Last month we launched the Irish Times children's climate writing competition in association with Smurfit Kappa. As more than 190 world leaders prepare to meet in Glasgow on October 31st for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (Cop26), we wanted the children of Ireland to write to them, outlining their hopes, fears and solutions to the climate crisis and the action they want to see our leaders take.
There were more than 750 entries from schools around the island, which were assessed by the judging panel of biologist, environmental consultant, broadcaster, author and educator Éanna Ní Lamhna; Kayle Crosson, editor of Irish environmental and climate news publication Green News; and chaired by Irish Times Magazine editor Rachel Collins, with assistance from Adesewa Awobadejo.
The entrants held smart, well-informed views on the challenges facing the planet, what needs to be done by us all as individuals and what the children expect of our leaders to change on a more systemic level, before it’s too late.
The letters displayed anger, fear and frustration, but also hope and initiative and brave ideas for how we can all work together to save our planet.
“The winning entries treat the world leaders as equals who indeed do know all this and have it in their power to make decisions that will slow down and reverse these changes,” says Éanna Ní Lamhna. “Both winners make very compelling cases as to why and how they should do this, and the great urgency there is for this to happen now, immediately.”
Each of the winning entries will secure a bundle of 20 books from Children’s Books Ireland for the letter writer, plus a €2,000 grant for their school, courtesy of Smurfit Kappa, to be spent on green initiatives.
Below are the winning letters and other notable entries in each category.
In association with
SECONDARY SCHOOL CATEGORY
Winner: Catherine McGarry (17) sixth year, Loreto Abbey, Dalkey
Judges' comments: "This letter really captures the intergenerational injustice of the climate crisis: those who will live to see the worst of what's to come continue to demand action from our leaders but have yet to cast a vote in an election cycle. The point Catherine makes about how the Government responded to the Covid-19 pandemic is also very well-made, and the urgency that's needed to address the climate crisis is present throughout the entry."
I am 17 years old; I was born in 2004. I'm told that I'm too young to vote, but during my lifetime I've witnessed the evolution of the climate crisis from a bad situation to a disastrous one due to the inaction of the government of Ireland and governments around the world.
I've watched the news and have seen the ice caps melting in Antarctica, I've felt the temperatures rising and I've listened to world leaders year after year, conference after conference, making empty promises and statements that never result in action. I've marched for climate action, I've gone on strike from school to fight for the change that we need to save our planet. But I'm only 17, so I rely on the governments of today all around the world to save my future. There is a solution to the climate crisis, and science has told us what it is. We need to cut our carbon emissions and we need to do it now – there are no two ways about this.
So why haven’t successive Irish governments done anything? Why haven’t they listened to the science? Why, when thousands of students march the streets of this country, do they ignore us? Year on year we’ve failed to reach our targets in cuts in emissions and every year, month, day and hour that the government of Ireland and governments around the world fail to tackle this crisis robs future generations of their lives.
Over the past two years the government has listened to science about the Covid pandemic and it has helped us understand and live with coronavirus. Similarly, if the Government started to listen to science about the climate crisis, there would only be positive outcomes. It’s time to face the music and tackle the climate crisis head-on, together.
Saoirse Booth (15) fifth year, Mountrath Community School, Laois
Do you remember your first time hearing the words "global warming?" I don't. I cannot recall a time when I was unaware of Earth's impending death. Society and the media, in efforts to deflect responsibility, have convinced my generation that it is our job to solve this problem. Yet when we initiate change, you dismiss us and refuse to listen. Despite your continued refusal to acknowledge the crisis at hand, we are deemed the "naive" ones. Can you imagine a dying world? Entire species extinct; collapsed ecosystems and submerged coastlines? I can. Each day the media is filled with horror stories of what awaits us. Articles, books and documentaries warn us of the consequences if we, if you, continue to turn the other cheek as global corporations and multinational companies, exploits our planet and our people. We are promised mass extinctions, rising sea levels, droughts and famines, with still no reforms in sight. How long will you rationalise sacrificing our planet in the name of wealth? How long will you prolong taking action? The situation is getting worse, and solutions will not present themselves from thin air. If you could instigate changes that would prevent the apocalypse, would you? I would. But I can only sign so many petitions, march at so many protests. We can reduce, reuse and recycle all day long, but the only real changes that will make a difference are those that come from within the system – that come from you. We cannot solve the climate crisis individually. Leaders and role models need to step up. You have the power to bring about systemic change that would alter the course of history, the chance to do incredible things. Please, dear world: do not fail us when we need you most. Take your chance – before it's too late.
Ava Barrett (15), St Angela's Ursuline Secondary School, Waterford
You need to do better. The world is at stake. It is not fair to my generation that the weight of the situation is saddled on our shoulders. Powerful corporations are dumping deadly chemicals into our oceans and packaging products with single-use plastic, yet individuals are blamed. You tell us to purchase bamboo toothbrushes and metal straws, ditch plastic bags, bring our own cups to Starbucks, take shorter showers and go vegan or limit our meat and dairy consumption. Seemingly these precautions don't have a significant impact because climate change is ongoing.
Instead of blaming individuals you should target the wealthy corporations that are benefiting from the situation; as most of the “solutions” to climate change are not accessible to people with disabilities. Many eco-activists promote actions that harm people with disabilities. This is called eco-ableism, and is a failure among non-disabled activists. This is because they are not able to recognise that these actions make life difficult for people with disabilities. Some people with disabilities rely on plastic straws in order to use them to safely and conveniently drink. Metal straws can cause sores on the mouth and paper straws often disintegrate easily. Active travel is promoted, but it is not taken into consideration that some people with disabilities cannot walk, wheel or cycle.
The spotlight should be placed on the acts of large corporations. They are more responsible for climate change and if these wealthy corporations continue like this, there may not be another generation. National Geographic reports that the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have not been this concentrated in 800,00 years. This is not a coincidence.
I plead you to take action. Thank you for reading.
Sam Ryan, Ardscoil na Mara, Tramore, Co Waterford
This letter is to those who are in power or have influence such as politicians, business leaders, celebrities and even the average person. We need to change the world, and you can help make a difference. The issue is that climate change is becoming an increasing problem that can affect everyone, every animal and plant in a negative way.
The solution is to lower carbon emissions. How do we do this? We can do a number of things – mainly, lower the use of fossil fuels. My idea to lower the world’s reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and oil is to increase taxes for companies, corporations and small businesses that extract fossil fuels and or add greenhouse gases from the use of these fuels, to encourage going carbon neutral.
To reinforce this idea even more, taxes should be lowered for businesses that are carbon neutral. We can all help to stop this climate crisis by doing small things such as using reusable items instead of single-use packaging and containers, for example. Small things add up, especially when many people start doing it. We can create a brighter future if we can all work together.
Illegal logging is a huge problem because not only is it stealing, they are felling trees that take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce oxygen and it is also destroying habitats of plants and animals that live there. The act of illegally felling trees contributes massively to climate change and also happens on many different continents and countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Republic of Congo. The countries in Europe are the biggest consumers of the illegally felled wood. Please save my future and the next generations' future.
Tirzah Hutchinson-Edgar (16), fifth year, The High School, Rathgar, Dublin
What can I say? Our home is on fire. We are facing mass extinction and an environmental disaster. Climate change is real, and it is happening now. It is popular to say that climate action is about the little things everyone can do in their lives. And while I agree to a point, this threat is bigger than any of us individually.
We need a global response, with our world leaders taking responsibility. From my perspective, it feels like you have a habit of pushing this problem on to us young people. I am hurt by this. But if we are to be successful in this, we cannot be pitted against each other.
So, I would like to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to all of you to join the fight against climate change. The fight of a lifetime. Welcome. I will have to live with consequences of how you choose to act for my whole life. Our lives are in your hands. However, climate change will not just affect young people and future generations, it is affecting every person who is alive right now.
The countries that contribute the least to global warming are affected the most by it, but even in wealthier countries we are feeling the effects of devastating heatwaves, fires, floods and harsher winters. No one is immune from the effects of climate change.
If, at the moment, you don’t consider environmental action to be the biggest priority, I beg you to rethink your values. Economic growth will mean nothing if we are suffering and dying due to extreme weather. You need to stop burning fossil fuels. We need to make a complete and just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Because if we don’t, we will have failed. The clock is ticking.
Deaglan Lynch (16), Transition Year, Moville Community College, Co Donegal
Climate change is a huge threat to the world today. Droughts, storms, heatwaves and rising sea levels are only a few of the problems that are causing a major effect. "But why?" you may ask. It is us – we are the problem, we are the issue, we are the reason the world is collapsing in front of our very own eyes. Our climate is changing for the worse and it's our fault. Only we can change this and we don't have much time.
Humans are the main reasons for climate change and to stop that we must come together to change. Change our habits, change our way of living, think of the future and the future of our children. The only way to shape the future is to change for the better. Our future isn’t safe. The future of our children isn’t guaranteed. If we keep living the way we are living, we will ruin the world for future generations. We were given a life to live on this Earth, because the people of the past kept the Earth safe and healthy, and it is only right that we do the same for future generations. It is the very least we can do.
There are many actions we could take as individuals and collectively to decrease carbon emissions and to slow down climate change. The reality is that we can do it, but time is running out. The truth is we are too comfortable with our own lives and don’t realise that our actions have consequences. We don’t seem to realise some of our actions can and do harm other people in our world and our planet itself. The sooner we realise this, the better, because the clock is ticking.
AD, Linn Dara School, Dublin
Climate change is a huge issue that the world now faces. Droughts, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, thawing permafrost, shrinking glaciers and increased precipitation levels are only some of the major effects of climate change. It is an issue we need to address before it's too late.
I have many fears about climate change, and it is something that I worry about often. Some of my fears include: increased flooding, more severe storms particularly in areas that don't usually get many storms such as Ireland, rising temperatures and above all, if it may already be too late to stop it.
The planet we live on is special and we don't have another one so we should be doing all we can to try and mind it. Littering, food waste, travelling in cars instead of walking or cycling and wasting water are some of the things that frustrate me about climate change. There are also many challenges that we face when trying to change the impact of climate change, such as poorer countries having a lack of funds in order to make changes, people not being informed, and that it might already be too late to make a difference.
Although there are many challenges, there are also many things we can do to help stop climate change. Doing simple things like walking or cycling instead of driving, recycling, meal planning to prevent food waste, saving water, reducing our consumption of meat, and educating ourselves about climate change so we can raise awareness. All of this can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and make a difference. By trying our best to stop climate change and do these things we can help reach the Cop26 goals and make Earth a better place for future generations to come.
PRIMARY SCHOOL CATEGORY
Winner: Thomas Bampton (12), sixth class, Scoil Chualann, Bray, Co Wicklow
Judges' comments: "In this entry, Thomas made a very compelling case for the cost of inaction being far greater than the necessary measures needed to prevent the worst of climate breakdown and that the climate crisis is not on a far-off horizon, it is here on this planet as we write and read these words."
A cheannairá domhanda,
Bhí a lán ceannairí againn roimhe seo a rinne iarracht é a cheilt gur fadhb é an téamh domhanda. Bhí a lán tionchar acu ar an bpobal. Ach, ní féidir linn leanúint ar aghaidh mar seo. Tá an t-am ag imeacht. Caithfimid dearmad a dhéanamh ar airgead. Tá ainmhithe agus daoine ag fáil bháis i ngach áit.
Caithfimid dearmad a dhéanamh ar an gcostas atá leis na beartais a shábhálfaidh ár dtodhchaí, mar mura ndéanaimid é sin, dófaidh na spréacha a las muid ár bpláinéad leo. An t-atmaisféar a bhris muid, tiocfaidh sé anuas orainn. An ghaoth a thruailligh muid, piocfaidh sí suas agus stróicfidh sí trínn. Na haigéin a nimhigh muid, éireoidh siad agus báfaidh siad muid.
Gach bliain, bíonn níos mó ná 30,000 speiceas d’ainmhithe scriosta. Tá an chuma air go gceapann sibhse gur féidir linn leanúint ar aghaidh ar an mbealach céanna. Ach níl imní oraibh mar go gceapann sibh nach ndéanfaidh téamh domhanda dochar ar bith daoibh, go mbeidh sibh imithe sula n-éireoidh sé go dona. Tá sibh mícheart. Tá sé anseo cheana féin. Tá sé ag marú cheana féin. Tá sé ag scriosadh ár bpláinéad cheana féin. Ár mbaile. Agus chruthaigh muidne é.
Anois caithfimid é a stopadh. Tá fíneálacha troma, dlíthe nua, agus cosc ar bhreoslaí iontaise ag teastáil láithreach. Agus cén fáth a bhfuilimid ag marú na cairde is fearr atá againn sa chath seo i gcoinne téamh domhanda? Gearraimid na mílte crann gan smaoineamh. Is iadsan a thugann an t-aer a análaimid dúinn. Is iadsan a bhaineann an CO2 as an aer. Seo ceann de na gnéithe is mó is cúis le téamh domhanda. Beimid ag fulaingt níos mó mura n-athraímid anois. Déan gach saghas truaillitheoir a phionósú inniu, nó ní bheidh aon todhchaí ann.
Más féidir linn é seo a dhéanamh, beimid in ann ár dtodhchaí a shábháil. Mura féidir linn é seo a dhéanamh, beimid i bponc. Sibhse san áireamh, a cheannairí domhanda.
Thomas also submitted an English translation of his letter:
We have had plenty of leaders who have done absolutely nothing to help, even denied climate change was real. They have had a lot of influence over their countries. We can't afford another. We are already running out of time. We must forget about money. Everywhere, people and animals are dying. We are wasting this life.
We must forget about the cost of saving our future and how hard it is. Tell fossil fuel users to make the switch. If we don’t, the sparks from the forests that we lit, will burn and our planet with them. The atmosphere that we have broken will come crashing down on us. The winds that we have polluted will whip up and tear through us. The oceans that we have poisoned will rise up and drown us.
Annually, over 30,000 species of animals go extinct. Some of you seem to think that we can go extinct too. You don’t care because you believe climate change won’t affect you. You’re wrong. Climate change is here, it’s already affecting us. It’s already wrecking our world, our planet, our home. And we created it. Now we have to stop it. We need heavy fines, new laws, and banning of all fossil fuels immediately.
Why are we killing our strongest allies in this battle against climate change? Millions of trees are cut down. They are the ones creating the air we breathe. They are removing the CO2; one of the largest factors in climate change. We will only be increasing, hastening our suffering if we don’t act now. Punish polluters of all kinds today, or there will be no tomorrow. If we do all this and forget about the cost of going green, we can save the future. If we don’t, we’ll suffer. That includes you, leaders.
Arianna Griffith (10), fifth class, St Patrick's Loreto Primary School, Bray
My family and I love walking in the forest and outdoors to breathe in the lovely fresh air. It's disappointing that now that smell is going further away. The Amazon is being cut down and for what? Raising cattle. Mountain biking is something I do from time to time, and even there I see quite a lot of litter. Do you look out the window and think "I can't lose this"? Then we have to do everything in our power to save it. If you're thinking "It won't affect me" or "I can't make a difference", everyone can make a difference. As long as we unite, we can do anything. The world is our home and you can't just rebuild it. Climate change is not just beginning now and it will be hard to fix, but we can do this and we must do it by 2030. We all get sucked into our own little world and ignore the fact that the world is dying. "Oh, it's just one single-use bottle." No, that's what got us into this situation, and if we want to change it then there is no "just one". Realise that your kids want a future. We can still do zero hunger, not to mention the animals above and underwater without cutting down the rainforests. All I ever hear is animals becoming extinct and it's not fair on them. Don't buy things that are not necessary.
Aisling Tauchen (10), fifth class, Galway Educate Together, Galway
Dear world leaders,
I worry that our world is falling apart right before our eyes, and it needs to stop. We are destroying forests, leaving many species searching for a place to live. We continue to burn fossil fuels to heat our homes, to run our cars, and many other unnecessary vehicles that are heating up our planet, causing ice to melt, again leaving animals without a home. We are being careless with the amount of rubbish we are leaving to rot and take care of itself when we know it can't. So many people say this is a problem, we need to do this and that to fix it, but the truth is most of the time it never gets done. Our planet may be coming to another mass extinction. We can't let that happen to this innocent planet, to all the other plants and animals that did nothing to deserve this. I believe that it's not too late to fix this and try to make up for all we have done. Everyone needs to make a choice to either leave it for other people to do or play their part and help. Alone we can do nothing but together we can make a change. Thank you for reading. I hope you've considered what I have said.
Máire Armstrong (11)
Climate change is happening all around us, but it seems that nobody is paying any attention to it. Greta Thunberg is a great role model and I think everyone should look up to her. When I wake up and I look out the window, I see trees and fields outside. I wonder what that view would look like in a year or two. "Would there even be any trees there?" I ask myself. I think we should all start trying to make a difference, because if we don't do something soon, our whole Earth may have no trees at all. We should start making our lives eco-friendly and start reusing instead of wasting. When people go to buy something, they should stop, think and ask themselves, "Do I really need this?" The Earth is 4½ billion years old and humans have only lived on it for about 200,000 years, which isn't even 1 per cent of the Earth's lifetime, and yet we have managed to do so much damage in such a short period of time. We owe it to our Earth, big time, to change our lives and habits. Our Earth is dying and we need to heal it just as we would for our own bodies. It needs fresh air, meaning no pollution; fresh water, meaning no plastic in our oceans; and using Earth's soil to allow us to grow trees, plants and crops the way it use to be years ago, instead of producing highly processed foods. We need leadership, to show an example and lead us to a brighter and better future. Together we are stronger!
Michael McKenna (6), first class, St Pius X Boys National School, Terenure, Dublin
The dinosaurs lived for 180 million years, and humans have lived on this Earth for only 200,000 years. Dinosaurs lived for a long time because they kept the ecosystem and minded the Earth – people are not doing this. I actually think dinos had more manners than humans. They were better animals and they were smarter. They were awesome. I'm starting to think they lived for 180 million years because they kept the ecosystem going. They didn't do anything wrong ... You can do it, government. Well, actually, can you? You can change what people do – use less electricity, less diesel, more buses, stop littering, use solar panels and electric cars. Oh, government, I hope you do this. Please will you do this for the hopes of the ecosystem and the world – for humans to live longer than dinosaurs?