A Voice for Earth

Environmental and social justice and my personal experiences in the area.


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Saturn

It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

I entitled my last blog post “Giving a Fuck Sometimes Sucks”, and boy, has it sucked these past three weeks and really the last few months. Whilst I tried to strike a semi-positive note in that post, it’s been hard to bring myself to write about current events, the US election, or my general feelings and opinions, in fact, much of anything really. I think we’ve all been, subconsciously or not, at the edge of our seats, waiting for the outcome of an election that could determine the degree of hope we could reasonably have for the future. Well, there could only ever have been two outcomes; we could be just disappointed or both disappointed and astonished. Guess which happened!

President Donald Trump. Who ever thought we’d be saying that? I certainly didn’t. When I overheard a manager mention it to some of my work colleagues the morning after, there was first disbelief and then wryness. My thoughts were something along the lines of “Oh America, you’ve fucked us all”.

Those who know me know that climate action and general environmental protection are issues that I think are key to continued human civilization and progress on this planet, at least in the manner that we’ve all grown accustomed to. Without solid steps taken to mitigate the climate crisis, we can soon enough just start adapting to a spiralling planet-wide disaster until the limits of adaptation are reached. Then who knows what will happen? All I know is that even if I don’t live to see some serious climate consequences, our children and grandchildren most likely will, and that through our short-sightedness we hand down a calamity, a far less liveable world, is unacceptable and in the eyes of future generations will be unforgiveable.

Unfortunately, in choosing Donald Trump, America has not only voted for racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia, fascism, and Big Business, they have voted against a safe and secure future for all life on this planet. They have essentially voted for climate change.

I’m well aware that not all Americans consciously chose their candidate for the above reasons. Certainly, bigots across the country would have chosen Trump based on his prejudicial rhetoric alone. However, half of eligible voters did not do their civil duty and prevent this psycho from getting into office. Albeit, that might have been a form of protest in itself. Given the choices, I’m not sure I would have wanted to vote either, though I may have gone third party.

Well, what’s done is done. We can hold out hope that the electoral college will upset this upset, but the chances of that are vanishingly small. Anyway, what would we have if they did do something just as astonishing as Trump winning the election by denying him the presidency? What then? Well, we saw the upheaval and outcry after his victory, so his supporters would likely stage a repeat, and then that would wind down, and we would have Clinton. Whoopty doo!

Except that Hillary would, at best, be a continuation of the Obama administration’s ambling progress. Would she move to keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground? No. Would she mobilize the US to act on climate change like it would in the face of war? Probably not. Would she be interested in more binding and/or progressive climate treaties with the rest of the world? Iffy and even if so, she would need a co-operative Senate and Congress. Therefore on climate change and other issues of environmental and social justice, Hillary Clinton is better than Donald Trump only in the sense that she, at least, would not fly in the face of reality and do the opposite of what needs to be done.

That’s unfortunately what will come into the White House in January, a president who will gladly undo climate legislation, protections for public lands, who would throw out the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, all in favour of increasing fossil fuel extraction and other mining activities to the benefit of powerful corporate interests.

So, yes, it all very much sucks, and we can all collectively cry into our pillows, rock back and forth in a corner, or party like it’s 1999 because why not? The world is going to shit, and nothing we say, do, not do, is going to change that. Too many crazies are voting in crazies for the actions of the sane and aware among us to make any difference.

Well, you’d be wrong.

More than ever, I feel that it’s up to us. Politicians and governments aren’t going to resolve the issues because they no longer work for us. They work for themselves, for corporations, the 1%, for the prestige and financial gain that are inextricably linked to politics these days. There are a few good apples among all the rot like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, but even they must see the difficulty of effecting change from within a system that is inherently stacked against them, poisoned by greed and lobbying.

Even someone who has a passing interest in politics can see the strings being tugged and the off the record, behind the scenes dealings that must be happening. Yet most people don’t even care enough to look at the glaring corruption staring them in the face. It makes one wonder is politics made deliberately boring so people won’t pay too close attention to it? Whatever the case, people being uninformed about their choices is how the public were duped into voting for Trump. Even those who used their vote to say screw you to an establishment that changed northing in their lives must now see that Trump will fall into the establishment line, too, and deliver more of the same or worse.

It’s going to come down to the choices we make as individuals that largely determines the course from here on out. Like it or not, many of us a reinforcing the status quo and largely with our wallets. Corporations respond to demand and when demand shifts, they have to adapt or go out of business, which is why industries from tobacco to fossil fuels to the meat and dairy industries work hard to lobby politicians, confuse the public by muddying the science, and advertise us to death to prevent any shift towards alternatives.

We need to go to the science and the scientists ourselves, receive the information in an uncorrupted form, direct from the source. We need to make informed choices about how we spend our money, what businesses and products we support because if you burn coal, you’re cooking the planet. If you eat a steak, you’re cutting down rainforest and cooking the planet with methane. If you buy a product containing palm oil, you’re killing orang-utans by destroying rainforest also, and less trees doesn’t help the climate change situation either.

This has turned into a lecture on politics and personal responsibility which wasn’t the initial intent. You’re probably wondering as well what connection the video above has with the rest of this post. It was just something about hearing it, seeing it, that made me realise no matter how downtrodden I was about Trump being president, about Brexit, about right-wingers coming to power all over, the world is bigger than one man, one referendum, or one ideology. We are bigger.

It really doesn’t matter who sits in the Oval Office. What matters is how complicit with or apathetic we are towards those who would lead humanity down a dangerous path, into dystopia and chaos and calamity. We are the many, the bigger picture. They are the few with a narrow-minded, short-sighted outlook on what is important. It’s up to all of us to press on, to get to work, and do so with more energy and persistence than we have before because those we work against depend on our disillusionment, our moments of weakness, and they hope we’ll just surrender, re-join the flow.

I think of Saturn, a picture of it, floating serenely in the dark depths. That’s what our resistance is. Whether you stand with Standing Rock, whether you promote the vegan message, whether you support those in Bangladesh fighting a coal plant in the Sundarbans, or those in the outback of Australia fighting a nuclear waste dump, you are resistance. We are hope, nonviolence, a bright movement upon which blackness attempts to encroach but cannot snuff out.

I don’t believe for a second that the light of resistance could ever be extinguished, not with what’s at stake. However, it could be dimmed or brightened depending on how we all react to the crises facing us. Jane Goodall said in the documentary Racing Extinction that there’s still a lot left that’s worth fighting for. I think that’s true rather than the fatalist notion that our course is locked in, our fate already sealed. For sure, the coming years will be critical, even more so now that a climate denier holds the highest office in the US and republicans control both the houses.

With conservatives leading the UK and potential right-wingers gaining ground in France and Germany, we have a lot of challenges, but there is a lot of hope, too. The train of change has already left the station on climate action and green energy, and it cannot really be halted, only slowed. It’s our job that on this and other environmental and social justice issues that the accelerator is kept firmly pressed, that progress for the majority isn’t waylaid for the benefit of a few.

To anyone reading this, whoever is feeling hopeless, or that the challenge just doesn’t get smaller, doesn’t let up, you’re not alone. The movement can only get bigger, brighter. Social change is contagious, and we have the power to spread it far and wide. The other choice is to fall back and give up, and that is not a choice at all. It doesn’t matter if every Donald Trump and Theresa May and Francois Fillon gets into office. What really matters from here on out is not what state governments represent and try to do, but what we do regionally, locally, and most of all, personally. After all, the consumerist apathy that creates most of our problems could turn to consume-less activism. We are the basic units, the fundamental bedrock of the capitalist system. If we change, everything changes.

So light a candle. Reach out. Take action. We are Saturn.

Above Image Source: Universe Today

 


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Giving a Fuck Sometimes Sucks

(Image Source: Journey of a Thousand Miles)

So I haven’t blogged in months, pretty much because I’ve been hating on the world. Well, maybe not hating but getting apathetic, a state I don’t want to be in but bombarded by so much negativity on a daily basis, it’s hard not to succumb to it occasionally. I regret that this has taken me away from blogging, my Facebook page and group, even my vegan Instagram account, not that I’ve been totally absent, but I have dialed my exposure back for my own sanity.

What specifically has been bothering me lately? Pretty much everything to some degree. I suppose the overriding issue for me is always going to be climate change because there are so many feedbacks and so many other issues that it affects, it pretty much has an impact everywhere and on everything. Ever since the Paris climate accord last year, my level of optimism has dropped off. Solving the issue has seemed further away when it should have drawn closer after the ‘historic’ agreement. Why do you ask am I so pessimistic all of a sudden? Why am I being a downer even?

Because it just ain’t gonna cut it, that’s why!

Paris would have been absolutely fantastic had it been negotiated in the 80s, it would have been appropriate in the 90s, it would have fallen short in the 00s and for this decade, it’s a band aid on an open artery. I think we’re all sick to death of half-measures, if only governments and corporations were giving us even that. Instead we’re being given platitudes and green-washing and trade agreements that undercut what little we have already achieved. Fun times!

I’m completely over politics, as well, from the efforts made by establishment politics to suppress the rise of democratic socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, to President Obama, a supposed progressive, pushing a regressive trade agreement like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the recent insanity that was the Brexit and how all these things are negatively impacting effective climate and environmental policy even more.

It’s hard everyday to log into Facebook and see Florida’s coast swallowed by an algal bloom probably a result of warming waters and nutrient enrichment from animal agriculture and fertilizer runoff. It’s hard to see flood after flood after flood hit parts of Texas and the Midwest and have the political leaders there deny that there’s even a problem. It’s hard to watch the Great Barrier Reef slowly die. It’s hard to watch Rhinos and Elephants get slaughtered for a single body-part that only has extrinsic worth that some witch doctor gave them. It’s hard to watch species like the vaquita, the orca, the orangutan march towards extinction, to watch the seas get depleted of fish, to watch plastics pollute everything, to watch rainforests torn down for ranches and palm oil, it’s all just hard!

This all probably sounds very self-pitying and, of course, none of this is about me, this isn’t why I care, even though we all have something to loose if the shit really hits the fan. Also, I can say all this is hard to watch, but it is infinitely harder for the people who actually have experienced these disasters, who are physically present to watch the lands they call home change for the worse, to watch the creatures they know disappear, and to have homes and livelihoods lost. If watching all this on a screen diminishes my hope, how must these people feel? I can’t imagine.

I’m starting to come around again and feel motivated once more. Nothing in particular has spurred me on, maybe a combination of things. My wife has told me that if I don’t like what I see, change it. It’s a simple solution to my problem, but positive thinking and reading about the things that are going right really helps. I’m trying to post more about positive political and activist action that has changed the course like how Europe has seriously curtailed the extension of approval of glyphosate, in no small part because of public pressure. Recently, pipeline proposals by Enbridge in Canada have been shot down, thanks again to actions of people. Then there’s how San Francisco banned styrofoam, Morocco banned plastic bags, and Germany is mandating all cars be electric by 2030 with Norway considering an even more ambitious version of this policy for 2025.

I think it’s been good, as well, to get more involved with the online vegan community. It’s nice just to know that there are people out there who care as much about animals, people, and planet as much as yourself. It’s difficult when no one in your personal life is as involved as you, and I mean immediate friends and family, not online friends and passing acquaintances.That’s not to downplay those connections because they are the only thing really reassuring me that I’m not just some hippie loon and that I’m actually going crazy. Other people see what I see,  other people care and even though we are few and far between, that restores my hope.

That is what I plan to focus on in future now whenever I’m feeling low about the world, about the way things are going, and how meaningful my impact is. For that, I guess I can thank everyone I’ve interacted with online and all those writers out there putting out hope rather than doom-saying. I know I’ve written a piece with both. I am still being realistic in that I know there’s a lot that still needs to be done to remedy the Earth’s environmental and social problems, but giving into despair about the world did nothing for me or anyone else. If anything, it just made me more depressed and less interested in involving myself, making me no better than anyone who carries on day to day in apathy and ignorance of what’s going on in the world.

A quote by Jane Goodall stands out to me especially:

“In 200 years, people will look back on this particular period and say to themselves how did those people at that time just allow all those amazing creatures to vanish. But it would be very little use in me or anybody else exerting all this energy to save these wild places if people are not being educated into being better stewards than we’ve been. If we all lose hope, there is no hope. Without hope, people fall into apathy. There’s still a lot left that’s worth fighting for.”

It’s worth it to fight against apathy, hopelessness, depression about this world we live in and where it’s headed at the moment because if we don’t, how will we ever change the course for the future? These things sap you of the strength to do anything but bemoan the problems instead of being a part of the solution and no matter how small your part may be, as was said in the documentary Racing Extinction, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”.

That’s something I plan to take to heart from here on out as best I can, and I know there’ll be setbacks, both personal and in the wider world, but what’s important is that we all pick up and carry on, and maybe the solutions for the future we all wish for will come to pass.


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Three Documentaries That Shaped My 2015

When it comes to activism and doing my part to help the environment and curb my footprint on the Earth, I think 2015 marked the point at which posting articles to social media to raise awareness wasn’t enough anymore. Anyone sitting at home at a computer can do that and make no mistake, I continue to do that because although sometimes it can feel like you’re shouting in an echo chamber, preaching to the choir, it’s worth it to reach even a few people who’ve never considered these issues before and perhaps change their outlook a little.

Yet, increasingly, I’ve felt the need to take real action myself, to consider what I do on daily basis that I could tweak or stop to make my impact less. There are a number of things that influenced me onto this course in 2015, but perhaps none more than documentaries on the subject of how our activities are damaging the environment and risking our futures and those of the generations to come.

That way I’ve come to see it is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s so much potential for innovation and remediation of harm already done but between painfully slow, gridlocked politics and incessant corporate lobbying, they are not being implemented fast enough. So perhaps leadership on the issues facing us is not to be found with government or Big Business, it is within ourselves. It lies with us. Every person, everywhere, has the power to create some kind of positive change that taken together could shift the balance towards clean energy, better agricultural practices, protection of habitats and biodiversity, preserving air and water quality, and leaving a world with possibilities other than mere survival for our descendants.

In that spirit, I’ve laid out, in my opinion, the three best and most important documentaries of 2015, and how they influenced me to makes changes in my life currently and also in my plans for the future.

 

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Cowspiracy came out back in April. I knew the basic premise beforehand from the trailer and reading up on it prior to watching it. Simply put, animal agriculture, more than any other human activity, is devastating our planet. Nothing contributes more to climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, water depletion, species extinction, and ocean dead zones.

It’s one thing to hear that, it’s another to see it in images, in undeniable science and numbers. Feeding animals to feed us is remarkably inefficient, consuming fossil fuels, water, and arable land at an unsustainable rate, and the return on calories and nutrition is far less than if we actually ate the plants used to feed livestock.

This changed my whole outlook on issues of the environment, especially climate change. Everyone was so focused on fossil fuel burning and, of course, it is an important contributor to climate change, but it is merely a feed-in to the emissions total for animal agriculture, which by some estimates is responsible for over 50% of all emissions. On top of this, we have emissions of methane and CO2 coming directly from animals and destruction of carbon sinks to create more pastureland such as the deforestation of the Amazon.

What got to me even more was the fact that major environmental groups were largely ignoring the issues in favour of combating relatively softer targets like fracking or the tar sands, which are climate disasters in their own right, but tackling them seems to be a lot easier to swallow. As I said in a blog post I wrote after initially watching Cowspiracy, I think these groups underestimate the willingness of their members to combat these issues, but I can’t speak to whether or not they have other motivations to ignore this one in particular.

I think this documentary inspired my biggest personal change, the choice to become vegan. I’ve wavered about it before, having initially come across the subject in relation to the health benefits of a wholefood plant-based diet portrayed in Forks Over Knives. However, concern for my own personal well-being was only enough to get me to reduce my meat intake and cut eggs and dairy. However, having seen how much my dietary choices were flying in the face of my environmental concern, I made the choice to go fully vegan late last year.

The decrease in my carbon footprint, my water footprint, my use of arable land, grain, my contribution to deforestation, the tainting of our oceans with excess nutrients from animal waste, the lessening of animal suffering. Even if my contribution is small, that’s the point. A lot of people making this one decision could make a massive difference to the state of our planet.

I think it was one of the most influential documentaries of 2015, and I cannot wait to see what Kip Andersen, it’s creator, has in store with his follow-up documentary, What the Health, coming this year.

 

This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything was influential to me for one main reason, it verbalizes an idea that almost all people, especially in the West, have, but that we never really think about. It is the concept of Earth as machine and man its wielder. It is the idea that the Earth is an animal whose spirit must be broken and tamed, that we must and can become its masters. Everything it has to offer, all it can provide for us, can be exploited without limit and without consequence.

It is this plot that we have been following since the beginning of the industrial revolution, when fossil fuels allowed us to detach ourselves from the rhythms of nature. It was this supposed decoupling that gave us the notion that we humans are somehow apart from the rest of the biosphere, that our choices and actions could be carried out irrespective of Mother Nature and that any negative impacts would only affect the environment, not us, as if we live somewhere other than the environment.

We have crowned ourselves kings of the mountain and so have perpetuated an economic model based upon the concept of infinite growth on a finite planet. The only problem is that nature has caught up with us in the form of climate change, probably the biggest environmental problem to come back and bite us on the ass.

This documentary tells it how it is. Our consumerist culture, our free-for-all capitalistic system, has overshot the Earth’s ability to sustain it, and we are now in ecological debt that we sink into deeper every single year. We have a mammoth task on our hands if we want to change that. We not only have to turn our ship around, but we have to completely overhaul it so it sails causing the smallest wake possible.

The fossil fuel era is coming to a close. We can all see that, even those who are heavily invested in keeping it alive as long as possible. Climate change does change everything, but whether that change runs its course quickly or not, whether fossil fuels croak quickly or peter out with painful slowness is, once again, up to us.

In most cases, our governments have done a poor job at standing up to the fossil fuel industry and have even promoted it with the Obama administration’s support for fracking, and the Canadian government’s overwhelming support for the Alberta tar sands. At the moment, Big Energy is rowing our boat through their political oarsmen. Only we can wrest the oars back by making better energy choices.

I currently do not have my own home, and I drive a ’97 1.3 litre engine Toyata Starlet. I hope that once I get on my feet, and my energy and transport choices are in my own hands that I can afford to use renewable energy sources and purchase an electric car. For now, all I can do is not be wasteful with energy where I live, turning off lights and appliances not in use, minimising their use also, air-drying clothes, not leaving heating or the boiler going for longer than absolutely needed, walking if I can, and trying to consume as little as possible in terms of unnecessary purchases, or choosing digital media where possible rather than physical copies. In time, I hope to be free of fossil fuels completely and the consequences of their use.

 

Racing Extinction

As much as the other two documentaries had a great impact on me, I think Racing Extinction touches a more personal note. I think it’s because it’s one of the first I shared with my new wife and because of the impact it had on her. She’d told me before that the state of world makes her angry and when I asked her why, she said she believes the people of the world have both the intelligence and the technology available to fix what we have broken. However, from her point of view it didn’t seem like anyone could be bothered to do it, and this had left her feeling hopeless. I have to admit I often shared those feelings even if I did my best to stay positive.

However, as dire as the message of this documentary is, that we risk losing 50% of all species in the next hundred years, that we risk compromising the habitability of our world, that we are poised to cause a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, that we have become the meteor with the power to change everything for the worse on our planet, and it comes down to our own inability to change with anything like the urgency needed to avert catastrophe, it still gave both of us hope. Why? Because despite all the negatives portrayed in this documentary, it was moving for both of us to see so many who do care and who are working to save our world.

Having watched it, my wife said she found it moving, and it had taken her from a state of pessimism about our world to one of cautious optimism, and it encouraged her to watch the documentaries above, including Cowspiracy which she laughed at every time she heard the name because it sounded silly but has now actually become her favourite.

If it showed me anything, it is that other people do care, a lot of them, and they are willing to take bold actions to force change if they have to. It is knowing you are not alone when it comes to wanting to protect the only home we have, to protect something that was billions of years in the making and is irreplaceable.

Together, we can make better choices about the food we eat, the cars we drive, the sources of our energy, how we dispose of our waste, and taking care of what industries we may be supporting. We can all be doomsayers, we can all resign ourselves to defeat and extinction and the collapse of society as we know it, perhaps even our own demise, that’s easy, but I don’t choose that. My favourite quote from the documentary was that it’s “better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”. I truly believe in that statement, and I know there are others who do, too. We are in a race against extinction and time, but we still have enough time on our side to change the course, and that is what I want to be a part of.

So, here’s to 2016, and making better choices for our planet and ourselves.

 

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 


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BurrenBeo Volunteer Work: Plastic Clean-up Part II

I’ve been meaning to write about my second excursion to clean up the beach at Fanore in Ireland for weeks now, but a lot of life stuff got in the way, my new job foremost, but not complaining about the added income! We basically started were we left off last time, moving further along the coast.

This time around the garbage was fewer and far between, but the pieces we did find were often large. For instance, we came across a big metal gas drum that required two of us to carry and a number of plastic barrels and some tyres. All in all we collected 240kg more garbage from the area.

I don’t have much to say about the experience. Compared to the last one, it was far less intensive with a hell of a lot more trekking along the coast to find things. Still, the weather held, and it’s always amazing to appreciate the beauty of the Burren in fine weather. I took some of the below snaps of plants flowering as spring turns to summer in this unique ecosystem.

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Such a beautiful abundance of flowering plants along just that short stretch of beach. It’s the kind of diversity we should all aim to protect and treasure so that future generations can also appreciate it. I look forward to my next event on June 13th where I’ll be doing a workshop on invasive plant species in Burren and what can be done to manage them.

P.S. if anyone wants to give a shot at identifying these plants for me, please comment below. I’d be very interested to know!


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Burrenbeo Volunteer Work: Plastic Clean-up

(Image Sources: Myself & Burrenbeo Volunteers)

On the 31st of March, I travelled up to Fanore, Co. Clare for my third time volunteering with Burrenbeo who manage clean-up and conservation sites across the Burren region. I was originally there back in September when I volunteered via the People’s Climate March as a joint event. Back then, we were cleaning up a different section of beach along the mostly rocky shore of Fanore. As I mentioned in my last volunteering blog post, that day had been a warm, sunny day. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t totally favour us this time around either. It was quite breezy and cool, but luckily we avoided the majority of the showers rolling in off the Atlantic.

What we were doing there was straight forward. We all patrolled an area of the rocky coast with plastic bin bags and picked up any rubbish we came across. Below is an image of the clean-up area:

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A lot of plastic debris is washed up by storms and high tides, but there is also littering to consider, which thankfully there didn’t seem to be much of as the items we picked up mostly showed signs of being battered and worn by the sea. At first, as I moved along the stone walls where most of the garbage gathers, I found the usual suspects, bottles, plastic wrappers, containers such as two butter tubs that I found side by side. However, these easy to retrieve items (even when tangled in briars!) were quickly replaced by a multitude of other things.

Out away from the walls, I came across a large patch of flotsam. It mostly consisted of a tangle of seaweed and wood pieces, including a pallet, but throughout the pile were countless pieces of plastic. Corks, broken pens, cigarette lighters, and lots of other unidentifiable pieces spread throughout an otherwise largely natural conglomeration. When I knelt down, it looked as if someone had come along and cast confetti across the beach. I did my best to recover the pieces that could be readily retrieved, but even if all eight volunteers got down on their knees and tweezed the smallest pieces from the seaweed, we wouldn’t have gotten it all even if we stayed at it all day. I’ve included a picture below, but it’s hard to discern anything but the largest fragments.

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I continued on with the group to try and recover the biggest pieces before they were washed back out to sea to be broken up into more smaller pieces which are the greater threat to the environment. Most of what I collected was packaging from domestic products, including intact storage containers, but there were also drums and barrels which were probably of agricultural or industrial origin.

One thing I noticed a lot of was aero-board. Aero-board is ubiquitous. It was everywhere, in big chunks and tiny particles which would probably look like a nice bite-sized morsel to an unsuspecting bird or fish. It was painful to try and recover as it often jammed into crevices in the rocks, and it broke up easily into more fragments if you tried to pry it out. It’s easy to see how this kind of contamination has become such a threat to nature. Between aero-board, micro-beads, and broken-down plastics, the ocean has become a plastic soup.

Awash in an apparent endless manna of colourful and deceivingly edible-looking particles, small fish gobble them up where they provide no nutrition and can even kill them by clogging their guts, and then this cascade moves up the food-chain where larger creatures eat the plastic-clogged smaller fish, or directly eat larger pieces of plastic, capable of incapacitating them. What comes to mind most is the story of a beached whale that was killed by a DVD case.

In Western countries like Ireland, recycling is pretty much a universal service. I mean there were recycling banks at the side of the driveway down to the beach, and Fanore is fairly remote. There are no longer excuses to litter, to chuck perfectly recyclable items in the waste bin just because it’s easier than cleaning them. Industrial operations have even fewer excuses for not ensuring the maximum percentage of their waste is recycled. You have to consider that when you send these items to landfill or throw them out the window of your car, they can find their way into waterways, which all eventually lead to the ocean, our universal dump site. A meme I recently posted to my Facebook puts it best:

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As this final image demonstrates, that could not be more true. This is all the garbage that eight volunteers collected in two and a half hours with breaks over a stretch of beach that was less than a kilometre at most.

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This is what we do. This is the result of our indifference and our carelessness. Rather than re-purposing, reusing, or disposing of items responsibly, we cast them away, thinking that out of sight, out of mind. Not true, for they become someone else’s problem, or is likely the case here, they return to us.

It’s not just our coastlines where this is a problem. I often walk in the green areas and along the Riverwalk in Shannon to see litter everywhere, including bin bags full of garbage disposed of in amongst reeds or brush where no one can be caught dumping. I could blame those responsible but if waste collection were less expensive then maybe this wouldn’t be an issue. Still, people who throw coke bottles in the ditch or leave beer cans in the grass can be blamed for just not giving a crap. That, however, is just the nature of our throw-away society. Something is used for a few minutes and discarded. Just remember next time you go to improperly dispose of some plastic item, it could linger on longer than your great grandchildren and their great grandchildren. Plastic bottles could take six centuries to completely decompose. Just think that means all the plastic that has ever been made is still in existence somewhere.

There are consequences to our choices, so make the right ones. I’d like to finish this blog post by reiterating how our actions impact even the remotest corners of the Earth with this video:


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Volunteer Work in the Burren

(All Images Source: Burrenbeo Volunteers)

Hi, everyone, firstly, I’d like to apologise for not posting in so long (not a great thing for a beginner blog!), just a lot of life stuff got in the way! Second of all, this is not an opinion piece. This is an account of my experience volunteering in the Burren, which is a karst region in County Clare, Ireland.

The location was Cappagh Tower, which is a medieval site, though the only obvious ruin there is the tower itself. It is a little off the roadway, and there were plenty of grassy back-roads involved in getting there! It is amazing how wild the area is, despite there being a lot of farmland, and it being in close proximity to Father Ted’s house (virtually every Irish person will be familiar with Father Ted!). There was a lot of hazel scrub around the improvised parking area just inside the gate to the land upon which the site is located. We came across a pine marten as we made our way up to the tower, which I confused for a red squirrel, as all I saw was a bushy tail.

The group I was volunteering with was Burrenbeo Conservation Volunteers. Last September, the People’s Climate March volunteers collaborated with them on a beach clean in Fanore on Clare’s Atlantic coast and also in the Burren. A huge amount of plastic and other debris had been thrown up by the storms of the 2013/14 winter, and it highlighted to me how much of our waste goes right to the oceans. On that occasion, it had been an unseasonably hot and sunny day, so much so that I got sunburnt! This time around I’d have been more likely to get frostbite!

An exaggeration, of course, the weather was cold, though not subzero, though we did catch a few snow showers! We hoped to get most of the way to the site by jeep, but the mud proved too much with the load of passengers and equipment. No sooner had we exited the jeep to make the rest of the trek on foot than we were surrounded by the landowner’s horses. They proved unusually friendly, but I think they thought we were bringing them food! We then made our way up to the site and on the way, I had a close encounter with a hare that jumped right past my face whilst I was tying my shoe laces.

The setting for the tower is quite stunning. It sits on a rise in a valley flanked by rocky hills in almost every direction. There was once a settlement there centred on the tower. There is an abandoned mine in the hills above the tower, and it would once have guarded the way to fertile lands with better soil cover further up the valley. Given the abundance of brush and patchy grass, the area itself is probably only good for horses!

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(Me at the beginning of the day with my clippers!)

The volunteer work involved clearing some of the brush from the site. There is archaeological interest in what ruins may lie around the tower buried in the soil and a tangle of blackthorn and briars. Although the Burren is a sensitive ecological region with a mixture of native, alpine, and Arctic plants, black thorn is common throughout the country. It is, however, a source of food for the caterpillars of the local butterflies, so a few bushes that weren’t covering the site were left standing.

The work went fairly quickly until the end when the briars at the core of the patch of brush had to be tackled. The weather held for most of the day until a particularly heavy snow shower blew in. I had the misfortune of being up on the hill where we were dumping the cut brush. When the wind picked up, I lost the bag we were packing the brush into and had to chase after. I was fortunately travelling with the wind while I went after it, but then had to trek back against the stinging hail and snow blowing in my face! It was rather stunning to see the snow flurries drifting on the wind against the backdrop of the rocky hills. I only fully appreciated that once I got under the shelter of a tall white-thorn tree, though!

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(Another image of the volunteers at work with the hills in the background.)

By the end of the clearing, it was hard to believe how much we’d done, and we revealed what might be the ruins of a house that once stood there. Once the rest of the brush is removed, the experts can move in to better evaluate the site, and it’ll also be easier to get aerial surveys done. Burrenbeo volunteers tend to a lot of important sites in the Burren for clean-ups and general maintenance. The event prior to the one I attended was to clear brush from an important bat roosting site, and there was also a Valentine’s Day event to clear brush from a butterfly breeding spot. I wasn’t able to go to either of these events myself, but I’ll definitely be attending others in the future, which I, of course, will be blogging about.