Zoë Backwell’s audio production is an account of the interconnectedness of environmental issues and human emotion. Seeking relief from ‘eco-anxiety?’ Tim and Eleanor provide an anecdote of their development into a more eco-conscious lifestyle, from veganism to fuel-efficient travel. They discuss the importance of remaining mindful towards mass-production and highlight the benefits of shopping locally. This documentary won first place in the radio documentary category at the 2020 Irish SMEDIA awards.
‘Farmers vs Climate’
Claire McNicholl and Zhuofan Liu
“A climate clock has been recently placed on a New York building that claims we only have seven years to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible. Many businesses have already started to incorporate measures to supposedly help with the climate change crisis we are facing. This is apparent in everyday life with many restaurants and cafes providing more vegan and plant-based options. However, while this is great for the environment, it has serious consequences for the farming industry. In this audio piece, we
question whether farmers can become more sustainable so that they can thrive in our ever-changing society. This package focuses on Barry, a dairy farmer from Derry, who feels like an underdog in a society that is becoming more environmentally conscientious. Barry questions whether he can still thrive, all against the backdrop of a fragile Northern Irish economy ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.” - Claire McNicholl
The Eco Scoop Podcast
“The Eco Scoop” is Queen’s Radio’s dedicated news and current affairs program, focusing on all things environmental. Hosted by Flavia Gouveia, “The Eco Scoop” explores issues surrounding sustainability and climate change with a positive, forward-thinking, and student-friendly focus. This episode features Green Future Media’s Lauren Johnson discussing the website, alongside interviews with Cara Walsh (Chair of the Green and Queens Society) and Jonathan Bell from the EEECS Student Sustainability Team.
‘The Coastal Cost’
Lucie Affronti and Nimita Bhatt
Lucie Affronti and Nimita Bhatt portray Northern Ireland’s stunning scenery from Tyrella Beach to the Giant’s Causeway. They follow the process as Alan Clarke, Extrusion Manager at Queen’s University, recycles and reshapes plastic materials that are found during beach- cleans. Ruth Linton, who volunteers at the National Trust, discusses the detrimental effects that plastic has on marine animals, while shocking clips exemplify the harm caused. Peter Casey, head of Sea Shepherd NI, urges watchers to “get involved.”
A "Politics of Life", Then and Now
Facing down the huge problem of climate change, it’s hard to know where to start. How can we begin to come to terms with the fact that the world has failed to meet even one of the UN targets to stop wildlife destruction over the last decade? Or to accept the fact that 11% of species in Northern Ireland are now considered at risk of extinction?
To paraphrase the rallying cry of the feminists of the 1960s: the planet – it’s political.
To accept this means that we need a strong political response to the climate change crisis. But how what exactly would such a political response look like? Well, it’s not that we need to think outside the box, it’s that we need to “throw the box out the window.” That’s according to Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, who outlined her vision for green politics when she was awarded a Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse by Trinity College Dublin’s Historical Society in 2018.
In a speech I remember clearly today, Lucas outlined a model of new Green Politics, or what she termed a “Politics of Life”. Sadly, neither the UK nor the Irish government has ever come close to adopting such a political model, and Lucas’s words remain all too relevant even now. In fact, I can’t help but feel that her entire speech is worth reflecting upon at this critical moment, as the US prepares to leave the Paris climate agreement and we face what might be the greatest green challenge yet. What can we learn from the vision Lucas outlined back then, today? Has anything really changed in the intervening years?
To begin with, Lucas asserted in 2018 that our current capitalist political model is failing us, claiming an insatiable drive for economic growth is a damaging political and cultural ideal. While acknowledging that economic growth may have had a positive trickle-down effect in the 1970s, she was adamant that this is no longer the case. This point is worth reiterating here. After all, UN research found that despite the first successes of Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” boom, at the time, Ireland had the highest levels of inequality in the western world after the US.
Lucas proposed that we break the “closed-loop”’ of our current political and economic model. Instead, she suggested a new politics of “dynamic equilibrium”, where the focus is on maintaining a better quality of life rather than continually driving forwards in pursuit of economic growth. Put simply, she explained that it’s time we enjoy the views from a helicopter, instead of relentlessly plowing onwards in a jet plane.
It needn’t be that we must choose between our morals and the market, or at least not entirely. Lucas offered Kate Raworth’s concept of Doughnut Economics as an example of an economic model that takes account of both the earth’s systems and of wider society. The doughnut economy recognizes the social foundations and basic needs of humanity as its “inner ring”, while its “outer ring” represents the Earth’s finite resources or environmental limits. The choice of a doughnut metaphor in an Irish context is a judicious one, as anyone who has ever braved the queues at Krispy Kreme in Blanchardstown can attest. It’s also a good reminder that human needs and those of nature needn’t necessarily be at odds.
Too often green politics is dismissed as overly abstract. But, in reality, there are concrete steps that can be taken to create a greener future. As we approach an aviation apocalypse occasioned by Covid, we would do well to reflect on these, or so I believe. Among the practical steps, Lucas has proposed are tax reforms that would see the environmental cost of goods or services reflected in their financial cost. This would mean that plane and train ticket prices would reflect their respective environmental impact rather than their CEO’s pricing policies. Also potentially useful is the idea a Personal Carbon Allowance, whereby each citizen would have a certain amount of carbon to use as they see fit, so that, for example, you could ‘save’ points to use on a long-haul flight. While unlikely to be popular with Ryanair or Easyjet, these are very real and very practical steps we could take for the planet when airplanes start to get off the ground again.
Neoliberal capitalism simply is not working: it wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. Lucas’s call for the replacement of GDP, a shallow indicator of economic prosperity, with other measures of success, such as crime rates, stress levels, and mental health statistics, is especially pertinent today. As we face into a period that will be inevitably characterised by economic failure, it’s time to look beyond the market to other markers of success, socially and culturally.
When I attended Lucas’s speech just two years ago, it was clear that a so-called ‘green politics’ faced probably its greatest challenge in winning over large-scale public support. Since then, there has, thankfully, been a shift in public opinion, perhaps thanks to groups like Extinction Rebellion and, of course, due to the Greta Thunberg effect. Today, green issues are at the forefront of most of the wider public’s concerns.
I wonder whether now the greater challenge may actually be our politicians. Growing public support (95% of Irish people consider climate change a serious problem) now needs to translate into political will. Lest we forget, Fine Gael, who have been in government in Ireland since 2011, has a combined record of 2% when it comes to voting for climate action. Sometimes looking back can help us find a way forward. Caroline Lucas’s speech stayed with me for a long time after I attended it in 2018. I truly believe some of the solutions she suggested then still have relevance today, as we continue to grapple with the very real and very pressing issue of climate change.
Handwringing and petition-signing aren’t enough. The climate crisis needs action, and it needs solutions. Solutions like the ones Caroline Lucas put forward in the Graduate’s Memorial Building on Trinity’s campus two years ago. Because I may as well tell you, for a brief moment in Dublin in 2018, it felt as though where there’s a political – and personal – will, there is a way to confront the gravest and greatest challenge the world has ever known.
- Alanna McNamee