Over the weekend, British Labour party leader Ed Miliband warned that climate change is now “an issue of national security that has the potential not only to destabilise and cause conflict between regions of the world, but to destroy the homes, livelihoods, and businesses of millions of British people”.
Hours later, US secretary of state John Kerry spoke in equally strong terms: “When I think about the array of global climate, of the global threats, think about this: Terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — all challenges that know no borders. The reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.”
Tens of thousands of Irish people, who in recent weeks have experienced new levels of adverse weather and the chaos it brought, will agree with Mr Miliband. Some may even wonder why we have, for so very long, ignored warnings about what the future holds for societies unwilling to prepare for a very different world.
The sands may be shifting here as Taoiseach Enda Kenny has accepted that climate change is a clear and present danger to our way of life. Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure minister, concurred and suggested “when calm is restored I think we have to do some serious thinking about long-term flood defences because clearly climate change is a reality”. The implications for the exchequer, and communities that may not be afforded protection, are huge.
What a pity it is then that as this Pauline conversion ripples through our political life that two ministers — Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and, tragically, Environment Minister Phil Hogan — earlier this month “celebrated” yet another derogation for farmers from the EU Nitrates Directive, one of the measures designed to protect water supplies and cut production of greenhouse gasses. It is a particularly Irish irony that the powerful lobby behind this terribly retrograde step — the IFA — demands compensation for their members who have been affected by recent floods. That they will probably get some tells much about where power lies and how we avoid accepting the consequences of our actions. That two senior ministers should be involved in this campaign, and the running-with-the-hare-and-hunting-with-the-hounds prevarication over EU directives to protect bogs, is unfortunately — and dangerously — a more accurate reflection of our position on environmental protection and climate change.
The storms and floods of recent, and coming weeks it seems, offer those who might try to change attitudes and strengthen determination on this critical issue the perfect argument, one a sane society can no longer ignore. The consequences of a changing climate may be the primary issue but how we so easily concede to the short-term objectives of influential lobby groups, how we try to sweeten bitter realities with “derogations”, how we pretend that finger-in-the-dyke measures are sufficient stand between us all and an honest appraisal of what must be done. Let us hope that the chaos — and tragic deaths — in recent days put an end to the self-serving bluster that has stood in the way of the kind of serious, realistic planning that is so urgently required.
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