Building From the Ground Up

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Pondering the meaning of life (and sustainable development?) on Lough Allua, Co. Cork

(Photo credit: Declan O'Mahony)

"Can development and nature conservation co-exist? Or are we simply deluding ourselves?"

A question I've asked myself countless times, and then asked you - my trusted reader - in a previous post my musings and readings have left some lasting impressions, particularly the idea of evident trade-offs between conservation and development, even if that development is classed as 'sustainable'. Yes, conservation can' trump' development (!), but it does seem increasingly rare that it does so. Should we continue to strive for more unrealistic "win-win" scenarios with 'virtuous cycles of progress and prosperity' or focus our efforts on turning losses into wins, by not backing down to the corporate machine that has now fused with national government bodies ( Justin Trudeau's ) love for tar sands, or Ireland's addiction to dairy - a top polluter around the world - or Trump's endless quest for new o just to name a few ?

Let's take it back home to Éire for a moment: Ireland is one of only four European countries with greenhouse gas emissions above 1990 levels and has been continually criticised for its lack of urgency in tackling it's 2020 deadline to reduce emissions, facing huge fines and monetary penalties from the EU. Although there are many dedicated campaigners, scientists, policymakers and members of the community whole-heartedly dedicated to improving Ireland's attitude towards nature and the environment, looking clinically at the state we are in (that is: ranked LAST in Europe in our effort to tackle climate change), it does not look as though nature conservation and the environment have had major wins against development on the EMERALD ISLE !!

In a time of social and political upheaval, with a young generation of voters pushing the status quo out into unchartered territory and a brighter future for Ireland (through campaigns such as 'Repeal the 8th' and a 62% YES vote to legalise gay marriage) it is a perfect opportunity for voters and non-voters alike to realise that environmental issues, social justice issues and the revival of traditional Irish Culture are intrinsically linked. They will require us to shake our societal structure to the core and from there build a national and global community whose primary focus is to increase human and non-human well-being.

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Repeal the 8th Amendment protestors, Galway, Ireland. ©Jack Daniel Trá


For us to live sustained by this planet, it seems obvious to me that we must live within Earth's limits. This has multiple implications and will require us to question and change our behaviour, as individuals and collectively. The relentless consumption of meaningless goods (be it the newest iPhone or the single-use plastic spoon with your lunchtime leek-and-potato soup) does immeasurable damage to the natural environment but it also does not leave you feeling truly fulfilled - by the time the plastic packaging has come off and been swept away to the nearest landfill or even the ocean, your brain has already jumped to the next product.

Ultimately, I have hope that if we could look up from our illuminated screens long enough to realise how powerful the human collective can be, realising just how critical it is for us to prevent global warming reaching anywhere near the 2 degree Celcius mark,  realising how wonderful it is to be part of a tangible community (not one based on double tapping and little red hearts)... and quickly taking the strides necessary to achieving such dreams: then it is within our reach to guide planet Earth through the Anthropocene and perhaps come out the other end less scath than if we kept scrolling.

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Artist: Ashley Lukashevsky


As the youth of Ireland are becoming increasingly well educated and more socially and politically active, I think it's possible that this generation will be the spark needed to ignite a movement supporting this human collective. To attack a vast range of issues by tying them together (see ecofeminism and conservation with deep-rooted community involvement)  for example means a stronger front on every level and an increased number of minds using their intellectual, creative, and emotional genius to find new and exciting ways to push the boundaries. Social media itself can be utilised in a powerful way to inspire change (drawing a line between narcissistic like-hunting and global connectedness) such as the *BlackLivesMatter and *MeToo campaigns,  both of which aim to radically reconfigure social realities.

So as I near the end of a journey from source to sea, please hear this as a rally cry: use your genius to stand up for issues that affect you, affect your family or friends, affect the human collective and of course, affect our beautiful planet Earth.