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EDITORIAL: Storms renew our focus on climate change

October 29th, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WILL what we would regard as extreme weather events, such as the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia rampaging up through the island of Ireland last week and the subsequent relatively milder-mannered Storm Brian, focus people’s minds more sharply on the necessity to speed up mankind’s response to climate change? Certainly, since the storms struck the country so hard and did severe infrastructural damage that saw households without power and water and schools closed for a number of days, plenty of lip service was paid to the necessity to tackle the causes of climate change with more urgency.

We were lucky that Storm Ophelia did not come with as much rain as is often associated with hurricanes, but the strong winds still did a huge amount of damage to our utilities infrastructure with many people being left without electric power for over a week, not helped by the swift arrival of StormS Brian within days. Some trees that Ophelia failed to knock over were brought down by the next storm, blocking more roads and bringing down power and telephone lines.

Emergency crews did great work in testing conditions to re-open roads and restore power as quickly as they were able to, but there will be several months of work still necessary to rectify the damage done by Ophelia in particular with vast tracts of forestry levelled and there are probably many parts of utilities infrastructure that need further attention to strengthen them against future severe weather occurrences. 

Wisely, Bus Éireann acted on its clearly-defined policy of not running school buses where a Status Red weather alert applies and schools wisely closed on health and safety grounds – although the bad news for all who benefitted is that these days will have to be made up during the school year. There was some ambiguity about whether people could or should attend work when a Red alert is in force for their area and employers’ and employees’ representative groups need to get together now and clarify what the policy should be for these rare scenarios.  

West Cork was particularly hard hit by Ophelia, which originated in the Azores, from where such hurricanes normally track west during the hurricane season. However, this one – in a rare occurrence – headed north and its made landfall in the south west, claiming three lives as it made its way up through the island of Ireland and on to Scotland.

While we haven’t had a hurricane since Debbie in 1961, which claimed 18 lives in Ireland – 12 in the Republic and six in the North – there has been an increasing amount of severe weather events here this decade in particular with strong storms such as Darwin in early 2014 and Frank at the end of 2015, and several instances of heavy rainfall causing widespread flooding in between.

Scientists believe that all this adds to an irrefutable body of evidence that global warming and the climate change it is causing are a reality that need to be dealt with urgently and that everybody needs to do their bit to try to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are depleting the ozone layer that is protecting our planet. Of course, wiser experts such as Kerry TD Danny Healy Rae would have us believe that ‘God above is in charge of the weather’ and he told an Oireachtas Committee last week that he does not ‘subscribe to this climate change thing,’ stating that the current emissions targets for 2020 and 2030 were unrealistic and putting a burden on the citizens of the country.

However, the majority of people agree that climate change is a very real issue that requires action and most are willing to do what they can to try to mitigate the effects of global warming, but they must be shown leadership and they need to be made more aware of the practical ways they can help and be constantly cajoled and encouraged to do so.

The fear is that, after the storms have abated, the issue of climate change will slip back down the agenda as it always seems to do when the weather is quiet.

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