- 30 Jan 19
Crises like Brexit and Donald Trump’s potential for causing irreparable damages are real and imminent. But they pale into insignificance alongside the reality that climate change is in danger spinning out of control. As we prepared the Hot for 2019 issue of Hot Press, the thought occurred: please don’t let it get too hot…
On top of the apparently never-ending crises in housing, health, criminal gang-related killings and dissident republican provocations, there’s a range of storms that are surely headed our way, in Ireland, in 2019.
The first and most obvious is Brexit. Everybody knows what it is in broad terms, but even after eighteen months we’re still no clearer about what it will actually entail (See The Message, Page 8). And there is no point in asking the Brits, because they know even less than anyone else. As we have seen over the past week, there is no solution that can command a majority in the House of Commons. Don’t bet against them teetering over the cliff-edge by accident.
Elections to the European Parliament in late May will usher in a second storm front. Like other European nations, we often embrace oddballs and eccentrics in the Euros. But this time, there will be a concerted effort, by far right organisations and movements across Europe, using social media propaganda, fake news and mendacious advertising, to launch a fascist takeover – so we’ll have to look beyond lovable dingbats, turf cutting and contrarians. There is serious shit going down…
A third storm front will originate in Washington. We don’t know where the Mueller investigation will lead, but it looks like he has Trump in the crosshairs. And now that the Democrats have the House, impeachment no longer seems far-fetched. If so, Trump is likely to do almost anything to divert attention. Is there someone he can declare war on? Whatever he tries, it won’t be pretty.
The threats from these looming storms are immediate and urgent – and, as a result, are likely to distract from what is, from a global perspective, an existential crisis: namely climate change.
We in Ireland haven’t distinguished ourselves in the fight for climate stability. We have done things, for sure, sustainable energy conversion grants being an example. But we lag very far behind when it comes to generating power from sustainable sources like wind and wave. It’s not as if we don’t have the expertise. Irish engineering firms have proven extremely successful in building power plants, and in some cases entire systems, in other countries. ESB International is a case in point. So too is Mainstream Renewable Power, the world’s largest independent wind and solar company. Ironically, it is based in Dublin and is led by the indefatigable Eddie O’Connor.
CLIMATE CASE IRELAND
I appreciate that some climate change activists abhor the idea of working with business leadership and enterprise – but, frankly, we should be asking our best minds to help us move forward and making it as easy as possible for action to be taken. This is a fight to the death for the future of our planet and our island – and we need all hands on deck pulling resolutely in the same direction.
Most people in Ireland do accept the need for action on climate change. The Citizens Assembly recommended that the Government radically revise its National Mitigation Plan. The Climate Change Advisory Council says that Ireland is “way off course” in terms of meeting its 2020 and 2030 EU emission reductions targets. Climate Action Networks ranks Ireland’s climate policy ambitions in the same league as the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which means totally inadequate.
Irish people are much less enthusiastic about taking the necessary actions if they actually affect them. They’d like everyone else to change their behaviours, so that they don’t have to. Everybody, for example, knows that urban and suburban children should walk or cycle to school – but look out your window on a rainy day and you’ll see how this particular piety is observed – or not, rather. The roads are full of giant child-transporters and SUVs guzzling fuel and spewing out poisons.
The Government needs to step up to the plate. But they can’t move faster than the electorate. Efforts to do the right thing are always at risk of grandstanding by populists, whether of the right, left or centre, all the more so nowadays. But effective climate action is nothing less than a new austerity! We must make it happen.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged how little we had achieved in real terms, when he said that Ireland must go “from laggard to leader on climate change.” This is “the next big progressive cause,” he said (after, one presumes, marriage equality and repealing the 8th) and if it gathers a similar level of support and consensus to those campaigns then the game is on. But realists will point to the fate of the carbon tax proposed for the last budget to show the scale of the challenge. Not to mention ancient rights to cut turf.
In truth, our commitments won’t be met by a carbon tax alone, and there’s a real risk that the Government sees such a tax as the centrepiece of our action plan, rather than just a strand. There has to be much, much more. Some campaigners have decided to go beyond the usual politics and take to the courts. Under the banner ‘Climate Case Ireland’, Friends of the Irish Environment have initiated a legal action against the Government claiming that the National Mitigation Plan from 2017 is in breach of Ireland’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015; and also that it falls far short of the steps required by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
There is a precedent. An appeals court in the Netherlands found that the Dutch government had “done too little to prevent the dangers of climate change and is doing too little to catch up,” ordering it to ensure planet-warming emissions are at least 25 percent below 1990 levels by the end of 2020.
THERE IS NO PLANET B
This column has been pointing to the gathering climate change crisis, and endorsing positive action, for over four decades. The planet is critically ill. What needs to be done now is far more urgent, and therefore radical, than was needed in the 1980s. We don’t have time to faff around.
But we also need to understand the world around us. There are knaves and villains running rich, powerful countries. The fossil fuel industries have fingers in many pies. There are almost 1.4 billion people in China and climate change action lags behind there too. India will be the world’s most populous country in a decade or less, and it takes little notice of population control nor, therefore, of climate change. Then there’s large parts of Africa, where poverty and subsistence remain the major issues.
You’d have to wonder if climate change can be reversed. But the only place you can start is at home. Calling for change and not doing it yourself won’t pass muster anymore, and rightly so.
Exhortations for the Irish to become a world leader or model in thought and action are questionable. Why do we always want to be missionaries saving the world? Perhaps it’s a last lingering legacy of an old Catholic worldview. If so, let it go. Let us prove ourselves first. That’s what we did with marriage equality and the 8th Amendment. So it should be with climate change.
And perhaps the numbers are starting to add up now. Most importantly, young people have got the message, across the world, and they’re taking action too.
For example, in Switzerland, thousands of school children and university students, in at least 15 cities, have skipped class to march in the streets and demand climate action, telling politicians “there is no planet B.” The “climate strike” protest was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish girl, who since last August has been missing school each Friday to protest in front of Sweden’s parliament demanding concrete action from politicians to halt climate change.
Say it loud. There is no Planet B so we must save Planet A.