Tomorrow, Friday 20th September, will see the start of a week long global protest against the inactivity of governments to act against climate change. My son got involved in the Fridays for Future movement, which was started a bit over a year ago by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, during the summer and is trying his best to get the message out. If you are on Instagram check out jonahtheclimateactivist.
As part of my work I have been involved with conservation groups for many years. Progress was always slow and success little but right now it feels we have reached a crossroad and there is just no time left for slow progress and little steps. Over the past 100 years, which is not even a blink in Earth’s history, we have changed this planet beyond recognition. We destroyed habitats, polluted the land and the oceans, changed the atmosphere and triggered an event we still don’t fully understand. We are not only witnessing a changing climate, we are also in the middle of a mass extinction event of a global scale. And still we are living to the rule of political and personal agendas and short sighted egotism.
A few weeks ago my son and me attended the launch of the Irish Climate Action Plan 2019 in Limerick. It was a not completely unexpected but nevertheless shocking experience in the wake of which I wrote this letter to Ireland’s minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton:
My 14 year old son and myself attended the launch and discussion of the Climate Action Plan 2019 at Tait House in Limerick on 6th September. We were both hopeful to engage and witness a meaningful discussion on the problems Ireland and the rest of the world are facing and what everybody, including the Irish government, could do about it.
Unfortunately as so often in the political arena the event turned into a farce and left not only my son and me but most, if not all, of the attendees utterly frustrated and disillusioned. My son’s first words, close to tears, after we had left Tait House were: “We are all screwed.”
Minister Bruton, on your website you state “A transformation in Communications, Climate Action and the Environment will define this century. We either lead or we follow. I am determined that we aim to become leaders exploiting the opportunities of the technological revolution and a sustainable society. We have a lot of ground to make up. I hope we can engage every citizen in the challenge.” However during the meeting at Tait House it was hard to believe that these sentences came from you. While the attending citizens were engaged, concerned and critical, you came across as the absolute opposite. Answering to the majority of the questions and comments directed at you with “We will look into it in the future.”, “This is not my responsibility.” and “There isn’t endless money available.” is the behaviour that unfortunately more and more people expect from a career politician and shows not only a lack of respect for the people that elected you into your position but also a shocking ignorance of the situation.
“We will look into it in the future.” will be too late. Climate change, plastic pollution and habitat destruction is happening now, this very moment. I have been living in Ireland for 17 years and changes in weather patterns, nature and wildlife have become obvious, especially over the past 6 years. Overall it has become windier, winters have become wetter with more frequent extreme weather events like spot flooding, prolonged dry spells and violent storms. Insect populations have noticeably declined. For example some 10 years ago it was easy to find the caterpillar of the cinnabar moth on ragwort, the flowers were covered with the black and orange striped animals. I have always let a part of my garden grow wild and for the past 2 years I haven’t seen one caterpillar despite having a lot of flowering ragwort. The curlew, one of Ireland’s most enigmatic birds, is following the corncrake into extinction due to habitat loss caused mainly by modern farming practise. The list could go on and all of this is happening now and needs to be addressed now. Not in the future.
“This is not my responsibility.” is simply not acceptable coming from the person with the title Minister for Communication, Climate Action and Environment. I understand that the workload is enormous and that it will take a number of individuals and organisations to make the changes necessary but it is your job to oversee these changes and take responsibility. If you, the Minister for Communication, Climate Action and Environment, doesn’t feel responsible then who will and how can you expect the citizens of Ireland to take responsibility and make changes?
“There isn’t endless money available.” is a phrase that is always heard when it comes to environmental issues or pay issues related to nurses, gardai and other frontline occupations. Surprisingly I never heard it when comes to ministers’ pay rises and expenses and building projects that go over budget. Be this as it may some changes can actually be made without additional cost to the state: Stop mowing road verges and roundabout islands and declare them a protected wildflower habitat. Ban the use of pesticides and herbicides for private households. Bring in legislation that reduces plastic packaging. Not every fruit or vegetable needs to be wrapped up and there are also alternatives like cardboard and biodegradable materials. Ban double packaging (e.g. cardboard box wrapped in plastic) and force retailers to take back packaging for recycling (the latter has been a law in Germany for almost 20 years and has helped reducing packaging). Introduce a deposit system for plastic bottles and cans like it is standard in other countries. Many citizens would support this but these kind of changes have to come from government level. Ireland has led the way some years ago with introducing the smoking ban, so why is it a problem now to lead the way?
I am also sure that many citizens, like myself, would opt for hybrid or electric cars, install solar panels and green heating systems, but simply can’t afford it despite government grants. Ireland might be a rich country like you mentioned during the event, but most of its people aren’t. Why not make green cars more affordable like for example Norway does? Why not allow people interest free loans to transform their homes to green energy and accept any extra electricity that these private homes put back into the grid as repayment for these loans?
Finally what shocked me the most was this statement you gave during the event: “Ireland is and will be for a long time dependent on fossil fuels.” This very much contradicts the statement on your website mentioned earlier. There are numerous studies that suggest Ireland is in a unique position to be a leading producer and exporter of green energy through wave and tidal applications. However the development of these energy sources isn’t properly supported by the state. To my knowledge a testing site in Galway Bay lies mainly idle and other proposed sites off the Mayo and Clare coast haven’t been developed.
As I said at the beginning, the event at Tait House and your attitude towards the problems we are facing has left not only me desperate and frustrated. Climate change, plastic pollution and habitat destruction are problems bigger than the time span to the next election but as long as people like yourself keep handling these issues in the usual ignorant and short sighted political way we are indeed all screwed.
Not unexpected I didn’t get a reply.
Also not unexpected the ministry of Communications, Climate Action and Environment confirmed that some aspects of the Climate Action Plan 2019 are unrealistic and won’t be met.
Also not unexpected… we are screwed unless we take action ourselves and protesting is one of the actions we can take.
Please support #WeekForFuture 20. – 27. September 2019 across Ireland and across the world.
#weekforfuture #climatechange #fridaysforfuture