Peter Dowdall: What we can do every day to improve the planet

Peter Dowdall

Ahead of the Irish Examiner sustainability event in the Glucksman on May 28, award-winning gardener Peter Dowdall explains why green really is an everyday colour

We think of the green agenda as a concern solely for a particular demographic: ‘hippies’, ‘crusties’ and bearded intellectuals.

That’s changing: sustainability, biodiversity, and climate chaos are all terms as mainstream as news itself.

What we do in the garden, and in the great outdoors in general, has an everyday impact. To gauge your impact, ask yourself one simple question: What do I do everyday?

Of course, there are seven billion answers to that, one for every person on the planet, but there are some universals: breathing, eating, drinking, and washing. Already, some of those are aspirational.

If we don’t act now, then breathing clean air, eating organically produced food from unpoisoned soil, and drinking and washing with clean water may no longer be ‘givens’ in the future.

Each one of us on this planet relies entirely on that six inches of magical energy that covers the earth and which we refer to as soil. It sustains all life; without it, we have nothing, yet we are poisoning it, destroying this magical energy.

How does helping the soil have an everyday impact on all of our lives? Well, it’s true what they say: if something is for free, we don’t appreciate it. The garden, or green environment, offers us all the answers to most of the problems facing urban societies.

Our mental health is helped by just being outside in the garden. Our physical health benefits, too, from the aerobic workout that a garden offers you to the fresh organic produce that comes from the vegetable beds. Nearly all our medicines originate in the garden. The great outdoors play a vital role, too, in protecting our species. By keeping ecosystems safe, we will start to reduce the rate of species extension.

If we look at possibly the biggest problem facing the planet at the moment, climate chaos, our gardens offer us help there, too. There is too much carbon in our atmosphere, but there isn’t enough in our soils.

What could take carbon from the atmosphere and place it in the soil? Trees and plants do this for us for free, but we are destroying them, ignoring their huge benefits.

Sustainability is defined as ‘The ability to be maintained at a certain level or rate’. Well, the way we are living on this planet cannot be sustained, for the Earth’s ecosystems, nature’s rich tapestry, cannot be maintained at this ‘level or rate’.

Can individual actions save the world? Perhaps not. It certainly will take decisions at government and international levels to make the changes necessary, but we cannot sit back and continue in our daily lives as we are, damaging the world around us, our shared home.

Governments and big business will only make changes if populations demand it.

In the garden, there are many chemical and ‘garden care’ products that are incredibly harmful to specific species and thus biodiversity. We need to stop using them. Methaldehyde, for example, is the active ingredient in most slug pellets sold in Ireland. Not only are they toxic to slugs and snails, but methaldehyde will also kill hedgehogs and birds, which are the natural predators for these garden pests and domestic pets. It’s even toxic to us humans. It’s banned in many countries, but still freely available here in Ireland. There are perfectly safe and effective remedies for slug problems in the garden which do not contain this active ingredient.

James Kavanagh and William Murray; and Juanita Brown.
James Kavanagh and William Murray; and Juanita Brown.

It’s not all bad news, however, for there are many changes we can make, and practices we can adopt, which will make a difference. Join me on May 28 at the Glucksman gallery, where I will be showing and explaining some ways where each of us can play a small part in helping our precious planet and the green environment. This will, in turn, benefit not just all of us, but the generations ahead.

Juanita Brown, of Biodiversity Ireland, will be talking about their All Ireland Pollinator Plan and showing us how we can all come together to improve upon our current situation. Helping the pollinators, and thus all biodiversity, is neither difficult nor expensive. Stop cutting grass too short at the wrong time of the year; stop pouring expensive and damaging weedkillers on our public and private grass areas; and watch as that magic breathes life once more in the form of flowers, and insect life.

James Kavanagh and William Murray, better known as the Currabinny Chefs, will be talking about taste and seasonality and also showing us the benefits of eating locally produced food that’s in season and demonstrating how you can use one great, local ingredient and build a theme around it.

Global change starts with individual action. If each one of us does a bit, before too long that change becomes larger than the sum of the parts.

Early bird tickets are €22.50. To book, click here

More on this topic

The Pádraig Hoare interview: 'LED-ing the way for 'greener' business'

These are some of the pioneering plastic-free stores in Ireland and the UK

Higgins: Gardeners the 'canaries in our coal mine' as they have suffered effects of climate change

Climate action: Meet the young doctors who want to save the planet