Wexford’s Gerry Fleming calls for a long-term view on climate change

We need to look at climate change and our responses to it from a long-term perspective.

That’s the message from former RTÉ presenter and Met Éireann forecasting manager Gerry Fleming, who recently visited Wexford Library to deliver a talk on climate change and its future implications for the county, the country and the world.

As we continue to see many extreme weather events in Ireland and around the world, talk about climate change and the urgent need for action is growing. But what is the link between such events and climate change?

“What the Meteorological Society has started doing are what are called attribution studies. You look at the historical climate and say what the odds are of this happening given the historical climate. Then you look at climate change, even as it is now, let alone what it will be in the next decade, and you see how likely something like this is to happen in a changed climate. Then you can compare the two,” he explained. “It is almost impossible to say that a single event is caused by climate change. However, you could say that the probability of this event happening has gone from, say, a thirty-year event to a ten-year event or a five-year event, and that would be typical of the drought and wave situation heat. we had this summer, which continental Western Europe of course had much worse. These kinds of events have become much more likely to occur.

Over the past few weeks, New Ross has been ravaged by major flooding which has caused severe damage to businesses and homes. As a single event, it cannot be said to have been caused by climate change, but its severity may be related to climate change, Gerry explained.

“With climate change, more moisture in the atmosphere means that when floods do occur they will be more severe. This we know and are certain of. It is likely that the severity of this event in New Ross has been partly attributed to climate change,” said Gerry.

When planning for the potential future impacts of climate change, Gerry emphasized that we need to consider both the weather changes predicted here and the consequences of weather changes in other countries.

“I certainly think that in relation to Ireland and specifically, in relation to Wexford, we have to make a distinction between what are called first-order effects – which are the precise things that happen with the weather – and second-order effects, which are the things that happen because of the weather in other places that will affect us too. In terms of first-order effects, it is obviously likely that the east and south-east of Ireland will have hotter and drier summers and drought will become more likely. Wexford’s coastline is said to be very mild, as the engineers say. It is more sensitive to storms. It is likely that winter storms will be more violent because there is more energy in the atmosphere with more humidity and energy determines the intensity of storms. So there is definitely a risk of further coastal erosion, which is obviously already a problem in parts of Wexford,” he explained.

Sea level rise is also an issue that could have a big impact on low-lying counties like Wexford, and roads and railways could be particularly affected, Gerry explained.

As discussions of these “first-order effects” have become commonplace, Gerry said we need to pay more attention to “second-order effects” and how to plan for them now.

“We also need to think about how climate change affects other parts of the world, Europe in particular. If southern Europe becomes very dry and very hot and it is very difficult to earn a living, people will migrate north. This means more people are coming north in search of livable climates and Ireland would still be one of the regions in Europe that has a very livable climate compared to others. And then if air travel becomes much more difficult due to CO2 issues in aviation and people start to travel more by boat, Rosslare is going to get even busier. So you have these things that would bring more people through Wexford from other parts of Europe, maybe even further afield. This side of things is going to be a problem. Are we going to have a lot more people living here and how are we going to manage the infrastructure for that? »

Through his lectures on climate change, Gerry illustrates the urgent need to act and not just argue with the Keeling Curve – a graph of carbon dioxide buildup in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“I’m pointing out that, for all the COP conferences and meetings and whatever, there hasn’t yet been a breach in the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. It continues to increase at the rate at which it’s increased over the last decade. Talking is good, but when it comes to doing something, we’re still so far from it,” he said. scientist, I would be pessimistic about achieving some of these goals that we’ve set for ourselves because we don’t seem to be making some of the physical changes that are needed in terms of what’s being pushed into the atmosphere. The implications of that for how we live our lives and those changes are going to be huge, either that or we’re going to be living in a very different climate and it could be a very uncertain climate.

With the impacts of climate change unfolding before our eyes, we cannot afford to postpone action. While scientists first sounded the alarm about climate change decades ago, a slow pace of action means more effort will have to be made now, Gerry said.

“We could have gone further and faster than we did, but we started now, albeit a bit late. Some of the things we’ve done over the last 10 or 15 years have made things tougher ones, like the total increase in the dairy herd, the lack of investment in public transport and the slow pace at which building standards have to be brought up to where they should have been. years ago because it was clear it was going to be needed,” he said. “We’re starting these things now, but it’s late and we’ll have to work harder to make up for lost ground by not starting sooner. .”

Looking ahead, it is clear that some tough decisions will have to be made if we are to protect ourselves against some of the most severe effects of climate change, Gerry said. The need for coastal protection in the face of sea level rise is costly, and we may come to a point where decisions need to be made about which areas receive protection versus which others.

“Can we protect all of these areas or is it better to abandon certain areas and for the people who live, work or farm there to move elsewhere. These are tough questions and not just monetary decisions because obviously people are very attached to the land,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for Wexford moving forward in terms of what we might be able to protect economically or reasonably.”

Renewable energy options also sometimes elicit opposition, said Gerry, who stressed the importance of looking at things from a long-term perspective.

“We always have to look at the longer term view. Take the issue of renewable energy. I know some people are not entirely enthusiastic about wind power generation and installing wind turbines on land, but concretely, what are the options for using energy in the future? It will be either renewable or nuclear, because it will simply not be possible to generate electricity from coal, oil or gas. I’m not necessarily saying we’re going to have to introduce nuclear power, but it’s either that or renewables, and if we’re going to have renewables, we’re going to have to have wind turbines and other types of renewable energy for energy. ”

“We have to grasp this reality and understand it. We can not have everything. We have to make decisions and many of those decisions are not easy.

Gerry emphasized that effective change must have a top-down approach.

“It’s not just about people changing their habits. It needs top-down leadership and government support. People cannot travel on public transport which does not exist, for example.

However, this desire for change from the top can go hand in hand with individual and community action, Gerry said.

“At the individual and community level, there is certainly a lot to do. First, we literally need to insulate ourselves from the impacts of climate change by investing in upgrading our homes to make them warmer so we don’t have to burn so much fuel to stay warm,” he said. he declares. “We can make the decision to use public transport where possible, knowing that people’s lives are complicated and they have many other challenges, especially people with young children who have to take to school. Banding together to arrange shared transportation can be one change these people can make.

“These are small things but I think they are important to do because, in addition to the value of reducing emissions through these actions, they help to enforce the idea that this is something that we are all in together. and that we all have to work together to get through.”

With climate change and its consequences being at the forefront of discussion and media coverage in recent years, Gerry acknowledges that many people feel anxious, especially young people. He stressed the need to keep people optimistic without losing sight of the long-term goal.

“We have to do something that keeps us optimistic while acknowledging the magnitude of the problem, rather than just saying it’s all going to be dreadful and we have to lay down and accept whatever comes,” he said.

“We can do this by taking small actions at the individual and community level. We can do this by taking political action, which ultimately means at the ballot box to support people at national and local political levels who take this longer-term view of climate change. I know it’s not easy. I believe the demographic political system is the best we have and to try to make sure that we can find solutions within that system.

Teresa H. Sadler