Pat and Nuala Geoghegan are farmers from Askeaton, County Limerick. As the crow flies or the wind-based red dust pollution drifts, Askeaton is about eight kilometers (five miles) from Aughinish. Aughinish comes from the Irish word eachinis, meaning horse island. It was an island but is now a peninsula, jutting out into the Shannon estuary. In 1983, Aughinish Alumina was established and would become Europe’s largest refinery of alumina.
Pat and Nuala’s cattle began to get sick and die. The Geoghegan family got sick. Their beautiful farm became “the killing fields”, as they now call it, and they were forced to leave it. The pollution drove them from their land, drove them from their home. It broke their health, broke them financially. The Irish state abandoned them. Not simply abandoned them. Deliberately blocked their ability to get to the truth, on multiple occasions ‘losing’ evidence that could help prove what was poisoning them and their animals. They, their animals—Nature—had to foot the bill—pay the price—for progress. For jobs. For industry.
We met with Nuala and Pat in Adare, County Limerick on a calm August day in 2022. Kind and gentle people. Unfailingly polite. Clearly a couple still deeply in love and hugely supportive of each other. Pat, suffering from severe heart problems, shows stoicism in the face of enormous injustice. My wife, Rosilda, was with me during the interview. On other occasions, the interviewee would start focusing exclusively on me because I’d be asking the questions. Not Nuala and Pat. They regularly made eye contact with Rosilda and involved her in the conversation. This we call decency and good manners. It is not something you can easily manufacture. The Geoghegans are decent people.
Pat and Nuala’s voices never sound shrill or hectoring. They know their facts. They are angry. They speak their minds in calm and measured sentences. Quietly determined. Not broken.
We can twist and turn the words, we can rationalize about green tech until the sickened cows come home, but we cannot get away from the fact that we rich people, we tech people, have benefitted mightily from the sickening of Nature. With our net-zero fallacies and renewable energy greenwashing, we can build a future on lies, just as so much of our present and past is built on lies. There is nothing green about digital. It is the most artificial—and among the most toxic—things there is. Digital can never be green. It can only be less dirty.
To mine for digital requires incredible intensity and enormous quantities of toxic waste. Digital is voracious for materials. It devours the Earth in the pursuit of EVs, wind turbines and solar panels, smartphones, laptops. This is what our innovation and creativity have wrought. We are bad ancestors, terrible stewards of the land, soil and water. And we have no time to even listen, so busy are we designing, coding, creating content, user testing. We will destroy life in our universe so as to create our pathetic metaverse, where Nature must perish so the bitcoins can flourish. It’s worth taking the time to listen to Nuala and Pat, to realize a tiny fraction of the damage we have done, and continue to do. And to ask: How might we consume less? How might we repair and maintain more? How might we slow down?
Interview: Pat and Nuala Geoghegan: Aluminum mining: jobs and death in rural Ireland
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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