Who could have imagined, even just a few years ago, that Northern Ireland would give birth to a new citizens movement, led by children, and demanding system change not climate change.
The foundations of business as usual and economics as usual are being repudiated for their obvious consequences – persistent violence against the earth itself and the poorest of its peoples.
There is widespread alarm that we have ended up here in one of the most ecologically barren parts of Europe and Europe is the most ecologically damaged continent.
We do extinction well here in Northern Ireland. The illegal superdump at Mobouy beside the beautiful Faughan River is twice the size of our biggest ancient woodland. We also do community organising well here. Diverse communities, fuelled by self-reliance and creativity, founded on trust and hope, are cross fertilising a non-sectarian ecology of democratic revival.
The strength of this movement is growing and is rooted in the power of community. In Fermanagh and Antrim, communities have successfully resisted the fossil fuel industry with their words and bodies. Groups like Stop the Drill, Protect Our North Coast, Belcoo Frack Free will prevent Tamboran and EHA obtain new hydrocarbon licences. The persistence of these groups is changing planning laws to make it harder to start exploring for fossil fuels.
Muscáil is organising in West Belfast for grassroots climate action. Zero Waste North West have reimagined a new circular economy, beyond extractivism. The protectors of Larne, Woodburn and Carrickfergus beat the hydrocarbon industry. At Whitehead, Larne Lough, Lough Neagh and Fermanagh, groups are taking on the gas industry.
While central government is siding with planet wrecking industries there is emerging space for leadership in local councils: the election of Emmet McAleer in Fermanagh and Omagh District Council is helping to protect the Sperrins from mega-mining; Ards and North Down Council were the first to declare a climate emergency; Derry and Strabane Council are taking the Department for the Economy to court for selling off our minerals for buttons to global mining corporations.
Communities in Limavady, Newtownabbey and Tyrone are exposing the connection between unconscionably dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions and Stormont’s love affair with mega factory farms and new roads. They are blowing the lid on the intimate political connections with the gas industry, stranded assets that we are still subsidising and are questioning why the big agri-food untouchables such as Moy Park are the ones benefitting from Gas to the West.
I would need a full edition of Fortnight to express the extent of this grassroots response to ecological trauma and climate breakdown. This feels like our last chance to become manifestly unreasonable, to protect every last scrap of nature, to make peace with the earth and each other. For these grassroots communities and young people they are not just defending their special places, they are creating a more compassionate economy and revitalising our democracy.