Friday 24 January 2020

We all have a role in saving our world

The UK’s plan to replace all petrol and diesel cars with electric-powered vehicles by 2040 focused attention on our own puny efforts in this regard — about 400 electric vehicles sold here last year out of a total of about 150,000 new cars. Photo: PA Wire
The UK’s plan to replace all petrol and diesel cars with electric-powered vehicles by 2040 focused attention on our own puny efforts in this regard — about 400 electric vehicles sold here last year out of a total of about 150,000 new cars. Photo: PA Wire
Editorial

Editorial

The environment is everyone's concern. And like most things that are everyone's concern, it can often appear to be the concern of no-one. And then along comes a week like the one just gone where the headlines are dominated by tales of what we are doing to mess up the world in which we live, whether through unsatisfactory waste disposal, harmful emissions, or our totally irresponsible attitude towards the precious resource that is a dependable supply of clean water.

Suddenly it is easier to see how many issues are connected.

Earlier this summer, the Government moved to defuse the bin charges controversy by deferring price hikes, but there is a touch of desperation here, perhaps influenced by how easily something like this can be hijacked on to the streets by a vocal minority. And it looks like it will not work.

The UK's plan to replace all petrol and diesel cars with electric-powered vehicles by 2040 focused attention on our own puny efforts in this regard - about 400 electric vehicles sold here last year out of a total of about 150,000 new cars. Last week the Government launched a five-year national mitigation plan to tackle climate change. And indeed switching transport, both public and private, to electricity is desirable so long as we answer the hard questions - like where does the electricity come from? If it is powered by carbon fuels, what is the point?

John FitzGerald, chair of the Government's Climate Change Advisory Council, told us that already emissions in 2020 will be 15-20pc over target, and unless we see serious decisions and plans for action, we will still be a net contributor to the problems of climate change in 2050.

But it was the water debacle in Louth/Meath that really ought to have focused our minds. It reminded us that doing away with water charges was not the end of this sorry saga. We still have an antiquated system, with a 50pc leakage rate and miles of pipes throughout the country ready to disintegrate at any moment. Our water mains, sewerage pipes and water treatment plants are in such a state of disrepair, they need speedy remedial work. Irish Water reckons it needs to spend €5.5bn up to 2021, but where is the money to come from? It could have come from water charges but there was a popular revolt by those who pay little or no tax and so won't be affected if it comes out of general taxation. They made a lot of noise on the streets and first Sinn Fein and then Fianna Fail lost their nerve. So now the minister responsible, Eoghan Murphy, will have to go to his fellow Cabinet members and make a pitch in the annual Estimates. He will be competing for scarce resources against, for example, the Minister for Health pleading for the sick and the dying and the Minister for Justice needing to protect us from rapists and murderers. He will need a compelling argument.

Water charges are a "political dead cat" right now, according to the former Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan. But then Mr Noonan is now a kind of "political dead cat" himself and it may be time for a bit of a rethink. Could it be that that populist rush to abolish water charges was our Brexit? And when the ordinary people of this country have time to think rationally about the consequences of that decision, they might come to a different view?

In 2011, the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said: "The imperative of the 21st Century (is) saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth - they are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women's empowerment" - another issue that arose last week - "The solution to one problem must be a solution for all." He was right. All these issues are connected.

And they are the concern of us all. We need the vision to see that, and the courage to implement the solutions.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss