Copenhagen agenda - A week that will define man’s future

THE discourse surrounding climate change is as polarised as that on any important issue today. This division is unlikely to be reflected next week in Copenhagen when the UN COP15 climate conference opens on Monday.

If you are a climate change sceptic you argue that, despite all the evidence, the week’s agenda is a doomsday fantasy based on dodgy, self-serving science; a cabal of climatologists inculcating fear to sustain questionable careers.

The counter argument is advanced with equal passion, with almost religious fervour, especially by those who once rejected the idea of climate change or the need to prepare for it.

Filmmaker and naturalist David Attenborough is one of the most eminent of those who have changed their position. They are convinced that humanity is in jeopardy because of mankind’s excesses.

This may seem the ultimate vanity, that our fleeting activities could have such a devastating impact, but the evidence is all around us if we choose to see it. What is at issue is the scale of our impact, not its existence.

You do not have to be a scientist either to recognise that the resources of this planet are finite and that an ever increasing world population cannot be sustained.

David Attenborough puts this in a chilling context when he points out that the world’s population has increased threefold since he made his first film just over 60 years ago. Next week’s conference has been described as the most significant event so far in this young century and that its conclusions will have consequences almost beyond measure for our children.

It may be too early to accept that the devastating floods are a direct consequence of climate change but it would be equally irrational to dismiss the argument that they are not.

What cannot be dismissed though is the argument that they represent a foretaste, just the tip of the iceberg of the challenges predicted by those scientists, by now a considerable majority, who tell us we must change our ways or go the way of the dinosaurs.

Others say that Ireland is so small it doesn’t matter what we do. Shamefully, our annual emissions are the equivalent of the carbon output of over 100 million people in the Third World. We’re among the world’s worst per capita polluters.

It may be vain to imagine we can change this small planet’s climate by our excess but it would be profoundly stupid to insist that we have not despite the growing evidence that we have. In the face of all this we must hope that the Copenhagen conference will be a significant step towards the cultural changes needed to safeguard our children’s right to a living planet.


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