‘Don’t let politicians put the climate alarm on snooze’

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May 10th, 2019

Ireland’s Parliament this week becomes the second after Britain to declare a climate emergency but now it’s time for action.

Ireland and other countries across the world are waking up to the climate and ecological emergency. But time and time again our political leaders are putting the alarm on snooze.

We have been sleep-walking into a nightmare reality where greed and economic growth have triumphed over the collective and the long-term sustainability of our planet, the natural environment and the human race itself.

We are already seeing the impacts of global warming. More extreme weather, rising sea levels and mass extinction of plant and animal species awaits us if we don’t keep warming down to 1.5 degrees.

 It is predicted that on the current path, we could reach a catastrophic four degrees of warming by the end of the century over pre-industrial levels if we carry on in a business as usual model.

Flooding in Athlone in January 2016 Photo: Niall Sargent

We have a window of time to act but we must act now. Once closed, this window will not open again. We have the solutions but we need the will to act and we need political leadership.

Those most marginalised are currently being affected the most by this crisis but the climate crisis and ecological breakdown will take no prisoners.

Hunger, wildfires, mass extinction, wars, and the mass displacement of people are just some of the horrors that await us if we do not act.

People often say that the benefit of hindsight is a great thing but we are being given the benefit of foresight through science – we have no excuse.

The School Strikes for Climate and the increase in activism in Ireland has been inspiring to see. I was in London recently and was energised to see the Extinction Rebellion peaceful protests. 

As temperatures soared, the protesters at Oxford Circus surrounded by about 100 police chanted things like: ‘we are unstoppable, another world is possible’ and ‘get up, get down, let’s keep the carbon in the ground.’

Laura Harmon at Extinction Rebellion in London

David Attenborough’s voice from the documentary series Planet Earth played through the speakers of the giant pink boat in Central London.

Police were sawing the chains that protesters had used to tie themselves to the boat as they carried the peaceful protesters away one by one.

Greta Thunberg joined protesters at Marble Arch in London later that week and I was fortunate to be able to hear her speak telling the crowd that “we are standing at a crossroads”.

“We must decide which path we want to take,” she said. “We have chosen which path we want to take and now we are waiting for the others to follow.’

Many have labelled the 16-year-old as an unlikely leader but her and young people like her who speak truth to power, are exactly the kinds of leaders that we need right now.

Ireland – the Emerald Isle with its forty shades of green – has a hell of a lot to lose. Climate action and sustainability needs to be streamlined into all Government departments so that the environmental impact of all policy decisions is monitored.

We have the wild Atlantic to the west and the ability to harness the rewards of wind and tidal energy. We need to massively invest in environmentally friendly means of public transport.

Extinction Rebellion die-in in Cork Photo: Shamim Malekmian

We have the ability to plant more trees, we have lots of space. If you look at the Phoenix Park as just one example – the largest urban park in Europe – there is ample space to plant more trees which will significantly benefit our environment.

Critically we need to use taxation policy more ruthlessly and clinically to dissuade personal and corporate practices which are environmentally damaging.

Any politician worth their salt should have addressing the environmental crisis as a priority – this is a matter of life and death not just for humans but for all species and not just for future generations but for people alive on earth today like you and me.

All political parties should consider themselves green parties. This issue needs to be mainstreamed.

It’s not just up to politicians though, it’s up to voters, and it’s up to activists and it’s up to industry. It will require ordinary acts of change and extraordinary acts of change. We need to put measures in place to ensure a just transition.

Activism works. We know that in Ireland – we know what we can achieve when people work together.  The upcoming local and European elections will be an opportunity for us to vote for candidates who will take action.

The Dáil has declared a climate and ecological emergency in Ireland and now it’s time to act.

By Laura Harmon

Laura was the Head of Mobilisation for Together for Yes and the president of the Union of Students in Ireland during the marriage equality referendum in 2015. She is running for the Seanad NUI panel in the next election. Twitter: @Harmonica26

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