2018 was the year that climate change finally became undeniable

2018 was the year that climate change finally became undeniable
The temperature gauge says 15 degrees in glorious sunshine in a flower bed Killarney on Thursday during the exceptionally mild December weather. Photo: Don MacMonagle

The realisations hit at different times. Getting into the sea in Barleycove last July. Buying a woolly jumper last week.

Seeing tiny apples on our miniature tree that never got the necessary moisture to grow plumper, but which have survived into the new year in all their teeniness, still on the branches.

Our world is changing. You, like me, may have been doing you’re dardnest to look the other way and pretend it’s not.

However, the nature and extent of those changes are making it impossible to ignore any longer.

Being able to swim in the sea every day last summer and not feel the usual brutal freeze of the Atlantic was pleasant, but at what cost?

The woolly jumper was purchased on the high street, but the weather has been so moderate that I may not get to wear it at all this year.

I bought a winter coat in October and it’s been outdoors less than a handful of times since.

And, yes, those little red pygmy apples look beautiful in the garden, but they’re just not meant to be there as one year is turning into the next.

A few days ago former Green Party minister John Gormley posted a video on social media showing a bee in his Dublin garden.

A climate change expert was on the radio talking about the how the changes to the Gulf Stream, likely caused by the warming of the Antartic, are causing our weird weather and he added that a friend had sent him a photo the previous day of newly flowered daffodils in Sligo.

Almost subconsciously, I’m reminding myself to keep an eye out for ski gloves the next time they’re on offer in Aldi.

I’ve already decided that when we have advance warning for the next big freeze, I’ll freeze a few slice pans once the first Met Eireann warning bell has been sounded, and therefore avoid the frantic supermarket melee.

As 2019 moves on, those weekly catalogues from the German discounters must be scanned for an electric fan or two, to avoid the family fights over which bedroom got the fan during the sweltering temperatures of last summer.

It is human to avoid the magnitude of all of this and its implications, but we simply can’t anymore.

Yesterday’s special report on climate change in this newspaper was the type of thing I’d put to one side to “read later”, but, instead, I read it.

I’m imagining the day, not too far away, when my children look accusingly and ask what more we might have done to protect our precious environment.

A list of my current efforts would fit on the corner of a yellow post-it note, and I’d want bonus points for the cloth bags I ordered off a website to avoid using small plastic ones for fruit and veg at the supermarket.

What’s that you’re asking? Do I remember to bring them all the time? Well, most of the time.

Are these the responses that will cut it in a court of family law convened by offspring angry at the state of the planet they have inherited? I suspect not.

Last year really was a tipping point, with the effects of global warming being felt everywhere, from our back gardens to extreme weather events and natural disasters.

October brought the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Leading climate scientists warned that we only have a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Our government has a St Paul on the road to Damascus attitude to climate change: It realises that change is needed and is making all the right noises, but is failing to take the necessary steps.

In last October’s budget, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe opted not to increase carbon taxes, which would have seen the price of petrol, oil, diesel, coal, and peat rise.

This is a hangover from the austerity era and water charges, and the mess the then government made of all of that.

A government without a majority worries about carbon tax backlash, and talks soothingly about getting more buy-in from taxpayers on carbon taxes, once the realisation of why they are needed hits home.

2018 was the year that climate change finally became undeniable

But time is running out.

At present, carbon tax is levied at €20 per tonne. But it needs to get to €300 by 2030 to allow the State to meet EU targets and avoid fines.

The notion that we can go from being climate change snails, with an appalling record, to “Ireland being a leader in responding to climate change” (an ambition expressed by the Minister for Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, when he was recently appointed to that brief) seems a tad unrealistic, frankly.

We are due an “all of government climate action plan” in February, the product of consultations that Mr Bruton has been having with all Cabinet colleagues.

One approach, advocated by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and more recently given support by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, is the notion of the money raised from carbon taxes being returned to taxpayers.

As the penny drops for all of us slow climate-change learners — who realise that we have to fully wake up to the realities in 2019 — the politicians will end up following the public on this issue.

It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed, but there are things that we can do. In fact, I reckon that the longer a general election is delayed, the more likely that would favour the Green Party.

People could well opt to give that party a vote, in the hope it would make a difference to reversing the effects of global warming.

It will be one of the first questions I’ll be putting to candidates when they turn up on my doorstep, invariably wearing either be t- shirts and shorts, or ski jackets and thermals.

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