Climate activists march to stress vulnerability of Shannon estuary

Climate justice caravan on nine-day hike to emphasise ecosystems and people reliant on them

A group of activists have begun a 150km trek around the Shannon estuary to highlight its vulnerability – from global warming and pollution – and to brief all comers on solutions through enhancing its biodiversity.

The "climate justice caravan" walk, which left Ennis, Co Clare, on Saturday and is on its way to Tarbert, Co Kerry, is also campaigning for climate justice and affirmation of the rights of nature.

During the nine-day journey, accompanied by their small caravan, they are visiting locations "linked to the climate and biodiversity crisis, such as the prospective mining site at Tulla, the highly-polluting Aughinish Alumina found on the banks of the Shannon river, and the Shannon LNG site at Tarbert", said Oscar Mooney of Extinction Rebellion Ireland (ERI).

To protect the natural ecosystems and people that rely upon them, the group is calling for the river Shannon and the surrounding area to be granted “inalienable rights” so it is protected under law, he said.

The walk is an initiative of Futureproof Clare, ERI, Rights of Nature Ireland, Cappagh Farmers Support Group, Keep Tulla Untouched, Safety Before LNG, Friends of Ardee Bog, Ecojustice Ireland, Unite Community Climate Justice and Cultivate.

"The Shannon river flows through Ireland and its importance to the communities and biodiversity that live alongside the river highlights the interconnectedness between nature and humankind. We cannot protect ourselves without first protecting nature," said Aisling Wheeler of Futureproof Clare during a pitstop on Monday at the Irish Seed Savers farm near Scariff, Co Clare.

Their aim was to highlight environmental problems but also solutions, she added.

‘Rights of nature’

Having reached the Shannon at Killaloe, the walk will proceed alongside the river through Clonlara, Shannonbanks, Mungret, Curraghchase, Aughinish Alumina, Knockpatrick and end at the site of the proposed LNG facility on April 18th.

“We hope this action will support the rights to be evoked for the Shannon river and surrounding area, as well as inspire the rights of nature to be adopted into Irish national law in the future,” added Oscar Mooney of ERI, who said 20-30 walkers were taking part and were being joined by others along the route.

Environmental lawyer Declan Owens of Eco Justice Ireland, who is walking part of the journey, said he was delighted with farmers' positive response to their emphasis on the rights of nature, while people were inquisitive and coming out of their houses to engage with them when their entourage complete with flags and trolleys passed by.

“We were hosted very generously on an organic farm . . . It has been eye-opening for a person living in a city; life affirming in many ways,” he added.

While people might find it hard to conceive a river could have a right to sue a corporation, he said they invariably understood when it was pointed out “the rights of nature is the 21st [century] equivalent of development of human rights in the 20th century”.

Local authorities in Derry, Strabane and Donegal had formally endorsed such rights, he confirmed.

The walk was inspired by a callout from NGO Glasgow Agreement for grassroots climate groups to walk for climate justice, said the organisers. And it is coinciding with climate activists in Portugal walking 400km to highlight how global warming has already altered their local ecosystems while reducing the ability of locals to cope with the drastic climatic changes.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times

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