What’s best and what’s sustainable for the west

What's best for the west

CALLING FOR CHANGE Pictured taking part in the Global Day of Action on climate change in September 2019 in the Octagon, Westport were Ger Reidy, organiser Pauline Garavan and former Green Party election candidate Saoirse McHugh, with ‘Guido the Clown’. Edel Hackett, a member of the Mayo Green Party, argues any development of the west of Ireland has to have climate change at the centre of plans. Pic: Conor McKeown


Edel Hackett

In recent months The Mayo News ran a great series of articles interviewing people about what they think is best for the west in these most extraordinary of times.
I read them with huge interest but had this niggling in my head that there was something really fundamental missing within the lines of aspiration, and sometimes self-congratulatory plaudits. While many interviewees mentioned in passing issues related to climate change, nobody put this looming reality at the centre of their plans and their visions.
The next ten years – starting today – are the most critical if we are to address the climate and biodiversity crisis which threatens our safe future on this planet. If we don’t hardwire this into everything we plan for in the west, we are not imagining what’s best for the west. We are instead limiting its potential and outlining how the west will be left behind.
Old politics, old political thinking, and 20th century promises based on what we are doing now and what we have done for decades, will not deliver what people and communities are likely to need as we progress further into the 21st century. Because, even in ten years’ time, many of us may be working in jobs that don’t exist yet, in industries we haven’t so far thought of and in climate conditions we may not want to worry about too much yet.
Here are just four ways that we can begin to shape a sustainable, fair and just transition to a different future in the west.

1, A just transition towards real local decision making
Just transition are two words that are bandied around all the time now. What they mean is that in planning for the future, social justice, fairness and equality for workers and communities are prioritised as we transition to meet our climate challenges.
To ensure this, there has to be closer interaction with and buy-in from local communities, organisations and younger people who are at the coalface of the environmental and economic effects of climate change.
I once heard a young person say that what they wanted was politics on their phone. At first I thought, that’s ridiculous, but in reality, why don’t we have more digitalised, and interactive direct politics and why are we continuing to enforce old ways of doing things on the generation that has longest to live in the future?
This ‘always on’ model of local democracy requires serious financing for local government – way beyond the outmoded system of unfair commercial rates it relies on. What’s best for the west, and indeed the whole country, is that local government is much stronger, and much more interactive, and to resource this a portion of our general taxation should be paid directly to it, to give it real, plugged in, grass-roots authority.

2, Taking our eye off the road
In many of the pieces written during the summer there were references to roads, and particularly the N5 upgrade. I don’t want to be all sanctimonious. There are many days that I have cursed the fact that I am stuck behind a tractor, a truck and a line of cars travelling at snail’s pace on the N5 stretch into Westport. Good roads will continue to be part of a transport mix. But, in reality, roads are last century’s response to travel and a juggernaut of a road that rips through countryside goes way beyond what is actually needed to make the current road safer.
The future-proof response to how we get around must be to shift our transport spending and our own headspace in favour of quality public transport, in particular quality, frequent and reliable local public transport. In addition, we have to prioritise safe walkways and cycle-ways into and around our towns across the west. It was good to see that a number of Mayo villages, including Islandeady, recently received funding through the Towns and Village Renewal Scheme for safe cycle and walk-ways into the village centre.

3, The future of food is local
Covid-19 has put a focus on food like never before. However, Covid has also highlighted the fragilities of globalised travel and transport, and with that, the fragility of expecting that we can continue to buy asparagus from Peru or strawberries from South Africa. While food supplies have been maintained through Covid, future pandemics (yes, they are predicted) and climate disruptions mean that it will not always be this way. To arm ourselves against future food insecurity risks, particularly here in the west, we should be concentrating now on supporting and increasing our local food supplies. Small voluntary organisations like The Edible Landscape project, based in Westport, have been running amazing programmes to help people grow their own foods and to highlight the importance of local growing, agriculture and forestry. But they are operating on a shoe-string and with little or no help from local authorities. It’s way past time to think about food security as a side-show or voluntary vocation.

4, The digital space
In 2009, a Green Party candidate for the Westport Town Council, Fergus McAllister (I have to claim connection to him as my husband) canvassed on a strong vision for Westport as a digital hub. He didn’t get elected but at least he had the right vision for the future of the west. Eleven years ago. This is where I share the vision of many of those who have spoken already about the best for the west. The digital roll-out across the West is decades too late already. It also makes no sense why the Government didn’t resource great local internet providers to do this. Covid-19 has shown us that it is possible to work, and learn, from home, and that you don’t have to commute long distances to offices or to places of education, at least not every day. But, that’s if you’re lucky enough to have good broadband. Good broadband cannot be a matter of luck in our futures. Digital is as much an everyday need for families in the West as a home, or access to food and water.

Outdated thinking
How we live as individuals, as a community – as a collection of vibrant communities on the furthest edge of Europe – is our choice. We can shape that choice by deciding to look forward, to see the writing on the wall and to plan for climate change now, or we can continue to look backwards and rely on the ways of the past to meet unprecedented challenges. My view is that we cannot prepare for 21st century living with 19th century solutions.

Based in Westport, Edel Hackett is a member of the Mayo Green Party.