I was born in Canada. My mum and dad, Viney and Michael, were over there for two years working after they got married. They brought me home to Kilkenny six weeks after I was born and I’ve been in Ireland ever since. I have two younger sisters, Judy and Linda and two kids of my own now – Lauren is fourteen and Nathan is eleven. I am married to Jeremy, a marine scientist.

I didn’t grow up saying I want to be an environmental scientist – that didn’t really exist when I was growing up, I had to look really hard for that as a sixth-year student. I knew I liked animals and I thought for a while, I might be a vet. But I also knew I was really interested in the world around me and how it worked and what influence human beings have on all that. I set up the first Green Committee in my school, I was a member of the RSPCA, I was into anti-whaling… as a teenager, they were all the ways that you showed that you cared about the environment in the 1980s. Climate change really wasn’t on the agenda back then.

Some people have a lucky run in life and others get served up an unfair proportion of hardship and difficulty. I think I’ve been one of the lucky ones. When I look back, I think the greatest challenge I’ve faced is that, pre-Covid, I used to just travel all the time. I never ever had a week where I didn’t pack a suitcase. And I just did it, I didn’t think about it. I couldn’t do that now. Stopping because of Covid-19 has really made me gain perspective on the amount I traveled. And it wasn’t just international travel, living in Cork, you’re constantly pulled to Dublin. For years I traveled every week of my life, and that was hard. Doing my PhD in West Africa in 50 degree heat in an Islamic country was also a challenge but at the time I thought of it as an adventure!

Dr Tara Shine with her book How to Save Your Planet One Object At A Time. Picture: John AllenDr Tara Shine with her book How to Save Your Planet One Object At A Time. Picture: John Allen

As a mother, I think when you are asked what your proudest achievement is you always go to your kids. Mine are still alive, I haven’t broken them or left them behind somewhere! My book How to Save Your Planet One Object At A Time is another labour of love. I thought about writing a book for many years. When I finally got to it, it ended up being one of the busiest periods in my life so I wrote this book on weekends and at five o’clock in the morning, but I am really proud of it. When I hold it and I flick through it… I am really proud that I made that.

My greatest quality is kindness, I hope. I am trusting of people, I tend to see the best in them and I think that’s been rewarded. When I’ve trusted people, it’s always led to a good outcome. I am a very hopeful, optimistic person. I do believe that humanity is good underneath it all, and we will pull together and find our way out of all of it – Covid, the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis. I have to believe that.

I would like to be remembered as someone who didn’t shirk responsibility. Someone who saw that there was a problem, and at least tried to do something about it. And for being getting better as I got older at communicating what all of this is about and why it’s important. If I look back over the last 25 years of my working career, a lot of that has been environmental people getting things wrong in terms of the messaging, scaring people, doom and gloom.. and that just doesn’t work. So I hope I can be remembered as one of the people who changed that narrative and made climate action something that is for everybody and something that’s a positive thing.

The person I turn to most is my husband, Jeremy. He is always a rock of sense and infuriatingly right. It drives me crazy. 

The greatest advice I was ever given was from my dad. I remember distinctly being 10 years old and being told “life isn’t fair.” It shook me, because fairness is at the core of my being, but I guess it’s great advice because it helps me not lose hope when I see unfairness. If I expected the world always to be fair and saw all these injustices I wouldn’t be able to go on, but my dad’s advice helped me realise I could work for fairness in an unfair world, and that has stood to me my whole life.

I think I am best at seeing the big picture and the practical application at the same time.

What surprises me is how short-sighted our leaders can be.

If I took a different fork in the road I would have applied to work full-time in Irish Aid. I used to work a lot as a consultant for Irish Aid and at one point in time I had the chance to throw my hat in the ring to become a diplomat… If I had done that I would hope I would have been an ambassador by now. That, or working for the United Nations.

Dr Tara Shine is Director of Kinsale-based Change by Degrees, a social enterprise that encourages people to live and work more sustainably.Her book How to Save Your Planet One Object At A Time is out now.

This article was amended from the Irish Examiner’s Website. You can read the original here.

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