Thursday, November 24, 2016

The biggest challenge facing us all

A friend of mine sent me a link to a feature-length documentary over the
Of all the contentious issues President-elect Trump stands for,
climate change denial might be the most troubling of them all
weekend and, after watching it last night, I have to confess I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard more about it or engaged in more of a debate about its contents.

Perhaps it got lost in the furore over the election of Donald Trump, the concerns over his racism, his xenophobia, his sexism, and how he pandered to hatreds and fears; because the whole world was in shock for days or weeks, the film didn’t get the attention it deserved.

But, given that this has been the hottest year on record, it was probably the most important film released anywhere across the world in 2016.

The stark message behind ‘Before The Flood’ concerns man’s propensity for self-destruction. UN Ambassador and Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio takes a harrowing look at how climate change is set to render the planet uninhabitable for our children and grandchildren.

What an awful legacy that would be from a species which has already caused the extinction of many species and decimated ecosystems across the planet over a couple of hundred years.

The film, produced by National Geographic, has been released free of charge in order to raise awareness and yet, because of the hysteria over Trump’s election, it didn’t get anything like the attention it deserved.

Here in Ireland, we love to talk about the weather. We can have four seasons in one day. But climate change . . . that’s another issue. It’s such a massive threat to all our futures, such a huge issue, that few of us want to sit down and talk about reducing our carbon footprints or eliminating our use of fossil-fuels.

We can see the effects of climate change every day. Our winters are colder – ironically, an impact of climate change in this particular part of the world – and we no longer seem to enjoy the hot and sunny summers which were at least an occasional part of life a few years ago.

Most of us drive to work and school, and then wonder why we are stuck in traffic jams. We burn coal, oil, and wood to increase CO2 emissions and we have seen a huge increase in extreme weather patterns, including flooding, over the past half-decade.

People laughed at Teresa Mannion’s almost hysterical RTE report from Salthill this time last year, but the reality is we never used to have such extreme weather patterns before.

One of the most striking things about ‘Before The Flood’ was the way in which scientists who warned about climate change were consistently ridiculed by the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News.

Because of the fossil-fuel industries, there is a consistent campaign to denigrate those who raise concerns about global warming.
Teresa Mannion's memorable weather report for RTE last year

Trump ridiculed the same scientists during the US Presidential Election campaign and, now that he’s about to take power, he poses a real danger to the entire future of the planet.

The environment? Who cares! He’s going to restore jobs in the places where coal plants closed down and people are in despair. Climate change? A myth. There’s even a clip in the film which shows Trump complaining about the cold on the campaign trail.

“It’s supposed to be 70 degrees today, it’s freezing. Where is global warming?” laughs Trump, ignorantly making a mockery of the scientists who believe human behaviour poses a threat to the future of the planet.

Is climate change real? Of course it is. It’s evident in the unprecedented flooding in places like South Galway in recent years, where nothing like this ever happened before.

It’s evident in Asian cities like Beijing, Shanghai, or Bangkok, where merely breathing in the city air can cause damage to your lungs.

The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate

It’s evident in Greenland, where hundreds of cubic kilometres of ice no longer exist – they have fallen into the sea, where rising levels will eventually threaten places like Galway, Cork, or Miami.

It’s evident at coral reefs all across the planet. Ask any experienced scuba diver and they will tell you that the reefs are dying at an alarming rate. In the last 30 years, 50% of all coral has been lost. To suggest this is not due to human behaviour is simply absurd.

A friend of mine who worked at a dive centre in Asia for more than ten years says it’s too upsetting for him to return to familiar old dive sites, because so much healthy coral has disappeared.

The future of the entire scuba diving industry on the beautiful Thai island where I worked as a divemaster six years ago is now under threat because of plans to build a coal plant nearby on the mainland.

Tourism on Koh Lanta would be unthinkable without the dive industry which draws people back every year.                                                                              
An underwater protest against the proposed
coal plant for Krabi, Thailand

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the most spectacular places on earth, will not be around in a decade or two because of human behaviour.

There is no doubt that there are other major issues we need to deal with – homelessness, joblessness, inequality, and a deficient health service among them here in Ireland – but climate change is surely the biggest issue facing us all.

So what do we do?

We allow huge companies with an interest in fossil-fuels to spread misinformation because it suits their agenda not to pass legislation which could deal with the problem.

We elect a man who doesn’t believe in global warming to the highest office in the world because he says he will create more jobs and “make America great again”.

We drive to work or school, when it would be just as easy to walk or cycle, or jet off to holiday destinations for a week because flying is no longer a luxury for ordinary people.

We burn fossil-fuels in huge plants, to such an extent that horrible smog is now a normal part of life in some cities and people have to wear face masks every time they go outside.

There are no easy solutions, and change has to start at a micro level, but what’s really frightening is the way in which people like Trump and Fox News presenters can dismiss alarming scientific evidence so readily.

Already, before he has even taken office, Trump has announced that all climate change research conducted by NASA will be eliminated, because he wants to crackdown on “politicized science”.

At the moment, NASAs network of satellites provide a huge wealth of information about global warning.

Trump seems to suggest that scientists who are concerned about the sustainability of our planet have a political agenda, as though the corporations which rely on fossil-fuels for profits do not.
How many unjust wars have we seen being fought over oil?

And how many people have stood up and cried ‘halt’ when rainforests across the planet were being destroyed?

There is long-established evidence that burning fossil fuels and cutting down the rainforests causes the release of heat-trapping gases, raising temperatures across the planet.

Pollution is a huge problem in cities across the globe
The US has been the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in history and now developing nations like India feel they have the right to catch up . . . they want electricity, heat, and all the trappings of 21st century life which those of us who live in Europe or North America already enjoy.

Trump’s election has clearly posed a threat to Muslims, illegal immigrants, Mexicans, and women in the US.

But, given he once said that climate change was a “hoax”, it could have a terrible impact on every living create across the globe. There has never been a bigger threat to the future of life as we know it.

How ironic that the man who railed against lobbyists and corporate interest groups during the US election campaign could speed up the destruction of the entire planet because he’s willing to pander to those very same lobbyists and interest groups.

It’s a scary time for us all.

Check out the feature-length documentary from National Geographic and the UN,

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. 

Find Ciaran on Twitter, @ciarantierney

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