2020 has proved two points to us. One is that in the face of a global threat, ever-present and all-consuming, people all over the world really can come together and make sacrifices in order to stop it before it tears through the entire population. (For three months, maximum.) The second point is the scale of our ability to ignore global threats as soon as they aren’t immediately at our door. The pandemic hasn’t gone away, just shifted to countries that rich Western countries don’t care about, such as Brazil, India, Russia, Peru and Chile. The same is true of climate change.
Climate change as a narrative is strikingly similar to the coronavirus pandemic. Most people largely agree it exists, a minority of right-wing conspiracy theorists who are frighteningly close to power do not, but most people in their daily lives do not actively try to end climate change. It’s seen as something too big to comprehend. Even coronavirus may seem easier to fix than climate change. Within a couple of years, some organisation will find a vaccine and it will be manufactured. Where and who will be vaccinated first are other questions. For climate change, where do you even begin? It’s easier to pretend it’s not happening.
But it is. This is the reckoning that we need to deal with next in 2020. In a year of protest and upheavals, where things that we long believed couldn’t possibly be happening are ‘magically’ happening (aka the political will is there), climate change should be the top of our list.
2020 may be the hottest year since records began. There is a massive heat-wave of 38° in the Arctic, which is the highest temperature recorded in the Arctic Circle. This is following an usually warm winter and spring. The permafrost is melting. It may be that the maximum the world could warm by is not 3°, but 5°, which is terrifying. Look, the science is absolutely clear. I got sunburned in 20° weather in April. In Northern Ireland. If that doesn’t convince you climate change is a problem, what will?
What can we do? 2020 has also been the year where it’s been proven how individual action is not enough. During the lockdown, when cars sat in driveways and the airline industry nearly died, carbon emissions dropped rapidly. But it is still not enough.
Then what will? We already know what to do - closing down the top 20 companies who have produced 35% of all carbon emissions globally since 1965 as well as preparing for climate refugees en masse and global climate wealth reparations. Getting the US back in the Paris Agreement would be great too. Or inventing a vaccine for climate change and injecting the earth.
Given that we are not the masters of the universe, what can we do locally in Northern Ireland?
● Protest. A genuine mass movement can bring real changes, as we’ve seen so far in 2020. We can’t let the global climate strikes die out after the lockdown is over. Protesting is more important than ever in today’s world, especially when governments seem unresponsive to voters’ wishes.
● Start preparing our local communities for what the impact of climate change will be. Do people need to move inland in preparation for rising sea levels? Should more carbon sinks be created? Do drainage/landscape need to be changed in preparation for more rain? What about the effect of a hotter world on local farming?
● Lobby the NI Government on the laws they are creating around energy and the environment.
● Coordinate what we are doing with RoI and the UK. Geography matters with climate change.
● Organise. Join an organisation (like Friends of the Earth NI) and help to organise their efforts.
This isn’t over yet and it’s not impossible to divert course from the worst outcome. Ecosystems corroded and habitats destroyed can be nurtured back to life. Rather than giving in to nihilism and accepting that the world will burn, we should take action.
As the singer Joan Baez said: “Action is the antidote to despair.”
Ciara Campbell is a 21 year old BA Politics (QUB) graduate, currently on a gap year. She is interested in European politics, creative writing and baseball.