Save Leitrim from trees?

Some days ago we found a sticker on the window of a shop around here that piqued our interest. The sticker represents an access denied sign overlapped to the shape of a tree, a kind of conifer precisely. We heard that it is the logo of Save Leitrim, a group of people who are raising concerns about the impact of Sitka Spruce afforestation on the social and economic fabric of rural communities and the environment of County Leitrim.

The logo could be misunderstood by those who don’t know the problem – it appears to be a campaign against trees – but local people know what it refers to – the mismanagement of forests throughout the county. The issue is serious and we can talk about it after taking part in one of the meetings organised by Save Leitrim in Drumshanbo and the rally on the 30th of January in front of Leinster House.

Forests in Leitrim are almost entirely monoculture, with Sitka Spruce planted for the production of timber. Local people are very worried about it, because there has been an increase of these plantations in recent years and already 19% of the land is covered with forest, mainly this one species, in many cases planted too close to houses. These trees, although not native, find the Irish climate very favourable and they grow blocking out light and creating a very sombre atmosphere which is not good for mental health.

It could seem that growing trees – even for commercial purposes – is a good way to absorb carbon dioxide but things are not so simple. As they grow, they do absorb carbon dioxide, but if cut down and burned, that CO2 is released back into the atmosphere.  In addition, greenhouse gases are produced during felling, transport and processing of the wood.  From a broader perspective, the use of chemicals and the lack of biodiversity that negatively affects groundwater and wildlife must be considered.

It is a fact that Leitrim was completely covered by trees in the distant past, which for different historical reasons were cut. In our opinion many local hills seem barren without trees and maybe a smart national reforestation plan could put together the necessity of reducing emissions and the demand of timber for commercial purposes. Save Leitrim doesn’t ask to stop forestry but to think about sustainable solutions such as starting to plant broadleaf trees in order to have more biodiversity.

We asked our Director Leslie O’Hora to explain the issue to us. “The owners of these lands are often large dairy producers from the south of Ireland who decide to invest in forestry and buy the lands here”, said Leslie.  “The current government policy is to help these big farmers and give them the chance to receive tax credits if they plant trees. This also is a way to absorb carbon dioxide since Ireland is very bad in terms of greenhouse emissions. Most of these lands were sold by old people since there was no members of their family leaving there anymore, so now local people cannot do anything to stop forestry. Moreover, after planting trees the soil cannot be used for other purposes and so you can only keep going to grow trees. Maybe now forestry investors are starting to see the problem because people complain about it and we hope the government will try to find a solution.”

So, the solution is to start planting indigenous species of broadleaf that, although they need more time to grow, give us better quality wood and create biodiversity. A smart policy should ask to let some of these trees grow indefinitely and use the remainder for timber production. In this way we could benefit from forestry, for example by creating new parks and woodland trails. We could start talking about spaces to go walking and have fun, both for local people and tourists. In this way, forestry could be sustainable for the region.

 

Nino Rizzo

Volunteers take part in Tony McGowan run in Drumshanbo

Our volunteers Nino Rizzo and Sasha Peralaika took part in the 7th Annual Tony McGowan Run on Sunday the 17th Feb 2019.

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Photo by Mark Kelly

Here are their impressions.

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Sasha: “I did the 10K distance. I never thought I could run 10 kilometres! I’ve always struggled with running, I was probably the worst in my class at school. I’ve been running more or less consistently since last October, so it took me about 4 months to get ready for this run. My finishing time was 01:00:57. And of course I took advantage of the “home field” because I was familiar with the place. I feel like it’s a big accomplishment and I’ll be training for half marathon in the nearest months”.

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Nino: “I was pleased to take part in the marathon. It was a nice time to enjoy the landscape around Drumshanbo in a different way and with new people. There were actually a lot of people, more than I was expecting. The town is often so quiet, so I was happy to see a bit of crowd! Now I would like to train for the next one!”

GEAI and Ballinagleragh Community Hall get ‘greener’

As part of our commitment to a sustainable future GEAI has changed our electricity supplier to Templederry Renewable Energy Supply Ltd. T/A CRES (Community Renewable Energy Supply). This is the first ‘community’ owned and operated electricity supply company in Ireland that sources energy entirely from renewable sources/technologies.

Solar Panel on Hall

Part of GEAI’s work is to promote the development of sustainable energy projects which could involve local communities working together to establish their own community owned/controlled electricity generating facilities.

Also, in furtherance of this objective GEAI has submitted an application to the Leader Programme for funding to install a 6Kw array of photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of our operational base – Ballinagleragh Community Hall. It is intended that this will generate enough electricity to drastically reduce our reliance on the ‘national grid’ – even though we are currently using electricity from CRES.

We hope to have a decision within the next couple of months on this application. So… watch our newsletter and website for further updates.

 

 

 

Climate Action Days 2.0 for Lough Allen College

After the success of our Climate Action Days initiative in Mohill Community College, GEAI organized several more sessions for Lough Allen College in Drumkeeran.  We are working with Transition Year students, learning more about climate change in a non-formal way. This activity is facilitated by our European Solidarity Corps volunteers.

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Having reviewed the results we achieved with Mohill students, we adapted the program for the second school: made our presentations more interactive, ice-breakers and energisers – more fun, and we also added in the basics of Sustainable development.

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Aedin McLoughlin, CEO and Youth Project Coordinator

Working with teenagers, we use a lot of games. Our first session was 2 hours long, because it included theoretical part and introduction of the climate projects, or actions, that the kids will do. So the games help to break it up a bit. And who doesn’t like games? We certainly do!

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During our second session we got familiar with Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals founded by the UN in 2015 to tackle the major problems of humankind (hunger, poverty, climate change and more). The aim of sustainable development is to develop the possibility to grow economically without compromising the wellbeing of future generations.

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The students have chosen the topics for their group projects and are working on them. In two weeks we are going to meet again in the Organic Centre in Rossinver to discuss the results of their work.

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FOOD AND CLIMATE CHANGE – You should start to be concerned about your diet

Climate change is now a very popular topic, and when we talk about measures to prevent it we usually think about reducing plastics, switching to green energies and electric transport, and maybe planting more trees. All really important solutions, but many of us forget that the food system is one of the major drivers of climate change. – And by the way, it’s directly connected to all those issues listed.

 

BUSINESS AS USUAL IS NOT AN OPTION

Agriculture is one of the largest contributor of greenhouse gases contributing 19 to 29% of total GHG emissions. As stated in a study published last October in the journal Nature (1) “between 2010 and 2050 […] the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50-90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity.” The study calls for solutions such as more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste.

The topic is particularly current, given Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s declaration last week on reducing meat consumption. Without discussing the controversy arising from his statement, we believe the matter must be taken seriously because changes can not only be imposed from above but should also come from the conscious choices that each of us makes. And although much of the Irish economy is based on agriculture – and livestock farming in the Irish countryside seems to be rather sustainable – we need to think about the future of our planet.

As EPA Ireland reports, agriculture is the single largest contributor to the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for over 30% of the total. Ireland is a small country with a relatively small population, but emissions per person are amongst the highest of any country in the world. And if we look at meat consumption per person we can only hope for a change in our habits: we consume over twice the global average!

Also, according to another study (2) “very high calorie diets […] are associated with high total per capita greenhouse gas emissions […] due to high carbon intensity and high intake of animal products”.

through CGIAR Centers and Research Programs

through CGIAR Centers and Research Programs

 

820 MILLION PEOPLE HAVE INSUFFICIENT FOOD

In the study presented on the 17th of January by EAT-Lancet Commission in Oslo (3), twenty scientists from around the world called for the adoption of diets and food production practices to ensure that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement would be achieved. Because, “although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume low-quality diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to a substantial rise in the incidence of diet-related obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes”. Researchers say that a sustainable diet should “largely consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unsaturated oils, includes a low to moderate amount of seafood and poultry, and includes no or a low quantity of red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables”.

through The Irish Times

 

ARE YOU A FLEXITARIAN?

Here we go, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan or flexitarian and then organic, local, something-free and so on: we are not talking about choosing more trendy diets or groceries! The problem is that we are harming the planet because of what we eat and how we produce our food (and how we transport it and sell it…). We should start to think about, to find out and to adopt sustainable habits. One of the least extreme approaches for example, is the Flexitarian diet – it is very similar to the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission study – which requires a considerable reduction in the amount of meat consumed. In short, a Flexitarian is a vegetarian who eats meat occasionally.

As Oisin Coghlan from Friends of the Earth Ireland reminds us, the average Irish carbon footprint is around 12 tonnes of CO2 a year and we have to halve that by 2030 and get it down to 1 or 2 tonnes by 2050. 25% of that quantity (3 tonnes) comes from food. If you don’t eat beef and lamb it drops to about 2 tonnes, if you are a vegetarian it’s about 1.5, and if you are vegan it is lower again. So let’s start to rethink our diet and spread the word!

 

Notes
  1. Springmann et al. (2018). Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/
  2. Pradhan et al. (2013). Embodied greenhouse gas emissions in diets. Retrieved from https://ccafs.cgiar.org/bigfacts/
  3. Willett et al. (2019). Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/

 

Below you can find some diet suggestions
  • Drayer (2019, January). Change your diet to combat climate change in 2019, CNN. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/
  • Sawa (2019, January). Seeds, kale and red meat once a month – how to eat the diet that will save the world, The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/

 

Other sources

 

Nino Rizzo

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