JUST two months ago Pope Francis issued an unprecedented and deeply challenging encyclical in which he called on us all to change our culture of consumption and our energy-expensive lifestyles to try to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem” before the end of this century.
On Monday, US president Barack Obama echoed that 11th-hour plea in equally grave terms and introduced a strengthened plan to tackle climate change.
Predictably — and how tragically — the very same voices that attacked the papal encyclical also attacked Monday’s initiative as if they were based on opinion rather than the concrete conclusions of some of the world’s best scientists. The proposals were rubbished, usually by the voices of the right and corporate business, as if the White House and the Vatican had been taken over by flight-of-fancy, vegan, ecowarriors, and Rastafarian tree-huggers.
Climate change may be the greatest challenge of our time but, increasingly, the guffawing ignorance from the likes of Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush seem the great sedition of our age. By arguing that scientific conclusions are no more than policy positions, no more than goalposts that can be moved at a whim, these voices are betraying not only their own children, but all generations as yet unborn, bequeathing them, as Mr Obama described it, “a planet that can’t be fixed”.
Over the last two years, the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been endorsed by 195 governments, including Ireland’s. That report rang alarm bells ever louder on the escalating crisis. It underlined again that the world must act within two decades to dramatically reduce carbon emissions or face the unknown horrors of “dangerous climate change”.
That this view represents the carefully considered view of the global community of atmospheric scientists may not trouble Jeb Bush and other climate change sceptics — or those Irish Government voices who try to convince us that increasing our dairy herd by 30% will have no carbon emission consequences — but to ignore these conclusions would be on a par with arguing that the world is indeed flat and that moon is really made out of blue cheese.
The obligations — practical, moral and civic — these realisations impose on Ireland are more significant than we might realise or can immediately cope with. On average, each Irish citizen is responsible for emissions of 12.6 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. This is around 40% more than than countries like the UK or Germany and 40% more than the EU average. Ireland produces more greenhouse gases than the world’s poorest 400m people negating generations of effort by Irish agencies in the developing world.
The conservatism of all recent governments, our proclivity for denial and the influence of powerful interests, particularly agriculture, mean the implications of this crisis have not been imagined or accepted. Yet something as basic as a water charge provokes great passions and activism Yes, it seems there is every chance we will get the world we deserve.
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