Sunny spells. Scattered showers. Changing climate
Met Éireann made a rare prounouncement on climate change this week. As the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its Fifth Assessment Report, can Ireland’s living-room scientists rekindle interest in a major global issue?
“It does seem like Murdoch is engaged in a personal war against the scientific community,” says Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader. “In the Australian general election his papers ran an extraordinary series of articles of climate-change denial, and the people elected a conservative government, one of the key mandates of which is to cut carbon tax.”
Ryan has his own bitter memory of the media influencing polling trends. Shortly before the 2007 general election, Channel 4 broadcast The Great Global Warming Swindle, a much-publicised polemic downplaying the significance of scientific claims. “I remember it clearly. We were flying in the run-up to that election. People were really following up the climate-change message, but it died a death that night. It was remarkable how one TV programme could have such an effect.”
But has the climate-change cause here been undermined by the Greens themselves – by virtue of their role in the last, hugely unpopular government? “I don’t pick that up at all,” replies Ryan. “People are more forward-looking, I find.”
Coghlan, who supported the Green Party in the last government, admits that its subsequent dip in popularity may have rubbed off on broader environmental attitudes, although “I would not assume it’s true. There is a difference between causation and correlation,” he says.
These and other campaigners believe that a tipping point in public opinion is being reached. Ryan says people forget how far we have come already in areas such as energy conservation and recycling. “Who would put paper in the black bin today? It would be incomprehensible,” he says.
Investing in renewable energy is now seen as a key to future growth and job creation rather than a charity cause, and there are very few out-and-out climate-change deniers in Ireland.
Who knows, Met Éireann’s soft sell could make all the difference. “The political arena and society in general will have to deal with the consequences. It’s not for us to have one side or the other on that,” says Fleming. “There are big decisions to be made. But our job as scientists is to present the scientific evidence and let the policymakers take it from there.”