‘I believe that God above is in charge of the weather and that we here can’t do anything’ — the words of Danny Healy-Rae.
As the Kerryman took to his feet, a few eyebrows were raised.
“I don’t agree with all these stories of climate change at all,” he told the Dáil in March. “There have been patterns of climate change going back over the years, indeed before there was ever a combustible engine.
“If we go back to the 11th and 12th centuries this country was roasted out of it, in the 15th and the 16th centuries we were drowned out of it... there was one year in particular the sun didn’t shine at all.”
From freak flooding in Donegal to snow which closed down the entire country in March, followed by a weather-related fodder crisis and now drought, those in the Healy-Rae camp of believers may be thinking that Judgment Day is nigh.
The weather has always been a great topic of conversation for the Irish — we have a whole pocket-sized dictionary worth of words to describe rain in its various guises from ‘a grand soft day’ to ‘bucketing it down’ — but the past 12 months have perhaps focused minds on the bigger picture.
Climate change is real and it is beginning to have a severe impact on our world.
While most people — with a few very vocal and notable exceptions — agree that we need to tackle the issue of global warming, it isn’t really on the daily priority list of getting to work on time, buying bananas, putting out the bins, or collecting the kids from school.
Climate change is thought of as an airy-fairy academic topic to be discussed by people in baggy woollen jumpers who have wind turbines in their back gardens. But we need to get serious on climate change, and that doesn’t mean becoming a vegan, tree-hugging, organic hemp-wearing hippy.
The exact consequences are impossible to predict, but we are likely to see wetter conditions here in Ireland and more extreme weather events across the world such as the devastating wildfires in Greece and California of recent weeks.
It will mean paying more for fossil fuels as we move to greener alternatives of energy. The price of petrol, diesel, and home heating oil will undoubtedly rise — Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already signalled that carbon will be a major target in the upcoming budget.
However, the problem of global warming and climate change is now so gigantic that it will take more than tinkering around the edges.
A substantial change of mindset is now required from big business and Governments all over the world who have been slow to act on the issue.
While many of us give ourselves a smug clap on the back for sipping our cappuccinos out of a KeepCup; buying energy-efficient appliances; and putting our plastics in the recycling bin, studies have shown that our green efforts throughout the year are almost always outweighed by one damaging activity such as taking a family holiday overseas.
A paper entitled ‘Good Intents, but Low Impacts’, published last year, found that a person’s ecological footprint is mostly determined by wealth — despite any efforts that the individual makes to live an eco-friendly life.
Another study published this year by the Centre for Development and Environment found that individuals earning over €3,000 net per month emit almost twice as much CO2 as individuals earning less than €1,000 per month.
“Unsurprisingly, higher earners tended to have larger dwellings, more and bigger cars, greater numbers of appliances and personal electronic devices, etc — all implying increased energy use,” it found.
Our own domestic excess cannot be ignored. Home heating and electricity use account for at least 25% of all energy-related CO2 emissions across Europe.
Insulating our homes and installing more energy-efficient heating systems or converting to solar power, all of which are subject to grants, can help.
But governments and multinational corporations cannot be let off the hook on their responsibilities.
Ian Carey, communications manager with the European Environmental Bureau, said putting all the focus on “personal contributions” takes the focus off world leaders who can make a far greater change.
“What governments or international companies can do with the stroke of a pen is far bigger than the individual actions of entire communities or countries. You need to have leadership at business and Government level to solve the problem.”
The Climate Change Advisory Council has warned that Ireland is “completely off course” in its efforts to meet climate change goals.
In its annual review for 2018, submitted to Government last month, the council found that instead of achieving the required reduction of a million tonnes per year in carbon dioxide emissions — in line with the National Policy Position — Ireland is currently increasing emissions at a rate of 2m tonnes per year.
Failing to meet our targets, set out in the Paris Agreement, will not only damage the environment but will also cost this State tens of millions of euro in fines.
Mr Carey said: “For the past 10 years, Ireland has been refusing to deal with... two major areas — agriculture and transport — and that undermines everything that Ireland is doing on climate change.”
The Government, it appears, is choosing the road of least resistance when it comes to the mighty farming lobbies, but, in the long term, supporting climate mitigation measures may in fact assist farmers who are often worst impacted by changes in climate, as was seen with this winter’s severe fodder shortages followed by extreme drought over the summer which has in turn led to less hay and silage production.
Ireland has the lowest forest cover of all European countries, with 11% of land under cover of trees.
The Government has been pushing to increase this, but last year, it missed its target of planting more than 7,000ha by over 20%.
Ireland is perfectly placed and has all the right conditions to increase the level of afforestation, as well as wind and solar harvesting.
According to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, the problem is that we are lacking the political drive required.
“It is so evident now that climate change is becoming a threat, it is an existing threat for many people, including in Ireland, and we see that from the flooding to the drought we have experienced,” he said.
With predictions of increasing sea levels, more intense heatwaves, and prolonged drought in some areas and severe flooding in other regions, we cannot simply leave the issue of climate change in the lap of the Gods.