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Philip Boucher-Hayes: What to expect from an RTÉ programme about the climate crisis

The journalist has spearheaded a programme on Ireland’s climate crisis to be aired on RTÉ1 this Tuesday.

Philip Boucher-Hayes RTÉ journalist

YOU MIGHT BE thinking to yourself before finding out more about our documentary on climate change: “Oh god, not a preachy lecture from some finger-wagging, RTÉ nag about the climate crisis. Sure he’s so overpaid, he’s probably got solar panels on the dog kennel. What could possibly be worse on telly this week?”

Fair enough, except that is not the programme we have made. There is absolutely no talk of bags-for-life or gloomy light bulbs in this documentary.

Anyway, it has been reliably calculated that if we each did absolutely everything that it is possible to do in our personal and domestic lives, it would only get us 30% of the way to what we need to do to tackle the crisis.

It has suited successive governments to make climate action the responsibility of individuals, when in truth the lion’s share of what needs to be done can only be achieved by the state and larger corporations.

To borrow a phrase, this documentary does not ask what you can do for your country. It very squarely lays out what a climate-responsible government should be doing for you.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“Right so, but what kind of bleedin’ masochist do you take me for that I would sit through an hour long programme telling me that the planet is rightly bunched?” you might argue. 

Again, that is not the programme we have made because that is not the case. We can mitigate the worst of what is coming if we take action now. Literally save the planet.

But we have to know what it is that we should be looking for from our politicians the next time they come looking for a vote. The measurements used by climate scientists for what needs to be achieved are really only understood by climate scientists.

If the success or failure of this government’s health policy was to be measured by a 30% reduction of hospital waiting lists over 2005 levels by 2030, it’s fair to say none of us would have a clue how they were doing.

If you applied the same opaque equation as a target for reducing homelessness, you wouldn’t be any wiser as to whether housing policy was or wasn’t working.

But that is how we measure action on the climate, and that has been the saving of laggard governments since the Kyoto Protocol 22 years ago.

The voting public has no readily understandable metrics against which to measure their government’s promises. So that is what I set out to do with Hot Air: Ireland’s Climate Crisis.

Translating the gobbledygook 

On the first hand, my goal was to translate the gobbledygook of emission reduction targets into something people can get their heads around. Secondly, I wanted to measure the gap between what the science says needs to be done and what the government is actually doing.

So for example, if Irish agriculture is to play its fair share in meeting the targets we signed up to four years ago in the Paris Agreement, we will need to reduce the seven million strong national herd of methane-belching cattle by two million. Or find equivalent reductions by other means.

For electricity generation, we have 1,000 wind turbines up and down the country. We need another 1,000 by 2030 if that sector is to pull its weight and it doesn’t strictly have to come in the form of windmills.

It could be solar, or biogas or whatever you are having yourself. But the same number of turbines again within a decade is something digestible and gives an idea of the mammoth nature of what is ahead.

Amidst all this, you might continue to say: “Ah come on. In the name of all that is supposed to be entertaining and informative, why would I want to watch a programme that is all bleeding numbers and targets we are going to miss anyway?”

Because that is definitely not the programme we have made. For a start, Hot Air is achingly beautiful to look at.

A televisual love letter to this island and a reminder of what we stand to lose if we don’t take action. This was RTÉ cameraman Nick Dolan’s last gig before retirement and he poured every last bit of himself into making it. You have never seen Ireland look better.

Most importantly, it illustrates that there is a route out of this mess. Now is the wrong time to throw our hands up in the air and walk away in despair. Ireland can move from being a laggard to a leader and show others the route to a post-climate crisis world.

There will be huge disruption. There will be economic casualties. Levels of shared effort not seen since 1945 will be required. But if we prove ourselves to be the new greatest generation, we will have made a world significantly better than the one we live in now.

The science is pretty unrelenting on what needs to be done. On the government’s Climate Action Plan, it clearly says “this is not enough”.

If we stick to what has been proposed we will sail past two degrees of warming. The immediate consequence of that is fines of anywhere up to €6 billion for missing our 2030 targets. The long-term consequences… well, you know those already.  

But the science says it can also be very different. This is not dewy-eyed optimism. Just science. We have the know-how, we can make a difference. We just have to chose to do it. 

Philip Boucher-Hayes is a television and radio journalist for RTÉ. 

Hot Air: Ireland’s Climate Crisis will be aired on RTÉ1 at 9.35pm on Tuesday 12 November and will be available on the RTÉ Player after it is broadcast.


About the author:

Philip Boucher-Hayes  / RTÉ journalist

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