“Will it clear up?” we ask constantly. If it’s fine, we ask, in that peculiarly Irish expression, “Will it hold up?”
Living as we do now, on holiday in Connemara in a tiny cottage just feet from the sea, the weather determines our every move. We’re getting a small taste of the life of the fishermen who once lived in this place, until most of them were wiped out by a sudden storm in the Cleggan Disaster of 1927.
Back home in suburban Dublin, the weather isn’t such a big deal. But our Irish personality and culture were probably formed by close experience of our weather. Surely it is because of the weather that we are both spontaneous and fatalistic.
I love both these traits in the Irish people. And I love the landscape in which I grew up. Swimming through the crystal clear water early in the morning I feel at home here.
Then I get scared. Because I know the weather is changing. This summer my joy in the landscape is conditional because I have no confidence that my children will experience it as I have. I have no confidence that the three boys I see swimming out to a rock through glittering water as I write this could as well be my grandchildren, or my great-grand-children.
This is a fear I share with very few people. Because although we are a people completely obsessed by weather, we don’t give a stuff about the changing climate.
“This is Ireland,” people say, shrugging off unseasonable weather. And it’s true that it’s always rained a lot here. But not like this, for pity’s sake.
Ireland has got 5% wetter in the last 30 years. The west has got 8% wetter. And the pace of change has speeded up.
There have been so many appallingly wet summers in the last few years that the very idea of calculating an average over 30 years has been called into question.
Warm air holds more water vapour than cold air. The atmosphere over the oceans is 5% wetter than it used to be.
Well, it’s not the end of the world — though it may feel like that if you’re sitting in an uninsurable house. But in parts of the planet which start off with more extreme weather the sudden change has been so marked that commentators are calling this “the summer of climate truth”.
May was the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature for the entire globe exceeded the 20th century average. The environmental journalist Bill McKibben calculates that there are more stars in the universe than the chances of this occurring by purely natural causes.
The US is suffering the worst drought in its history and farmers in the bread basket of the great plains have seen their crops wither and die. Beijing had the worst floods in its history last month, killing at least 37 people.
After more than a decade of poor rains in the Horn of Africa, millions are starving yet again. Children die on the road on the way to refugee camps, sometimes abandoned by parents trying to save stronger children. As many as 18% of Somali children will not reach their fifth birthday.
The closer you live to nature, the more climate change affects you. And the people who live closest to nature are usually the poor.
What about us, Joe? On more than one occasion I have heard a caller to RTÉ’s Liveline say that we shouldn’t be spending any money on foreign aid, when we are “suffering” ourselves.
And I’ve come to believe that it is selfishness like this which has made it impossible, up to now, for the world to make an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions so that we can keep the temperature rise to a brutal, but liveable, two degrees celsius.
This is also the summer of climate despair. I’ve read 53 pages of resolutions taken by more than 180 nations at the UN’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June and I’m not surprised Greenpeace were calling it a “crime scene”. What comes across more than anything else is a determination that nothing — nothing — must stand in the way of “sustained growth”, an expression repeated 16 times.
The rationale for this is that, thanks to the historic selfishness of callers to Joe Duffy and millions like them, 2bn of the world’s people need economic growth to lift them out of persistent poverty, while the developing world needs economic growth to be where we are now.
And we don’t want them to catch up. We want to keep right on with our “sustained growth” too, although we are already rich beyond the wildest dreams of past generations.
This country is among the richest of the rich, having dropped two places to rank seventh in the world in the UN’s development index. And although our wealth is not distributed as equally as it should be, we still rank sixth in the index for equality.
What we should be doing is holding our growth steady and working hard at distributing better the vast resources we have. That might start with not attempting to criminalise anyone who lives a dignified life on welfare. And not pointing the finger at the half a million women which the Census says are engaged in “home duties” as if they were bone idle.
Listen. We don’t all have to have a day job. We don’t all have to have put in 12-hour days. In fact, the more I think about it, the more sense I see in the concept of a guaranteed basic income, paid to everyone, but taxed, an idea which has been researched in this country as well as in the US, Germany, Sweden, France, Canada and Brazil.
ENVIRONMENTAL activists blame the politicians of the developed world for failing to sell us the message that we have enough. But what they’re not factoring in is that we are hardwired as humans to compete for resources. That’s because for most of our evolution resources were scarce.
The climate crisis is coming too early in our evolutionary history. Instead of competition, we need collaboration. But you only have to look at the euro crisis to see how good we have been at that so far.
Those of us who live in free democracies, like this one, get the politicians we deserve. The ones who we think will give us the best chance of having more for ourselves. Politicians, helped along by the media, work this desire all they can.
I have an instinct to like and trust Michael Noonan, but in this hungry world, his comment that our current recession was “the worst crisis since the Famine” was grotesque.
In this country — along with every other rich country — the summer of climate despair will not end until we are able to say we have enough, already.
Sir, – Only in Ireland do we go into total meltdown with the prospect of a few days of cold weather and some snow. What will we do in the summer if it’s sunny for more than a week? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I recall clearly, about 20 years ago, a now deceased Liverpudlian friend of my father’s responding to my discussion of the following week’s weather forecast with the line, “There’ll be weather next week”!
Since when did a period of weather become a “weather event” and is it really necessary to issue these graded colour status “warnings” when there’s frost on the ground or heavy rainfall? Recent days have seen them operating at full force. In my view, the frequency of these warnings only diminishes their impact so that, a little like the “boy who cried wolf”, they aren’t taken as seriously as they might be when actual “extreme” weather might occur.
Due to health and safety concerns and the immediacy of social media, the tendency nowadays is to crank up the tension and overdramatise everything. To what end I’m not quite sure but it’s an overall societal “development” which we could well live comfortably without. I’m still in my forties but it’s not that long ago when heavy rain or snow or high winds were just reported factually and scientifically as such and without anyone feeling the need to create more drama and tension than is actually required! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The “Hysteria from Siberia”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Flake news. – Yours, etc,
Baile Áth Cliath 9.
Sir, – So far I have counted three raindrops amidst the 37 snowflakes.
Should I have learned how to build an ark as well as an igloo? – Yours, etc,