OPINION: What’s really stopping us from Taking Action on Climate Change?
[cs_content][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_text class=”cs-ta-left”]August 31st, 2016
So far this century, we have witnessed a changing climate, declining water and air quality and the massive loss of biodiversity. The links to human activities has become the clear scientific consensus. New studies released by both the European Environment Agency and the American Meteorology Society in 2016 have described the impacts of climate change in chilling detail with virtually every meteorological record being shattered while carbon dioxide emissions also reached levels not seen in hundreds of thousands of years.
It’s also clear that our economic and political systems lie at the heart of the problem. While human activities have been responsible for large scale environmental degradation for over two hundred years, our ability to adapt and mitigate the causes of environmental degradation have been limited and reduced by our reliance on free market economics.
In Ireland, we have the tendency to think that these are the problems of the major economic forces of the world. We are wrong on that score. Its right on our very door step. A study completed by UCD and the Irish Centre for High-End Computing found that by mid-century, mean annual temperatures would increase by 1 to 1.6⁰C, seasonal precipitation patterns would change where summer months would experience up to 13% increases in low emission scenarios while heavy precipitation events are projected to increase by up to 20%.
Research completed by NUI Maynooth in 2013 found that the impacts of climate change are likely to have wide ranging impacts in Ireland on Agriculture, Forestry, Energy, Water services, Tourism, Conservation, Spatial Development and Health. So the question remains, when international research agencies, national research institutions and state agencies agree that we must act quickly to prevent the worst impacts of climate change why do we continue down the path of business as usual?
Ireland has really been a country of extremes when we look at our economic past and this offers some insight into our current entanglement with our economic system. For instance, in the 1930’s Irelands economy was based on protecting our main industry – namely agricultural. By the 1950’s Ireland’s economy was in dire straits. New strategies were required to re-invigorate the economy and Ireland slowly began to ease the restrictive policies placed upon imports. Fast forward to 2007 and Ireland has become a financial hub with some of the most lax regulations relating to trading and corporation taxes.
So why is this important? Well, we often hear about the links between the economy and emissions of greenhouse gases. While it’s true to say that our emissions decreased during the years we were affected by the recession, the picture is more complicated than that. That is to say, it’s not inherently true that economic growth is linked to environmental degradation. It’s more correct to say that our choice of economic model (e.g. free market policies) is driving degradation.
Free market economics has led to increased privatisation of public sector services (e.g. ESB, Bord Gas, potentially Irish water). Also, we have deregulated financial sectors and implemented low corporate tax rates. These policies have prevented Ireland from promoting desirable industries and stopped Ireland from taking meaningful action against undesirable sectors like the fossil fuel consuming industries. New trade agreements like TTIP threaten to further reduce our capacity to implement protectionist policies like renewable energy programs.
So what’s the solution? Well, we need to bring balance back to our capital economic model. The traditional view is that regulation just gets in the way of things and makes doing business difficult. In reality, strict regulations can make businesses consider externalities like the environment and worker rights, limit the ability of businesses to act only in the short term, reduce its ability for profiteering and protect the common pool of resources.
While the stakes are higher than ever before and might seem insurmountable, momentum is on our side. People are mobilising and using social media campaigns to raise awareness and communicate to policy makers. This has already resulted in government policy changes like state purchase of national parks from NAMA, the retention of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment title and rightly or wrongly, the row back on water and waste charges. However, science is telling us that not only are the impacts we expected occurring, they are occurring earlier than we thought. So it’s time to act.[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_block_grid type=”two-up”][cs_block_grid_item title=”Block Grid Item 1″][/cs_block_grid_item][cs_block_grid_item title=”Block Grid Item 2″]About the Author
Stephen Barry has an MSc. in Climate Change and has worked in the Environmental sector on issues of compiling Greenhouse Gas Emissions inventories and Water Pollution. He is currently completing a PhD. in Peatland Ecosystem Functioning.[/cs_block_grid_item][/cs_block_grid][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]