Friday 14 December 2018

Television review: The importance of breathing...

  • Eco Eye (RTE1)

Duncan Stewart and Lara Dungan
Duncan Stewart and Lara Dungan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I saw Duncan Stewart a while back on the Dart. He got out at Sandycove & Glasthule, as I recall, taking his bicycle with him. It was exactly as you would imagine the great environmentalist to be, taking the public transport option for the main part of his journey, then the bike for whatever was left.

Nor did you get the impression he was only doing this for show, that there might actually be a fast car waiting for him near the station, burning up that little piece of the Earth, somewhere between Pearse Street and Glasthule, that he had saved.

Never for a moment has the sincerity of Duncan been in question; it is only the success of his mission that we would worry about, the kind of resilience it takes to keep making TV programmes about the environment in a world in which Trump in 2018 can talk about "beautiful, clean, coal".

Duncan does not appear much on our screens any more, though his creation Eco Eye lists him first among the credits, and he is clearly its spiritual leader.

The presenter, Dr Lara Dungan, is excellent, though I tend still to have Duncan in my mind's eye, wondering how he is holding up after all this time on what some might maddeningly call the "coalface" of environmental activism (where, no doubt, that beautiful, clean coal can be found).

Diesel emissions, according to Dr. Lara, are still way over the limit, still polluting wildly. "With so much evidence against diesel, why do we here in Ireland have such a love affair with this filthy way of powering a vehicle?", she asked.

To which one might reply: "because Duncan has been trying to get these things into Paddy's head for years and years, but Paddy has his own ideas..."

It was explained by Geraldine Herbert of this paper that the government in 2008 made changes to the VRT and tax system that enabled the rise of diesel. But it also demonstrated you can change buying habits by changing the tax system, so perhaps they will unmake the changes they shouldn't have made in the first place.

And I'm thinking that if I were Duncan, I might be sighing at the futility of it all...

But then even in the more dispiriting interludes, Eco Eye can improve our immediate environment simply by showing some lovely pictures - which it is bound to do, being out there in "nature" and all that.

"Breathing air is essential for life," said Dr Lara as she walked towards the magnificence of the Atlantic at Liscannor, Co Clare.

They take their breathing very seriously in The Cliffs of Moher Retreat, where they seemed to be doing these yoga-type movements aimed at improving the ways in which we exhale and inhale.

Again I think of Duncan looking back over all the things he has done in the struggle to make Paddy live right, and here is Eco Eye still needing to remind us that breathing is good and we should learn how to do it - in the hope that some day, a long time from now, we may be able to get to the next stage, namely breathing in something other than diesel.

And yet we would arguably have no environment at all, if it was not for Duncan Stewart.

Certainly we would have a lot less light than we do now. His influence on the basic architecture of Ireland is incalculable, with his constant encouragement to build houses that let in the light.

Perhaps if there had been no Duncan Stewart there would have been no Dermot Bannon, or at least there would have been a quite different Dermot Bannon, and where would we be then?

As an enthusiastic amateur architect, I have argued that if anything, Duncan has brought too much light into our lives, that maybe we need a bit of darkness too, darkness of course being one of our most important natural resources.

But hey, it's his eco-system, the rest of us just live in it.

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