Bryan Wall: A Climate Revolution

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From top: Schoolchildren strike for climate action in Dublin city centre last week: Bryan Wall

The students striking for action on climate change represent probably our last and best hope for any meaningful change. In Dublin over 11,000 students took part in the protest while in Cork around 5,000 took to the streets.

Worldwide, over 1 million students went on strike in over 100 countries. Nonetheless, the question remains, is it too late to do anything? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. The best we can hope for now, barring some kind of technological miracle, is mitigation.

Nothing has been done decades to create more sustainable societies and industries. Instead, businesses and their friends in government continued to extract and pollute as much as they wanted. The science has been known for more than a generation.

As far back as 1968 there were warnings about the damage CO2 could do to the environment. The American Petroleum Institute at the time had received a report which clearly stated that CO2 “may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental change”.

What’s more, the report detailed that “man is now engaged in a vast geophysical experiment with his environment”. Even in 1968 the authors could write that “There seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe”.

Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and warming oceans were some of the consequences they predicted. And here we are, 51 years later and we are still not adequately prepared for the damage that has already been done, let alone the damage that awaits us in the coming years.

Nick Cowern, an emeritus professor of atmospheric science, energy, and climate change has some stark truths for us. He pointed out that if all of our emissions stopped now, it would still take hundreds of years for the biosphere to absorb all of the CO2 that has already been emitted.

And even then, the global temperature would still go above 3 degrees of warming. So we on our well on our way to hurtling past 3 degrees of warming given that emissions are not going to simply stop overnight and all at once. What will that mean for us?

David Wallace-Wells describes this scenario in his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future. He writes:

“Warming of 3 or 3.5 degrees would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced.”

On our way to that level of warming we will have made survival for millions, if not billions, of people uncertain.

Wallace-Wells says:

“it’s possible as soon as 2050, when we will be at about 2°C of warming or a little bit warmer than that, that many of the major cities in India and the Middle East will be lethally hot in summer.”

This means people “won’t be able to reliably go outside, work outside during the summer months without incurring some lethal risk”.

Then there are other side-effects. In a paper prepared for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report, the authors pointed out that “Meeting current or growing levels of energy need in the next few decades with low-carbon solutions will be extremely difficult, if not impossible”.

What’s more, “economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use”.

Essentially, then, we’re caught in a vicious cycle. Renewable energy isn’t reliable or common enough — at least that’s the argument — to provide for growing levels of energy use right now. We’ll have to rely on fossil fuels for the next few decades instead.

But at the same time we’ve already burdened the planet with so much waste that even the permafrost in the Artic and Siberia is starting to melt.

And given that “1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere” is contained in that permafrost, the future looks even more apocalyptic. So, we must turn to renewables. But we can’t. Instead we rely on fossils fuels, and on and on. Ireland, as you’d expect, is not immune from any of this.

A new report issued by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) found that Ireland is doing miserably compared to its neighbours in doing something about climate change. Ireland has a binding agreement with the EU to have 16% of its energy provided by renewable sources by 2020.

Instead only 10.6% comes from renewables. Ireland is not going to meet these or other 2020 targets according to the SEAI. In fact, at the moment Ireland is 26th out of 28 countries in terms of its progress towards meeting its targets.

Ireland is not the only one that is failing. Every country and corporation is. It’s just that some are failing more than others. Some don’t even care if they fail. According to the Guardian, a study found that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Such an abhorrent figure should have people calling for revolution, be it green or otherwise. This, as Greta Thunberg pointed out, has been left to the younger generations; to the children of those doing most of the polluting.

She also rightly said that “change is coming, whether you like it or not”. The idea that people will continue to wait for their governments to do something while they are starting to die from the effects of climate change is laughable. People have their limits. We are quickly approaching them.

And we have already seen that climate change can have a role in provoking long and deadly wars. The Syrian civil war, for example, has been partly blamed on the effects of an unusual drought which struck the country in 2006.

Farmers were forced to migrate to the cities in order to survive, where their unhappiness with the government response turned into rage. Of course, there were other internal and external reasons for the civil war but climate change was one of them.

Syria could be a portent of what we can look forward to around the world over the next few decades. An economic and social revolution is needed. There have been calls to mobilise on the level of World War II in order to, at the very least, mitigate the damage that has already been done.

This is a laudable tactic but it is one doomed to failure unless we topple the corporations doing most of the damage. If we want a viable planet and ecosphere for ourselves and our children, revolutionary action of this kind is the only way forward.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday but owing to the Bank Holiday… Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

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23 thoughts on “Bryan Wall: A Climate Revolution

  1. Eoin D O'Cionna

    There are proven solutions to reducing CO2 emissions and mitigating climate change that can be enacted now.
    1. Copy France – they de-carbonised their electrical grid in the 80s.
    2. Electrify everything – cars, trains, trucks, home heating, etc.
    3. In Ireland’s specific case, look at this site: bene.ie

    …that’s it. And it would pay for itself.

    1. Junkface

      Yes, I agree that this is worth looking into, but use the words Nuclear as a politician and everyone in Ireland loses their minds. If they research though they would find that modern Nuclear options are safer and are very different to the reactors of the past. It is also environmentally cleaner than most of the other options that generate equal amounts of power. Ireland could also export the surplus energy that it creates. France has been on Nuclear Power for what 40 years? Their nuclear waste fits underneath the size of a couple of football fields!

  2. SOQ

    And yet another noble environmental piece ignoring the elephant in the room, or in this case the cow.

    The main reason Ireland is doing so badly is because we have such a large amount of cattle. Half of our ommissions come from cows. No amount of green urban initiatives is going to change this fact.

    We farm on an industrial scale these days and, 95% of all beef is exported to the UK.

    1. postmanpat

      It’s about to be flown half way around the world to the new fat affluent Chinese too. Good news to Meat companies that employ/exploit Brazilian workers. bad news for 99.99999999999% of the rest of the country that doesn’t share in Big Meat profits. Yet we have Nationwide type RTE shows featuring rosy cheeked Meat industry fat men patting themselves on the back for every contract they make flying grass fed Irish meat around the world like the general public are going to benefit from it. At the end of the day its just bunch of fat men raping the natural world for money and we are supposed be proud of them? Its shameful.

    2. edalicious

      I’d love to see a breakdown of CO2 use by country where they put the CO2 in the country where a product is consumed rather than produced. I’d imagine the majority of our beef and dairy is exported for consumption rather than eaten here but, on the flipside, the vast majority of everything else is probably imported.

    3. Zaccone

      Agriculture counts for less than a third of our emissions, and cows only a fraction within that. Its nowhere near half, nor even a quarter of our emissions.

      Cutting down on beef couldn’t hurt mind you, but its unfortunately not the only answer. Nuclear power, and rapid electrification of our transport network, would both be far bigger.

      1. postmanpat

        How about some personal responsibility too , No? I don’t know about you. But I don’t have the skills to build a safe nuclear reactor to run my house, or the time to build an electric train to bring me too and from work. But what I can do as an individual to minimize by personal impact on the environment is to not eat meat or consume dairy products. And if everyone did the same thing starting today, emissions would drop tomorrow., Then we can worry about the nebulous powers that be and their transport / electric grid plans. The cows have to go, we don’t need them and they should be outlawed. There are more cows in this country than people, 6.9 million cows to 4.8 million people. Private Meat industry losing profits is of absolutely zero concern to me , nor should it be to you or anyone else. The cows are NOT a fraction of the agricultural emmisions, they ARE the cause of most of the agricultural emissions which is 44 percent of emissions worldwide . Hardly a fraction. SO , sorry , I don’t buy the “cutting down on meat couldn’t hurt (mind you ???)” because what you are really are saying there is: ” what’s the point ?, eat away until someone other than myself fixes the power and transport first. Which is a lazy irresponsible attitude. You have to stop consuming meat , not cutting down , stop . simple as that. Fat cats will lose money .but I wont , you wont and everyone reading this wont., So what the excuse? nutrition? give be a tooty break?

        1. SOQ

          +1

          The romantic idea that farmers are in tune and respect nature has long gone. The ditches and hedgerows are bull dozed to make way for huge fields with not even shelter for the cows. Have you even seen a cow suffering from sun stroke? I have. They actually clip what is left of the hedges so there is no shade for the poor things. And then they are housed in silos all winter and fed got knows what.

          Each year there is more and more and each year the emissions go up. It’s not rocket science now is it? But what really irks me is the hang wringing and guilt tripping about how the rest of us should be doing more when NEVER, not even once, is this environmental vandalism mentioned.

    1. Junkface

      Most of Germany’s power now comes from renewable energy sources. The Government enforced it. Electricity bills in Germany are very high for this reason. The coal they burn is low when compared nationally. Also, all of Germany’s massive rail network uses electric trains, not diesel power. Diesel is a terrible polluter.

      1. Zaccone

        @junkface 40% of German electricity generation in 2018 came from coal / lignite / gas / oil. Their electricity industry is still extremely polluting.

        Their lignite consumption has actually increased since 2012 horrifyingly, thanks to their environmentally bonkers decision to reduce nuclear power.

  3. A Person

    Bryan, you make excellent points re climate changes, but seriously do you have to mention that the students were on “strike” and that we need a “revolution” to sort this out? Such leftist nonsense language will only put people off.

  4. Dr.Fart MD

    we do need a revolution, you twit. the world is literally crumbling down around us, language shouldn’t have to be altered to make it mroe palatable to conservative breasticles like you, we are ALL going to die and death won’t be reserved just for people who didn’t use words you like.

    1. A Person

      Words…. really? breasticles, what does that even mean? Conservative? Why, is this because I question using leftism poo on a good post about climate change? Please tell me why you used climate change as a leftist argument? Its like the shinners, can’t get away from their roots.

      1. Dr.Fart MD

        i didn’t write breasticles, that was the long suffering broadsheet editors having to change what i said even though their policy regarding crude language is clear and – hip hip hooray – I wear frilly knick-knicks. and you obviously are conservative coz in you go on about ‘leftist nonsense’, and im saying left right whatever, doesnt matter, because climate effects us all, so you can save your dismay at bryan saing ‘revolution’. its not a ‘leftist’ word. its a word in the english language, and its correct in this instance, we DO need a revolution. but as soon as you hear that word you think “garrr eurgh lefty nonsense” and i dont know why. whats ur problem with the word ‘revolution?’ it is what is needed. to revolt against the further decimation of the fupping globe we live on. to revolt against the big corporations and government policy makers and their ways, to make needed change.

  5. postmanpat

    These kids all across the world need to pull a strike next Friday too and every single Friday from now on for months/years if necessary until their respective governments actually do something. One day out of five isn’t going to have much of an impact on their education and even if it does , they have no future anyway until there serious issues are sorted.

  6. McVitty

    1. How many cycled there?
    2. Would they have done this on a weekend day?
    3. Who is organising this?

    …these are the questions that bring down the whole thing.

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