Climate change preparations: Get real, or prepare for devastation

Last week’s recommendation that South Africa should host Rugby World Cup 2023 was reached, in part, because our infrastructure was deemed inadequate.

We have not built a framework that meets the needs of today’s cyber-dependent, climate-change threatened world.

There are no indications that this asleep-at-the-wheel failing might be resolved anytime soon — certainly not in time to avert the well-flagged ravages of climate change, especially coastal flooding.

The world cup disappointment stung but the evidence is, sadly, all around us. Recently, American business warned that 30,000 new one and two-bedroom properties will be needed in Dublin within five years to maintain inward investment. That is just one strand of our shameful housing crisis.

There are many examples. Indeed, a plucky bookie might offer odds on whether the national children’s hospital will be open before the Cork to Limerick motorway is delivered. The transformation of swathes of Cork City into a student dormitory is an example of the poor planning that destroys communities.

EPA reports, one after another, describing barbaric water treatment standards point to intolerable vandalism. Underground powerlines anyone?

A modern water processing and supply system? Dormitory towns — and airports — without rail links to urban centres may be a Catch-22 consequence of our aversion to public transport but those missing links are gross failures. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may have tried to explain them to Apple executives when he visited Silicon Valley last week.

Those power brokers may have offered assurances about the €850m data centre proposed for Athenry but their patience with our leaky infrastructure must be wearing thin. That US multinationals are largely responsible for our $36bn trade surplus in goods underlines how debilitating, near-slapdash, standards are.

All of these a-day-late-and-a-dollar short cock-ups come together in the OPW proposals for the largest flood defence scheme in the State. The OPW proposals are defined by the resources available — or deemed available — for Cork City flood protection. Though modified, they still seem quaintly inadequate in the face of accelerating climate change, rising sea levels and more concentrated rainfall patterns.

It’s 20 years since Maeslantkering, a vast tidal barrier was built to protect Rotterdam. It is a staggering feat of engineering that recognises the threat all coastal cities face. It is just one of myriad technological, cyber or community initiatives reshaping a resurgent Rotterdam. The Dutch are planning floating dairy farms to secure milk supplies during floods and teaching children to swim in their clothes.

In that context, plans for Cork City seem more like buying a Lotto ticket than facing reality. Will we wait until the first mega flood devastates coastal cities to build tidal barriers? Which city will get one first? What will the others do?

How will the competition for resources be resolved? Where will we find the billions needed? These questions define our future, but we seem unprepared to engage with them in any meaningful way... and the floods will be far more devastating than the reality check offered last week by World Rugby.


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