Michael Pattwell: It’s wrong to blame oldies for the dangers of climate change

Michael Pattwell admires the passion of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, but says older people are being scapegoated.
Michael Pattwell: It’s wrong to blame oldies for the dangers of climate change

Michael Pattwell admires the passion of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, but says older people are being scapegoated.

I UNDERSTAND that President Trump of the United States of America is still sceptical about climate change. In fact, there are signs — conclusive evidence, surely — all around us that can have no other explanation.

Just looking at changes in the world’s oceans and frozen areas can leave us in no doubt. There is no denying — according to scientists —that the oceans are getting warmer and more acidic and as a result fish stocks are affected and glaciers and ice sheets are melting, causing sea levels to rise.

More intense tropical cyclones and storms are occurring and extreme storm surges and flooding are becoming more commonplace.

People — and there are many millions throughout the world — in low-lying coastal areas must live with the possibility (indeed, probability) of higher seas to an extent that they can no longer continue to reside there. Scientists tell us the sea level has risen globally by about 15cm (as close as makes no difference to 6 inches) during the 20th century.

According to an article I read in The Irish Examiner last week, it is now suggested that “it is currently rising more than twice as fast, at 3.66mm (0.15 of an inch) per year and is speeding up as Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt”. 0.15 of an inch might not sound so much but in only ten years it amounts to an inch and a half and in the lifetime of, say, a 70-year-old it is 10.5 inches.

In the event of an unusually high tide, try stopping that seeping into your house around the front door or gurgling up through a drain in the back yard. By the year 2100 it is expected that sea levels will have risen by up to 60cm or 2 feet.

Throughout the world, also, many thousands (maybe even millions) live in high mountain areas where with melting and collapsing glaciers they are left in grave danger.

Speaking to the United Nations Generally Assembly last week, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is effectively leading and inspiring other young people around the world to campaign for meaningful changes to “save the world”, said; “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

Experts claim that urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions will limit the damage to the oceans and iced-over areas, as well as the people and wildlife that rely on them.

I have to ask, however, how that can be achieved. I was up near Cork Airport recently and watched some mid-sized planes taking off. The vast amount of fumes shooting out of those aircraft got me thinking.

I have an interesting app on my phone called Flightradar 24. With it I can identify most airplanes that fly over wherever I am. I decided to search the skies over some of the bigger cities in the United States. I could not count the number of airplanes in the skies over New York, Boston, Washington or Philadelphia.

Imagine, then, the total amount of toxic fumes that are being pushed out into the atmosphere. It seems that a Boeing 737, in round numbers, will burn 5,000 pounds (750 gallons) an hour. Going up a step or two, it appears a plane like a Boeing 747 (a Jumbo jet) uses approximately one gallon of fuel (about 4 litres) every second. Over the course of a 10-hour flight, it might burn 36,000 gallons (150,000 litres). According to Boeing’s website, the 747 burns approximately 5 gallons of fuel per mile (12 litres per kilometre).

Just imagine trying to multiply those figures by the number of airplanes that are in the sky all over the world at any moment in a day.

Against that, we here in Ireland are being made feel guilty about the flatulence of our cattle herd. Something wrong there, I think. Are we blaming the right people?

On the issue of who is blaming whom, the following has been doing the rounds recently on the Internet but I think it is well worth sharing for those who might not have seen it.

It obviously came from the United States but I have removed the typical American phrases and replaced them with words and phrases from this side of the Atlantic.

At the check-out at the local supermarket, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.

The woman apologised to the young girl and explained: “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

The older lady said that she was right, our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day.

She then went on to explain: “Back then, we returned milk bottles, soft-drinks bottles, beer bottles and jam jars to the shop. The shop sent them back to the supplier or manufacturer to be washed, sterilised and refilled, so they could use the same bottles over and over. They really were recycled. But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

“Grocery shops bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable, besides using them for household rubbish bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure the books we used were kept clean and could be passed on to our younger brothers and sisters coming up behind us. It also meant we were able to personalise our books on the brown paper covers. But, too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.

“We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator or lift in every shop and office building. We walked to the grocery shop and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.”

But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.

Back then we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Children got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room — and it had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the Province of Munster. In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power.

“We exercised by walking or cycling to work and by working hard when we got there so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.”

But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

We drank from a reusable glass or even from the tap when we were thirsty instead of using a disposable cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.”

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

“Back then, people took the bus or train, where there was one, and children rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s €35,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing”.

“We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. We didn’t need a computerised gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint or the shortest route to Granny’s house.”

Isn’t it sad how the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?

This is worth sharing, I think, with another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart-ass young person. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to annoy us — especially from a tattooed, multiple pierced smart-ass who can’t make up your bill or give you change without the cash register telling him/her how much.

In our day the “till” was just a drawer under the counter that you had to physically pull to open it.

Thanks, Greta Thunberg, for your passion and input to putting the world back where it ought to be and I must admit that there is one very big hole in my defence of us oldies. We did invent all the gadgets that the youngsters of today enjoy so much and we did build all the thousands of fume-spreading jet planes that criss-cross the world every day.

Contact Michael at pattwellsverdict@eircom.net.

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