Monday 24 October 2016

The Pope was right to issue stark message on climate change

Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30

Pope Francis has called on the world's leaders to pull together to fight global warming, publishing his hotly-anticipated thesis on the environment which slams profiteers and slaves to progres
Pope Francis has called on the world's leaders to pull together to fight global warming, publishing his hotly-anticipated thesis on the environment which slams profiteers and slaves to progres

Thank God for Pope Francis and his historic call to avert mankind from the destructive climate change path we are on. The force of his message cannot be ignored. It represents a radical development by integrating ecology into Church social teaching. It is a bold attempt to re-imagine our place and purpose in this world.

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For over 20 years, the best scientists have led the climate debate as they presented increasingly incontrovertible evidence about the damage being done by the burning of fossil fuels. If we do not change our ways we will be living in a world which is at least four degrees warmer. At those temperatures, sea levels will rise in a way which threatens our major cities. Hundreds of millions of people will have to migrate from parched areas of India, Africa and the Middle East. It will be impossible to feed the growing population on our planet.

For too long, discussion about the science has dominated our public debate. Francis has now put moral and social arguments centre stage. He argues: "Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future, without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded."

Will we, in Ireland, heed that call? The excuse that we are too small to matter, or that bigger countries must act first, no longer holds true.

America and China have already done a deal agreeing to act and, if anything, Europe now risks falling behind. Rather than seeing the obligation for everyone to act together as an impediment, it could be seen as an opportunity. If we are to look after our planet, then every village and town matters. Every community has the chance to shine. We are all both responsible and potential victims.

The argument that Ireland should get a pass on agricultural emissions because we have an obligation to feed the rest of the world also falls down.

As the head of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, said in Dublin last month: "One cannot be a leader on hunger, without also being a leader on climate change."

Irish farmers know more than anyone else what is happening with our climate. They will have a vital role and everything to gain from adopting an ecological approach to tending our land.

The scale of the challenge is immense and will take generations to achieve. We need a revolution because we know we have to change our entire power, food, transport and industrial systems in one massive go. We do at least have an increasing understanding that effective change is possible. The price of new renewable power supplies has fallen dramatically and they can be owned in a new, more egalitarian way. Sustainable food pays a better price to farmers and is healthier for the consumer.

Public transport delivers a real social good. Designing products to be recycled rather than thrown away creates a more productive economy. While the Pope is right to raise this as a moral and social justice issue, we have to be careful not to put the whole emphasis on the end use consumer. The environmental movement has learnt that lesson and is now concentrating on stopping the extraction and exploitation of fossil fuels at source. At the same time, we need to provide new regulations and solutions that allow people maintain their daily quality of life, without constantly checking whether they are doing the right ethical thing.

To deliver an alternative economy will require massive political will. You have to take on the profitable, vested interests who want to maintain the status quo. The only way you can overcome that blockage is with majority public support. If the Pope's message is to mean anything, then it will have to translate into support for a democratic, political revolution that gives us the power to act. At the moment, we are going in the wrong direction. Our emissions are the equivalent to what the poorest 400 million people on the planet produce and are on the rise again. We have lost faith in our renewable energy transition.

Our public transport system is in retreat and our Government has entered international climate negotiations with the aim of holding back Ireland's response for the next 15 years.

Ireland is becoming a laggard rather than a leader and we risk missing out on the growing clean economy that is starting to take hold. What moral authority will the Government have if it refuses to listen to this call? The message from Pope Francis is to change tack.

Taking action fits in with what we have always stood for as a nation. We have a long tradition of supporting those countries less fortunate than ourselves. Our Christian tradition is deeply rooted in a connection with the natural world. Our economic model is in need of change in any case.

Praise be Pope Francis. He has shown us the way we can go.

Eamon Ryan is Green Party leader

Irish Independent

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