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Our Chairperson reflects on her legacy

Posted by Guest Blogger on October 24, 2016 at 12:15 AM

Cara halloween

Our Chairperson, Dr. Cara Augustenborg, reflects on her legacy in honour of Halloween

On October 11, 2016, Rowan Jacobson of Outside Magazine wrote a startling obituary: “The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.”

Jacobson goes on to describe the legacy of the Great Barrier Reef, from the impressive array of more than 6,000 species it harboured to the food and mineral resources it provided for the humans who lived next to it for 60,000 years.

The Great Barrier Reef’s obituary got me thinking about all the things we could find ourselves mourning as climate change takes its toll. From our favourite foods to our scenic coastlines and our most loveable species, even the people themselves who fall victim to the environmental impacts of a changing climate -There are millions of obituaries to write if we fail to act on climate.

The Guardian was quick to report that Jacobson over-exaggerated, explaining while the Reef is undoubtedly stressed, it is “not dead yet”’. They quoted a scientist criticising the obituary for its “fatalistic, doomsday approach to climate change that isn’t going to engage anyone and misinforms the public.” Nonetheless, I must admit that in spite of my natural affinity to optimism, I was both engaged and informed by Jacobson’s creative approach.

The Great Barrier Reef’s obituary forced us to reflect on what we might lose as a result of climate change and craftily included an option to donate to Ocean Ark Alliance “in lieu of flowers” as a call to act. It’s not unusual to mourn the passing of something before it’s totally gone and, perhaps by taking the time to honour its legacy, we become inspired to prevent further loss.

Living a Life that Lasts

I’ve been thinking a lot about legacies lately. Not just the 25-million-year legacy of the Great Barrier Reef, but political and personal legacies too. Barack Obama reaches the end of this presidency shortly and has put climate change at the forefront of his legacy. In my opinion, a central flaw of Irish politics is our lack of term limits, which prevents leaders from focusing on long-term legacies in pursuit of the short-term vote-getting efforts required to stay in power.  

I’ve been thinking about my own personal legacy too. I’ve sacrificed some economic opportunities because I believed addressing climate change was a more important legacy to leave my daughter, but there’s only so much one little environmental scientist can do and I know it won’t be enough to solve the problem. It struck me recently that my actionson this Earth will never be enough of a legacy to meet my high expectations. Thus, I’m taking the macabre spirit of my favourite holiday to think about my long-term legacy.

The legacy of being a Friend of the Earth

When I returned from my arctic expedition with Ben & Jerry’s Climate Change College in 2008, I became frustrated that the slow pace of climate action both in Ireland and globally would not be sufficient to stop the rapid melting of the cryosphere I witnessed on my trip. I was working in academia at the time but research moved too slowly and scientists were largely ignored by policy makers, so I knew it was not the place to build my legacy. I decided to volunteer in the environmental activist movement as a nimbler way of affecting necessary change.

I joined the Board of Directors of Friends of the Earth (FoE) Ireland in 2009. Instantly, I felt part of something that could finally make a difference to our broken systems. At the time, FoE Ireland was pursuing national climate legislation, which it finally achieved last year. While it was a long and difficult campaign, the final climate law means that no future government can ever let national climate strategies expire as the previous Fine Gael-Labour government did. The law also requires every ministerial department to be held accountable for their role in transitioning to a low-carbon society. It’s a tremendous legacy that FoE Ireland Director, Oisin Coghlan, should be very proud of championing. I was proud even to witness and support it in a small way.  

My early days on the FoE Ireland Board were spent dealing with the economic crisis that decimated so many Irish NGOs, but (thanks to heroic efforts by staff) FoE Ireland largely recovered and managed to continue great work on a shoestring budget. In addition to pioneering a climate law, I’ve watched FoE Ireland facilitate community ownership of renewable energy; protest trade agreements; develop climate smart agriculture guidelines; block fracking; fight for an Irish solar energy revolution; restore “environment” back into the Department of Energy, Environment, Climate and Communications; organise election hustings; improve recycling at Electric Picnic; educate the public on environmental issues; constantly push politicians for greater environmental action; and have a lot of fun in the process. It’s been an honour to be a small part of so many great campaigns to make Ireland a healthier place to live.

Over the past two years as Chairperson of the Board, I’ve had the privilege of seeing more of the work that FoE does on an international level through the Friends of the Earth network. I’ve met Friends of the Earth representatives from 76 countries all doing incredible work in their home countries fighting for social, environmental and economic justice.  In meeting them, I’m more aware of how FoE Ireland’s work fits into a much larger global justice movement and that drives me to keep going when the battles seem too big or too hard here at home. When I think about my legacy, I am comforted that whatever work I do today will continue as part of this extensive global network well beyond my own personal involvement.

Recently, I felt the need to grow up a bit and write a will – primarily because I needed to do the responsible parent thing to insure my daughter would be taken care of in the event that I was not here. Thanks to a local solicitor, it was far easier and less costly than I envisioned and now I have some peace of mind regarding my daughter’s future.

I also used the opportunity to secure my legacy too. We all have to die, so “the goal isn’t to live forever, but to create something that will.” So I asked the solicitor to include a simple clause in my will to insure Friends of the Earth Ireland gets a small percentage of my assets. I’ve seen a couple of small legacy gifts come in the doors of Friends of the Earth Ireland over the years and know what a God-send they’ve been, enabling FoE to do some extra good work that lacked funding. Personally, it makes me feel good to know that when I’m done being a Friend of the Earth with an organisation I adore, I can still be a friend under the earth (cue the drums to accompany my dreadful attempt at humour!).

In honour of Halloween, I’m sending out a call to action to ‘Live, Love, Laugh and Leave a Legacy’!

  • For details on how to leave a legacy gift to Friends of the Earth Ireland, check out this simple guide
  • For more from Dr Cara Augustenborg, check out her award-winning blog site, The Verdant Yank

31st October to 6th Novemeber 2016 is Best Will Week 2016, when charities around Ireland team up to encourage people to consider leaving a legacy gift in their will. 

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