The end of Planet Earth

County View

County View
John Healy

When the Balla Town Park millennium project – to plant 2,000 oak trees on the stroke of midnight to welcome the year 2001 – entered the Guinness Book of Records, the goodwill messages were many.
One in particular came from the people of Kiribati, the small republic on the other side of the world and which, by reason of its geographic location, was the first place on Earth to welcome the rising sun on the first morning of the new millennium.
It was somewhat incongruous that a country where a banana tree marked the high point above sea level should be united with a community so richly endowed with majestic oak trees, but it was an irony that took on a new meaning with last week’s alarming report into climate change. For Kiribati and its 32 clustered islets in the Pacific are in grave danger of being lost beneath the ocean as rising sea levels seem now to be an irreversible fact.
There could hardly be a more desolate picture for the future of humanity than the report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Its stark findings confirm that in reality we have gone beyond the point of no return. Global warming is taking place in every part of the world. The 500 wildfires in Greece, the devastating floods of central Europe, the extreme storms and hurricanes are no longer one-off events. They are here to stay, and they are increasing in frequency and intensity.
Allied to all of this is the rise in sea levels that, now unleashed, is set to persist for hundreds of years. And while the small islands of the Pacific will soon disappear underwater, even the great cities of the world will not escape the merciless march of the swelling oceans.
Closer to home, it is predicted that there will be enforced retreats from the coastal cities of Galway, Limerick, Cork and Dublin itself. Two years ago, this paper highlighted the documented threat to large swathes of Mayo from rising seas. From Carrowholly to Mulranny, Keel and Dooagh to Ballycroy, Barnatra and the Mullet Peninsula, the Clew Bay islands and Bertra Beach, low-lying coastal lands will be submerged under relentlessly rising sea levels.
The IPCC report makes for harrowing reading. It predicts a planet that will be all but uninhabitable within a few generations, unless corrective action is taken now.
But corrective action requires a cohesion and an urgency of which world leaders are incapable.
The global catastrophe ahead of us requires a global response, of great powers working in lockstep; piecemeal action by a handful of well-meaning states will go nowhere. The super powers that are bitterly antagonistic to each other are hardly likely to put their differences aside in the pursuit of climate equilibrium. However close we are now to Armageddon.
The authors of the IPCC report do offer a sliver of hope that the world can still save itself – if we move quickly enough and decisively enough. Other more-pessimistic observers would see this as a form of panic containment, fearing that after 30 years of unheeded warnings, anything now will be too late.
For more decades still, the scientist James Lovelock has been predicting that global warming would make most of the earth too hot for habitation, and that large tracts north and south of the equator would be reduced to desert, unable to sustain plant or human life. Famine and epidemic would wipe out millions; mass migration would follow where the affluent would seek refuge in the UK and Ireland, Canada and Australia, the ‘lifeboats’ of what would be left of the world’s population.
And our childrens’ children would pay the price of our reckless, thoughtless, negligence.