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A tourist with a funny accent once stopped me in the street and asked me a question.
Bizarrely, he chose to speak in an alien language, but with the confidence of someone expecting to be perfectly understood.
His nonchalance irritated me. He had zero awareness of the fact — on his jingo-jaunt to Ireland — he would encounter few who would understand what the hell he was saying.
Nevertheless, I still felt eager to help this hapless, if arrogant, visitor to these friendly shores.
But to ensure comprehension, the Irish have a method — a typically Irish approach to helping tourists with little English.
"I. NO. SPEAKA. YOUR. LANGUAGE!” I mouthed loudly at him.
A momentary pause; followed by a foreigner's furrowed brow; and it was the outsider's turn to look confused. It wasn’t from any lack of understanding on his part. On the contrary, it turned out he was a professor of linguistics from Belgium.
And the foreign language he was speaking? Irish! My mother tongue! The language I’d (apparently) spent fourteen years learning at school!
With head bowed and voice modified from shouty to sheepish, I muttered, “ní thuigim” (pronounced nee hig-um).
My response revealed my shame. Those two words mean, "I don’t understand.”
From that moment on, I swore I'd change. I committed to properly learning my mother tongue. Not necessarily to become fluent; but just enough so I could speak Irish with pride. I wanted to celebrate people like the professor — visitors from far flung places who cared about protecting Irish culture (perhaps more than I did at the time).
I look back at this embarrassing incident as a liminal moment.
Liminal — as opposed to subliminal — is like a threshold, through which you consciously pass, when transitioning from one state to another.
Like a honeymoon — an archetypal liminal event because it’s the transitional phase from being single to married — my encounter with the Belgian professor was also a liminal event. It was here I crossed an important cultural threshold.
A New Direction
Prior to this liminal moment however, and with a deep sense of irony, considering my terrible grasp of my mother tongue, I’ve always been aware of an alluring, but obscure Irish word — one I would wager most fluent Irish speakers wouldn’t even recognise.
The word is Tápholl (pronounced taw-ful). It’s a coastal term, a sea word.
“It means a calmness between two changes or ebbing tide. Unsteady water when currents meet and are about to change direction.”
The phrase Tápholl feels like, it too, is describing a liminal moment.
As 2020 draws to a can’t-come-quick-enough close, and we transition to a more hopeful 2021, it feels like, finally, a marshall plan for the planet is on the horizon.
In 2020, the climate crisis took a back seat to Covid-19. But in 2021, the prospect of bold international action to tackle global warming, already looks much better than it did a year ago.
Considering the decades of wasted opportunity, maybe that’s not saying much. But with a new year on the horizon, and an awful year behind us, this feels like the time to reach for positives — so here it goes:
2020 saw an unprecedented acceleration in national climate pledges:
For starters, Trump will be gone and Biden has committed to rejoining the Paris Cimate Agreement.
In perhaps the single most important development since the Paris Climate Agreement, China committed to being net zero by 2060.
And it’s not just governments taking action either:
In 2020, the number of major global companies set to reduce their environmental impact increased by 46%.
Apple committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is promising zero emissions by 2040.
The We Mean Business coalition, a joint private-sector initiative of companies with a combined market capitalisation of over $24 trillion, are accelerating their efforts to transition to a zero-carbon economy.
People power is winning out too:
In North America, climate activists and indigenous groups won a number of significant battles this year.
A major developer pulled out of planned operations in the Canadian oil sands.
The Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines were shut down.
All six major US banks ruled out financing oil and gas development in the Arctic.
2020 also saw major conservation milestones:
Governments responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines signed a new pledge to end overfishing and stop the flow of ocean plastic.
Attitudes in China towards the eating of wild animals improved dramatically. Up to 90% of the public now supports strict bans on the trade and consumption of wildlife.
But will all of this be enough?
Our story of the 2020s is yet to be written, but we must ensure it will be revolutionary.
In November 2021, the United Nations will host another climate conference — this time in Glasgow. Here, climate-policy wonks, economists and politicians will deliberate, and countries from all over the world will present their new emissions reduction plans for 2030.
No doubt, billions of people will watch it’s outcome with bated breath. And tens of millions will continue to demand even more drastic action.
But following a massive 7% decline in greenhouse-gas emissions this year, and Governments proving they can spend whatever it takes in an emergency; we at least know rapid and radical change is possible.
The most important number is zero. So, as we cross the threshold into 2021, we must get to zero emissions globally, as quickly as possible. And we must demand it.
Zero is revolutionary.
*Check out Future Crunch for loads more good news stories.
*No, my Irish is still terrible, but I've got a plan.
Happy New Year everyone! See you in 2021 - Scott