Educate and Organise: A Report Back from the Friends of the Earth Ireland 50th Anniversary Day of Education

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Aaron Downey, our Global Citizenship Education and Activism Support Officer, reflects on the day.

Saturday, April 27th was a celebration of 50 years of the Friends of the Earth community, a space to slow down and reflect on the better world we are trying to build, and a chance to hear from a variety of movements for environmental justice from across the globe as we deepen our commitment to system change, not climate change. 

header and mainFor over 50 years, we have been privileged to learn from, and work alongside, community groups and grassroots organisations - building five decades worth of skills, expertise, and campaigning victories. This day of education was held in Richmond Barracks in Dublin in the spacious gymnasium. As the crowd streamed in, we opened the day’s proceedings with a panel discussion on the theme of 'From More to Better: Moving past growth and our planetary crises'.

Starting with a presentation from Anita Vollmer, an ecological economist working for the the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), we looked at the various metrics used for measuring economic growth and why these may not be the best measures to indicate human happiness or the thriving of the natural world.

first panel main photoMary Murphy from Maynooth University and Anne Ryan from Feasta followed this up by inviting us to imagine different social systems that prioritise care, wellbeing and human flourishing above a drive to profit at the expense of the wellbeing of people and planet. The session ended with a rousing contribution from John Barry from Queen’s University who put forward how we need to challenge the economic system of capitalism that drives dependency on fossil fuels and is motivated by unlimited growth on a finite planet.



Following this, we launched into the ‘Climate Counts’ game which uses a thought experiment - what if the world was 30 people? - in order to show the unequal contributions to, and damages experienced by, various regions due to climate change. Led by previous participants of our very own Climate Change, Colonialism, and Extractivism course, it was a fantastic experience of training and expertise going back to educate other parts of the Friends of the Earth community. It really drove home the messages of colonialism, fossil fuel-led extractivism in the Global South, and endless growth laid out by the first panel—and in such a creative way at that.game5game3general3


We then broke for lunch, supplied by the lovely social enterprise Foodcloud who seek to minimise food waste, and got to decompress, wander around the gardens, and chat to friends of the Earth, old and new. After the break, we sat down with our food and coffee to watch the film, ‘The Illusion of Abundance’, directed by Erika Gonzalez Ramirez and Matthieu Lietaert. This film follows three women from Brazil, Peru, and Honduras organising against the destruction of their communities by various extractive industries. 

movie1Carolina, Bertha (the daughter of murdered environmental defender Berta Cáceres) and Maxima took various large corporations to task both by resisting them directly and by seeking recourse to the international legal system. The screening was followed by a brief interview/Q&A session with one of the directors, Mattheiu Lietaert, where we discussed the role of women and indigenous movements in fighting colonial practices in the Global South.


Finally, we were privileged to be joined online by environmental defenders from across three continents–and two languages–to round out the day. Abeer M. AL Butmeh (PENGON/Friends of the Earth Palestine), Paula Portela (Censat Agua Viva/Friends of the Earth Colombia), and Maxwell Atuhura (TASHA, Uganda) all spoke about their experiences on the frontline of environmental defence. 

From resisting Israeli occupation as it decimates the population and environment of Palestine, to challenging the companies that mine coal in Colombia to be used in Ireland, to facing imprisonment and repression in Uganda for taking French oil giants to court, the words of each speaker resonated with participants across the room. 

We expressed our deep anger for our colleagues in PENGON who were killed by Israeli airstrikes, and our condolences to Censat Agua Viva who had lost a community leader that morning. It drove home the human stories affected by the issues we had spoken about throughout the day and deepened our solidarity and resolve to fight for a better future - one free of militarism, imperialism, and climate breakdown - in favour of a just world where people and planet thrive.




I feel fantastically privileged to have spent the day in such good company in two senses. Both in the beautiful community that we have created in Friends of the Earth that care deeply about such important topics. But also in the sense that for all the challenges created by climate breakdown here in Ireland, it pales in comparison to those across the globe facing constant repression, intimidation, imprisonment and even assassination for standing up for their communities and the environment. I hope that others left the day with the same renewed sense of commitment to fight for global climate justice.

Lastly, this event was made possible by the generous contributions of Irish Aid and Community Foundation Ireland. We are deeply grateful for the support of our funders and also that of our speakers, facilitators and contributors. The views expressed in this event are those of the organisers and do not necessarily reflect those of our funders. 

Some key resources from the day:

Paula's presentation slides can be accessed here

The recording of the last panel on the links between Extractivism and Climate Change can be watched here.

Maxwell’s slides from the last panel can be viewed here. Watch this space as we hopefully announce some in person events on this in the future.

Anita has said if anyone is looking for her slides or has any questions following her presentation on moving beyond economic growth you can contact her at:

If anyone would like to join the international solidarity list and receive calls for action for Friends of the Earth international you can do that here. Calls to action require rapid responses and you can expect to receive a call once every few months. A solidarity call to action can involve taking a photo with a message of support, sharing a post on social media, contacting TDs/ embassies, or sometimes joining in person rallies/ demonstrations.