Friday, 20 June 2014

2050 - a man talks to his son about birds.

In the year 2050 Joe Garland talks to his five year-old boy about birds.

Joe on his garden swing at Tigroney when he was four
Joe Garland was born on the 24 of March 2010. He was born and bred in his parent’s house in the townland of Tigroney in the hills above the village of Avoca in the County of Wicklow in Ireland. When he reached the age of 18 his parents and sisters, Molly, and Rosie, moved to a more commodious house with a fairly large kitchen garden near the old motorway near Arklow. Joe remained in the family home in Tigroney and was to continue there during his years of apprenticeship and after he was appointed to a position in an internet company where he was to remain for the rest of his life.

The area he lived had been quite isolated when he was born but it is now in mid-century quite densely populated by new houses and shacks because of the major shift in population caused by the disastrous flooding of our low-lying towns and cities and the more than doubling of the Irish population during the last 50 years. This rapid increase in population was partly due to the arrival of some of the millions of people who were dispossessed worldwide from their coastal homes by the rising ocean and the more frequent and severe storms.

Most of the countryside in Ireland provides opportunities for people to grow their own food and vegetables so that by mid-century they are not too greatly affected by the increasing shortage of commercially produced products. The building of numerous country habitations is widespread by using old estates, waste land, deserted golf courses, unused airdromes, old public parks and some divided farms.  There is a lot of linear housing built along parts of the motorways and main roads now that motor traffic is no longer a feature of the countryside.

Joe seldom leaves the house as his occupation is entirely conducted by electronic means. Shopping is almost solely local or by internet, and smart phones and advances in the internet area have largely eliminated the use of cash and postage. The prohibition of private cars using unsustainable energy has been effective and anyway it and train travel are prohibitively expensive. You can travel to Dublin from Avoca by bike on the old Wexford motorway or by cycling to Rathdrum or Rathnew to catch a train to Dublin but there are only two trains every week connecting the port of Rosslare and Dublin, one on Wednesday and the other on Saturday. They are mostly used for transporting of goods or the rare traveller from abroad.

It was at an international meeting in New York in September in 2014 that the world’s political leaders and governmental authorities took the first serious steps to reverse the damage to the environment and the great loss of wild animal and vegetable life caused by human greed and behaviour.  These more advanced policies were at last accepted by the world’s leaders as the basis of the destruction of the flora and fauna of the world. It was realised that we were faced with the danger of creating a planet which might no longer be consistent with human habitation.  The advances in the internet have greatly contributed to the virtual abolition of motor traffic and particularly the private motor car, and to all unnecessary flying.

There is now an emphasis on human life based on local and community structures freed from the use of non-sustainable energy rather than a worldwide community based on the abuse of nature’s limited resources. There is an increasing emphasis too on the urgency of human population control which has already reached 9 billion, a level which is at last widely accepted as unsustainable within the limited resources of the earth. 

Important changes in community life have now taken place, at least in Ireland and other first level countries. The old established motorways are now used largely by cyclists and the horse is again coming into its own for shorter travellers. The bicycle, skaters and scooters have made great strides in technology and efficiency, and progress in this area has been remarkable and happily this progress continues. A recent scooter is believed to have done the trip of 60 kilometres from Arklow to Dún Laoghaire in Dublin in less than two hours and to have returned on the same day!

Timber, and particularly ash, has almost entirely replaced metal for bicycle frames but its use is a further drain on our vital but inadequate sources of timber, despite the efforts of the government and the local people to ban all efforts to burn wood for heating purposes.

The shortage of timber is a reason why we need a permit to cut trees while small new plantations are encouraged by government grants. No acorn must be allowed to rot! The use of timber as a source of heat is being strongly discouraged and domestic heating in now largely dependent on adequate clothing and house design. We are back to drying clothes on the line and we are learning again to use the skills of the seamstress or of our family members to repair all our serviceable clothes. The collection and storage of water for washing and cleaning is routine since the use by all habitations of a rainwater butt.

There are still a few bogs but the use of turf for fires and heating in general has long since passed. The remaining bogs are still under the control of the Irish Peatland Association and are strictly preserved as a reminder of our traditional dependence on turf as fuel and of peatland as part of our countrywide heritage. The widespread areas of cutaway bog are in increasing use for certain aspects of food production.

Added to his work, Joe has a great influence as founder and chairman of the local Tigroney Allotments and Tree Committee which is concerned with guiding the local people to grow their own vegetables and fruit. Joe also organises the weekly market to arrange the distribution of produce among the inhabitants and to ensure that the less abled are also cared for.  By the year 2050 there is little opportunity to eat meat in the form of lamb or beef because of insufficient land availability but the pig still survives and the recovery of the horse trade has now popularised the horse as another source of meat.  The big supermarkets Joe knew as a child are long since gone, at least in the countryside and most of the towns in Ireland.

The Tigroney Committee is also concerned with the building of new cottages and country houses. Local trees and stone must be the main sources for building and other utility purposes. Every effort is being made to ensure that trees are being planted and cared for in available sites in the area.

The Kindle and the internet approach to reading have left us with millions of books which are no longer of common use and hardback publishers have largely gone out of business. These books are now becoming useful as the inner contents of the cottage walls to retain heat loss in the absence of artificial heating. Some day a few of our prestigious libraries may end up as the contents of our walls rather than our shelves!

Important sustainable development is proceeding gradually through the production of solar and wind energy. This is one of the most promising aspects of progress in protecting all sustainable energy sources and already much has been achieved in this area and more is expected. Using more advanced design and cheaper materials are promising in the utilisation of wind and solar energy in the future.

Joe's cottage in Tigroney
Joe married at the age of 35 and has one child, a boy of five also named Joe. Like nearly all women between the ages of 14 and 50, his wife is on the long-acting anovular pill which is distributed free of charge by the government, and is supplied every six months to each appropriate household. Among the 60 odd habitations in Tigroney only one house has two children less than 10 years and less than half of the others have one child only in this age group. With the increasing concern about the excess of human population, hopefully the majority of young people will make the supreme sacrifice of remaining childless.

Like many other people, by the mid-century Joe’s house has become the repository of many portraits and figures of animals and particularly of birds, reminders of our depleted wildlife. He has one elaborate figure in bronze of six birds close together in flight. One day recently his young boy was looking at the bronze figure and said to his dad "and used they be able to fly like that?"

"Yes," said his dad with a note of sadness, "all these birds used to fly like the big pigeon which you saw over the river a few weeks back when we were walking near Avoca, and the couple of white birds we saw near Arklow which I said were sea-gulls."

"Some birds used to spend most of their waking hours flying, seeking the company of other birds and seeking food and shelter. They used to shelter and sleep in nests in the trees and bushes and sometimes in the roofs of houses. There were many different birds from tiny sparrows to the large swans, two of which you see in that picture. When your grandfather was alive and young they had a lot of birds around the house, flying all over the place and all with different cries and sounds which were easy to recognise among the different species. One bird which used to come to Ireland during the early summer was called the cuckoo because it made this cuckoo sound which I am copying exactly when I say ‘cuckoo’’.

"It was possible for most people to recognise the different birds by their well-known sounds. The birds laid eggs in their nests and after looking after the eggs and keeping them warm for some time a young bird was born when the egg cracked."

"And what happened to the birds and why are they not still here?" said Joe

"It was already happening about the time I was a boy and the reasons are not easy to explain, but my granddad once told my dad that when he was young the air in the atmosphere was full of flies, bees, wasps, lady birds and other insects. A hundred years ago it was necessary to use sticky hangers in the kitchen to catch the flies in the house and when you were driving a car in the countryside you had to stop at times to clean the car window from all the insects which stuck to the glass. Because people began to use all kinds of newly invented and newly arrived chemicals in gardens and farms and other places to encourage growth and prevent new plant diseases, nearly all the insects disappeared. The flies and insects were the most important source of food for the birds, so they were eventually starved and could not survive."

"There were other causes too such as the loss of nests because of so many new buildings and the more intensive usage of the newly built up areas. Because all the flying and foreign travel which developed in the past, a lot of foreign animals and insects which arrived in Ireland from America, Australia, and Africa had no natural enemies to control them and started to compete with the birds and our own native animals, such as the red squirrels which did no harm to birds or trees.  For example, the grey squirrel arrived in Ireland from America more than a hundred years ago and they used to attack the harmless red squirrels and eat the bird’s eggs which they find in the trees. "

"There may be other causes which we do not understand. For instance, in the old days we had total darkness at night in most places but artificial light may have upset the habits of birds, insects and other wild life. But the main cause was probably the chemicals which we were using in our houses, farms, towns and countryside, and the loss of suitable areas for birds to nest in."

A Bee in Joe's garden in 2014
"We also used to have bees in special boxes called beehives where the bees collected honey from flowers in the gardens and countryside. Honey was like jam and was very popular everywhere. The bees disappeared gradually over the last fifty years and can only be found now in a few areas in the world. Your great grandfather told your grandfather that they used to have beehives in their garden in their home in Rathmines right in the heart of Dublin a hundred years ago and you could find beehives all over Ireland at that time. They also had a big kitchen garden in Rathmines, a lot of fruit trees, some hens for their own eggs and chickens, and lots of flowers to feed the bees – all virtually in the middle of this inner suburb of the city!"

"There were other common birds who visited Ireland at certain times of the year. Some of these came in huge numbers but they too have almost disappeared because of serious changes in the world weather like heat waves and severe storms and because of water shortage caused by drying up of rivers and lakes in other countries where the water was overused by too many farmers and industry. The migrant birds depended on these rivers and lakes to survive on their journeys to or back from Ireland. These foreign birds were mostly found near the coast here. Your grandfather was telling me that when they arrived from Greenland to winter in Ireland they could be found in thousands and thousands on golf courses, fields and on the farms close to the sea."

"We used to have many sorts of sea birds. They were called seagulls and they were seen in great numbers by the sea. They lived mostly on fish. They used to nest on rocks and islands all over the country beside the sea and only came into the land when the weather was very bad, The Saltee islands not far from here in Wexford used to have thousands of birds nests on their cliffs and rocks but most of these nests were destroyed by the storms and hurricanes which started to happen when I was growing up. You can see a few of these birds yet but they are much less common than they were when I was born. They were also affected by the shortage of the fish on which they depended and, in the Saltees at least, by hungry wild cats."

His father stopped talking and as the little boy looked up towards the empty sky he too looked sad.

No comments:

Post a Comment