The Twin Horrors of Biodiversity Loss and Climate Change: A few thoughts on where we are headed, and on how not to get there…

By Sabine McKenna, Sustainable Skerries

The situation we’re in, as a species, is worrying. Depressing, even.

We know that from the news. We know that from experts. And we are beginning to experience it in our daily lives, even here in Skerries, comparatively sheltered and buffered as we are: Extreme weather events like strong storms, extreme rainfall and flooding are already more frequent. And so are long periods of drought.

Even the Irish Times says it…

This is more than just a biodiversity and a climate crisis: This is an existential crisis.

I spent last Thursday at a LEADER Climate and Biodiversity Conference in Dundalk, listening to Éanna Ní Lamhna of (among other things) the Irish Tree Council, garden designer Peter Donegan, journalist turned climate activist John Gibbons and Padraig Fogarty, ecologist, author and former long-time chair of The Irish Wildlife Trust.

And I can tell you, it was not easy listening… Even though we (humankind) has known since the 1970s (when the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth) that we’re on the trajectory to catastrophe, even though the Climate Change reports keep arriving and keep getting worse, even though the insects are dying (one study showed a decline in insect populations in Germany by 78% since 1991), even though pretty much all indicators are showing a worsening situation, humanity as such does not seem to change.

Just have a look at the “doughnut” representing where Ireland is (if you’re fascinated by this, you can learn more about The Doughnut of Social and Planetary Boundaries on Kate Raworth’s website; she coined the term). 

(I am summarising part of Padraig Fogarty’s talk here. And John Gibbons continued the sorry tale:)

After giving us some more details, including a few facts regarding the shocking under-representation of climate change and its consequences in the media (you can read all about this on his website, John Gibbons stated starkly (and I paraphrase) that one of the worst things is that we think there is hope, that it will somehow be OK, and that we therefore don’t do anything about it. He called this “hopeium” (or should that be “hopium”?) We need to grieve for our future.  We need to understand: Climate Change: What Happens If The World Warms Up By 5°C? We need to realise how sad it is that we are (very likely) losing our future, so that we start acting. He also said we need to  use our influence in Europe for better climate policies! They matter! 

There are of course things we can do. On a practical day-to-day basis, as Peter Donegan reminded us, in our gardens, in our communities, we can ensure that we help biodiversity where we can, reducing the impact of any (garden or other) building from the design stage on, planning for sustainable drainage systems, using local and sustainably sourced material which is easy to maintain (and thus sustainable), not removing soil, using no chemicals and planting for as wide a variety of species as possible. This can even work in a car park

The time to change our future for the better is getting shorter though, Éanna Ní Lamhna reminded us. She gave a fantastic talk about biodiversity and pollinators – I won’t go into the details because we hope to get Éanna to come to Skerries soon to share her wonderful wisdom with us in her inimitable way. Watch our Eventbrite page! Subscribe to our newsletter so you know when it’s happening! 

Nature is resilient, a complex system which we are not even close to understanding (which is one of the many things Padraig Fogarty said; he also mentioned the number of species in Ireland which have become extinct in the last 50 years or so, plus those that are under pressure

So what would we do if we had the power?

What would you do if you were to magically turn into the Irish cabinet and could make any three to five policies become reality? That’s what I asked three of the four speakers (sorry, Peter, that I didn’t catch you on this one). Please note that I did not write down word by word what these fantastic people said; this is from memory!

John Gibbons suggested:

  • Start a massive communication programme to ensure we all get how serious the situation is.
  • Start a food revolution towards growing (organic, plant-based) food for humans, not animals in Ireland
  • Make Ireland a net exporter of renewable energy, mainly through off-shore wind energy! 
  • Retrofit all houses to A Rating

And Éanna Ní Lamhna:

  • Make it easier to plant trees, help farmers financially to do so.
  • Ensure that people can get to places easily by public transport.
  • Make owning electric cars easier e.g. for those living terraced houses. 

Padraig Fogarty would:

  • Stop industrial fishing 
  • Pay farmers for rewilding
  • Get rid of some dams on the rivers.
Storm and high seas in Skerries… Extreme weather events have already become more frequent.
Photo by Fintan Clarke.

And what would I do? 

All of the above, I guess. Plus: I would do what I can to spread the sense of urgency that we all felt during this event. And take action wherever I can, focusing on what seems to matter most: Awareness and influencing policies where we can. This blog post is one step. As is my continued work with Sustainable Skerries.

If you’re feeling climate and biodiversity anxiety, join the club. Actually, it’d be strange if you weren’t…

One thing that does help is to take active steps in the other direction than the one we’re headed in. 

There are solutions, suggestions how we can respond to the urgency of the climate crisis.

It won’t be easy, but the alternative is too frightening. Time to act now, individually (as voters, consumers, people) and in groups.

Join us! Subscribe to our newsletter (if you haven’t already). Drop in on our events to learn more and to support our work. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram – and if you’d like to be part of our team, send an email to 

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