Celebrate Earth Day – Have an eco-friendly Easter

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Easter Egg manufacturers are just not getting it…. ridiculous amounts of packaging

This weekend we will consume almost 18 million Easter eggs in Ireland. For a population of 4.7 million, that is a staggering amount of chocolate – and of packaging.

And the packaging on Easter eggs is a pet hate of mine. According to leading recycling company Repak, under half of the packaging will be correctly recycled. Think about it – how much additional landfill waste will be generated!

I actually thought that this year due to the amount of publicity around the ocean plastic problem, that producers would have mended their ways.

It seems, however, that our insatiable appetite for large useless packaging (rather than the quality of the chocolate) still abounds. Over-sized boxes, foil wrapped eggs still line the supermarket shelves.

So as we head out to purchase those last minute eggs, how can we avoid filling our bins and the oceans with plastic this Easter? Here are some top tips….

  • Pick eggs which have as little extra packaging as possible
  • Pick eggs that are not foil wrapped if possible – it cannot be recycled
  • Avoid eggs that have a plastic window in the box. If they do, you need to separate the window and box for recycling.
  • Avoid eggs with soft plastic wrap – it can’t be recycled;
  • Reuse the egg boxes for crafts – they make great houses for small toys!

More information can be found on mywaste.ie.

Eco-friendly fun

Easter is a great community occasion. One of the things I love in Ireland is the local Easter egg hunt tradition. We always have one in our local estate. This year, how about thinking about an eco-friendly idea instead of hiding eggs wrapped in foil? Any eggs that are left can be a danger to animals – as well as an eye sore.

One suggestion is to run a treasure hunt – with an Egg as a prize at the end. We did this last year and it worked a treat! Hide paper clues around the estate with riddles. Each riddle gives a letter – and when you collect them all you unscramble the word. You can then claim your prize! The kids and adults loved it and it created almost zero waste.

Using natural eggs is another option. These can be emptied or hard boiled, painted with food colour and rolled. When I was growing up we had a wonderful egg rolling tradition. We would paint the eggs then roll the eggs from the top of a hill. It marked the symbolism was the stone from Jesus’ tomb. It was great fun. I am not sure how many eggs got eaten, but at least they could be composted! There are more Eco ideas for Easter here.

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Cherry blossoms are beautiful this year – get out and enjoy them on Earth Day

Next Monday is also Earth Day. This is an international day that has been running for 49 years. It is a day when we celebrate our mother earth and try to make changes to protect her. Many celebrations are happening all over the world. You can find a list of what is going on here.

If you can’t get to a celebration, here is my suggestion on what to do to mark Earth Day in your own way! You could spend the day outdoors – go for a walk in the forest or by the beach to appreciate nature together. This time, however, bring re-used plastic bags with you and collect litter as you go (you may want to wear gloves too!) You will be amazed at how much random stuff you find. When you get home, before you dump it, if you can, spread it out and look at what was there. Really powerful way to teach kids about looking after the planet. If you enjoy it, you might check in with 12 year old Flossie and her beach cleaners – they regularly organise beach clean-ups around Dublin.

Join us on the 27 april for more practical family ideas on how to reduce your environmental impact and protect your childs climate future. Sign up here for an exciting free event for families!

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“Wake up!! The House is On Fire”

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Panic-button

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen campaigner, often uses the analogy of our house being on fire when she calls on us to panic about climate change. She used it again today in addressing the European Parliament. Some have criticized her for whipping up mass hysteria, saying that panic is exactly what we don’t need right now. If we all panic, politicians assume that all hell will break loose. Panic is an emergency response of the nervous system – fight or flight – whereas tackling climate change effectively, they tell us, requires a measured response.

Mass panic, moreover, is perhaps the greatest fear of democracies. After all, our open societies, particularly in cosmopolitan cities function largely on the basis of relative calm. If you have been unlucky enough to experienced a crush at a concert or fast spreading rumors of a possible terror attack, you know what it is like when mass panic ensues. It is truly frightening. Surely, this is not what Greta wants.

What, then, does Greta mean by “panic like the house is on fire, because it is.” Perhaps I can understand her more than many because, as I share in my story Climate Generation, I was seven years old I experienced a devastating house fire. It is due to that panic gene which Greta speaks of that means I can write this blog today. Moreover, that childhood experience – the sights, the smells, the emotions – is etched on my being. It drives me to panic in a good way, I hope.

Our house fire took place one September evening nearly 40 years ago, shortly after my father died. My mum had left myself and three siblings at home with a babysitter. All of us were upstairs. I was fast asleep. My youngest sister Annie, just one year old then, could not sleep because her comfort blanket was missing. My brother Kenny, still awake, knew exactly where to find it downstairs and went to fetch it.

As he went downstairs, he noticed thick black smoke coming from under the kitchen door. A fire had broken out in the kitchen due to an electrical fault and soon the entire kitchen, decorated with flammable polystyrene tiles (now banned), had turned into a fireball.
What did my brother do? Did he open the door to let the flames and smoke invade the whole house? Did he shrug his shoulders and keep looking for the lost blanket? Did he turn on the TV for a bit and just wait until the toxic, black, deadly smoke overwhelmed him and his baby sisters? Did he sit back and wait until the house burnt down with us in it?
Of course not. That would have been stupid.

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My brother Kenny, at 9 years old, had the presence of mind to run back up the stairs as fast as he could and wake us all up. I was in a deep sleep. Had to shake me hard yelling – “Wake Up!!! Wake Up!!! The House is On Fire” – words that have rung in my ears ever since. Then with the babysitter, he then got us all to safety outside. We barely had clothes on – but that didn’t matter. Our lives were at risk. Nothing else mattered. Once everyone was safe, he ran to get a neighbour who had experience of fires. Thanks to his swift response, our neighbours and the fire fighters our home was able to be saved.

I know exactly what Greta means when she says panic like our house is on fire. We need to do exactly what my brother did. We need to let that instinct to save ourselves and those we love well up. Scientists tell us we have just one decade to totally transform our societies to low carbon. We have a meer 18 months now to peak global emissions to get onto that glidepath. In my book, given global politics, panic is now inevitable not matter what.

We must harness that panic. First, we shouldn’t do anything stupid that make the situation worse. In the case of climate change, opening the kitchen door means digging more fossil fuels out of the ground or deforesting the Amazon. It also means flying frequently, eating high meat diets and massively over-consuming for the sake of it. This literally pours fuel on the fire when the house is burning fast.

Second, as quickly as possible, we must wake everyone up, especially if they are in a deep sleep. People cannot wake up with polite words – waking someone up involves shaking, shouting, yelling, banging things…. We have to do whatever is needed, like filling the streets with noisy students or blocking the streets of big cities – even if it means getting arrested. It means doing whatever it takes to get the message out that our lives are in danger due to climate change.

Thirdly, we must get everyone to safety. We cannot escape our burning house – but we need to protect those already facing climate emergencies. Sadly, many people today are already affected by climate change. They are often the victims of huge injustices and climate change is just one. It is our responsibility to get them out of harm’s way.

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Finally, we must call the emergency services. But don’t wait for them. We need to see if there are others who can help extinguish or at least control the fire. In the case of climate change, it means throwing all means possible at the problem to reduce our carbon emissions without delay.

Once you have experienced fire, it never leaves you. The acrid smell of burning clings to you for life. The propensity to panic lives uneasily under the surface and can be triggered by something as innocuous as burning toast. In many instances, that can be a hindrance. When it comes to tackling a planetary emergency, the ability to see danger and panic may be the only thing that saves us.

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Sally’s Light

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Photo Credit: Trocaire

Sometimes it is only when someone passes away that you start to see who they really were, and how much they rubbed off on you. This week Sally O’Neill, one of the founders of Trócaire, and shining lights of the human rights community, was taken from us suddenly in a road traffic accident. Her passing has sent shock waves through Trócaire and the wider development and human rights community

On Monday morning, when the news broke, Tròcaire office felt like a dark place. It literally felt like someone had switched off all the lights – a palpable grief and shock was on everyone’s faces. Many, like me, knew Sally mainly as a colleague who visited several times a year from Honduras and someone who looked after us on field trips to Central America. For others in Trócaire, Sally was much much more. She was like a mother figure, a guardian, a mentor – a towering figure who had literally formed generations of mainly women in her passion for a just world. We even talked in Trócaire of someone “being one of Sally’s”. We were all ‘one of Sally’s’ in a way – her infectious zest for life rubbed off on anyone who met her.

It was Maya Angelou who said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And this was Sally all over: she had the rare gift of making everyone she met feel like the only person that mattered in that moment. She loved people and had an insatiable interest in others and how they were doing. She had an incredible capacity to remember details about peoples lives. My last encounter with her last summer was like that – we shared a glass of wine during Pope Francis’ visit, and chatted about all the goings on. What I remember is that, as ever, she made me feel so special as she kept telling me how wonderful I looked! I left that encounter feeling a million dollars.

And Sally was always like this, yet she was more than a kind and generous soul. She embodied a spirit of courageous love that few of us ever see. My enduring memory of Sally will be from a trip I made to Honduras and Nicaragua in 2008. It was a deep if brief immersion into her life as a fearless advocate against injustice. Up till then I had spent most of my career writing about international development and producing policy analysis. I had travelled extensively in Latin America, but I had never come face to face with the brutality of repression and inhumanity. I knew it existed, but I understood it as an academic concept rather than lived realities. I could study these ideas from the comfort and safety of my office.

Meeting Sally in Honduras and spending a few weeks with her changed all that. Everywhere we went we heard stories of people, especially women, being empowered by the support they received from Trócaire. The warmth of Sally towards the partners and vice versa was tangible. They were more than just partners in the contractual sense – they had each others’ backs.

As well as the good news, we also heard of abuses of corporate power and unexplained deaths of those who spoke up against injustice. We had dinner with an LGBTI activist, who spoke of death threats and intimidation. We visited Berta Caceres, a very well known human rights activist, in her office in Tegucigalpa to discuss the murder of two colleagues. Just that day her own office had been raided and hard drives had been stolen. As we visited partner after partner, I had the distinct feeling that we were under surveillance. I mentioned this to Sally and she shrugged as if to say ‘you are probably right – but that’s our life here’.

On one occasion we were brought to a gold mine to accompany a church partner investigating arsenic poisoning on a very remote community. Sally stayed back with the local bishop and I went with the partner on the trecherous road up to the gold mine. As we approached a check point the partner turned to me and asked me to hide my camera. “If they make us stop you need to swallow the memory card as you could put others in danger.” Someone trespassing on the mine had been shot months before so it was wise to be careful. I have to say I was frozen with fear – whether the risk was real or not, I felt there was a good chance I could be murdered there and then. I struggled to keep calm, thinking “I didn’t sign up for this!” My cosy, office based view of development work was turned upside down in that moment. Thankfully nobody was hurt that day.

Until then I had not really understood the actual risks of brave people, like Sally, who worked on the front line of powerful human rights abusers, whether states, corporations or both. I knew about it in my head – but there I experienced it in my body. Both the LGBTI activist and Berta were murdered in the years following the trip. They paid the ultimate price for their courage. Sally bore this burden lightly, at least externally, and made us all feel at ease. Yet she knew the risks. Most likely, for Sally, it was only her international profile that kept her out of harms way. She often advocated that Trócaire raise the profile of the partners – bringing them to Ireland and gaining international attention sometimes can act as a deterrent.

But sadly, no amount of international profile could save her from the daily dangers she faced in her life. Everyone knows road traffic accidents are by far the biggest killer for aid workers. 90% of all road deaths globally now happen in developing countries. Surely that, in itself, is a human right that needs protecting.

Rest in Peace, Sally. Your legacy is only beginning.

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Leaping from Laggard to Leader?

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These are heady days in Irish climate activism. Each day brings new twists and turns. There are growing signs that the old guard is under pressure, but constant reminders that old ways die hard. This week I have dared to imagine that Ireland, a shameful laggard on climate change, could shift gear and make a necessary leap forward. Can Ireland, as 16 year old student Theo Cullen-Mouze dared to ask in Leinster House yesterday, move from laggard to leader in one giant leap? Can we take more than baby steps?

The first reason for this hope has come from the resurrection of the Amendment to the 1960 Petroleum and other Minerals Act – the Climate Emergency Bill, brought forward by Brid Smith TD. This bill is straightforward: it would ban the further exploration of oil and gas in Ireland – making Ireland the first country in the world to do so, as far as I know. Following on from the leadership shown in the divestment from fossil fuel act, which bans state investments in fossil fuels, it would be a further clear signal to international investors that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end.

The bill was all but dead until this week. Unable to provide a rational argument against the scientific and moral basis for the bill, Fine Gael used a deliberate procedural manoeuvre to effectively park the bill with little hope it could come to the next stage and generate confusion over its future. Several months passed, and nothing seemed to be moving.

Then the climate strikes happened: 18 weeks of continuous noisy Friday strikes outside Leinster House and in Cork City, and a massive strike of 15000 students across 40 locations in Ireland. There is absolutely no question that the public mood is shifting. The lies and equivocation of the political classes has been laid bare for all to see by the forthrightness of children.

Suddenly, the political mood seemed to question: how will history judge of those who continue to block radical measures in line with the science? How will our own children judge us? Climate change, it seems, is moving from something out there, something other into something proximate. It is becoming a doorstep issue in Irish politics – just eight weeks before local and European elections.

Against this backdrop and perhaps in response to this growing momentum, the Climate Emergency Bill was resurrected. All parties bar Fine Gael pushed forward with the Climate Emergency bill and managed successfully this week to unblock it. This week the bill was put to a vote in the Oireachtas and passed comfortably on to this next stage. It is a significant victory for climate activists who continued to ask their politicians to get it through.

The second reason to hope came in the form of a long awaited cross-party report on climate action. Following the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Leadership, the Joint Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) has finally released its long awaited report. The report contains no less that 40 significant measures which, if enacted, will demonstrate a very significant step forward in climate action. Many of those actions are basic by other countries standards, but one in particular has never been voiced before – and would up turn decades of climate inaction: a radical shift in Irish agriculture. All other government and committee proposals until now have focused on the need to protect the interests of the beef and dairy industry at all costs – and promote an export-led expansion of the national herd. The best that could be expected of the agricultural sector, which accounts for over 30% of Ireland’s emissions, was marginal efficiencies rather than big cuts. This committee, however, has dared to do what nobody else has done: it has called for a root and branch reform of agricultural policy away from beef and dairy and towards diversification of land use, horticulture as well as greater efficiencies.

Moreover, after much intense discussion, the cross-party group voted at the last minute to accept the advice of the Climate Advisory Council and propose a meaningful carbon tax.

This is radical indeed by Irish standards. It demonstrates that the committee has not been beholden to the vested interests, and as a cross-party group it was prepared to cross the rubicon. On the last day of the committee hearings a representation of young people from the youth climate strikes presented. Their concern and passion had everyone spell bound. They came with a dire warning for politicians that ignore their entire generation’s concerns – change at the ballot box is coming. They called for a “leap” rather than “baby steps”. They are thirsty for radical change and will continue to demand it. Much remains to be done – words are cheap. But as words go, what has been heard this week gives cause for real hope. If fully implemented in a timely way, it would truly be a great leap forward.

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