Diarmuid McAree In Conversation with Rita de Brún
Formerly chief forest inspector of the Irish Forest Service, Diarmuid McAree holds degrees in forestry, microbiology, entomology and pathology.
Today his consultancy and advisory roles are many and include positions with the United Nations, Crann — Trees for Ireland and the Forest Therapy Institute.
“I was raised in Dublin’s Ranelagh with a love for nature. I was a boy scout and later a member of the FCA.
I was into bird watching and hill walking. My father taught me a lot. He often gave me a few bob so I could take the 48 bus up to the mountains. He knew the benefit of that.
I was captain of the mountaineering club while in UCD. I climbed Kilimanjaro and was part of an Irish team that reenacted Tom Crean’s Antarctic expedition.
On my travels, I’ve seen ice-caps cascading into the seas, melting in front of me. I’d have liked to have had Mr Trump and some other climate change deniers with me to see that, to witness the wildlife under threat.
Just 11% of the Republic of Ireland is currently under forest. It used to be worse. In 1928 that figure was just 1.2%. That aside, 11%’s nothing to boast about, as we’re lagging behind most of our European neighbours. Most have between 35% and 40% tree cover.
There’s an upside to Ireland having a lot of catching up to do: there is potential for planting the right trees in the right places. When that’s done, trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere and give off oxygen.
They do this astoundingly well. One mature tree exudes enough oxygen for a family of four for a year.
The idea of every town planting as many trees as there are people living there, is catching on. We did that where I live in Dublin’s Shankill, and then we kept on planting. We also put out beehives and bird boxes.
The green prescription cannot be underestimated. Being out in nature makes us happier, lifts the mood. Too many forget to smell the roses.
Getting from A to B faster seems to be the preoccupation. To shorten bus connection times by just a couple of minutes, there’s a willingness to cut down trees and pour concrete.
We need to understand how much we depend upon nature, that it’s not something in isolation, that everything forms part of the matrix. We have to be aware of our place in nature, stop trying to dominate it.
In the past, terrible mistakes were made.
There wasn’t an awareness of the value of peatland ecosystems and their benefits for biodiversity, water filtration and supply, climate regulation and more.
In hindsight, extensive areas of peat should not have been planted, but they were, for the production value of drained peatland in the form of turf and peat.
There were other mistakes.
Tree planting was not allowed to impinge on agriculture, so trees were planted only on unproductive, marginal land, where oak, for example, could never thrive.
For some commercial parties the approach is; to hell with the environment, let’s make profit.
At the other extreme there are environmental groups that pull up conifers and object to the chain-sawing of trees, even dangerous ones that need cutting down.
The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals should be complied with. Tree planting should be environmentally appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.
Because of deforestation, the Amazon no longer has the capacity to absorb the same proportion of carbon it did in the past.
If one tree is cut down, 10 should be planted in its place in accordance with the principle of sustained yield.
Yet industries continue to burn depleting fossil fuels. That needs to change.
What’s needed is to replace fossil fuels with wood and other products made from cellulose.
The latest thing that’s engaging a United Nations group I’m involved with in Geneva is the fact that today, anything that can be derived from fossil fuels can be derived from cellulose, the building block of plants.
All those things — including aviation, motor fuel and plastics — that are contributing to greenhouse gas, can be derived from cellulose. This is the best news I’ve heard in years.
Something else that more people need to know about is chlorophyll.
With this magic molecule, every plant has the ability to take in carbon dioxide, transform it through the process of photosynthesis into woody biomass — such as trees, buds, nuts, berries and more — then give off oxygen.
My family all have a great love for and affinity with nature. My wife Pamela is a nurse, writer and former air hostess.
We have three children and five grandchildren. One daughter lives in Norway, where she and her family love to ski. Another works with an adventure sports company. My son is a teacher who loves the mountains.
We have a small garden at home in Dublin’s Shankill. You’ll find insect hotels and bird boxes there. We’re visited by squirrels and at least 12 types of bird. We leave out fat balls for them.
We all help with community clean ups, and tree planting. We do what we can.
Probably because my daughters are vegan, I’ve eaten and enjoyed meat free lasagne and sausages. But at heart, I’m an omnivore.
I’m proud of my family’s response to global warming.
Their approach is a positive: Stop moaning and do something. That’s something we all should do.”