Sunday, 24 March 2013

Climate | Policy: Holding The Line, Bridging the Gap

Why worry?

This blog aims to look at why we, as citizens and residents of Ireland, might want to start paying far more attention to climate change.

All too often the challenge created by global warming is portrayed as only an environmental problem.  It is not.  It is a potentially deadly challenge to our future economic security and societal safety.  Yet we can definitely affect outcome by our collective and individual decisions right now to reduce greenhouse emissions urgently and immediately.  Climate change adds extraordinary danger and increasing risk to all of the future challenges we face if we do not act soon.

We might want to start talking with each other about what we can do now to limit its effects and also make our political and business leaders aware of our concerns.  One area of strong agreement is that acting early to limit the problem will be a great deal cheaper and easier than dealing with the problem down the line.

The focus in these posts may wander, but it will concentrate on 'evidence' and 'response': on how to hold the line between these non-identical twins where they seem tangled; and also, on how to bridge the gap between science and policy when they appear to have drifted apart – creating misunderstandings and confusion.  

To make good decisions we need strong evidence from independent science, and to respond we need expertise from all fields and input from all citizens to create the policies that will truly address the scale of the challenge that is being revealed.  

Climate Rhetoric vs. Climate Reality

So far internationally and here in Ireland, despite all the rhetoric and talk of action, the result has been the opposite of the supposed intention.  Emissions have continued to increase massively, most of all due to consumption by the richest countries, people and businesses, especially in the developed nations.  Ireland's emissions per person are amongst the highest in Europe.

The brutal reality of climate change is simply that the climate does not care about our wishes for economic growth or delays in action.  The atmosphere simply and implacably responds to the amount of greenhouse gases we throw into the air and oceans.  We cannot negotiate with the atmosphere for a better rate or for extra time, much as we might wish otherwise.  Smoking 'hopium' is not a good plan.

Do we speak up in support of real action or do we continue to add to future problems for our children?  Do we protect their property rights and human rights or do we contribute to taking them away?  

It is striking that climate change turns politics inside out.  To be conservative we must act to limit the damage we create; to be revolutionary, all we have to do is not act so that the problem gets worse far faster.

It is up to us then, here and now to make some hard choices: do nothing and steal from our children or act at a cost to ourselves.  Here in Ireland we could start by being honest about the climate challenge we face and encourage each other and other nations to do the same.  

We can begin to do this by ensuring that the evidence provided by a 'science advisory expert body' is openly available, internationally reviewed, and kept completely separate from political or government influence.  Our scientific advisory body must be entirely independent of government to ensure that real data and research is not obscured by economic or political preferences.  Its reports need to be open to the public just as to government.  

Any policy response by expert advisors and government can then be acted on and judged against the publicly-available, best evidence from data and scientific research.

As currently formulated the proposed climate bill for Ireland combines the science advisory with the economic and development policy advisors.  This is a serious and dangerous error.  It is a policy amounting to dishonesty, easily allowing policies for short-term, local gain to compromise real actions that would contribute to a global solution of this long-term problem.  

A Good Time for Climate Honesty in Climate Policy

To show we are serious about reducing the risks we have to keep science and policy completely separate

This needs to be our basis to face climate reality squarely and honestly.  Even if we decide to do little or nothing let's not set up an advisory that helps us to lie to ourselves.  It may be difficult to face the truth but any other course increases risks to Ireland's future security and prosperity. 

Climate science says failure is not a smart option.  We probably cannot adapt to what is coming, even during the lifetime of those born today the damages may overwhelm society.  Optimistically though, we really can get off the current road to despair and onto a course for hope provided we do not continue to confuse ourselves by believing in rhetoric rather than looking hard at reality.  The trouble is that we are running out of road. 

Honesty, in acknowledging the mounting danger that the evidence clearly shows we now face, is a vital first step that we all need to take.

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