Tuesday 16 July 2019

Barbara Scully: 'Too much stick and not enough carrot will see climate change plan fail spectacularly'

Influence: David Attenborough has convinced many people we must take radical action on climate change
Influence: David Attenborough has convinced many people we must take radical action on climate change

Barbara Scully

So, we now have a Climate Action Plan, and hopefully a strategy that will help us to finally meet our EU targets on emissions - something we don't seem to have taken seriously for years.

Friends Of The Earth has said "this plan gets us to the starting line on climate action" and that it will "take consistent political leadership to ensure it's implemented on time".

However, once again, the people seem to be ahead of the curve on the climate crisis, if the recent local and European election results are anything to go by.

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In a world of fake news and distrust of media, what is it that made so many of us finally accept that our planet is in deep trouble?

I think one man has made a huge difference.

David Attenborough's calm and measured warnings have really hit home. He has said that "if we don't take climate action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon".

This is a man who understands that world, a man who has experienced up close the incredible majesty of our biodiversity. So, when he says we are in real trouble, we believe him.

The people have got the message and accept that changes are needed, and Irish people have proved over the recent decades to be very open to change.

As a country, we led on the smoking ban and we also adapted very quickly to the plastic bag tax and use of 'bags for life' for our grocery shopping. Already, many families are making changes to their life styles in order to live lighter on the Earth, working hard on cutting down on the use of single-use plastics, of pesticides in the gardens, and trying to use more environmentally friendly products.

However, for the Government, it is vital that before introducing some of the more radical measures being mooted, alternatives must be place that are viable and reasonable.

For example, getting people to leave their cars at home and take public transport will only work if that public transport is efficient, cost-effective and reliable. Taxing those same fuel-guzzling cars in order to move people to electric cars will only work if we have a significant increase in charging stations in place first.

And getting more people to cycle needs a huge rethink as to how we can make cycling, especially in our cities, safer not only for adults, but also for our children.

As John Downing wrote in this paper yesterday, "there will be carrots and there will be sticks", but if carrots are not freely available and dangled where people can easily access them, the stick approach will backfire spectacularly.

The Government also now needs to join the dots. Habitat destruction is also damaging the delicate web of life of which we are part.

Did you know that wolves were an integral part of our wildlife population until they were hunted to extinction in the late 1700s? Our native wildcats vanished in the 1800s, along with a large penguin-like, flightless bird called the great auk.

And the destruction continues. Curlews are in big trouble, and red squirrels, pine martens, bats and barn owls are just some of the other native animals that are under threat. This is all part of the same story.

But communities have already begun to fight back. A drive around Dublin at the moment will confirm that.

There are mature trees, vital to cleaning our air, wearing ribbons because they are due to be felled to make way for new bus corridors. A proposed development in St Anne's in north Dublin was stopped because the site was an important feeding ground for a large flock of migratory Brent geese.

To shout "nimbyism" in the face of these protests is to fundamentally misunderstand the crisis we face. People know that without clean air and thriving wildlife, our cities and towns will become wastelands.

We need to be creative in working out how to develop infrastructure with minimum impact on biodiversity. Native biodiversity is part of our cultural heritage. Protecting it is not a nice aspiration, but something that has be at the heart of every Government decision from here on in.

We are already changing how we live, but to be really effective, we need the Government to also change how it governs. Before new taxes and punitive measures are introduced, it must ensure that alternatives are available both practically and financially.

We need real leadership willing to invest and grant aid to long-term projects, such as those that will be required to retrofit our homes, enable the microgeneration of electricity domestically and to cut down on domestic waste.

Combating climate change is not just about carbon tax and bans. It is about new ways of doing things which ultimately will not only lead to cleaner air, but to a healthier life for us and for all the creatures with whom we share this planet we call home.

The people need to be assisted in making these changes, and not just punished for being unable to do so.

Irish Independent

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