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Climate change - We must act to cope with a new reality

This Article first apperas in Irish Examiner on April 28, 2009

THERE may be little enough we, as a small island of less than five million people bobbing away like so much flotsam between continental Europe and the Atlantic’s western fringes, can do to influence climate change, but we can prepare for the consequences projected by so many reputable scientists.No matter how determined and earnest our efforts to reform our behaviour, to consume less, to conserve more, they all seem to pale in the face of the knowledge that China has recently opened a power station that burns 40,000 tons of coal a day. And this is just one of the thousands of developments that encourage us to do little enough or, too often, nothing at all to face up to our obligations on these matters.

 

Another recent and deeply-challenging report predicted that the world’s stocks of seafood will collapse by 2050 at present rates of destruction by fishing.

A four-year study of 7,800 marine species concluded that the loss of biodiversity limits the ability of oceans to feed the world’s growing human population — expected to rise by 50% to nine billion in 2050.

As wild fish stocks decline, farmed fish — 43% of fish consumed today — is expected to take over. However, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that fish farming will struggle to maintain even present levels of production because the small wild fish that are fed to farmed species are being over-fished.

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a contribution to the discourse, stating that Irish temperatures will rise by 1.4ºC to 1.8ºC by 2050.

Winter rainfall is projected to increase by 10%, but summer rainfall will decline by 12% to 17% by 2050. By 2050, reductions in summer rain of between 20% and 28% are projected for the southern and eastern coasts, up to between 30% and 40% by 2080.

Under these conditions, so much of what we take for granted — abundant fresh water, our vital dairy and beef sectors for instance — would not be viable.

Soils will dry out and catchments dependent on groundwater, such as the Suir, Blackwater and Barrow, appear most vulnerable to new patterns of rainfall.

Most alarming is the pace with which floods begin to hit the country. The EPA said 10-year floods could become three to seven-year events by the 2050s and the 50-year flood will be a six to 35-year event almost everywhere.

These projections were given practical endorsement yesterday when a tidal barrier was one of the options proposed for flood defences for Cork City in a draft report on the first major flood risk study in Ireland.

The Lee Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Study concluded that flood defences will be essential within 30 to 50 years and planning should start now. Virtually every city on this island is built on an estuary so this projection represents a major challenge for the entire country.

Climate change is no longer a matter of belief but rather a matter of evidence. Like those who derided Darwin 200 years ago we can ignore the obvious and wait for time to prove us wrong or we can act now.

Though our circumstances are stretched and our immediate focus elsewhere we ignore these projections at our children’s peril. Surely we will make appropriate adjustments and adequate preparations for a new reality.

 






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