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OPINION: Global warming concerns of young people justified

Sunday, 24th March, 2019 5:00pm
OPINION: Global warming concerns of young people justified

LAST weekend’s global climate strike by young people to draw attention to impending climate chaos was fully justified. On the Friday, tens of thousands of students across Ireland staged protests by leaving their schools and taking to the streets to highlight the urgency of action needed to combat global warming, which our political leaders have been slow in implementing.

This was part of a series of protests by mainly second-level students, initiated by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, that took place in an estimated 112 countries across the world, to highlight the lack of action on climate change in order to mitigate its effects on the world that they will be inheriting in the not-too-distant future. So frustrated and concerned was Greta about inaction on the matter that she first sat on the steps outside parliament in her native Stockholm on a Friday last August to draw attention to it and pledged to do so every Friday after that.

Soon others joined her and the #FridaysForFuture movement started to gather momentum, capturing the imaginations of young people worldwide. Last Friday, the protests went global with an estimated 10,000 teenagers hitting the streets of Dublin, 5,000 in Cork and pockets of a few hundred each at some 30 locations across the country – all on whom made their protests in a peaceful, respectful and dignified manner.

They, quite rightly, feel that the current world leaders are allowing our planet to deteriorate and seem oblivious to the huge damage being done to the vital eco systems that sustain the life of all species, ourselves included.

One of the slogans of the worldwide campaign that rings chillingly true is: ‘There is no Planet B.’ They don’t want – and are not prepared – to inherit a world that is well on the way to destroying itself, driven by corporate greed that is impacting most on the poorer members of the human race.

Our Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, commended their ‘passion and enthusiasm.’ However, these young people do not want to be patronised by politicians; they want urgent action from them.

Mr Bruton opined that he has only had the Climate Action portfolio for a few months, but this is not good enough as there should be an ongoing whole-of-government approach to the issue of global warming, regardless of who is minister. Neither is it enough for our Taoiseach to be ‘spinning’ about cutting down on his meat consumption to help save the planet; action, not just words, is needed.

While it is acknowledged – and expected – that all of us should do our bit as individuals, the protestors demand that the government ‘takes its responsibility seriously’ and avoids placing the burden of moving to a sustainable society on citizens alone. They want the government to ensure that all fossil fuels are left in the ground, and that it bans the building of any new fossil fuel infrastructure and they want Ireland to be using 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

A tall order perhaps, but one that has to be issued, given the prevarication up to now in trying to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It looks like the government will only achieve less than a third of the 20% reduction on 2005 levels that EU countries agreed to target by 2020 and are way off the pace also in trying to get Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions down from 60 million tonnes a year to 33 million tonnes by 2030, and to zero by 2050, unless mitigation action is considerably and urgently stepped up.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015 was seen as the panacea for the world finally getting its act together on arresting the alarming rate of climate change, but the likes of President Donald J Trump pulling the United States out of the accord has undermined it severely. The polluter pays principle is crucial, but governments must resist the overtures of big business with vested interests and rigidly enforce this.

According to Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada, ‘Just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. This is where policy needs to be concentrated. Hitting ordinary people with a regressive carbon tax will disproportionately affect the poor and will not solve the problem.’

The students who protested last week want the government to declare a climate emergency, and to communicate the severity of the ecological crisis to the general public, including school students through reform of the education system. As Greta Thunberg stated: Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So, instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then and only then, hope will come.