Tuesday 17 September 2019

Harsh realities are laid bare by our ancestors

'Scientists across the globe are welcoming the UN-backed study as a framework for an
'Scientists across the globe are welcoming the UN-backed study as a framework for an "urgent transformation" in the way the world's land is used' (Stock photo)

Fiona O'Connell

Trucks full of fodder trundle back and forth over the bridge in this country town, seasonal proof that we sow what we reap. The same could be said of that phrase "harsh reality", invariably trotted out to justify similarly harsh treatment of animals or land with those who object dismissed as out of touch and sentimental. For it is becoming clear, it is this attitude that has resulted in a reality so harsh that our very survival is in jeopardy. With the irony of science advocating a sentimental solution.

So I was reminded by a regular reader who lives in England. What he wrote to me about his roots in the west, ties in with the bigger picture outlined in the recently published special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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Scientists across the globe are welcoming the UN-backed study as a framework for an "urgent transformation" in the way the world's land is used, if we are to avoid the worst extremes of climate change by curbing temperature rises at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. According to IPCC lead, Dr Stephen Cornelius "this includes the type of farming we do, our food system and diets, and the conservation of natural ecosystems". Especially as a separate UN-backed global assessment on the state of nature earlier this year found wildlife and habitats are declining at an "unprecedented" rate worldwide. Three quarters of ice-free land is now directly affected by human activity, with industrial agriculture and deforestation accounting for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.

It is within this context that our letter writer observes "my mother's people, who were farmers on rough land for over a century. We held them in awe; as true, warmhearted and heroic folk."

However "we began to notice that they had a hard and unsentimental attitude to the land. They had to make a living out of it and had no time for the niceties and frivolities of the previous English owners, with their fancy house names and tree-lined driveways." Our correspondent recalls how "trees were cut down; wild animals were regarded as a threat, just as today with the killing of badgers and eagles, and useless animals such as old working dogs were drowned".

Nevertheless "we loved them, our relatives, and were always overwhelmed by their kindness to us".

But "therein lies the problem", for times have changed, and the average farm is now worth nearly €1m. And as published lists of wills show, farmers (or should we say landowners) make up a significant number of the large money entries. City folk are losing their sentimental attitude to farmers that tolerated their unsentimental attitude.

For what goes around comes around. So let's hope the sentimental fools are right, and love does too.

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