What on Earth is going on?
Posted by Oisín Coghlan on March 27, 2020 at 11:12 AM
I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning.
As someone who has pushed for the climate crisis to be treated like an emergency for 10 years it is weird to sit at home watching what it’s like when our elected leaders actually do take an existential threat seriously.
And thank God they do. The coronavirus is like nothing any of us under 100 years of age have seen in our lifetimes.
Almost 50 years ago, in one of the foundational texts of modern environmentalism, Rachel Carson predicted a Silent Spring due to the effect of pesticides. Indeed, it’s commonplace now to remark on the decline of butterflies, bees and even flies on your windscreen.
This year, in a surreal reversal, it’s humans who have fallen silent. I was out cycling with my two kids yesterday evening and we heard the squirrel in the tree above us before we saw him. We could hear him gnawing on a nut, because the usually busy suburban roads were empty of rush hour traffic.
We like to describe Friends of the Earth as a community at the heart of the climate and environmental justice movement. And like all our communities right now we are finding new ways to come together while staying apart. Building our connections while staying safe.
In this post you’ll find updates on:
- Staying apart (office and events update)
- Busier than ever
- Staying connecting and supporting each other
- Thinking ahead:“This too shall pass”
- What I’m reading
Staying apart (office and events update)
At the centre of the Friends of the Earth community is the staff team based in 9 Upper Mount Street in Dublin. The health of our team and public health comes first right now. So we closed the office on Friday 13th and it will remain closed until April 20th at the earliest. Áine, Audrey, Catherine, Claudia, Meaghan, Kate, Kevin, Sadhbh, Sian, Triona and myself are now all working from home.
We have also, of course, cancelled all face-to-face events and meetings for the duration of the special measures.
Busier than ever
Moving as much as possible online has, if anything, made us busier than ever.
Over 90 people attended our Energy Democracy webinar on Monday evening, which was originally going to be in a hall in Tipperary. Kate chaired a discussion on “How can we build energy democracy in our communities so that everyone has access to community power?” You can watch back here.
Áine facilitated a One Future Campaign discussion last week on “How to build community in a disrupted world” which over 60 people joined.
We have another One Future Campaign webinar this evening at 5.30pm on "How can you talk about climate change at a time like this?". We can only fit 100 online so register here now. Áine and I will be joined by Sadhbh O’Neill, policy advisor to Stop Climate Chaos and Cliona Sharkey, policy advisor in Trócaire.
And our colleagues Meaghan and Sian have a six week evening course on campaigning for environmental justice starting next Monday.
Staying connected and supporting each other
We had to cancel our Sunrise Sea Swim on the equinox last Saturday but we kept the #NatureConnects theme alive by inviting people to post photos they took in nature over the weekend and tagging us. You can see a selection here, compiled by Claudia. And keep them coming, international biodiversity day is May 22nd, let’s keep sharing our Spring photos until then. It's easy and safe, you can do it in your garden or from your window.
Many of you joined local One Future Campaign teams during the election to distribute “Faster and Fairer Climate Action” flyers and window stickers. Those teams have stuck together. They were preparing to present copies of Greta Thunberg’s book to their newly elected TDs. That too has had to move online. But in many cases the groups have been joining in local community #SelfIsolationHelp efforts. If you would like to be put in touch with your local One Future team, reply to this email with your name, phone number and constituency and we'll add you the appropriate WhatsApp group.
We have written to everyone who makes a monthly direct debit donation to Friends of the Earth to ask if they need to pause their donations or lower their contribution Obviously, we know some people are being laid off and facing huge financial uncertainty. Such is the spirit of the Friends of the Earth community that we had people write back to increase their donations! They said they knew others would have to cancel and they wanted to help make up the shortfall. A huge thank you to everyone who gives regularly. That fund is the bedrock our campaigning capacity.
Thinking ahead: “This too shall pass”
It may seem that the only thing the Government, or the public, is talking about right now is the pandemic. In fact, behind the scenes climate policy-making continues at European and national level. And government formation talks seem to be gathering pace. And when the pandemic passes and a new Government looks ahead - climate breakdown will be on the horizon. But will they recognize and respond rapidly enough to that risk?
We want to make sure that the corona crisis doesn’t mean the next Government neglects the climate crisis. That’s what happened after the Great Recession and we lost a decade of precious time to decarbonize our economy. We simply can’t afford to let that happen again. That would tip us into civilization-ending climate chaos.
Our policy team are working away with Stop Climate Chaos to make sure new TDs, officials, and whoever forms the next Government, know the big decisions they will have to make. Here’s the SCC briefing on “9 Big Questions the New Government Has To Answer on Climate and Energy”.
The outgoing Government has also begun an energy security review to inform future decisions on fossil fuels: whether we should still look for new fossil gas in Irish waters and whether we should import fracked gas from the US. We’re worried that the review will make business-as-usual assumptions and lock us into fossil fuels for another generation, dooming that generation to climate catastrophe. So we commissioned an independent expert to draft a model terms of reference for the energy security review. We published them this week. You can read more here.
The big question we need to grapple is what shape does economic policy take once the peak of the pandemic passes. There will almost certainly be huge Government investment to stimulate the economy, on the scale we have been calling for on climate action, which was so recently dismissed as unrealistic by “very serious people”, as economist Paul Krugman dubs elites in denial about our policy choices. The question is will the Government’s response to Covid-19 promote a Just Transition to zero pollution or just a return business-as-usual.
Professor John Sweeney, who spent 9 years on the Friends of the Earth Board,talked to Sean O’Rourke on Tuesday about what Covid19 means for the environment and the future. It’s well worth a listen back. As Sean O’Rourke said to John at the end “As ever John, it’s wonderful to listen to your wisdom and your insights.”
The “How Can You Talk About Climate at a Time Like This” webinar this eveningwill start grappling with the question of how we shape a “people and planet” response to Covid19 rather than polluters and profits. But it’s going to take a while to work through and we’ll need to step up the dialogues we had begun with trade unions, social justice organizations and others before launching the One Future Campaign.
What I’m reading
To be honest, working from home with two kids in the house means I haven’t found myself with buckets of new time on my hands, despite all those media pieces about filling your time under lockdown. Finishing Ulysses and The Wire may both have to wait a while longer!
But I am reading little on how to grapple with climate in the wake of Covid19:
- Marion Briggs, the chairperson of the Friends of the Earth Board has written a blog comparing the responses to Covid and climate change.
- Dr Ciara Murphy from the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, and a member of the steering committee of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition has written about “living through two global emergencies”
And there's a longer reading list on the event page for tonight’s webinar.
Meantime, I’ve scoured this for more practical tips. Former Friends of the Earth Chairperson, Cara Augustenborg, was interviewed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner on “parenting for the planet during a lockdown”.
And finally, just before the bookshops closed I bought the latest poetry collection by friend and longtime member of the Friends of the Earth community, Jane Clarke, When the Tree Falls. You can read a selection of her poetry online here.
Stay safe, stay connected, and stay home as much as you can.
In hope and fellowship,
Oisínfor the Friends of the Earth team