How busy bees can inspire us to tackle climate change

23 Mar 2018

Mairéad Doherty, Wicklow’s Cool Planet Champion. Image: Cool Planet Experience

We can learn from bees about working together to address climate challenges, says Wicklow Cool Planet Champion Mairéad Doherty. She spoke to Dr Claire O’Connell.

Bees function together as a community, each one working for the good of the hive. We can learn a lot from their approach to help us tackle the challenges of climate change, according to Mairéad Doherty.

“They are nature’s engineers,” said Doherty, an engineer herself, who has recently become a beekeeper.

“There are no ‘me féiners’ [people who do things only for their own benefit] in a beehive – the queen is important but she is not the boss, and everything every bee does is for the good of the colony.”

Local champions

As the new Cool Planet Champion for Wicklow, Doherty is using her knowledge of bees to help create a buzz about changing behaviours for a better planet.

Cool Planet Champions are volunteers who have been trained to spread the word about climate change and planet-friendly behaviours in their local community.

It’s an initiative of Cool Planet Experience (CPE), which Richard Branson helped to launch earlier this year and which last week officially opened the doors to its interactive centre at Powerscourt Estate, Co Wicklow.

Visitors there go through a journey of climate change to find out more about extreme weather events, the science behind climate change and the solutions that can help us move to a low-carbon economy.

CPE teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency to find Champions at grassroots level in each county in Ireland.

Doherty heard about it through the internal social network at Siemens, where she works as an energy data analyst, helping industrial customers to find and improve ways to reduce their energy consumption and improve their efficiency.

Environment in mind

While her work can save businesses money by conserving energy, Doherty is even more interested in the environmental benefits of energy efficiency, and the CPE approach gelled with her thoughts on making positive changes for the good of the planet.

“We had to do a two-minute video to apply,” she said. “I made a video about being a beekeeper and how I try to do lots of things to help address the problems of climate change; and also the fun side of those things, how it’s not about austerity and you get a lot out of it.”

Her application was a hit, and Doherty became the Cool Planet Champion for Wicklow. Part of her volunteer work in that role is to deliver talks in the local community, and she has already undergone training on how to engage and communicate about climate change.


Mairéad Doherty at Lough Tay, Co Wicklow. Image: Cool Planet Experience

Bee the change

So, will bees feature in her talks? Absolutely, according to Doherty. “We are encouraged to show people what we do in our own lives,” she said, though she stressed that everyone has to find what works for them to help the planet.

“What is relevant or convenient for me is not for everyone else; it’s not one size fits all, but everyone can and should do something.”

Doherty has already started to see the positive effects of CPE on her own family, particularly following the opening of the visitor centre last week. “I brought my parents and sister, and Dad is already talking about changing the car next year,” she said.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication