Bell toll form climate change - Irish Times 1 Dec 2007
- What a pity the Churches did not ring the bells for Tara - or that we
did not think of this one! In the context of the suggestion on another
mailing list of hooting horns etc. for Tara this is very interesting.
Irish Times, Saturday, Dec 1 2007
Alarm bells are call to act on climate change
Traditionally, church bells peal at times of joy, and toll to mark the
passing from life into death. They summon the faithful to pray, and in
older times, rang out to warn of impending danger. On December 8th, at
2pm, the bells of Christ Church and St Patrick's cathedrals and other
bells around the city and country will ring to call us to action on
climate change. The bells will mark the beginning of the Public Parade
for the Planet. It is being organised by Stop Climate Chaos, and will
set off from the Dublin Civic Offices to Custom House Quay, writes Breda
Only the most hardened sceptics now doubt the reality of climate change,
but getting people to take action is much more difficult. One part of
our brain knows what's happening, yet most of us continue to fly to
foreign destinations, procrastinate about getting the house properly
insulated, and to skip hastily over newspaper articles prophesying doom.
George Marshall, author of Carbon Detox, refers to it as the Medusa
effect. Medusa is the beautiful woman in Greek mythology with snakes for
hair who turned anyone who looked at her to stone. Perseus succeeded in
killing her by only looking at her in the reflection of his mirrored
shield. Climate change activists are gloomily aware that while the
seriousness of the problem makes them want to scream and shake people,
that this approach all too easily turns people to stone, in the sense of
transforming their goodwill into paralysed denial.
Marshall, nothing daunted after 17 years of eco-activism, has decided
that there is no point in piling on the guilt and gloom but, instead, he
has tried to tailor his message so that people can begin to make changes
that matter. The effect is rather odd. His book reads like a cheery
self-help manual, while casually dispensing facts that are rather akin
to being punched in the stomach.
There are short, snappy chapters, with self-tests and catchy terms like
carbos, which is his term for a unit that has the same climate change
impact as 1kg of carbon dioxide. So far, so Carol Vorderman. But then he
tells you most of the planet-saving solutions favoured by the middle
classes are relatively meaningless if not accompanied by change that
actually requires sacrifice. Not leaving the television on standby saves
25kg of carbon dioxide annually. This measure pales into insignificance
given that one flight spends 500kg-12,000kg of C02 depending on the
Marshall is a man in a hurry, so he gets to the bottom line. You can
measure carbos, as he calls them. You can reduce your impact. It won't
kill you, and in fact it might enhance your quality of life, but it
won't be easy-peasy. Although he says he is wary of dieting metaphors,
the book is full of them.
"Drop a tonne at home" is one chapter heading, which suggests all the
major changes you can carry out, like insulating cavity walls and your
attic, replacing electric with gas heating, and electric water heating
with a solar panel. Then there are all the fiddly things you can do in a
weekend if really motivated, such as changing every single bulb in the
house to low-energy ones, lagging all visible pipes, sealing draughts
and fitting short extensions to make power switches accessible. (You are
much more likely to turn them off.) And yes, make sure the television is
not left on standby.
All of this change at the personal level is important, but none of it
will make enough difference if things don't also start to happen at the
macro political level. The international conference next week in Bali
will be essential to ensure a smooth transition once the Kyoto protocol
expires in 2012.
Some commentators believe it is useless to do anything while the US
continues merrily to pump out emissions. China and India are other
favourite excuses for doing nothing. We may be the second highest
sources of emissions per head in the EU, but sure we're barely a blip
However, if even one country starts changing, and manages to show that
the sky won't fall as society adjusts to new patterns of behaviour, then
the pressure will build on other countries to follow suit. All eyes were
on our Celtic Tiger, trying to analyse how a poverty-stricken
basket-case economy started to boom. Given our abundance of
under-utilised natural resources like wave and wind power, we could also
become leaders in positive action on climate change.
There were some interesting statements made by Senator Dan Boyle and
Minister John Gormley during the debate on the second reading of Senator
Ivana Bacik's Climate Protection Bill. The programme for government
commits the Government to reducing emissions by 3 per cent per year.
Senator Bacik's Bill would give that pious aspiration the force of law.
Both Dan Boyle and John Gormley seemed to be hinting that the Bill might
succeed if there were genuine cross-party support. It would be any
government's nightmare that the opposition would support the proposed
legislation, and then ferociously oppose every single measure necessary
to implement the law, such as a carbon tax.
Seventy-seven TDs from all parties may have signed Stop Climate Chaos's
Call to Action, which is surprising and laudable, but it is not enough.
Given the current level of anger and frustration on the Opposition
benches among those who feel cheated of victory, with much of that anger
being directed at the Greens, real cross-party support is not very
likely. The curmudgeonly response to Mary Harney's plea for a bipartisan
approach to cancer is an indicator of just how unlikely it is.
That makes demonstrations like the Public Parade more important.
Already, 25,000 citizens have signed the call to action. Individuals,
families and communities can act at the local level, but it must be
underpinned by real commitment to radical change by all our elected
representatives. As the bells ring out on December 8th, if enough people
march, it will be a reminder to politicians that this issue really
matters to the electorate. Even the paralysed citizen would respond to a
concerted government programme of information, carbon taxation and
regulation. While the Medusa effect is real, political leadership and
action are our best modern equivalent of a mirrored shield.
© 2007 The Irish Times