Friday, November 20, 2009

Act of Man or Act of God?

I survived the Cork floods 2009!

After a valiant effort to get to work this morning, I had to turn back due to the unprecedented levels of water around the western suburbs of Cork City.Prolonged levels of rain in the last week or so, combined with the relaease of water from Innascarra dam and high tides in Cork harbour led to some of the worst flooding in years in the City.

The Mercy hospital was forced to implement its emergency plan in the early hours of Friday morning. This meant patients on lower floors were moved to higher floors in the complex which sits beside the River Lee. Nearby, University College Cork bore the brunt of the floods with their iconic Glucksman Gallery, the newly opened Western Gateway Building (pictured) and the research-active Tyndal Centre were all under water along with many of UCC's low-lying buildings and student accomodation.

With flooding in Galway, Fermoy, Bandon and Clonakilty, it begs the question why such flooding is becoming so prevalent. The immediate conclusion which seems to be jumped at is the involvment of 'climate change' or 'global warming' in these flooding events.

There's no doubt that the result of climate change will be wetter conditions in this country along with an increase in the rate and intensity of severe weather conditions such as we faced in the last few days.That being said, I don't believe for a moment that the current events are directly related to climate change.

Flooding events are relatively common in this country and they have been recorded for centuries. It is the extent and intensity of development which has now brought us closer to flood plains which, by their nature are prone to flooding.

For example, the Glucksman Gallery and Gateway Building in UCC, which are currently under water, were built on land which were well known to flood regularly. For that reason, flood defences were in-built to the buildings. Despite this, I hear that the flood defences in the Gateway building (open just a few short months) were entirely overwhelmed.

Just this week, engineers have warned that Cork and Dublin could be 'uninhabitable'in the next century. In their report- 'Ireland at Risk', the Irish Academy of Engineers (IAE) said that flooding events of a magnitude only experience currently every 100 years, could occur every 5 years.

IAE president, Michael Hayden points to Hurricane Katrina in the US "for an example of how climate change coupled with poor planning and zoning decisions can lead to social and economic disaster”. “If we move now, significant economic benefits will accrue”, according to Michael Hayden, “but it we do ‘too little too late’ we risk social and economic disaster”.

With reports like this coming think and fast and the area of climate change about to to come into sharp focus with the Copenhagan Conference in December, it's inevitable that such flooding events that we are seeing now will be blamed on climate change. In the future, I have no doubt that climate change will cause increases in these types of events, there is less evidence that these meterological events are currently global warming related.

Nonetheless, the importance of fighting climate change has become a relevant issue for many strands of society.

Former US president Al Gore has been at the forefront in publicising the need for action on climate change since his award winnin documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' in 2006. In his latest book 'Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis' the climate campaigner says that laying out the facts is just not enough and he has begun to appeal to peoples moral and religiois duty to protect the planet.

Speaking in a recent Newsweek interview, Gore described his work with religious organisations who were eager to contribute to the fight against climate change: "I've done a Christian [-based] training program; I have a Muslim training program and a Jewish training program coming up, also a Hindu program coming up. I trained 200 Christian ministers and lay leaders here in Nashville in a version of the slide show that is filled with scriptural references. It's probably my favourite version, but I don't use it very often because it can come off as proselytising."

In Ireland, the Catholic Bishop's Conference have just issued a pastoral reflection on climate change which has been made available on their website and in catholic churches throughout the country.

'The Cry of the Earth' talks of climate change as being "one of the most critical issues of our time" and having consequences "for the future of every person and every form of life on the earth."

The publication also quotes Pope Benedict as saying that an shift in mentality "can lead to the adoption of new lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments."

In a time when science and religion often clash unnecesarily, it's good to see all strands of society pulling in the same direction. One thing's for sure, those effected by this most recent flood are surely cursing this particular 'act of god'.


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