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Archive for the ‘Green politics’ Category

hands with just picked radishHow did it happen? That food grown simply and naturally, without the addition of synthetic chemicals, has become a premium commodity that so few of us can afford to buy? That it costs money for a farmer to earn the right to label his produce organic. In the name of  “progress” we allowed substances- toxic to the environment, our health and the fertility of our planet- to permeate our food sources. These pesticide and herbicide laden ingredients are processed, packaged in plastic, and placed on shelves to be bought at a low price to feed our families. How has this become the norm? Organic food should be the norm. Would it not be fairer to penalise those who are placing poisons in our food chain rather than those that farm naturally? But it’s not even a case of organic verses non. We shouldn’t be having that conversation. It’s a case of placing economic and social value on food that is ethically farmed in an organic manner by people that we know and trust.

How easily we were seduced by the convenience of large scale, internationally controlled supermarkets. Operating a system of high volume turnover and market price fixing enables them to offer flexible opening hours, low prices and a huge range of fashionably exotic foodstuffs. This universally accepted model sees Ireland import 70% of our food. Yes, that’s SEVENTY PER CENT…., while Irish food products to the value of €4…wait for it…BILLION leave the country annually. Does any of that make sense? Something tells me we need a collective slap about the face with a wet fish…

Long term, there are not many who benefit from this arrangement. We’ve got to peel back the layers and ask ourselves – who controls the market prices? How are the large pharmaceutical companies infiltrating so many aspects of our lives? The answers to these questions will invariably lead back to a small group of very wealthy people whose sole focus in life is to remain that way. Our passive shopping habits make them richer while our communities are silently robbed of their independence and natural resources. Society has been deliberately constructed to distract us from the absurdities happening beneath our noses, as zillions of us worldwide labour on the hamster wheel of modern day living. And we, my friends, are the lucky ones. There are many around the globe that are less fortunate, already stripped of their natural capital and human rights.

I don’t have the solutions but I do know that we need to start caring about how, where and by whom our food is produced. Supporting our local small growers and producers that farm in an organic manner is one of the most profound things we can do for our families, communities and the future of the planet. We are infinitely more powerful than we believe. Collectively, we can change. And you can start by signing the Irish Food Sovereignty proclamation here, and help “build a vision for a better food and agricultural system for Ireland and our world.” It’s a good place to begin.

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FPW_illustrationWe are all well aware of the potential challenges that lay ahead. The media bombards us with forecasts of melting ice caps, rising ocean levels and calamitous weather patterns. The unpredictability of climate change threatens our food sovereignty and presents us with various tragic eventualities. While it all sounds a bit apocalyptic and melodramatic, because that’s how the media likes to express itself, there is a slice of reality in there. Our destructive behaviour hasn’t done us any favours. Man’s lack of empathy for the natural order of things combined with our misguided sense of superiority may one day lead to our eventual extinction. As George Carlin put it

The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

But it’s not terribly helpful to dwell on omens of doom and gloom. It’s more constructive (and much cheerier) to seek out inspirational, enlightened folk to guide us in the right direction. International Resilience Manager Davie Philip is one such person. A few days ago in Wexford town a group of like-minded people came together to explore how we might build better communities in our locality and plan for a brighter future together. The highlight of the “Future-Proof Wexford” public meeting was an impassioned and uplifting talk by Davie. He spoke about the need for resilience- a more realistic goal than the ultimate ideal of sustainability. A resilient society will adapt to immediate challenges  and find solutions that will accommodate growth. Instead of  worrying about future catastrophic events in the wider world, more can be achieved by collectively overcoming everyday problems within our own working and living environments.

FPW-Photo_Davie-Philip

Building social capital is key to the process. For this to happen it takes a period of interaction and observation to suss out the dynamics of the group. To help forge connections, promote inclusivity and move toward common goals it is helpful to first map out the assets and collective skills within the community.

Davie cited the eco-village of Cloughjordan in Co. Tipperary as a relevant case study. A founding member of the community and a resident of the eco-village he gave numerous examples of how people rally together to overcome societal challenges. Whether it be economic issues, security or health and wellbeing, it is clear that sharing the load lessens the burden. Community-supported agriculture (CSA), communal gardening, an egg, milk & bread club, a microgeneration collective and a community workspace for eco-entrepreneurs are a few of the Cloughjordan initiatives where individuals have successfully pooled resources. Not only do these work for the betterment of the eco-villagers, many knock-on benefits radiate out to positively impact the wider neighbourhood.

Touching on the ideas of “less ego and more eco” and making sustainability more mainstream, Davie suggested that the toughest part of the future-proofing process may be changing how we think. We need to lose the “everyman for himself” mindset and re-establish connections. We shouldn’t be consumed by what we want to own as individuals but maybe explore what we it is we actually need to flourish as a community. What exactly constitutes a happy community? Can we come together to achieve a common goal for the benefit of all? Well that remains to be seen. I, for one, am hopeful. If we can fill a room on a Tuesday evening with enthusiastic people all open to change, it can only be a good sign.

Movements such as Transition Town and Incredible Edible Tomorden are just two examples of many great collective collaborations in action. If you’ve got an inspiring story to share about how your community has worked together for social and environmental improvement I’d love to hear about it.

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Last Sunday I took a trip to Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary on a bus full of keen gardeners and GIYers. Why, you might ask, (as we all know it’s such a long way to Tipperary…..) Well, because that’s where you will find Ireland’s first Ecovillage. Set on 69 acres, the cluster of 50 energy-efficient homes, constructed mostly from sustainable materials such as straw, mud and hemp, blends seamlessly into the main street of Cloughjordan as a newly built neighborhood in the already established rural settlement. Despite the sustainable and somewhat alternative lifestyle adopted by the Ecovillagers they share a harmonious rapport with the wider community of Cloughjordan.

We were met by our tour guide Davie Philip at the market square just outside the renovated coach house. Davie works for Cultivate, an organization focused on sustainability through active education that has close associations with the Ecovillage.

CloughJordan1

Davie explained how community-supported agriculture (CSA) has been successfully implemented to feed their members. The Ecovillage operates an organic mixed farm of 40 acres. Primarily using biodynamic farming methods vegetables, cereals, milk and meat are produced for the community. The members pay an annual contribution, to cover administration, running costs and growers’ wages in return for a regular supply of in-season farm produce. Farmer Pat Malone delivered an insightful talk on growing for a community and answered some of our questions as we sheltered from a downpour in the on-site eco hostel.

CloughJordan2Davie then guided the group through the site where we could glimpse the variety of homes that had been ecologically constructed. Each house is connected to a central heating system powered by 500m2 of solar water heating panels and an industrial wood-chip boiler.

We made our way up to the allotments where Bruce Darrell was waiting for us. Bruce works for RED Gardens. He outlined his role as a research grower, trialing and testing various horticultural concepts to find the most productive and sustainable solutions for future food production at the village. We saw evidence of the 20,000 plus trees that were planted, ambled through various polytunnels, past the WeCreate building- a green enterprise centre – and back to a cafe on Cloughjordan main street to reflect on the days events.

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Although the project was granted planning permission only a few years ago, already there are 100 residents in the Ecovillage and that number is steadily rising. With five different serviced sites available to rent or buy, including apartments and live-work units, the village attracts like-minded souls fleeing the stresses of modern living in search of a more sustainable and peaceful life. In line with the Ecovillage goal to become a centre of education and training there are a number of courses and events run throughout the year. And of course you could always avail of a group tour, as we did. Free Introductory tours run from 3pm every Saturday and Sunday.

CloughJordan4

The Ecovillage ethos offers a practical model for community living that works with, instead of against, the environment. A model that works on so many levels. Please sit up and pay attention city and urban planners. Develop communities that provide sustainable, holistic solutions; give people a voice and the opportunity to control their own environment and lifestyles where they can be free from economic pressures, social degeneration and isolation. Most of all, have the foresight to recognise that this is the only way forward.

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International World Water Day is held annually on this day, March 22nd. It is a public awareness day aimed to highlight the need to conserve and protect fresh water supplies. The first World Water Day was held in 1993, after it was recommend during the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and has run each year since.

Wexford native Dan Roche of Bathshop123 is a leading campaigner for this issue. Being in the business of selling bathrooms he has dedicated a considerable amount of time and energy to highlighting problems associated with water consumption.

As a bathroom retailer we supply thousands of water-related products per month, and we take water consumption seriously.

Here in the UK and in many countries we benefit from constant access to fresh water, and it is important that we use our resources responsibly. Many people take water for granted which can result in substantial wastage every day, and we have committed to doing our bit to help educate people about water consumption in the run up to World Water Day 2013.

In early 2013, Bathshop321 launched our very first annual Water Usage Survey.

We contacted a section of our customer base, as well as some of the general public, and asked a few simple questions about water usage habits in the home. The aim of the survey was to understand how people treat water consumption in the home, and to identify areas where water wastage could be reduced.

In total, we surveyed 508 people, and some of the key highlights can be found here.

World Water Day 2013 Infographic

We don’t experience extreme water shortages this side of the world and with our frequent rainfall it’s hard to understand why we should preserve our water supply. But clean water is not a given- it’s a precious commodity that takes time and effort to manage. You can see from the above statistics provided by UN Water that it is vital we take responsibilty for our water usage.  Take a look at this site for tips on saving water in our own homes and do your bit for World Water Day.

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Rosslare Burrow, Co WexfordIt’s day one of a bright new shiny year. Representing a clean slate and the possibility of the start of a better way of life. One with more joy, contentment and fulfillment. We resolve to let go of our bad habits and adopt healthier, more altruistic and time effective ways of getting through everyday. It’s a good feeling to know that we have this power to change and ..boy, do we! But be kind to yourself. It’s far better to change something small than to overestimate your limits and be simmering with self loathing by March having long thrown the towel in. Make small changes in your life that make you happy. If you do only one thing this new year resolve to make time for that things that bring you happiness, I mean real deep down contentment- not fleeting excitement, and the rest will fall into place. For me that happiness comes from living a hands-on, creative life, connected with the natural world. Taking the time to leave my computer monitor to tend the garden, walk the sea shore, experience birdsong, the breeze on my face and the smell of gorse flowers. These are all perfectly achievable and more productive to my wellbeing than the cyber dawdling I so frequently get drawn into. So my resolution will be to dedicate more hours a week to outdoorsy pursuits. If you don’t know what makes you happy resolve to make 2013 the year you find out.

If you are reading this the chances are that your green conscience has already been pricked. So what have you resolved to change this year? If we all change something small for the better of the environment, our combined effort will have noticeable results. No matter how meagre that promise is, whether to recycle more, buy more local produce, reduce your use of chemicals, take up knitting…. I guarantee it all makes a difference. As I write this the sun is warming my back, luring me outside. Starting as I mean to go on I will finish up my ramblings here but before I go I wish you and yours a very happy 2013!

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in conversation with Green party councillor Danny FordeDanny Forde, Green Party Councillor, Wexford

ME: Hi Danny, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. First question I’d like to ask you is how did you first get become interested in green issues?

DF: Well, as a child I was always interested in nature and the environment but I guess all kids are. They’re hot-wired to have this natural curiosity in everything around them and it depends how that fascination gets nurtured as we grow up. Mine was encouraged. When I was growing up in Wexford there was the Anti Nuclear Rally that took place in Carnsore Point, here on our very doorstep. That was a real introduction into the world of green politics.

ME: Sure Danny, you must’ve been a toddler..that was in 1979……

DF: Well the rally turned into a national festival which took place for 3 years running…but yes….I was very young……

ME: The rally was a protest against the Fianna Fail government’s plans to build four nuclear power stations at Carnsore Point in Co. Wexford. I have a vague memory of a lot of interesting hippie folk in town around that time. I too was…ahem….very, very young…..

DF: That’s right and what started as a protest turned into a huge national gathering of like-minded individuals all exchanging ideas. Around 5000 people I believe, camping on the proposed site. There were three or four days of workshops, even music from the likes of Christy Moore. I remember a great feeling of camaraderie. I met loads of interesting people. I saw my first PV panel- it was being used to power a radio and I met a member of Green Party who had his own wind turbine. And remember, this was the late 70’s! It was a real coming of age thing for me. For the first time it dawned on me that there are other, better ways to create energy. The best thing about the whole thing was that the protest actually changed the course of politics and any plans for nuclear power in Ireland were dropped.

Later, on my travels in North America I worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and the North pacific where I witnessed first hand the huge devastation caused by bottom trawling. It destroys marine eco systems and the sea bed which in turn has drastic implications for the environment. All in all it opened my eyes to what was happening around us every day.

ME: Have you any advice for us Wexford people wanting to change policy for the better of the environment on a local level? How should we go about it exactly?

DF: Be proactive and write letters. The best thing Wexford people can do is to read the Draft County Development Plan. It’s available online or to view at the County Hall. The council invite submissions and observations with respect to the Draft Plan from members of the public and interested parties to be made to the Planning Authority before 4.30pm on Monday 20th August 2012.

ME: So we only have a few weeks to read the Draft plan and compile our comments for consideration.

DF: That’s right. However it’s important that these views are in written form and they must be coherent and well presented. All suggestions must be backed up with reliable research and sent either to a local council representative or the county council. If these criteria are adopted then the submission will be considered before the making of the actual plan.

ME: That’s very useful to know. Last question: What would you say to people wanting to live a greener lifestyle?

DF: I would have to say look at your shopping list. Buy local produce in season. For example, rapeseed oil can be used instead of olive oil. It’s produced in Ireland. Aside from the smaller carbon footprint involved there are other obvious advantages in that any money generated in this country trickles down to our local economy. If you can try to change one item a month on your shopping list to a local product in season then it would be a start. Also people should compare their wants with their needs when shopping. Do they really need that plastic wrapped item covered in pesticides, that has been shipped half way across the world? Everyone can take small steps. It all adds up.

ME: Anything else you want to share?

DF: Yes, the Green party are excited to be involved in the second Carnsore Summer School, organised by the Green European Foundation working with Green Foundation Ireland. It takes place on September 7 to 9, 2012 and promises to be an exciting weekend. As well as addressing serious environmental issues through talks and debates with international speakers there will be a music, film and general craic.

ME: That’s one to pencil into the diary. Thanks so much Danny. It’s been a pleasure. The only thing left to do is give out Danny’s details:

Danny Forde
dnforde@gmail.com or call 087 6884032. http://www.wexfordgreenparty.com

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