Battle for better quality of life doesn't have to be a war

Battle for better quality of life doesn't have to be a war
La Rochelle. Like Cork it has to contend with the consequences of a changing climate.

My wife and I spent some time in France last week, and specifically in the coastal town of La Rochelle.

Like Cork, La Rochelle has to contend with the consequences of a changing climate.

It is reinforcing its sea wall defences to manage more intense weather and tidal incursions.

Seventy-five years ago, the whole of northern France was convulsed by unprecedented destruction of people and property.

It was not the natural world that challenged civilised living then, but instead man-made war which brought full bore military force to bear on the urban and rural environments of north western Continental Europe.

The author James Holland, in his masterful book Normandy 44, details the scale of resources brought to bear in the fight with Nazism.

It is striking how much power democratic countries can deploy to achieve seemingly unattainable goals when pressed to their limits.

In 1939, for example, the US built just 18 tanks in a year. By 1943, it was building over 26,000 in 12 months. America built 85,000 aircraft in 1943, more than Germany had manufactured in total since the start of the war.

These figures illustrate the speed with which governments can move to address major challenges to the ways of normal life. It feels, now, as if a similar gauntlet is being thrown down to the current generation.

Instead of war, it is a changing climate that poses serious questions to those in power.

Their response will be determined by leadership and the public’s wishes as declared in the ballot box over coming years.

A rational analysis points to the need for radical shifts in the way all of us live, work and play to help contend with environmental change. Much of this does not need rocket science.

The closure of Dublin Bay beaches last week, for example, was not the consequence of rapid deterioration in the climate.

Instead, it reflects poor long-term planning for urban waste in the greater Dublin area.

Political decisions to invest in required infrastructure can help make Dublin Bay not just a safe working port but a unique natural amenity for its citizens.

The same applies to Cork Harbour, where admirable progress with the Shangarry treatment plant needs to be repeated so the harbour can help replenish wildlife while allowing people enjoy the sea more widely.

Undoubtedly, the world needs genius engineers to design new ways to power transport without harming the environment.

I suspect that will come, encouraged by increasingly motivated governments and the quantum difference in technological power compared to decades ago.

In the meantime, a large number of small measures could make a big difference.

One is about solving the public transport challenges in Cork.

In La Rochelle, they deploy bendy buses on dedicated street lanes that provide reliable, inexpensive transport for all.

Instead of fulminating about a deeply expensive light rail system across Cork, could we not, instead, find electric bendy buses for dedicated bus lanes to do the same job at a fraction of the cost while improving the environment?

What northern and western France teaches us is that society can come back from the bleakest of outcomes.

In 1945, I doubt if many would bet that this area of France would be a thriving economy built around industry, agri-food and tourism.

Its commerce had been shattered and the population traumatised.

Yet, all of that has been replaced by a society of normality and civility.

We have to think about the challenges facing today’s world in the same context, and trust the coming generations, to not just survive but prosper.

Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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