The big read: Ireland’s record on climate action is among the worst in the world – and our children are about to protest – Irish Independent, March 9 2019

It’s the first day in March and exactly one year since heavy snowfall buried the country beneath a heavy white blanket. Today’s view is a stark contrast. Sun beats down on those basking in St Stephen’s Green park, many of whom are sporting T-shirts in the unseasonably mild weather.

I sit flicking through a book called The Children’s Fire written by author and environmentalist Mac Macartney, who recently visited Ireland to talk on sustainable leadership and reclaiming the future for the generations to come. In the opening chapters, he describes a concept called The Children’s Fire that was shared with him by some Native American mentors. This refers to an ancient pledge which said that, when governing the people, “no law, no decision, no commitment, no action, nothing of any kind will be permitted to go forth that will harm the children”.

Across the globe, it appears that this fire has been extinguished for a long time. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions through activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, agricultural activities and changes in land use are leading to the warming of our planet, and we are witnessing the effects. Last year’s special report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the global temperature rise must be kept below 1.5°C by the end of this century in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. According to the report, achieving this would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.

The threat of climate change is something that today’s youth are acutely aware of and, from the student movement sweeping the globe, it’s clear they’re not willing to stand for inaction. Ireland’s young people are no exception.

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2019 ranked Ireland’s performance on climate action in response to global warming as the worst in the EU and among one of the worst in the world. The report acknowledged that existing climate mitigation efforts will not enable Ireland to achieve either its EU 2020 or 2030 targets domestically.

Outside the Dáil, dozens of young people of all ages stand together in their school uniforms, waving placards and calling on the Government to reverse this trend.

“We’re out of school to make the world cool,” they cry. The protest is part of the Fridays for Future movement, which has seen young people across the globe miss school on Fridays to protest about climate change inaction. Today marks the 14th consecutive week of the Dublin protests.

One of them is environmentalist and blogger Flossie Donnelly (11), who has garnered much attention for her environmental work in recent times. “I’m here today to show the Government and anyone in the world who thinks that we must be in school and not care about the problem, that we do care,” says Flossie, who organises regular public beach cleans around her hometown of Sandycove, Co Dublin.

“It’s our future that we need to fight for and it’s really important that we all fight on this because if it’s just one of us fighting, nobody will take us seriously.”

Also striking is Peter Reid (12) from Dublin 8, who is supported by many of his classmates from St Catherine’s National School.

“Climate change is a big issue and this seemed like one of the biggest ways that children can get involved,” says Peter.

The strikes are not limited to Dublin alone, with others being held in Cork, Kildare, Limerick, Tipperary and elsewhere in recent weeks. Largely inspired by Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg, Saoi O’Connor (16) from Skibbereen began weekly protests outside Cork’s City Hall in January.

“We want international governments to align themselves with the terms set out for them in the Paris Agreement, we want our world leaders to unite behind the clear scientific truths of climate change and take radical action to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels on global average before it is too late,” says Saoi when asked about the young protesters’ motivations.

Momentum is building for this Friday, when pupils across the globe will strike in response to the failure of adults to address climate change. Student-led group School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) Ireland is encouraging students from around the country to get involved, and says that interest is high.

While saying that he has been aware of and interested in the issue of climate change for several years, group representative Theo Cullen-Mouze says it was Greta Thunberg who inspired him to take more radical action.

Manifesto of demands

“I’m someone who has dreams for the future. These dreams cannot be realised if we don’t take action now because the future will only exist if something is done within the next 12 years,” says the Mayo student. “Sometimes you have to stop looking around for someone else to fix problems. You have to start fixing them yourself.”

The group has published a 15-page manifesto of demands online, covering areas such as public awareness and media coverage, EU elections and Government action. In the case of the latter, the group calls for a “combination of aggressive legislation surrounding fossil fuel usage, a Government-backed complete transition to sustainable energy and a very heavy carbon tax”, stressing that climate action must be taken in a way that does not hinder lower-income families.

“We believe that the issue is no longer about targeting individuals and their actions, but about the Government taking hard action on corporations and the real roots of climate change,” Dublin-based member Beth Doherty (15) tells Review.

“The majority of climate change is caused by corporations, and as such we want to see a GND (Green New Deal) as well as tax breaks for corporations with low emissions. Overall, we want the Irish Government to work towards Ireland becoming a leader in climate action,” she says.

Member of the SS4C group Chaya Smyth (14) from Dublin says the movement gives a voice to young people like herself who cannot vote. Theresa Rose Sebastian (15) echoes this view.

“This has given us the steering wheel to try and make change right now instead of waiting for us to get into government in years to come and make the changes,” says the third-year student from Cork. “We want action so that in the years to come, we can still celebrate and enjoy the life on this earth in a way that we don’t have to be continuously looking over our shoulder to see if we can make it to the next day.”

According to the many young activists, there’s a mixed response from schools and teachers to the March 15 strike. Some schools are fully on-board. Many say they have requested permission from principals to get their school involved and await a response. Others say that regardless of school permission, their parents support their involvement in the cause. Some are not seeking permission at all. While adult support may vary, they all share the same determination to take part.

On a global scale, the movement has attracted criticism from some politicians. A statement from UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson criticised the thousands of participants of a February 15 school walkout, saying that their action increased the workload for teachers and wasted lesson time. In New South Wales, education minister Rob Stokes warned students in Australia against participating in the strikes.

Greta Thunberg subsequently labelled such statements as something that “belongs in a museum”.

Fight for the future

The Irish participants seem equally unfazed by any such criticism. “We want to be educated. We want to have that future where we can use our education to the full. But if we don’t take action now for climate change, we might not have that opportunity,” says Theresa.

Beth agrees. “The idea of the strike is that there is no point in going to school to memorise facts if the politicians will not listen to these facts,” she says. “If school is preparing us for a future, we should fight in order to maintain that future and not have it destroyed by the reality of climate change.”

Theo says criticism from the politicians is an “arrogant response” from people who don’t understand the problem and who won’t have to live with the consequences.

“Under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, every human being is given the right to peaceful assembly. I think what we are doing qualifies as peaceful assembly,” he says. “We feel that something is inherently wrong with what is happening now and we don’t see other people doing this for us.”

In Fermanagh, 14-year-old blogger, naturalist and conservationist Dara McAnulty has been working tirelessly to raise awareness about environmental issues, particularly the threats to biodiversity. He recently became involved in the climate strike movement and took part in a school strike alone, leaving his classroom to sit outside in “50-mile-an-hour winds”.

“I had been trying out lots of different methods to try and get people to realise all the devastation that was happening around them. I tried my blog, Twitter, doing stuff round my community and then I just thought, well this is going to make them listen, won’t it?” says Dara, whose blog Young Fermanagh Naturalist was runner-up in the BBC Wildlife Magazine Blogger Awards last year.

“I also wanted to make a wave of realism about climate change with other kids because most of us are not educated about this.”

Dara’s passion for the planet has spurred on his involvement in environmental activism.

“At this point, I don’t see myself as separate from nature,” he says.

“I see myself as a part of nature and it’s all a part of me. I’m not exactly going to want to bring hurt to any part of myself.

“What is happening now is this beautiful giant web is starting to crumble and I can’t actually let that happen. I won’t allow myself to let any more of this beautiful web of life crumble away.”

Dara, whose debut book is set for release in 2020, was invited to speak about environmental and youth issues in the UK Parliament this week.

“They were pretty brave and decided to let me in to speak,” he joked several days prior to the meeting.

Decimation of our planet

With the constant barrage of news about the ­decimation of our planet’s biodiversity and a changing climate, it’s no wonder many people feel disempowered.

However, Ireland’s young ­environmental activists hope to empower other young people and show them that they can make a difference.

“Look into what is already going on. If there are younger people doing things, see if you can get involved there,” says SS4C member Tara O’Neill (14) from Galway. “If there isn’t anything going on, try and get some creative ideas going. Participate in strikes, create your own marches, do whatever you can.”

“Take action in any way you can if you want to ensure a future and habitable planet for yourself, your children and every other living thing,” echoes Beth. “Nothing will ever change if it isn’t challenged.”

For young people interested in the climate action movement, Theo says the best first step is to inform yourself.

“Make up your own mind and don’t let anyone tell you what you should think. Do the research for yourself. Don’t listen to those that say climate change is a hoax. They belong in the same box that we put flat-earthers in,” he says.

“After that, if you’re interested in striking, there’s a number of Instagram and Twitter accounts that you can follow.

“These will provide you with information on the climate strike movement, details, times and locations and so on.”

Dara says that everyone can make a difference and while ‘petrified’ that change won’t happen, he remains hopeful. “There’s always a chance. We’re not at the tipping point yet, though it’s coming and it’s very close,” he says.

“The scientists have the answers that we need. We know what we need to do.

“We have the answers to solving this massive problem and it’s just getting the people who can implement these changes to ­actually listen to sense.”

(First published in the Irish Independent on March 9 2019. Available online at: https://www.independent.ie/life/the-big-read-irelands-record-on-climate-action-is-among-the-worst-in-the-world-and-our-children-are-about-to-protest-37890645.html)

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IWDG bringing Iceland expedition stories to libraries – Irish Examiner, February 19 2019

You don’t need to be a marine biologist or the next David Attenborough to witness the many great wonders of our oceans.

That’s the message that the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) hope to get across as they share their stories from last summer’s Iceland expedition. Thirty IWDG members of all ages spent time aboard the Celtic Mist during the seven-week research trip, which saw them sail 4,500 km around the Icelandic coast, into the Arctic Circle and home again. The primary purpose of the expedition was to gather more information about the humpback whales that share Irish and Icelandic waters. Now, back on land, the crew are bringing their On the Trail of the Whale tour to libraries nationwide.

“Through the tour, we want to encourage people to get involved,” explains Dr Simon Berrow, IWDG’s chief science officer. “If even one person at every event we do gets interested [in marine life] and gets motivated, that’s fantastic.”

Humpback whales are returning to feed in Irish waters in increasing numbers every year. The IWDG have catalogued 92 individual humpback whales in Irish waters since 1999, each which can be recognised by unique markings on their tail flukes. Through the use of photo identification images and collaboration with colleagues in Iceland and the USA, the IWDG identified some of the same individual whales in both Irish and Icelandic waters. The aim of the expedition was to gather additional images and try to increase the number of matches between the two nations.

The trip was a great success, according to Berrow. A total of 55 fluke images were collected, seven of which were known individuals. While no new Ireland-Iceland matches were made, the crew could reconfirm a match between a whale identified in both Húsavík, Iceland, and the Blasket Islands. During the whole expedition, a total of 13 cetacean species were recorded, including minke whales, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises.

“I was blown away by the amount of species that we saw,” says Berrow.

Preparation began months before the Celtic Mist research vessel departed from Dublin Bay on May 24. Although the journey itself held many unknowns at that stage, what the IWDG could rely upon was the dedication of their volunteers.

“You don’t go to Iceland unprepared,” says skipper Liam Quinn, who explains how both crew members and other volunteers met throughout winter to prepare the boat for the voyage.

From farmers to IT specialists, teachers to scientists, the crew brought a diverse range of experience and skills on board. One thing they all had in common was a fascination and appreciation for marine life. While the expedition proved both enjoyable and worthwhile, it was not without challenges. Indeed, some aspects of sailing are far beyond human control, as the crew confirmed when pack ice and strong winds delayed their voyage from Ísafjörur for several days. Rough seas and 24-hours of daylight were other things they had to contend with.

Quinn was one of five skippers responsible for keeping everything afloat. Speaking in his hometown of Arklow during the recent library event, he says his biggest challenge was worrying about keeping everyone safe.

“You’re always nervous as a skipper, you know. The ocean is so big and my boat is so small, but we got there.”

The expedition was funded by Wicklow-based cosmetics company Inis the Energy of the Sea, who have been core sponsors of the IWDG since 2001. Inis marketing director Karen Wilkinson hopped aboard for some of the journey.

“I personally have a lot of interest in marine animals and I have been lucky enough to be a sailor and diver my whole life,” she explains. “For me, it was a privilege to go on the boat with everyone. I enjoyed every second.”

Wilkinson planned to spend one week on Celtic Mist, but when that first leg resulted in few whale sightings, she returned a fortnight later. She describes this as “an unbelievable treat”, reminiscing on a particular moment off the coast of Húsavík when they witnessed up to 60 humpback whales feeding in calm waters.

“We turned the engines off and just sat there watching. We were surrounded,” she says. “When you see one of these animals, it really does take your breath away.”

To experience the stories and breath-taking footage shared in the library tour may seem just a dream, but Wilkinson says anybody can get involved in such an expedition.

“The IWDG is made up of everyday regular people who are interested in marine biology and in protecting the oceans,” she says. “You don’t necessarily have to be a marine biologist or have a scientific background to get involved. I don’t. I do it for fun. It’s just such a great group.”

For those who weren’t lucky enough to be on board this time, Tony Whelan’s footage offers a vivid insight into the experience. The filmmaker and owner of Canola Pictures embarked on the entire seven-week trip to film marine life and interview the Icelandic people they met on shore. These videos, snippets of which are shared during the library events, will form the basis of a documentary due to be released this year.

Owing to lack of time before the expedition, Whelan didn’t secure funding for the documentary in advance, but he hopes to do so through the Patreon platform.

“With Patreon, you build a community of funders. My ambition is that over a period of time, I will get enough people supporting it so that I won’t have to worry about funding from corporations, because fashions come and go. I want to just keep making my films,” he says. “For each film, patrons have ownership of them, they come to the openings, they all get to see them.”

Through this experience, Whelan hoped to explore the relationship that Icelandic people have with the sea and compare it with our own.

“The interviews will be the backbone. The idea is to explore our world and the Icelandic world through their eyes,” he says. “We have turned our back on the sea, whereas the Icelandic embrace the sea. It’s completely different.”

A key aim of the expedition was to build relationships between Ireland and Iceland and promote the idea that we have a shared responsibility towards whales. While humpback whales are the focus of the country’s whale watching industry, Iceland allows the hunting of minke and fin whales, but Berrow and the crew did not embark on the journey to preach to local people.

“We have to treat people with respect,” says Berrow. “If we don’t listen to their stories and try to understand where they are coming from, we have no chance to try and work together.”

Berrow and Whelan say whaling is a red herring; while it can be seen as a welfare issue, it doesn’t threaten populations in the way that overfishing, pollution, marine debris and other key issues do, says Berrow.

There are a growing number of humpback whales feeding off Ireland’s south and west coasts. Berrow says this increase is likely as a result of protection measures and, in the case of whale sightings in new geographical areas, a change in oceanography. Twenty-five species of whales and dolphins have been recorded off Ireland. Considering this, our responsibility towards the ocean is clear. So how can people help?

“I think it’s a case of trying to encourage people to take ownership of their local patch,” says Berrow. “Then you’ll find the issues that need resolving.”

The IWDG will run library tours until the end of March. If that leaves you wanting more, there’s no need to go to Iceland for a front-row seat. The group will also run a series of week-long humpback whale surveys around Ireland this summer. Places are open to IWDG members.

(First published in the Irish Examiner on February 19 2019. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/want-to-have-a-whale-of-a-time-iwdg-bringing-iceland-expedition-stories-to-libraries-905349.html )

Ireland’s battle to save our wildlife – Irish Examiner, September 3 2018

Amy Lewis highlights the measures taken in tackling crimes against Ireland’s wildlife and the need for more action.

Protecting the voiceless victims of wildlife crime is a constant battle.

The ongoing persecution of wildlife overseas is often highlighted but such incidences aren’t as far away from home as one might imagine. In fact, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Gardaí face them each week.

In July, two men were charged before Portlaoise District Court for the trapping of protected wild goldfinches using bait and rat glue.

Meanwhile, an investigation is underway in Louth regarding the unlawful killing of two peregrine falcons nesting in the Cooley Mountains.

However, these and other known cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

“Many cases go undiscovered because by their nature, they’re suspicious and secretive activities,” says Dr Barry O’ Donoghue from the NPWS Agri-Ecology Unit.

The stakes are being raised to combat wildlife criminals and their increasingly sophisticated methods.

An Garda Síochána recently announced plans for a wildlife crime training course. Commencing in September, it will equip specially-appointed inspectors from each Garda division with tools to recognise and deal with wildlife crime.

Each inspector will work closely with their opposite number in the NPWS.

“Information is key. We want to show [inspectors] what the main offences are and demonstrate how to deal with them and prosecute them in the District Court,” says Kildare Superintendent Martin Walker, who previously led the Garda’s anti-poaching investigation Operation Bambi alongside the NPWS.

Although the Wildlife Act is the principal legislation regarding wildlife crime, Supt Walker says prosecution powers within it are limited.

Through training, he hopes to encourage Gardaí to ‘think laterally’ about other legislation that relates to these cases.

A surreptitious nature is a common denominator among wildlife crimes but offences take many forms.

According to Supt Walker, the illegal hunting of deer at night using lamps or lurchers is common.

Indeed, the Irish Deer Commission recently reported a significant increase in deer poaching and badger baiting in the Midlands.

“That’s particularly cruel. These animals release stress hormones and the meat isn’t even fit for human consumption. It’s just an absolute bloodlust,” says Supt Walker.

Catching finches is widespread, as is hare poaching with hounds.

“People are hunting hares across farmer’s land. They’ve no authority to be there, farmers are afraid and sometimes their livestock is getting injured,” says Supt Walker, who says that poachers often use hunts as intelligence-gathering operations for farm theft.

Birds of prey are also regular targets. The RAPTOR (Recording and Addressing Persecution and Threats to Our Raptors) protocol is a collaborative approach between the NPWS, Regional Veterinary Laboratories and the State Laboratory to determine non-habitat related threats to birds of prey.

“We needed a mechanism of investigating and recording incidents, as well as using that data to inform and provide intelligence for addressing these issues,” says O’ Donoghue, who is a Project Investigator for RAPTOR.

The sixth and most recently published report showed that in 2016, there were 19 poisonings, six shootings and one incident involving a vehicle collision.

Common buzzards, red kites and peregrine falcons were the most highly-recorded victims.

Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland notes that peregrines are common targets.

While he says some crimes have been at the hand of pigeon-fanciers, he stresses that most people involved in this hobby wouldn’t harm peregrines in any way.

Project Manager of the White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project Dr Allan Mee adds that peregrine chicks are sometimes taken from the wild by those without a licence.

“Buzzards are [also] being targeted because some see them as a threat to pheasants being released. Buzzards aren’t well-regarded by some gun clubs in parts of the country,” continues Mee, stressing that generally, his team have a good relationship with gun clubs.

“Buzzards were almost extinct in Ireland but now have spread across the country. There’s no earthly reason for anyone to persecute them,” adds Hatch.

People are sometimes worried that they’re a threat to lambs but they couldn’t kill a lamb in a million years. They’re nothing but a benefit to a farm as they kill rats and rabbits.

The RAPTOR report notes that some poisoning incidents, particularly those involving buzzards, red kites and barn owls are the result of bio-accumulation i.e. birds ingesting rodents that have been poisoned with rodenticides.

These cases are considered secondary and unintentional.

Through spreading awareness, Mee has seen that this can be mitigated.

Of 14 confirmed poisoning cases of white-tailed sea eagles, since their reintroduction from Norway commenced in 2007, Mee says not one has taken place since 2015.

He credits this to awareness, education and working with landowners.

“In the past when they were poisoned, it was largely because people weren’t aware that the birds were out there or of a change in their population.”

Some other poisoning incidents are more sinister, such the illegal placing of poisoned meat baits.

According to O’ Donoghue, some have been laced with enough poison to kill a human if touched and accidentally ingested.

To tackle these crimes, it’s universally agreed that more education and public awareness is key.

“We must engage with local communities so that they have someone they know and trust they can report something to,” says O’ Donoghue.

The 2013 and 2015 Wildlife Crime Conferences organised by Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland have helped to spread awareness.

The organisation, who run the information website Wildlifecrime.ie, will hold a public Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference in Slane this October which includes talks on wildlife crime.

Additionally, Hatch says that more resources could help.

“The NPWS needs to be much better resourced. They’re doing great work but are struggling because they don’t have the resources they need and deserve.”

Supt Walker hopes that with the upcoming training, potential plans for a wildlife crime recording system and liaising with various stakeholders, wildlife crime nationwide will be minimised.

This can be aided with the cooperation of the public.

If aware of a suspected wildlife crime, they should report it to the Gardaí and local NPWS ranger.

Supt Walker stresses that anyone who reports will have their anonymity fully respected.

(First published by the Irish Examiner on September 3 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/irelands-battle-to-save-our-wildlife-866228.html)

Bringing AI To The Masses – Asian Scientist, April 22 2018

Keen on picking up the fundamentals of AI? A community-driven movement known as AI Saturdays can give you a leg up.
It’s often said that knowledge is a form of wealth; in the face of a rapidly changing world, a new global initiative aims to equip people from all backgrounds with such riches. AI Saturdays, also known as AI6, is a community-driven, non-profit movement established to offer education on artificial intelligence (AI) to the masses. Through structured study groups, lectures and project work, the organizers aim to teach everybody how they can use AI in their everyday lives.
With the first chapter established in December 2017 in Singapore by Nurture.AI CEO Mr. Yap Jia Qing, followed by the second soon after in Kuala Lumpur, it could be said that the AI6 movement is in its infancy. Yet within a few months, the initiative has grown to include 103 chapters across six continents, including 47 in Asia. At time of writing, there are over 5,000 participants worldwide, from Kathmandu to California.
A worldwide classroom
AI Saturdays stemmed from a simple realization by the people at Nurture.AI, according to Mr. James Lee, AI research fellow at Nurture.AI and the co-head of AI6.
“Nurture.AI maintains a web platform for discussing academic AI papers. However, we realized that reading academic papers was not an activity that could be easily accessed by many. We created AI6 to help enable people to be comfortable with the technologies behind AI, as well as to build a community.”
Many distinguished universities, including Stanford and Harvard, offer open-source learning material on AI. Through AI6, the founders hoped to give people the opportunity to experience what it’s like to sit in one of these classrooms—from anywhere in the world.
“We didn’t expect to do anything big with it. We just thought we’d get people together to learn some AI by going through the materials available online. Initially this was for Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and it spread from there,” explains Lee, who is also one of the ambassadors of the Kuala Lumpur chapter.
Just like with AI technology itself, the direction of a meeting can be hard to predict, and is often dependent on the preferences of chapter members. However, all chapters center their Saturday lectures around open-access course material from universities like Stanford and Berkeley. The first session, ‘Practical Deep Learning,’ sees participants watch and code along with materials from fast.ai, a free deep learning course. In session two, ambassadors are asked to focus on either computer vision, reinforcement learning or natural language processing. Finally, in the third session, members go through Stanford’s Stats385 course and participate in open forum-style discussions. Group project work is also strongly encouraged throughout the course of these Saturday sessions.
“One of the things we do is encourage every chapter to have a milestone, to tell members to take what you have learned so far and produce something,” explains Lee. “In the Kuala Lumpur chapter for example, one guy took ten years of stock prices and made an algorithm that predicts whether they will go up and down in the next month. Others made a Trump tweet simulator. They downloaded Donald Trump’s tweets and tried to create a neural network that replicates the style.”
AI as a basic skill
Becoming an AI6 ambassador doesn’t require a significant amount of prior knowledge; instead, curiosity is key. Ambassador of the Delhi chapter Mr. Divyansh Jha says it was his interest rather than his experience in AI that led him to get involved in the movement in December 2017.
“I’m from an electronics background, but recently I developed a huge interest in deep learning and AI. For the last year, I’ve been taking steps to learn more and doing projects in this area,” he says, adding that becoming an ambassador has helped him to develop leadership skills that make him more employable.
Expanding his knowledge of AI is of great importance to Jha; why does he think others should learn?
“I think AI should become a basic skill, because within ten or twenty years, everything will involve AI. People should learn this skill so they can move forward,” says Jha, who while happy to share knowledge, says he doesn’t believe in forcing anyone to get involved.
For some, the rapid expansion of AI and machine learning is a source of fear. Indeed, in a 2017 global study conducted by independent consumer research agency Northstar, 22 percent of some 4,000 participants said they felt society will become worse due to increased automation and AI. Yet new technology doesn’t need to be fearsome, says Jha.
“The people who know about the current state of AI aren’t fearful. It is people who don’t know about these things who are very fearful,” he says. “I think the AI singularity is very far from today; I don’t see it grabbing jobs from people in the next ten or twenty years. AI is something that will help humans improve.”
Reaping the rewards
Ambassador for the Taipei chapter Mr. Kuo Ruey-shen echoes these views, adding that one must find a scenario suitable for AI in order to fully understand its benefits.
“You have to know the purpose of AI and why you are using it, and then you decide what type of algorithm and deep learning can help you. It’s a tool to help us do a lot of jobs, not a tool to replace you. I think it will allow you as a human to start to live again, but only if you use that in the right way. A lot of the reports write about the wrong way and make people afraid,” he says.
 AI6 ambassadors help people to understand these benefits. At the same time, troubleshooting and problem solving is done through international collaboration over online platforms. This networking may soon become something bigger as a large-scale international AI6 initiative is in the pipeline for July 2018.
Meanwhile, participants such as Ms. Seema Goel are reaping the rewards. Goel was teaching herself AI and machine learning when she was invited to join the AI6 Bangalore chapter in January. She says that joining the group has helped her to progress with her learning and overcome obstacles she faced while learning alone.
“This meetup helped me in every possible way, be it understanding the concepts, technical glitches, and providing inspiration,” she says. “For me the group is meeting all expectations.”
Delhi chapter member Mr. Rohit Singh has similar views.
“The experience has been phenomenal,” he says. “Some members and especially the ambassador, Divyansh [Jha], do a great job at making the experience enriching for everyone. They go through the material, sharing their experience and clarifying doubts for everyone in a setting that’s quite informal and yet focused and driven.”
(First published on Asian Scientist on April 22 2018. Available online at: https://www.asianscientist.com/2018/04/features/artificial-intelligence-saturdays-asia-ai6/)

Families unite to combat eating disorders – Irish Independent, June 5 2017

Since its inception, the New Maudsley Model has helped thousand of families. Amy Lewis talks to one of the founders, Gillian Todd, at her recent workshop in Dublin and she meets parents attending to find out how it has helped them cope with their loved ones’ eating disorders.

When families are dealing with a child who is suffering from an eating disorder, the symptoms begin to play a central role in family life and often the parents and siblings find themselves lost at sea, not knowing how to help – this is where the New Maudsley Model steps in.

The New Maudsley Model is a skills-based programme that aims to helps carers better understand and support their loved ones. It was established by Professor Janet Treasure and Todd (pictured) ­- former Consultant for Eating Disorders and Clinical Nurse Leader with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust respectively – who developed it through extensive research coupled with professional experience. The workshop encourages carers to engage in their loved one’s recovery and helps to switch their focus from blame to more effective communication.

“A carer can often be critical and over-protective of their loved one. They may also feel that the illness is their own fault, which of course it isn’t,” said Todd, who has worked with eating disorder patients since 1984.

“Janet developed characters that describe how not to behave. The Ostrich – buries their head in the sand and feels completely hopeless. The Jellyfish – is emotional and upset. The Rhino – is a person who shouts, argues and fights. A Kangaroo carer – puts their baby in their pouch and won’t let them do anything.

“We encourage carers to be a more compromised version. Be a St Bernard: more calm, quiet, unflappable and dependable. We also use the image of a dolphin who nudges, guides and coaches their loved one along.”

Carers are also taught about the psychology behind eating disorders, as well as how to cope with scenarios that may arise at home. This is done through role-playing exercises and practicing OARS: Open questions, Affirmations, Reflective listening and Summarising. In addition, the workshops offer attendees the tools to deal with clinical settings.

A unique part of New Maudsley Model is that it’s aimed at carers of adults and children.

“In the past, carers of adults with eating disorders felt abandoned and excluded. This is one thing that’s out there that they can go to,” explained Todd.

Since they were established, the New Maudsley Model workshops have been facilitated worldwide by its founders or other trained professionals. Over 70 carers attended Todd’s recent two-day course in the Clayton Hotel in Leopardstown, Dublin, in the hope of going home better-equipped to help their loved ones. Parents, aunts, siblings, friends and partners travelled long distances for the course, with some seeking help for children as young as nine-years-old. Several psychologists from the HSE Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) also attended, as did representatives of Bodywhys, who supported the workshop.

Peter travelled from Ballina with his wife to the workshop, having previously attended a one-day course. His daughter (29) has been suffering with an eating disorder since she was in transition year.

“We first became aware of her illness seven years ago when she was in university,” he explained. “She always ate in front of us so we never suspected it. She used to see a doctor in university who, after a number of years, persuaded her to tell us.”

On first learning of their daughter’s illness, Peter’s family felt extremely alone. They sought all help available but it wasn’t until attending their first New Maudsley Model workshop that they were offered some relief.

“For the first time, we felt that there were people out there like us,” said Peter. “When you have a child with an eating disorder, the focus is on them,” he continued. “I remember asking a social worker, ‘is there anything for us carers?’ You just want somebody to tell you it’s ok, not to lose hope and to try to have compassion.”

Along with offering them support, Peter said that the practical element of the workshop gave them the tools to communicate more effectively with their daughter.

Though she is still battling the illness, the workshop has encouraged them to remain hopeful for her future. He also credits it with giving them the ‘courage’ to recently take their first holiday in years.

While Todd led the latest workshop, several others have been held nationwide in recent months. These were facilitated by professionals who have been trained in the New Maudsley method by its founders.

Galway native Paul and his wife attended a workshop last November, soon after their 11-year-old son was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

“When your child refuses the food you give them, it can become very frustrating. We needed to understand his feelings in order to help him,” explained Paul.

According to Paul, the workshop taught them how to support their child, while meeting other parents gave them some positivity for the future. He recommends it to all carers.

“I read about various methods but that’s the one that worked for us,” explained Paul, who said his son’s health is now much improved. “When your child is young or in their teens, they are with you almost 24/7. If you know how to guide them through recovery at home, it has to be better than just one hour a week with a counsellor.

“The big thing we took away from it is that you really have to throw yourself into their recovery 10,000pc,” he added.

When Connie’s daughter was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, she didn’t know where to turn for help. Attending her first New Maudsley Model workshop gave her the support she was seeking and in an effort to spread this to other carers, she soon invited the facilitators to hold one in her hometown in the west of Ireland.

“You do get information elsewhere but when you attend these courses and gain support through them, that is the most important thing.”

A Whatsapp group that allows carers to keep in touch following the workshops is something she also credits as a great comfort.

“There is huge power in people supporting each other,” she said.

Connie’s daughter (21) has been receiving treatment in London for six months and though she is still in recovery, the family are confident that she is getting the best help available. Connie also feels that the workshops have helped them to better support their loved one.

“We know more about what is going on for her and she is feeling more understood,” she said.

The New Maudsley Model workshops were not available in Ireland when Catherine’s daughter was caught in the grip of anorexia four years ago. However, on learning about it through a colleague, the Dublin-based GP went to London to attend them.

“Parents can get bogged down with the cause of an eating disorder but I learned that this is less important than the factors that maintain it,” she explained. “If there is stress at home, that feeds in to the eating disorder.”

According to Catherine, the workshops were ‘vital’ in helping her daughter through recovery.

“They encouraged us to create an environment of compassion and support, rather than blame. My daughter realised the illness wasn’t her fault and that it didn’t destroy the family. She learned that everyone was behind her to get better.”

Catherine’s daughter, now aged 16, is fully recovered. However, as a GP, Catherine regularly meets parents who are in the same position that she once was. She urged them all to attend the recent workshop.

“Parents were once blamed for the illness but that myth has been debunked. Parents are now part of the solution,” added Catherine.

Many of the New Maudsley Model workshops, including the most recent one, were arranged by Paula Crotty – a Dublin mother whose 23-year-old daughter has battled an eating disorder for over three years. Since attending her first workshop, Paula has been working to get New Maudsley firmly established in Ireland and as a result, Bodywhys recently announced that they will adopt and run the courses in the future. In the meantime, Paula continues to support fellow carers in various ways, such as organising meetings after the workshops and sharing advice.
Paula also established the Whatsapp group which over 70 carers view as a lifeline. The option to join is offered at the end of each workshop.

“If someone is having a low day, group members can give them encouragement to keep their head above the water. It’s also useful if somebody has a question or needs a therapist recommendation,” she said.

Following Todd’s recent workshop, Bodywhys made the decision to adopt the New Maudsley workshops alongside their existing services. However, according to their Training and Development Manager, Harriet Parsons, facilitators will need to be trained in the method before they can commence.

Bodywhys currently offers several supports to carers including a helpline, email support and a free downloadable book. They also run their free PiLaR programme for families of adults and children, which educates on eating disorders and provides advice on supporting someone through recovery.

 

■ Gillian will return to Dublin to facilitate another New Maudsley workshop on September 9 and 10. For more information on the method or to reserve a place, contact newmaudsleyworkshop@gmail.com.

■ Bodywhys run their PiLaR (Peer-Led Resiliance) programme in various locations around the country. The free evening course, which is run by Bodywhys in conjunction with local mental health services, takes place over four consecutive Mondays. Places are free but limited. To book a place or for more information contact Harriet at helpline@bodywhys.ie. Bodywhys helpline: 1890 200 444

Email support: alex@body whys.ie

(First published in the Irish Independent on June 5 2017. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/healthy-eating/families-unite-to-combat-eating-disorders-35781838.html)

Dissertation

My final year dissertation focused on science communication in the Irish print media. At the time of my study in 2014, only one of Ireland’s daily newspapers employed a dedicated science correspondent and had regular science coverage . The aim of my research was to determine whether the existence of a science correspondent within a news organisation affects the quality and quantity of the science coverage. I received a first class honours for my dissertation which can be read here: amy-lewis-dissertation-final-pdf-2014-copy

Geese flock into Wexford for the winter – Wexford People, November 5 2016

Five hundred Greenland white-fronted geese touched down in Wexford last week following a treacherous 15 hour flight.

The visitors are some of the first of this year’s migrants to flock to Wexford Wildfowl Reserve, with an estimated 7,500 more of the species expected to fly in over the next few weeks.

‘It was a great sight to see them coming in,’ said Education Officer at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve John Kinsella. ‘At about half seven or eight in the morning, we could see them in the air flying over the Raven Woods before they landed next to the pond here.’

It was no easy feat for the birds to get here. According to John, the birds were subjected to strong winds, a non-stop flight and significant weight loss to reach their winter home.

‘They burn off half a kilo on the flight. That’s like us losing two stone,’ he said.

Over the next eight weeks, the remaining white-fronted geese will arrive in Wexford, where they will settle down until March. However, they cannot begin their journey until the wind direction changes to blow from the north.

‘The flight takes from 15 to 18 hours so they need the wind behind them to be able to do it,’ said John.

The Greenland white-fronted goose breeds in west Greenland and migrates via Iceland to winter in Ireland and Britain. They winter at less than ten sites in Ireland and the Wexford Slobs record the highest numbers.

Several thousand brent geese are also expected to arrive in the coming weeks and at peak time, John expects there to be a total of ’25 tons of geese’ on the lake at the Wildfowl Reserve.

In honour of the arrival of the birds, several events as part of Goose Week were organised by the Wexford Wildfowl reserve. These included dawn and evening watches and a walk at the Raven to see geese rise from their roost.

Hen harriers, godwits and plovers are some of the other birds observed.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/geese-flock-into-wexford-for-the-winter-35176442.html)