Where are the climate allies?

Opinion: Do we yet understand it requires all of us to respond together on climate action?

Firefighters next to a damaged road after flooding in Schuld, Germany, earlier this month. Large parts of western Germany were hit by heavy, continuous rain, resulting in local flash floods that destroyed buildings and swept away cars. Photograph:  Sascha Steinbach/EPA

Firefighters next to a damaged road after flooding in Schuld, Germany, earlier this month. Large parts of western Germany were hit by heavy, continuous rain, resulting in local flash floods that destroyed buildings and swept away cars. Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

 

For those of us who are becoming increasingly conscious of the climate emergency, the recent stretch of warm weather and blue skies was difficult to enjoy, instead providing a lingering cloud of concern about the extreme weather that is yet to come.

As we worried about paddling pool and fan shortages, the constant barrage of updates from around the world certainly make it seem that, when it comes to extreme weather events, this time we just got lucky.

In the past few weeks alone, we have seen record temperatures being hit in multiple locations across the world, Subways being turned into rivers in New York City, wildfires in Siberia, severe flooding across Europe, New Zealand, Africa and China, to name but a few. Lives being lost, homes and businesses being destroyed, and futures being robbed.

When it comes to how we are responding to climate change, it has also been a busy few weeks. The European Union recently published the much-anticipated ‘Fit for 55’ package, which although sounds like a fitness plan, is in fact the most transformative plan the EU has ever introduced and is intended to be our roadmap towards a climate safe future.

Here at home, the long-awaited Climate Bill has finally been signed into law and sets Ireland on a path to cutting our carbon emissions by 51 per cent by 2030 compared with 2018 levels, and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

While many would argue that we should be going much further with our climate ambitions, do we yet grasp what these current commitments will mean for us? Do we yet understand that this transition, if it is to be successful, is going to be steep and radical? Do we yet understand that no matter who we are, nearly every aspect of our lives is going to be impacted? Do we yet understand that it is going to take all of us to make it happen?

Climate allies

It is all too easy to assume that climate issues are solely the concern of our environmental NGOs. And while we are each hugely indebted to these committed groups for their decades of campaigning and activism, without whom we would not have a Climate Bill in place, the lines must now be blurred as to who needs to be a climate ally.

Recent efforts across Irish media to help wider society understand the links between weather events and climate change is much welcome, including a commitment from our state broadcaster to increase its climate coverage; however, we need to go further.

Everywhere you look, there are opportunities missed to highlight the relationship between daily life and climate change. The more immediate issues of housing, health, jobs and childcare understandably consume our attention, but each of these challenges will grow greater if we do not address climate issues.

Are we talking enough about how some of our communities will fall victim to coastal erosion and potentially lose their homes? Are we talking enough about the pressure the impacts of climate change will put on our already stretched health system? Are we talking enough about the risks to livelihoods if we do not prepare industries adequately for the inevitable transition? Whether you are concerned about your children or your constituency, biodiversity or business, you have a vested interest in keeping our climate stable.

So, who are climate allies? They are the road engineers who champion active transport, they are the communities that come together to generate their own renewable energy, they are the employees who campaign for the company pension plan to be moved to green investments, they are the local councillors who fight for green spaces, they are the farmers who lead biodiversity schemes, they are the academics who speak up when it’s not easy to do so, they are the companies that advocate loudly for more ambitious climate legislation, they are the journalists who expose climate inaction, and the list goes on.

Collective action

And they are organising. Unlikely groups around the country are coming together to understand how they can play a bigger role in driving climate action. Groups such as Irish Doctors for the Environment, a group of health professionals who understand the links between climate change and negative health outcomes. Purpose Disruptors, a group of creative professionals who understand the role advertising and marketing has played in driving climate change and are now working to use their skills to be part of the solution. Architects Declare, a group of building professionals who understand the links between construction and carbon emissions and are now coming together to advocate for a greener way forward. And many, many more.

Pace issue

But we need many more climate allies if we are to move at the pace the climate transition requires. We need to rapidly move climate issues from the sidelines to being the central lens through which our collective future is designed.

As a country, each of our decisions must now take a ‘climate first’ approach, ensuring that they help contribute to the transition, making it as fair as possible, and not leaving the next generation to pick up the pieces.

With a climate-first approach, we will no longer see trees as obstacles to development but as natural cooling aids to help us manage rising temperatures. We will no longer see procurement as a cost-saving exercise, but as an opportunity to support sustainable suppliers. We will no longer see roofs as empty spaces, but as assets to be used to generate solar energy. We will no longer see business sustainability as simply resource efficiency, but instead as complete transformation to new business models. We will no longer see success measured solely in terms of economic benefit, but also in terms of climate safety.

It is not going to be easy. It is going to require courage and bravery from our leaders like never before. And we are going to need climate allies every single step of the way to make it happen, using expertise and influence to drive action, voting for and supporting progressive leaders, speaking up to challenge the status quo, and bringing others with us.

You don’t need to be an expert or be living a sustainable life to be a climate ally, but you do need to get off the fence and decide what side you are on. Because when it comes to climate action, we are rapidly running out of time.

Ali Sheridan is a sustainability and climate adviser and lecturer – and PhD candidate at Maynooth University

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