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We live in each other’s shadow

County View

County View
John Healy

That we live in each other’s shadow, as members of the global family, is the basic premise of Mary Robinson’s book on ‘Climate Justice’, launched in Castlebar some weeks ago as part of the Wild Atlantic Words festival.
Help for each other can come from unexpected places, she says, and geography does not have to be a barrier to empathy. Nor, she notes, is the concept of the brotherhood of man of recent origin. She cites the story of the Choctaw tribe, who met in 1847 in Oklahoma to mourn their banishment from their tribal lands and became aware that strangers were starving, 3,000 miles away, on the far shores of the Atlantic. The tribe sent $5,000 in today’s money to help the Famine victims, motivated by a sense of human compassion.
Mary Robinson’s book is a warning alarm for the devastation being visited on our planet by the blind depredation of human folly. And, tellingly, she makes the point that those who suffer most are always the least culpable. The poor, the underprivileged, the farmers of the Third World, are forced to bear the brunt of our reckless destruction of nature and Mother Earth. Those communities, the least responsible for the pollution that is threatening the existence of the planet, are the most affected by the awesome destruction that is the result of global warming.
In ‘Climate Justice’, Mary Robinson cuts through the jargon associated with climate change to bring us the first-hand stories of a dozen individuals, mainly women, whose lives have been blighted by these changes, but who also have committed themselves to fighting back. And they are not the great and the good. They are ordinary women, mothers and grandmothers like Mary Robinson herself, who are appalled by the prospect of what we are bequeathing to the generations to come.
Her subjects are well chosen. The small farmer in Uganda, a mother of six, who tells her, “There are no seasons anymore. Agriculture is a gamble for survival.”
The Yupik people of Alaska, whose culture and traditions go back a thousand years, are being wiped out as the once-solid permafrost melts away under soaring temperatures, leaving behind a mushy, sodden wasteland and a dying civilisation.
A beauty-salon owner in East Biloxi, Mississippi, impoverished by Hurricane Katrina of a decade ago, reflects on how her case has been no isolated phenomenon. Since then, Hurricane Harvey has devastated Houston, and next time it will be Boston or New York or Tampa. Inside the next 50 years, one in eight Florida homes will be submerged by rising sea levels.
And perhaps most touching of all in ‘Climate Justice’ is the story of Kiribati, the country of 33 islands in the Pacific Ocean, only slightly above sea level. Because of its location on the International Date Line, it was the first country to welcome the new millennium on the first morning of 2000. And now it will become the first country to disappear off the face of the earth under rising sea levels.
Its president has negotiated the purchase of 6,000 acres of forested land on a Fijian island, a thousand miles away, where he plans to arrange the ‘dignified migration’ of his people as their country sinks beneath the sea.
And, as if to confirm Mary Robinson’s premise of mankind’s shared humanity, one is reminded that, back in 2000, Kiribati dispatched an envoy to attend the New Year’s Day Dawn Oak ceremonies in Balla, hardly knowing that the 2,000 saplings being planted there to mark the new millennium would outlive his own ancient homeland.