Kathriona Devereux: 

In her weekly column Kathriona Devereux says humans struggle to grasp the concept that current actions will have adverse consequences in the future.
Kathriona Devereux: 

HOT TOPIC: 2020 was the Earth’s second hottest year after 2016 — the next ten years are crucial to preserve life as we know it.

IT’S hard to comprehend that almost half of all Covid-19 infections in Ireland have occurred in the last few weeks. All the hard work of the first and second lockdowns to protect our vulnerable and healthcare workers belittled by Christmas socialising and the subsequent tsunami of infections.

Hindsight is 20/20, but what would life look like now if the government had followed NPHET’s advice at the start of December and not allowed household visits at the same time as reopening hospitality?

Or if the 54,000 people who travelled into Ireland over the Christmas period had stayed away?

Or if the people who attended big parties and gatherings in breach of restrictions had followed public health advice and stayed at home?

We will never know.

January, 2021, could have been so different. We could have been getting excited about the roll-out of vaccinations, speculating if St Patrick’s Day might happen in some socially distanced manner, hatching plans for summer holidays...

Instead, we are wondering how high the death toll will be from this surge, if healthcare workers will be able to keep hospitals on the rails, and how long children will be out of school this time.

I wonder are public health experts ruing that this awful situation could have been avoided if enough people (government included) had listened to and grasped the science?

Environmental scientists are another group of experts who have long lamented that not enough people are listening to the science about the climate and biodiversity crisis and are failing the grasp the magnitude of the environmental disaster coming down the tracks.

Last week saw the publication of yet another alarming report from scientists, to add to the groaning bookshelves of previous stark warnings. The report, entitled ‘Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future’, warns about a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate disruption upheavals”. This latest analysis of 150 environmental studies argues that if the world doesn’t act urgently to address the climate emergency, we will reach a point of no return. The scientists say: “Ours is not a call to surrender — we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future”.

That’s a lot of ‘ghastly futures’ in one paragraph!

Covid-19 has given us a glimpse of what a ghastly global public health emergency looks like — people die needlessly and life as we know it stops. The Covid crisis is horrendous but the climate emergency will affect the very fundamentals of life — water, food, air, land. ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ won’t cut it dealing with those problems.

The term ‘follow the science’ is used a lot by environmental activists to urge people and policy-makers to make the systemic changes need to stop emissions and protect biodiversity.

At the launch of the BT Young Scientist competition, President Michael D. Higgins argued strongly the importance of following the science and the role future scientists will have in protecting the planet.

He said: “Science will play such a significant role in almost all of the great challenges we face as a global community of citizens, from the climate change crisis — the greatest threat we face, a threat to humankinds’ very existence — to the related issues of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, global poverty, hunger, malnutrition and inequality, to name just a few.”

Greta Thunberg. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Greta Thunberg. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Greta Thunberg continually urges people, governments and policy- makers to ‘follow the science’ to understand the enormity of the climate catastrophe. Last week she teamed up with the Dalai Lama to launch information videos about feedback loops in nature that will exacerbate the global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

You can watch them on www.feedbackloopsclimate.com and they explain how melting of permafrost releases methane, how drought and warming cause the decline of forests and release of carbon dioxide, and other sobering facts about the unravelling of the natural systems that we rely on for a healthy planet.

Humans struggle to grasp the concept that current actions will have adverse consequences in the future. The pandemic has taught us sad, harsh lessons about that. In December people, didn’t fully get that increased socialising would lead to a spread of infection and the consequential hospital admissions and deaths that we are seeing now.

For the past 30 years, people haven’t comprehended that burning fossil fuels will lead to irreversible warming of our planet, with many parts of it becoming uninhabitable. 2020 was the Earth’s second hottest year just after 2016. The next ten years are crucial if we want to preserve life as we know it. Scientists have been showing the science, blaring the warning horn, jumping up and down, waving their hands to try and draw attention to the climate crisis for decades.

Grasping the enormity of the problem, recognising that activity today has impacts on the future, and following the science should guide us to make the individual, societal and systemic changes needed to alter the course of the climate crisis.

In his address to Ireland’s future crop of young scientists, President Higgins said: “Nothing is inevitable. The future is not something provided to you, but something you create.”

He’s right. We know the science, we have the tools to solve the problem, let’s create a brighter future.

Also... if you are curious about the future of energy, climate action and new technologies, the MaREI research centre is hosting an ‘Energy and Climate — Ask Us Anything’ information session this Friday, January 22, from 2-3pm. Register for free on Eventbrite.

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