Code red, mayday, armageddon – the list of doomsday prophecies about our precious planet, which is burning and drowning simultaneously is punctuated by a sense of fresh urgency after recent apocalyptic events and foreboding reports.
“Guilty’” was the message from last week’s 41 page 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
“If we do not halt our emissions soon, our future climate could well become some kind of hell on Earth”, the warning from climate physics research Prof Tim Palmer at the University of Oxford.
Meanwhile, back home the ‘Status of Ireland’s Climate study’ outlined that Ireland was getting hotter and wetter.
It’s so overwhelming, there’s only one response -business as usual.
Get up, make coffee, use various appliances, leave the engine running in the gas guzzling SUV at the railway crossing, spend the day in air conditioned or heated building, maybe fly somewhere, enjoy the weird heatwave, create food waste and plastic rubbish, dispose of face masks, put the washer dryer on, take a long shower, go to bed. Repeat the next day.
Despite the ubiquitous alarmism of doom and gloom, we can still carry on as normal and it’s not our fault.
Besides cycle lanes, corporate greenwashing and some influencers going vegan, daily Irish life hasn’t really adapted a frugality model needed to quash the climate behemoth. In fact, our homogenous society perpetuates equality of consumerism, whatever about vested interest groups conserving abundance.
Also, we’re small fry, and individually speaking, why give up the fruits of our capitalist labour if Richard Branson can fly a rocket into space and Arabian Oil, can unleash a 100 million metric ton carbon footprint into the atmosphere?
Frugality isn’t sexy, and unless asked by our capitalist overlords, modern life makes it almost impossible to be frugal.
But they should ask us, because when emergency calls, people act. I recall when I was living in Cape Town in 2018, the city’s water supply was so low, we were facing ‘Day Zero’- the point at which the municipal water supply was to be turned off. From one day to the next, a clear message was sent out, every drop of water was saved, swimming pools were put out of action, taps were turned off, people started taking short or no showers, buckets were placed under dripping taps. Lessons were learnt. Day Zero never came to pass.
We acted fast when the Covid-19 juggernaut came to town, albeit a little too late, but right now, in Ireland, I could burn CO2 at my absolute leisure in whatever ways I like, and no one will stop me.
We constantly boast about being the most compliant citizens in Europe, so why aren’t we leading the way on climate? Why hasn’t Ireland come up with some genius initiative to show the world how great we are at everything? It’s so unlike us.
Perhaps we can ‘Green the world’ by acting on food waste. We waste 117kg of food per household annually, creating methane, which is 25 percent more potent than carbon dioxide, while 250,000 tonnes of food is wasted in the hospitality industry, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Could we work out how much food is wasted, then produce or waste less? We have calorie counters, why not have carbon counters?
Action could be taken on plastic packaging. Plastic not only destroys oceans, ecosystems, and human health, it also contributes to climate change. Yet I can walk into a shop and buy bananas in plastic. It’s everywhere in abundance and unavoidable, so even the best intentioned person, ends up buying it every day. It’s awful.
A 2019 report called “Plastic & Climate‘ by the US Centre for International Environmental Law, found that by 2050, the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons. Why not pull money out of the magic hat used for Covid-19 and provide grants and funds to enable just transitions for workers and plastic businesses?
Seeing how quickly we collectively reacted to Covid-19 restrictions proves that human beings are adaptable creatures, who will act for the greater good.
We’ve been schooled us in the power of scale. The ‘wasteful’ people are ready to stop being wasteful, so maybe it’s time to ask.