Queen's Policy Engagement

Waking up to Climate Change

The day, the hour, the minute, the very second, has come for us all to take conscious responsibility for how our behaviour is contributing to climate change says Joseph Ireland.

Waking up to Climate Change

As a child growing up in the 1990s in Northern Ireland, I used to write the words, “Tiocfaidh ár lá” on my school homework diary and shout them when out with groups of friends. I didn’t even understand the etymological origins of the words or the historical context of the wounding that inspired them. Yet, here I was unconsciously promoting this political ideology. I believe there is a religious archetype inherited into our very souls of hatred and judgement on both sides of the conflict. I also believe that the time to evolve and heal these wounds has come. Our day has come, Catholic and Protestant alike, to unite in one cause and that cause is Climate Change.

I have automatic thoughts of anger, particularly at this time of year, when I see all the flags, murals, bonfires and kerbs of red, white and blue across our country. These are unwanted thoughts in my physce. Every individual person in this wee beautiful country of ours is my brother and my sister. I respect their free will to express themselves. As I consciously bring these thoughts into my mind now sitting at my desk typing these words, tears of pain and suffering flood my eyes, I am awash with guilt and shame. I don’t want to hate any human being, especially people of my home land, people that have been born onto the very soil we all stand. I was reading Lyra Mc Kee’s last article on her first anniversary, where she poetically wrote;

“We try to erase our own memories, hoping for a collective amnesia by blotting out reminders of what happened here, but all you have to do is scratch the paint and you’d find a ghost that refused to depart for the other world.”

The paint she talks about just isn’t on gable walls, it is etched on our very skin and in our souls. Scratch my surface and the wounds are still there, bleeding. I am a “Ceasefire baby”, but yet I still feel our troubled past in my heart. Had I been a 1960s baby, I know for certain that I would have been a terrorist, a freedom fighter, caught up in a generation of pain and suffering. I wouldn’t have wanted to hate my brothers and sisters, but culturally and unconsciously, I don’t think I would have had a choice. Now, in this very present moment, as a human being, I have a choice and I choose love. I love all my brothers and sisters from this land, this one and only planet of ours.

Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream, a dream that future generations don’t inherit the religious archetypes of the past that I have. I have a dream that my son, your children and their children can walk the streets in any community within our country and not be terrorised with painful thoughts of anger and hatred depending on the colour of the paint on the kerbs and the faces on the gable walls. I dream that our children can come together to play, to grow and to unite. I dream that in this very decade we can resurrect the archetype of creativity and ingenuity of our ancestors. I dream that we will not be limited by our thoughts, that we can evolve and transcend beyond the psychological divides we created. After all, the citizens of this wee country are historically very special and talented people. We are still the same people that in past generations set the world alight building the Titanic and touching the clouds in New York City building skyscrapers. Yes, we have been through our troubles in recent decades, but every human being on this planet must go through their troubles to evolve and sustain life for future generations. At heart, we are all talented Engineers, Scientists, Nurses, Doctors, Tradesmen, Artists, Musicians etc, willing to serve our country.

There is a war coming in this very century superior than anything we have faced as a species in the past, a war that could kill us all, a mass genocide of our species. For the first time in our history, the war isn’t between us, the war is on Climate Change and we are all being called to become freedom fighters. We now have the opportunity as the people of this land to unite for a cause greater than any of us. Our planet is suffering, and we human beings are all responsible for it. Human Beings are addicted to using Fossil Fuels. Our reliance has become so deeply ingrained into the very fabric of our lifestyle that it is mostly unconscious. Our obsession for, the pursuit of and the consumption of fossil fuels has exponentially exploded over the last half century to the point where we have lost all perspective on the reality of what we are doing. Not only does this addiction harm our species, it is destroying the living world as we know it through Climate Change. We lie, manipulate, engage in criminal acts, shift the blame and demonstrate abusive behaviors all in the pursuit and consumption of fossil fuels. According to the NHS, these are common behavioral characteristics associated with any type of addiction.

As I suggested in the beginning of this article, ‘Our day has come’. The day, the hour, the minute, the very second, has come to take conscious responsibility of this behaviour. The youth of today aren’t interested in our historically troubled past, they are interested in their future and rightfully so. They aren’t on the streets fighting religious or political battles, they are on the streets demanding that we all take responsibility for Climate Change to secure their future. Freedom fighters.

The etymological origins of the English word “responsibility” date back to the 1590s being derived from two old Latin words. The first an adverb, re- (back to original, again, anew, once more) and the second, subsequently a verb, spondere (promise, bind or pledge myself, contract, vow).  We must pledge ourselves to reverse the damage done by Climate Change through a ‘Just Transition’ to Renewable Energy sources and the implementation of a Northern Ireland Climate Act specific to the greenhouse gas emissions from our own country. We are very bespoke in our emissions and need to individually take responsibility to address that as a nation. I understand we are represented on the Climate Assembly UK, but energy is devolved to our government and we owe it to our gracious ancestors, ourselves, and to most importantly to our children to use the gifts we have to take responsibility.

Our climate has already warmed by +1⁰C in this decade and we have had eighteen of the twenty warmest years since record-keeping began in 1850 in the past two decades. The United Nations have issued a Special Report detailing the risks to the globe of warming by +1.5⁰C, stating that it will lead to irreversible loss of the most fragile ecosystems, and crisis after crisis for the most vulnerable people and societies. The Secretary General of the UN demands that, “We must listen to the Earth’s best Scientists”. We have the best Scientists in the world living on this island, willing to help us all take responsibility.

Personally, I have been on a painful journey that has taken me on the road less travelled into my soul and demanded of me to take responsibility for my actions. I have and continue to directly contribute to Climate Change, but I am slowly taking responsibility. Like the terrorists who roamed our land in the past; I roamed this planet with machinery, chemicals and explosives terrorising the Earth for oil and gas. As a Drilling Engineer, I drilled wells as deep as 8500m in pursuit of our addiction for oil and gas. I loved it. It was a career that I planned to stay in for life, but I woke up to Climate Change and resigned in 2018. I was called by my soul to come home to this land and invest my time in sustainably developing our country for future generations to come. I want to be a responsible citizen to this country and a responsible human being to this planet. I am currently doing this through a PhD project I have started at Queen’s University researching Renewable Energy systems and barriers to their development in Northern Ireland. I want this project to influence future policy on Climate Change and Renewable Energy here in Northern Ireland.

When the Northern Ireland Executive was restored earlier this year, for the first time in three years, a new deal was agreed called The New Decade, New Approach. Part 1 of this deal, “Priorities of the Restored Executive” includes a section on priorities for investing in the future. In this section, The Executive states:

“We will tackle Climate Change head on with a strategy to address the immediate and longer-term impacts of Climate Change & will introduce legislation and targets for reducing carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Accord.”

This is a bold statement based on historical attitude and has given me hope of us taking personal responsibility as a country, but I believe it is going to require the Executive and the people working together on the new legislation and the Climate Change Act. To quote Benjamin Franklin:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

The Executive will meet this Tuesday, 21st July 2020 to debate the motion for Climate Change and a Climate Change Act. I believe the time has come for the people and the Executive to follow the road less travelled together, to heal our painful wounds of the past and become freedom fighters to create a new archetype for the future of hope and creativity. Let our children and their children not have to suffer like we all do but rather unite in a cause greater than us all. Our Executive must vote to let that cause be Climate Change and to form a Citizens Assembly to work directly with on the matter.

I think it is only fitting, that I end this piece with another quote from the beautiful Lyra McKee:

“It won’t always be like this, it is going to get better”.

Perhaps, we should all take a leaf from her book and have the courage to write a letter to our 14 year old self about the pain of Climate Change, how we will address it together and reassure ourselves that we will all be happy in the end.

Joseph Ireland
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Joseph Ireland is a PhD Candidate at Queen's University Belfast researching Renewable Energy systems, specifically Shallow Geothermal Energy, and the barriers to their development in Northern Ireland. Joseph's PhD is a joint venture between the School of Natural and Built Environment and the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics and is part of a wider collaboration between Queen's and the University of Aberdeen.

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