In a recent interview with Susan Gately, I shared how my new book came about – or almost didn’t!
Tell me about your new book Climate Generation?
I have been writing it on and off for a couple of years. I was initially inspired by Pope Francis and his letter “Laudato Si”, which moved me deeply. It made me ask what more I can do to help shift things. Also, writing helps me to make sense of how I am feeling about an issue, especially when I get worried, so I wrote a lot of it at night when I couldn’t get to sleep! I almost threw the manuscript in the bin at one point as I didn’t think it was very interesting. It was only when a good friend of mine, Kate, who was expecting her baby last Autumn told me about her own fears for the future – due to environmental concerns – that I dusted it off and finished it. In the end, most of the work was done in the past few months.
Why did you write it?
As I say, climate change is a reality we all need to understand. It affects everyone and is going to mean we as a society in Ireland and globally need to change drastically if our children are to have a bright future. A big problem is that most people, for various reasons, just don’t see the problem. This isn’t about blaming anyone – but about recognising there is a big job to do to widen the conversation on climate change and engage people who perhaps don’t think of themselves as “environmentalists”. Parents and families are key to that because this is about our children’s future.
I also wanted to write something to mark Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families. The Pope has been a major inspiration for me ever since he wrote his amazing letter “Laudato Sí“. He makes the clear connection between being family and having a common home, the earth. The two go hand in hand and I hope the book will help to break open this connection for those coming to the WMOF. Many events on this theme are planned for August.
What is its main thrust?
The whole book is told through personal stories, from growing up in the shadow of an oil refinery in Scotland, to finding myself side by side with Mary Robinson and author Naomi Klein in Rome at a climate symposium in the Vatican! It is an extraordinary journey, but I’m just an ordinary mum too.
The book essentially ponders a very hard question. It is one, perhaps, we don’t want to ask ourselves: how can it be that we parents today, knowing what our children will face through climate change, still feel unable to act for their future? I explore the reasons, starting with myself and my own resistance to change, and then turn to the many possibilities out there for action. There is SO much we can each do but we need to focus on it and prioritise it now. Like if your child was facing a bully in the classroom or sick – you need that kind of focus to fight for their future. Mums and dads know what that kind of action involves. It doesn’t take no for an answer, it is persistent and it is determined no matter what the cost.
I make the argument that little actions are important (like changing to renewables, eating less meat) but they are not enough. If we love our children and accept what is happening, we can and must do more. We need to get active in our communities and make our voices heard in our political choices. This is paramount. I share all the wonderful stories of people I have met who are doing this – and how it is changing the world and bringing hope.
I have the impression that Climate Change as an issue has gone off the boil in Ireland in recent months. Is this true? How can it be brought into focus again?
I’d have the opposite view. Certainly the Repeal referendum took over everything, but the Oireachtas has been working away on a number of important climate bills. These are very significant, but a lot more is needed. I think at a local level too there is now genuine concern about changing weather – Hurricane Ophelia, Beast from the East, the ‘Tsunami from the skies’ in Donegal – people are beginning to join the dots. They also see what is happening globally. I think two things need to be done to bring it back into focus – the first is really for the outcomes of the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change to be examined and acted on. There were some pretty radical moves proposed by citizens last October! Along side this, a but broader conversation is needed with Irish citizens on climate change and what it means. Thankfully the government is about to launch a formal process called the National Dialogue on Climate Action next week. This will be an opportunities for communities right across the country to engage with this important topic. It is critical now that we raise the level of understanding about the choices we face due to climate change.
How can you convince people that even small changes in behaviour matter?
It is true that there are so many problems and our contribution can seem like a drop in the ocean – but then, so does our plastic pollution! The plastic problem (which is connected to climate in that it is a symptom of our consumer culture) is showing us in a very visual way how our individual plastic choices result in a massive problem. The only way to solve it is to change individual behaviour – and to change the policies which make it possible. In a short period of time attitudes to plastics have changed due to the Blue Planet documentary and so on. The same now needs to happen with our greenhouse gas emssions. Sadly, we can’t see those, but in my book I try to make the science easy so people can visualise what it all means.
This is where our deepest motivation comes in. Of course there is a risk of failing! But for me it has become quite simple: my children mean the world to me, so I’ll go to the ends of the earth for them. Even if I don’t succeed, at least in twenty years when the ask me what I did when I knew what was going on, I can say I tried.
What signs of hope do you see?
So many people give me hope! One of the greatest signs of hope is the amazing response I see from people everywhere when I talk about these issues! I have been up and down the country, and people really want to connect and do something. I meet people who attended conferences three years ago and they tell me “you know we went home and retro-fitted our home” or “we bought an electric car” or “we decided to plant a forest”… and so on… we need to change the story to one of hope and peace with our planet! I saw this emerging at Bloom this year. It was inspiring to see how sustainability is so integral to the way people were thinking.
Pope Francis gives me hope too. I’m very excited about his visit to Ireland. I am working with an amazing team of people to ensure that his visit is as green as possible and that the theme of climate and ecology is prominent in the events. We have a wonderful group of eco-volunteers preparing for his visit – who would have imagined this a few years ago! There is still time to sign up for this wonderful project too until the end of June.