'You're not going to save the world, none of us are'
Environmental poet urges people to take action for their own peace of mind
The appropriate response to climate change all comes back to the individual for Irish poet Greg Delanty, but maybe not for the reason you think. His isn’t the rally cry for each of us to play our part in the hope that, if enough of us do the ‘right’ thing, then we somehow avoid the abyss. Greg’s much more realistic than that.
He’s so invested in confronting the climate crisis he penned an entire collection on its impact on the world’s flora and fauna. ‘No More Time’ is his A-Z of animals and plant life in the firing line. It’s a wonderfully crafted collection brimming with insightful critiques, wry observations, and gallows humour.
The Cork native - who now lives in Vermont - travelled to County Cavan for the staging of a dramatic performance of his environmental verse, and afterwards he generously participated in a Q&A with this reporter.
“Poetry’s my life, but then poetry’s no good if you don’t put your poem where your mouth is. It’s too late not to do something,” Greg said, adding significantly, “and I do it for myself.”
Dressed in brightly coloured clothing, Greg speaks with a lyrical Cork accent. His colourful clothing is matched by his colourful language, swearing liberally, but the accent and image somehow elevates the profanities to a charming habit.
He suspects others in the arts world think that he wrote No More Time to try to capitalise on a “trendy” movement, but he’s been a long-term advocate for conservationism.
“The main thing is that the art works, as an artist - anybody can get up on a soapbox. I needed to make it work as an artist.
“I’m glad I did it. It was a big thing for me to do, to take on.”
He’s put his poetry, his money and himself where his mouth is. Long involved in civil disobedience campaigns he’s even ended up in jail on one occasion. He was also a member of CND - (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for those too young to remember) and, alongside activist Adi Roche, was amongst the first westerners to visit the site of Chernobyl after the nuclear meltdown.
“Like you I’m worried about the world and if I don’t do something then I’m miserable. Completely,” he said, sparking spontaneous applause from the crowd.
“I gave up my car 10 years ago in the States, the house has no gas or oil, I cycle all year round - even in snow storms in Vermont.
“I’m only saying this because you can change your life, even if it’s only for yourself, it’s really important to do it for your dignity, so you can enjoy yourself.”
This is the key part, for Greg, do something, make a contribution to give yourself some peace of mind.
He accepted there is a limit to avoiding emissions conceding he would be flying back to the States in the following days.
Asked about the title of the book, No More Time, he is unequivocal.
“There is no more time - there is no more time than now. There are creatures that are gone now - for the creatures there’s no more time. For lots of people there is no more time. It’s not saying that the end of the world is going to happen tomorrow, and people misinterpret that, but that’s up to them. It is the end of the world for lots of creatures and beings, and plants, and people - and there is no more time.
“I think it is very hard on us because we are very slow to change - whether it’s racism and everything else so this has come upon us very suddenly - from the 1980s.
“It’s amazing how things are changing, but the government isn’t capable because they are only interested in getting in for four years and they don’t look at the long term - they’re not willing to. So it needs to be the person doing it.”
While doesn’t hold out much hope for politicians to solve our problems, he surprisingly does have faith in the corporate giants: “The corporate world will change when the money comes their way. That’s alright - the corporate world is also human beings, and we’re all part of the corporate world - we’re not separate. I mean we go to Dunne Stores, we go to our bank accounts - that’s part of the corporate world. If Christ came down he couldn’t not sin now, because he’d have a bank account. It’s impossible, so you’ve got to go easy on yourself.”
In previous interviews, Greg has diagnosed the key problem as global over population. In his poem ‘Counting’ he delves into the almost unfathomable size of that number eight billion, and therefore the unfathomable size of the problem.
‘A figure it would take 250 years, give or take, to count to if each number is given a second, but by then your second would be long up.’
Amongst those eight billion is Greg’s son, and this reporter’s two sons. It’s put to him that despite knowing in broad strokes the changes we can make - like not having a child in an already overpopulated world - we can’t help ourselves?
Asked if he’s complicit?
“Of course I am,” he whole heartedly agrees.
It’s something he explores in the wonderfully titled poem, ‘A Sentence’, that reads: ‘Christ, it wasn’t Pilate sentenced the good shepherd to die, but the unruly citizens, the likes of you and me.’
Regardless, he urges people to take action ostensibly to help the environment, but primarily to help themselves.
“You do the small things first and one thing leads to another. Don’t be ambitious, you’re not going to save the world, none of us are. You’re going to save yourself though, maybe that’s the thing.
“What do I know about this? I’m just like you, and other human being trying to figure it out,” he concedes.