Like it or not, climate change will make everyone change their lives
Are we saying goodbye to milk in our cereal, private cars and a warming fire?
“There are around 250 wind farms now onshore in Ireland, and we probably need about another 80 by 2030, with maybe four, five or six more offshore wind farms.” Photograph: Getty Images
Imagine the scene, it is a bright, crisp October morning in 2030, yet the house, insulated heavily with the help of a State grant in 2027, is still relatively cosy from the heating created the night before by an air-pump system.
Putting on the kettle for a morning cup of tea this October morning is the same as it was a decade after the government had launched the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020.
Described back then as “ground-breaking” by the then Fianna Fáil leader, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the legislation’s language was dry but it slowly changed much in the years that followed, with rows aplenty along the way.
In the hall an electric scooter lies up against a wall, while outside the family’s EV-powered cars stands silent. Indeed it is often silent since the proper cycleway was built that encouraged everyone in the household to cycle more often.
Looking forward to that October 2030 morning, Kate Ruddock, deputy director of Friends of the Earth, says many of the most important changes that will have happened by then will go unnoticed.
Today around 40 per cent of our home electricity is from renewable energy. In a decade’s time this could have reached 70 per cent, much of it from offshore wind farms or solar generation.
“What this legislation does is it changes the rules of the game,” she says . “It changes the rules of how government and departments manage and transition our society to one that is not carbon-polluting anymore.”
With every sector of the economy – from transport to farming to energy – forced to take responsibility for an annual 7 per cent cut in emissions, are we saying goodbye to milk in our cereal, private cars and a warming fire against the autumn chill?
Inefficient oil or gas boilers should be increasingly rare as homes are incentivised to use heat pumps and better insulation. Warmer homes will mean less need for setting a fire or sparking up a stove.
One of the big questions about cutting emissions will be its impact on farming – a major contributor to greenhouse gases – and how that affects our eating habits.
Ruddock envisages a sizeably depleted beef and dairy herd, with farmers paid to give land over to “carbon sinks” – the likes of forestry and hedgerows to offset emissions – which will nudge our diets towards more plant- and grain-based meals.
We will still have milk for cornflakes – although some might opt for oat milk – and maybe a weekend cooked breakfast as a treat, but a trip to the butchers for a Saturday night steak or some topside for Sunday dinner could prove more expensive.
Cheaper energy bills could offset the price hikes and how we cook our food may change, with a switch to more efficient induction cookers rather than gas.
Heading out to get a newspaper – and, yes, they will still be there – will increasingly be on electric or pedal bikes as better infrastructure encourages more cycling and walking.
“You’ll certainly not be getting in your SUV unless you have loads of money. The cost of driving those high-emissions vehicles will be a lot higher,” says Ruddock.
Dropping children to football or dancing lessons will mainly be in electric vehicles, and service station forecourts will be taken over by chargers rather than diesel and petrol pumps.
If going into town to meet friends, public transport should be much improved and increasingly electric.
But with electricity costs influenced by the weather – how windy or sunny it is – you might forgo the trip to do household chores that involve electrical appliances before it gets more expensive when it is dark or the wind has abated.
A weekend walk in the countryside or by the sea may also see changes. David Connolly, chief executive of the Irish Wind Energy Association, believes the legislation will allow for more wind turbines and solar panels around the country.
“In terms of numbers it would not be a huge amount more. There are around 250 wind farms now onshore in Ireland, and we probably need about another 80 by 2030, with maybe four, five or six more offshore wind farms.”
Urban areas will be much quieter in 10 years’ time with the decline of the combustion engine, he suggests, the building rhythm of traffic during the day becoming a thing of the past.
“Zero-carbon modes of transport will have to be prioritised – walking, cycling, better public transport. We don’t have time to wait for new ideas to be invented, we have to look at what works.”
Citing cities in the likes of Denmark and Sweden, Connolly says new cycling and walking infrastructure will mean Irish cities looking “totally different to how they look today”, with more space and more predictable journey times.
“People will feel much healthier. We’ll be slimmer and fitter in 10 years’ time.”
However, Dr Cara Augustenborg, environmental policy fellow at UCD, remains sceptical. The legislation is “about a 60 per cent improvement” on existing climate action laws, but will only be as good as the government in power at any given time.
“If you have a government that is super supportive of the agriculture sector it may put tougher restrictions on energy and transport, and let agriculture off the hook, for example,” she says.
“I don’t think we can say this Bill will change lives specifically – it will be the people who we elect who change people’s lives. This just forces them to consider emissions in their policies.”
Augustenborg says the “big thing that is missing” in the Bill is a “clear link between making carbon budgets and actually executing a plan that stays within that budget”.
“The changes made in the legislation are relatively positive, but I am sceptical. It is down to how seriously government takes the legislation, and it is not clear what penalties there are for not adhering to carbon budgets.”
Ruddock agrees that the legislation is aimed at a “systematic approach rather than individual behaviour”, but believes it could drive a shift in cultural attitudes too.
“Individual behaviour needs to change, but the system within which they operate will be the driving force,” she says.
“I personally feel, and I know a lot of people feel, anxiety at impending climate and nature crises, and to have government taking responsibility and putting in place a legal framework and structure to ensure we reduce our emissions gives me comfort.
“I’m not going to say it will prevent a climate crisis but it gives a sense of peace that the government is taking responsibility, albeit quite late.”