Turning Earth Podcast

Posted 3 weeks ago in Arts and Culture

Turning Earth, a grassroots podcast in the truest sense of the word, has been broadcasting on Dublin Digital Radio since last year, but has been in production for almost a decade. The show focuses on activism, environmental campaigns and speaking with the people involved in organizing these important movements.

For this writer, the podcast has long been an informative, enlightening and uncompromising listen. Previous episodes have discussed important and often, under-reported situations, such as when Coillte, Ireland’s forestry service, attempted to facilitate a land grab of a quarter million acres to a UK based investment fund.

Others have seen our host speaking with professor and author Patrick Bresnihan on environmental policy or radical tour guide Conor McCabe. Last year, Turning Earth began the brilliant “Psychic Self Defense” series, discussing methods for navigating the complex social structures and the endless stream of marketing and propaganda we find ourselves bombarded with from day to day.

I spoke with podcast producer Tommy on the objectives and inspiration behind this fascinating, important production.


I know that you started in 2016…

Yes. With a friend of mine, Craig. We were both involved in environmental campaigns at the time, an anti Fracking campaign that was up in Leitrim, and one in Fermanagh that’s still ongoing.

He was a volunteer with Near FM, the community radio station in North East Dublin, and we’re both sound designers, working in theater and recording studios. He suggested we start working on something based around the logic that neither of us are ‘people people’. A lot of activism is networking, which is not my strong point. We thought we might use the skills we did have in editing, sound and recording, research and writing.

We started with three episodes on Near FM; one concerning the incinerator in Ringsend, an episode on fracking, and one on gold mining. At the time there was one proposed for Inishowen in Donegal. There was no mention of Leitrim at that stage. They went well enough, but Near FM is subject to various broadcast regulations. There has to, at least cosmetically, be the presentation of balance. Which in principle makes sense. That’s how knowledge is generated, conflict between two opposing arguments. That’s how real learning happens.


But that’s not how it ends up.

No. In the media here, along with every other advanced capitalist nation, the economically powerful present their narrative through the media. So there’s no such thing as balanced, unbiased media. That is a fiction, every media source has its biases and presents a certain point of view. We wanted our work to present the other point of view.

After a while, Craig had other commitments, so I’ve kept it going since. Then Gareth came on board to do the illustrations. For years, I would work on it sporadically, based on whatever campaigns I was clued into at the time. Whether it was the anti monocrop Forestry campaign in Leitrim or people educating around food sovereignty and re-wilding. It wasn’t until late last year I started doing episodes for Dublin Digital Radio. I had been a supporter for a long time, but that was my first time putting it out with them. I did a short series, at first, and now I’m doing it monthly.

It’s given me a structure and a deadline to work around. I’m not very good at being my own boss. Dublin Digital Radio is class. It’s run by the members, so whether you have a show or not, you pay a fiver a month to support. That along with the fundraisers over the year keep it paid for, so it’s properly community owned.


They do amazing work, whether it’s your show, the Tenebrae show, or their involvement in Musictown.

It’s definitely helped to grow the audience. The activists and campaigners I speak to on the ground are working on stuff that’s vitally important but doesn’t get enough of an airing.  So in trying to provide an inroad for people knowing about these kinds of issues, DDR has been a great help. You meet people with the same ethics, you can support each other.


Can you tell me about your relationship with your listener base? I’d imagine it’s a little more conversational than the average radio host?

Very much so.  I like to build up to recording it live. I invite interaction and criticisms and questions, as well as suggestions from people on what to cover. A lot of people listening would already be involved in activism, and different things, so I like to ask for their advice on what to cover next.


And what have you gleaned from their suggestions?

I think it’s important that people that are involved with single issue campaigns know what’s going on with other campaigns, and start linking together to identify the structures that are the common cause of issues, whether its cash crop forestry, gold mining, the housing crisis. It’s all interlinked.

The common problem is the pursuit of profit above all else. The private ownership of what are really public goods. Things aren’t produced for public benefit, they’re produced for private profit. That’s the root cause of so many issues we have now. It’s that thirst for new markets that has led to things like housing being commodified, and healthcare, becoming more and more commodified. The resources are there, but they are privately appropriated and sat on, like the dragon in ‘The Hobbit’.


You see it at every level, whether its access to mental health, or getting the bins taken care of. It’s never been more expensive just to exist.

I think a useful metaphor for the system is to think about it as a human body, and money is the blood. If the blood is flowing, it’s a healthy system. If the blood’s clotting and staying in one place, it’s bad news. That’s what capitalism does, it causes the resources to clot and get held in place, and they’re not productive anymore.

The common argument for capitalism is that it stimulates production and it encourages progression and innovation. But the reality now is that it holds back development. All of the people I speak to, it all ties back into this root cause.

I had been reading some work from a Palestinian martyr, Bassel al-Araj. A collection of his unreleased writings had been released after Israel murdered him. One of the things he said was that this idea of the ethics of journalism and unbiased media is complete nonsense. You have to remember that the mainstream media and the news is presented by a side, in service to an economic power. Even a lot of people passing themselves off as independent “citizen journalists” just wind up working to support the powerful. You have to ask, does the media I learn from support the powerful, or the people? The economic elites, or the working majority?

Al-Araj said, “forget about the ethics and impartiality of journalism; just as the zionist journalist is a fighter, so are you.”


One thing that struck me when I had been researching for writing about That Social Centre was that for the numerous, numerous articles mentioning the site, nobody took the time to actually talk to the people involved.

That’s a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about. There you have the right of someone to own a huge building in the middle of a community that could be put to use for all sorts of different things. Whether it’s housing, a community hall, or a shop. Something that would benefit people in that area, it’s that person’s right to leave that to rot, and gamble on property prices. Legal frameworks exist that protect the right of the person to leave that site to rot, rather than to protect the community who want to put it to use, which isn’t right. And of course, nobody would print that quote.


Have you seen change over the past 25 years?

Not in Ireland in particular. I was speaking with Dr. Fiadh Tubridy, an activist on a variety of issues, and like myself, a member of CATU.

The way she put it was that, and I’m paraphrasing, we live on a finite planet, with finite resources, there’s a finite number of things that can be produced. The logic of capitalism will push that as far as it can go until it has to push into other areas. That sort of happened throughout the 70’s and 80’s. This is the death knell of Western Capitalism, because now China is the biggest manufacturing power in the world. They actually make tangible things. All the economies in the west are based on finance,playing with money and numbers, and speculation, and stocks. That’s what happened with housing, why there’s been a developing and now accelerated crisis.


It especially seems to have fallen apart over the last decade.

What changed rapidly here was the economy bursting in 2008. In Ireland, that was all based on housing, people being sold mortgages on properties that were hugely overvalued. Going by that speculation, falsely inflating the value of places, while banks were handing out mortgages left right and center. The reason I bring it back to the 70’s and 80’s, that was the beginning of the period of capitalism we’re in now, the Neoliberal phase, which describes the financialization of capitalism. The reliance on money markets instead of tangible, real commodities. What that meant in Ireland was that the state almost stopped building social housing, we built a lot in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, but that stopped around the time of Thatcher and Reagan.


I still don’t understand how we are still paying half of these people to do their jobs this badly.

The reason people like that are able to stay in power is twofold. Until it falls apart, there’s a strong enough middle class with just enough material comfort to not want to rock the boat, despite the ship sinking. And there’s a much larger contingent of people from the working classes who are utterly disaffected with mainstream politics because it’s structurally incapable of representing them. People rightly recognise that change wont come from the ballot box. What’s required is revolutionary action to remove the structures that are there, and rework them so that they actually represent the masses.


Short of gibbeting, what could be done at this point?

The first step is essentially that people power needs to be built in a meaningful way, empowering people to take political action. Join a group and get active. Action For Palestine Ireland are very active at the moment, and they’d be even more effective if more people went to their actions. Organizations like Slí Eile, CATU, Anti Imperialist Action, the Independent Workers Union. These organisations guide people to their own agency, and their collective power. What maintains the capitalist system is the implicit threat of violence from the state, the Guards, and power structures there to maintain it. But that relies on people’s alienation, on estrangement from their own agency, and their own power. I am inviting listeners to listen to the people who are active in that fight, and to get involved.

Words: Adhamh Ó Caoimh

Illustrations by Gareth Curtis @probablygareth.art

The Turning Earth Podcast is available here.



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