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Is that a fact?

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

IN a world where our brains are being cluttered and clogged with facts – facts that, for all we know, are fake – it has become easy to spew out opinions about everything. More often than not based on uncorroborated facts. Our new masters dictate our realities through the realm of the world wide web. Out there, anything goes. You don’t have to do a search on the American election or the recent abortion referendum to discover false information.
Here in Westport a few weeks ago, the Twitter machine went mad because of a rumour that Ed Sheeran was planning to participate in the Mayo town’s Pieta House Darkness into Light walk. This ‘fact’ went viral and, indeed, led certain national newsdesks to phone me to verify it. Of course, it wasn’t true. It was just a harmless joke.

Corroborated facts
A WEEK later, I attended a conference in GMIT, Castlebar, where a lot of corroborated were facts presented. Organised by think-tank Feasta and entitled ‘Food for Thought – Lón Intinne’, it celebrated the rich and radical legacy of the late ecological economist Richard Douthwaite, a longtime resident of Westport.
It also dovetailed with the annual Delphi Famine Walk, which commemorates those desperate souls who walked ten miles to Delphi Lodge on a bitterly cold March night in 1849 in the hope of being given food rations – grain – by the Poor Law Guardians. Ironically, as they were sent away empty-handed to an inevitable death, these so called ‘guardians’ were eating a veritable feast.
Now, these are uncomfortable facts, aren’t they? These are facts we wish to ignore. Facts we don’t really want to discuss. Facts that expose mistakes of the past. Facts that show that we never seem to learn from these mistakes of the past. Facts that show us how short-sighted we are as a species.
Speaking at the conference, Joe Murray, a coordinator with justice-organisation Afri (Action from Ireland), said: “We now have ten major companies in the world controlling the food that we eat.” (Murray has organised the famine walk to Louisburgh for the last 30 years.) Arguing that food sovereignty presents us with real tangible solutions to ongoing famines and, moreover, the impact of climate change, he reminded the gathering that one of the causes of the Great Famines of the 1840s was a dependence on monoculture: the Connacht Lumper potato.
He also said that during the Great Famine £9 million was spent on relief works while – isn’t the irony just awful? – £14.5 million spent on the military in Ireland. (Get a sense of déjà vu if we look at the Gaza Strip, at Syria, Somalia, Southern Sudan … this list is just endless.)
He contextualised this in the contemporary environmental crisis caused by monoculture and the rearguard actions now being taken to implement bio-diversity to, effectively, save the planet.

Anthropocene period
INDEED, the conference’s keynote speaker, Professor Emeritus Peadar Kirby, speaking bi-lingually, used the concept of An Droch Saol, as developed from the impact of An Gorta Mór, to argue that our children are facing such an apocalypse as we move from the Holocene to the Anthropocene period. This period denotes the current geological age and the period during which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
Wow! Isn’t it hard to believe how our carbon footprint has careered out of control over the last century – even half century?
Quoting a series of statistics from the Global Footprint Network, he said that Ireland would need 2.79 planets to continue living into the future the way we are now. He cited the fact that globally ‘150 species are extinguished each day, 1,000 times greater than the natural rate of extinction’. He showed us a future map of Ireland, depicting an archipelago of islands, noting that ‘the cities of Galway, Waterford and Cork are among the most under-threat from rising waters’.
Aren’t these frightening facts? Particularly since they are an indictment of each and every one of us and how we exploit our planet – albeit to varying degrees.