“It is not necessary for us to go down this path” – the words of leading US climate activist, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org when speaking at last week’s climate justice conference in Maynooth. He was referring to our last chance to avoid catastrophic climate change that is already affecting many of the world’s poorest people and which will hit them even harder in the coming decades. Our only hope is to immediately say ‘no’ to fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas and say ‘yes’ to renewables. Mícheál Callaghan, Liam Murtagh and Chrissie Walker of Transition Monaghan attended the conference along with about 400 other delegates, activists, academics and religious leaders. Mícheál and Liam report on the conference.
Liam Murtagh & Mícheál Callaghan at the Climate Justice conference in Maynooth
The conference, which was opened by Mary Robinson, was told that the stakes couldn’t be higher for climate action, as emissions continue to rise and the window for meaningful action closes. As well as the scientific imperative, what came across was the moral and spiritual element to tackling the impending climate crisis . Later this year in Paris, world leaders will gather for a particularly important UN Climate Conference in an attempt to reach a legally binding agreement to cut emissions. This is still far from certain, and there are concerns that the agreement will fall far short of what is needed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC recently stated that emissions will need to be cut by 80% by 2050 and will need to fall to zero shortly after. The UK has a law requiring its emissions be cut in line with climate science, but the Irish Climate Bill currently does not have any emissions targets. Many of the speakers at the Trócaire conference appealed to delegates and to members of the public to demand strong action from our politicians.
One participant at the conference, Phil Kingston of ‘Grandparents For a Safe Earth’ read a ‘letter’ on behalf of future generations – those who do not have a voice at the negotiating table, yet will be most affected by climate change. A particularly poignant line in the poem was ‘until you develop an economy of enough we will not be safe, nor will you.’ It was recognised by Kingston, that the severity of the climate emergency, and the scale of the action required can be frightening and overpowering, such that there is a need to ‘slow down’ and look within ourselves, in an almost meditative manner. (For details about the group see http://www.network23.org/gfase)
Father Séan McDonagh, who has written extensively about the links between theology and care for the earth, noted that we also have the challenge of the onset of the sixth extinction phase in the history of the planet, this being the first caused by humans. He stated that biology tells us that we are part of the living world and that we cannot take our image of being a ‘green’ country for granted. He praised the recent papal encyclical, but said that it must be followed up by discussion and action at parish level.
Bill McKibben of 350.org who is credited with spearheading the increasingly successful ‘Divestment’ movement, spoke about his work and of the need to change the ‘social license’, so that it is no longer acceptable for governments or companies to invest in new fossil fuel projects. He noted how protests in North America have halted a highly controversial oil pipeline across the continent. Reminding us that last month was the 363rd consecutive month with above average global temperatures, his message was that everyone must do their bit and call for strong action.
The conference ended with a rousing message from Director of Policy at Trócaire, Lorna Gold. She called on everyone to go out and tell the story of climate change and to begin acting in their communities and joining in a number of upcoming national campaigning events. Full recordings and information on the conference can be accessed at http://www.trocaire.org/climate-justice-2015. A ‘Climate Justice Activists Toolkit’ is downloadable from http://www.trocaire.org/activism.
Court Ruling on Climate Issue
The day after the conference, a ruling was handed down in the Netherlands, in the ‘Urgenda case’ which means that the Dutch government must cut their emissions by 25% by 2020. A similar case is underway in Belgium, and this will likely encourage similar action elsewhere.