Larry Elliot not only captures the root of that frustration, but also what is needed to overcome it. “Can we imagine a future that is cleaner, greener and sustainable,” he writes, “without abandoning the idea of growth and, thus, forcing living standards into decline?… It will be hellishly difficult, but it is just about feasible if we make the right choices – and start making them now.”

Climate Conversations – a series of discussions between trade unions, businesses, politicians, civil society and the public – sets out to discuss the right choices for Ireland. Continue reading

Dunnes Stores on strike: A worker’s view

As union staff at 109 Dunnes Stores branches go on strike today, the chain’s one-day online sale seems more than a little desperate. It comes across as a brazen attempt to keep people shopping without having to cross a picket line, without having to face the people who are affected by Dunnes’ contemptible working hours and practices. But it is also suggests the employer is rattled. They have good reason to be, given Dunnes workers’ history of civil rights activism.

Have a read of this account of a Dunnes worker, explaining why they have no choice but to strike and demonstrating that same spirit of solidarity. And if you come across the picketers today, show them some solidarity of your own and sign the petition.

Decency for Dunnes Workers

I’m writing this to ask everyone working in Dunnes to support our strike this Thursday.

“I’ve never been one for getting really involved in the union, and never thought I’d be writing something like this or going on strike.

I’ve worked in Dunnes for 9 years, like most staff I’m on a 15 hour flexi contract. I’m the main earner in our house. My partner works for Dunnes aswell, but most weeks he only gets the 15 hours. We’ve a 2 year old daughter and she never wants for anything. I make sure of that. It means there’s weeks where me and Keith genuinely go hungry, or my Mam does a shop for us. It’s embarrassing. I’m a grown woman and I have a job. That job should give me enough money that I can afford to feed my family and pay my bills. On this contract I’m picking one…

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Earth Hour is tonight: Lights off for climate action

When the clocks go forward tonight, we’re going to lose an hour’s sleep, but that’s the short-term trade-off for the long-term benefit of six months of brighter evenings. It’s worth it. Tonight also marks Earth Hour, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) global event to call for action on climate change. At 8:30pm local time, landmarks around the world – including Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower – will be darkened for an hour. People around the world are urged to make a point of switching off all non-essential lights and electricity for that hour or to get involved in local Earth Hour events. It might sound gimmicky and it has been criticised for making a negligible impact, but that is not the point. Earth Hour is intended as a symbolic event – it is more about the bigger statement than the immediate effect. In the words of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “Earth Hour is a way for the citizens of the world to send a clear message – they want action on climate change.”

This year – ahead of December’s critical UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris – making that message heard is more important than ever. Continue reading