Government must take the reins on climate action

Melinda Gates: Her perspective is key in the battle against global warming. Picture: Getty Images

I’ve tried the whole ‘just do your bit’ approach; the recycling, the reusing, the reducing meat consumption, the Keep Cup, and the avoiding of single-use plastics and polyester clothing, writes Joyce Fegan.

AS MALIGNED as female anger is, I prefer rage to despair. In fact, I will take a good flash of rage over a heavy dose of despair any day.

And I am saying that as someone who is not comfortable with rage, a little afraid of what the response to mine might be.

Case in point: I was driving around a roundabout this week, and a motorbike to my left merged just as I was driving past his exit. There were no cars behind me, and the wait for him would have cost all of three seconds in time. 

Simply put, he was coming whether I liked it or not, and whether he was breaking the rules of the roads or not. Milliseconds later, to further prove whatever point he was trying to make, he overtook me in the slow lane and powered off at 120km/h on an 80km/h road.

The flash of rage appeared alongside the desire to place my hand on the horn and leave it there for as long as it took to distil the sudden anger. But I didn’t. 

If I showed my rage would he disallow it? Would he do a U-turn on the dual carriageway and come back and mock me? Worse still drive into my car?

But like I said, I will take a good flash of rage over a heavy dose of despair any day.

There is both hope and power to be got from rage: Power to change things for the better, if the rage is used constructively and collectively, and hope that the change to which you and others aspire might just occur.

Take this time last year, as women and couples literally opened their wounds for the electorate, telling them of their private and personal maternity horror stories, begging that the majority vote for choice in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. There was a sea of rage. 

But within that sea was a collective current of hope, a hope that change would come about.

And change did come. The electorate gave us choice.

With climate change, however, I feel no rage. There is no time. It’s despair I feel. Where is the action? Where are our Government’s policies that will reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases?

I’ve tried the whole ‘just do your bit’ approach: The recycling, the reusing, the reducing meat consumption, the Keep Cup, and the avoiding of single-use plastics and polyester clothing.

But where is the action at government level?

Last year the UN informed us that we had 12, now 11 years, to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 50%. The climate scientists said this 50% reduction was needed to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C. 

Because after that, even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. That’s us, folks — we are those people.

Then this week, we had the UN’s biodiversity report — more despair-inducing reading. Nature is more in trouble now than at any other time in history. The extinction of more than one million species of plants and animals is now looming.

Academics and scientists are not media people. Their language is not one of sensationalism. In fact, they will couch their findings in such strict wording that sometimes it’s hard to distil their research in layman’s terms.

But these two reports need no distilling. The message is loud and clear, the collective and governmental action far less so. And if I read another tweet, Facebook post, or piece of election literature from a political candidate saying they care about the environment, but have no concrete policy or plan to back that empty speech up, my despair will turn to rage.

I commend you for running, but please don’t pay lip service to something that needs such drastic collective action.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

But back to despair.

I was reading an interview with Melinda Gates in one of the Sunday papers a few weeks back. She was asked about her and husband’s philanthropic work, specifically what’s it like to bear witness to such extreme poverty, suffering, and despair and then return home to her multimillion-dollar mansion ($125m to be exact) outside Seattle.

“No matter who you are, the adjustment is enormous,” she said.

A similar line of probing continued. She talked about struggling not to collapse in front of a group of child brides in Ethiopia. Allowing your heart to break is crucial, said Melina.

“You have to not just tuck that stuff away — you have to process it,” said the billionaire.

Lastly, she was asked if her mission to improve humanity ever gets a “smidge overwhelming”.

Melinda’s answer is key to tackling and dealing with climate change: “When everything seems catastrophic, that’s a loss of perspective, I think.”

She’s right.

I hate the word fight, and I also hate the word tackle, but in the effort to curb both our carbon and greenhouse emissions, so that us humans have somewhere decent to live and our co-species don’t die en masse, perspective must not be lost.

Melinda’s ability to maintain perspective is bolstered by a “small gang” of friends, who have gone through the circles of life together, from marriages to pregnancies, and from ageing parents to the death of spouses.

IF WE are to fix this climate of ours we must band together, together. And like any movement worth its weight, we must arm ourselves with facts.

This week Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced funding of €10.2m for research projects that will identify solutions to climate change and other emerging and complex environmental problems. 

The funding is being divvied out this year and next.

Are you a scientist? Have you any ideas?

As world famous climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, said this week: “The climate system doesn’t care how we get to net zero carbon, only when.”

And another world famous climate scientist, Ken Caldeira, also speaking this week said: “Any semi-sensible plan to get zero net emissions that people could actually agree on would be fine with me.”

My despair is not so much related to the impossibility of such solutions, humans after all are an ingenious and resourceful species, the despair stems from a doubt that we have the political will, or can get our collective act together, to implement those solutions.

Is there a will? If so, let’s find the way.

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