It's time to be unreasonable

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Our CEO, Oisín Coghlan shares some of the feelings that motivated his recent speech at the Mary Robinson Climate Conference. Oisín also shares his thoughts on what the climate movement needs right now, and what role Friends of the Earth can play.

It was an honour to be invited to speak at the Mary Robinson Climate Conference the other week, and it was quite cathartic for me too.

For the first time in my career as a climate campaigner and communicator, I wore my heart on my sleeve and I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I admitted that I’m scared.

In my speech, I spoke about how our approach to tackling the climate crisis needs to shift gear. 

My role, as Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, and as a climate activist in my own right, has been ‘the reasonable voice’. Appealing to reason affected how I spoke, thought and felt about climate. But now, watching how slow our political system is to respond while climate breakdown accelerates around us, being reasonable is not enough. It’s time to be unreasonable.

For too long, I allowed myself to compartmentalise how I felt about the climate crisis, but I am realising now that you cannot keep the struggle and the sentiment apart

We need to step out of our comfort zone and not be afraid of making others feel uncomfortable.

Monday that week was the hottest day ever recorded on Earth in human history, then Tuesday became the hottest day. And it will be broken again soon no doubt. Climate breakdown is here and now. This scares me and I know I’m not alone. mary robinson  climate conference

We cannot just talk about the facts and events of climate change, as a way to persuade people into action. We need to talk about how it makes us feel. When we share, we connect. And it’s through connection that we build fellowship, community and power.

Our new community building initiative, Cuppa for Climate, which we’ve already launched, coupled with our mass mobilisation effort, Act Local, which we hope to launch soon once we get the resources we need, offers first the space for connection and fellowship through conversation and then the platform, community, and resources for taking effective action.

Cuppa for Climate has the power to channel people from concern into action, and Act Local has the potential to be a hub for decentralised climate campaigning around the country.

Act Local will depend on people being brave enough to start the conversation, spark connection and ignite action. My speech in Ballina was a lament. I am not rejecting all that we are doing and I am not giving up on action or hope. There have been big wins along the way, from the bans on fracking and offshore oil exploration to the hard won climate law. I am so grateful to the Friends of the Earth community and the wider climate movement who made this wins possible. 

But these wins are too slow. We would be in a much better position had the Climate Law been passed 10 years earlier, but it was killed by vested interests who were powerful than us at the time. And now we have 10 years whereas we could have had 20, or more. We have built our power as a climate movement in that time too, but we need to do more.

Because of where we’re starting from, there is no smooth path, and if we’re going to stop it from being destructive, it’s going to involve inconvenience. Yet, our leaders are not accepting reality and they’re not reflecting it to society in a way that enables emergency action.

Those of us already on board need to step it up, but also we desperately need more people showing up for climate action.

The Climate Movement is too small, quiet and timid. We need to become bigger, louder and braver.

An Environmental Protection Agency opinion poll in 2021 found that “90% of people believe Ireland has a national responsibility to act on climate change”. And in 2022 a report ‘Climate Change’s Four Irelands: An Audience Segmentation Analysis’ identified 36% as alarmed and 48% as concerned about climate change.

We know that the majority of people are aware, informed and worried and that they want change. But still, not enough people are speaking out or campaigning for climate action and we need to change this. Cuppa for Climate and Act Local is what we are doing about this.

It’s time to step out of our comfort zone - to speak the truth of how bad the climate crisis is and that we are afraid. It’s ok to be alarmist, because it is alarming.

I’ve never been more terrified and also never more hopeful. There are more people engaged and more action across Ireland and the world - but we really have to accelerate everything now.

As Greta famously said; ‘don’t look for hope, look for action, when you see action - hope is everywhere’. Action is the antidote to climate anxiety. And fellowship gives us the support we need to keep going, step up and speak out.

We’re beyond the brink and we’re beyond reason but I don’t think we’re beyond hope.