Irish Examiner View: We must declare SOS for our planet and kick our fossil fuel addiction

IF Planet Earth was a person, he or she would by now be a chain-smoking heroin addict with a death wish, hovering on the brink of homelessness. The pandemic has exposed how our addiction to fossil fuels is destroying the only home we have, proving even to sceptics that mass industrialisation has a profound effect on C02 levels and promotes global warming.
Irish Examiner View: We must declare SOS for our planet and kick our fossil fuel addiction

IF Planet Earth was a person, he or she would by now be a chain-smoking heroin addict with a death wish, hovering on the brink of homelessness. The pandemic has exposed how our addiction to fossil fuels is destroying the only home we have, proving even to sceptics that mass industrialisation has a profound effect on C02 levels and promotes global warming.

No war, recession, financial crash or previous pandemic has had such a dramatic impact on emissions of CO2 over the past century as Covid-19 has in a few short months. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that the world will use 6% less this year - equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India. This will feed through to large falls in CO2.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, at the same time, a new report reveals that vast tracts of pristine rainforest on three continents went literally up in smoke last year, with an area the size of Switzerland cut down or burned to make way for cattle farming and commercial crops.

Forests are the lungs of the earth, yet we still do not seem to understand that, like three of the actors in the famous TV commercial for Marlboro cigarettes who later died of lung disease, our conduct will catch up with us. Failure to take action has become a phenomenon so widespread that it is, in effect, a pandemic potentially more damaging than Covid-19. It is this virus of wilful ignorance and apathy that threatens not just the inhabitants of the earth but the very survival of the planet itself.

According to the annual report of Global Forest Watch, satellite data shows that Brazil accounted for more than a third of the loss of forestry last year, with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia a distant second and third. “We are concerned that the rate of loss is so high despite all the efforts of different countries and companies to reduce deforestation," said lead researcher Mikaela Weisse.

So they should be, along with the rest of us. A study in March calculated that the Amazon rainforest is nearing a threshold of deforestation which, once crossed, would see it become arid savannah within 50 years.

Virgin rainforests are precious. Undisturbed by modern development, they harbour the richest diversity of wildlife on Earth, and keep huge stores of carbon locked away. However, when set ablaze, that carbon escapes into the atmosphere as CO2. That means turning the lungs of the Earth from a carbon suppressor into a carbon producer.

Despite the Paris agreement, CO2 levels are rising globally, despite the blip caused by the pandemic. There are some worthwhile efforts being made, though, with the EU already set on delivering a green stimulus. The Commission's Green Deal chief, Frans Timmermans has promised that every euro spent on economic recovery measures after the COVID-19 crisis would be linked to the green and digital transitions.

Covid 19 has shown that governments can act quickly in an emergency. Global warming is the biggest emergency of all. We need to declare an SOS for our planet. We cannot expect humanity to survive long-term if we continue to get high on fossil fuels and leave the Earth gasping for breath.

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