Irish Examiner view: It's time to treat climate change with real urgency

It is astounding that governments around the world have not rushed to treat climate change as an emergency as pressing as the Covid-19 pandemic
Irish Examiner view: It's time to treat climate change with real urgency

Fire consumes a home in  Doyle, California, earlier this month; pushed by heavy winds, the fire came out of the hills and destroyed multiple residences. Picture: Noah Berger/AP

It is possible, even likely, that we will look back on last week’s heatwave and remember it not as the hottest in recent years, but the coolest of the decades to come.

That is not scaremongering, but a real consequence of the climate crisis and extreme weather events that are already wreaking havoc around the world. 

We have come to expect the heatwaves and climate fires now ravaging California, however Siberia, a one-time byword for freezing temperatures, has been sweltering in 30-degree heat.

It is the kind of shake-us-out-of-complacency news that should force us to link extremes in temperature to climate change.

At home, we have finally started to do that, albeit slowly. 

Rather than think of the recent hot spell as celebratory days of beach-going, ice cream, and finally getting on top of the laundry, we have begun to report how soaring temperatures have, and will, inflict lasting environmental damage.

Almost a tenth of Irish Water’s treatment plants — 70 of 750 — were in drought or almost in drought after just a week of high temperatures, highlighting yet again the poor quality of Ireland’s water infrastructure. 

Inland Fisheries Ireland warned that it was time to take measures to mitigate climate change. 

That point can’t be made strongly enough, as scientists say the recent heatwave should be considered as a warning of climate change.

In the last fortnight alone, we’ve seen flash floods claim at least 170 lives in Germany and Belgium. 

In Zhengzhou, China, commuters on underground trains found themselves shoulder-high in water in scenes reminiscent of a disaster movie. 

Climate change has pushed Madagascar to the brink of famine, while in India, rescue teams are struggling to bring people to safety after the heaviest rains in four decades claimed more than 100 lives in Maharashtra state; the death toll is still rising.

It is astounding, then, that governments around the world have not rushed to treat climate change as an emergency as pressing as the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As these weather events attest, it will not wait until we are ready to deal with it.

Scientists have also issued dire predictions that a three-degree rise in temperature would make the world a very unpleasant place by 2070. 

Melting ice from Greenland would affect many of our coastal towns and cities but, as is sadly always the case, the poor in less developed countries would be worst hit. 

Apart from the inevitable deaths and widescale destruction, millions of people would be forced to migrate, unleashing an unparalleled refugee crisis.

Given the scenario ahead, why are governments not taking anything like the urgent action that is needed?

Here, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said the Climate Action Bill, which was passed in the Dáil last month, would change everything for the better. 

Some warn that it does not go far enough, while others complain it goes too far.

What is clear, however, is that the time for talking is past. 

We need to invest, sector by sector, in infrastructure and the right technology — we have the expertise — to protect our world from the catastrophe that awaits it.

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