Counting the cost of climate change

The extreme weather conditions of recent weeks have given rise to a huge clean up bill. The stormy conditions inflicted substantial damage to roads, houses, electricity and communications grids, shorelines, lighthouses and pretty much anything that stood in its path. The cost of the clean up is estimated to run into hundreds of millions, and some MEPs have raised the possibility of looking to the European Solidarity Fund for assistance.

This is going to be a huge challenge for local authorities, which are already dealing with hugely rationed resources. They’ll be responsible for dealing with much of the damage. 

In time the damaged property and infrastructure will be repaired and, with the passing of time, the destructive power of these extreme weather events will be largely forgotten. Until the next one comes along and the process of repair – and finding the funds to do it – starts all over again.

The same weather systems inflicted even worse devastation on parts of Britain. Meanwhile, we were introduced to the term ‘polar vortex’ as unprecedented cold fronts plunged the US into a freeze deep enough to halt the progress of Niagara Falls.

This series of weather events should provoke a greater deal of discussion about planning for the future as the progress of climate change is likely to make these kinds of extreme weather conditions more commonplace. Already, experts are suggesting that decisions will have to be made about which parts of the Irish coastline are too expensive to retain, and what parts we should “let go” in the face of “rising sea level and storm activity.”

It’s a sobering thought. But our collective attitude to planning for a future shaped by the destructive potential of a changing climate is a bit like planning a pension; we only start doing it properly when we really have to.

Frighteningly, climate change denial remains a potent – and, arguably, a growing – force. Witness the US news networks pandering to the might of powerful climate change deniers by smartly asking: “If this is global warming why are we freezing?”

Yet recent events remind us we can’t afford to be complacent and that huge common challenges, like dealing with climate change, require a common public service response. A changing climate is part of our future and planning for it isn’t an option. It’s an absolute necessity.

Niall Shanahan

Communications officer