VICTORIA WHITE: Time to kill lies on climate change — before it kills human life on this planet

What we need in the wake of last week’s floods is for awareness of the climate challenge to be inherent in every Government decision, writes Victoria White.

‘An Inconvenient Truth: warning of more extreme weather as climate change effect hits home’ read the front page headline over this newspaper’s report on the Donegal floods last Thursday.

It was astonishing. Climate change almost never makes headlines in Ireland. A direct connection between a severe climate event and the changing climate is almost never made.

This newspaper did just that while carefully pointing out that you can’t fully explain one climate event by analysing increased greenhouse gas emissions.

What you can say without fear of contradiction is, to quote Al Gore’s latest film on the climate crisis, “Every storm is different now because it takes place in a warmer, wetter world.”

It was a surreal experience to sit in a nearly empty cinema in Dublin on Tuesday night watching An Inconvenient Sequel: truth to power while the images of Texas and Louisiana on the news channels got worse and worse.

Eighteen dead in apocalyptic floods. US President Donald Trump, who pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement saying climate change was ‘not a priority’ surveying the flood damage and announcing: “There’s never been anything so expensive in our country before or anything so historic.”

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston.
Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston.

When the point rammed home by Al Gore against endless images of American first responders in wellies from Miami to New York is that “never before, never again” are, in this context, the words of a prize fool.

In the past few years the US has had one “once in 1,000 years” climate event and two “once in 100 years” climate event which either points to an incredible streak of bad luck or climate change.

“I wonder how the government sloshes through this and says nothing is happening,” comments Gore as he talks to officials in Miami whose expensive plans for new raised highways will be washed away under most conservative climate modelling.

As I came home from the cinema the horror of the floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh was beginning to hit home. 1,200 people dead already. Mumbai at a standstill as roads turn into rivers and waterfalls and the paediatric unit of a major hospital is evacuated.

Time to kill lies on climate change — before it kills human life on this planet

It’s the poorest suffer first and worst, of course. No matter how bad things get here, the Irish are not among them. 

I’ve no doubt, however, that some of the inhabitants of Burnfoot, Co Donegal will identify easily with Gore’s descriptions of “Noah-like” floods and even “rain bombs”.

So far 47 families in Donegal have registered as ‘displaced’ and some will not get back into their homes for a long time. The cost of repairing the damage will run to many millions and of course, for these families, some damage can never be repaired.

Carnage in Carndonagh where a number of cars and a bus were destroyed in the flash flooding in Donegal.
Carnage in Carndonagh where a number of cars and a bus were destroyed in the flash flooding in Donegal.

The usual finger-pointing is going on – the council wasn’t ‘prepared, the emergency services weren’t ‘prepared’ — when no one can possibly prepare for a month’s rain to fall in a couple of hours.

The doubt must stop. Giving in to the petro-chemical industry’s carefully sponsored ambiguity on the climate crisis must end. We are right now in the middle of a climate crisis, which is the biggest existential threat humanity has ever faced.

It’s going to get much worse. But we still have it in our power to make worse better than it would otherwise be. We must, or our children’s children will shout, with Al Gore, “What were you thinking that you didn’t hear what Mother Nature was screaming at you?”

We’ve got to comply with our commitment under the Paris Agreement to be carbon neutral by 2050. All that’s happened so far is that the Government has published a National Mitigation Plan which says we know where we have to get to but we don’t know how. Which is, admittedly, better than saying we know where we’re going and it’s out of the Paris Agreement.

What we need in the wake of last week’s floods here and this week’s floods in the US and India, Bangladesh and Nepal is for awareness of the climate challenge to be inherent in every Government decision and every Government statement.

RTÉ must urgently adopt a new policy on man-made climate change which reflects the 97% certainty with which it is reported by the world’s best scientists. Instead its weather reports almost never betray an awareness of the shocking underlying trends. And its news and current affairs programming is frequently 30 years out of date.

Take, for example, the episode of Claire Byrne Live on which I was a panellist in May, which opened with the headline: “Do you dare to question climate change?”

The ‘hook’ for the show was an article by Matt Dempsey in The Farmer’s Journal which reported an argument made by US scientist and climate denier, Richard Lindzen, that the emission of methane from livestock does not cause significant climate change.

Lindzen had been brought into Ireland by a new climate denial organisation called the Irish Climate Science Forum.

As it happens, Lindzen also likes to question the impact of smoking on the incidence of lung cancer.

On this evidence, RTÉ put together a show with two classic panels, one ‘for’ and one ‘against’ as if there were still a 50:50 debate on man-made climate change.

I was joined by broadcaster Duncan Stewart on the ‘for’ side; Matt Dempsey was joined on the ‘against’ side by TD and turf-cutter Michael Fitzmaurice, who said he “questions an awful lot” about man-made climate change.

When Claire Byrne turned to me for my opening comments, I said I didn’t so much have a problem with Matt Dempsey and his private newspaper as with RTÉ, funded by the taxpayer as a public service broadcaster.

She countered that the show’s poll had shown 34% of people didn’t see climate change as a serious threat in their lifetime.

I’ve been shouting inside ever since: ‘Don’t you have a role to play in changing that?’

The stakes are very high. There are huge vested interests in the petrochemical industry but there is in the sun and wind a multiple of the energy the world needs.

In Ireland, farming as we know it is going to have to change, and that isn’t going to be easy.

We have to remember, by way of perspective, that farmers would be wiped out by catastrophic climate change, with the smallest taking the biggest hit.

Now is the time that we must ‘speak truth to power’ or ‘be inconvenient’ as Al Gore’s Twitter hashtag says. Last week, this newspaper did just that and I am proud to be published on its pages.

Gore quotes Martin Luther King’s saying that ‘No lie can live forever’. The race is now on to kill the climate lie before it kills human life on this planet.

What we need in the wake of last week’s floods is for awareness of the climate challenge to be inherent in every Government decision


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