Irish Examiner view: Let’s upscale climate war to C19 pace

Pandemic offers huge lesson
Irish Examiner view: Let’s upscale climate war to C19 pace

The International Energy Agency yesterday warned that carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to jump this year by the second-biggest annual rise in history. Picture: PA Wire

There is a growing, probably justified sense that things have taken a turn for the better, that we have found ways to counter, or at least steer, the pandemic. That optimism seems plausible, science seems to have found a key to the future, or many keys if some of the scores of vaccines in development prove worthwhile. Managing that optimism, even though we all long to — and need to — kick the traces, is just the latest challenge imposed by the wretched coronavirus.

The old trap of counting chickens before they hatch is as seductive but as dangerous as ever. Any hope that we might kick the traces and embrace a new-old normal before the Whit weekend, only six weeks hence, may have been threatened by yesterday’s announcement that two Dundalk nursing home staff, fully vaccinated since February, tested positive. People can test positive for Covid-19 despite being fully inoculated, we know this, but the vaccines prevent death and serious illness and neither of the staff has displayed any symptoms. Though we knew cases like this one would emerge, it is nevertheless unnerving.

Matters are complicated further by three cases of a new Indian strain being detected in Ireland this week. Two are a consequence of travel, while a third is being investigated. It is wishful thinking to imagine there might not be more eruptions of that strain, and more new strains too.

Resurgent coal burning, the dirtiest fossil fuel, for electricity is largely driving the emissions explosion

These bumps along a road of unknown length may be disheartening but the pandemic offers one, over-arching lesson that must reassure and inspire, but only if it is applied.

Despite the dangerous bluster of demagogues, those in office or those expelled, international communities have co-operated to quickly meet the needs of the day. There are issues around the equitable sharing of vaccines but as the other epoch-defining issue shows, poverty always exacerbates challenge.

The International Energy Agency yesterday warned that carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to jump this year by the second-biggest annual rise in history. One reason for that dystopian spiral, second only to the rebound a decade ago after the financial crisis, is that global economies pour stimulus cash into fossil fuels to try to stimulate recovery from the Covid-19 recession. Resurgent coal burning, the dirtiest fossil fuel, for electricity is largely driving the emissions explosion, especially in Asia but also in America. Coal’s Lazarus moment is particularly worrying as it comes despite plunging prices for renewable energy, which now costs less than coal.

If we regard our response to the pandemic as a microcosm of our response to climate collapse we can learn many things. We reacted quickly and forcibly to try to contain the pandemic but, maybe because the scale of the climate catastrophe is beyond our comprehension, we are still in the pre-mask, pre-lockdown stage of our response. More than 3m people have died because of Covid-19, but multiples, many multiples, unfortunately, of that figure are in jeopardy because of climate collapse. It is vital that our response to those figures, their great but uneven jeopardies, is proportionate. After all, there is no vaccine to avert climate collapse.

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