TONIGHT, Monday November 11, audiences will get a glimpse of a scary future for Cork.
In a dramatically constructed TV documentary for RTÉ1, meteorologist Gerald Fleming and environmental scientist Cara Augustenborg examine the disturbing consequences of extreme global weather and ask the question: Will Ireland Survive 2050?
Blending existing extreme weather footage and 3D graphics, well-known landmarks such as Patrick Street and Grand Parade in Cork are flooded to visualise the damage the planet’s increasingly extreme weather patterns may have on Ireland in the future.
Will Ireland Survive 2050? includes interviews with scientists and visionaries, as well as Irish people on the ground who have been impacted by severe weather events and are trying to rebuild their lives. It is a sobering and emotional view of life in Ireland 30 years from now.
As an island, we are at the mercy of the water all around us and Cork is all too familiar with flood events. Unfortunately, future flood scenarios for the city do not look good. As the planet continues to warm and polar regions continue to melt, sea levels are expected to rise, by 50cm by 2050 and 80cm by 2100.
Dr Barry O’Dwyer, a UCC climate adaptation scientist, says “In the case of a city like Cork, that’s very significant. We have to think about an increase in frequency of intense precipitation events.
“You can imagine we’d have increased levels of water coming down the Lee and on top of that we will have a sea level rise plus a storm surge. Events that are currently considered extreme, in terms of flooding in the city, will become more and more regular. Possibly a 1 in 100 year event will become a 1 in 20 year event or a 1 in 10 year event, maybe on a yearly basis.”
Planning and adapting for these future scenarios is critical and Barry says :“We need to consider what the worst scenario might be and on that basis, think about what level of risk are we willing to accept. Do we want to plan our cities for a 1 metre sea level rise or more?”
We must even contemplate a future where we will have to abandon land, buildings and homes because the cost of protecting them will be too great.
Some residents of Coonaugh, Co. Limerick, who were badly flooded in September, are not going to return to their homes.
But Ireland’s future weather will bring much more than flooding. The documentary also features communities in Annagry, Co. Donegal where locals lost homes in wildfires in April, and in Bertra Strand, Co. Mayo, where the next big Atlantic storm might wash away the local graveyard.
The weather influences all aspects of life and the documentary examines the impact of a changing climate on our plants and animals. Our already creaking health system may have to grapple with new infectious diseases or an increase in heat mortality cases by 2050.
Even though future weather scenarios for Ireland are stark, they are nothing compared to the countries that will simply be too hot to live in or permanently inundated by the sea.
Water scarcity, crop failures and sea level rises will displace huge populations globally. Environmental scientist and Kinsale resident Dr Tara Shine says “ We are potentially looking at a doubling of the number of migrants we have in the world, and with that a doubling of the effort we have to put in to looking after them and finding new places for them to live.”
Ireland will have to play its part and as a ‘lifeboat nation’, may be a very desirable place to relocate to.
The documentary also brings Gerald Fleming to Greenland, home to the second largest body of ice in the world, to find out how the fate of Ireland’s weather is tied to the fate of the Greenland ice cap.
Clonakilty native and NUI Maynooth oceanographer, Dr Gerard McCarthy, explains that the Gulf Stream — which currently gives Ireland its relatively benign climate — may be massively disrupted by melting of the Greenland ice cap into the North Atlantic. If that happens, Ireland could end up with the same climate as Iceland.
The documentary hears from Catherine Sheridan of Gas Networks Ireland about the idea of trapping carbon emissions from the Aghada power plant and storing them at the now empty Kinsale Gas Field, in a drastic attempt to reduce emissions in the next decade.
If the world doesn’t roughly halve its carbon emissions by 2030, then reduce them as fast as possible to zero, we are heading towards catastrophic environmental consequences beyond 2050. Ireland’s current emissions trajectory is upwards.
Will Ireland Survive 2050? provides us with a brutal wake-up call. But there is lots of hope too. Humans are clever, we’ve achieved so much, we just need to direct our ingenuity to saving the planet!
I’ve spoken to extremely smart scientists and engineers, passionate climate advocates and emboldened eco-entrepreneurs. We know the science, we know what needs to happen, we just need to change.
Kathriona Devereux is co-producer of Will Ireland Survive 2050?, which airs on RTÉ1 at 9.30pm tonight, and presenter on 10 Things to Know About on Mondays on RTÉ1 at 8.30pm.