The War in Ukraine Reveals Europe’s Reliance On Fossil Fuels And Insufficient Energy Transition

by Enzo Panetta

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in late February after years of tensions resulted in a series of sanctions adopted by Western powers towards the Kremlin. These primarily economic sanctions have been adopted to hamstring Russia’s economy and indirectly deter war, for fear of direct conflict between nuclear-armed nations. The list of sanctions expands daily as Western powers organise diplomatically and economically. The Kremlin has already deployed measures to hinder the effects of foreign sanctions on their economy with relative success. Moscow also tries to assert its population’s support through tailored propaganda and repression by criminalising any opposition to the conflict and by hindering free press coverage of what the official Russian narrative calls a “military intervention to denazify and demilitarise Ukraine”.

Among the lists of sanctions was Germany freezing further development of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, taken immediately after the Kremlin recognised the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on February 21st. Even though the pipeline is already filled with gas, the move halts the certification process of the €10 million project, initially aimed at countering any energy price crisis. Fossil fuels, being the lungs of the Russian economy, the harshest and most dramatic sanction would logically target this sector, although this would have tremendous implications for the (mostly European) countries relying on Russian fossil fuels. Washington has decided on an embargo and London announced a progressive decrease of its Russian imports. Yet this decision will have lighter consequences for American consumers as the United States is a major producer of gas and oil, whereas the United Kingdom only relies on these Russian imports for 8% of its needs. A similar decision in Europe would be catastrophic in terms of economic and energy security consequences. Even without an embargo, European countries are witnessing rising gas prices building on an existing inflation crisis and higher gas prices weeks before the war. Strictly speaking, banning them would be environmentally good, but if and only replaced by renewable energy which is currently impossible considering Europe’s insufficient solar, wind, and hydropower infrastructures. An alternative would only be importing shale gas from the US, which has significant environmental and health implications, or building more coal plants just like Germany did when they gave up nuclear energy. According to a 2019 report from the European Commission, more than 75% of European greenhouse gas emissions originated in energy production and use, whereas renewable energy accounted for only 17.5% of European final energy consumption in 2017. Energy is therefore a critical aspect of tackling the climate crisis in Europe. Here lies the main problem: Europe’s main energy consumption comes at 36% from oil, 24% from gas, and 14.4% from coal. Environmentally, this is an issue, but the Real Problem: most of them are imported from Russia. This is ubiquitous throughout the Union, and the threat to energy security is not the same in Ireland as it is in Finland. Slovakia imports four out of five barrels of oil products from Russia. Numbers clearly indicate a dependence of Europe as a whole on Russian fossil fuels for electricity production, heating, transport…

One of the main criticisms of renewable energy is its lack of reliable and stable energy production. This is true to some extent. Solar energy cannot work without the sun. Wind energy cannot work without wind. But is European reliance on Russian gas reliable and stable for the continent’s energy prices and security? Buying gas from Russia provided the Kremlin with the financial means to unleash their forces in Ukraine, as former French president François Hollande pointed out, even though Europe condemns this war. In addition to the humanitarian and moral implications of these facts, they’re also very telling of the state of Europe’s persistent reliance on gas for energy production. It reveals the insufficient efforts that European countries have done in transitioning their energy. In comparison, this makes France’s reliance on nuclear energy (17% of final energy consumption against 11% for the EU) enviable, despite the heightened awareness of the danger of nuclear energy in wartime as seen with recent incidents in Ukraine, with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant bombed by and now under control of the Russian army in spite of international treaties. Renewable energy production does not depend on Russia’s foreign policy, it depends on the elements. Russia does not have a monopoly on the sun. The European Green Deal projects Europe being the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, an objective to be reached via a decarbonisation of the energy sector through the promotion of renewable energy sources. 2050 is still a long way away, and the war in Ukraine has abruptly reminded Europe that slowly reducing the continent’s reliance on fossil fuels might not have been the best path to choose. The EU has since then released an emergency plan to cut this dependence on Russian fossil fuels by half this year. It should be noted that geopolitics, rather than the reality of looming climate catastrophe, inspired the EU’s environmental shift.

The answer to this European reliance on Russian fossil fuels cannot be sourcing them from elsewhere, as proposed by Algeria, nor to drill more into untouched European reserves, as Elon Musk and some American officials have suggested (especially considering the American oil addiction). Natural gas is not a rational alternative, despite lobbyists’ success in making the Commission declare it “sustainable”. Instead, a fundamentally sustainable, moral, and logical answer is to bet on renewable energy sources to realistically slow down our greenhouse gas emissions, steps that should have been taken decades ago. The European Union still has a lot to do if they hope to complete a successful energy transition. In the European Green Deal, national energy plans will be updated next year to reflect the European ambition to decarbonise the sector. The deal also bets on a reduction of 50% of greenhouse gas emissions (from the energy sector) by 2030. Considering the recent IPCC report and our dependence on Russian fossil fuels in times of diplomatic and economic breakdown, maybe the New Green Deal is not ambitious enough. The Covid-19 pandemic has proven that crises leave the best window for systemic and radical change. The energy crisis surging from the Russo-Ukrainian War should make us rethink our sustainability goals more radically, if you can call responsible environmental policy in response to both current and future humanitarian crises “radical”. A problem remains: how to increase, overnight, the deployment and production of renewable energy sources across the Union? Debates on morality aside, if the European Union was able to free up €450 million to deliver weapons to the Ukrainian army, then surely they can free up as much for renewable energy, to speed up current initiatives, design and implement new projects, and invest in the sector more broadly. As always, politicians influenced by the oil lobby will claim there is “no money” available for green investment, the same “no money” currently flowing into international defence companies for the Ukrainian military.

Such measures would start a process of building green energy resiliency capable of enduring the paradoxes and crises of globalised capitalism. Energy security is vital for European sovereignty, defence, and ecological transition. It would also be proof that the European Union can react swiftly to international crises with a united front, beyond individual positions from each member-state on each conflict. Rising prices resulting from the war have hit a European working class already struggling with rising inequalities and prices throughout the Union. Member-States must freeze energy and gas prices to prevent further degradation to quality of life, which is a matter of survival for many across the continent. A similar motion was discussed, and voted down, in the Dáil Éireann. An energy crisis alongside the current housing (and general economic) crisis is not what Ireland needs right now. In early March, EU leaders met in Versailles and recognised the necessity of reducing energy dependencies on Russian fossil fuels. They declared that they would work on: “- speeding up the development of renewables and the production of their key components, as well as streamlining authorisation procedures to accelerate energy projects; – improving energy efficiency and the management of energy consumption, and promoting a more circular approach to manufacturing and consumption patterns.”

This is very promising as the EU also recognises the need to change our consumption patterns by promoting more sustainable production and consumption. Once again, though, it must be noted that European leadership is acting in response to geopolitical threats, rather than as earnest environmentalists.

All talk of environmental policy is trivial compared to the life-and-death struggles the people of Ukraine are suffering through thanks to Putin’s war. Still, the potential energy and economic crisis looming over Europe will destabilise our democratic and social foundations, and of the whole continent. Unstable states make an unstable Union, which in turn could incentivise further Russian ambitions and increased American paternalism. Readying Europe for the energy shock by speeding up our energy transition process is strengthening Europe’s stance to stop the war while fulfilling our duty to tackle the climate crisis.

Making Climate Activism More Palatable

by Éle Ní Chonbhuí

While ‘saving the planet’ we often mistake our actions for selfless sacrifices, rather than what they actually are – necessities. Many climate activists, myself included, have painted themselves as paragons of virtue due to their interest in the environment. Yet, suggesting that environmentalists are more morally mature through their decisions, infers that environmentalism is a choice. If the general population were presented with an idea of environmentalism as the next stage in our development, instead of a set of beliefs, it could increase its palatability – and therefore, its impact.

In fact, the very phrase ‘saving the planet’ is entirely misleading. We are only trying to keep it hospitable. We’re not saving any planets; we’re saving ourselves. By placing environmentalism on a pedestal, we have isolated it from other movements, which completely diminishes the impacts that it should have. Questioning the practices of climate activists is sometimes seen as a denial of the existence of Climate Change – or at least denying its urgency. This is completely untrue. There are many aspects of the climate movement that you can engage with, and critique, without having to wholly associate yourself with one point of view. Critique from, and collaboration with, all perspectives is utterly crucial to the proper development of climate justice. We only have to remember that the issues within the movement do not undermine the entire concept.

Environmentalism may be considered ethical, but its history would suggest otherwise. The racist history of environmentalism is far too complex for me to properly discuss, but for reference; many prominent early ecologists believed in eugenics (including the founder of the Sierra Club John Muir), and arguments around overpopulation often have racist overtones regarding poor people of colour globally. Green 2.0’s report on diversity in environmental organisations in 2014 found that of the NGOs that responded 88% of staff, and 95% of the boards were white, not to mention that people of colour tend to be the worst affected by and most concerned with climate change. In far subtler ways, climate action has been limited by decidedly white and western modes of thought. Sarah Jaquette Ray points out in her article “Climate Anxiety is an Overwhelmingly White Phenomenon” that climate anxiety is a continuation of white fragility. I would argue that in a more global sense, it becomes a form of “western fragility”. It distracts from the issue, puts the attention back onto white people, and more importantly, values despair. It also gives rise to apathy and inaction, or zealotry and extremism. The fact is that popular culture is still dominated by black influence, which is partially why it hasn’t been used to full effect to encourage climate activism. The pervasiveness of climate anxiety and fatalism in culture deters people from the movement. The necessity to create new, resilient, traditions in the face of an unlivable future may be new to some, but it most certainly isn’t to all.

“If we recognised that environmentalism is a practical movement, rather than a moral one, it would be easier to take criticism”

Discussions of race and environmentalism favour the USA, but the arguments are highly applicable to class. Low income households around the world are living with the reality of climate change already. As Peter Newell puts it in his paper on “Race, Class and the Global Politics of Environmental Inequality” the “elite control of the framings of problems” has emphasised the future impact of climate change – leaving poorer communities out of the narrative, and therefore out of the solutions. As it stands, environmentalism is run by the people who benefit the most from the global destructive system of inequality we have to change, inevitably limiting our responses. According to Oxfam, the richest 1% of people cause double the amount of CO2 emissions than the poorest 50%. Having that 1% lead environmental efforts has often led to solutionism and connoisseurship in our activism. By solutionism, I mean reactionary solutions that do not tackle the root of the problem. Usually, these are global decisions made by elite groups, that have massive local consequences that go unnoticed. Ironically, grassroots activism frequently gets ignored by major green initiatives. Connoisseurship is a loose term, which generally means the practice of preserving and appreciating beauty. There’s nothing evidently wrong with that, but when applied to conservation – the lack of interaction with nature and the value of beauty fail to really change how we integrate sustainability into our everyday lives. It creates a world where we have National parks as a tourist destinations and communities in cities that have no access to clean water. These failed ‘solutions’ do not tackle the problems, but rather make us complicit in the injustice and harm caused by structures of inequality.

Viewing environmentalism as a belief system has allowed the prejudices of those with the luxury to develop long-term planning strategies, rather than the communities that were forced to focus on the everyday, to seep into the actions and reactions of climate activism. It’s not that we shouldn’t build a movement on a white supremacist, classist system, it’s that we can’t. If we recognised that environmentalism is a practical movement, rather than a moral one, it would be easier to take criticism, not as a judgement on our ethics, but as our logic. Further, the implication of environmentalism as a moral code alienates many people who have rational problems with the climate movement. It remains that a factual approach to sustainability would be more inclusive, diverse, hopeful, loving and resilient.
For my own sake, I would like to add that although I consider environmentalism to be entirely factual and scientific, my relationship with the environment is founded on soulfulness and love. However, my emotions have gotten the better of me in the past. By thinking I had less value in the days that I wasn’t my ‘best’ environmentalist, I started to give up. We have to ask ourselves, who do we need to be environmentalists? Not the best people, but everyone. For us to have our bodies and our minds, we must have the support of the whole earth behind us. It’s true we’re saving ourselves, but selfishness has no place in justice. Rather, it is that we are unified with the earth, so by fighting for ourselves we are fighting for everything. If we have this as our core belief, we can continue to act practically, without jeopardising our values.

The complexity of climate action is compounded by the fact that we want to keep the world we have by radically changing it. In trying to protect the interests of environmentalism, we have only managed to insulate its members – and therefore its achievements. We have to criticise every aspect of our activism, but some problematic elements do not make the whole thing a problem. Environmentalism might not be a moral issue, but it doesn’t have to lack heart. Recognition of the self in nature, and the self in others, are the keys to strategic policy – and the basis of fact.

10 things I’d do if I were Minister for Transport (if I Had an Endless Amount of Money)

by Hillary Mullen

  1. Put the Vienna model in place in Dublin

As part of the Green Party’s 2020 election manifesto, they promised voters that if elected they would put in place steps to introduce a “Vienna model” of public transportation into Dublin city. As someone who was living in Vienna for their Erasmus at the time of this election campaign, it was somewhat encouraging because I could not get over how reliable and efficient public transportation was in this city. You had buses (that showed up on time), a tram system with more than two lines that connected in multiple locations and an underground system that has actually been built and used within the last twenty years instead of only being spoken about like its Chinese Whispers. 

Viennese people pay €1 a day for unlimited use of public transportation. When I lived there I paid approximately 60c a day as a student for the entire semester. You could literally spend the entire day sitting on public transportation and it would cost you pennies. It would be a dream for Dublin to have this system.

Let’s just say that Eamon Ryan is a few naps in the Dáil away from achieving this goal. If I had an endless amount of money as the Minister of Transport, I would put steps in place to make this a reality, getting the metro built as soon as possible and develop above ground transportation over time.

2.  Grants to Hybrid motorists

By 2030, it is planned by the Irish government to have 1 million electric cars on the roads. I feel this number could be achieved sooner or later if more cars on the road could become electric if better incentives or grants were given to motorists to encourage them to switch.  

3. Improve cycling roads

In recent weeks, it was announced that Oscar winner Rami Malik, famous for his iconic role as Freddie Mercury in the film Bohemian Rhapsody, spent his lockdown days in Dublin. He revealed that one thing he enjoyed doing was cycling around the city. My first thought was that he is clearly a daredevil. I love to cycle on my bike back home but I couldn’t imagine cycling in the city centre, it’s absolute chaos for our poor cyclists. How many times have we heard on the news of cyclists having accidents next to Dublin buses and on Luas lines? The cycling system in Dublin is all over the shop. I would make more roads in Dublin pedestrian/ cycle friendly to prevent these accidents from happening, by implementing segregated cycle lanes that protect the cyclists from oncoming traffic.

4. Revise LEAP card system

Miss Leap needs a makeover sis. I feel she could be used more frequently on other services where paper tickets are still used. For example, if I were to take the train from Dundalk to Connolly Station, I would need a paper ticket, whereas if I took a train from Connolly Station to Maynooth afterwards, I can use my Leap Card. Leap Cards are a staple in Dublin and other major cities in Ireland but cannot be used further than the suburbs. I would allow people to use LEAP cards nationwide on buses and trains anywhere in the country. There are many bike stations across Dublin where people can borrow a bike for a small fee. The machines in which you borrow these can be quite confusing and it could be a lot handier for Dubliners if they could tap on and off these bikes with their Leap Card instead

5.  Improve national roads

Not every road has to lead to Dublin you know, just saying.

6.  No longer make Dublin a focus point

There should be no need for me to come through Dublin in order to leave Dublin a lot of the time. How come people have to go through Dublin to travel somewhere outside Dublin? There should be more public transport stops focusing on taking people to other parts of the country. If bigger train stations were made bigger in the likes of Longford or in Cavan with more lines going to places outside of Dublin, it could divert a lot of unnecessary travel out of the city. 

7.  Give Donegal a damn train station…

…and improve Irish Rail overall. How does one of the most remote counties in Ireland not have at least one train station, you would think that would have been ticked off the to-do list years ago. Alas, that’s how Irish Rail works. 

8. Give students better ticket rates

I was glad to hear in this year’s budget that people ages 23 and under would receive 50% off public transportation rates. This was long overdue as the prices to use public transportation in Ireland is far more expensive than many other European countries. I would continue this or potentially make student rates cheaper or as they do in France, anyone under 25 gets a cheaper fare on public transport.

9. Provide funding for scientific research on more sustainable eco-friendly transportation

This may sound a bit extravagant but in the last number of years, Ireland has really proven itself to be at the helm of scientific research. I would love there to be some investment from the Minister of Transport on scientific projects that focus on making transportation more sustainable and eco-friendly. Imagine if an Irish scientist created a car like the DeLorean in Back to the Future where you used your leftover compost waste as petrol or a teleport so that you never had to sit on a stuffy bus for 3 hours a day ever again, you’d be lying if you said you did not want to buy one. 

10.  A carpool bonus

For those of us who commute to the city on buses and cars going through motorways, you may be used to seeing cars with just one passenger inside. If the government were to give some sort of bonus or tax break for people commuting into the city by car through a carpool arrangement, it could encourage less congestion on the roads of dozens of cars heading to the same commuter towns. It would make the roads safer and would greatly reduce CO2 emissions produced. 

I hope I haven’t bored you all but this is what I would do as Minister for Transport. I know some of these things cannot be achieved so quickly in reality (the DeLorean I mean unfortunately). However, with a bit more push from the current Minister and a bit more funding put in place to prioritise some things on this list, then we could see things improve for public transport sooner than expected. 

Recycling is a Myth

by Faye Murphy

With the recent news that soft plastics can be placed in the household recycling bin, I took it upon myself to research why this was happening now, why all of a sudden and what was stopping this from happening in the past. 

When the media was flooded with appreciation for companies such as MyWaste and Repak for pushing this change in policy, there was simultaneously backlash. Three days after this new policy was announced, the EPA produced a press release of Ireland’s recycling failures. This included worrying figures that our recycling rates had been declining, yet our waste production had been on a steady incline. According to the EPA, “Ireland generated over 1.1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2019, up 11 per cent on 2018”, which had been “the third year in a row that packaging waste in Ireland has exceeded one million tonnes”. Even more alarming is that “less than a third (28 per cent) of Ireland’s plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2019”, all while “the share of plastic packaging that Ireland incinerates has grown year-on-year and now stands at 69 per cent”, stated by the EPA as of September 10th 2021. 

The news that soft plastics can now be accepted into the recycling bin may seem optimistic, the reality is that while the soft plastics are entering the recycle bin, they are still not being recycled. According to MyWaste, these soft plastics will be used to make solid recovered fuel, which will be used to replace fossil fuels as a source of energy in cement kilns. 

Using materials made of fossil fuels to replace fossil fuels may seem defeatist, and I would have to agree. Will this really have any benefit when the same substances are entering our atmosphere?

Recycling is also not infinite. Recycling degrades the material, especially for plastics and paper, meaning there is a limit on the number of times it can be recycled before new plastic must enter this recycling process in order to produce “recycled plastic”. All this said plastic recycling is non-existent in Ireland. In Ireland, we collect materials, separate them in our waste factories and then those with enough economic worth are then exported abroad to be recycled there. The remaining “worthless” materials are then either sent to landfills or incinerators or else sent to cement factories to be used as fuel for their kilns. The latter is now being used for soft plastics. 

I believe that this new policy will lead to increased rates of contaminated recycling bins unless the “clean, dry, loose” message is engrained into Irish society as much as the angelus is engrained into RTE1

For decades we have been recycling plastics and other materials with the hope and belief that they will be recycled and enter a new life cycle. It was only over the summer when a friend of mine introduced me to the concept of “wishcycling”, which she describes as the way most people place their contaminated food packaging in the recycle bin with the hope it might possibly be recyclable. Being introduced to this idea made me realize how I am also a sucker to wishcycling. The thought of it perhaps being recyclable seems better than the idea that it will end up in the local landfill. Unfortunately, the new change in policy seems to only make my “wishcycling” worse, as now, although I understand that only clean, dry and loose plastic packaging should be placed in the recycling bin, as the majority of it is not recyclable (and not recycled anyway), will my bad habits make any difference? I believe that this new policy will lead to increased rates of contaminated recycling bins unless the “clean, dry, loose” message is engrained into Irish society as much as the angelus is engrained into RTE1. 

Plastic companies paid for recycling advertising in the 1990s to produce more plastic. 

According to previous oil industry insiders, the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of recycling have been known from as far back as 1974. While the ineffectiveness of recycling was known to oil companies, the industry still spent millions selling and advertising recycling. Why would oil companies promote recycling if this extends the life cycle of their products? According to Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, “If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment”. Therefore the industry can get away with selling more and more plastic as the public believes recycling is effective. One of the main problems with recycling is economic inefficiency, as making new plastics is much cheaper than collecting, sorting, melting and rebuilding recycled plastic. From the very beginning, this problem was known, yet we and our parents have been sold a lie for almost 50 years, so why do we continue to wishcycle and have such a strong belief in our recycling bins? 

We should put the main emphasis on reducing waste consumption and production initially. There is a reason why reduce is first in the 3Rs

So, recycling is clearly not the answer, then what is? We should put the main emphasis on reducing waste consumption and production initially. There is a reason why reduce is first in the 3Rs. There are many ways to reduce waste, including making a meal plan and shopping list, buying second hand, using reusable bags, cutlery, bottles etc. We should also look into reusing our waste for other purposes, be it using our jam jars to hold makeup brushes or turning takeaway pint glasses into plant pots, there are many exciting ideas to flex your creative muscles. Without changing our attitude towards waste and recycling, nothing will change, and we will continue with ever-growing landfills and incinerator fumes entering our atmosphere. We must globally reduce our waste production and codependence on plastic. It will take a global attitude change to force us out of our bad habits and force companies to change their ideology towards packaging and waste management.

It is Hard to Ignore the Imminent Damage of the Climate Crisis.

by Eanna O’ Loughlin

Sometimes the summer weather isn’t all that it’s made out to be. Ireland is notorious for its ‘four seasons in one day’, which most of us have grown used to. ‘Hey, it’s just a bit of rain, what can we complain about; the farmers will love it!’. However, in many parts of the world, one-off weather events and out-of-season storm patterns are becoming increasingly common, and their effects all the more extreme. If you find yourself feeling under the weather during the summer, take a look outside; call it pathetic fallacy, but it also has global-scale implications; climate change is here, and she’s going nowhere.

The hurricane season of 2021 began prematurely this year with Hurricane Ana in May, which developed as a subtropical hurricane in the central Atlantic Ocean. Here, she persisted for approximately 24 hours between the 22nd and 23rd of May, a full week before the official start of hurricane season on the 1st of June. Although hurricane Ana did not make landfall, it nonetheless set the tone for the rest of the hurricane season, which so far has already consisted of 20 hurricanes. Interestingly, the ‘average’ number of storms and hurricanes in a given hurricane season was increased this year from the average used between 2010 and 2020 to 14 storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes, an increase from 12, 6, and 3 respectively for the 1981-2010 average. This reflects the increasing presence of storms and hurricanes developing over the Atlantic Ocean. And it’s not just the number of hurricanes that is increasing, but the strength and thus the cost, both to economies and human life. This year, a prime example was Hurricane Ida in August, whose path stretched from Venezuela in the south to the US state of Connecticut in the north-east. Consecutive storms cause an increase in the damage experienced by those in the path of the storm, regardless of whether the strength of following storms are the same as the initial event. As seen in Louisiana, insurance payouts as a result of Hurricane Ida and subsequently tropical storm Nicholas in September are estimated to be $950 million. Hurricane Ida alone cost the US $95 billion. At the time of writing, there is still a month and a half left of the official storm season, and as such, time will tell whether there are further storms that will sweep across the east coast of North America and the Caribbean. 

Unfortunately, the problem does not end when the season is over. There is no rest for the wicked, and the weather notoriously does not take a day off. Even if there are no extreme storms at the scale of summer hurricanes again until next June, it goes without saying that the states affected in 2021 will still be recovering when the 2022 season rolls in. As seen with Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, New Orleans still bears the scars caused by the damage. Therefore, the effect of storms lasts far longer than the time they spend in our presence. If the frequency and strength of storms continue to increase as outlined in the recently published IPCC AR6 report (a light summer read), the ability of cities to recover becomes increasingly difficult to conceive.

if there are no extreme storms at the scale of summer hurricanes again until next June, it goes without saying that the states affected in 2021 will still be recovering when the 2022 season rolls in

Closer to home, it is ironic that the rain received on the east-coast of the Americas this summer could have been put to good use in Howth, North County Dublin, where gorse fires raged in June and July. The first sparks were ignited on the 22nd of June. Despite the attempts of both the Irish Air Corps and Dublin Fire Brigade, the fire persisted throughout the summer, fuelled by the continued dry weather in July, which further dried out vegetation. This led to large plumes of smoke reaching communities in Clontarf, Baldoyle, and Malahide, posing a health risk to residents who were forced to breathe in smoke-laden air. By the end of July, the gorse fires were finally contained, but not before burning through an area of up to 65 acres. As summers continue to get hotter and heatwaves become increasingly common, gorse fires are likely to become a familiar feature on the landscape of Ireland.  In an attempt to combat the spread of future wildfires to such a large extent, Old Irish goats are being introduced to eat the gorse that resides on the hills at Howth, as it is the dry gorse that ignites easily, thus providing much of the fuel for summer wildfires.  The future looks bright not just for the conservation of plant species that live in the vicinity of fire-prone gorse but also for the goat species themselves. The Old Irish Goat species has in the past been driven close to extinction, and as such, their new role as stewards of the environment will also give them the opportunity to increase their own numbers. 

And it’s not just the number of hurricanes that is increasing, but the strength and thus the cost, both to economies and human life

Meanwhile, across the pond, the outlook isn’t looking too good. The annual wildfire season in North America, which affects northern California in particular, saw its second-largest wildfire in recorded history this year and a wildfire protection budget that has been stretched thin. The Dixie wildfire has spread over one million acres since it established itself in mid-July. So far, $620 million has been spent, making it the most expensive attempt in fire control in the history of the state of California. Of course, this only accounts for the money spent on the Dixie fire; in total, California has spent $1.1 billion on wildfires since July.

While countries like Ireland and the US are afforded the luxury of funding attempts to curb the effects of climate disasters -as has been seen in Haiti- countries that are prone to frequent hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes have suffered immensely when two or more of these climate-related events occur in quick succession. Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the 14th of August, with a focus located just 6.2 miles below the Earth’s surface. The shallow depth of the earthquake meant that more damage was caused than would be expected for a deeper earthquake. Unlike the infamous 2010 earthquake, which struck Port-au-Prince, the 2021 earthquake primarily affected a rural area with a smaller population living in the vicinity of the epicentre. Unfortunately, this was not the last natural disaster to hit Haiti this year. Just days later, tropical storm Grace made landfall. Approximately 5 to 10 inches of rain fell, providing the impetus for hundreds of landslides triggered on water-saturated slopes that had already been structurally weakened by faulting in response to the earlier earthquake. The case of Haiti, where 96% of the population is at risk of natural disasters, provides a grim insight into life on a warming planet, where multiple natural disasters could strike a country at once. In addition to frequent earthquakes and hurricanes, Haiti continues to battle the COVID-19 health crisis amidst the backdrop of a crumbling political system compounded by food shortages and gang violence.

the effects of climate change are visible, and the alterations to climate systems will continue to create more extreme weather events

If there is one thing we have learned from this summer, it’s that the effects of climate change are visible, and the alterations to climate systems will continue to create more extreme weather events, not just during the summer but at all times of the year. While the story of a symbiotic relationship between Old Irish Goats and gorse bushes is heart-warming, global, positive change towards a carbon-neutral planet needs to be implemented now in order to restrict the magnitude of natural disasters such as those seen in Haiti. Warmer summers here in Ireland may see an increase in the number of ‘ice-cream weather’ days, but this comes at a price, a price that no amount of holiday tantrums or trips to the beach will be able to make up for.

Climate Action For All, Not Just The Privileged.

by Adam Ó Ceallaigh

We live in worrying but not uncertain times. As the world continues to plummet into an environmental disaster, we know the causes, yet we consistently fail to act and implement solutions. These solutions will wean countries off fossil fuels, promote rewilding and biodiversity and lead to a fairer and more just society.

Ultimately to save the planet, we must focus not only on reaching net-zero emissions but also on removing the link between economic growth and exploitation and ensuring an inclusive green transition.
However, what is best for the climate ultimately is not always best for people, which needs to be considered. A just transition towards a green future must ensure that community rights are preserved. This transition must not be rushed if this will cause certain countries and communities to fall further into poverty or disadvantage.

The ethos behind a just transition has been moulded constantly over the past number of years, with the definition developing over time. Nowadays, a “Just Transition” is interpreted as the conceptual framework in which the labour movement captures the complexities of the shift towards the low-carbon and climate-resilient system, highlighting national policy demands and aiming to increase benefits and minimise hardships for workers and their communities at the change.

Up to recently, a Just Transition has been linked closely and almost exclusively to the fossil fuel industry. Nevertheless, the potential for abandoned workers and communities is present in every sector. These communities must be empowered and should be given shared ownership over their future, and allowed to dictate what their lives will look like after the movement away from fossil fuels. Empowerment can be achieved in many ways, be it through re-education of community workers and supporting local action groups. Empowerment in all community areas can be unlocked through funding and investment.

“what is best for the climate is ultimately not always the best for the people”

The European Union is driving the change by aiming to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent/bloc by 2050. This is considered to be the greatest opportunity of our times. To embark on this process, the European Commission have devised a New Green Deal, an ambitious but achievable combination of measures which aims to allow citizens to benefit from a green transition. This is accompanied by a road map of a critical route to the future.

A fundamental part of the New Green Deal is the fair and just transition mechanism. This aims to mobilise targeted funds to assist in socio-economic disadvantaged regions. The EU will provide this support to all member states, with funding worth up to €75 billion over a six-year period to 2027.

The mechanism aims to support citizens and companies. Support for citizens will be provided by facilitating employment opportunities in new sectors, offering re-skilling opportunities, investing in and facilitating access to clean energy in order to fight energy poverty. The green deal will support companies through engaging the transition to low carbon technology, providing easy access to financial support for green initiatives and investing in green innovation schemes.

The European Environmental Agency has noted the unsustainability of continued promotion of economic growth. It states that a just transition needs to reconfigure ‘not just technologies and production processes but also consumption patterns and ways of living’.

The western system that measures the strength of nations on economic growth is now outdated. The triple bottom line theory rejects the sole importance of economic growth. Instead, it calls for success to be measured by contributions to environmental health, social well-being, and a just economy: supporting people, the planet and prosperity.

By changing our methods of determining economic success, and focusing on providing financial retributions to those most affected by the transition, we can ensure a future where we can all live sustainably on this planet. A Just Transition means providing climate action for all, not just the privileged.

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