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Cara's parting words

Posted by Guest Blogger on September 19, 2018 at 12:47 PM

Cara cycle protest

Our Head of Communications and Fundraising, Dr. Cara Augustenborg, says good-bye after a decade of work with Friends of the Earth Ireland...

This blog marks an end to my decade-long relationship with Friends of the Earth (FoE) Ireland, beginning as a member of the Board of Directors and later as Chairperson of the Board. Last year, I left my voluntary role as Chairperson to become a part-time member of FoE’s staff as their Head of Science, Communications and Fundraising -a job that has provided me with nearly non-stop adventure and education for the past 18 months. I’m now moving on to a full-time academic position at University College Dublin.

I joined the Board of FoE just after Ireland’s economic crash. Like many organisations at the time, FoE took a major financial hit that year. I spent those early years pouring over spreadsheets with the Director and fellow Board members, trying to avoid redundancies while still paying the bills and keeping critical campaigns afloat. I’m relieved that, as I leave FoE today, it has recovered from that crash and is achieving record levels of success in creating system change in Ireland. However, FoE is still lacking enough resources to address all the urgent environmental problems facing our country.

fracking group 1

I don’t think many people realise Friends of the Earth Ireland operates on a relatively small budget of less than €300,000 per annum, all of which goes to employing 4-5 staff, keeping a Dublin office open, and supporting numerous campaigns on climate, energy, food, plastic and waste. Compare this to the budgets of well-known NGOs like Trocaire (29 million in Irish donations), Oxfam Ireland (19 million in income) and Concern (191 million in income), and FoE’s prominence on a shoe-string budget looks even more impressive.

The environmental sector in Ireland is critically under-resourced. A report by the Irish Environmental Network determined only 279 people were employed in environmental NGO sector in Ireland in 2015, with less than 15% of those employed in a full-time capacity. When you think about all the environmental problems we have, combined with a government which has historically ignored environmental issues, it’s worrying that we don’t have more people working to hold the Government accountable for sustainability the way FoE does.

If I could have one parting wish as I leave FoE, it would be for the organisation to find a fairy godmother or godfather to provide the funds FoE needs to transform Ireland into a truly sustainable nation. While my new job will provide my daughter and I with a decent quality of life, it won’t make me wealthy enough to become that fairy godmother. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to becoming a monthly supporter and giving what I can to a great team working for a great cause.

From October, I’m starting a new role as a Senior Teaching Fellow at University College Dublin, working with Professor Peter Clinch and his stellar team in the Environmental Policy programme. I’m excited to combine my interests in environmental science and policy and join Prof. Clinch’s team in teaching Ireland’s future leaders on a topic I am so passionate about. I will also retain my media work as the “Verdant Yank” within Newstalk and elsewhere in both a personal and academic capacity.

When I joined the Board of Friends of the Earth, I had just returned a trip to the Arctic where I had witnessed the effects of climate change and come home inspired to do more to solve the problem. The polar explorer who brought me to the Arctic and inspired my work with FoE, the late Marc Cornelissen, once said “saying good-bye is hard, but it’s essential to keep moving forward”.  Marc was right -Saying good-bye is really hard! I’ve loved my time with Friends of the Earth and am most grateful to its amazing Director (and dear friend), Oisin Coghlan, for the opportunity to learn so much under his direction.I will serve out my term as Chairperson of Friends of the Earth Europe through June 2019 and am excited to help FoE Europe realize their new strategic plan. Of course, I’ll continue to engage with Friends of the Earth Ireland in my capacity as European Chairperson.

team 2

I also want to thank the wonderful Friends of the Earth Board and staff (Kate, Meaghan, Claudia and Jerry), Mindy O’Brien at VOICE, Young Friends of the Earth Ireland, and our colleagues in Stop Climate Chaos, SWAN, and the Irish Environmental Network for making my time at FoE both fun and inspiring. My hope is that I will continue to follow Marc’s sage words and “keep moving forward” by bringing my experience within the Irish NGO sector into academia to create more synergy between the two sectors. This isn’t really good-bye at all, as we all continue to “fight the good fight” in different capacities but always with the same vision of Ireland driving us forward. 

caraVery Best,

P.S. Stay in touch with my work, blogging and Newstalk Down To Earth podcasts at ;-) 

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