Broad churches and narrow windows

Outdoor Living

CLIMATE AND COMMUNITY Members of Westport Eco-Congregation pictured in February 2019 at a talk on domestic recycling, together with the evening’s guest speakers. From left: Caroline Goucher, Mary Berkery, Mary Manning, Fr Charlie McDonnell, Bríd McAuley, Abi O’Callaghan-Platt, Stanley Bourke, McKinley Neal, Sharon Cameron, Mary Murphy and Rev Val Rodgers. Pic: Frank Dolan

If I had to name one group in Westport that has achieved more than any other in relation to positive environmental action over the last four years, it would have to be Westport Eco-Congregation.
Laura Dixon (Climate Action Officer with Mayo County Council) explained to me in 2017 that Westport Eco-Congregation was set up in response to Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Sí. The potential to spark change and raise awareness about our planet through our churches was recognised and subsequently realised to be worth every effort.
Sometime later, I attended a talk in Westport Town Hall on ‘zero waste’, organised by Westport Eco-Congregation. Róisín Brady, a teacher in the Sacred Heart School, presented this workshop. She demonstrated how we can live our lives without superfluous plastic and packaging, reminding us that so much of our plastic makes its way into the sea or landfill, often after single-use, causing all sorts of problems.
The event attracted a large number of participants, filling the Town Hall theatre to full capacity (225 seats), and each was enlightened about how to lighten of the burden of waste packaging and single-use plastic. All the plastic that Róisín’s family uses in one year can easily fit into a jam jar or three, it just takes a little know how.  
I have been a member of Westport Eco-Congregation ever since. Even before Blue Planet II was aired in 2018, and the awareness of plastic pollution in our seas, it was clear that there was a movement for change towards becoming ‘plastic free’ in our locality. This movement consequently led to the establishment of the zero-packaging PAX store on Market Lane, and other initiatives around Westport town.  
In February 2018, I attended the ‘Biodiversity Conference’ in Dublin Castle at which there were 600 participants. This was a wonderful experience that I often draw on. The many speakers and activists who were there gave their perspective on a wide variety of issues in relation to saving our wildlife. However, one thing was notable, and it now seems quite odd in hindsight: There was extraordinarily little mention of climate change, except for a brief reference from the final speaker, who argued that it was going to take something or someone to activate the general public to create political leadership in this regard.
That someone turned out to be 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who held her first School Strike for Climate Action in August 2018.
Promoting climate and biodiversity actions, both interconnected, is now the principle activity of Westport Eco-Congregation.
All faiths and none are welcome to join Westport Eco-Congregation. Green groups are a wide movement. We all want the same thing – to make our planet a viable place for all who share it, recognising that we are all interdependent, and that the natural world is crucial for the future of the next generation.
As I look out at Clew Bay, at Croagh Patrick, our holy mountain, to the drumlins and islands in the bay, in full view I can see Bertrá Strand. It has been seriously battered by more-frequent Atlantic storms in recent years as a result of climate change, and there is but a narrow window of time for action before it is lost forever.
The existence of Bertrá dunes are vital in saving the coastline from Murrisk all the way to Rosbeg from flooding and coastal erosion.
There is a plan in place to save it in the long term, I’m told, and no doubt many local green groups will be involved – for after all, we are a broad and inclusive church. I hope to God it works!

> Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.