John Molyneux, Author of the People Before Profit pamphlet, Profit versus the Environment, comments on the Donegal storms.
‘A once in a hundred years event’ was how Met Eireann described the catastrophic floods that struck the North West on Tuesday. The Irish Times, RTE Morning Ireland and other news media repeated the statement as their lead comment,
‘Money will be no object’, announced Minister of State for OPW and Flood Relief, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran when he visited the devastated areas and met affected residents. ‘We need to not talk about money’, he said, ‘we need to talk about people and get them back into their homes.’
Unfortunately neither statement is true. It is in fact less than two years since similar catastrophic flooding hit the Kinsale and Bandon areas of Cork in December 2015, and seven years since major flooding in Athlone.
In reality serious flooding is a regular occurrence in Ireland and money is always an object, which is why nothing adequate has been done to deal with this problem over many years. Ask the people of Bandon and Cork or any other area that has been hit by floods recently. Or ask people working in the HSE or with the homeless, for that matter.
But of course Minister Moran was not going to let the truth get in the way of a self promoting sound-bite and it would be unwise, to put it mildly, for anyone in the area to put their trust in government promises. The people of the North West, both Donegal and Derry, need to start organising now for proper compensation and improved flood defences.
But there is also a bigger picture here which the media consistently downplays and which must not be ignored. This is the connection to global climate change. The argument is invariably put, and this often includes Met Eireann, that any particular event cannot be attributed directly to global warming.
But this – deliberately- misses the point. The nature of ‘weather’ is that, in its specifics, it is variable and difficult to predict accurately but as average global temperature rises the overall frequency and severity of extreme weather events is increasing and will increase further. This is not at all unpredictable, it has been predicted and it is certain.
One of the problems is that we have been conditioned by the media and by politicians to think of climate change as a disaster that may, even probably will, strike in the future in terms of rising sea levels that may put places under water in fifty years or so. In reality climate change is happening now and what it means – right now – is more storms, floods, fires, heat waves, droughts and famines. More Inishowens infact.
And a look round the world shows that this is precisely what is happening. Yesterday Hurricane Hato hit Hong Kong, Macau, and southern China killing at least 12 people and the torrential rainfall this storm is unleashing is set to travel across Asia to Northern India and Bangladesh. Bangladesh is already the victim of terrible flooding with 35% of its land flooded and 4 million people displaced. To be displaced in Bangladesh is, unless you are rich, to be thrown on the streets, already teeming with homeless and beggars i.e. it is very likely to meet an early death.
Similarly a week ago in Sierra Leone a mudslide, caused by excessive rain, claimed over 600 lives but went almost unnoticed by the media – the general rules of reporting being that the poorer and more non-white people are the less the loss of their lives is newsworthy.
The other main rule of mainstream media reporting is that they focus on individual events (and individuals within those events – the so -called human interest) but don’t make wider connections.
Socialists have to challenge this and join the dots. We have to insist there is a connection between the deluge in North West Ireland, the storms in Southern China, the flooding in Bangladesh and so on. And between the Irish government’s failure to meet its carbon emissions targets and Trump’s climate change denial and, also in the news today, the shocking decision by the Brazilian government to lift the protection order on an area of rain forest which is half the size of Ireland and home to indigenous people because it is an area rich in gold and manganese.
That connection is an economic system, capitalism, which consistently sacrifices people and the environment to profit and competitive economic growth and a political establishment who taking this completely for granted as if it were a natural law. In reality it is a system which is destroying nature and which, unless it is challenged by people power, will destroy us all.