Time to kill cli­mate lie — be­fore it kills hu­man life on this planet

Irish Examiner - - Opinion -

‘A“What we need in the wake of last week’s floods is for aware­ness of the cli­mate chal­lenge to be in­her­ent in ev­ery Gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion

n In­con­ve­nient Truth: warn­ing of more ex­treme weather as cli­mate change ef­fect hits home’ read the front page head­line over this news­pa­per’s re­port on the Done­gal floods last Thurs­day.

It was as­ton­ish­ing. Cli­mate change al­most never makes head­lines in Ire­land. A di­rect con­nec­tion be­tween a se­vere cli­mate event and the chang­ing cli­mate is al­most never made.

This news­pa­per did just that while care­fully point­ing out that you can’t fully ex­plain one cli­mate event by analysing in­creased green­house gas emis­sions.

What you can say with­out fear of con­tra­dic­tion is, to quote Al Gore’s lat­est film on the cli­mate cri­sis, “Ev­ery storm is dif­fer­ent now be­cause it takes place in a warmer, wet­ter world.”

It was a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence to sit in a nearly empty cinema in Dublin on Tues­day night watch­ing An In­con­ve­nient Se­quel: truth to power while the im­ages of Texas and Louisiana on the news chan­nels got worse and worse.

Eigh­teen dead in apoc­a­lyp­tic floods. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who pulled the US out of the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment say­ing cli­mate change was ‘not a pri­or­ity’ sur­vey­ing the flood dam­age and an­nounc­ing: “There’s never been any­thing so ex­pen­sive in our coun­try be­fore or any­thing so his­toric.”

When the point rammed home by Al Gore against end­less im­ages of Amer­i­can first re­spon­ders in wellies from Mi­ami to New York is that “never be­fore, never again” are, in this con­text, the words of a prize fool.

In the past few years the US has had one “once in 1,000 years” cli­mate event and two “once in 100 years” cli­mate event which ei­ther points to an in­cred­i­ble streak of bad luck or cli­mate change.

“I won­der how the gov­ern­ment sloshes through this and says noth­ing is hap­pen­ing,”com­ments Gore as he talks to of­fi­cials in Mi­ami whose ex­pen­sive plans for new raised high­ways will be washed away un­der most con­ser­va­tive cli­mate mod­el­ling.

As I came home from the cinema the hor­ror of the floods in In­dia, Nepal and Bangladesh was be­gin­ning to hit home. 1,200 peo­ple dead al­ready. Mum­bai at a stand­still as roads turn into rivers and wa­ter­falls and the pae­di­atric unit of a ma­jor hos­pi­tal is evac­u­ated.

It’s the poor­est suf­fer first and worst, of course. No mat­ter how bad things get here, the Ir­ish are not among them. I’ve no doubt, how­ever, that some of the in­hab­i­tants of Burn­foot, Co Done­gal will iden­tify eas­ily with Gore’s de­scrip­tions of “Noah-like” floods and even “rain bombs”.

So far 47 fam­i­lies in Done­gal have reg­is­tered as ‘dis­placed’ and some will not get back into their homes for a long time. The cost of re­pair­ing the dam­age will run to many mil­lions and of course, for these fam­i­lies, some dam­age can never be re­paired.

The usual fin­ger-point­ing is go­ing on – the council wasn’t ‘pre­pared, the emer­gency ser­vices weren’t ‘pre­pared’ — when no one can pos­si­bly pre­pare for a month’s rain to fall in a cou­ple of hours.

The doubt must stop. Giv­ing in to the petro-chem­i­cal in­dus­try’s care­fully spon­sored am­bi­gu­ity on the cli­mate cri­sis must end. We are right now in the mid­dle of a cli­mate cri­sis, which is the big­gest ex­is­ten­tial threat hu­man­ity has ever faced.

It’s go­ing to get much worse. But we still have it in our power to make worse bet­ter than it would oth­er­wise be. We must, or our chil­dren’s chil­dren will shout, with Al Gore, “What were you think­ing that you didn’t hear what Mother Na­ture was scream­ing at you?”

We’ve got to com­ply with our com­mit­ment un­der the Paris Agree­ment to be car­bon neu­tral by 2050. All that’s hap­pened so far is that the Gov­ern­ment has pub­lished a Na­tional Mit­i­ga­tion Plan which says we know where we have to get to but we don’t know how. Which is, ad­mit­tedly, bet­ter than say­ing we know where we’re go­ing and it’s out of the Paris Agree­ment.

What we need in the wake of last week’s floods here and this week’s floods in the US and In­dia, Bangladesh and Nepal is for aware­ness of the cli­mate chal­lenge to be in­her­ent in ev­ery Gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion and ev­ery Gov­ern­ment state­ment.

RTÉ must ur­gently adopt a new pol­icy on man-made cli­mate change which re­flects the 97% cer­tainty with which it is re­ported by the world’s best sci­en­tists. In­stead its weather re­ports al­most never be­tray an aware­ness of the shock­ing un­der­ly­ing trends. And its news and cur­rent af­fairs pro­gram­ming is fre­quently 30 years out of date.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the episode of Claire Byrne Live on which I was a pan­el­list in May, which opened with the head­line: “Do you dare to ques­tion cli­mate change?”

The ‘hook’ for the show was an ar­ti­cle by Matt Dempsey in The Farmer’s Jour­nal which re­ported an ar­gu­ment made by US sci­en­tist and cli­mate de­nier, Richard Lindzen, that the emis­sion of meth­ane from live­stock does not cause sig­nif­i­cant cli­mate change.

Lindzen had been brought into Ire­land by a new cli­mate de­nial or­gan­i­sa­tion called the Ir­ish Cli­mate Sci­ence Fo­rum.

As it hap­pens, Lindzen also likes to ques­tion the im­pact of smok­ing on the in­ci­dence of lung can­cer.

On this ev­i­dence, RTÉ put to­gether a show with two clas­sic pan­els, one ‘for’ and one ‘against’ as if there were still a 50:50 de­bate on man-made cli­mate change.

I was joined by broad­caster Dun­can Ste­wart on the ‘for’ side; Matt Dempsey was joined on the ‘against’ side by TD and turf-cut­ter Michael Fitz­mau­rice, who said he “ques­tions an aw­ful lot” about man-made cli­mate change.

When Claire Byrne turned to me for my open­ing com­ments, I said I didn’t so much have a prob­lem with Matt Dempsey and his pri­vate news­pa­per as with RTÉ, funded by the tax­payer as a public ser­vice broad­caster.

She coun­tered that the show’s poll had shown 34% of peo­ple didn’t see cli­mate change as a se­ri­ous threat in their life­time.

I’ve been shout­ing in­side ever since: ‘Don’t you have a role to play in chang­ing that?’

The stakes are very high. There are huge vested in­ter­ests in the petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­try but there is in the sun and wind a mul­ti­ple of the en­ergy the world needs.

In Ire­land, farm­ing as we know it is go­ing to have to change, and that isn’t go­ing to be easy.

We have to re­mem­ber, by way of per­spec­tive, that farm­ers would be wiped out by cat­a­strophic cli­mate change, with the small­est tak­ing the big­gest hit.

Now is the time that we must ‘speak truth to power’ or ‘be in­con­ve­nient’ as Al Gore’s Twit­ter hash­tag says. Last week, this news­pa­per did just that and I am proud to be pub­lished on its pages.

Gore quotes Martin Luther King’s say­ing that ‘No lie can live for­ever’. The race is now on to kill the cli­mate lie be­fore it kills hu­man life on this planet.

Pic­ture: North­west News

Car­nage in Carn­don­agh where a num­ber of cars were de­stroyed in the flash flood­ing in Done­gal.

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