If Ethiopia can do it, why can’t we?

Outdoor Living

SHOWING THE WAY  A young member of Gersale Green Club taking part in a community tree-planting project in Ethiopia, where 353 million trees were recently planted. Pic: Flickr.com/Trees ForTheFuture

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Bands of sweeping rain interspersed with warmer days and cool nights; the climate of Ireland remains pretty much unchanged – it’s always been this way, right? And so the early-summer declaration by the Irish Government of Climate Emergency passed largely unnoticed, earning little more than a snippet column in our national newspapers.
There’s little we can do about it anyway, so why worry? Isn’t that the way to go about things? This country enjoys an enviable geographic location, with North Atlantic Drift combining with the Jet Stream to deliver a benevolent sequence of weather certainties week in, week out, year after year, with only the occasional anomaly to keep things interesting.
Now scientists tell us the North Atlantic Drift appears to be slowing down and the amount of water delivered to our coastline after being warmed in the Gulf of Mexico is diminishing. The consequences for Ireland and for ourselves are uncertain, though extremes of heat and cold, together with increased precipitation events appear likely outcomes. We just don’t know. After all, we’re at the threshold of something major, somewhere we’ve never been before.
It could almost be a funny line from a sitcom. ‘Ah, Ted, the auld Climate Emergency. What’ll we do about it?’.
Well, what can we do? What are others doing?
The Ethiopan Government recently mobilised the nation and oversaw the planting of 353 million trees in just one day, part of an impressive ‘Green Legacy’ project that aims to plant 4 billion trees this year alone. That country has suffered greatly from bouts of drought and flooding that accompanied deforestation. Perhaps a lot of the new trees won’t survive, but maybe enough will to begin to make a difference, stabilising degraded soils and improving biodiversity, easing the way for a future increase in forest cover.
A little closer to home, Sweden, which tops the 2019 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), has focused on switching to renewable energy and has set itself an ambitious target of obtaining 100 percent of energy requirements from renewables by 2040. Recycling is the big thing there – 99 percent of domestically produced waste is currently recycled, with only 1 percent going into landfill.
Sweden even imports millions of tonnes of waste from other countries to keep its efficient recycling industry afloat. One report quoted Energy and Waste consultant Johan Sundberg: ‘If you incinerate one tonne of Italian waste in Sweden you get 500kg CO2 equivalent less emissions than if it is dumped in a landfill in Italy.’
Interestingly, despite the accolade of being named the world’s most climate-friendly country, Sweden only occupies fourth place on the CCPI, which states, “None of the countries achieved positions one to three. No country is doing enough to prevent dangerous climate change.”
What of Ireland? Of 60 countries assessed for climate change performance, we came in 48th place, flanked by other notables Khazakstan, the Russian Federation and Algeria.
What of Mayo, the efforts of our home town, our roadway or street, or our own way of thinking?
Is proper, responsible recycling somehow beyond us? Or reforestation – a genuine attempt to restore native Irish woodland, not because we can make a few euros but because we actually care about our home – is such a thing not feasible?
Including hedgerows, just 2 percent of Ireland is covered by native woodland, the second least amount for any European country after Malta. At the same time we have enormous potential to beautify huge areas of land that currently lie derelict.
Take Achill for instance. Yes, the bogs and hills are windswept and inhospitable, but it was once forested, and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be again. Native trees would serve to further beautify an already beautiful island, would add enormously to biodiversity and doubtless add to the tourist experience, besides performing that much-needed and increasingly pressing task of CO2 absorption.
One man made a gloomy assessment: “If we don’t do it, the next generation might not be able.”
Back to our sitcom.
‘Were you ever in an emergency Ted?’
‘I was. They had an emergency evacuation at the cinema.’
‘Emergencies often bring about evacuations, Ted. I heard that.’
‘Everybody had to get out and when they found out it was a false alarm they were all really annoyed. It’ll be the same this time, you’ll see.’
‘Right. Where will we evacuate?’
Can we really afford to wait and see?