Wednesday 17 July 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'A small commitment to limit the amount of plastic you use will actually have a direct and positive impact'

Sir David Attenborough (Ian West/PA)
Sir David Attenborough (Ian West/PA)
Passionate speech: David Attenborough called for action at the COP24 climate change summit in Katowice, Poland on Monday. Photo: Lukasz kalinowski/east/rex
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Sometimes when you're trying to win an argument, change minds and, apparently, save the planet, you need to bring out the big guns.

You can introduce all the new taxes you want but you'll just annoy those who are already struggling and don't appreciate what little money they have being sacrificed on the altar of a fashionable obsession.

So in desperate times, who are you going to call?

Well, this week it was David Attenborough.

Speaking at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Katowice the other day, broadcaster Attenborough (92) spoke on behalf of the UN's so-called 'People's Seat', an initiative designed to give so called 'ordinary people' a voice when it comes to expressing concern about the damage that's being caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

His words seem to have had a more galvanising effect than any of the hot air emitted by all our politicians and green campaigners.

According to the renowned naturalist: "If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The world's people have spoken, their message is clear, time is running out, they want you, the decision-makers, to act now. They're supporting you in making tough decisions but they're also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives."

For a speech that has been hailed as a sort of Gettysburg Address for climate change, it was rather presumptuous to claim to speak for the 'world's people' - after all, there are more than seven billion of us on the planet.

Attenborough gets a free pass on these issues for the simple reason that people like him. In a culture where people now seem to be controlled by their feelings rather than being in control of them, such emoting from a popular public figure was always going to make a bigger mark than, for instance, our own 'climate action' Minister, Richard Bruton, who has been dutifully singing from the UN's hymn sheet this week.

As ever when it comes to politicians, Bruton's statements can be translated as a simple declaration that 'we are going to bring in new taxes.'

That climate change should have become such a controversial political hot potato is largely down to the campaigners themselves. For more than two decades now, we have been issued with dire and apocalyptic warnings of impending doom which simply haven't come true.

When Attenborough spoke, people listened. When Bruton spoke, people just tuned out.

Only a fool would deny that climate change is happening, and only an even bigger fool would assume that man has nothing to do with it - you can't pump billions of tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and expect no reaction.

But the rank hypocrisy of so many of the leading campaigners, particularly politicians and bored celebrities looking for their latest fashionable cause, has ensured that millions of people simply ignore the whole conversation.

For example, Bernie Sanders recently said that: "Climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating harm here in the United States and to people all around the globe."

Yet it also emerged on Wednesday that he spent $300,000 in the previous month on air travel across America.

That's the kind of double-standard guaranteed to make people roll their eyes and adds fuel to the suspicion that the whole thing is just a big con.

It's not, of course. But as long as China opens new coal mines every week and as long as the most obvious solution to the problem - nuclear power - is dismissed by the very people who say the sky is falling, then it's hard to take all the posturing seriously.

The truth is that when it comes to the big picture, there is very little we can do as individuals. But that doesn't mean we have no control over the impact we make on the environment.

We're now heading into the Christmas shopping-frenzy period. This year is going to see the largest increase in consumer spending in a decade and we all know that means - more plastic.

As much damage as we have done to the air we breathe, we have also caused incalculable damage to our oceans with discarded plastic, which takes thousands of years to degrade.

It's estimated that up to 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year and as anyone who saw the recent story of the dead whale discovered to have a stomach full of plastic will know, we are now killing our fellow creatures in ever more new and horrible ways.

Numerous Irish companies now offer plastic-free packaging, and the proposed 'plastic tax' is one of the few taxes that makes sense. We know it works because we have seen it work before when the levy on plastic bags was introduced and had an immediate impact - it's now rare to see the once common sight of hedgerows festooned with bags, because people now use multi-use ones.

If there's nothing much we can do about the broader environment, we can control our own, local environment and a small commitment to limit the amount of plastic you use will actually have a direct and positive impact.

As for the climate change hysterics?

Well, come back to me when you have a coherent plan on nuclear power, and then we can talk...

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