Climate Change has become a Reality

Climate Change has become a Reality. Irish Independent, 2nd November 2000

Climate change has become a reality. The storms and floods experienced in Southern England over the last few days are a timely reminder that we must change our ways. The alternative is irreversible damage to Planet Earth. Forest fires in the United States, droughts in Kenya, storms in Canada; the evidence is all around us. Extremes of weather are occurring more frequently, and world temperatures continue to rise. Greenhouse gases are responsible for these extremes of weather. We will have to reduce our emissions of these gases to prevent further damage to the Planet’s delicate climatic balance.

Ireland must play its part in the solution. The underside of our phenomenal economic growth over the last decade has been a huge increase in our contribution to climate change. Policy changes are required at Government level to avoid penalties being levied by the European Union. Many may be worried at the prospect of higher taxes on energy and transport, but there will be opportunities for us all to benefit from the changes that are required.

Cleaner air and a reliable public transport system could be the first signs of a Government that takes global warming seriously. Instead of generating electricity from power stations like Tarbert and Moneypoint, we should invest in alternative energy sources such as wind and wave power. While people have genuine concerns at wind turbines cluttering the landscape, there is scope for generating a substantial amount of our electricity from such sources. This would reduce Greenhouse gas emissions from old-fashioned coal powered power stations, and reduce air pollution from such sources. The ESB should pay alternative producers a higher price for the green electricity they produce, so that smaller players can enter the market.

Fuel taxes will need to be reassessed in the light of emissions and engine efficiency. As the owner of a 600 cc Smart car, I pay the same car tax as the owner of a one-litre car. This discrepancy would be easy to tackle. Owners of three and four litre cars should be taxed at a level that reflects the emissions from their vehicles. Think of it as ‘clean-air taxes’ that could be spent on improving public transport.

Road hauliers are finding it difficult to make ends meet with the recent rise in world oil prices. But surely these increases could be passed onto the consumer. This might mean that a bag of potatoes from Cyprus would cost more that one from Skerries, but that can’t be such a bad thing. Local produce will become cheaper than goods trucked from far away. Consumers will be encouraged to buy more regional produce. Instead of damaging the planet, we would pay the true environmental cost of what we purchase.

The link between transport and land-use must be tackled. Commuters travelling into Dublin everyday by car from Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and beyond are large contributors of greenhouse gases. We should provide employment closer to home as an alternative to such long-distance commuting. We should also put in place high quality bus and rail links. This is required now, and not by the year 2015. A proper planning strategy would ensure that people have the option of working closer to where they live. Such a measure would reduce Ireland’s contribution to Global Warming, and improve the quality of life for those who spend hours travelling by car every day. The National Roads Authority should be replaced by a National Transport Authority that would include reducing Greenhouse gases as a key priority.

In a fortnight’s time world leaders will gather in the Hague to consider what actions are necessary to halt Global Warming. It is time we grasped the nettle and implemented strong policies to limit our emissions. However, it seems doubtful that Ireland will be in a position to offer anything other than an apology for failing to meet our requirements under the Kyoto Protocol to limit our contribution to Climate Change.

Irish Independent, 2nd November 2000, page updated 10th January 2018