The world is doomed- apparently! A fairly grim opening sentence, I know. But let’s face it, this seems to be the direction in which we are heading. Whether that is now, in 10 years’ time, or in 100 years or 1000 years, no one seems to know for definite. Scientists predict that a rise of just 1.5°C in the earth’s average temperature would have devastating, irreversible effects. Who knew an increase of 1.5°C could be so critically significant? With activities such as fossil fuel burning, pollution and deforestation comes an increase in the amount of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. This means that temperatures are rising steadily on our precious planet. The consequence? A world which is melting and dripping slow and steadily into the abyss, scorched and burnt by mankind. This is our climate in chaos. This is climate change.
Climate change refers to the “gradual change in the Earth’s climate and physical geography that accompany an increase in the Earth’s temperature.” Enough with the scientific definitions, though. What does climate change mean to us? Not much, apparently. Proof of this can be seen by public polls in my local newspaper, revealing some eye-opening results. For me, one of the most discernible signs of our shifting climate was the summer just gone by. Ireland experienced its highest temperature on record of 32.0°C, and also the lowest summer rainfall level ever recorded of just 109.5mm. One such poll in my local newspaper asked whether the hot weather that we experienced over the summer was a symptom of global warming- 50% agreed and 50% disagreed. This amazes me. How come the general public are still sitting on the fence about climate change? Was this insanely hot summer with droughts and charred vegetation not a blatant indicator of climate change? Yet, there are many people who still think that this is a ‘natural’ occurrence, that an Irish summer of droughts, wildfires and withered vegetation is ‘normal’. A poll at the end of the summer produced another astonishing result: 81.5% of people said that they would like to experience the hot summer just gone by again next year. This is a dangerous outlook to have. Is it not obvious that the world is slowly simmering? How long do we have before it reaches boiling point?
Extreme weather events from droughts, snow, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of rainfall and winds is surely enough evidence that the climate is shifting. If that’s not convincing enough, what about the rise in sea levels and a loss of habitats and their flora and fauna? What many people don’t seem to know is that climate change affects human health. Warmer global temperatures cause an increase in suitable areas for disease-spreading organisms, such as mosquitoes and ticks, to move into. This results in a rise in the spread of diseases, such as notably Malaria and West Nile Virus. Climate change exacerbates flooding and drought conditions, causing a decline in water quality around the world, impacting our physical health and general well-being. Another little-known consequence of climate change is its socio-political impacts. It’s long thought that the origin of the civil unrest in Syria was due to a severe drought caused by climate change, forcing many people to migrate to urban areas after their crops failed and livestock died. The increased pressure on services and resources in these urban areas lead to heightened tensions and inevitably the situation we see today. This is just naming a few! What more evidence do some people need to convince them that climate change is not a future problem? It is currently here as an unwelcome guest and is planning to move in permanently if action is not taken soon.
Climate change first came into effect around 200 years ago with the Industrial Revolution. However, we only just seem to be waking up to the ruthless, rambunctious reality. The climate is clearly in a state of chaos. It is signalling to us for help. Why are we turning a blind eye? Last year Ireland dropped a staggering 28 places on the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index. This makes us the worst performing E.U. country on taking measures to tackle climate change. What a title! Each Irish citizen is responsible for emitting 40% more greenhouse gases than the E.U. average. How did we, as a nation, end up here? The 2020 target of reducing our carbon emissions by 20% is now basically impossible to reach. We will be faced with billions of euros of fines over the next few years as a result of our nonchalance. Is this the wake-up call that Dáil Éireann and governments alike need? What we regard as an extremely hot summer now could be a mild summer in 2080 if left overlooked. Regardless of wealth, status, education, geographical conditions or political situation, everyone is affected by climate change. Everyone.
As an environmental science student, I feel that this is one of the biggest and most overwhelming challenges that all of mankind has to face today. To be blunt and blatantly dramatic, this could be the end of life as we know it, or life full stop, if ignored further or left to ‘others’ to solve. Have we left it too late to counteract climate change? If we don’t collectively act now , this climate chaos will plummet into a climate catastrophe. In the words of António Guterres (U.N. Secretary General); “The sustainability train has left the station. Get on board or get left behind…Those who fail to bet on the green economy will be living in a grey future”.
Carbon neutrality, #zerowaste, conservation and severing single use plastics are the buzzwords of 2019. Are these small individual efforts making a difference if others are not climate conscious? More importantly do these people who help make a difference actually feel that they are making a difference? Or is one proactive person irrelevant without the rest of the population? It is clear that governments worldwide need to implement stricter policies and incentives to ensure each individual person as well as each organisation are all collectively doing their best to combat climate change. If people care enough about our planet then this needs to be achieved to avoid that catastrophic 1.5°C temperature rise. This needs to be achieved before the Earth is undoubtedly well and truly doomed. This needs to be achieved now.