Every now and again I try to take a couple of hours out of life in La La Land (or was it Namaland?) to check in on the state of the real world. You know the one, it sustains all life, itâs the one upon whose well being all human hopes, dreams and plans depend. Yes, that one, the very one weâre collectively killing just as fast as we possibly can.
Of course, only crazy people see the crippling of the biosphere in the coming decades as a crisis. The grown ups, the politicians, the pundits who crowd around Marian Finucane on Saturdays and Sundays, the economists, columnists and assorted other soothsayers for what ails us have absolutely nothing whatever to say on the subject.
To be fair, for many of our humanities-educated commentariat this goes beyond just rank indifference and laziness; it is also generously leavened with quite spectacular levels of ignorance of even the most fundamental pass Leaving Cert science.
But meanwhile, back in the real world, Mary Robinson yesterday delivered a powerful address to the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublinâs northside. Entitled âProtecting the most vulnerable: the role of climate justiceâ, it was wide-ranging, lucid, technically challenging and short on easy answers and quick fixes. The kind of story, in other words, our media just hate.
Still, it did get a single column piece on the left hand inside news page in todayâs Irish Times; this was in fact the only Irish newspaper which deemed Robinsonâs exposition of the tightening existential crisis that unrestrained climate change represents to be worthy of column inches. In contrast, the Times cleared two entire news pages to print the details of every last Tidy Towns winner â and there are literally hundreds of them.
Well, maybe Robinson is just plain too high falutinâ for ordinary folks to understand or care about what she has to say? Hardly. Howâs this for good copy: âThe truth is this: what we are doing is functionally insane. If we do not change this pattern, we will condemn our children and all future generations to struggle with ecological curses for many millennia to come.â
Here, she is quoting Al Gore from a recent impassioned and quite brilliant Rolling Stone article, âClimate of Denialâ but it is clear Robinson 100% endorses the sentiment, as well as feeling the anger, the outrage. âTo me, âecological cursesâ translate into serious threats to all human rights. Hence the urgency of acting now, and acting decisivelyâ, she concluded.
Roll that tape again: Irelandâs former President, a distinguished former UN High Commissioner and the holder of Americaâs highest civilian honour, the Congressional Medal of Freedom (more on this below) tells a meeting in Dublin that society is âfunctionally insaneâ and is in the process of inflicting ecological wreckage that will blight humanity and the planet itself for millennia, and Irelandâs Paper of Record reckons its readers would be far more interested in the Tidy Towns.
What the hell is going on here? Well, I did warn you. We live in La La Land, and its denizens and commentariat are for the most part as atomised, disconnected and distracted from reality as it is possible to imagine.
Robinson had lots more to say: specifically, she placed climate justice âat the nexus of climate change and human rightsâ. She drew attention to the hideous injustice that the worldâs 50 least developed nations account for less than 1% of climate-wrecking greenhouse emissions. Yet these are the very same people who are first in line to bear the brunt of climate impacts.
And itâs getting worse by the month. âBy 2020, between 75â250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change, particularly in the arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the rangeland systems in parts of eastern Africaâ¦ The sad reality is that this may lead to conflict and mass displacement of peopleâ
Some of the worldâs poorest countries are facing near term collapse in their ability to feed themselves. The frequency, severity and timing of extreme climate events are taking a growing toll. Droughts, flooding and increased risk of fire and disease outbreaks are all being fuelled by the ever-worsening climatic picture. âIn some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020â, she told us, pausing for a moment to let the fact sink in that these calamitous âfutureâ projections are barely eight yearsâ hence.
Robinson went off her script to single out the âparticular lack of (climate) leadership from the US and the lack of any prospect of this in futureâ â a clear slap at Obamaâs humiliating capitulation to Tea Party fundamentalists and energy industry-funded Congress stooges. He was, lest we forget, not only our best hope, he was our last shot, and boy, has he blown it. Just last week, he pulled the plug on EPA efforts to improve US air quality by reducing toxic ground level ozone levels. Even the American Lung Association has given up on this guy and is re-launching a Bush era legal challenge against Americaâs great crusading president.
In the question and answer session at the end of her presentation, I took the opportunity to ask Mrs Robinson if, in light of Obamaâs abandonment of his pre-election commitment to place the fight against climate change at the very heart of his presidency, was it perhaps time for her to consider returning the Congressional Medal of Freedom? Her response: âthatâs very provocative of you, John, the answer is noâ, but she did promise that âIâll have a word in Obamaâs earâ â to remind him, presumably, that the climate is not some election pledge that can be quietly jettisoned when the political wind is against it.
In response to another question from the floor, this time on the share-out of the worldâs âcarbon budgetâ, she replied: âweâve (in the developed world) been greedy and overusedÂ it ourselvesâ. She added that the putative 100 billion dollar annual transfers from rich to developing countries to assist them with climate adaptation by 2020 was ânowhere near the cost of adaptationâ, which she reckoned is closer to 700 billion dollars. This sounds like a mountain of money, but the US alone will spend well over a trillion dollars in 2012 on its military.
It was now time to leave this bubble of ecological reality that had temporarily inflated over No. 8, North Great Georges Street and return to La La Land. In this land âIrelandâs Next Top Modelâ and âICA Bootcampâ would jostle with RTEâs announcement of its âStrictly Come Dancingâ line-up and a sweet, sweet old priest who has been involved in not one, but three successful Tidy Towns competitions would dominate the TV news and the front of the Irish Times. Aaaah bless!