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Drop in the Ocean? Ireland and Climate Change (Video transcript)

A Trócaire production.

Voice of Naomi Klein (Environmental activist)

If we stay on the road we’re on, we face radical changes to our physical world. This is what the vast majority of climate scientists tell us.

Voice of President Obama

The alarm bells keep ringing, our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm. We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Voice of Naomi Klein (Author and activist)

Since our government started meeting in 1990 to come up with a plan to reduce emissions, global emissions have gone up by 61%.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

Ireland is a small country – yes – but we have a large carbon footprint.

Voice of Niamh Garvey (Trócaire)

Ireland is far off track the transition it needs to make in terms of emission reductions.

Voice of Mary Robinson

The commitments of individual states are way off course for a safe world.

Voice of Kumi Naidoo (Executive Director of Greenpeace International)

Our political leaders are sleepwalking us into a crisis of epic proportions and they're playing political poker with the future of this planet.

Voice of Naomi Klein (Author and activist)

We are talking about allowing sea levels to rise in the name of protecting an economic system that is failing the vast majority of the people on this planet with or without climate change.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

We need to change the conversation that we’re having with ourselves and one another about the future because the roadmap that we’ve laid out at the moment is a road to disaster.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

We are at the moment on track more towards 5 or more degrees of global warming or at least 4 and 4 degrees of a temperature change on a global average is almost as big as the difference between the temperature now and the last ice age. It will be a massive disruption of human civilisation.

Voices of Irish public

“I have friends who are like ‘oh I love global warming’ well they don’t mean it like, but you know, some people don't really care, they don’t see the badness.”

“I mean you hear stories about the icecaps melting and sea levels rising and climates changing. It does worry you a little bit but then you hear these arguments that this always has been going on.”

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

We humans have never experienced a hot period on earth. We’ve already put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through human actions - 40% over the pre-industrial level - than have been in the atmosphere in the last 3 million years. Now 3 million years ago, when there was that much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere global sea levels were 20 metres higher than they are today. It was a different world.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

On the science side it is absolutely clear now. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that assesses all the global science on climate change and synthesizes it into a summary for governments, said in 2014 that its 95% certain that the rising temperatures that we’re seeing is caused by human activity and that's the same level of certainty that we have around smoking causing cancer.

Voice of Bill McKibben (Environmental activist, 350.org)

We now know enough about carbon to say how much is too much. In fact, they said, any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed into which life on earth is adapted. That's very strong language for scientists to use. Stronger still when you know that wherever you are today - you know, Vancouver, Vienna, Vietnam - the atmosphere is 393 parts per million CO2 and growing about 2 parts per million per year, so already way too high. That's why, you know, Texas burns and Pakistan drowns.

Voice of Niamh Garvey (Policy Officer, Trócaire)

We're already seeing the impact of shifting rainfall, increased number of disasters, on people's lives and livelihoods.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

We've already experienced colossal impacts but many people, because we mostly live in towns, we live in cities, we live indoors, are maybe unaware of the extent to which the natural world is already under assault. The WWF recently published what’s called the Living Planet Index for 2014 and that showed an extraordinary decline in vertebrate life. It’s down by 52% in 40 years.

The ph of the oceans have risen by, I think it's about 30% since the 1950s. If that continues, as projected, by mid-century we may have a situation where we have a cascading collapse of complex life in the oceans. What does that mean? That means marine life as we understand it, dies. We are left essentially with an ocean full of jelly-fish. We depend on the ocean for huge amounts of our oxygen. A dead ocean will lead to a global die-off that will extend far beyond the oceans. It'll certainly extend and take out most of life on earth.

Voice of Ciara Kirrane (Stop Climate Chaos)

I think there is a shift and I think people are thinking about it a bit more and I suppose realising that it's going to affect their lives in different ways and it's not just going to be about a positive - warmer day or a warmer summer - that there will be significant threats to people in Ireland. 

Voice of Dr Stephen McCabe (Environmental Scientist, Northern Ireland Environment Link)

We're seeing impacts of climate change now, I would say, reflected in the response of the physical environment through flooding, through loss of biodiversity.

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

I mean you speak to people like Professor John Sweeney in Maynooth - he's very clear about what the impacts would be and I mean we've already seen them I think.

Voice of Professor John Sweeney (Climatologist, NUI Maynooth)

We know that Ireland is going to become wetter in the winter so flood frequencies will increase very significantly. We know that Ireland will become dryer in the summer.

Voice of Dr Stephen McCabe (Environmental Scientist, Northern Ireland Environment Link)

We have new storm and flooding maps that have been created for Northern Ireland by the Rivers Agency and they are very good but they show that already central Belfast is under significant risk from flooding and that's without adding on climate change projections.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

Most civilizations developed in the coastal regions, for the obvious reason, principally of trade. So all our great cities, whether it's Dublin, New York etc. -they are all located along the coast and we have trillions worth of infrastructure within a couple of meters of the sea level.  Now if we get sea level rises as projected by the IPCC by mid century to late century, we are looking at 1, 2 and in some cases several metres of sea level rise - that means we are going to lose this infrastructure . For example the worlds' ports by definition are at sea level. The worlds' ports are the vessels of trade globally. We can't trade without functioning ports.

Voice of Professor John Sweeney (Climatologist, NUI Maynooth)

Ireland is quite vulnerable in many areas to coastal erosion and coastal erosion of course is something that will be enhanced as sea level rises because wave energy will be increased as waves fall from a greater height and also we expect storms to be more extreme and more intense on a warmer ocean in the years ahead.

Voice of Irish public

“When I was a kid I was even aware of, you know, reading about growing up on the coasts that the water levels were rising and you were always kind of terrified of the drowning of cities and things but I don’t know how far away that is or if it’s avoidable in any way.”

Voice of Professor John Sweeney (Climatologist, NUI Maynooth)

In February 2002 this part of Dublin had a water level rise of just under 3 metres of the storm surge, 2.95 centimetres. Therefore we have to recognise that that wasn’t a once off occasion, it's not going to be something that will never ever happen again.

Voice of Dr Stephen McCabe (Environmental Scientist, Northern Ireland Environment Link)

That’s a major issue in Belfast. We’ve had houses flooded, property damaged.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

You take a meter of sea level rise – it doesn’t sound like a lot – you amplify that with a 2 to 3 meter storm surge and suddenly you’ve got areas like Clontarf in Dublin, like Sandymount in Dublin, many parts of Cork and Waterford cities – they’re going to be underwater.

We had a major fodder crisis in Ireland which is almost unprecedented in the last 2 years. We've had two huge freeze events. Freeze events are counter intuitive - they are to do with the disruption of the polar vortex because of the rapid rate of arctic ice melt and loss so paradoxically climate change and global warming to this part of north western Europe can also bring severe freezes.

Voice of Irish public

“The last few winters have been so cold and it’s boiling now and this never really happens so it’s not just coincidence, definitely something is going on.”

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

A loss of predictability – this is one of the key things - particularly in agriculture. For example, if you get a spring of drought you can have an entire year’s harvest badly affected. Equally if you get floods at harvest time you can have an otherwise good year ruined. So agriculture, and we are still quite an agricultural country, is highly exposed by definition to climate change.

Voice of Professor John Sweeney (Climatologist, NUI Maynooth)

Time is pressing. The window is closing. We can't let this problem be put on the long finger. We can't let it be left for the next generation to solve. We have to actually tackle it seriously in a way we're not doing at the moment.

Voices of Irish public

“It’s around a lot so you hear a lot about it but to be honest it doesn’t really affect me that much so I don’t really give it much thought.”

“The first thing I think of is polar bears, and then after that I think that, probably I should think about it more but there is so much going on that I don’t really think about it at all to be honest.”

Voice of Professor John Sweeney (Climatologist, NUI Maynooth)

For Irish people to say ‘oh it’s something that’s happening in Africa’ or ‘it’s something that won't affect Ireland’ I think is a rather insular mentality. Ultimately we will change our climate according to the global average. We are a mid latitude country and we will get the average change of the rest of the world, so if it warms up by 4 degrees we will warm up by 4 degrees.

Quote by Éamon Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire

Each Irish person is responsible for as much carbon emissions as 88 Ethiopians, meaning that it would take 404 million Ethiopians to match Ireland's carbon footprint.

Voice of Niamh Garvey (Policy Officer, Trócaire)

Ireland’s overall contribution to climate change may look small relative to other countries. When you break it down to a per person contribution, each person in Ireland emits nearly 10 tons of carbon dioxide per year. That’s more than 100 times the average person in Uganda and when you compare it to other large countries like India or China it is still significantly more.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

Our emissions remain high per capita. If everyone in the world polluted like the Irish we’d need three planets to survive, or maybe it's dropped to two and a half now because of the recession but it is still one and a half planets more than we’ve got, so therefore we are going to have to do our bit to get down to one planet living.

Voice of Niamh Garvey (Policy Officer, Trócaire)

If you think of the sort of person who Trócaire works with on the ground, a small scale family farmer, a small plot of land, maybe a few live stock. They are on the edge of poverty, on the edge of survival and there is a lot that they do to maintain their livelihood but climate change is bringing in an additional stressor on an already vulnerable situation.

Voice of Dr Judy Wakhungu (Geologist)

We've seen how climate change or erratic weather has really affected food security in Africa. If I look at my own country Kenya and then we look at the diversity of the climate change issues that we are facing - on the eastern side of the country we are faced with constant drought but if you look at the western side of the country, particularly close to Lake Victoria, it's continuous flooding and so when you talk to all the farmers particularly those that are older they will tell you, you know, 30 years ago this was the growing season but now it is changing and we can no longer tell when it is time to plant and we can also no longer tell what the quantity or quality of our yield is going to be.

Tigray, Ethiopia

Voice of Bataki Gebaty (80), Sebeya, Tigray, Ethiopia

The climate has changed a lot. When I was young the land was green, the rainfall was good. When there was supposed to be rain there was rain. And when it was supposed to be summer it was summer. And so our food production was good too. It has changed so much since then.

Voice of secondary school students, Sebaya, Ethiopia

“In Ireland maybe you survive by industries but for us its farming. You have a lot of industry and cars in Ireland. They produce a lot of pollution. You have to find another way of running your industries and cars.”

Voice of Taemu Kahsay, Sebeya, Tigray, Ethiopia

I've heard that because of many smokes from industries in rich countries we have this problem. I ask them to stop it because we are having problems. I want to say, stop it, stop the smoke.

Voice of protestor at Climate Change March, Durban, South Africa 2011

"We're seeing people in Africa who are dependent on agriculture but we're seeing they're no longer able to farm because they do not know when the rainy season is coming so it's making life very difficult. People's incomes are reduced to more than half so we are seeing the impacts and the effects of climate change."

Voice of Pablo Selon, Climate Change Activist

Here they want to have a new mandate to do nothing until 2020. We need a deep cut of emissions now. Every year 350,000 persons die because of climate change.

Quote by Sarah Palin, Former Governor of Alaska

These global warming studies are a bunch of snake oil science.

Voice of Eoghan Rice (Trócaire)

And do you think that Climate Change is something that is affecting the world at all?

Voices of Irish public

“I think so but then there is a lot of people who say that it's not real and that it’s just made up.”

“The lobby to try and tell us that there is no climate change is very powerful and even though there is a lot of consensus, there is still so much in the media that is saturated by people saying that it doesn’t exist and they have a lot more money than the people who don’t.”

"There's too much money getting made. It's as simple as that and they are greedy. They don't want to lose their money"

Voice of Bill McKibben (Environmental activist, 350.org)

What has happened is that the fossil fuel industry has been loud enough in its threats and promises, in its use of its resources and it is the most by far profitable business that human beings have ever engaged in. It's been able to use that money and the power that it gives to drown out the warnings of scientists all over the world.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

Much has been spoken about denial say through the likes of the Fox News and many of the right wing denial, formal denial, but the most powerful denial is the denial in you and me. The denial that sort of says '.. it'll probably be alright' and ' this has never happened before' and, you know 'change is normal and we'll be fine'. That denial, that little voice in your head.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

I think it's a very natural human reaction that we don't want this to be true. We don't want climate change to be a human responsibility because it involves taking on actions that might seem inconvenient. We would just rather it wasn't true.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

We’ve been told ‘we’re entitled - we should have more of this, more of that, more of the other’. The science and common sense tells us that we are running out of this, that and the other. We are running out of world.

Voice of Dr Stephen McCabe (Environmental Scientist, Northern Ireland Environment Link)

Human beings I guess tend to be greedy and we're not going to value the environment if we don't value what it does for us and we need to understand how much it does for us. We need to understand that the economy is based on the environment.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

We’re pushing other species to extinction. Many of these are what are called keystone species. We depend upon them, not just for their welfare but for our own welfare.

Voice of Dr Stephen McCabe (Environmental Scientist, Northern Ireland Environment Link)

Economic growth relies on the environment and if we disregard the environment in any way we’re sort of biting the hand that feeds us.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

It's a system that we constructed, that we do well by, that, without intending to, is in the process of destroying life on earth. That's a hard thing to get your head around because that system has delivered us, you know, central heating, flushing toilets, the iPhone 6, all the good stuff in life, foreign travel, things that our grandparents couldn't of dreamed of and yet the same system that has delivered so many goods is also in the process of destroying us.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny talks carbon emission targets, October 2014

"I want to make it clear to the European Council that Ireland will be ambitious about our targets but we don't want to be in a position where completely unreachable targets are set for us"

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

There has been a report in 2014 by the corporate leaders on climate change in Ireland, so a group of progressive companies including Vodafone and Diageo who are progressive on this issue and they said actually the government shouldn't be worried all the time about the cost of action on climate change because there are real business opportunities.

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

There is an obvious benefit to the private sector who are going to get involved in this because it will actually pay them to do it. You know, Vodafone have talked about the same thing, they said that they want this kind of direction. You kind of just wonder, at what point do companies have to keep saying it and people have to keep saying it before government actually start to listen, because if it was anything else, I mean if it was another kind of incentive or if it was a tax break or if it was some kind of thing to get businesses going and creating employment, governments would bend over backwards to do it.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

What we need is the incentives and the decisions from policy makers to kind of give the green light to this.

Voice of Professor John Sweeney (Climatologist, NUI Maynooth)

Some countries have been very proactive. Some countries have taken very ... initiatives, even small countries. The best example I can think of at the moment is Scotland where a very ambitious greenhouse gas reduction figure of, I think around 45% is targeted. That country is well on the way to achieving it. There is a very enlightened climate change law in the United Kingdom where climate change has been taken out of politics. Alas we haven't managed to do that in Ireland and we still have the problem of vested interest groups and lobby groups influencing decision makers to a high degree for short term gain.

Voice of Bang Ki Moon, UN Secretary General

When I talk to world leaders very passionately - "Secretary General don't worry I'm supporting you, and I always do what you say but if I want to help you I need to be re-elected so let me be re-elected first and then I'll come back to you".

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

We have politicians who for the most part look to the next election, they are not looking 10 years down the road. Now the current crop - at least there is enough of them that are young enough, that have long careers ahead of them and maybe they are the ones that should be driving this and saying 'look, give me two terms, give me another term and we'll start doing this' and maybe then you might start to get the changes and to kind of bring people on board with them.

Voices of Irish public

 

"I definitely think there is more that governments could be doing. I'm not exactly sure what that is but I don't think that it is in the news or as high on the agenda as it should be because to me it's a real pressing problem. "

"It's such an urgent problem and we're not acknowledging it or addressing it in the right way."

Voice of Ciara Kirrane (Stop Climate Chaos)

Our generation and the generation of the political system at the moment, they will be viewed incredibly negatively if this is seen as something that they knew about, they had the means to act. It’s been shown that acting now rather than later is actually more cost effective because the longer we leave it the harder it gets. If we have the knowledge, the means, why didn’t we act?

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

You know, the job of the government is to lead, the job of the government is to come up with these policies. I mean they have endless advisors, they have an entire civil service at their disposal, there are some very smart people across that sector that I’ve no doubt have very good ideas in this area but because it’s not a priority of the minister and because ministers are so busy doing lots and lots of different things, you are not getting that kind of clear direction.

Fact

Much of Ireland's carbon emissions come from our agriculture, energy and transport sectors.

Agriculture 32%

Energy 19%

Transport 19%

From 2011 to 2020 Irish carbon emissions are projected to increase:

Agriculture 9%

Energy 11%

Transport 22%

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

The government has set a challenging but achievable target for agriculture. They've acknowledged that it's a sector of particular importance to Ireland and they've said most of the actual cuts in emissions will happen in transport and energy and buildings but that agriculture and land use should aim to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

Our global energy is principally hydro carbons - coal, peat, lignite, natural gases, shale gas etc. These are disastrous. Burning, extracting, polluting - all over the world - absolutely disastrous.

Fact from Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland 

Ireland meets over 90 percent of its energy requirements by importing fossil fuels, spending €6.5 billion per year in the process.

Voice of Irish public

"I can only afford to have gas and electric. I can't really afford to have alternatives like solar power and I don't have access to things like wind energy, so I mean that's a problem for people - the expense and I mean the government isn't really doing anything for us to give us legitimate options."

Voice of Ciara Kirrane (Stop Climate Chaos)

We definitely need a switch away from a fossil based economy and a move towards more sustainable approaches, in everything we do, in transport, in our energy use, in our food production. You know, it comes into so many different angles of our lives.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

We think the government should set a target of being fossil fuel free totally by 2050 and fossil fuel free for energy production, for electricity production and for buildings by 2040 because Ireland actually has a huge natural advantage here. We have very very good renewable energy resources.  Support for renewable energy in Ireland is really high when measured by public opinion surveys, despite the fact that there has been a rise in protests around wind energy in the intervening period.

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

There's been an awful lot of wind companies going into areas and saying you know 'this is my plan for 10 turbines or 20 or whatever the case may be' and they have been kind of giving communities an upgrade of the local GAA club or jerseys for the under 12s, really small benefits.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

I think the real game changer is giving people a stake in the energy itself, in the production itself and we've seen some really good examples of that in Ireland - in Templederry in Tipperary there is a community owned wind farm and the community is getting huge payback from that and a sense of ownership.

Voice of John Fogarty, Templederry Community Windfarm

All the revenue generated stays within the community and this is huge because from the community's point of view our small windfarm has the same benefit as if an outside developer were coming in and building maybe 30, 40 turbines, because they would only be leaving maybe 3 1/2 - 4% of the total revenues in the area and the rest would be exported out to their investors.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

You might think 'surely we don't have enough solar energy in Ireland' but actually we do. It's daylight you need. We have good daylight, we have good sun during many months of the year. We already see people getting hot water from solar panels from May to October.

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

We are not getting the kind of behavioural change or the impetus for that behavioural change from government. I mean we still have a huge difficulty with cars. The number of cars on the road are right back to boom time levels. Ministers are still coming out and they are saying 'we're not going to introduce demand management and congestion charges or anything like that because the public transport system isn't up to scratch'. We've heard this argument about the public transport system not being up to scratch for a decade now at this stage. We've had massive investment across the board. There are way more private companies out there than previously were so how come government isn't saying ' we've spent an awful lot of money on this expensive infrastructure, you need to use it because a) it's a value for money issue but b) you need to use it because climate change is a real issue and one thing that we can do very quickly is reduce a lot of those emissions if people just leave the car at home and get the bike or get the train.

Voice of Oisín Coghlan (Friends of the Earth)

We've seen a real growth through the recession in people cycling. We need to reinforce that now as the recovery takes hold. It's time for a congestion charge in Dublin, and we also need to see investment in our trains around the country.

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

If you look at the success of the retrofit scheme in houses - where you look at - 250,000 homes have been improved, more energy efficient. That's obviously reducing fossil fuel imports. If you look at that and you actually look at the response of government to that energy situation across the public sector, there is not a whole lot of work being done in that area - big things like hospitals, prisons aren't up to best practice. That's an easy one, I mean you get the finance, you do it, you get the payback very quickly.

Voice of Ciara Kirrane (Stop Climate Chaos)

What we would always be calling for is that people take action in terms of political action and that's one of the biggest things they can do in their individual lives, is to talk to their local TDs, talk to their public representatives, let them know that this is an issue that they care about.

Voice of Paul Melia (Environment Correspondent, Irish Independent)

We’ve had a battered society where really it has been, you know, ‘bed down and get on as best you can’ and there hasn’t really been room I think for that kind of debate but now we seem to be turning a corner.

Voice of Ciara Kirrane (Stop Climate Chaos)

There’s a feeling that there is this momentum building in the climate movement and more people are getting involved, more people from less traditional sort of environmental backgrounds, people who are concerned about lots of different issues – they are sort of coming together and recognising that climate change is a threat to all of the things that they stand for.

Voice of John Gibbons (Environmental Writer)

I think Ireland can and should take a strong position in terms of a political response to climate change. What does that mean in practical term? That means strong binding climate legislation and every minister being put in charge of dramatically reducing our carbon intensity.

We are a small globalised country. We sink or swim with the rest of the world. Therefore we must, apart from putting our own house in order, which is an essential first step, we must also use all our diplomatic, all our commercial, all our political influence on the world stage, and it is significant, to encourage, cajole and badger others - larger countries - to also step up but in order to do that you lead by example. you lead from the front and we can do that in Ireland.

Fact

In January 2015 the Irish Government published it's Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill. The bill has no legally binding carbon emission targets.

In Paris in December 2015, world leaders will meet for the 21st time since 1992 to attempt once more to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change.

 

Directed and produced by Alan Whelan and Eoghan Rice.
Filmed and edited by Alan Whelan.
Interviews by Eoghan Rice.
Associate Producer Liz Evers.
Additional interviews by Alan Whelan, Marie Moriarty, Liz Evers.

Additional filming: Emmet Sheerin

Archive Trócaire footage: Ross McDonnell, Edel Maher

Translator: Martha Welday
Additional translation: Seble O'Rourke

Still Photography: Jeannie O'Brien, Emmet Sheerin, Alan Whelan, Eoghan Rice, David O'Hare