Sean Moncrieff: We are running out of time. We need a Nphet for climate change

They would be a pain in the ass, but you’d know they are right

I may make a couple of controversial statements. Brace yourself.

Several of the kids have said that they probably won’t have children. It’s a saddening thing to hear: not because I’m in any mad rush to be a grandparent, but because of the state of the world as they see it; one they would be leery to bring a child into.

They’ve been on the marches, read lots of books, wear second-hand clothes, they don’t eat meat. Yet they have an unsettling sense that it isn’t going to make much difference. They don’t see any great sense of urgency about tackling an existential threat to their planet.

Individual governments and large corporations issue climate change ‘targets’, yet all too often these targets are based on unrealisable goals or technology that doesn’t exist yet; or strategies that might cause even more problems.


This week's  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said that major climate changes are now inevitable and irreversible. A recent report from Oxfam pointed out that there simply isn't enough available land on the planet to plant all the trees we'll need.

There isn't a grand strategy. It's all piecemeal, and it gets bogged down in politics; not bad faith politicians so much, but the process itself. The European Union publishes a plan to tackle climate change, but it has to negotiated among 27 members, which means 27 sets of amendments; a continual watering down of a plan that above all else requires vigour and decisiveness. And it's a process that will take years while the clock ticks down to an irreversible tipping point.

But the good news, of sorts, is the way things worked in this country and many others during the pandemic.

There's an increasingly vocal cohort who think that Nphet is a sort of medical Illuminati, not-so-secretly pulling the levers of power beneath a compliant government. That every morning, Tony Holohan gets up and tries to think up new ways to make life miserable for business owners, communicants or people who want to go to the pub.

I’ve never met Tony Holohan, but I suspect he doesn’t care about this perception. Nor should he. The job of Nphet was never to endear itself to voters or even to consider the broader ramifications of lockdown. It was singularly to get the spread of Covid 19 under control, while unburdened by the need to win any popularity contests. It was far from perfect – nothing is – but a damn sight better than just leaving it up to Micheál and Leo. They do need to win popularity contests.

Controversial statement No 1: we need a Nphet for climate change. Yes, there is an advisory council, and they seem nice, but it’s part of the bring-along-all-the-stakeholders mindset, that at best can achieve partial solutions and much too slowly. It is trapped by the negotiation process.

The climate Nphet would be loud, bold and single-minded. They would be there to provide solutions, not curry favour with farmers or motorists or builders. They would be like your partner nagging you to get that brown spot on your forehead checked by the doctor. They would be a pain in the ass, but you’d know they are right.

That singularity of purpose would also have to involve considering all options, outside of the environmentalist theology. Solar panels and farmers markets, nice as they are, are not extensive enough to combat the problem.

Controversial statement No2: nuclear power might be required. Yes, if a reactor goes wrong, it can go very wrong. Yes, there are issues with disposing of nuclear waste. But there are some reasonable-sounding answers to those fears.

I had one of the No Thanks badges. I remember all the protests and concerts at Carnsore Point, once proposed as the site for an Irish reactor. Christy Moore and Adi Roche and that generation saved the country from going nuclear.

But then that generation went on to drive cars, fly in planes, buy plastic and participate in gently boiling our planet. That generation – my generation – made things worse. We’re running out of time. It’s time for action.