Author advocates ‘getting down and dirty’ to save environment

Radical approach of ‘ecological restoration’ urged in new book by Paddy Woodworth

Mary Robinson: “The science is unequivocal – climate change is happening now and will continue over the decades and centuries to come.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Mary Robinson: “The science is unequivocal – climate change is happening now and will continue over the decades and centuries to come.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 01:00

The relationship between extreme weather events, climate change and global conservations is discussed in a new book launched in Dublin last night by former president Mary Robinson.

A radical approach to recasting man’s relationship with the environment is advocated in the book, Our Once And Future Planet by journalist Paddy Woodworth.

He argues for greater human intervention in a more managed environment, rather than what might be termed a wilderness approach to conservation.

Woodworth, a former Irish Times staff journalist who specialised in Basque affairs and now writes regularly on environmental matters, argues for what he terms “ecological restoration” as a way of combating climate change, and recasting the relationship between people and the planet that supports their continued existence.

“What the experience of ecological restoration tells us is that we don’t have to be the bad guys on the planet,” he explained yesterday ahead of the book’s launch.

“What restoration is about is that we can reverse some of the damage we have done to eco-systems.”

He acknowledges, however, that many traditional conservationists will baulk at this approach which involves, he argues, “getting down and dirty”.

“For example, fencing off a bog to stop it being degraded can actually result it in getting more degraded.

“Fencing off an oak wood but without killing the small rhododendron that’s growing there will mean that in a few years, the rhododendron will have taken over and all the oaks will die.”


Shocking
This form of restoration can mean “cutting down trees and shrubs, using poison, using fire – things that can be very shocking to some conservationists”.

For good or evil, Woodworth argues, humans are now the stewards of the planet and must therefore manage eco-systems not necessarily by abandoning areas to nature but by intervening, at times aggressively. He said that when examining restoration activists at work, he noticed “an incredible intimacy between the restorer and the land they worked”.

“One of the things that restoration tackles head on is the idea of ‘the balance of nature’. Systems change all the time and today what we need to do is manage the change,” he said.

“Farmers can be very much a part of that. For instance, traditional farming methods can often manage biodiversity better than simply abandoning the fragments of nature we have left.”


Global perspective
Woodworth was working on the book for 10 years and suggests that it is the first of its kind to give a global perspective on the restoration movement, which involves scientists, activists, policymakers and ordinary citizens in Ireland and further afield – in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Italy, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the US Midwest.

Mrs Robinson, whose’s foundation was set up to secure justice for victims of climate change, said the book offered a “concept of a new conservation strategy . . . nowhere more relevant than in the area of climate change”.

She said: “The science is unequivocal – climate change is happening now and will continue over the decades and centuries to come; human beings are the dominant cause and urgent and significant action is needed to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Our Once And Future Planet – Restoring the world in the climate change century is published by the University of Chicago Press; price €30

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