Some Environmental thoughts for the 2016 General Election
Charles Stanley Smith, a leading member of An Taisce, sets out his personal vision for another way. The statement below was distributed to thousands of Right to Change marchers last Sunday.
He stated "I felt it important to provide an Environmental Voice".
Environmental thoughts on Election 2016
By Charles Stanley-Smith
The right to a sustainable environment is often forgotten but is our most important right. After all, our economy resides within our society, which is entirely dependent on our environment, our one shared earth. The most pressing threat to this right is climate change. We are currently putting our future and that of the next generations at risk.
We need a Department of Climate Action to be established by the next Government. Our politicians must show they understand that not all sectors are equally carbon intensive. We face tough decisions on how to divide the reduction of Green House Gas emissions, fairly across sectors.
Agriculture is responsible for one third of our national emissions. Currently, Ireland imports far more nutritional energy than it exports, yet the sector claims to help “feed the world”. Agricultural emissions are likely to rise. We already face large financial penalties for failure to meet emission targets. Will the taxpayer have to pick up the tab for Government’s failure to act?
We must cut the energy requirement of our buildings by increasing their efficiency and introducing a major retrofitting programme that will also deliver many new jobs. We need to reduce our transport emissions by investing in public transport, both urban and rural. We need planning policies that deliver essential services within walkable communities.
On January 20th 2016, NASA released its latest figures showing that the Earth’s 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest in modern times. They stated that Globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.13°C. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said “Today’s announcement is a key data point that should make policy makers stand up and take notice - now is the time to act on climate.”
The recent 2015 Paris Climate Conference (CoP 21) will produce a legally binding and universal agreement on climate. This aims to keep global warming below 2°C and ideally below 1.5°C. The Agreement means the end of the fossil fuel age. Decarbonisation is the only way to cut greenhouse gas emissions progressively over coming decades to meet those targets.
This means no peat, no coal, no oil, no gas by 2050 (or even earlier). A 2015 study revealed that we need to leave at least 80% of the world’s known remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground. That means we must move towards a renewable energy future. We need to cease burning peat, coal, oil and gas in our power stations and rapidly decarbonise our electricity. Renewable energy must be produced, with full involvement and agreement of communities.
There are other environmental crises that a new Government must also prioritise. Rampant over usage of resources by the first world, is putting the lives of everybody on the planet and future generations at severe risk. There is a man-made crisis for each of: clean water, clean air, nutritious food/food security, biodiversity, soil fertility, pollinators, energy security, ocean desertification and acidification and many more.
When people get to define their personal ‘sufficiency’, it is inevitably much more reasonable than you would expect, certainly, if you believed everything in advertising. We need to get away from the concept, promotion and advertising of ‘Stuff’. People can cut their consumption. We need to move to a ‘Circular Economy’, one where there is no waste, because we have designed things not to produce waste or their output is the raw material for some other process.
We need to protect our biodiversity because everything on the planet is interlinked and if we destroy any part, we are in great danger of destroying something that is inherently required to support life on earth.
We need another economy, one that is not based on growth. Modern economic strategies depend on growth. They do not take into account resource usage. We are already using too much of the worlds resources. In 14 years’ time, at 5% growth, we will be using twice the amount of resources, resources we actually don’t have.
This is a matter of social justice, intergenerational equity, and stewardship of the planet. We need to get away from the arrogant stance that the world is there to provide our every whim. There are no technocratic solutions that we can or should rely on. These crises undoubtedly unfairly affect the poor and those in developing countries most. They will lead to increased conflicts, if not war, over the remaining resources. Urgent action is required; the event horizon is not 2100 or 2050, it is far closer at 2020 or 2030.
The earth continues to be the only planet capable of supporting us. We need a Government that recognises this in policy and practice and we need a popular mobilisation to reflect this imperative.