OPINION: When it comes to climate change, let’s be more like Ireland

Crowd of people at a protest holding up signs: one girl holds the Irish flag, another says "Go Ireland" while a third says "climate change is real."
Graphic by Elaine Yang

I’ll be the first to admit that the Irish government is far from perfect. Void from separation of church and state until just a few years before the country legalized abortion in 2018, and unable to create a government wholly independent of Great Britain, Ireland has never been a role model to other countries. Until now.

While many may frown and shudder when thinking about Ireland’s government as more progressive and effective than ours (due to its history of church involvement), let’s look at the facts before we accept such harsh reactions.

Although Ireland has been independent since 1937, for generations the country has been under the indirect control of the U.K. But with the Brexit transition in full swing, Ireland’s government has taken full, independent control in a way previously unseen. 

In direct opposition, the U.S., a country that prides itself on total dominance and independence of government appears to be edging closer and closer to being a subsection of the Russian government every day.  

As the E.U. continues to set rigid directives in regards to waste, according to The Irish Times, Ireland has taken it upon themselves to be leaders in executing legislation to meet those directives. 

Ireland is one of the first countries seriously considering the role of food waste in the climate disaster. The country plans to “reduce food waste by 50 percent” in the next few years, according to The Irish Times. The Minister for Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, believes at least “70 percent of food waste is avoidable.”

In addition, the country aims to cut landfill disposal by 60 percent. Plastics with no alternative available are to be reduced by at least 25 percent by 2025, according to the European Parliament. All single-use cutlery, cotton buds, straws and stirrers will be banned come 2021.

Beyond Ireland’s impressive performance in complying with the European Union’s newly strict mandates, in May the Irish government put together a 146-page-long Climate Action Plan to prepare for, and counteract, the grim future looming ahead. 

The Plan begins by stating: “This is a strong foundation on which to build a Climate Action Plan committed to achieving a net zero carbon energy systems objective for Irish society and in the process, create a resilient, vibrant and sustainable country. The Government will take the lead on this agenda through this Plan in defining a roadmap to this goal and initiating a coherent set of policy actions to get us there.” 

That’s certainly more than the United States government has vowed to do. 

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The plan divides climate action into 16 avenues of reform. Each section has a detailed explanation of past and proposed policy, as well as recommended civic engagement. The thing I find most compelling about Ireland’s Climate Action Plan is its honesty.

While Trump continues to deny global warming, effectively thwarting any legislation proposed to help the climate, it’s impressive and inspiring to see other countries admit their shortcomings and prepare to make amends. 

Section two of the Irish Climate Action Plan is dedicated to explaining where Ireland stands now in regards to climate change, including the politics that have prevented the country from taking action in the past. The report says: “Irish policy began to address reductions in national greenhouse gas emissions … The rate of emissions reduction was modest up to 2008, with efforts to decarbonise hampered by strong economic activity.”

The report admits Ireland’s failures, noting that the country has “failed to break the link between emissions and growing prosperity.” This willingness to admit how far the country still has to go seems monumentally impressive, but maybe it’s standard and the U.S. just does a horrible job of being honest and apologetic. 

What’s even more remarkable than Ireland’s ability to note its failures is the country’s willingness to make up for it. The Climate Action Plan excoriates the government, saying that although many of the resources needed to solve the climate crisis were previously devoted to fixing economic crises within the country, it is now “time to take the definitive action needed.”

I’ve just thrown a lot at you. There’s a lot to be happy about here, especially if you’re an Irish citizen. But as always, reality has to hit.

Ireland has a population of 4,921,500, according to data compiled by the Central Statistics Office. As of 2018, more than 78 percent of the population is Irish Roman Catholic, and only a measly 1.4 percent is black, according to Ireland’s 2018 demographics profile. Because of Ireland’s lack of diversity and small population, I can’t ask that we copy their model exactly.

It would be impossible for a country the size of America, with the world’s largest immigrant population, to implement Ireland’s policies. What I can suggest, however, is that we at least try to follow their example. Right now, I see no effort from our government, and it’s pathetic. 

Clearly, our current administration doesn’t have the capacity to accept the increasing climate disaster and create legislation to help prevent further damage. But we could at least start the conversation. We could at least begin to acknowledge our role in the death of earth. 

Ireland’s doing it. Why can’t we?

Georgia Scott PZ ’23 is from Marin County, California. She’s an Irish citizen and plays for the Irish Women’s National Lacrosse team. She’d like to thank her half-sister Rylie Neeley for inspiring her to write this article. 

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