Wednesday 16 October 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'Taking a day off school for climate is nice, but the real lesson to learn is at Government level'

Lessons to learn: A woman takes part in a protest calling for urgent measures to combat climate change during a march in Amsterdam yesterday. Photo: Eva Plevier/Reuters
Lessons to learn: A woman takes part in a protest calling for urgent measures to combat climate change during a march in Amsterdam yesterday. Photo: Eva Plevier/Reuters
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Children across the country will skip school later this week and go on strike for climate change, their liberal parents bursting with pride. But I'm not sure parents should be taking their children out of school for a protest that our Taoiseach is "inspired" by.

Each of us has a carbon footprint - the amount of carbon dioxide (which causes climate change) we let into the atmosphere each year. We should all aim for a footprint of two tonnes or less. However, the average person produces around seven. Recycling will reduce it by 0.21 tonnes, ditching your car lowers it by 2.4.

There has been a marked improvement in environmental awareness in Ireland over the past decade, as shown by the ConsEnSus Lifestyle Survey published by NUI Galway. Some 86pc of respondents were concerned about the environment and 89pc said "I try to reduce the amount of food waste my household produces".

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Some 66pc pay attention to where and how the food they buy is produced. We all pay sky-high power bills to reduce our national dependence on fossil fuels. But do you ever get the feeling, when sorting your recycling, refusing to litter, cycling instead of driving and using recycled plastic bags, that everything's gone to pot already and you're just one person rallying against this landslide of climate damage?

Most of the things we have been told to do - like recycling, being mindful of food, air miles and travelling less - might make us feel better, but they don't make much difference to the planet. Having a green lifestyle is a fairly inconsequential gesture. Meanwhile, experts are increasingly saying global warming has passed the tipping point. Earth's global surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Global temperatures in 2018 were 0.83C warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean.

The truth is we are not all equally complicit, and we don't need to have collective guilt. As individuals, we must do the very best we can. But constrained choices are not the same as the unthinking complicity of the richest 10pc of our world who produce 50pc of global emissions every year by taking multiple long-haul flights for pleasure travel, heating their homes instead of putting on a sweater, and driving ginormous SUVs that they replace every few years, according to Oxfam. And 70pc of the world's greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to 100 companies, according to a 2017 'Carbon Majors' report by the Climate Accountability Institute. Leo Varadkar has said he supports the school children's action - he said he is "inspired" by them. But if you're going to tell people to make sacrifices, you'd better make sure you're leading by example, and his Government isn't doing that. If the climate crisis is to be solved, it needs effective leaders who recognise the importance of moving people beyond helplessness and striking school children.

The Citizens' Assembly outlined important recommendations which, if implemented, would mean Ireland could become a world leader in addressing climate change. But politicians have yet to fully take on board its recommendations.

We have appointed our first ever "climate action minister" and the Irish goal is to achieve 16pc renewable energy use by 2020. Despite generating big amounts of onshore wind, this target will be missed while most other EU countries will meet their commitments. The Government has committed to directing almost €30bn under the National Development Plan to address the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society, but in December we were announced as the worst performing country in the EU at tackling climate change, according to an international report. The Climate Change Performance Index ranks Ireland 45th out of 57 countries when judged on three categories: greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy and energy use. It categorises Ireland as a 'very low-performing' country - that's the worst ranking available.

By 2020 Ireland will only have achieved a trivial 5-6pc reduction in emissions, with greenhouse gases from transport and agriculture actually rising. We face serious EU fines. The Institute of International and European Affairs has estimated Ireland could face fines between €3bn-€6bn by 2030. Who will pay? The taxpayer, of course. We're also facing a carbon tax of €80 per tonne by 2030.

British scientist James Lovelock constantly argues there is no alternative to nuclear power. In 'The Revenge of Gaia', he writes: "If Kyoto had been influenced more by the pragmatism of scientists and engineers and less by romantic idealism, we might soon have harvested fusion energy." He also compares so-called eco-warriors to passengers on a transatlantic jet who ask the pilot to turn off the engines midway through the flight so they can glide down without causing any further environmental damage.

We need leadership that supports sane energy policies, and that includes theoretical fusion energy. We need leadership. There's plenty of blame to go around for the mounting climate costs, but so far, the only idea the Government can come up with is to get taxpayers to foot the whole bill. The real rebels will go to school on Friday and spend the weekend picking up litter in their neighbourhood, something that might have an impact on the environment.

Irish Independent

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