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Noirin Lynch at FCJ Spirituality House in Spanish Point.

Meitheal tradition can guide us in climate change crisis

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In the third instalment of our climate change series Noirin Lynch, Traditional Singer and Director of FCJ Spirituality House, Spanish Point tells Bridget Ginnity that community and co-operation are key to our success

I HAD what I call a “head moment” when I first read Laudato Si in 2015. That’s the papal letter by Pope Francis on climate change.
I realised then that the climate crisis is serious but there’s a difference between the head moment and the heart moment. Even though Laudato Si was convincing, I wasn’t really emotionally engaged.
Shortly afterwards I moved to Dublin to run a spirituality centre, and unexpectedly found myself in the heart of nature.
The place was incredibly beautiful, with amazing 200-year-old trees and wonderful planting of flowers and shrubs by a sister now in her nineties.
We had hedgehogs, squirrels, foxes, all kinds of birds. When I became aware of the seasons of nature, it transformed me.
Something in me moved from “I want to fix things” to a heart place of “what an amazing world we live in”.
My climate awareness emerges from this – wonder will be our guide. I work now in the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) Spirituality House in Spanish Point and I never tire of the wonderful sunsets and star filled night sky. They fill me with joy and serenity and I am so grateful for this gift.

Working together for a better world

You often see a bent and twisted tree growing in the Burren. It has done what it can to survive the wind by itself but plant that same tree in a forest and it will grow and flourish differently.
Similarly with us. Alone everything seems overwhelming, together everything is possible. We saw this with Covid, we are seeing it now with the support given to Ukrainian refugees.
Community networking can create solutions. When we try and do it individually it just won’t happen. The Meitheal we are so proud of in Ireland happened because people couldn’t survive without each other. But as soon as we got money we all bought electric gates and went our separate ways!
One way to build community is to have summer parties, celebrate birthdays and simply sit out on the street together.
The more you engage with people and projects, the fuller life becomes, and a big house and pension become less important.
Traditional singing is a way I love to connect with people. Singing and playing music together is a simple and powerful pleasure. It lifts you to be around joy.
We need to gather people simply to talk about what can be done with respect to the climate, with no particular outcome, allowing people to be creative. Actions will naturally flow out of that.

Community sharing

My brother lives in Melbourne and he doesn’t own a single work tool. He uses a library tool shed and borrows what he needs when he needs it.
Sharing and exchanging things and services like tools, cars, babysitting, and various skills gets us away from having to buy everything individually and helps to create a community network.
We have a huge cultural push to stay individual and separate and giving up our independence can be difficult. We tried carpooling in west Clare and there were two main issues.
One was safety – who am I sharing the car with? The other was that I don’t like to have to ask people for a lift, I want to be independent.
Simply naming these fears can be helpful. And the more we knock off one another, the easier it is to ask for help when we need it.
The image I like is ploughing a field. After the first plough it looks fabulous but then stones and weeds appear. It’s only after a few times ploughing that it is ready to sow seeds.
Communities that have been ploughed several times now have cycle paths and community gardens but in a lot of communities you may be still breaking ground. And you are messing with what works so there is an onus on you to make it better.

Let our voices be heard

Representation is very important. A lot of the decision-making bodies around climate and environment have meetings in Dublin, with no childcare, no travel allowance, no compensation for time off work.
That means it’s often people with a good income and good education who are sitting at those meetings. They are usually good people but they don’t know everything.
People living on a hillside in Clare in a house they bought for €50,000 often have figured out stuff about the environment and need to be represented.
Covid was brilliant because these meetings moved to Zoom. Dublin-based people are delighted now it’s moving back to in-person meetings but it excludes representation from rural places like Clare.
Political things don’t sound important at one level but politics is power. It’s how we make decisions. If we want to change the culture we have to take on the power system. You can’t change the language of profit and consumerism without damaging the power structure. We have to be at the table.
Changing the culture so that national meetings are in central places with good public transport and matched to the timetables is one step to having our voices heard.

Basic rights

I’ve come to see that environmental issues are often social justice issues. Take for example water quality, it’s often brown after heavy rainfall out west.
Me telling you that you shouldn’t be buying bottled water is of no use to you. It’s not a consumer choice, what you need is clean water from the tap.
Clare PPN is developing an anti-poverty strategy and I find many of the issues overlap with basic rights and climate issues.
People who are struggling to survive often haven’t the space to concern themselves with climate action.
A lot of what is offered by the state is very suitable for middle class people with savings. You can save a lot of money if you have a well-insulated house or fuel-efficient car.
A friend described a 30-minute cycle he takes through Dublin. The well off areas have mature trees and lovely gardens. In poorer areas the saplings have been broken and open areas are bare grass with just a couple of plastic bags, like tumbleweed.
A small investment in protecting the saplings from kids playing, making the surroundings attractive and providing bike racks would make a huge difference.
I was in Malawi as part of the Trocaire Lenten campaign. Girls were spending eight hours a day collecting water.
They missed school, walked long distances, were sometimes attacked, all for a bucket of dirty water.
A pump in the village changed things completely, giving enough clean water for food, cooking and washing. As one mother said, “now when I give my children food it stays in them”.
Another woman described how she burns plastic bottles and old clothes to cook food because the trees won’t grow. This is the reality of climate change for them.

Talking the talk

Having the climate conversation is hard. We like to hand it over to the schools and say the teenagers will save us. Let teenagers be teenagers and leave them alone.
We adults are avoiding the conversation perhaps because we’re nervous, we don’t know what to do or because we are afraid we don’t know enough. But we need to talk now because in 20 years it will be too late.
Doing things like sorting out bottles is relatively easy but true change is hard.
If someone says to me, your most effective climate action is not to change your car this year but part of my identity is having the best car in the car park – that’s really hard to talk about.
If I don’t want to cut my front lawn to support nature, but feel my neighbours will talk about me, that’s hard to do.
Often people in organisations have an agenda and tell people what to do – I saw it in my work with parish councils. We need to change the language from “this is how I will fix it” to “what can we do as a community?”.

Buying less, buying better

Our consumer society wants us to be more independent and to buy more stuff. For example there’s a big push to sell electric cars instead of providing public transport.
Just stopping buying stuff is a major thing for me. I notice that my desire to buy things is often when I am bored.
I’m getting better. I used to buy the “correct” eco-friendly water bottles and suchlike and ended up with two or three of everything.
Now when I occasionally buy a plastic bottle of water, I reuse it. I discovered a website thrifty.ie where I buy second hand clothes.
Bigger buying decisions are tougher and I find I need support in making them. I’m trying to be a bit more planned.
I’ve an old car and need to decide what to replace it with when the time comes. I’ve no interest in cars myself but I plan to talk to people who have so that it’s not a rushed, badly thought out decision.

Looking to the future

I’d love to see a transport system in Clare such that every child could access school without parents driving them and that every person who wanted to work or study could access it without their own car.
We need flexible solutions that meet the needs of people.
Community health needs to be encouraged by supporting people to walk, swim, cycle and run.
Other climate things will often fall into place then.
A walk in the Burren is great for mental, spiritual and physical health.
Environmental impact assessments should be done at an early stage in the project, and genuinely assess the impact of a proposed development.

Don’t give up

There’s a real issue about overwhelm and despair.
We need to recognise how often we say there is no point in trying.
This language of despair is embedded in our culture.
It helps me when I acknowledge that I’m not guaranteed an outcome when I do things regarding the climate crisis.
I’m doing things because of who I am and how I want to live, and because I care.
If we don’t notice that we are doing damage to the world, there is some bit of us that is dead.
If human beings are not able to survive on this earth in 50 years’ time, which is a possibility, then it is what it is, but it would be an awful shame if we simply didn’t try.
It’s a bit like ending up in a wheelchair because you do no exercise.

Everything connects

Shortly after I moved to Dublin I went on a guided walk. The woman leading it stopped under an ancient oak.
“Scientists tell us there are about 50,000 leaves on this tree, and that 10% of our water comes from trees” she said.
“Where do you think the water from this tree has gone today? A puddle a sparrow drank from, your shower, perhaps a baptism.”
Every drop of water I drink and use is a gift. Every breath I breathe out I am gifting my carbon dioxide to the green plants around me.
Every breath I breathe in, I am gifted oxygen from the plants and trees.
Realising that my breath is utterly connected with grass, trees and plants has made me see how we are part of this amazing network.
Everything connects.

About Bridget Ginnity

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