Climate Change

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Hurricane Hercules at Lahinch 2014”, by George Karbus

You may remember “Hurricane Hercules” hitting Ireland in January 2014, or the “Desmond Storm” that hit Ireland in 2015, causing impressive floods in areas from Donegal to Cork.

Such events are evidence that Climate Change can severely impact our daily lives.

During the “Desmond Storm”, thousands of acres of farmland were under water and the Army had to help with the situation as the rain fell and gathered up to 35mm.

However, you do not have to experience such spectacular events to notice that the weather and Nature around you are changing: seasons seem to be disappearing, as well as various species of trees and animals, vegetables and fruit prices are rising due to bad harvests, the media constantly remind us that our planet is facing great dangers…

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“Desmond Storm” in Ireland, By Jeff J Mitchell – Link: www.gettyimages.ie

Those changes have consequences upon agriculture and biodiversity with, for example, the arrival and multiplication of large populations of animals suited to warmer temperatures.

Oceans also face dreadful changes linked to Climate Change: water is becoming more and more acidic, which is harmful to marine organisms.

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Strangforg Lough horse mussel reefs (Modiolus modiolus) threatened to disappear, picture by Ulster Wildlife
http://www.ulsterwildlife.org/strangfordlough

So, what to think about that?

First, we need to understand what “Climate Change” is really about…

Climate Change refers to the irreversible changes our climate is experiencing, which are more and more big and numerous, triggering disruptions in the weather and Nature people around the world are witnessing.

The reason for this is Global Warming: our planet temperature is raising fast as human activities release many Greenhouse Gases.

Greenhouse Gases are carbon dioxide (the famous CO2), methane and Nitrous oxide. We release them mostly by land clearing, practising agriculture and burning fuels such as coal, oil or natural gas, by using petroleum vehicles or for keeping our various industries up and running.

 

Greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere. The sun shines through, warming the air, oceans and earth. This heat finally escapes through the atmosphere but greenhouse gases trap some of this heat, causing more warming of the earth’s surface.  The more greenhouse gases are emitted, the faster the global warming.

Warning – if the earth continues to warm, it could become like a gas oven for us!

CO2 is the most important Greenhouse Gas, making up 72% of the total, that is why we often hear the media referring to it. CO2 emissions have been dramatically increasing within the last 50 years and are still increasing at almost 3% per year.

Since the industrial revolution we have burned millions of tons of wood, coal, petrol and gas to make our life better but at the same time, adding a massive amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

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Link: http://picphotos.net/greenhouse-gases-global-warming-and-climate-change/

You may find some people, even some politicians, denying that our climate is changing but reputable scientists agree that the planet is warming.

The average temperature of the Earth has risen between 0.4 and 0.8°C over the past 100 years. This may not appear to be an impressive fact, but more numerous and stronger extreme weather events like the “Desmond Storm” are very likely to happen if the temperature keeps rising at this rate.

In Ireland, the temperature records show a temperature increase of 0.7° between 1890 and 2008. Six of the ten warmest years in Ireland have occurred since 1990 and you can also witness a reduction in the number of frost days and shortening of frost season. Moreover, the Northern and Western areas of the country experience an increase in annual rainfall.

 

That is why 2ºC is becoming one of the most common figures in climate change debates.

The world can be compared to a person.  Just as a fever causing a rise in temperature of 2 degrees has profound impacts on our bodies, for the global climate 2 degrees is a limit that we must not cross if we want life on Earth to stay remotely comfortable.

From studies of ice trapped in the different ice layers in the Antarctica and the pattern of tree growth, which depends on atmospheric conditions, scientists know that this 2°C line is the ultimate line not to cross at risk of suffering catastrophic scenarios for our future.

Besides preoccupation about weather and biodiversity, scientists and NGOs also fear for our health and for a growth of poverty around the world.

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Melting of Polar Ice Caps by Rachel Mc Williams – Link: http://globalwarmingrachelmcwilliams.blogspot.ie/2010/10/melting-of-polar-ice-caps.html

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the harm caused to public health by Climate Change will cost between 2 and 4 billion dollars per year by 2030. The organisation also believes that malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and stress caused by high temperatures could be responsible for a further 250,000 deaths worldwide between 2030 and 2050.

Of course, people already weakened by poverty will be the more vulnerable to all those threats, that is why “Action contre la faim” (Action against hunger) NGO is urging governments to integrate “the right to health and adequate nutrition” in the Climate Change debate.

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“Hunger kills every 4 seconds”, ad created by “Action contre la faim” NGO – Links: http://www.actioncontrelafaim.org/# – http://welikeit.fr/5157/la-faim-justifie-les-moyens

Such threats call for governments answer and coalition.

In response, they gather to decide on laws and agreements they will act upon in order to direct their country and the world towards a more sustainable future.

You may for example have heard about the COP21 in Paris in 2015: the” Conference of the Parties”, which was the 21st yearly session of discussion about climate change by all nations in the world. The conference objective was to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate to reduce or, at least, stop increasing the CO2 massive emissions responsible for Global Warming.

Such gatherings give industrialized countries the major part of responsibility for combating it.

However, other actions are taken at smaller scales.

The European Union has energy targets to combat Climate Change. By 2020, three goals have to be achieved:

  • 20% efficiency improvement
  • 20% renewable energy penetration
  • 20% greenhouse-gas emissions reduction

Different targets are given to each member state in order to achieve this overall goal for Europe.

Irish goals for 2020 are:

  • 16% of total final consumption to come from renewable energy
  • Renewables contribution to gross electricity consumption 40%
  • Renewables (biofuels & the renewable portion of electricity) contribution to transport energy 10%
  • Renewable contribution to heat (Thermal requirement – heating & cooling) 12

               

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Link: https://fr.pinterest.com/pin/19140367140717584/

In a yet smaller scale that could nevertheless become global, a student campaign was born in US campuses and has won some recognition around the world.

It is about “divestment”: people and institutions are incited to stop giving their money to fossil fuels industries so that they will stop polluting our atmosphere.

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The 350 Madison Divestment Campaign, by Overpass Light Brigade Link: http://350madison.org/divestment/

 

This money could be invested in clean energy sources instead.

The name of the group who created this campaign is “350”. You can visit their website and discover a list of institutions acting in favor of this campaign, among other information.

This initiative crossed the ocean and reached Ireland as Trinity College divested in December 2016 and Irish, in January 2017, Ireland’s lower house passed legislation that would make the country the first to fully divest from fossil fuels. With almost all major parties supportive of the measure, supporters of Ireland’s divestment are optimistic about the future.

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Trinity College’s first Divestment Week (February 2016), by Trinity News – Link: -http://trinitynews.ie/tcdsu-and-fossil-freetcd-kick-off-first-ever-divestment-week-with-fossil-free-forum/

Former President Mary Robinson has praised and supported the campaign for divestment and has linked it with the climate justice ethos.

Here is an extract from one of her speeches:

The active role of young people is worth noting. (…) students today are taking action that can determine their futures – and the futures of generations to come – for the better. They are showing the world that, once again, a transformation in how we grow our economies is essential. This is how inter-generational equity can be achieved: promoting a new investment model that responds to the risks posed by climate change. By avoiding investment in high-carbon assets that become obsolete, and by prioritising sustainable alternatives, we build capacity and resilience, particularly for more vulnerable people – while lowering carbon emissions.”

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Mary Robinson’s declaration of climate justice: climate change, human rights and fossil fuel divestment, by ANU (Australian National University) – Link: http://www.anu.edu.au/events/mary-robinson%E2%80%99s-declaration-of-climate-justice-climate-change-human-rights-and-fossil-fuel

Following this movement, a group of leading Irish academics gathered and launched the “Post Carbon Ireland” initiative, in order to raise the critical issue of climate action during the 2016 general election campaign and to create a citizen-led movement for the transition towards a sustainable future.

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Strandhill (Ireland), by Katsiaryna Trusova

Ireland is a small country with a relatively small population. However, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions per person are among the highest of any country in the world. The argument that we are too small a country to make a difference cannot stand. We do have to take action to make Ireland as green as it can be.

 

 

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