Ireland's Strongest Storm: Hurricane Ophelia and Climate Change


Hurricane Ophelia charged across the island of Ireland in October 2017, causing widespread wreckage and even loss of life. This video puts the storm into the context of global human-caused climate change, looking at the pattern rather than the isolated incident.

Video Transcript

Let’s look at bigger picture of Hurricane Ophelia.

Hurricane Ophelia is rushing across the island of Ireland, already wreaking destruction in the South and West, including killing a woman in Waterford as a tree struck her car [update: three dead, a man has been killed moving his car, and another person], tearing rooves off of buildings, and cutting power to over ten thousand people [update: ESB confirms 360,000 premises without electricity]. This is the strongest Hurricane to be measured this far east in the Atlantic since records began over 100 years ago. A whopping 191 km / h gust has been recorded at Fastnet lighthouse, Cork.

Let’s put this into some very important context. It’s practically impossible to attribute any one event to climate change, but the trends are clear. Global warming is causing more frequent and more intense weather events, hurricanes, but also heat waves and droughts, cold waves, and flooding. There is no doubt about this, the science is in. This will only become more severe as we move through the coming years. It is even possible Europe could face Atlantic superstorms in the coming decades.

Global warming means that the average temperature of the whole Earth is increasing, and has been since the industrial revolution about 200-250 years ago. This has been caused by sending huge amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his government officials have stood in front of the cameras talking about deploying the army and so on to protect people from Ophelia. But what is our plan for the future? Hurricane Ophelia of 2017 will pass this time, but what about 2018, 2019, 2020, 2025, 2030, and beyond? The plan for that is a joke – both for adaptation and mitigation.

In 2015 over 190 nations came together for the Paris Agreement and promised to stay below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But there is pretty much no chance that this will actually happen best on current projections. In reality, we are on track for 3-4 degrees of warming, extremely dangerous climate change. That’s like saying we need to land on the runway in 1 mile to be safe, and then actually landing 1 and a half or two miles away, missing the runway and crashing into a housing estate. Unfortunately 2 degrees isn’t even safe and has been criticised as a target by eminent scientists such as James Hansen and Michael Mann, the latter saying ‘too often in debates about climate change risk, the starting point is a presumption that only global warming in excess of 2 degrees Celsius represents a threat to humanity’.

The sober reality is that we need emergency action to stop climate change. This is a global emergency of proportions humanity has never seen, and while some action is being taken it just isn’t enough – we’re marching off a cliff because the short-term interests of businesses and politicians trying to get elected are more important than the welfare of literally billions of people on this Earth.

50% of emissions come from the top 10% of humans by wealth. Rich countries, and wealthier people in all countries, must take the lead in rapidly ratcheting down our greenhouse gas emissions to zero, by 2040 at the latest if we want a fighting chance. In Ireland we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world who didn’t cause this situation. The fact is that nothing changes without people power, so it’s time to wake up as a country, north and south, and pour onto the streets to stop climate change. There is no getting around the fact that we will need to turn our society inside out and majorly socially innovate – business as usual has put us on a path to mass suicide, so outside the box thinking is our only option left.

I’m not trying to scaremonger, but we are so eerily passive as a society as our world is being turned upside down. It’s feet on the streets, or floods in the streets, and we have the chance to decide now. If Ophelia gets us moving than it did some good. This is not someone else’s problem. So, what will you do to stop climate change? Educate yourself, educate others. Organise, find like-minded people to act together with. Resist, change the system and don’t give in.