Ireland is a lucky country. It’s not over-populated and over-polluted. There are no mega cities. The dogs don’t have rabies. There are truculent factions and criminal gangs, but not on the scale of even our neighbours. The average death toll by knife crime in London exceeds the suffering here through most of the Troubles.
The police are not vicious; you don’t have to fear that they will shoot you if you reach for your driving licence in an inside pocket. Our forests aren’t burning.
We have sectarianism, but it’s not nearly as bad as in many other countries like India, where it even presents the danger of escalating into nuclear war with Pakistan. All in all, things aren’t too bad.
The idea that we are a race specially favoured by God is waning, but we are, indeed, well-favoured by nature.
The island is perfectly located. If you were a treating the planet as real estate and looking for a good spot to settle, why wouldn’t you pick an island in the Atlantic with a temperate climate and little to no risk of earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes and gently warmed by air carried by a sea current from the gulf of Mexico? We are sheltered from eastern chills by half of Europe and England.
You could write a brochure about how perfect Ireland is. And the weather is nicely variable. Try living in a country where the sun shines every day. Ultimately, it is a little boring. Hot countries are now too hot, while we are just right.
Haven’t we had a lovely summer? Global warming may be having catastrophic consequences in other parts of the world, but being able to stroll in the sun in your shirt sleeves in October isn’t the sort of thing we would normally be inclined to complain about. But perhaps, out of consideration for the rest of the planet, we should.
Imagine if Celia or Angie was to deliver a weather forecast something like this: “And tomorrow this region of high pressure over the Azores will intrude on our northern temperate region, bringing an untimely Mediterranean waft of stifling heat. We can blame this on the jetstream, which has gone completely loopy again, as it is so much more inclined to do given our planet’s current levels of air pollution.”
They are much more likely to say: “And the good news is that tomorrow will be balmy and delightful; the perfect day for the deckchair and a little cocktail with crushed ice and mint.”
Well, I’ve never heard them say that, either, but the point is the same: the effects of climate change are generally welcomed here, while California burns, England gets flooded and a little bit more of Bangladesh disappears under the rising tide.
Warm weather is good news here, even when it is indicative of a creeping global calamity which will hit others first.
I was told as a child that some Irish saint had prophesied that Ireland would be under the sea seven years before the end of the world.
This was presented as positive, a blessing even.
We would be spared the full horror of global incineration and allowed the easy out of drowning, like the contemporaries of Noah. The myth celebrates our favoured status in the eyes of the deity. That warning implied by the rainbow is for others to worry about. Some who take the prophesy seriously attribute it to Patrick and suggest that our watery demise will follow the total collapse of the dormant half of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma, but that can’t be right, because though Ireland would drown, so also would the whole eastern seaboard of the United States. It’s not a theory that endorses the view that Ireland is especially favoured.
Or it may be that Cumbre Vieja will disintegrate gradually and we’ll have nothing to worry about.
If having warmer days for sitting out and basking in early, longer summers is the upside of climate change, for us the downside is stormy weather, flooding, water shortages, crop failures and rising sea levels.
Perhaps the daily weather forecast should keep us up to date with the progress of these threats. They tell us, of course, that no single event can be attributed to climate change, because extreme weather has always hit us, just not as frequently as it does now.
Twice in my lifetime, the Lagan has frozen over — in 2010 and in 1963. Storms get described as “once-in-a-century events”, referring to the last century, rather than to the next, which would make more sense.
Now, many evenings, when you see the weather map, there seems to be a bowling alley up through the Atlantic along which successive storms are flung at us. And we discuss their names and treat them as really quite interesting, though there hasn’t been a Malachi yet.
In anticipation of the next Alex, or Biddy, or Ciara, Twitter will light up with videos of garden trampolines taking to the air, or little children hanging gamely onto the handles of flapping doors.
So, we are still at the stage of regarding the assaults of climate change as novel and exciting.
Nothing livens up the evening news like a reporter from the sea front at Ardglass, or Salthill, shouting into the wind or, better still, sliding backwards while struggling to stay upright.
It’s hard to imagine any other approaching calamity that is even moderately exciting in the same way. Covid-19 lost its shine fairly quickly.
Every so often, a tabloid will try to thrill us with the warning of imminent destruction under an asteroid impact.
We like to be frightened. But climate change, given that we talk so much about the weather, is a gift. It doesn’t seem to threaten us here, not that we can see yet anyway.
But look at last year’s Australian fires. It really seems to us still to be a problem for other people in parts of the world already inured to natural disaster. Australia already has deadly spiders. California gets earthquakes. These things happen to other people. Four million acres have burnt in California and the air is toxic from Portland, Oregon to Santa Barbara, a distance of nearly a thousand miles.
But Ireland is a lucky country, in which climate disaster for now just makes riveting television.
The perspective changes immediately if you think of yourself as a citizen of the world, rather than of a little green island benignly spared the worst, but we don’t normally think that way.