Eco Logic: Approaching a sustainable future for Ireland

Note: This post was written as part of the World Bank Group’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided. It serves as an introduction to this  blog’s new Eco Logic tab and a portal to the five Climate Conversations posts

Ireland is neither the most vulnerable not the responsible country when it comes to climate change. But like every country, climate change will – and already is – having an impact. We have a role to play minimising that impact, both on our own shores and as part of a global effort.

As an island, Ireland is vulnerable to sea level rise, and to flooding and extreme coastal erosion due to Atlantic storm surges – as was witnessed by a series of storms in the winter of 2013/4. Such events are already occurring with greater frequency well before we reach even 1 degree of the projected 2-4 dregree global mean temperature rise.

There are, however, great opportunities for Ireland in adapting to its changing climate. Continue reading

Gather yourselves: Climate Conversations V

The end of Climate Conversations is the beginning of the real process

It was fitting for Climate Conversations to wind up its five-session, eight-week process in the Abbey Theatre. Since its inception by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904, The Abbey’s artistic policy has set out “to produce… diverse, engaging, innovative Irish and international theatre”. Climate Conversations could be said to have set out to shape a “diverse, engaging and innovative” Irish response to an international – or rather, global – threat. Given the commitment to engage the creative thinking of the artistic community in the conversations, it was apt that the same artist who spoke at the opening session, Emily Robyn-Archer, returned to create an art piece on stage as this final conversation progressed. And it was fitting that the first speaker at the Abbey Theatre was an abbot.

Change the mythology

Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, reminisced about watching the first men walking on the moon – an event that “destroyed the many-thousand-year-old mythology about the moon – and about ourselves”. There was no man in the moon, he said. Like our earth, it was just “a piece of floating rock”. I was reminded of the famous “pale blue dot” photo of Earth from 6 billion kilometres away, of the mind-altering “overview effect” experienced by astronauts who have seen the planet from the outside. Now, Dom Hederman said, we have to change the mythology yet again, because “the whole wide world now placed in [our] hands is a hand grenade with the pin out, and the time-bomb of the twenty-first century is ticking away.” Continue reading

Faith, atheism and climate justice: Climate Conversations IV

Floods on the Ganges River, submerge a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Rishikesh, India June 16-17, 2013
Floods on the Ganges River, submerge a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Rishikesh, India June 16-17, 2013

As an atheist (albeit with a recent curiosity for Buddhism), I approached the fourth in the series of Climate Conversations – Prophetic Voices – with some trepidation. Though the main two NGOs involved – Trócaire and Christian Aid – are overtly faith-based organisations, Climate Conversations has so far focused squarely on the practical and empirical challenges of climate change, with only a brief and rather esoteric homily early in the first session. I have a lot of admiration for Christian Aid and Trócaire in tackling global poverty and inequality. While they are motivated by Christian beliefs, they don’t seek to impose those beliefs and they conduct their development work responsibly and equitably. But what concerned me about this session of Climate Conversations – introduced as a “reflective space” ahead of the final call to action – was its explicit focus on the place of faith in addressing climate change.

I had two fears. First, that the pragmatic, down-to-earth approach of previous sessions would give way to vague and nebulous idealism. Second, that what thusfar had been an all-encompassing and inclusive process would be effectively ringfenced for the religious, with the non-religious nominally welcome but tacitly excluded. My hope, however, was that the discussion would be more philosophical than explicitly religious – that the reflection would focus on our moral and ethical responsibilities to act, rather than on divine expectations or imperatives; that it would envision a common human endeavour that transcended the divisions of different faiths. In the end, I got perhaps the best that could have been expected – an uneasy balance between what I hoped and what I feared.

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Earth Day on the Pale Blue Dot

Today is Earth Day – and no better day to revisit Carl Sagan‘s mesmerising and humbling perspective on the famous “pale blue dot” photograph of our planet. I find myself coming back to this time and time again – just to remind myself of what really matters. If you do one thing for Earth Day, take three minutes to watch it.

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Living with enough is our task and duty: Climate Conversations III

As if there were no end to plenty
we plundered earth.

Peter Fallon, “Late Sentinels

Image: Climate Ireland
Image: Climate Ireland

This line from poet-farmer Peter Fallon, quoted at the close of the third session of Climate Conversations, captured the root of the climate crisis perfectly. It is a line that beautifully encompasses the imbalance of human acquisitiveness and the finite resources we draw on. The words “as if” illustrate the mistake in our thinking, in our assumption that our actions are without consequences. Whether that mistake is deliberate or accidental, the result of the plunder is the same, and the need to redress it just as urgent. It is what Peter Fallon’s poem goes on to call “the mandatory sentence/that became our task and duty.”

This session – The Sustainable Use of Our Land – highlighted the scale of the challenge for Ireland and the quandaries and dilemmas we will face in restructuring our own economy, in which agricultural food production plays such a huge role. Continue reading

Building a sustainable economy: Climate Conversations II

Sen. James Inhofe and his hard evidence that global warming is a myth

“Do you know what this is?” Senator Jim Inhofe, standing in front of a picture of his snow-bound family, holds up a snowball and tosses it to the sitting president of the US Senate. “It’s a snowball… It’s very, very cold out.”

This was his supposedly damning evidence last week against the reports that 2014 was globally the warmest year on record, his proof that climate change was a hoax. That a senior politician in the world’s only superpower is still incapable of grasping the primary-school difference between day-to-day localised weather and long-run global climate trends is astonishing. As world leaders blunder from one failed climate summit to the next, wasting what little time and opportunity remains to avoid the worst of the ecological crisis we face, such fatuous irresponsibility at such high legislative levels almost leads me to despair. Almost. At the very least, it is deeply frustrating.

At the end of the inaugural meeting of Climate Conversations, the 300-strong audience in Dublin’s Liberty Hall were asked to write one word that summed up how they felt about the subject of climate change. Though there were many varying responses, frustration was the dominant sense.

In an excellent, stark and comprehensive article in today’s Guardian, Larry Elliot not only captures the root of that frustration, but also what is needed to overcome it. “Can we imagine a future that is cleaner, greener and sustainable,” he writes, “without abandoning the idea of growth and, thus, forcing living standards into decline?… It will be hellishly difficult, but it is just about feasible if we make the right choices – and start making them now.”

Climate Conversations – a series of discussions between trade unions, businesses, politicians, civil society and the public – sets out to discuss the right choices for Ireland. Continue reading

Earth Hour is tonight: Lights off for climate action

When the clocks go forward tonight, we’re going to lose an hour’s sleep, but that’s the short-term trade-off for the long-term benefit of six months of brighter evenings. It’s worth it. Tonight also marks Earth Hour, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) global event to call for action on climate change. At 8:30pm local time, landmarks around the world – including Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower – will be darkened for an hour. People around the world are urged to make a point of switching off all non-essential lights and electricity for that hour or to get involved in local Earth Hour events. It might sound gimmicky and it has been criticised for making a negligible impact, but that is not the point. Earth Hour is intended as a symbolic event – it is more about the bigger statement than the immediate effect. In the words of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “Earth Hour is a way for the citizens of the world to send a clear message – they want action on climate change.”

This year – ahead of December’s critical UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris – making that message heard is more important than ever. Continue reading

Climate Conversations: Like it or not, we need to talk about climate change

Ours is clearly a pivotal generation. We have global communication and yet confrontation is more common than dialogue. – The Dalai Lama

Photo: Alternative Energy Reviews

You may have noticed that the world didn’t end last Friday, despite the confluence of a solar eclipse and the spring equinox. Doomsday predictions have a tendency to crop up around curious dates or rare celestial events, regardless of how many previous ones passed without incident. Still, when I was a child with a good Irish Catholic upbringing, those sort of predictions used to send me into paroxysms of panic. I truly expected the dread moment to arrive with four apocalyptic horsemen running rampant and Jesus dropping down on his cloud for the ultimate version of every spectacled schoolchild’s nightmare: picking teams – sheep from goats, wheat from chaff, saved from damned. But it all took quite an effort of the imagination, and that made them easier to forget day to day. Continue reading