What can Galway do to tackle the challenge of climate change?

It is not just up to individuals, it is up to Government, business, and industry as well

Greta Thunberg, and indeed the children of the world, have thrown down the gauntlet and demanded climate action. Solving this literal meltdown is on such a global scale that it must surely be beyond the responsibility of Galwegians?

Yet Insider has a fantasy in which Galway is a climate action beacon, sweeping Ireland towards a popular uprising. All that is needed to transform the country is a concrete example of how climate action makes communities better places to live. Why not start the uprising in Galway?

Of course a few slight stumbling blocks would need to be dealt with in order to make this happen, such as local government reform and central government concern for climate breakdown.

The utopia itself would have homes built within easy distance of libraries, shops, post offices, businesses, and schools so that minimal travel was needed. The whole city centre would be completely pedestrianised, and there would be parks around the city and suburbs to make sure no one had to travel to an outdoor amenity. There would be carbon responsible buses and lightrail every 15 minutes and within an easy 10 minute walk of everywhere you could conceivably want to go, not to mention safe cycle lanes. There would be park and ride and all parking in the city would be stripped out.

All across the county, local roads would be improved for electric vehicle use and increased bus services. All homes would be warm and heated with 100 per cent renewable energy from community owned wind farms and solar technology, or indeed would be built to passive house standard. This means no carbon footprint from transport or energy.

Food and fashion producers would be local and supported financially to compete with cheap imports. Businesses would promote flexible working, working from home, and reduced hours to make sure that the busy lifestyles that have led to excessive car use would be drastically reduced, giving people the time to make the active choice of walking or cycling. Imagine if Galway truly lived up to the name of putting wellbeing first, Insider dreamt!

Is the political will there?

The eternal question is how much can individuals reasonably be expected to do to change the course of history and bring such a vision to life? Individuals can and probably should make the most sustainable choices for their budget, including where they shop, how far their food and other items come. They can help create carbon stores by the types of planting they use and they can use bikes and their feet if they feel safe enough to do so. They also create the demand for local produce by buying it.

'Insider looks forward to a day when planned obsolescence is made illegal and companies would need to ensure that when they sell us a washing machine, it lasts!'

Insider believes however that the Government has an abnormally high expectation of the influence of individuals, thus in turn promoting shame and inaction among those self-same individuals. Under the national Climate Action Plan, announced this summer, the responsibility for transport emissions was placed firmly in the hands of individuals. It pursues a model of private electric vehicles; indeed Budget 2020 follows the same path by allocating next to no budget towards public transport and only enough to cover one good cycle track for the whole of the country. Electric vehicles remain beyond the reach of most Galwegians, with the cheapest electric car costing €25,000 after a grant of €10,000 from the State. This all comes down to a Government not prioritising climate action.

Insider notes that approximately €90 million from the Budget is going towards measures that could conceivably be thought of as tackling climate and climate related poverty, compared with €1.2 billion for Brexit.

Local government has a part to play as it allocates its own funds and is awarded grants to pursue some of these objectives. The Galway Transport Strategy, while going some way towards addressing these issues ignores the elephant in the room – the ring road will increase emissions by 37 per cent. Even allowing for electric vehicles some but not all of this will be reduced, but it will and already is impacting on planning by pushing building further and further away from retail and work.

Corporate responsibility

Do not get Insider started when it comes to the biggest challenges facing local government - no funding has been allocated from central government; there is a lack of willingness to scrap big projects which we have outgrown as a nation; and a large portion of the local government income comes from cars parking in the city, creating a mismatch between plans by the council to deal with climate, and the financial incentive of the council to make money from cars.

'The frustration among community activists is that while they throw their backs in to action, the current Government continues to greenwash'

Corporate responsibility has also not yet seen its day. Insider has scanned the lists in the Oireachtas for signs the Government has actually passed bills to ensure that companies have to produce less, and what they do produce is done so in a sustainable way. Insider looks forward to a day when planned obsolescence is made illegal and companies would need to ensure that when they sell us a washing machine, it lasts! This would stamp out five per cent of the energy use in Europe when it is implemented.

In Galway business could be looking up. While many areas of the world have very little industry to fall back on during the climate crisis, Galway has tourism and wind farms. In Insider’s utopia greenways would be fully completed and Galway retail and hospitality would be booming as a result.

Community participation is perhaps the place where the most immediate results can be seen, but is no replacement for Government action. When ordinary people come together it catches the attention and gives the uprising envisaged by Insider its popular twist. Right around the city and county groups like Galway Cycle Bus are coming together to make cycling safe for children, even when the local government has not put adequate cycle lanes in place.

When energy cooperatives such as the Aran Islands Energy group knock on doors for funding it is hard to justify turning them down. When everyone gets out planting trees in Terryland Park fun, social cohesion, and climate action combine resulting in one big community effort. The frustration among community activists is that while they throw their backs in to action, the current Government continues to greenwash, giving a nod to climate but doing very little to put their money or their policies where their mouths are. A political uprising is needed.

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