Have a happy, holy and green Christmas!
Fr Jason Murphy is talking climate change this week in his popular column Let the Busy World Be Hushed...
It was late November 2015 and world leaders were meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, that was taking place in Paris at the time.
The floods at Derrycark had reached levels that made the road from Creeney outside of Belturbet impassable for about a half a mile by car or on foot leaving the residents of the townlands of Killylea and Quivvy marooned as on an island.
The rain fell, day after day, and week after week, without much let up as the waters rose and filled the flaggin’ bottoms of the county, transforming them into lakes as swans migrated inland to these new waterways with rich vegetation on which to feed.
A number of older people in those townlands were left stranded in their homes - no longer physically able to climb high onto tractors or high vehicles. They depended on neighbours and friends to carry them provisions from the town as the evenings drew in and the year came hurtling to its watery end.
One Sunday evening as the rain came bucketing down, President Barack Obama had given the inaugural speech at the climate change conference in Paris and the waters continued to increase at Derrycark leaving it near impossible to wade through as I called to bring Holy Communion to the few elderly neighbours who hadn’t been able to get out to mass in the weeks previous.
One house I called to was a pretty dwelling place nestled in the lane at Killylea, which during the summer was adorned with hanging baskets and windows boxes full of bright colours to say nothing of the flower garden that greeted the visitor. But, in the darkness and wet of the November evening, it looked forlorn with only the light from the living room window to invite the passing traveller to shelter beneath its roof.
I knocked on the glass panelled door and John Timmins, the man of the house all of 88 years, opened the door to me with an inviting smile and beckoned me into the warmth of the living room where his wife Maggie, all of 98 years, sat with one leg crossed over the other at the side of the range. She was wearing a flowery apron and her reading glasses were perched on the bottom of her nose as she held wide the inner pages of the Sunday Independent, that a neighbour had dropped in to her on their way from morning Mass. The dog sat undisturbed beneath the kitchen table and John took seat on the couch in front of the range.
Maggie was so engrossed in her reading that she hadn’t heard me come in. As I took a seat the other side of the range, the dog barked as he thought I was getting a little too close to Maggie for his liking and she lowered the broad pages of the paper looking over her reading glasses at me. “Hello Fr Jason, you’re welcome to our home... isn’t it shocking weather and us that’s not able to get into the town.
“I’m just reading here about COP21. Were you following it?”
I had to admit that I hadn’t been watching it closely and wondered at this 98 year old being so interested in it.
“Did you hear Obama speak yesterday?”
“I hear snip-bits of it on the news,” I replied.
“I’m just reading his speech here in the paper about reducing carbon emissions and banning the use of fossil fuels … well I was just saying to our John here, what are we going to do come 2020 and we can’t put coal on the fire?”
2020, I said to myself that’s five years away and you’re ninety eight... what might you worry about carbon emissions.
I smiled at her: “Fair play to you Maggie... you’re planning well ahead.”
“Well I’ve no intention of going anywhere and I think we better stock up on coal!” she retorted.
But 2020 has come and gone and we have now reached COP27. The targets set out in Paris in 2015 have not been reached as the world continues to warm and each succeeding year gains the prize of being the hottest on record.
In the northern most reaches of the world the sea is already swallowing little coastal villages around the Artic and eroding shorelines; the permafrost is thawing at a most unprecedented rate, releasing dangerous levels of carbon stored for millions of years, the tundra burns, glaciers are melting as the seas warm and their levels increase and, if the climate keeps changing at the rate it has been doing since Maggie and I sat at the fire seven years ago, the generation of children who play in our school yards will see a world of submerged countries, abandoned cities, and fields where crops no longer grow.
This all will lead to political disruptions across our world that will trigger new conflicts and even more floods of desperate people fleeing to countries like Ireland with a more tolerable climate.
So as we pay scant attention to news headlines about climate change and COP27, let us ask ourselves what can we do in our daily lives to allay the onset of this climate catastrophe in this approaching season when we give praise to the secular God of Plastic. Let us ask ourselves what is the greatest gift this Christmas we can give to our loved ones that will allow them to live in the beautiful country with seasons that we and the generations past have known?
And despite my smiling to myself on that November night in 2015, Maggie did see COP 21’s targets not met in 2020, dying only in her 105th year in January 2022! So let Maggie’s message be; never ever lose hope!
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