Farmer Focus: Fear polarises public debate on climate change

“Who left the effing gate open?” The curse rent the air like a whipcrack as my temper boiled in the summer heat.

A small blonde head popped up from behind the farm wall holding a football aloft, saying sheepishly, “I did, Aunty Gilly. The ball went out,” and I instantly regretted my outburst.

“Come in off the yard, quick. The contractors are baling the hay,” I replied as I scanned the garden quickly to ensure all five children were accounted for and safe.

About the author

Gillian O’Sullivan
Livestock Farmer Focus writer Gillian O’Sullivan milks 100 crossbred cows once-a-day with her husband Neil and father Michael on Ireland’s South-East coast. They operate a seasonal calving, grass-based system with milk supplied to Glanbia trying to deliver work-life-balance and system resilience.
Read more articles by Gillian O’Sullivan

We have three entrances between the dwelling house and the farm and all have double-locking mechanisms to keep small ones off the yard.

I kicked myself for thinking it would still work for a 10-year-old. The fear of what could happen fuelled the alarm, as well as anger at seeing an open route to danger and my responsibility in keeping them safe. My skin prickled as I closed the gate and secured the latch with a clip. 

I shared the story a few days later with my friend, a wonderful woman studying environmental science at Masters level at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).

See also: Farmer Focus: We must set ambitious farm safety targets

Her response really resonated with me. We had been discussing the usual hot topics of family, farming and the environment, as we always do.

Once I’d told her my story, she turned and simply said: “That fear is how environmentalists feel when people talk about climate change.”

She said the fear and alarm were at knowing the environmental dangers that occur due to biodiversity loss or climate change. That fear can turn to anger and often results in polarised debates with a “them versus us” mentality between farming and environmental groups.

I have chewed on that for a month now, giving it some thought. All too often we find farmers and environmental groups at loggerheads, especially on social media.

Understanding perspective lets us stand in someone else’s shoes and see the common ground.

We both just want somewhere safe for our kids, be that a safe farm for the next generation of the family, or a safe planet for the next generation of humanity.