Atmosphere ‘used like an open sewer’

We are using the atmosphere as if it is an open sewer, former US vice-president Al Gore, told a major international conference on hunger and climate change in Dublin yesterday.

“The world as a whole is putting 90m tonnes of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day as if it is an open sewer,” Mr Gore said on the second and final day of the conference, co-hosted by the Government and the Mary Robinson Foundation.

“The accumulation of this man-made global warming pollution now traps as much extra energy in the atmosphere each day than would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs,” Mr Gore said.

While we live on a large planet with a lot of energy, he said, it is causing a massive disruption of the water cycle that in turn leads to massive downpours and historic flooding on every continent.

“Last year, Ireland along with your neighbour, the United Kingdom, had historic flooding — massive downpours. The rain patterns have changed.”

Mr Gore said the ability to predict the natural growth cycle had also been disrupted, with subsistence farmers suffering very harsh impacts.

Looking to the past for inspiration, Mr Gore said that in the 19th century, cholera was a big killer and in London at the time a doctor took an unusual step — he used a map and put dots for every case of the disease, overlaid on top of the sewerage system.

“It enabled him to connect the dots and trace the outbreak to a single pump in Broad Street and soon after, Louis Pasteur had the bacterial cause of cholera,” Mr Gore said.

“Well now we have to connect the dots. CO² is invisible, tasteless, and odourless, and many of the other greenhouse gases are as well. But we know where they are coming from and we know what they do and we know what they will do if we continue to accumulate this massive volume in the atmosphere.

“20% of what we put up there today will be warming the planet 10,000 years from now.”

In connecting the dots, we are now seeing more clearly the consequences of the extreme weather events, he claimed.

Mr Gore said Ireland was the leader among nations, with a much higher percentage of its aid going to fight hunger and malnutrition.

He believes the desire by Irish people to help alleviate global hunger had been passed on from one generation to another since the Famine in the 1800s.

“It is a magnificent example of the nobility that can be found in the human spirit,” he said.

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