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Floods in Ireland: A postcard from the edge of the climate crisis

I was in Ireland last week and was able to experience that other climate extreme: endless rainfall and the subsequent flooding.

The republic part of Ireland (not to be confused with the bit in the north that the British wanted enough to die for, but now don’t want) is basically a bowl: rocky on the outside and low-lying in the middle.

When the British owned the place, they put the Irish on the rocky part to die of hunger and cut down the forests in the middle (for timber for the navy) and replaced them with fields of cattle.

That’s why the Ireland of postcards is packed with small fields, each a different shade of green, and black-and-white cattle.

Those fields have been underwater for three months. Instead of being green, the country is just muddy.

Last week Storm Dennis, the fourth storm this year powerful enough to get a name, hit Ireland with winds of more than 120km/h. Flights were cancelled. A ghost ship was washed ashore. Trees, already bent sideways by the constant winds, snapped. More rain fell.

And, because the River Shannon flows down the middle of the country and has a tendency to break its banks, the country was split in half.

The ancient, Instagrammable stone bridges over the Shannon stayed dry but the roads leading up to them sunk below the swirling water.

The oceans store 90% of the excess heat we create by burning fossil fuels; the more we burn, the more water evaporates and the oceans expand, so sea levels rise. More evaporation means more water for storms. They then crash into countries that have not properly prepared for that reality. 

Last week was also the first meeting of the Dáil Éireann (Irish parliament) after elections. Climate didn’t feature much on the ballot, with people focused on the collapsing healthcare, housing and social security systems. Ignoring climate has meant Ireland is facing R4-billion in fines from the European Union for missing its 2020 targets for reducing carbon emissions. 

Those targets are being missed because of a polluting power system (based on burning peat from bogs) and the ever-expanding cattle herd. Because Irish butter and beef are so tasty, they are in high demand globally. And, because Ireland’s economy comprises cattle and tax-evading social media companies, it is betting on more beef.

In South Africa, the State of the Nation address, and the budget, similarly showed little attention to climate change, beyond noting that it’s a problem of sorts.

It seems that politicians aren’t paying attention to the floods, fires and droughts spinning our world out of control.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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