Jasus, I’m famous! Saturday’s Irish Times had an interview with me – mostly talking about extra-blathery activities, like weblogging for Greenpeace…
The article, by Adrienne Murphy, was in the Saturday’s weekend section. It’s online, but subscription only. Scroll down to see the article…
For those of you who have seen the article in the print version, here’s the Greenpeace weblogs:
Mysteries of the Deep: Tasman Sea 2005 »
Mysteries of the Deep: North Atlantic 2004 »
Mysteries of the Deep: Tasman Sea 2004 »
Save the Reindeer Forests (Finland) »
GMO France »
Here’s the article…
Adventure as a way of life
The Irish Times, May 21
By Adrienne Murphy
Dave Walsh has done what many of us have only dreamt about, dropping the boring day job and heading off to the great outdoors for something a little more exciting, writes Adrienne Murphy.
Over the past 12 months, Wexford-born Dave Walsh (32) has spent most of his nights either in a bunk at sea – often wedged in with pillows and blankets to prevent bruising, as the horizon forms outrageous angles through the porthole – or outdoors in a sleeping bag fit to handle minus-40, in the ancient forests of Finnish Lapland, sleeping right on the snow under the beautiful Northern Lights.
Such adventure is routine in Walsh’s work as campaigns weblogger for Greenpeace International. Essentially he’s an online editor/reporter from the frontline of serious environmental battles, overseeeing the day-to-day documentation – via articles, photographs and video footage – of specific Greenpeace missions.
Since the world’s maritime health is a major Greenpeace concern, Walsh spends a lot of time aboard ships, including Greenpeace’s three large ocean-going vessels, Esperanza, Arctic Sunrise and Rainbow Warrior, which are constantly on the move in different parts of the world.
High on the Greenpeace hit-list is the rapacious form of fishing known as “bottom trawling”. Walsh has edited two campaign weblogs specifically related to this widespread practice, reporting on the environmental havoc that it wreaks first hand.
“You’ve got trawlers dragging nets the size of a soccer pitch, doing three six-hour hauls a day,” he says. “It’s like clear-felling the bottom of the ocean. They’re after core fish but they get everything else along the way – there’s nothing left on the ocean floor afterwards. I’ve seen 30 sharks thrown dead over the side of a trawler. You know the albatross, usually a lone bird? In New Zealand I saw about a thousand albatross eating dead fish that had been discarded by trawlers in the middle of the ocean.
“They throw back about two thirds of what they catch. We did an occupation on the deck of a trawler last year and the fishermen were walking around on coral under their feet.”
Greenpeace uses a renowned double-whammy tactic: direct action highlights ecological destruction at the actual scene, while political-activists demand legal reform in seats of power, such as government and corporate headquarters. Walsh gives an example of how this strategy works.
“We were on the Rainbow Warrior in the middle of the Tasman Sea, west of New Zealand, tracking down bottom trawlers to document the fact that the destruction was actually happening. Meanwhile there were Greenpeace lobbyists in the UN using our evidence to do the “background horse-trading”.
We’d bung photos and videos off via satellite to HQ, and next morning our press officer in New York would be downloading stuff, burning CDs and handing them to delegates, saying “this is what happened yesterday in the Tasman Sea”, so they couldn’t deny it any more.”
While the work is fulfilling and exhilarating, Walsh says that life at sea for weeks on end is not for the fainthearted. After one campaign on the North Atlantic last year, he swore that he’d never complain about Irish weather again.
“You’re talking gale force 10 for days at a time. When it dropped to force eight we thought it was nice! In January I was aboard the Esperanza, chasing a 100-metre ship full of GM soya. We travelled full speed straight into the wind the whole way up the Bay of Biscay and every single wave just pounded us.”
Before starting with Greenpeace, which he describes as “a multinational media organisation”, Walsh was based in Dublin, working as a freelance web editor, designer, writer and consultant, and a journalist for various print publications. Bagging his first internet job back in 1995 meant that he got into online technology. Since 1997 his he has operated a bizarre weblog called Blather.net with his sister and a small group of friends (see panel).
Walsh’s weblogging experience with Blather.net played a crucial role in securing his job with Greenpeace. He describes other stages along the unusual route that’s led to his current position: “I’ve always been hugely into wildlife and wildlife photography. I grew up right beside the River Slaney estuary, where there’s swans, ducks, trout, salmon, bass, flounder and seals, and woods coming right down to the water’s edge. For years I was on the fringe of environmental stuff. I had the emotions, but didn’t feel I had the qualifications or credentials to write about it.”
An epiphany-like experience in September 2003 brought Walsh’s dissatisfaction with working in Dublin to a head.
“I was on a diving holiday in Greece,” he recalls. “I came up from a dive one day, and was sitting in an inflatable off the coast of Corfu when I suddenly thought: what the hell am I doing? I grew up in the countryside, I grew up around boats; I want to be outdoors all the time instead of sitting in offices in Dublin, hating it.
“I went over what I do: I write, I do web stuff, I want to take more photographs, and I like boats. And I thought, who can I offer my skills to? I started applying for jobs everywhere – I even spoke to the British Antarctic Survey about becoming a boat driver in the Antarctic. I just wanted to go off and do something crazy.
“I spent the winter renewing my first-aid qualifications, training as a mountain guide and getting my power-boat qualifications so I could drive high-speed inflatables. I did my advanced diving course in a storm in Killary Harbour. And then this job came up in Greenpeace for a web editor in Amsterdam. I applied, and to cut a long story short, because Greenpeace knew I was outdoorsy and a photographer and weblogger, they offered me a freelance position on the ships instead.”
Walsh’s latest campaign was on dry but snowy land, in Finnish Lapland, 300km north of the Arctic Circle. Here he weblogged a Greenpeace forest-rescue campaign, which was successful in bringing to international attention a longstanding land rights struggle between the indigenous Sami people – traditional reindeer herders whose animals depend on the vast old growth forests for their food – and the Finnish state forestry company, hellbent on intensive logging in the area.
During the campaign, Greenpeace activists were subjected to severe intimidation, including death threats, burning crosses, snowscooters trying to knock people down, and balaclava-wearing, chainsaw-wielding forest harvesters bursting into their camp at midnight – all carefully documented by Walsh on the weblog.
When the Finnish forestry company finally declared an informal moratorium on logging in sensitive old-growth areas pending negotiations later this summer, Walsh and the Greenpeace activists moved on, mission accomplished for now.
“Part of my job,” says Walsh, “is to get the story of what it’s actually like doing a job like this, and to encourage other people on the campaign to write, too. The writing’s experiential as well as informative. Last October we were sailing from Scotland out towards the middle of the Atlantic and we went past the islands of Saint Kilda, about 60km west of the Hebrides, one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. There was morning mist hanging off the clifftops, dolphins at the side of the ship, and our photographer happened to stroll out on deck with her camera and photographed an owl who was sitting in one of the inflatables. It was a special moment for her, and she wrote a really beautiful article about it. For me, having that kind of personal stuff on the weblog is as important as the campaign facts.”
• View Dave Walsh’s weblogs at Forest Rescue, GMO France, North Atlantic, Deep Sea
Blather: no escaping the net
Before donning his Greenpeace cap, Dave Walsh spent many years creating the surreally spoofish Blather.net – “talking sh*te since 1997” – an ongoing weekly weblog that he and a small group of fellow writers use as a discussion forum for all things paranormal, conspiratorial and justplain weird.
It also serves as an outlet for work they wouldn’t get published elsewhere.
According to Walsh: “The name Blather was shamelessly hijacked from a bizarre periodical edited by the author Flann O’Brien, aka Myles na Gopaleen, whose satirical column appeared regularly in The Irish Times up till the 1960s.
“The title was perfect, because besides all the weird stuff, we wanted to write about serious things without taking them too seriously.”
In the eight years since its inception, Blather.net has become one of Ireland’s most imaginative and cheekily ironic weblogs, getting an average of 50,000 visitors a month. www.blather.net.
ï¿½ The Irish Times