ADJUSTING TO EXTREMES

19 January 2018 No Comments by The Northern Standard

increasing occasions over recent times, and particularly in our own Co Monaghan area this week, the weather has served notice on humanity that it still holds primacy over our lives to a governing extent only slightly mitigated by our technological and societal development. While some continue to question with Luddite stubbornness the legitimacy of the evidence for global warming and climate change, extreme weather events are becoming a worryingly frequent feature of the 21st century.

When even the temperate nature of the Irish climate, oft described in terms akin to the fairy tale porridge as being neither too hot nor too cold but just right, is shifting in its characteristics to accommodate events such as this week’s heavy snowfall, it is clear that the tides of the world’s weather are changing ominously and irrevocably. We can sit Canute-like at the shore and be engulfed by the new weather extremes, or we can adjust ourselves to them.

The state of our preparedness to respond to severe climatic events has been put to the test on a number of occasions in the past year, through the Storms Ophelia and Dylan and now with the heaviest snowfall that we have had to cope with in recent times – and here in Co Monaghan we have come through that test, in the main, with our colours flying.

Our local authority has developed its communication and response systems with admirable swiftness to meet the new demands upon them, with road transport on our county’s prodigious maze of major and minor arteries being kept functioning to the fullest extent possible, and temporary interruptions dealt with expediently and thoroughly. But being prepared and equipped to react to the emergency situations that extreme weather events create is only one facet of the necessary planning that local government, and local society, must undertake.

There is a need to revise and rethink our longer-term, strategic planning for such eventualities in the expectation that they will become less exceptional as time proceeds. It is timely, if not prescient, that Monaghan Co Council will this year get thoroughly to grips with the preparation of the new Co Development Plan. Many of its policies and planning parameters may need to be revised and redrafted in light of the challenges of climate change – certainly this is a consideration which the elected members of the authority will have to foreground in their deliberations of the draft proposals which the planners will place before them.

Traditionally more parochial considerations have shaped the fingerprints which councillors strive to place upon this seminal document. This time around, we respectfully suggest that they take a longer and broader view of the important task ahead of them and assist in the production of a document that takes due account of not merely the challenges but the opportunities presented by climate change and the need to mitigate and if possible reverse its potentially deleterious effects on the quality of life in Co Monaghan. For prevention is always better than cure, and the occasion of the plan’s revision is perhaps an opportune one to shift into higher gear the policies and approaches the Co Council are already adopting in areas such as clean and renewable energy, sustainable development and environmental protection.

Similar approaches by individuals and community organisations should be incentivised where possible by our local authority and vigorously promoted by its elected representatives. Sinn Féin councillor Colm Carthy has been advocating for some time now the introduction of national incentives for the use of solar panels in dwellings and businesses – this is one idea that our political representatives of all hues at national level should be canvassing with Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten TD, whose embrace of it might restore to him some of the credibility he has lost in local eyes by his rather craven handling to date of the EirGrid north-south electricity interconnector issue.

But even if our concentration on planning and prevention increases exponentially, we will for the foreseeable future have to adjust to and cope with the extreme weather events that climate change is creating. And one of the most important resources we will call upon is that of our basic humanity and sense of community.

As Co Monaghan continues to cope in the days ahead with the difficulties presented by the heavy snow, winds and rainfall and their aftermath, we would add our own voice to that of those agencies working on behalf of the older and more vulnerable citizens in our community who have encouraged us all to animate our innate faculty of neighbourliness at this time in order to ensure that the aged and isolated among our citizens are not going hungry, cold or insecure as a consequence of the weather.

A timely visitor to Co Monaghan last Thursday was Minister Kevin Boxer Moran, who came to see at first-hand one of the most serious consequences that this county has to cope with when the weather becomes unfriendly – flooding. The ebullient Minister of State for Flood Relief justified his title by bestowing €150,000 in funding for three of the projects that were canvassed to him as important during his quite extensive survey of the local problem areas – and he showed competence and compassion by his grasp of the remainder of the Co Monaghan issues and his declared intent of “ending the suffering” that flooding periodically inflicts upon a significant portion of our local population.

The Minister came across as a man in a hurry to make a difference. Cynics would say that his alacrity is linked to the likely limited lifespan of the Government of which he finds himself a part – but it is more charitable, and probably more accurate, to state that he is motivated by the recognition that extreme events like flooding need expedient solutions. It is perhaps a telling feature of how we are adjusting to extremes that much of the hope for comprehensive flooding relief measures in this country resides in the CFRAM or Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management strategy which, after a period of elephantine gestation, is due for publication in the coming months.

If we are to effectively adjust to extremes, it can no longer take an eternity to produce such reports. Will it take another eternity to implement the CFRAM blueprint? Minister Moran is right to be in a hurry. All around us the climate change clock is loudly ticking, and planners and policy makers need to respond more energetically to its warning.

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