Ireland and the climate crisis - Change tune on global warming

While virtue-signalling legislators can declare as many climate change emergencies as they fancy, the practicalities of achieving substantial reductions in the use of the fossil fuels on which advanced economies currently rely cannot be under-estimated.

Donald Trump is ticked off by our president for his “regressive and pernicious” decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement, and the former US secretary of state John Kerry, speaking in Cork, complains that presidents and prime ministers are not only avoiding the truth about the threat but also attempting to alter it “through thousands of lies”.

That politicians lie, of course, cannot be ruled out, but it’s also possible that they might simply not know how to tell voters — people who buy power to heat their homes, runcars, and fly abroad for holidays in the sun — what tackling climate change might mean for the way our lives are lived, even though the changes for those not yet old enough to vote might be even more dramatic.

For six days last month, all of the electricity needed by household, office, and industrial users in England, Scotland and Wales was supplied by power stations without burning a single lump of coal.

That was a landmark achievement, an undoubted advance in the use of renewable energy, but May is not a winter month and six days is some way short of 365 year in, year out. It was a petite landmark, and more than somewhat overshadowed by the absence of any such achievements in the US, China and India.

There is a suspicion, however, that Ireland isn’t doing enough even in the smallest of ways to combat climate change, and that its’s leaders are not wholehearted in their determination to improve our lamentable record on climate change.

Why should this be so?

Perhaps it’s in the way the Government is handling a Climate Emergency Bill tabled by People Before Profit and currently grinding its way through the legislative process. It aims to prohibit fossil fuel exploration but is to be delayed yet again because the Government says the cost to taxpayers must be assessed.

From an executive that has been so casual with cost over-runs but which has now owned up to the error of its ways, this could sound to the gullible like a plausible motive.

The administrative costs, however, of enforcing a ban on companies looking for coal, gas and oil is unlikely to be vast, so what is the problem that Fine Gael has with this proposal?

The Government faces a similar climate change-related challenge, this time from the Social Democrats and Greens.

They want the money that has been allocated in the National Development Plan for new roads to be spent instead on cycle lanes and expanding train and Luas extensions.

What’s wrong with that idea? Perhaps ministers should put the question to one of its own senior civil servants, Mark Griffin, secretary general at the Department for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.

He has said this about global warming and Ireland:

“The reality is … we will have to change how we work, how we travel, how we socialise, how we heat our homes, how we carry out economic activities. In other words, turn the country entirely on its head over the next 10 years and that’s no mean challenge, but it has to be done.”

Not a politician, he can talk with unforked tongue about turning the country on its head. He doesn’t need our votes.

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