With its Crayola-coloured houses strung out along a rocky coastline, Ilulissat, a remote town on the west coast of Greenland, looks postcard perfect. But it’s much more than that. The former trading post is a gateway to the UNESCO-protected Ilulissat Icefjord, a colossal glacier that calves the tallest icebergs in the world.
RTÉ journalist Paul Cunningham first visited Ilulissat in 2006 as environmental correspondent. His mission was to report on how the melting glaciers were changing the world’s climate. He recently returned to the area, describing it as a “ground zero for climate change”.
“You are on a boat weaving your way past the humpback whales, past the seals, looking at these monstrosities, icebergs that are 60 to 80 metres tall — the size of Croke Park. On the one hand it’s wonderous and on the other hand, it’s worrying because they used to be 150 metres high — climate change is having an impact,”he says.
Now political correspondent, he’s anxious to see action at a government level.
He’s aware we also need to take individual action to protect the environment, pointing to his reduced carbon footprint in recent years.
“Once I stopped being Europe correspondent in 2014, the amount of travel I did decreased massively. Because I’m political correspondent as far as I go now is Leinster House and, other than the trip to Greenland, I’ve been very much anchored in domestic politics and anchored here. But when I was based in Brussels we were the jump-off point for anywhere in the world.”
Living in Dun Laoghaire, he is married to journalist and presenter Flor McCarthy. They have three children aged 22, 17 and 13.
From Monday, November 11, RTÉ On Climate looks at issues affecting us all. RTÉ News will add to its coverage with a range of special reports and live programming including Paul Cunningham’s report from the Arctic Circle.
'It's an incredible place to be - standing on an iceberg, above the Arctic Circle' | @RTENewsPaulC reports from Greenland | https://t.co/EBKr760qs8 #RTEonClimate pic.twitter.com/5VSWMeQu9j— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 12, 2019
What shape are you in?
I used to do an awful lot of running, including marathons, but the pressure on the knees was beginning to get to me so I shifted to the bike and gym instead. I try to go three days a week in the gym. But when you operate in a world of politics there isn’t a plan.
What are your healthiest eating habits?
I try and start off well. Breakfast is usually homemade granola — I make it myself — and fruit. Once you get out the door you’re on the run and when you’re on the run then anything can happen.
What are your guiltiest pleasures?
Good chocolate. Green & Black — 70% or 85%.
What would keep you awake at night?
I’ve never had any problems with sleeping. I can sleep on a plane or train — I am one of those people who can just drop off.
What’s your favourite smell?
I’ve got a pretty poor sense of smell — it takes a lot for something to register.
What would you like to change about your appearance?
I would probably need to be a bit more attentive [to my appearance] — I am not someone who is hugely conscious of it. But I’m very happy in my own skin. I wouldn’t feel the need to do too much bar getting that extra session down at the gym and eating and drinking a little bit less.
When is the last time you cried?
A couple of months ago in a church in Dublin. It was the funeral of a friend’s mother — he played the piano and his sister sang.
What traits do you least like in others?
Someone who is strident —
I find the people who see the complexities and the difficulties far more appealing than someone who is clear cut.
What traits do you least like about yourself?
I’m deadline focussed and I have to be incredibly precise and disciplined but when you’d want to get things done [outside of work] it slips.
Do you pray?
What would cheer up your day?
Music. Anything and everything, from ragtime to jazz, rock and classical music. It’s a mood changer. If you’re stressed out, there is always a piece of music you can play to get you somewhere else — that gets you out of the hole.
I used to play the bass guitar when I was in my teens. We had two bands, one was called Changling and one was called Free Will. We used to gig around in the Baggott and Ivy Rooms — it was wonderful.