Climate impacts hitting home

The below piece ran as full pages in the Irish Mirror and Irish Daily Star in late October, to mark the UN’s International Day Against Climate Change.

IT IS ALMOST certain that 2023 will be the hottest year globally since records began. In fact, scientists believe this is very likely the hottest year on Earth in the last 125,000 years.

The planet has been racked in a seemingly never-ending sequence of devastating extreme weather events, from record-smashing wildfires in Canada to deadly heatwaves and flooding events.

Up until just last week, many people in Ireland may have believed that extreme weather was not really our problem. Then came Storm Babet, and in its wake, torrential downpours in the Cork area that left the centre of Midleton under water, with over 100 properties damaged.

This all happened because a month’s worth of rainfall fell in less than 24 hours. There is simply no time for the deluges of water to drain away harmlessly. Thankfully, there has been no loss of life. Many other areas have not been so lucky.

Torrential flooding last month killed at least 11,000 people in Libya, while flooding events this year in dozens of countries, including Greece, Turkey, Italy, Serbia, Brazil, Slovenia and Mexico saw multiple fatalities.

Last year was almost as bad. For instance, floods in Germany and Belgium in July 2022 killed more than 220 people and destroyed entire villages.

Scientists have long warned that unless greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning of fossil fuels, were not sharply reduced, the global climate system would begin to become dangerously unstable.

Despite all the political promises, emissions continue to rise, and so too do the incidence of wild weather events. For every one degree rise in global temperatures, the atmosphere can hold an extra 7% of moisture.

This year is set to be 1.5C over pre-industrial temperatures, meaning it’s likely there is around one tenth more rainfall in the skies than half a century ago – and what goes up, must surely come down.

Tomorrow (Oct 24) is International Day Against Climate Change, an event organised by the United Nations (UN), and never has it felt more urgent than this year. As July 2023 was confirmed as the hottest year ever recorded, UN secretary general, António Guterres declared that the era of global warming has ended and “the era of global boiling has arrived”.

“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning”, Guterres added. Heatwaves have not been confined to land. This year saw a massive marine heatwave covering more than 40 million square kilometres in the North Atlantic, with many of the world’s oceans also experiencing heatwave conditions.

Apart from the threat to marine life, these ocean heatwaves also provide the energy to fuel dangerous storms. Given Ireland’s location, we are potentially in the eye of ever more powerful Atlantic storms making landfall.

The situation is dire, but not yet hopeless. The only way we can avoid seeing ever more intense heatwaves, droughts, storms and flooding events is for wealthy countries like Ireland to take strong action to reduce our high level of emissions.

Ireland now has a higher share of SUVs in its fleet than any other European country; we also fly more than almost any other country on Earth. Many of our homes are poorly insulated and are heated by oil, gas or solid fuels.

Our livestock-based food system is among the most polluting and emissions-intensive forms of agriculture. Most of what our farmers produce is for export markets, while much of what Irish people eat has to be imported, along with huge amounts of fertilizer and millions of tons of animal feed.

As global food production is hit by weather extremes, more and more countries are restricting food exports to ensure they can feed their own populations.

Were Ireland unable to import millions of tons of food, we would have a major crisis, as our current farming system is simply unable to feed our own population.

Ireland has fantastic resources in renewable energy, especially offshore wind, yet many people still don’t seem to understand the urgent need to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to renewables.

Bafflingly, numerous planning applications for solar farms have been rejected by county councils this year, despite their offering a good income to landowners and clean energy for the community.

Maybe this year’s International Day Against Climate Change marks the day you decided to join in the fight for a greener, cleaner and safer future for all?

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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