Out with melting ice, in with living a balanced life

Dublin Climate Gathering dropped global-warming scare tactics in favour of a new green narrative

There were very few facts and figures about the speed of the Arctic ice cap melting, freak flooding, hurricanes and extreme heat waves at this week’s Dublin Climate Gathering. Instead, a group of about 80 people – academics, technology experts, politicians, entrepreneurs, students, business leaders, artists, homemakers and environmental campaigners – mapped out their vision for a low-carbon society.

"We've realised that if we are to stop people going in an unsustainable way from A to B, then we have to offer them a better alternative C. It's about eating better, wasting less, travelling lighter and being energy clever," said Green Party leader Eamon Ryan at the opening event in Tailor's Hall.

Over the following two days in the Mansion House and the CHQ building in Dublin’s Docklands, smaller groups discussed everything from redesigning capitalism and transforming the education system to drawing on the wisdom of the elders and the energy of youth to create sustainable homes, communities and cities. Climate scaremongering was out and in its place was how to live happier, more balanced lives. Participants responded well to the new narrative.

John Ashton, director of Third Generation Environmentalism and a former advisor to the British Government on Climate Change, said, "The system pulled us over a cliff in 2008 and business as usual is over. If we want to flourish, we have to build something that's different and put people back at the centre of it. We can do better and design a future we want to live in."


Linking technology with sustainability was a key feature of the event, which was attended by representatives from the major technology companies based in Ireland, the European Commission and international experts in renewable energy.

Martin Curley, vice-president of Intel Corporation and director of Intel Labs Europe, spoke about how technology industries must work with academia, government and citizens to create more connected cities.

The idea that Ireland could be a test-bed for electric cars resurfaced at the gathering, along with the idea that smart technologies can allow householders in communities to develop targets for energy use and conservation. But there were others who advocated the need for privacy policies around “open data” and that smart cities had to be people-centred.

Colette Maloney, head of the Smart Cities and Sustainability unit in the European Commission, said, "I think there is huge momentum in Dublin to move forward on sustainability, with technology playing a role. But, we must remember that digital technology has its own energy consumption and it's worth stepping back and really thinking, if we want technology to contribute positively, we need to measure what they save and what they cost us. There are well-developed international standards on carbon accounting of companies, services and cities. If it's not measured, investments in technology might add more to the environmental problems in the long run."

Lobbying for a new legal entity that allows companies to annually monitor their social and environmental impact as well as their economic return was an idea developed by the “redefining capitalism” group. Such benefit corporations already exist in the US. But, external auditing of the environmental and social impacts would be required to prevent the practice of “green-washing”.

Although undoubtedly a seedbed for renewal of the Green agenda, a networking opportunity for technology and renewable energy experts and a rallying call for volunteers to be involved in creating a low-carbon society, the Dublin Climate Gathering also had three distinct channels to feed into. These are the forthcoming Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change; the European Union Science/Culture Horizons 2020 project and the Terenure 2030 project. The latter has been chosen as a template for change – using Terenure College Rugby Club as an example of a project which has already energised a diverse range of local intergenerational initiatives.

"Consume less, produce more" was the rallying call of American farmer Shannon Hayes at a public meeting towards the end of the Dublin Climate Gathering. Founder of Radical Homemakers, Hayes promotes lifestyles that embrace "ecological sustainability, social justice, family and community" and believes that each family member can be responsible for producing something – food, clothing, education, healthcare and even entertainment.

"This event has offered people a fresh spirit to connect with. But the real decision for society is to change to a climate-friendly world," said Green MEP Rebecca Harms at the closing event.

“We need to build on what works as well as fix what’s broken” said Eamon Ryan, who organised the event. “This new economy will be both collaborative and competitive but we must start by listening rather than telling people what to do.”

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment