Empowering the Disempowered

I left my children on Monday November 3rd before heading to Dublin. When I eventually left Dublin Wednesday morning I drove home with tears streaming down my face. I cried for about two hours. It reminded me of that day in February 2013 when I started writing in rhyme following a realisation that just left me so sorry for my children. Those feelings hit me like a train again today.

Tuesday November 4th 2014, was the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources DCENR second workshop in their series for the national white policy paper on energy. This was based on priority one of the green paper consultation “Empowering Energy Citizens”.

As well as being delighted to hear that the entire day was being streamed live I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the room and the chairs were not all lined up like soldiers on parade. Change was in the air. The agenda is here. DCENR presented an interesting and diverse panel of speakers for the day and allocated time for discussions. In a nutshell, the morning was about empowering citizens in our energy transition and the afternoon was about energy poverty. In all it was a well run event, plenty of interaction with online input as well as those in the room. Well done to all involved in organising it.

It was great to see proposals from the National Economic and Social Council report being presented with Jeanne Moore reminding us that our National Energy Transition Plan must be intentional, participatory and problem solving.

Lars Gerg Jenson from the Danish Energy Agency was next and his presentation was excellent. I’m hoping it becomes available and as soon as it does I will link it here. The crux of his message was that Denmark, as a nation, decided upon energy independence. So much of what he said made perfect sense to me and is similar to the transition process. Tough decisions had to be made, something politicians are not prone to so they created an independent commission to oversee the process and disband when the dirty work was done. The commission basically took all the blame and then disappeared.

He told us that there were about 500 people throughout the country who acted as leaders in the transition. They were referred to as the agents of change. He also discussed the role of the media and while he recognised it had a role to play, face to face communication was much better.

What did I have to say after that session? I supported the NESC call for a National Energy Transition Plan and said I have a wish that Ireland will celebrate 2016 with a solid plan for energy independence.

I then brought in a suggestion I have made previously prompted by Lars endorsement of face to face communications. We need to be having conversations in every village and town. It would be important to have all community groups in attendance and more – the national sporting associations, farmers, churches, education, tidy towns, youth organisations, older people and many many more. My thoughts on that are that we organise a national conversation with the management of all of these organisations and ask that they support similar conversations at community level throughout the country. We need to be having these conversations – decades ago!

I then went on to state my recommendations based on what the presenters had said, Our national energy policy needs to be a loose framework. We need a national commitment to transition. We need to commit to endorsing the science and raising awareness of the challenges of climate change and energy security. We need to support community scale conversations to help shape our national energy transition plan. I realised I’d said enough so I handed the microphone back 🙂

I decided I wouldn’t speak again as I had said enough however I could not ignore what happened next! I endured the presentation on natural gas despite it’s obvious climatic consequences and Paul Kenny from Tipperary Energy Agency was a breath of fresh air as ever. He was straight up about the fact that there are serious barriers to community action on our national transition.

Then Pat from Bord na Mona began by discussing climate change. He mentioned the IPCC synthesis report published during the week. He supported it’s obvious impacts by noting the warm weather over the past month. Then he went on to say he was glad it had turned cold because now he could sell some products. I can safely say my stomach churned! He also said something about trust and men in suits.

I put my hand up as soon as question time came round. I did mention the fact that anyone generating electricity at home would no longer get any payment when it was put on to the grid. Hardly a move to encourage a national transition.

Then contrary to my usual stance I addressed Pat personally. I told him I felt very offended by what he had said. I pointed out that he, as a man in a suit talking about trust, had emphasised the enormity of the challenge climate change poses. He had referenced the scientific consensus of the IPCC report and spent some time bringing the enormity of the challenge to the fore. Then he all but rubbed his hands together at the thought of selling fossil fuel with the onset of cold weather. I told him it made my stomach turn.

When he was given the opportunity to respond he did so by referencing Bord na Monas contract with nature and their work in renewables. He also went on to state that Bord na Mona is a business and has to make a profit. I have nothing personal against Pat because his stance is mirrored throughout the fossil fuel industry as well as many more industries. Profits at all costs.

That is effectively what is wrong with this world. That is why we are powerless to address climate change as well as the many social and environmental problems we face. Profits come before the planet, the people and the eco systems that support all life on earth. If there is money to be made from it and jobs created then business has free reign and the political blessing to do as they please. Money is power. Jobs are currency.

Don’t for a second think that a change of government will sort any of this out. There wasn’t one politician in the room. There rarely is. Having spent a year at energy events I have witnessed the networking of the energy industry, the state agencies and the civil service. It doesn’t matter who is voted in because I doubt very much that they are in the room when the plans are made and decisions taken.

My only hope is that more public participation will dilute the energy lobby willing to capitalise on our planets resources for their own profits while they pollute the land, air and water. It is true that as consumers we play a part but we are not really given alternatives. They are knowingly altering the climate of the planet our children must live on. They are destabilising the ecosystem that must support future generations. For what? Jobs? Money? To fund a lifestyle that is proving unsustainable? Raising the expectations of our children to a point where they won’t know what’s hit them when the acute effects of climate change take hold. What are those effects likely to be?

Taken from the IPCC synthesis report:

Future Climate Changes, Risks and Impacts

  • Cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Projections of greenhouse gas emissions vary over a wide range, depending on both socio-economic development and climate policy.
  • Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.
  • Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.
  • Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.

Over a year ago President Obama vowed that he would not condemn future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. It’s a pity nobody told those in charge – the ones with the money, promising the jobs, neither of which will be of any use when we’re extinct or battling the elements to stay alive.

So today I cried for two hours. At times I remembered the scenes that led to Live Aid back in 1985. The fate of so many people is dire. We are sentencing those who experience drought to longer, harsher droughts. To inevitable famine. To displacement.

We are compromising all coastal regions including our own. We are already experiencing that effect and it is set to get worse even if we stop emitting green house gases tomorrow. Where will the people living on the coast go? The land to cater for 7 billion people is shrinking. Their ability to feed themselves is compromised. There will inevitably be resource wars as displaced people seek new homes. Given the level of racism that already exists I imagine people seeking refuge will not be very welcome in a world of shrinking resources.

After attending a seminar to explore empowering citizens I ended up feeling more disempowered than ever. I returned to the dark days when I wrote Inheritance and again I say to my babies, I am sorry that greed has been let ruin your world. However hope keeps me going and when I read back over that poem I can’t help but honour the promise I made to you at the end xxx

Theresa O’Donohoe

November 5th 2014

Published by Theresa OD

Change maker and mother of 5 living in the west of Ireland

2 thoughts on “Empowering the Disempowered

  1. Theresa I fully agree with your comments on Bord Na Mona.
    Using peat for power generation supported by a PSO levy is disgraceful to say the least

    I have only recently met Paul Kenny from the TEA a breath of fresh air for sure in his no nonsense approach

    Fine article keep up the good work

    Tom Mc Govern

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