Urgently Required:
Firefighters for Planet Earth

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This address today is a heartfelt appeal to each and every one of us to come to the aid of Planet Earth as we face the greatest crisis humankind has ever known. The latest Report of the IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change, makes for very sober reading.
          These are not just recommendations to tidy up the way you might paint or decorate your house. This is an urgent warning that we all need to take immediate serious steps if life and civilisation as we know it is to survive. The warning is as stark as that.
          It's hard to believe that we can have had such an effect on our planet. But then we remember that there are over 7 billion of us, with 7000 million everyday actions. It all adds up.
          So today we ask: “What might each of us do to avert this looming catastrophe?”
          My reading today from Christopher Fry was written 70 years ago. It could almost have been written yesterday. A time when wrong comes up to face us everywhere.
          But the poem is not pessimistic. Yes, it recognises the troubles of its day. But it goes on:
          “Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to face us everywhere, never to leave us till we take the longest stride of soul men ever took. And that is exactly what we are called upon to do. We have to take the longest stride of soul people have ever taken.
          Why? Because of the latest report of the IPCC. The UN tell us that never before in the history of the world, have we been called upon to make such rapid changes in the way we manage our lives.
          In the long history of the world there has never been a generation faced with the task of preventing the annihilation of all life on earth. But here we are – this is our generation – this is our challenge.
          But do we really believe this? We look out our windows. Unless we are very unlucky the fires and the floods are far away. Just TV images. How can it possibly be that the warming of the planet by a few degrees can have such a devastating effect as to cast doubt on our prospects for survival as a species?
          But the IPCC findings are based on clear scientific evidence. The combined work of thousands of scientists and climatologists. They talk of melting ice caps ,rising sea levels, the flooding of coastal areas, the loss of entire low-lying countries, extremes of weather, loss of habitat, loss of species, loss of biodiversity, poisoning of the oceans, the loss of pollinators, shortage of food and water.
          I am optimistic by nature. It is against all I believe in to act as a prophet of doom and gloom.
          But the simple fact of the matter is this: We have been warned that unless we take immediate urgent steps – all of us - this planet that we call home will become uninhabitable for huge numbers of us - if not for us all.
          I think you will agree we have been dodging environmental issues for years. We have been pushing the can down the road for decades. Kyoto in 1997, Copenhagen 2009, Paris 2016 and all the years in between. In fact we have been discussing the climate since 1962 when we met in New Caledonia. This was 60 years ago when we discussed tropical cyclones and weather and climate issues. Talk and more talk, lofty ideas but painfully slow action - if any.
          Now some people to their credit have been working for years on these issues. Initially these were the lonely voices. people on the fringes. the cranks among us, dismissed at the time as tree hugging vegetarians. And so we have allowed matters roll along ignoring that fact that we live on a planet with finite resources and with a delicately balanced life support system.
          We have been pouring CO2 into the atmosphere to the point where temperatures are rising at a rate not seen since human life first emerged on earth. These rising temperatures were predicted to cause more frequent and more extreme weather events and we already see these incidents happening more often and with more intensity.
          What we need now is an individual and a collective moment of enlightenment so that we can all work together to meet the clear and immediate challenge of disastrous climate change.
          If you look back you will see that we have never cooperated on a planetary scale to make a difference to the wellbeing of all humanity, It has always been a case of North against South, East versus West, the rich exploiting the poor, Capitalism fighting against Communism, Liberalism battling against dictatorships and the god of Commerce presiding over all and promoting its wares as if there was no limit to growth, as if having more and more and bigger and better was the gateway to happiness. And fascinated by this illusion of unlimited growth we have been speeding down the road to environmental bankruptcy.
          Looking on the positive side, this emergency could be a real turning point in the history of humanity. If the environmental threat has thought us anything we have learned that we are all part of an interconnected and interdependent web. If one part suffers harm every part is affected. We have seen this during the Covid-19 pandemic.
          We can compare our collective life on this planet to the interconnected parts of the human body. We all know that if we have a sore foot our whole body feels the discomfort. If we catch flu our whole body feels sick. If we have a toothache the pain doesn’t only affect our mouth – it puts our whole self out of sorts. Our bodies are one interdependent unit and we only experience good health when all our component parts work together in harmony. It is the very same with life on earth.
          John Greenleaf Whittier, the American Quaker poet puts it this way:

All destinies are woven fast,
Linked in sympathy like the keys of an organ vast.
Break but one of a thousand keys,
and the paining jar through all will run.


          Josh will agree with this as he sits here every week at the keys of our wonderfully restored organ.
          Break but one of a thousand keys, and the paining jar through all will run.
          So how can we finally co-operate for the good of the planet and for the benefit of all the creatures who depend on it?
          First of all we need a collective approach. Each one of us is part of a community, a town, a city, a country. We all need to press our public representatives to take urgent action in response to the latest report of the IPCC. We all need to do this and we need to do it now – every one of us and we need to do it today or tomorrow – not next month.
          Happily here in Ireland we have recently passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. But we need to follow through on this by regulations and budgets based on reducing our emissions year after year after year. This shouldn’t depend on the concerns of any political party facing an election and trying to gather votes by populist policies.
          Now we know there are no votes when it comes to belt tightening, asking people to accept a reduced standard of living, urging people to use their cars less - to fly less, warning us that we must limit our consumption. These things are not popular in the short term. But short term policies won’t get us out of this mess. The policies of limitless growth and runaway consumption have brought us to where we are – a world in crisis.
          We hear much talk of 2050. It is pie in the sky talking about how we need to reach zero emissions by 2050. 2050 is only 30 years away. We can’t leave these adjustments to the last minute. We all know what will happen if we think in terms of thirty year targets. The painful adjustments will be put off and put off until there is insufficient time left to reach the target. The corrections must begin now, this year, not in five years, not in 10 years. And they need to continue every year until some balance is restored.
          Now what else can we do?
          We must remember that our day-to-day decisions can make a huge difference.
          How we travel: Think of our needless car journeys, hopping into a car for a short journey that could easily be made on foot, not using public transport where public transport is available.
          A report in the Guardian newspaper tells us that frequent-flyers who represent only 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. 1% causing half of all the aviation emissions. In the same report we hear that airlines produced a billion tonnes of CO2 in that same year, yet they received a 100 billion dollar subsidy by not paying for the climate damage they caused.
          Now we watch almost every day the huge pressure governments face from airlines who want to get up and running quickly with their cheap fares. And there are tourism interests involved as well.
          We all have a responsibility. It is difficult for people to resist the temptation to hop into a plane for no good reason when they are offered flights from Dublin to mainland Europe at half the price of a rail trip from Dublin to Cork. This wanton disregard for the environment has to be challenged. The financial cost of getting a person from a to b has to be far more than the ecological cost of the journey – far more – not less. By subsidising airlines who encourage flying because it is cheap we are pouring fuel into a building already in flames instead of using a fire extinguisher to get the flames under control and all this at a time when we have the clearest of clear warnings about the danger we are causing to the future of life on Earth.
          And apart from personal transport and air travel we have to look at our buildings, how we heat and insulate our homes offices and factories? Think of all the roofs – millions upon millions of roofs - most of them doing nothing except providing cover. We can use these roofs to capture and make use of huge amounts of solar energy. Every payback in terms of our environmental impact is beyond price. We must reduce our demand for energy. Even simple steps all add up. Use led lights, only heat the water we need, avoid needless waste.
          The Native American people have what they call the “7th generation” principle. They tell us that in every decision, personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. Maybe we could apply this principle in our everyday choices.
          Think about our shopping habits, what we buy. Every single thing we buy has some environmental impact and we need to keep that impact to a minimum. How are the products packaged? Think of the environmental cost of one-use plastics – used only once for a few minutes and taking centuries to disintegrate. And how far have the products travelled? Is it really necessary to send apples from one part of the planet to the other?
          And what about meat – we don’t have to become vegetarian but can we decide to eat less meat, especially beef. Huge forests are being lost, turned into vast grazing areas to accommodate cattle to provide us with beef and the cattle giving off methane adding further to our emissions.
          So when we pick up something that we are about to buy can we pause first to ask ourselves:
          “Do I really need this?” “What impact will this product have on the Earth?” Just look at the warnings on some of the packets, that big black X there for us to see. It reads “danger to aquatic life” Why continue to buy something like this? Money is the smallest aspect of the cost.
          Now these are uncomfortable challenges for people who have been fortunate enough to have what we want whenever we want it. A simple shopping trip must take into account the impact that our lives and our lifestyles are having on this planet and its people. The environmental crisis brings us face-to-face with a predicament we never had to seriously think about before now. But if we all work together, and when we hopefully come through this, we could find the world much changed for the better. We could use this climate emergency to create a more just and a hopefully more united worldwide community.
          You might well ask “I am only one person, does my action really make any difference?”
          Yes, you can be very sure it does. Yes, each of us is only one person but there are 7 billion of us. The problem has been caused by us and it can be solved by determined actions, by our working together. Just think of the influence of religious communities who answer this call, the millions of followers of every faith. Even if all of us listening to this were heed the warning of the IPCC – each in our own lives – it would make a difference.
          This working together is important because we have a huge mountain to climb. But Koun Yamada reminds us “No matter how high the mountains are, no matter how deep the sea of ignorance is, they will be as nothing before a boundless spirit of determination. And that is just what we need, a boundless spirit of determination to save Planet Earth.
          So let each of us resolve today to play our part at this critical time to be Firefighters for Planet Earth and to enlist our families, friends and colleagues, encouraging everyone to play a part. The latest IPCC report is a final wake-up call to humanity to take action now. Difficult as it is to take the idea on board the terrifying fact is that the very future of life on Earth depends on the actions of each one of us. We cannot just continue to sail on as we have been doing. If we drift along, sometime very soon, there will be a tipping point beyond which it will be difficult – if not impossible for humanity to bring itself back from the brink.
          A Native American prophecy tells us “When the earth is ravaged and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colours, classes, creeds and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the Warriors of the Rainbow.” Let us hope and pray that everyone who hears this appeal will enrol as a Warrior of the Rainbow and a Firefighter for Planet Earth and help bring this prophecy to pass.

Tony Brady
Dublin Unitarian Church                                        September 2021


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