Book Trailer

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A Short Film: Why We Must Act Now

This short film is a trailer for my book Climate Generation: Awakening to our Children’s Future. It is my own story of waking up to climate change and what it means. Climate change is not something far away. It is something here and now. It is something which is already affecting millions of people across the world. It is a phenomenon which will affect children born today is ways we can hardly imagine. It will affect our own families for generations to come. This dawning can be crushing – it can come down like a tonne of bricks. Yet if we allow that truth to come in, if we welcome it and let it shape us, there is hope. It is not a hope that we can somehow magically save ourselves from what has already been done. It is a hope borne from a belief in the power of the human-divine spirit which dwells in and between us. The only force capable of remaking and awakening us: a love that knows no bounds.

Awakening My Inner Rebel

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For most of my life I have been a campaigner for global justice. I launched my first campaign when I was 14 years old when I rallied my entire school to sign a petition for peace against the backdrop of impending nuclear annihilation and global warming. I’m not sure how I thought it would save us, but I was a rebel and needed to be heard. As a teenager, I was forever launching campaigns and was embarrassingly dubbed the “school conscience” by the headmaster. Whenever I saw an injustice I wanted to act – to do something to voice my urgent concern about the state of the world. There was a power in standing up together, regardless of the outcome.

That was thirty years ago. Since then, campaigning and advocacy for global justice has become my life. I worked in academia researching the politics and economics of sustainable development. I’ve spent almost two decades leading advocacy and research efforts to bring about positive policy change. I’ve had the honour of meeting many of the great and the good leading campaigns for a more just world. And yet, in all this time, the levels of planetary destruction and climate emissions have continued to rise, and rise, and rise. The upward trend has been relentless. The destruction of the environment and growing inequality has continued unabated.

In those thirty years there have been countless negotiations, rounds of talks, agreements, commitments, promises, targets… There have been some policy changes in favour of ending the destruction such as Sustainable Development Goals. But above all, there has been an awful lot of talking. If all the paper used to write perfectly worded reports could be stacked up, I am sure it would reach the moon and back. As a civil society advocate, I have at times been immersed in the bubble of those who make a living by talking well to save the planet. I did so because I believed in democracy and was convinced that it was better to be inside the room – supporting incremental changes in policies – rather than shouting from the outside. The youthful rebel in me had for the most part put on grown up clothes to pay the bills.

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My response to the IPCC Report 2018 – A doodle on our climate predicament

It was only when I had to take a break to have my own children that the reality of what is actually happening really hit me. It came crashing down like a ton of bricks on my comfortable world of cosy conference rooms and polite conversations. I realised that whilst an elite of NGOs felt listened to by ministers, many others plundered. Governments and politicians would talk to us, but they had effectively lost control – or rather ceded control – to vested interests far more powerful than themselves. To take just one clear example: in the face of dire warnings from climate science, how do we explain the fact that governments are still issuing companies with exploration licenses to find more fossil fuels? Burning these fuels will lead to climate meltdown.

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New York Climate Week Rally, 2014

The deep dynamics of global capitalism mean that our piecemeal politics and laws have become dangerously out of sync with our planet’s limits. Relentless pursuit of growth, financial profit and greed are now dictating the terms of the debate. The economic system we live by, which relies on tearing up the earth to produce more stuff to consume, is at the heart of the problem. This entire system needs to change and talking alone won’t do it. It has become too deeply embedded in our culture and psyche. The best we can achieve through our talking alone are nice declarations, but their impact is weak or irrelevant. Many times, these declarations have been a distraction which has kept NGO staff busy. They lost us precious time. As Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old climate activist from Sweden said: we simply do not have the laws and policies to challenge the fossil fuel industry and reduce our emissions in time. The rules have to change. No amount of sitting in boardrooms will change this. Something far bigger, far more widespread is required. It requires a planetary movement.

When I returned to work after having my two babies I had changed. Above all, I saw the urgency of changing the course our planet is now on. Not tomorrow – but today. Those emissions graphs pointing relentlessly upwards, that told us we are already out of time, that we need to be going in a completely different direction, went from my head to my heart – they became my story. I developed an intolerance to the polite words I had spent many years perfecting. It is like I came full circle. I feel the time has come again to say things plainly and loudly. To shout loud and say I have had enough, that I’m scared – as I did many years ago. I may not have all the answers – but I need to express my outrage at the way things are. I need to stand up for those who have no voice: for the next generation, for the species becoming extinct at an alarming rate, for those on the margins. I must rebel.

 

What Will We Tell Our Children?

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Thanks for this wonderful review, Stephanie! It truly gets to the heart of my book, and the heart of the deepest questions. How is it that we as parents can stand by and watch while the world burns? While our children’s future goes up in flames? How can we find it within our hearts to just break free from “normal” and say enough is enough. Only the deepest love – a love that knows no bounds – can do that. Next Spring is going to be extraordinary… as we all awaken our hearts, minds and bodies to this new understanding of being human.

A ‘Small’ Book about Waking up to Climate Change

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You may ask yourself – why does the world need another book on global warming? It is a very good question. I am sure if even a fraction of the books that exist on the topic had never been printed we would have saved a forest the size of Ireland! Many good scientific books have been written for sure. Yet despite the trees that have been chopped and reams of paper that have been printed over the past thirty years, climate emissions continue to rise and rise. The upward trend is relentless. What difference can one more small book make?

It is a question I have asked myself over and over since I embarked on a very personal project to write about my own experiences of climate campaigning two years ago. For starters I am not a climate scientist. I have the title “Doctor” but I’m neither a medical doctor nor a climatologist. I do have a PhD in Economic Geography and years of experience of campaigning with Trócaire. Surely if a climate book is to be taken seriously it needs to be written by a very distinguished scientist? What can a mum of two unruly boys and part-time social scientist add? Surely there are better qualified people to add to our deforestation.

Maybe I’m getting above my station, but I haven’t been put off by these doubts. I decided to write down my experiences of coming to terms with climate change and what it means. I discovered quickly that climate change is most definitely a can of worms. It can be a very divisive issue, even at a very personal level. If you take the lid off it you have to be prepared for many other questions to come – about political viewpoints, how we earn our money, where we go on holidays and even what we eat. It is hard to shy away from the scrutiny of personal choices. Will I ever be able to sneak away on another sun holiday with a clear conscience?

All these questions and doubts have swirled around my head. They came to me at the most unexpected moments, like as I kissed my boys goodnight or as I sipped wine on a really sunny day. It almost seemed like this ‘small book’, as author Naomi Klein has called it, wanted to write itself. It woke me up at 3am saying “you need to write me” and would not let go until I got up. I had to write it. I had to put it out there – and see what happened. Perhaps it will fall on deaf ears, but this book came from somewhere deep inside me, from my gut. It is perhaps my way of documenting to my own children (when they are grown up) that I wasn’t prepared to sit by and watch as the “great unravelling” happened – to quote the poet Drew Dillinger.

The point is that this small book isn’t really about climate change. Rather, it is about a mum trying to stay hopeful and believe in the bright future we all want for our children and grandchildren. And that’s a topic I am well qualified to comment on. Climate change just happens to be one humongous problem standing in the way of that happening. With the help of my eminently qualified friend, Professor John Sweeney, I was able to join the dots with climate change. The issue stands out also because of the ticking clock, the weird silence and the fact there is so much we could be doing, even at this late stage. Getting this message out to everyone – to all the amazing people out there who care so much and do so much for children and grandchildren – is what this book is all about.

Climate Generation – Awakening to our Children’s Future is available online now and in good independent bookstores!

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The Story behind my Book

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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?

This is my personal story of waking up to the reality of a warming world and what it means for our children. Over the past few years I’ve been campaigning on climate change and I realised that most parents and grandparents today don’t really understand what is going on. We sense our weather is changing, but seem unable to grasp what that really means, and what we need to do. I wanted to write a book which explains this in a way which a wider group of people can relate to – meaning the mums, dads, grannies, grandpas, aunties, uncles. This is really a story about not giving up and doing everything we can for the sake of our children’s future.
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Did it take long to write? 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.