The future of climate action may seem bleak under Trump, but each of us can do our part…
Climate Change is more often than not followed by words like fear, confusion, chaos. The negative connotations the term’s developed over the years are justifiable given the unpredictable weather we’re experiencing around the globe. However, scaremongering has rendered climate change inaccessible for the public.
Many of us, with the exception of President Trump, acknowledge that our past and present actions are causing increased carbon emissions. Yet, doing something to stop further emissions seems beyond our capacity and we’ve developed a ‘let’s leave that to the politicians’ attitude.
But, we need only look across the water to see that leaving climate action to the likes of Donald Trump and his cronies will have devastating consequences for the planet.On the day of Trump’s inauguration, a purge of climate change references took place as part of the digital turnover of whitehouse.gov.
All that remains of Trump’s move to erase climate change from digital history is a commitment to blocking “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan”; a strategy set up by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to cut carbon emissions.
Just last week Thus Guardian reported that Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference “weather extremes” instead.
But strength in numbers prevails as scientists rise to counter Trump’s actions. Members from the American Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, National Oceanic Atmospheric Association, and the US Geological Survey are voluntarily gathering and saving the data that explains the impacts of climate change, and the risks of our current behaviours.
It’s not just scientists or politicians who play a role in tackling climate change. As citizens of the planet, we play a part, not as victims of global warming, but as an empowered nation with the ability to take climate action.
The pressure put on the Irish government to stop fracking has paid off with a bill passing the first stage of the Dáil in October last year. As well as, early this year, a bill to divest fossil fuels is set to make Ireland the first country in the world to eliminate dirty fuel investment.
There is hope that we can change, and there are signs that Ireland is moving in the right direction. However, it’s still moving too slowly in the race to reduce carbon emissions. There needs to be more momentum, mobilisation from grass root organisations and carbon-free savvy decision-making at a domestic level
NASA recorded 2016 as the warmest year since the industrial revolution, and it was Ireland’s wettest year. Ireland will not meet the 2020 target to reduce emissions by 20% from our 1990 levels as part of EU Climate and Energy Package. It’s also unlikely that we’ll lower emissions by 30% for 2030.
Our actions affect the wider world. Figures such as the latter might seem detached, but if we look at current changes in our weather, on people’s safety and mortality, we understand the implications.
For example, in the Alaskan village of Shishmaref, its inhabitants were told to relocate permanently because of sea level rises posing a threat to the island upon which they made their home.
This move is expected to cost $180 million; investment could have gone into education or healthcare had we and our governments’ motives to date been sustainable.There are dozens of more stories like this, from flooding in Bangladesh to drought in Malawi. As citizens of this earth, we need to connect with the present realities affecting all us.
At a time when human displacement, resource inequality, and climate devastation are all we can be certain of, we must take action to ensure a fair and equal future for our children and all species of the planet.
We learn from four experts about how climate change is affecting us; what to expect if we don’t act, and how we can take climate action into our own hands.
Professor John Sweeney, Ireland’s best-known Climate Scientist, Emeritus Professor of Geography, Maynooth University
“The climate is changing predominantly because of humans. In three decades temperatures have changed rapidly; temperatures have increased globally. 2016 was 1.3 degrees warmer than the industrial revolution. What we’re experiencing as a result of this global increase in temperatures is heat waves in tropical areas.
There’s been an increase of more than 15 degrees in India. We especially see changes in polar regions. There are record lows in sea ice; it’s possible that we’ll lose all sea ice in two decades. And if we considered Ireland about thirty years ago, we’re half a degree warmer today.
Climate change will cause the retreat in shorelines, which will have a catastrophic effect; storm surges overnight, and this will result in a displacement of nearly 160 million people by 2050. A one-meter rise in sea levels will lead to a 20 percent loss of land.
The migrant problems that we see presently in the Mediterranean will become insignificant in comparison to what the future holds if we don’t act. A loss of land will also create a strife of political conflict, as well as competition for scarce resources.
Areas such as Africa and the Middle-East will indeed experience competition for water as drought begins to worsen. Globally we’ll see a loss of life as increased incidences of flooding or heat waves occur.
We also have to think about the extinction of species. There are the iconic messages such a the polar bears losing their habitat. But closer to home people will no longer hear the familiar sound of the Corncrake; what should be a fond memory from our youth will be robbed of our future children of our actions eliminate the species.
Climate change is not a problem for the future; it’s a problem for today. What we do today has consequences for our kids. It’s called intergenerational equality: if we abuse our planet today, we remove the opportunity for our future generations.
At our present rate, we have only two decades left before we reach a point where we’ll never be able to recover from the damage we’ve done. The actions we take today are urgent for our children and the future’s young people.
We have a responsibility. Currently, one person emits the same amount as 600 million of the poorest people on the planet. That’s severely disproportionate. We’re depriving developing countries of their rights.
The responsibility is therefore far greater on us. We need to decrease gas emissions; however, we’re still increasing them. At the moment we’re using short-term solutions.”
Catherine Devitt: Environmental Justice Officer for the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and spokesperson for climate change coalition, ‘Stop Climate Chaos’.
“Climate-related issues have a significant impact on women. If we look at countries such as Malawi, parts of the Sahara, Bangladesh, women play a vital role in food production. The effects of climate change will have severe impacts on their ability to produce food.
Despite the significant role women play in society, female engagement with the climate change conversation is limited. In the UN women’s voices are not presented.
For example, if we look at Leonardo Dicaprio’s “Before the Flood” documentary we see that there are about only three female speakers featured. Cara Augustenborg highlighted this in an article for the Huffington post “It’s a man’s world when it comes to climate change.”
There is a gender gap, and it’s unfortunate as it’s not reflected in the impact that climate change has – it affects women most. In our wider society, we see that the spaces for women policy makers are now there; climate policy is a microcosm of this problem.
We all need to consciously recognise that a woman’s voice is so important; whether it’s in the community or the home, women make the decisions. Therefore women have the potential to make a significant difference on how we change the habits and behaviours affecting the planet.
Climate change is an opportunity for us to think more creatively in tackling the common cause. Being creative as we address climate action is a positive message, and it means that we can show we’re responsible and that we care. People can feel empowered by this.
Changes need to be radical and transformative. My concern is: will climate action have justice at its core – inclusive, fair, and ensure we’re meeting our responsibilities. How our actions impact someone else is really like connecting the dots. Climate change is a symptom of the disconnect between us and our communities. It’s important that we reconnect with our natural world and each other.
If we look at human displacement in low lying areas like Bangladesh, or a loss of land due to ice melt in Alaska, people can connect with these stories and see that change is happening rapidly, and we’re all contributing to it.
As I’ve a social science background, I feel connected with the environment. It’s emotionally upsetting to see the decline, loss and change; we live on a beautiful planet – it doesn’t have to be this way.
However, we need to be hopeful, or we’ll feel disempowered. We must celebrate the small wins in the face of all the negativity fed to us by the media. Ireland may be the first country in the world to divest itself of fossil fuels.
We have the likes of Cloughjordan Eco Village, Dublin has several energy projects, and there’s the transition town initiative making communities stronger and more sustainable. “
Olive Heffernan: Marine Biologist, Environment and Science writer, currently science writer in residence at Trinity College Dublin’s school of Natural Science.
“We present ourselves as a green nation where you can experience nature, wilderness and community. We shouldn’t take this perception and presentation for granted. Now is the time to show a bit more leadership. Perhaps we’ve become too comfortable within the EU, where there has been all smoke and mirrors around Ireland’s failure to meet the 2020 emissions target.
I think it’s time to take climate action at a grass root level. I fear that if we don’t take action, we will lose our natural world. Species and their habitats are not as resilient to climate change. They’ll experience a decline and loss as a result. Already we can see coral bleaching. We’re entering uncharted territory with unprecedented temperatures.
Climate change can be difficult for people to process. Some people think of it as a wicked problem and that the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions aren’t immediate. But we need immediate action now. It’s difficult to convince people of how dangerous climate change is; it affects every part of our lives.
We need to reconsider everything: how we eat, dress, travel. People also need to be faced with a lot of evidence to make them realise how that changing our behaviours is necessary. We’re habitual creatures. And what’s more, we have the tendency to think well there’s no point doing it if no one else is? To change this attitude, it starts at a policy level. We need to get everybody to the table to engage.
It’s all about starting somewhere, and if we look at the impact our agricultural system is having on the climate, this is one place where an Irish citizen can ask what are we going to do to address the problems. Food production accounts for all our emissions combined. One single thing is to eat less meat, even starting small with meatless Mondays.
Mainly when it comes to coming up with solutions to climate change problems, we need to become more broad-minded. If we think of how we’ll consume meat in thirty years, it’s possible that there will be a faux meat market. As an investor this is an area that will thrive from 2030-2050; there will be more sustainable industries like this which will attract investment.
At the moment the Irish government is reluctant to change. It needs to implement policies from other sectors. If there were incentives put in place for renewable energy the agriculture industry would do well and become far more diverse. But there’s an absence of willingness from the government. Last year emissions rose in every key sector.
Power in coal generation increased and is still used heavily in the agricultural and transport sector. Our fuel consumption will change now that we’re divesting from fossil fuels, but the government needs to do more to incentivise wind power, solar energy and electric cars.”
Cara Augustenborg: Environmental scientist and communication expert in climate change, chairperson for Friends of the Earth, Ireland’s first climate leader as part of Al Gore’s ‘Climate Reality Project’ and author of ‘The Verdant Yank’ Blog.
“Ireland’s transport system is taking a grave toll on the environment. Those who want to reduce their carbon emissions are being ignored. In October 2016 cyclists were asking Minister of Transport Shane Ross for only ten percent transport funding. It was the biggest protest since the 80’s, but in the end, they were still ignored because car sales drive economic growth.
The government has specialised interests, but this isn’t thinking about the happiness of the population. Cycle paths are relatively straightforward, and the benefits of cycling is another gain.
Ireland has a major obesity problem along with mental health issues. We have a lot of evidence to show that getting on a bike could alleviate these problems; there’s a lot of co-benefits.
I have friends in Copenhagen who say that everybody cycles there. The Danes know that to drive means thirty minutes in traffic, whereas by bike it’s twenty minutes. The obvious choice is to get on the bike. We need to create the systems where the obvious choice for the mum with three kids is to take public transport.
In Ireland, we don’t pay for the carbon we emit. Therefore there’s no reason for people to leave the car at home. By not paying for our emissions we’re limiting our chances of reducing our carbon footprint.
There’s a ‘Polluter Pays’ principle, but carbon isn’t part of that. We need to make carbon emissions something we pay for; the damage that we’re creating for future generations is immeasurable. People don’t like to hear that, but that’s the reality.
Factories can’t pour chemicals into the water without paying for that mess, so why are we exempt from that? There are lots of ways that we could tax carbon. For example in food: beef and dairy have a high carbon footprint, but the price doesn’t account for this.
If we were to change the pricing where fruit and veg were the cheaper options, then we’d consume less meat, eat more plant-based foods and reduce emissions. At the moment a lot of people are trying, but constrained by the cost of healthy foods; they’re not choosing the right options for their bodies or the planet.
I’m hopeful about our future. We’re surrounded by a political mess – America and Britain – but at least we are a country that’s moving more to the left. The fracking ban continues, and we may be divesting from fossil fuels.
We’re living at a time when we should break all the economic and power systems; get the dinosaurs out and re-envision society. We don’t have much time to do that – maybe fifteen more years.
We’re the transition generation – we had the Industrial Revolution which saw population growth, it expanded agriculture, and mortality rates decreased. Nothing has happened until now; we need a new revolution. The movement away from fossil fuels got us to where we are, towards clean technology.
Our next phase of change could be as amazing as the Industrial Revolution. Car manufacturers see the benefits of investing in clean energy and are working on electric vehicles. The likes of Unilever and IKEA are leading the way with climate action too. There are signs of hope that the public need to be aware of.
It’s an exciting time, if we realise how connected we are to the earth, that the climate action taken could improve our health or bring in money – we’ll experience so many benefits. “
Tips on Taking Climate Action
Prof. John Sweeney:
Magpie readers have invested in the future and should join the likes of non-governmental organisations like Friends of the Earth, An Taisce. Become active.
Lobby T.Ds and ask them why they’re just going through the motions?
Minimise our carbon footprint by walking to school on Wednesdays, eating less meat, use less energy around the home, and drive less.
We have an obligation as mothers to protect our kids. The world we live in will not be the same for our children. Women need to prepare for that.
We need to involve our children in the conversation – they’ve no idea about solutions, but they should be politically active. Kids can be empowered and ask politicians questions.
Make a small step towards consuming less meat, try out a meatless Monday.