Grounded – Living in the Old Testament?

By Grace O’Sullivan – Mother, Peace and Environment Activist, Ecologist, MEP.

I’m in Ireland for a few days for what’s known in the European Parliament as a ‘constituency week’. This is where, about every couple of months, MEPs are given the option of returning to their home bases to carry out the important work of attending meetings, travelling around the constituency to see various projects and meeting people on the ground etc.

Over the course of my few days I’ve been on the road a lot, attending meetings and events in Galway, Dublin, Limerick, Wexford and, of course, my native Waterford. Over the course of my travels, I’ve had several conversations about the weather.

There’s nothing new when it comes to talking about the weather in Ireland. Weather, as a topic of conversation, is something of a national speciality for us! Of course, with the range of weather we experience, there’s plenty to talk about.

We’re well used to changeable weather. There are days when it would be handy to be a magician capable of producing woolly hats, scarves, umbrellas, wellies, sandals and shorts. And all that in the space of just a few hours!

We could be light-hearted about our fickle Irish weather, and generally we are, but in the early months of 2020, our conversations about the weather and other ‘natural’ events, have taken on a more ominous tone.

I read a tweet from John Creedon a few days ago. “Listening to the news in 2020,” he wrote. “You’d be forgiven for feeling like we’re living in the Old Testament. Floods in Ireland, burning bushes in Oz, a plague of locusts in Africa and now the plague of Covid 19.”

We’re certainly not alone in the world when it comes to extreme weather and natural events in these, the opening months of 2020. John Creedon finished his tweet by saying: “We could do with a break.” He’s right there.

On the home front, with farmers and families and business owners facing another year of flooding, there’s a real danger that a sense of complacency can set in amongst those of us lucky enough to be at some remove.

The big headlines at the moment are focused on the Corona virus and its international spread. Of course it’s right and proper that we should be informed and reassured that our health facilities are briefed and ready in the event or likelihood that it reaches our shores. Naturally people are worried and need good, reliable information.

So while I do understand the attention that is being given over to Corona Virus coverage, what I’m a bit more concerned about is why we don’t seem to be seeing quite so many headlines about the fact that we are facing into the depths of another winter season, with extreme weather conditions kicking in, and people yet again, particularly in Western counties, suffering untold stress, as they face threats that can impact in many ways.

With news of the impending arrival of Storm Jorge over the weekend triggering Orange weather alerts along the Western counties and beyond, including Galway, Mayo, Clare and Kerry; and status yellow warnings in other counties including Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny and Waterford, we have been set for another battering.

Listening to reports of people in Galway, as they were preparing for another traumatic battle against the elements, was upsetting. On Thursday, reports were coming out that the Sligo train line might have to be closed in the event of further flooding. For anyone in the vicinity of the Shannon, it’s been a worrying time.

People’s lives have been deeply impacted already. Insurance is a thing of the past for many living in areas where the worst effects of weather emergencies and the resulting increased flooding have been seen over recent years.

Climate change is not new. It’s been happening for many decades. I’ve been an activist in this area for over 30 years. It’s only now that the message is starting to get through.

It’s a pity it takes us coming to the brink of total catastrophe before action starts to happen. It is happening. Responses have been kicking in. But there needs to be more. Much more. We need robust, modern, innovative and rapid reactions. Now.

Nobody should not have to suffer the sort of stress or the financial and emotional damage many vulnerable people are in the thick of at the moment. Let’s hope that a government and robust opposition will come to fruition soon, so they can get on with the job of tackling the biggest and most life-threatening danger of our times – Climate Change.  

Grace O'Sullivan

Grace O'Sullivan is the Green Party MEP for Ireland South, former Senator, mother, former Greenpeace activist, & ecologist.

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