Opinion Editorial

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Editorial: 'We're great at climate talk but we need climate action'

'We have been warned to further expect sea levels to rise, and more intense storms and extreme rainfall events.' Stock image
'We have been warned to further expect sea levels to rise, and more intense storms and extreme rainfall events.' Stock image


'People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof, but on the basis of what they find attractive."

The truth of these words, by the philosopher Blaise Pascal, can be tested against our attitudes and responses to global warming.

The effects are all around us. Six of the 10 warmest years in Ireland have occurred since 1990.

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We have also seen increases in annual rainfall in northern and western areas, with decreases or small increases in the south and east.

We know things are rapidly changing. We have been warned to further expect sea levels to rise, and more intense storms and extreme rainfall events. Coastal flooding and water shortages in summer are also destined to become more familiar.

But despite this surfeit of evidence, this country is a serial reoffender in missing its environmental targets. Only days ago, the Government was excoriated by Seán Fleming, chair of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, for the way it is dealing with the issue. He said its actions amounted to a "charade" as it emerged €86m was spent buying a free pass to avoid meeting our international environmental targets.

So when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar unveiled the climate plan yesterday to "nudge people" to change behaviour, the sound of one hand clapping hung in the air. Having artfully ignored the sum of all fears by side-stepping grave responsibilities, Mr Varadkar, with a straight face, presented yesterday's blueprint as "the sum of our hopes".

As to be expected, the plan name-checks all the right boxes in terms of intentions.

But if talking was all that was required of us, we would not be facing billions in fines for our delinquencies unless there is a radical change in the next two decades.

"The greatest responsibility we have is to pass on our planet to the next generation in a better condition than we inherited it," he said.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton was just as earnest, saying the plan set out "radical reforms" which would cut Ireland's reliance on carbon.

The truth is these are obligations, not options. As our children are so ready to remind us, in 'saving the planet' we are saving ourselves.

The Government's record may be less than stellar, but its behaviour is arguably indicative of attitudes to committing to change, across society.

Yet surely we have come to a point where what we do is all that matters, not what we plan.

The success or failure of this is contingent on the Government's sticking to its "convictions", and public commitment to transformational change.

Retro-fitting houses and banning cars from cities are worthy goals. They are expensive, but not perhaps as ruinous as the cost of not meeting them.

Massive State assistance and investment will mean higher taxes. The resurgence of the Greens suggests there is a growing public recognition of the need to reverse dangerous trends.

One senses we may not have to wait too long to see how strong that resolve truly is.

Irish Independent

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