We must all grasp the nettle

An Cailín Rua

WE MUST PULL TOGETHER Individuals, businesses, county councils and government must all play their part. Pictured at the recent Global Day for Climate Justice in Castlebar are protesters McKinley Neal and Cora. Pic: Alison Laredo

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

It’s impossible to condense the climate conversation down to a half-page column, but in the wake of COP26, it’s probably worth a few words. Whatever your thoughts on the Conference of the Parties (yes, I had to Google that), it’s a conversation that’s not going away anytime soon, and one we’ll all be forced to engage with, one way or another.
The climate emergency is an inconvenient truth for most of us. We would prefer not to have to deal with it, and it is an unpalatable reality too that most of us have contributed to it, even on a miniscule scale, in the way we have lived our lives and consumed things. (Lots of things.)
Some, of course, have contributed far more than most. The large-scale fossil fuel, transportation, manufacturing, construction and, yes, agricultural industries are among the worst offenders. But while the temptation is there to absolve ourselves of responsibility at an individual or small-country level, the vast majority of us participate in the mass demand that drives these industries. So whether we like it or not, we as individuals have some responsibility to start solving this problem.
In light of this, it is understandable and natural that climate-change deniers exist. It is easier to absolve ourselves of responsibility by pretending something isn’t happening, rather than having to admit there is a problem and that we might have to confront it.
This is no pulpit, however. There are no fingers pointing from this direction. Yours truly is mostly welded to the car, no matter how short the distance or how handy the public transport, out of nothing else than sheer laziness and poor time management.
Yours truly also has a coal fire, has been known to put the wrong things in the wrong bins, and contributes far more than she would like to food waste. It is not for wanting to be better and do better and feeling guilty for not doing better, but sometimes ‘climate action’ feels like hard work as well as being a bit abstract.
However, there are some good conversations happening.
Ballina has just hosted ‘Mayo’s Call to Action on Climate – Local Action, Global Impact’ – an initiative of Ballina Green Town in partnership with The Mary Robinson Centre, Ballina Chamber, Mayo County Council and the West of Ireland Climate Action Regional Office. Facilitated by community groups, it included two days of community workshops and meetings, talks, presentations and conversations with a practical focus.
Previously, Ballina had set its intention to become Ireland’s Greenest Town by 2025 – again, a community led initiative – and one of the first realisations was that taking action on climate and becoming greener is something that will offer a better way of living for us all. A focus on green spaces, on walking and cycling as a (safe and hassle-free) means of transport, on growing our food locally, of re-using and repurposing existing items, of bringing existing properties back to life in town centres.
There is nothing in any of these initiatives that will harm and compromise our quality of life; instead it will enhance it and make our public spaces more attractive, our wallets heavier, and our dinner plates more appetising. It is, frankly, a no-brainer.
But change needs to come from both the top and the bottom. Those in charge of public policy and planning need to step up, get educated and instigate change.
Our county councils need to grasp the nettle and look seriously at their town planning and best practice elsewhere. Move away from parks for cars and towards parks for people. Create living, breathing, car-free spaces for people to linger, socialise and enjoy – and spend money.
The conversation at a local level needs to evolve; particularly around land use and agriculture where the opportunities for small, rural farmers are all but ignored.
We need to equip people with the tools needed to make practical changes in their daily lives and make it easier and achievable for them to do so.
We’ll only get one shot at this. Already, it is the most vulnerable in the world that are being adversely and disproportionately affected, but our time will come too. Are we ready to do something about it?