Life

Take on Nature: A mindset of denial over climate change

Plastic is choking up our marine life

AH, THE joys of an early morning walk in early spring. The hedgerows are positively pulsing as they wait to burst into life, the birds are singing their mating calls and the sun is shinning down on the scattered crisp packets, aluminium cans and fast food carrier bags.

As well as the usual casually abandoned items that are sadly normal during a walk along a country road, there were a couple of car wheels, a gas cylinder, a Homer Simpson sock, the face of a clock and a large plastic bag filled with carrots.

The Irish News reported last week that every single step we take along our coastline is surrounded by an average of four items of litter. More than 80 per cent of the discarded material is plastic which can take centuries to biodegrade.

Forget the eyesore aspect of this. This rubbish is finding its way back into our food chain. Tiny fragments of plastic have been traced in 83 per cent of tap water samples taken all around the world, while traces have also been found in our seafood.

Plastic is choking up our marine life, pesticides are killing off our insects which pollinate plant life and man-made fossil fuels are warming up our atmosphere and changing weather patterns, yet there are still those who dismiss the idea that human activity could somehow be creating a global calamity.

To borrow a quote from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Oklahoma this week: "Ar scáth a chéile, a mhaireann na daoine.” Mr Varadkar was thanking members of the native American Choctaw Nation whose ancestors, despite their own poverty and hardships, sent money to help the people of Ireland during the Great Famine.

More proficient Irish speakers than me will know that there are subtle layers to that expression which can't really be rendered into English, but at a simple level it translates as ‘We live in each other's shadow'.

As well as a fitting expression of thanks for the humanity shown by one group of marginalised and poverty-stricken people towards another, the phrase could be applied to our relationship to the rest of the planet.

The recent cold snap was the result of a ‘Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW)' which caused the air temperature many miles above the Arctic to warm up, which then forces the cold air below it southwards and a ‘wobble' of the jet stream. The upshot is that the weather we associate with Siberia, the North Pole and Alaska is suddenly blowing along our streets.

Late last year, a US scientific report said that the Arctic “shows no sign of returning to [the] reliably frozen region of recent past decades”. During our ‘cold snap' the temperature at the North Pole was so high that it was close to melting point, with some parts of the Arctic more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.

Sea ice should still be forming in the Arctic but it's not and climate scientists are worried, with some suggesting that the Arctic Ocean could see the least winter sea ice ever recorded. They say they have seen events similar to this one happen before, but that the size and intensity of the warmth made it really notable.

What has this to do with a Homer Simpson sock and the remains of a McDonald's bag tossed from a car into a Co Down hedgerow?

It is the mindset of denial that we are somehow not responsible for climate change that is still so prevalent that concerns me.

Ar scáth a chéile, a mhaireann na daoine.

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