Ciarán de Buitléar enjoyed a magic moment at the family dinner table the other night.
“The kids had two bowls of courgette soup each,” he says of sons Sam (12), and seven-year-old Zack “and they’re fussy eaters”.
Mum Fiona’s recipe was no doubt a key factor, but the boys’ appetites where whetted by the fact that the courgettes were planted, grown and harvested by de Buitléar hands.
For Ciarán, that’s a minor triumph. “I’ve no formal training, just loads of gardening books,” he says. “I work in IT.”
Unbeknownst to Ciarán, his recent foray into back garden farming in his suburban home in Stamullen, Co Meath represents a victory of another kind.
He has, almost by accident, ticked off three of the 16 steps in the ‘Count Me In’ challenge – a list of actions ordinary people can take to help address the climate crisis.
Eat seasonal, eat more plants and cut food waste are among the list that campaigners are hoping will become more familiar in the very near future.
Tomorrow, individuals, groups and companies will be asked to join a ‘climate pact’ to help stabilise global temperature rise.
The idea, from the European Commission, is to get society at large more involved in climate action.
Gráinne Ryan, from the environmental education unit at An Taisce, is climate pact ambassador for Ireland.
“There’s a lot going on at policy level, which is great, but the general public are not yet engaged with climate change. Bridging that gap is a big challenge,” she says.
“The climate pact is an engagement mechanism with the Green Deal. It’s to show how citizens from all walks of life can get involved.”
Gráinne is using the ‘Count Me In’ list to illustrate what people can do. Its suggestions go from cycling and walking more to flying less, to home insulation and installing solar panels, to simply raising the climate crisis with politicians.
Gráinne is joining the pact as part of the network of local climate ambassadors An Taisce has developed.
The scheme trains ordinary people to kickstart discussion and action on climate in their local communities.
“In the last year and a half, our digital footprint has increased exponentially,” she explains.
“So our pledge to the pact is to reduce our digital footprint by 22pc by 2022.” Online communications is not an obvious carbon pollutant, but with trillions of spam emails, duplicate attachments and needless images sent and stored every year, a lot of unnecessary processing power and electricity is used.
That sounds like one of the simplest ways an ordinary person can help but will anyone do it? There’s also the wider question of whether focusing on individual behaviour distracts from the changes that must occur in global economic, industry and agricultural systems.
Gráinne accepts there must be caution about involving the public without allowing the holders of power to disengage.
“There must be absolute transparency and no greenwashing,” she says.
“But we really do need public engagement, and not just from those already active. We don’t need 10pc of people taking all 16 actions – we need 90pc of people trying one or two tomorrow and one or two next month.”
Back in Stamullen, Ciarán de Buitléar, says the only pact he made when he started gardening was with himself.
“I wanted to do something positive for myself and my kids. I have a sedentary job and I was afraid I would go nuts during lockdown.”
But what started in the back garden has spread much further. Ciarán and the family now have a website, gardeningwell.ie, a Twitter and Youtube presence with 60,000 followers, and a local online gardening group with 350 members.
“I wasn’t chasing followers but it has become a movement in a way.
“Don’t get me wrong. The kids are normal kids and they’ll groan occasionally – ‘ah Dad, not gardening again’.
“But they know where food comes from, they know how to grow it, and they’ll question what they see in the supermarket now.
“We’re lucky that we were able to install solar panels on the roof and I suppose we are thinking more about doing what’s right for the planet.
“But I’m not overt about that aspect of it. I think you can scare people because they don’t feel there’s much they can do,” he said.
"Well, I know not everyone can put up solar panels but everybody can grow a plant.”