We’re Making Progress: Hope in the Face of Climate Catastrophe

Person holding globe at sunset
Emily Murphy

25th of July 2022

Climate catastrophes, extreme and expanding poverty, and war are regular features in both national and international news in recent years. One could be forgiven for the belief that the planet and its inhabitants are doomed. While we are by no means out of danger, there are enormous victories which should be acknowledged and celebrated.

For most of my life, and for the entirety of others, global warming has been a semi-regular topic in conversations at home, at school, and in general. Despite expert warnings from as early as the 1970s, few were aware of the drastic impact we are having on our world, and the implications both for the climate and for us. Since the mid 00s, there has been a growing movement working towards reducing and reversing climate damage. We have made extraordinary advances in solar and wind technology, and have improved building regulations to be less energy demanding. However, these are not nearly where they need to be yet; Germanys ‘Energiewende’ is a prime example. Germany had impressive plans to entirely phase out fossil fuels; and then they backtracked. Essentially, renewable technology was not advanced enough to replace fossil fuels. The government later announced plans to uplift a forest to access its coal reserves, out of sheer necessity. Energiewende costs €32 billion annually, and unfortunately it did not progress as the German government had hoped. However as an increased number of nuclear reactors across the country are being retired, it seems the nation is getting back on track once again. The potential for sole renewable power is impressive, although we should ensure its reliability before whole transitions, and allow Energiewende to inspire and educate.

The measures we have implemented to reduce our climate impact have not been in vain … we have the potential to heal the damage we have caused.

Ireland is falling short of our climate targets in most categories, and it is very disheartening for those who strive for change. It is important to note that while we should endeavour to meet all agreed-upon measures, governments often make promises to achieve these incredibly impressive targets knowing they will not. The reason for this is rather simple: the higher your target, the harder you push. If we only set our ambitions at what we knew we would achieve, and fell short the outcome would be much worse. By overestimating ourselves we still fall short, but do so having achieved more than we otherwise would. This is nonetheless frustrating for citizens. However, humanity has made enormous strides and should not allow our annoyance to distract from these.

Remember acid rain? It is an umbrella term for precipitation that contains an acidic component, typically sulfuric or nitric. In the 1989s, 1990s and early 2000s it was a commonly discussed issue, and regularly featured in academic text books for all ages. We never hear about acid rain anymore, why? In a nutshell, we fixed it. Before interventions, it was estimated that 4000 lakes in Sweden were acidified (and therefore unable to support life), water systems globally were likewise affected, and the problems were blamed for weakening buildings and support structures. So how did we solve it? We stopped burning coal (for the most part) and installed ’scrubbers’ to clean factory emissions. Additionally, we installed catalyst converters in cars to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. While there are some more recent instances of this occurring, it is under control in Europe and America, and very much a problem of the past. 

Remember that big hole in the ozone layer that was ‘giving everyone cancer’? It’s fixing itself. The ozone layer is a layer of earth’s stratosphere consisting of gases that absorb most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Ozone holes are formed when heat and sunlight cause a reaction between hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. In 1974 a paper showed that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in spray bottles were depleting the ozone layer. The paper earned Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland a Nobel Prize and led to questions about fixing the invisible hole in the sky. So how did we fix it? As previously mentioned, we reduced nitrogen oxide emissions and drastically reduced our output of CFCs. The ozone hole discovered over Antarctica has almost completely fixed itself. This does not mean that the ozone layer is out of danger, on the contrary there are still ‘mini-holes’ being discovered. It does however mean that the measures we have implemented to reduce our climate impact have not been in vain, and that we have the potential to heal the damage we have caused. It’s clear we can do it.

While we are by no means out of danger, there are enormous victories which should be acknowledged and celebrated.

I am by no means suggesting that we put down our tools and let the planet do the rest from here. The changes mentioned above and a multitude of others required a lot of time and effort, and have received quite a bit of push back from the opposition. But they were achieved. We have a long way to go if we are to see the changes we wish to in the near future, but the next time you get disheartened or wonder “what’s the point?”, think of the good that people like you have done so far, and remember we have not yet done anything to the planet that we cannot help undo.

Featured photo by Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND News & Comms Intern Criomhthann Morrison.

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