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Our Wild World: Éanna Ní Lamhna’s whirlwind trip around nature’s wonders and how we threaten them

Our Wild World, Éanna Ní Lamhna, O’Brien Press, 176 pages, paperback €16.99; e-book €11.99

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Concise: Éanna Ní Lamhna. Photo by John Kelly.

Concise: Éanna Ní Lamhna. Photo by John Kelly.

Our Wild World : From the Birds and the Bees to Our Boglands and Ice Caps by Éanna Ní Lamhna

Our Wild World : From the Birds and the Bees to Our Boglands and Ice Caps by Éanna Ní Lamhna

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Concise: Éanna Ní Lamhna. Photo by John Kelly.

Images of a polar bear stranded on vanishing ice or an orangutan fighting a digger in her rainforest home are regularly reproduced to illustrate our imperilled natural world, but a tale from a suburban polytunnel does the job for Éanna Ní Lamhna.

A friend honing his gardening skills moved his strawberry plants under plastic to ensure he got to enjoy the fruits of his labour before blackbirds and other raiders beat him to it. He sealed the tunnel well to prevent intruders and waited for his crop to arrive. And waited.

Baffled at its non-appearance, he called Ní Lamhna to investigate. The broadcaster and conservationist had to break it to him that plants needed pollinating to make fruit and that this natural process wasn’t going to happen if he closed the door on nature.

That disconnect from the most basic facts of life lies at the heart of her latest book, in which she sets out to explain how the natural world works and how we have collectively thrown a spanner in those works, so that it is now us who are in peril.

“If we don’t know how the world works, how can we possibly know how to behave in it?” she asks.

It’s an ambitious undertaking for a slim book, but anyone who has heard Ní Lamhna over her 25 years in broadcasting knows she talks as fast as she does straight and can convey a lot in short time.

She takes the reader on a whirlwind trip through the wonders of pollination, predation, migration, hibernation and adaptation. She zips through meteorology and climatology and explains how exactly the balance of sunlight, warmth and gases that kept everything on our planet running smoothly for millennia got knocked out of kilter by human activity in the space of a century.

It’s science made simple, though the message is not easy to hear.

This is different from her previous books, which focused largely on the marvels of the natural world, with little on the madness of mankind’s abuse of it.

She stays clear of controversy here too, but a few caustic remarks reveal an underlying impatience that might have had interesting results if let loose.

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Our Wild World : From the Birds and the Bees to Our Boglands and Ice Caps by Éanna Ní Lamhna

Our Wild World : From the Birds and the Bees to Our Boglands and Ice Caps by Éanna Ní Lamhna

Our Wild World : From the Birds and the Bees to Our Boglands and Ice Caps by Éanna Ní Lamhna

On the intensive farming and over-reliance on pesticides and fertilisers that feed the world’s insatiable appetite for convenience foods, she remarks: “No matter, if it is quick and handy you can be tucking into your dinner in time to watch the latest cookery programme on the television.”

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Ní Lamhna questions public attitudes to incinerators when the alternative is the appalling practice of landfill, and the opposition to water charges when 183 million litres of bottled water are bought yearly.

She explodes the delusion that recycling of such bottles somehow makes up for the use of oil and waste of energy in their production, and despairs at the lament for the loss of sea views to offshore wind farms when the homes from which the views are enjoyed are threatened with sinking beneath rising sea levels.

It’s not only the public that needs educating. She reminds us how an environment minister once expounded that global warming was due to greenhouse gases burning a hole in the ozone layer which let in too much heat from the sun. For anyone saying to themselves, “Is that not true?”, this is the book for you.

In fact, it’s for anyone from about 12 upwards who has even a passing interest in the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate breakdown but is beaten back by jargon.

Experts would also benefit from a read. They won’t pick up any new facts but they will learn how to communicate those facts to non-experts.

Ní Lamhna doesn’t do jargon. She whittles down Darwin’s theory of evolution to the following explanation: “Nature doesn’t tolerate eejits.”

That leads to the ultimate question that underlies this book: how much longer will it tolerate us?


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