Professor Quentin Crowley: How Irish entrepreneurs can take on climate change 

The global climate crisis poses many existential questions for society, but also offers green economic opportunities, not least for Ireland and its abundant offshore wind-energy resources  
Professor Quentin Crowley: How Irish entrepreneurs can take on climate change 

Lightning strikes during a monsoon storm over  a nearly dry creek bed, Mayer, Arizona 

It’s hard to miss the high temperatures, with Ireland recording on July 18 its hottest day for 135 years, at 33.1 degrees.  

But it’s not just the high temperatures, because we’re also experiencing other extreme conditions. Prolonged periods with little or no rain can result in water shortages, while less rain can result in little or no grass growth, which is bad news for farmers in terms of increased costs of importing animal feed. 

Then other times it seems like all the rain comes at once and we end up with too much water with nowhere to go. How many times in recent years has the River Lee burst its banks and flooded Cork city? 

Over 80% of monthly high rainfall records and 75% of daily high rainfall records for Ireland were set in the past 50 years. Then there are the storms. It's not just about a bit of wind but involves the kinds of storms that shut the whole country down.

In 2017, Storm Ophelia just before making landfall recorded gusts of 191Km per hour at Fastnet Rock off the coast of Cork. 

Time for change

Extreme storms can also cause widespread power outages; fallen trees which block our roads and damage our homes and shut down schools, universities, public transport, and businesses. It’s clear that as a society, we’re facing major challenges with climate change. The long-term disruption to climate is real and is happening now.

The message from the European Union is that we need to accelerate our path to climate neutrality. Cork and Dublin recently joined a list of 100 cities that will participate in the EU mission for climate-neutral and smart cities, or the so-called Cities Mission. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a big part of the European Green Deal, an EU initiative which stands to receive major funding over the coming years.

A big question is how we meet this climate-neutral ambition in a practical and rapid way which does not ignore people’s livelihoods. As a society, we have certain expectations as to how things should work for us, and we have limits on what we’re willing to sacrifice to meet these targets. The good news is that achieving climate neutrality does not necessarily mean making sacrifices. Lowering emissions will certainly mean making fundamental changes to the way we live. We can choose to manage these changes in a way which is sympathetic to local needs, and which contributes to a prosperous economy.

Environmental opportunities

Climate and entrepreneurship may sound like unlikely bedfellows. A central concept to climate entrepreneurship is that we don’t have to see climate change as a harbinger of doom. For sure the climate crisis poses several major societal challenges, yet with change also comes opportunity. Entrepreneurs are already bringing a lot of innovation to climate action. Electric cars and the expansion of car and bike-sharing programmes are obvious examples, but we can do so much more.

Consumers are also changing their behaviour. Last year, the World Wide Fund for Nature reported that searches for sustainable goods have increased globally by 71% since 2016. Climate adaptation and mitigation can create new opportunities for businesses and society while responding to these changing markets. We can move towards climate neutrality in a way which creates valuable jobs and provides the vital goods and services we need to function.

Take energy systems for example. Ireland has great potential to develop offshore wind energy. Couple renewable energy with hydrogen production and not only could we more than meet Ireland’s energy demands, but we could also become a net exporter of electricity and green hydrogen. 

Existing infrastructure can be adapted to help our journey to climate neutrality. The Kinsale gas field, which is currently being decommissioned, could in the future be used to store carbon captured from the atmosphere.

A fundamental shift across all sectors will require learning new skills, taking on new knowledge, and adopting different mindsets to be able to understand the complexity and rise to the massive challenge that is climate change. It will be a difficult but not an impossible journey and we can use this opportunity to change society for the better.

  • Quentin Crowley is an associate professor in geology at Trinity College Dublin and director of the Trinity Centre for the Environment, and a funded investigator in iCRAG, the SFI Research Centre in Applied Geosciences

  • You can learn more about climate entrepreneurship by taking a part-time online and in person postgraduate certificate course at Tangent, Trinity's Ideas Workspace. This is taught over 18 weeks starting from September. The course is funded through Springboard+ with course fees of €375 for eligible applicants in employment and free to eligible unemployed applicants.

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