In Review – The Climate Change Activist Academy

L - R Gary Tyrell, a Climate Action Officer for Climate Ambassador Ireland , Edwin Alblas of Climate Case Ireland, Taz Kelleher of Sustainable Fashion Dublin, Tadhg Dempsey, the Chair of the TU Dublin Green Soc, Rebecca Gorman, Deputy President TU Dublin SU City Campus & Aisling Whelan, from Extinction Rebellion 

The Climate Action Working Group was set up early last semester. We wanted to have a group focused purely on taking action and addressing the climate emergency. We sensed the stress and urgency students were feeling around climate change, so we wanted to create something to channel that energy.

One of the events the Working Group created was the Climate Change Activist Academy. This was a panel discussion, gathering together some of the brightest minds and most educated activists in the country, to come and chat to students on what we can all do to tackle this massive problem. 

The Activist Academy panel discussion took place on Wednesday, February 25th from 6pm – 8.30pm in the Courtyard in Aungier Street. This project was the creation of our Climate Action Working Group, and I moderated on the night. The aim of the panel discussion was to explore ways for environmentally-conscious students to live more sustainable, and encourage peers to do the same. There were five guest panelists. All brought different backgrounds and approaches to activism to the discussion. 

We had:

  • Edwin Alblas of Climate Case Ireland
  • Taz Kelleher of Sustainable Fashion Dublin
  • Gary Tyrell, a Climate Action Officer for Climate Ambassador Ireland 
  • Aisling Whelan, from Extinction Rebellion 
  • Tadhg Dempsey, the Chair of the TU Dublin Green Soc.

The main discussions centred around: Working together, encouraging others to be more involved and conscious, system change, Government responsibility, positivity, and reflection.

Communication & Working Together 

It was echoed across the panel that supporting one another at events like the Activist Academy and communicating more about climate topics with loved ones is a good starting point to encourage others to be more sustainable. Identify something your person is fond of, and show them how our current rate of climate change will take it away. For example, if your friend has a favourite golf course by the beach, that could be completely covered in water by 2050. Taz Kelleher pointed to Sustainable Fashion Dublin events as a simple first step towards a more sustainable life. Purchasing vintage clothes is easy, and positively acknowledging when friends do so encourages repeated behaviour. Sustainable Fashion, Dublin has composting workshops, and alternative milk making workshops, all are creative and social ways to get involved and bring friends along. 

Gary Tyrell, from Climate Ambassador Ireland stressed the importance of broaching the subject in a non-judgemental manner with your peers.  Choose your battles wisely, listen to the other’s point of view, and remember that none of us are perfect. Encouraging small steps can snowball into bigger, more effective outcomes. Tadhg Dempsey referenced the TU Dublin Green Soc and Climate Action Working Group as a simple way to get involved that’s very close to home. He began his journey by going to protests on climate change. This fed his passion for the issue and led him to where he is today. 

No one is Perfect

The panellists agreed that the idea of being a ‘perfect’ climate activist was not realistic, and in fact could discourage people from this lifestyle. Taz Kelleher echoed that sometimes ‘it feels like if you’re not 100% perfect at it, you can’t do it at all.’ Don’t let a slip up stop you from continuing your sustainable journey. 

If you were Taoiseach, what would be your first priority?

For Aisling Whelan, carbon emissions are a major priority. In order to reduce these the discouragement of private car ownership should be put in place, and a speed limit of 20kms per hour should be set on country back roads. There should also be a massive reform by the Department of Agriculture who greatly contribute to these emissions. Taz Kelleher picked up on this and added that the media has placed a lot of blame on small farmers. They cannot suddenly switch to growing crops. Some are fourth generation beef farmers. Taz’s first step then would be to focus on education and skills. Teach people more sustainable ways of living at as young an age as possible, and slowly introduce livestock farmers to crop farming. 

Edwin Alblas would focus on government policy which he believes is too lenient on big business. At present, there is no requirement for big business to recycle. He would also incentivise small businesses to be more sustainable. He also believes that certain policies do not consider Irish Citizens when published, making them difficult to adhere to. Gary Tyrell focused on the relationship between sustainability and economy and also referenced incentives rather than taxes and punishments. Gary referenced a current initiative with “Burren Farming for Conservation Programme”  whereby farmers are rewarded financially for allowing land to go fallow which in turn improves the quality of grass and reduces water pollution. There are also renewable energy co-op plans in Ireland which feed profits back into the community. Tadhg Dempsey would also prioritise education and serious action. He referenced that after World War 2 governments implemented appropriate system change as affected countries were in a state of emergency. We find ourselves in one again now and appropriate strategies should be implemented. 

Government Responsibility

Aisling Whelan enlightened guests with a positive fact about TDs and citizens. The ratio of both in Ireland is actually quite high. If a TD office receives six or more phone calls on the same topic in one week, that issue is considered pressing. So, call your TD’s, hold them to account, ask them how they are going to vote on bills relating to climate change, and encourage your friends to do the same. Gary Tyrell agreed that Ireland scores well in engagement with the government. People can invite TDs to give talks at their School or University, organise hustings, and call for Citizens Assemblies. He referenced Mary Robinsons’ advice to ‘do your bit’ then ‘get angry’.

Get Angry

Picking up on Mary Robinson’s advice, the Deputy President asked ‘Getting angry – it’s easy when we see how slow the Government is to move on this topic. How do you cope?’ 

Taz Kelleher acknowledged that getting angry is useful, but do not get trapped in that anger. Stay focused, the small incremental changes will lead to something bigger. Reflect on what you have done and what has worked so far. You can have your voice heard by voting with your wallet. Taz referenced the clothing giant ‘Forever 21’. The high street fashion shop did not listen to consumers who wanted a more sustainable product and subsequently went bankrupt. Edwin Alblas spoke of his very real frustration when the Irish Climate Case lost. However, he chose to focus on the positive outcomes. He met like minded people, and got 19,000 signatures on his petition to appeal the court’s decision. This brought people together. Gary Tyrell copes by understanding again that we are not perfect and can not be so in every aspect of climate action. Choose something that resonates with you and follow that path. For example, if you care about animals, focus on the consumption of them as a contributor to climate change and work on ways to discuss and call for change. Aisling Wheeler surrounds herself with like-minded people and noted the positive effect this has on her mental health. Anger and frustration has become familiar to Tadhg Dempsey also, who still considers himself a newcomer to the climate action scene in Ireland. When he first began to organise events on climate action his fresh enthusiasm could sometimes squash when not as many people responded to events as he thought would, or when they did not result in positive change. He stays hopeful and soldiers on, beautifully referencing the Irish expression ‘go leor’ which means both ‘plenty’ and ‘enough’.

Remember, that enough is plenty..

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