Life on Earth is not as plentiful and may soon be extinct

The wealth of plants on old stone walls. A bright blue garden escape roots alongside the tiny blue toadflax, the red-green pennywort, green spleenwort, brown mosses, and pink herb robert. Picture: Damien Enright

Many of our planet’s life support systems are on the brink of failing and without them life on Earth may be, at best, bleak, at worst, unsustainable. 

Humanity may not have the societal cohesion to save itself.

The USA will drop out of Paris Climate Agreement in 2020. 

Here, our leaders’ inaction has relegated Ireland to worst nation in Europe in mobilising climate mitigation measures and amongst the world’s worst. 

Sectors of society continue to pillage the Earth and its less-fortunate peoples. Universal human outcry is the only weapon that will force governments to curb these sectors. 

The only hope can be action by the billions. The billions must first be made aware.

In 1623, John Donne wrote the famous lines: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man/is a piece of the continent, a part of the main/And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls/it tolls for thee.”

In 1926, WB Yeats wrote ‘Sailing to Byzanthium’, a meditation on how to prepare for the dying of the light. When one dies, there can hardly be the wrench of loss, because, once dead, one feels nothing. 

The wrench of the living, seeing all dying around them, is loss conciously felt. 

Yeats said: “That is no country for old men. The young/In one another’s arms, birds in the trees/Those dying generations at their song/ The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas/Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long/Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.”

Fish, flesh, and fowl, all are dying now. We must devise a way of saving those that remain. The human animal cannot survive without them.

I am of the generation that lived when Clonakilty Bay was teeming with birds, the Corrib clogged with salmon, the Curragh carpeted with lapwing, the skies of London screaming with swifts, the hayfields of Cratloe singing with larks, the gables of houses colonised by martins, the summer barns squatted by swallows, the hedges with redbreasts, the stone walls with wrens, the ponds with frogs, with newts, with sticklebacks, the Kerry dunes with natterjacks and lizards, rabbits in the green fields, corncrakes in the hayfields, hares in the hills.

Wordsworth says it for me: “It is not now as it hath been of yore/Turn wheresoe’er I may/By night or day,/The things which I have seen I now can see no more.”

He is speaking of a child’s celestial vision. Would that all mankind could share it. Then, might we have cohesion to save the beloved Earth.

Yesterday, I walked 300m of street (the only street) in my home village, in glorious weather. 

On my right, between me and the sea, was a low stone wall, hip-high, 100 or 200 years old, topped with rounded soldier stones, the home of a thousand hardy wild flowers grown out of crevices, formed in extraordinary shapes, painted in kaleidescopic colours.

Happily, the villagers have the awareness not to destroy this garden. The self-regarding fashion of neatness hasn’t gripped the community: Neatness in the streets and houses, yes, but not where nature outshines artifice. 

It is a garden of delight and to walk beside it is an education and a joy.

How long it can be protected from the inevitable is uncertain. 

Forces beyond the village, beyond the villagers’ control — forces that may now be uncontrollable by anyone — will, if not soon reversed, ensure that nine-tenths of nature dies, and the work that began 3.6bn years ago, when the first atom stirred into life, will be all undone in half a century.

The other Sunday, in Clonakilty, I met a group of good people gathered to exchange initiatives to protect nature. 

They devoted a lovely afternoon, made for walking, to this vital cause.

The circle was small; 80% were women, 70% of the attendees non-Irish.

Presumably, the meeting had not been publicised or many townspeople would have attended. 

Subjects discussed included the importance of rejecting plastics, of sourcing biodegradables. Important topics, but what a pity more citizens weren’t there to hear.

Any attempt at halting climate change must surely begin with making it the urgent issue of our time. Only by mass action can mankind hope to stem it. 

Meanwhile, current policies predict that Ireland will, once again, be Europe’s worst custodian of the environment in 2020 and 2030.

In half the cities of the Western world, there are protest marches against climate mismanagement, political incompetence, and the priority given to destructive vested interests. 

Why not a march in every town in Ireland? And let children out of school to swell the ranks. 

They have the most to lose in our precarious future.

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