With its Crayola-coloured houses strung out along a rocky coastline, Ilulissat, a remote town on the west coast of Greenland, looks postcard perfect. But it’s much more than that. The former trading post is a gateway to the UNESCO-protected Ilulissat Icefjord, a colossal glacier that calves the tallest icebergs in the world.
RTÉ journalist Paul Cunningham first visited Ilulissat in 2006 as environmental correspondent. His mission was to report on how the melting glaciers were changing the world’s climate. He recently returned to the area, describing it as a “ground zero for climate change”.
“You are on a boat weaving your way past the humpback whales, past the seals, looking at these monstrosities, icebergs that are 60 to 80 metres tall — the size of Croke Park. On the one hand it’s wonderous and on the other hand, it’s worrying because they used to be 150 metres high — climate change is having an impact,”he says.
Now political correspondent, he’s anxious to see action at a government level.
We’ve been a delinquent for 20 years. The question now is what are we going to do about it now that the evidence is all around us?
He’s aware we also need to take individual action to protect the environment, pointing to his reduced carbon footprint in recent years.
“Once I stopped being Europe correspondent in 2014, the amount of travel I did decreased massively. Because I’m political correspondent as far as I go now is Leinster House and, other than the trip to Greenland, I’ve been very much anchored in domestic politics and anchored here. But when I was based in Brussels we were the jump-off point for anywhere in the world.”
Living in Dun Laoghaire, he is married to journalist and presenter Flor McCarthy. They have three children aged 22, 17 and 13.
I used to do an awful lot of running, including marathons, but the pressure on the knees was beginning to get to me so I shifted to the bike and gym instead. I try to go three days a week in the gym. But when you operate in a world of politics there isn’t a plan.
I try and start off well. Breakfast is usually homemade granola — I make it myself — and fruit. Once you get out the door you’re on the run and when you’re on the run then anything can happen.
Good chocolate. Green & Black — 70% or 85%.
I’ve never had any problems with sleeping. I can sleep on a plane or train — I am one of those people who can just drop off.
I’ve got a pretty poor sense of smell — it takes a lot for something to register.
I would probably need to be a bit more attentive [to my appearance] — I am not someone who is hugely conscious of it. But I’m very happy in my own skin. I wouldn’t feel the need to do too much bar getting that extra session down at the gym and eating and drinking a little bit less.
A couple of months ago in a church in Dublin. It was the funeral of a friend’s mother — he played the piano and his sister sang.
Someone who is strident —
I like people who understand grey and are not binary.
I find the people who see the complexities and the difficulties far more appealing than someone who is clear cut.
I’m deadline focussed and I have to be incredibly precise and disciplined but when you’d want to get things done [outside of work] it slips.
Music. Anything and everything, from ragtime to jazz, rock and classical music. It’s a mood changer. If you’re stressed out, there is always a piece of music you can play to get you somewhere else — that gets you out of the hole.
I used to play the bass guitar when I was in my teens. We had two bands, one was called Changling and one was called Free Will. We used to gig around in the Baggott and Ivy Rooms — it was wonderful.