In the face of a climate change ‘code red’ there is both can-do spirit and despair

Pricewatch: buying local, better recycling, using more public transport and eating less meat are some of the suggestions to tackle the crisis

In an incredibly bleak report this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  said that because of us climate changes are widespread, rapid and intensifying. Photograph: Getty Images

In an incredibly bleak report this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that because of us climate changes are widespread, rapid and intensifying. Photograph: Getty Images


We are all used to complaining about the Irish climate, particularly when we are being lashed out of it on a summer’s day or facing the flurriest of snowfalls in the dead of winter, but – as everyone surely knows by now – it is long past time that we stopped asking what our climate can do for us and started asking what we can do for our climate.

Earlier this month the world was given a wake-up call it should not have needed when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a code red for humanity.

In an incredibly bleak report it said that because of us climate changes are widespread, rapid and intensifying. It warned that in the absence of “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5 degrees or even 2 degrees will be beyond reach”.

The temperature rises will be catastrophic, and will cause even more extreme weather events and rising sea levels than those which have been well documented in recent years.

The report also said that meaningful and lasting reductions in greenhouse gases could limit climate change, and we, the people, still have the potential to determine the future course of Earth’s climate.

There was much official hand-wringing from governments everywhere, including, of course, Ireland. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said we would have a new plan to tackle the crisis in the autumn, one which will set out fresh targets in every sector. He said that “the time to act is now” (critics might reasonably suggest that the time to act was actually a long time ago, but no matter).

In the autumn, he said, he would spell out in detail, sector by sector, the targets and steps necessary to achieve crucial objective, and he noted that the window of opportunity to act was closing.

“The time to act is now, and Government is doing so. But Government on its own cannot make the difference required. In our Republic every citizen, industry and community must embrace this challenge and make the decisions necessary for positive change.”

Call to arms

Armed with his call to arms we took to Twitter to ask a simple question. “Given the scale of the climate catastrophe we are all facing, have you made any changes – big or small – in the last year or so to lessen your impact on the crisis?”

The responses came in their hundreds and – in the face of the bleakest of crises – were full of can-do spirit.

Well, most of them were. “I stopped stressing about it/gave up,” wrote Aisling O’Leary. “Most small changes are futile because of USA, its military alone is two Irelands. Pandemic has shown USA will do as it pleases. Focusing on individuals is passing the work to those whose actions won’t fix anyway.”

Then there was Derek Laidler. “Even if miraculously 80 per cent of the people were able to go fully off grid tomorrow, not enough change required. The need to hold the big companies to change should be the target. But we do need everyone to buy into it.”

Seamus Hughes was even more downbeat and suggested the IPCC report and the urgent need for a response would be used as “an excuse to add taxes to the people”. He asked why “aren’t plastic bottles banned? What aren’t factory owners held responsible? Climate change will not be tackled from the bottom up. Pollutants must be targeted at source. We’ve run out of time.”

David Morrison, for his part, suggested that “focusing on individual action is a strategy used by fossil fuel companies to delay action. BP even developed a carbon footprint calculator. The greatest impact an individual can have is to make climate action their voting priority, which was the case for 7 per cent in 2020.

It is impossible to disagree with any of these people. The reality is we need businesses and governments all over the world – including our own - to step up to the plate like they have never done before. But that does not mean individuals can simply ignore the problem. Based on the responses we got to our question, many people are not happy to do that and are making changes – some big, some small.

“[We have] upgraded our recycling/upcycling etc and changed our shopping to buy as much paper packaging as possible,” said Máire Uí Bheacháin. “Changed heating to a heat pump and getting solar panels next year. Next car will be electric hopefully.”

Carbon offsets

Stephen Kinsella told us he had “switched to 100 per cent renewable electricity. Bought carbon offsets for the family given that we travel by air a good bit. Recycle everything we can. Food waste for chickens. Only buy 2nd hand electronics & clothes. Driving far less/working from home as norm going forward.”

Emma De Búrca said she was “trying to walk [or use] public transport more, going to first when I need something before buying new, eating less meat, washing my clothes less frequently and when I do on a cool quick wash, hang drying them, buying local, holidaying local.”

Sadhbh O’Neill said she was “speaking out (even more than usual) – trying to shift cultural norms, confront denial and resistance. There’s a taboo against even discussing climate change. No milk. Red meat 1/2 a month. 1 flight in 4 years.”

While Anne Kearney outlined all the things she was doing to make a difference, her response was tinged with despair. “I keep doing things like buying local, in bulk and as little plastic as I can. One to two showers max a week, taking the bike when I can instead of the car. Buying milk in our own glass bottles from the farmer close to us, etc etc etc but honestly sometimes it feels useless.”

Rob Tobin sent us a list of things her had done. “1. Active travel: Less driving, more walking. 2. GIY: I try to grow as much of my own food as possible. (I’m working with a modest garden in Dublin’s inner city Grimacing face). 3. Reduced consumption: Spend out of necessity rather than desire. 4. Shop local: For anything I can’t grow or rear myself I try to buy fresh, high quality, organic produce from independent retailers, preferably with low food miles and little or no packaging. 5. Conscious, ethical consumerism: I try to support local businesses whose values I share, especially ones that are striving to make a difference in communities. 6. Ethical investing: Identify and back companies who can be the difference, from local to global.”