For the past month or more we have been made aware of the effects of greenhouse gases on the planet in a most striking manner. Millions of people around the world have been galvanised into action to raise awareness of the dangers to humanity’s only home.
There is also growing concern over the threat to our oceans from pollution and over-fishing. Fifty-two non-governmental organisations have written to European leaders calling on them to show leadership by acting to protect the ocean, as well as urgently cutting CO2 emissions.
This week alone, global protestors have pointed to the bleak future that will be faced by future generations unless we embrace more fully renewable energy and step up efforts to do away with the use of fossil fuels.
But what of the here and now? And what about the effects of burning fossil fuels on individuals?
Air pollution is responsible for an estimated 1,180 premature deaths in Ireland each year, according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency released, appropriately, on World Lung Day.
And, according to the World Health Organization, air pollution accounts for an estimated 4.2m deaths globally each year, due to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory illnesses.
We need a reality check right here, right now because this is literally a life or death issue.
The Asthma Society of Ireland (ASI) is also marking World Lung Day, by highlighting the potentially devastating consequences of air pollution on public health.
Ireland has one of the highest asthma hospitalisation rates in Western Europe. Deaths from the condition are also increasing — up from 44 fatalities in 2010 to 63 deaths in 2016.
It is now 29 years since a ban was imposed on smoky coal in Dublin. That decision led to an immediate improvement in air quality and public health. ASI says 8,200 deaths have been prevented in Dublin since the smoky coal ban was introduced in the capital in 1990.
The ban was later extended to Cork and other major cities and towns but it has still to be introduced nationwide. The bizarre and unacceptable result of that means that smaller towns continue to have poorer air quality compared to nearby larger centres of population.
ASI chief executive Sarah O’Connor said extending the ban would have a significant positive impact for patients who suffer from asthma, respiratory, heart and infertility conditions. That was supposed to happen before the coming winter but threats of legal action caused Richard Bruton, the minister for communications, climate action and environment, to postpone a nationwide ban.
It is all very well for Leo Varadkar to declare, as he did in New York this week, a limited ban on oil exploration in Irish waters. That may, to some extent, gain him a certain amount of credibility when it comes to combating global warming. If he really wants to bolster his green credentials at home, he should instruct Mr Bruton to extend the ban on dirty coal to the whole country with immediate effect.