APOCA­LYPSE LATER

The end of the world is nigh, warns RTÉ’s en­vi­ron­ment ed­i­tor George Lee on Mon­day; by Wed­nes­day it’s just a mi­nor pol­icy de­tail for Paschal Dono­hoe

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO R -

It’s just over a decade since lis­ten­ers awoke to hear Morn­ing Ire­land (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days) carry the star­tling news that Brian Cowen’s govern­ment had guar­an­teed Ire­land’s wob­bling bank sys­tem. As the som­bre tones of busi­ness cor­re­spon­dent David Mur­phy made clear that morn­ing, this was a seis­mic event.

It was also, de­spite or per­haps be­cause of the omi­nous de­vel­op­ments, a truly mem­o­rable ra­dio mo­ment. But on a day when there were no win­ners, one RTÉ per­son­al­ity in par­tic­u­lar lost out. Mur­phy had been given the story only af­ter a govern­ment spokesman had failed to con­tact George Lee, the net­work’s high-pro­file eco­nom­ics ed­i­tor.

Miss­ing out on the big­gest story in a gen­er­a­tion didn’t no­tice­ably af­fect Lee’s ca­reer. Af­ter a brief stint as a TD, he is now RTÉ’s en­vi­ron­ment ed­i­tor. But that mo­men­tous edi­tion of Morn­ing Ire­land must still rank as the one that got away. At least un­til Mon­day, when Lee ap­pears on the same pro­gramme to re­lay an even big­ger story: the im­mi­nent ar­rival of Ar­maged­don.

The pub­li­ca­tion of the UN’s grimly de­tailed in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal re­port on cli­mate change isn’t the day’s head­line story, but Lee’s in­sis­tent, alarmed tone grabs the at­ten­tion. He out­lines to an­chor Au­drey Carville how a half de­gree in­crease in pro­jected global warm­ing could spell the dif­fer­ence be­tween mere catas­tro­phe and full-on apoca­lypse. “What the small in­creases in tem­per­a­ture do is eye-pop­ping,” he says.

Lee paints a dire pic­ture, with ris­ing sea lev­els, species loss and ex­treme weather greatly ex­ac­er­bated by each in­cre­men­tal rise in warm­ing. His voice, al­ways at home with bad news, dips more than usual as he ex­plains how a two de­gree rise will wipe out 18 per cent of in­sect life, com­pared to a six per cent ex­tinc­tion rate at half a de­gree lower. And that’s be­fore Lee gets to the hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple whose lives will be wrecked.

When Carville muses when gov­ern­ments need to take ac­tion on ad­di­tional car­bon re­duc­tion, Lee is em­phatic. “Right now. The de­ci­sions taken right now will have very long and far-reach­ing con­se­quences.” It’s the kind of phrase that could have been ap­plied to the bank­ing cri­sis. Ten years on, with the stakes much higher, Lee de­liv­ers his ver­dict in suit­ably som­bre man­ner.

Bad­news

“They can­not say they haven’t been told,” he says. Even by Morn­ing Ire­land’s prodi­gious buz­zkill stan­dards, it’s a bleak start to the week. Yet de­spite the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, one can’t help feel­ing that Lee rather rel­ishes fi­nally be­ing the one break­ing the bad news.

Not that Lee need have both­ered, judg­ing by Min­is­ter for Fi­nance Paschal Dono­hoe’s per­for­mance on To­day With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days). Ap­pear­ing on the show’s tra­di­tional post-bud­get phone-in Q&A, the Min­is­ter sounds blithely dis­mis­sive when Done­gal caller Tansy ex­presses con­cerns about the fail­ure to in­crease car­bon tax. “I don’t want to put in place a short-term mea­sure un­til there’s a long term con­sen­sus in re­la­tion to it,” the Min­is­ter says, as though it were a mi­nor pol­icy de­tail.

He ex­plains that big car­bon tax hikes would af­fect peo­ple’s liv­ing stan­dards and thus need po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus, an at­ti­tude that sug­gests he may have missed the memo on cli­mate change. When O’Rourke char­ac­terises this in­ac­tion as a “non-de­ci­sion”, Dono­hoe sounds irked. “It wasn’t a non-de­ci­sion,” he clar­i­fies, “I made a de­ci­sion not to do it.” It’s not the kind of de­ci­sive­ness that in­spires con­fi­dence for the fu­ture, how­ever.

It’s a bland, safe turn by Dono­hoe, in keep­ing with the bud­get. Where raw anger used to crackle over the phone­lines when Brian Leni­han or Michael Noo­nan per­formed the same duty dur­ing the aus­ter­ity years, a mood of help­less ap­a­thy seems to in­form the call­ers’ ques­tions. When one man, Cor­mac, ac­cuses the Min­is­ter of “talk­ing crap”, O’Rourke sounds grate­ful for the mild flurry of an­tag­o­nism.

For his part, Dono­hoe sticks to the for­mula of “ac­knowl­edg­ing” con­cerns, while re­peat­ing the mantra that he needs to take in­con­ve­nient mea­sures to raise money for the greater good. Such Civics 101 plat­i­tudes are pre­sum­ably meant to demon­strate re­spon­si­bil­ity, but in­stead give an im­pres­sion of self-con­grat­u­la­tory in­dif­fer­ence. All in all, it seems a point­less bud­get rit­ual.

O’Rourke en­joys a far more lively time with pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Gavin Duffy on Tues­day. Duffy starts off by de­tail­ing how as a young man he caused a se­ri­ous car crash, thus set­ting the tone for the in­ter­view. A ro­bust joust en­sues, with Duffy ac­cus­ing RTÉ of be­ing a “fan club” for Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins and O’Rourke call­ing his oc­ca­sion­ally un­sure-sound­ing guest “a fast driver but a slow learner”. While the pres­i­den­tial hope­ful doesn’t dis­play much states­man­like poise, the en­counter doesn’t hurt O’Rourke’s rep­u­ta­tion as a for­mi­da­ble in­ter­roga­tor.

Hot top­ics

Cars and car­bon fu­els are hot top­ics when Muire­ann O’Con­nell sits in for Der­mot and Dave (To­day FM, week­days). O’Con­nell notes that cer­tain petrol sta­tions have been rais­ing their prices be­fore bud­get day, de­spite the lack of tax in­creases in the bud­get. “It feels like ev­ery­thing just jumped about 10c in the last few days,” she says. “We’re tak­ing a hit, lads.”

In her breezily free-as­so­cia­tive man­ner, O’Con­nell switches from the geo-po­lit­i­cal (“Sanc­tions on Iran are com­ing in Novem­ber, so the price of oil is go­ing up”) to the hy­per-lo­cal, look­ing for tips on the best value petrol sta­tions. “If there’s a cheap place, let us know, and we’ll share the wealth,” she says. Judg­ing by the text re­sponses, quite a few lis­ten­ers share O’Con­nell’s wor­ries about the price of petrol. But the sub­ject of cli­mate change is no­tably ab­sent from the con­ver­sa­tion. There’s much talk about fill­ing up tanks but not a whit about the im­pact of car­bon fu­els. It’s a telling il­lus­tra­tion of day-to-day pri­or­i­ties in Ire­land. It’s the end of the world, but we feel fine.

‘‘ The pub­li­ca­tion of the UN’s grimly de­tailed in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal re­port on cli­mate change isn’t the day’s head­line story, but Lee’s in­sis­tent, alarmed tone grabs the at­ten­tion

PHO­TO­GRAPH: RTÉ

Doomed, I tell ya: George Lee.

MICK HEANEY

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