The festival, the first event that GEF has organised in Ireland, took place in the coastal town of Carnsore, Wexford. Carnsore has a crucial place in the history of the environmental movement in Ireland; in the early 1970s it was the proposed site of a nuclear reactor, but the environmental movement that rose up in response to this proposal defeated the idea and led to the birth of environmentalism in Ireland. There was also a European element to this movement, with Petra Kelly and other European figures helping with the campaign.
The carnsore campaign and nuclear energy featured prominently during this festival. The festival began with a discussion involving many of those involved in the original Carnsore campaign. They stressed the need for environmental campaigns, to be successful like they were, to reach out to as many groups and sectors as possible. Adi Roche, who has remained active as an anti-nuclear campaigner, spoke about how activists were 'always singing, always talking' and how their focus was to 'educate, educate, educate'; which spoke of an energy that other campaigns must replicate if they too are to succeed.
Nuclear and climate change; what space for debate?
Nuclear was a topic the next day too, with a vigorous debate on the attempts to propose nuclear energy as a means of preventing further climate change. Rebecca Harms MEP spoke about impact that Fukushima had in changing people's perception of nuclear, and how they economic argument for nuclear no longer works out. On the other side of the debate, climate change campaigner John Gibbons argued that CO2 is a far bigger threat than nuclear waste, and that deaths from fossil fuel use are far higher than from nuclear. As we are not switching away from fossil fuels fast enough, we would need to embrace nuclear - a point which was disputed in the ensuing debate.
A separate session on climate change preceded this nuclear debate, and examined how climate denial and the populist rhetoric it uses could be combated. Professor John Sweeney outlined the urgency of the problem and discussed some of the methods one can adopt to combat climate change denial. Dr Padraic Larkin, formerly Director of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, discussed the role that Ireland could play in preventing further climate change. Meanwhile Dick Pels from the Dutch Green foundation Bureau de Helling argued greens need to change their own rhetoric when it comes to climate change, and maybe move away from the alarmist rhetoric that might alienate people.
Making a connection with voters and civil society
A subject of further debate was the relationship between political parties and NGOs, and whether some NGOs have become too close to the political process. Tara Connolly from Greenpeace Europe contrasted her experience in Brussels, where environmental NGOs are respected and have relatively easy access to the EU institutions, and Ireland, where the relationship between NGOs and Governments is weaker. Noeleen Hartigan from Amnesty Interational spoke about the need for NGOs to decide whether they work within a system, or whether they battle from the outside.
A more creative session followed with a workshop on using comedy as a political tool. Led by comedian Abie Philbin Bowman, participants discussed how comedy can be used to alter people's perception of the green movement, and to expose the absurdities in your opponent's position.
Two highlights on the third and final day were the debates on fracking and on the future of the EU. The first debate discussed how fracking is posing a threat to local communities in Ireland and across Europe, but it also discussed how public support for renewable alternatives can be developed. The lessons from participative planning in Germany were shared by Katja Rottmann from Germanwatch.
The Future of the EU
The festival concluded with perhaps the most interesting discussion - on the future of the EU. GEF co-president Pierre Jonckheer started the debate by remarking on how the economic crisis has been a shock to the EU and forced Greens to rethink how they see the Union. GFI Chair Nuala Ahern spoke about the fear she has for Europe given the rise of right-wing populist, and described the crisis as a 'fracking experience' for Europe. Those present engaged in a vigorous discussion about the failures of, but also the opportunities for, the EU. This debate will be continued with GEF’s Future of Europe programme, which will include an event in Ireland in November.
More details available on the event page.
Date: Sept 7th - 9th 2012
Location: Carnsore, Ireland