An abbot, an archaeologist, an artist and a comedian recently took to the Abbey stage to talk about climate change, at the closing event in a series of “Climate Conversations”. I hope they won’t mind if I pick out fragments of what they had to say.
Mark Patrick Hederman called for new stories to guide our way and scared everyone with ears to hear: “Dear people, the whole wide world is now placed in our hands. It is a hand grenade with the pin out, and the time bomb of the 21st century is ticking away.Tick, Tick Tick.’’
Michael Gibbons gave some hope: “Archaeology teaches us one thing, and that is the adaptability of the human species to dynamic, far-reaching change, in a world they often didn’t understand and to a world that is ever changing.”
Dorothy Cross brought us back to our perilous state: “The laziness that has infiltrated into most of our comfy lives these days makes it harder and harder for us to work towards protecting what is the most important thing, as far as I am concerned on this planet, which is nature, which we are part of.”
And Tommy Tiernan hit the nail on the head when he said: “I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘the environment’. To qualify the environment as something separate from yourself, it just turns it into a laborious process of something else you have to do. Mow the lawn, phone your father, sort the environment out.
“Having a minister for the environment makes as much sense as having a minister for reality. We are nature. The thing we are trying to fix is ourselves.”
Never were truer words spoken. Support for environmental thinking has come and gone in waves over the past 50 years. It’s still rising imperceptibly over time, like a slow incoming tide. The vision is always the same: every person on this planet able to live together in peace.
Ticking time bomb
The greatest threat to that millennium goal is the ticking bomb presented by climate change. We need to make a great leap forward, and to do that the environmental movement needs to become a people’s movement instead.
We are fortunate, because the actions we need to take to address climate change also give us the chance to create a better society. Climate action sets us on a compass bearing to a better way of living. More equal. More secure. Closer to the creative force, whatever you believe that to be.
To make the change, we will need everyone on board. We need the farmers, builders and students who will inherit this future. Listening to those younger voices gives you some faith that we are up for the challenge. But can we work together to make it happen?
The director of the Climate Gathering, Ryan Meade, summed up events in the Abbey as follows: “There is no alternative to collaboration; self-righteousness will not work, individual virtue will not work. Collaboration is the only thing that will work.”
The Climate Conversations themselves were a collaboration between the Climate Gathering and a diverse group of partners, including Ibec, Ictu, Christian Aid, Trócaire and The Environmental Pillar. These climate gatherings have been designed as a safe space where people can listen to each other in a respectful way. Still, as Ryan said, a safe space does not mean that uncomfortable arguments can’t be made.
The inconvenient truth is that our Government and the agencies of the State and the business world have no story to tell about climate change. If they do say anything, it runs along the following lines: We are too small to matter. We will do what the EU tells us, but behind the scenes we will negotiate an opt-out. We do not want to lead. We will wait and see how others get on and then follow behind.
That narrative runs counter to what I believe the Irish people stand for. Our carbon pollution is the equivalent to the footprint of the 400 million poorest people in the world. As a modern democratic republic with great strengths and freedoms, we have the chance to take a lead – and in that process create a new economic model that suits us better.
The international community will meet in Paris in December (for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to reach an agreement on tackling this climate crisis. As we prepare for talks, our Government is also starting a dialogue on economic policy between all the political parties.
Rather than limit dialogue to a narrow financial analysis, we need to widen the debate to consider how we can make a just low-carbon transition. The public dialogue should be open to everyone, including our artistic, religious and student communities.
It is a revolutionary time. The Bastille we need to storm is at home. We need a new vision and story of where we want to freely go from here.
Eamon Ryan is leader of the Green Party. This is the first in an ongoing series in the lead- up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in in December