Creed gets creamed over dodgy dairy data

Going right back to late last year, a concerted campaign has been led by folks in the Department of Agriculture to create ‘alternative facts’ about emissions emanating from our rapidly expanding dairy herd. A new phrase – decoupling – was rolled out to promote the idea that amazing technological breakthroughs had allowed the dairy sector to ramp up production without any commensurate increase in carbon (specifically, methane) emissions.

Were it true, this would be very good news indeed. But, of course, it’s not. An eagle eyed Dáil researcher first tipped off An Taisce to this newly minted ‘decoupling’ lingo, and it was duly investigated and found to be, well, complete nonsense. On June 25th, I drafted a release on behalf of An Taisce calling on Minister Creed to ‘retract misleading Dáil statements on rising dairy emissions’.

To be absolutely fair, we had given the minister two full months to deal with this before going public, and he had declined to take a step backwards. In his written response to An Taisce, Creed had stated: “The 8% increase in emissions I referred to is the growth in total agricultural emissions and reflects that while dairy numbers (and emissions) are increasing, other sub sectors of agriculture are contracting. It is valid to consider the sector as a whole in presenting this data”.

Briefly, Creed & Co. had tried a favourite statistical sleight of hand: talk on the one hand about dairy production rising by around 27%, then switch when describing emissions to talking about emissions for the entire agriculture sector, which in this case had risen by a still quite scandalous 8%. To the unwary, this could be sold as a massive increase in dairy output, with “only” an 8% increase in emission. Et Voila, decoupling!

No doubt some clever principal officer in the department, or perhaps in Teagasc, dreamed this one up, but it’s still just a simple three-card trick. Since Creed decided in his wisdom to double down, we took the story to the Farming Independent, and they did a reasonable job with it, albeit capping it with a desperately bland and somewhat misleading heading that framed this as a simple dispute between Creed and An Taisce, rather than pointing out where he had been deliberately misleading, and the fact that, when challenged, he had no answers.

I had also had a chat with the editor at the investigative website, DeSmog.uk and he had no difficulty in recognising the deception involved, so I filed a piece for them, which they labelled: ‘EXCLUSIVE: Ireland’s Government Using Fake Data to Pretend Dairy Emissions Aren’t Rising Fast‘. That was a lot closer to the truth.

From there, the wheels kept rolling. While it was probably easy enough to ignore a specialist website, next, the science editor of the UK Independent picked up the story, sourcing DeSmog, under the heading: ‘Irish government using wrong data to downplay greenhouse gas emissions from cows’. And, to add insult to ignominy, the Guardian’s environment editor, Damian Carrington tweeted out a link to my DeSmog piece, which he captioned: ‘Fake Moos’.

Nor did the fun end there. Nearly a month later, the Irish edition of the Sunday Times contacted me about the piece and filed their own report, headed: ‘Dairy row heats up – An Taisce calls on minister to correct ‘misleading’ GHG figures’. Maybe what still bothers me and others most about this story is that, even when caught red-handed telling whoppers on the Dáil record, Creed has, as of right now, still not retracted his statements.

On a positive note, they have at least got the message and ‘decoupling’ has been quietly excised from the lexicon of Agri Spin, so it was not in vain after all. Creed and his officials are quite entitled to have their own views on dairy expansion, and their critics are equally entitled to challenge these, but there is, I believe, absolutely no excuse for allowing our public representatives to manufacture their own ‘alternative facts’ to support these views. That’s a red line we must hold at all costs.

Below, for the record, is my piece as it appeared in DeSmog:

IRELAND’S AGRICULTURE Minister, Michael Creed and his officials are mounting a co-ordinated campaign to mislead the Irish parliament (Dáil) about the true state of spiralling dairy emissions, DeSmog.uk has learned.

Emissions from Ireland’s rapidly expanding dairy sector have shot up in recent years, in direct conflict with government policy. But the government continues to use bunk data to assert that this is not the case.

On 26 April 2018, Minister Creed told the Dáil: “in the five-year period 2012-2016, dairy cow numbers have increased by 22 percent and corresponding milk production by 27 percent while emissions increased just 8 percent, demonstrating a level of decoupling is occurring.”

This point was amplified by one of Creed’s senior officials, Jack Nolan, at a parliamentary joint committee hearing, when he claimed: “S​ince 2015 we have increased milk output by 13.5 percent, whereas emissions have only increased by 1.6 percent. Massive efficiency gains are happening at the moment”.

Junior Agriculture Minister, Andrew Doyle in December 2017 made the same point about apparent dramatic decoupling of dairy output from carbon emissions.

All these claims are refuted by data compiled by Ireland’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA). This indicates that carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from dairy rose by a massive 24 percent from 2012 to 2016,​ ​which closely tracks the 22 percent increase in national dairy cow numbers and a 27 percent milk production hike in the same period.

An Taisce, Ireland’s national trust, became aware of the statements being made within the parliament and wrote to Creed on May 4th last, pointing out the erroneous data and requesting that he formally correct the Dáil record.

In response, Creed admitted to An Taisce that his claim of ‘only’ eight percent emissions increases arising from a 27 percent increase in dairy output “is the growth in total agricultural emissions and reflects that while dairy numbers (and emissions) are increasing, other sub-sectors of agriculture are contracting”. It is, the minister added, “valid to consider the sector as a whole in presenting this data”.

However, An Taisce told DeSmog UK that the minister’s response was “simply indefensible”. ​By not correcting his statement, “it seems the minister is now willing to mislead the Dáil and the public, even when called out. This is unacceptable. We now publicly call on the minister to correct the Dáil record as a matter of urgency”.

The reason officials like Creed are prepared to go to such lengths to present a rosy picture of agricultural emissions is that rapid expansion of the national dairy herd is de facto  government policy, even though it flatly contradicts the Irish state’s EU and Paris Agreement obligations to slash carbon emissions.

Recent EPA projections showed that, instead of meeting its EU obligations to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020, Ireland would “at best” achieve a negligible one percent cut versus 2005 levels. Agricultural emissions, meanwhile, continue to spiral, hence the pressure on ministers to massage the figures to present a ‘good news story’ on dairy emissions.

More pressure was ratcheted on Irish government inaction with the publication earlier this month by Climate Action Network Europe of its ranking of EU countriesin terms of their ambition and progress in tackling climate change. Ireland was ranked 2nd worst in the EU, only ahead of coal-dependent Poland in the rankings.

Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar is clearly uneasy at the growing reputational damage arising from what he admits is its status as a climate “laggard”. He told the European Parliament earlier this year that he was “not proud of Ireland’s performance” on climate, but domestically, the grip of the powerful agri-industrial lobby on government policy remains unshaken.

Having failed to manage emissions, it appears at least some in the Irish government have switched focus to concentrate on managing climate change messaging instead.

Disclosure: John Gibbons is a volunteer member of An Taisce’s climate change committee.

Posted in Agriculture, Irish Focus, Media, Pollution, Sustainability | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Epic emissions targets failure: it’s the politics, stupid

Below, an article I ran in a well-known satirical publication in mid-June:

FOR YEARS, whiny environmental types have been warning repeatedly that the Irish state is treating its legally binding international obligations to cut our carbon emissions as a bit of a joke. This in turn has prompted indignant responses from both politicians and their civil servants to the effect that this was grossly unfair and that, given enough time, Ireland would surprise everyone.

And, in a sense, we have. Not even the gloomiest eco-NGO type could possibly have predicted that instead of cutting emissions by 2020 by 20% versus 2005, we would instead “at best” achieve a 1% cut. Or, put another way, we’ve squandered the last 15 years doing sod all about the biggest crisis in modern history.

Imagine that the Department of Finance set a key revenue target of €20 billion, but ended up only raising €1 billion. That might sound like an almost impossible level of incompetence, leading to mass resignations, but it’s precisely the degree of abject failure Ireland has shown on curbing carbon emissions.

Our hapless ‘climate action’ minister, Denis Naughten shrugged off the “deeply disappointing” EPA projections. Were he or anyone in Leo Varadkar’s cabinet even remotely serious about this issue, then Naughten would have either quit or have been fired as a result of the catastrophic failure he has presided over. That neither happened and the whole fiasco merited barely a mention in the media speaks volumes.

It’s not hard to imagine the quiet celebrations in the headquarters of business and farm lobby groups, Ibec and the IFA. Both have revolving door access to the corridors of power, and with budgets running into millions to lavish on lobbying for inaction and deregulation. Ibec alone spent €1.3 million last year just on its Brussels lobbying operation, a tidy sum that buys a lot of climate silence.

Naughten and his echo chamber of lobbyists all claim our 2020 targets were ‘unfair’ and too demanding. Scotland, in contrast, went for more than double our ambition, aiming to cut emissions by 42% by 2020. It hit its target six years ahead of time, and has now ramped them up to up 66% by 2030.

The magic difference between Ireland and Scotland? Political cojones. The last seven years of Fine Gael-led governments have been an unmitigated disaster for environmental progress. At the very moment most EU countries have stepped up, Ireland has skulked away. Naughten’s apparent incompetence is no happenstance. This is FG policy, writ large.

It’s not entirely unrelated that Ireland has the lowest percentage of its agricultural land producing vegetables in the entire EU, at barely 1%. As a result, we are a net importer of much of the produce that would grow perfectly well in Irish soils. The situation is almost as bad for organic farming, which accounts for just 1.7% of Irish land use.

Rather than seeing our agriculture sector’s massive over-dependence on ecologically damaging and emissions-intensive beef and dairy as a problem, Bord Bia, the Irish food board instead appears to have been spooked by the rise of vegetarianism and veganism.

In a new tender document, Bord Bia is looking for outside expertise to help it ‘convert’ those who have turned away from meat and dairy back to being regular consumers. It reckons one in 12 Irish people are now vegetarian, while one in 50 are vegan. Perhaps more worryingly, many more have, both for health and environmental reasons, sharply reduced their consumption of meat in particular.

The high-profile vegan advertising campaign focusing on the ethics of the beef and dairy sector has rattled the powerful agri-food industry, which clearly feels the state-funded Bord Bia is there to promote its marketing agenda, rather than to respond to emerging trends.

Bord Bia’s stated desire to “to win these consumers back” makes it clear which side of the argument it feels it represents. As if we didn’t already know.

Posted in Agriculture, Global Warming, Irish Focus | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Big Questions that Irish broadcasters shy away from

Other than on the very odd news bulletin wearing my An Taisce hat, I very rarely appear on Irish TV talking about climate change. Much as I might like to paint this as some sinister conspiracy against me personally, the facts are that nobody else does either. Neither RTE television nor TV3 touch serious environmental or climate issues from one end of the year to the other.

And, as recently reported here, RTE’s rare forays into the field are not, let’s just say, universally successful (please let’s not mention the otherwise excellent PrimeTime and its wojus, cack-handed attempts at ‘ studio debates’ on climate). As I reported here recently, Derek Mooney’s woeful ‘Turf Life‘ documentary (covertly sponsored by Bord Na Móna) would suggest that the best thing the national broadcaster can do is to just keep avoiding the subject.

Prior to that, I have to go back almost two full years, to August 2016, when TV3 decided to dedicate nearly an hour on its ‘Tonight’ programme to a pointless ‘Climate Debate‘. Myself, Cara Augustenborg and Eamon Ryan were put in to pitch for ‘science’ and the dreaded consensus, while serial looper, John McGuirk (he who went on to front the PR for the disastrous ‘Save the Eighth Amendment’ campaign earlier this year) found himself in the happy position of cranking up the Fake News machine to full tilt.

He had good reason to be confident in believing that presenter, Charlie Bird, would be absolutely unable to stem the torrents of bullshit spewed that night by McGuirk. I’d like to say these two programmes are the exceptions in terms of Irish TV coverage, but this is simply not the case.

So much for the Irish media then. I was delighted to be invited by the BBC in March 2017 to travel to Newcastle to appear on the panel of its live Sunday morning current affairs show, ‘The Big Questions‘, and took the opportunity to get across my 2 cents on the environmental dimension to the global population debate. OK, I did perhaps have to sneak it in a bit, but presenter Nicky Campbell was both knowledgeable and supportive, on and off camera, which I can honestly say is a first in my limited experience of doing TV.

A year and more passed since then, and….well, nothing much to report really when it comes to Irish broadcasters and climate/environmental coverage. In early June of this year, I got the call once more from the BBC, this time to travel to London to do a pre-record of a one hour special edition of ‘The Big Questions’, this time with a single topic for the show: ‘Is the liberal world order in crisis’?

BBC TBQ 10-6-18 clip 1 from MedMedia Group on Vimeo.

While the show ranged widely over geopolitics, Brexit, etc. Nicky Campbell once again left room to broaden the debate and gave me space to try to place these tumultuous times in a wider environmental context. He opened my segment as follows: “I wake up every morning and listen on 5Live to the excellent ‘Wake Up To Money’ show, and its all about growth, growth here, growth there, that China’s growth is such and such, we’re very worried that growth is down…I’m thinking to myself, is it sustainable for the planet?”

This was the perfect set-up, which I gratefully accepted, as follows: “All these systems, whether it’s the Chinese, the US or European systems, all are predicated on and completely depend on a growth model. The problem with a growth model, on a finite and declining planet and a damaged biosphere, is that we are basically eating into the seed corn of the next generation and the generation after that.

“Killer statistics were mentioned a couple of minutes ago – I’d like to offer one or two: between 1970 and today, global population doubled, the global economy quadrupled, possibly quintupled, but in the same period, between 60-67% of all vertebrate life on Earth, other than humans, disappeared. This is 500 million years of evolutionary history wiped out, since the time I was in primary school. Now, my kids ask me the question: if we continue on this growth, growth – whatever flavour you wish – trajectory, what is going to be left of the remaining 40% of the natural world by the time they are adults? I don’t have an answer to that question, and I haven’t heard anyone even begin to address it”.

At this point, Campbell interacted: “And it’s their planet too (our fellow creatures)”. I replied: “Even the phrase ‘planet’ makes it sound like it’s somewhere else – this is where we live. When we talk about the planet and polar bears, we almost dematerialise the crisis. This is a human crisis, a crisis caused by humans, and ultimately a crisis that will bring down our version of civilisation, and in a remarkably short period of time.

“I really wish our economists, our intellectuals, would begin to get their heads around this; this is not some environmental niche discussion, this isn’t ‘oh well, that’s what the greens say, this is based on the hardest physical science. We are coming up against physical limits, all over the place. The ability of the atmosphere to absorb our carbon wastes, the ability of the oceans to absorb more carbon, the ability of other systems to cope with the amount of pollution that is being generated by a careless capitalism, a capitalism that simply produces, and ejects, a non-circular system.

“And irrespective of your ideology, we’re all humans, we share the planet with everything else, and our stewardship to date has been disgraceful”. {Cue, ahem, thunderous applause}. After a nice pause, Campbell added drily: “Should we just leave it there?”

Irish broadcasters, please take note: there are great environmental and climate stories to be told, and plenty of people willing both to tell them – and to listen. They don’t have to be happy clappy PR nonsense like ‘Turf Life’; programme makers really don’t have to assume their audience are eejits. Nor is there any need whatever for broadcasters to ‘balance’ hard facts with loose opinions.

It does, however, require that your presenters (like Nicky Campbell) actually have a firm grasp of ecological reality, and therefore avoid turning broadcasts into a pointless he-said-she-said talking heads show, where the audience is presented with two completely conflicting sets of opinions and no clear guidance from the show as to which represents reality – and which is just blagging.

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Citizens’ Assembly has spoken on climate change: Ireland must listen

Below, my article as it appeared in the Irish Times on June 1st, in which I pitched strongly for the findings of the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change to be taken on board via an Oireachtas committee in the same way the Assembly’s findings on the 8th Amendment had been handled politically. The Green Party pushed hard for this to happen and, lo and behold,  the new Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change met for the first time on July 11th, its remit being to examine the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, consult with the Secretary Generals of government departments, and report on recommended policy actions. Of course, I’d like to claim this article played some minor role in tipping the political scales towards this committee being formed, but in truth, it’s far more likely a simple albeit happy case of serendipity. 

DEMOCRACY, said George Bernard Shaw, “is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve”. For all its many strengths, democracy suffers some egregious flaws. The ability of powerful interest groups, be they political, economic or ideological to “capture” the democratic process and to drown out genuine deliberation in the white noise of spin and fake news represents a clear threat to the healthy functioning of any democracy.

This is where deliberative democracy comes in. The concept that underpins it is the notion that democracy cannot simply be the process of counting ballots after a shouting match. True democracy requires that people make informed decisions, guided by the best available evidence, freed as far as possible from the bullying and badgering of special interests.

It would be naive in the extreme to imagine that such a utopian democratic process could be applied to entire populations. The mob that howled and jeered throughout the recent Claire Byrne Live television debate would quickly dispel any notion that well informed, calm deliberation of complex and contentious issues occurs spontaneously, or is even easy to create.

Difficult, yes, but not impossible. Then taoiseach Enda Kenny in November 2015 made a fateful pre-election promise to convene a citizen’s convention to tease out a number of thorny social and political issues, and to bring forward recommendations for the Oireachtas to discuss and debate through its committee system.

A more cynical view was that this was really about TDs taking the opportunity of offloading political hot potatoes into a toothless talking shop. However, the government’s appointment of the formidable Justice Mary Laffoy, a retired Supreme Court judge as chair was the first real hint that the new Citizens’ Assembly meant business.

The assembly, comprising 99 randomly selected Irish citizens, balanced for age, gender and location, received more than 13,000 public submissions on the Eighth Amendment, from individuals and lobbyists alike. From these, 17 organisations representing the spectrum of views were invited to make presentations.

The assembly was also resourced by a five-person expert advisory panel drawn from legal and medical backgrounds. The citizens then discussed the issues among themselves in a structured round-table format, where everyone’s voice was heard and all views taken into account.

Those who may have quietly hoped the assembly would be an exercise in futility will have been disappointed. The assembly’s radical recommendations on abortion took the media and politicians almost completely by surprise, prompting claims from groups supporting the amendment that the process had somehow been “fixed”.

Even non-partisan observers appeared stunned that a group of completely ordinary Irish people could, having listened to submissions from all sides, and guided by independent experts, come to conclusions so completely at variance with the stated positions of every major political party. Concerted efforts were made by conservative politicians to undermine the credibility of the assembly, including unproven allegations of foul play in how people were recruited.

They got their answer on May 26th last, when the referendum results showed a thumping majority of Irish people were every bit as “radical” in their views on women’s right to choose as the much-maligned assembly members had been. Deliberative democracy in Ireland had finally delivered, on the biggest stage of all.

Early last November, the assembly reconvened in Malahide and set about teasing out the tall task of “Making Ireland a leader in tackling climate change”.

Once again, the assembly members were briefed over four intensive days by national and international experts, while a representative sample of members of the public who had made submissions was also invited to present. The back of the hall was thick with industry and agribusiness lobbyists, listening intently but, for once, powerless to shape the agenda.

The lobbyists had good reason to be anxious: the assembly delivered a series of 13 strong recommendations on tackling climate change, with 80 per cent prepared to accept higher taxes on carbon-intensive activities, including levies on high-emissions food such as beef and dairy. And figures published this week by the Environmental Protection Agency paint an extraordinarily bleak picture of Ireland’s absolute failure to even begin to tackle emissions.

The assembly demanded that planning for climate mitigation and adaptation be placed at the heart of government, rather than in its current cul de sac under reluctant “climate action” Minister Denis Naughten. There was also strong support for investing in cycling and public transport, retrofitting, community-led renewable energy and climate-friendly agriculture, including organic farming.

This demand for true ambition on tackling climate change is the considered view of a representative sample of our fellow citizens. That it chimes precisely with what every major scientific agency and academy in the world has been saying for the last several decades makes it all the more poignant. The people have spoken. Are we ready, finally, to listen?

John Gibbons is an environmental writer and commentator

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RTE bog broadcast sinks into mire of low standards

Below, a piece I ran in a well-known satirical magazine in May 2018. It was subsequently picked up by the Sunday Times, who also gave the show a bit of a scalding under a piece headed: ‘RTE turfed into trouble over bog show sponsorship’. The paper put a query in to the BAI as to the legality of this unflagged advertorial being run on the national broadcaster. The BAI responded by saying it was: “aware of reports in respect of this programme and will be in touch with RTE to discuss this matter in due course”. Sadly, the show has since disappeared from the RTE Player, which is a shame, as its craven, brown-nosed woefulness really had to be seen to be believed. I’ve done my best in the piece below to give you at least a flavour of this execrable confection.

“THIS IS THE STORY of Ireland’s best kept secret”. So RTÉ’s Derek Mooney began ‘Turf Life – a day on the bog’. This statement was true in more ways than the presenter might have imagined. The TV programme, broadcast on May 4th, was sponsored by Bord na Móna, Ireland’s chief bog destroying enterprise.

Due to what RTÉ told me was “an oversight which has since been corrected”, there was no mention whatever of Bord na Móna’s involvement, either in the opening or closing credits. RTÉ’s say they have“adjusted our internal processes to ensure this does not happen again”. However, despite this, the programme remained on the RTÉ Player sans any kind of sponsorship line whatever for at least two weeks after it aired.

Rest assured, sponsorship “had no influence over the content or scheduling of the programme”, we are informed. The actual editorial control therefore rests fully with RTÉ. This is puzzling, as it had the feel of a breezy infomercial promoting as an ecological nirvana the tiny corner of Bord na Móna’s huge holding that it is not currently open-cast mining for peat.

Bogs are, Mooney intoned, “havens of biodiversity, of wildflowers, of hidden beauty”. You would think therefore the presenter, who has an impressive track record in nature and wildlife broadcasting, might have at least mentioned in passing the tens of thousands of hectares this semi-state continues to lay waste to on an industrial scale.

“This is the story of Irish bogs – and the race to save them for posterity”, added Mooney, without a hint of irony. And from there, co-presenter Sinéad Kennedy “meets the ecologist in a race to restore the bogland sanctuaries for future generations”. Probably due to another oversight, the ecologist is never introduced as a Bord na Móna employee, nor did she get the opportunity to explain how her employer is by far the biggest threat to these sanctuaries she is racing to restore.

Bord na Móna is entitled to engage in delusional spin about its Kafkaesque role in saving the boglands as it destroys them, but they can hardly have believed their luck in co-opting RTÉ to broadcast (unluckily, without even a mention of the sponsor’s involvement) a programme with all the editorial rigour of an in-house PR video.

In just one example of the surreal tone of this programme, Mooney visits the Edenderry power plant, which he describes as “the largest renewable power plant on the island”. In fact, the main fuel burned in this plant is the very peat he eulogises as being a haven of biodiversity, sanctuary of wildflowers, etc. The ‘renewable’ biomass it co-burns has included, incredibly, palm kernels from Indonesia.

Somewhere on this hulking nine-storey facility a pair of peregrine falcons has found an unlikely nesting spot from which to roam out over the ruined landscape of wrecked and drained bogs. “Bord na Móna are providing a home for these falcons at this power plant”, Mooney explains. Indeed.

In another staged scene, a mechanical excavator is filmed blocking drains and helping to rewet the bog. This is more clever PR, as it creates the erroneous impression that Bord Na Móna has largely exited the bog mining business and is now focused on repairing the damage it has done.

Joe Lane of Bord Na Móna concludes by calling the bogs “a national treasure and we have to maintain the level of stewardship that warrants”. Mooney counters that (hysterical?) “environmentalists will be screaming at the television” wondering why they won’t simply stop destroying the bogs right now.

Lane explains patiently: “you just can’t walk away from peatlands actively in production; those have to be rehabilitated”. By digging up and burning millions more tons of bogs for profit and subsidies, while destroying the climate, he forgot to add. Another unfortunate oversight, no doubt.

Posted in Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Irish Focus, Sustainability | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

LNG at Shannon: selling our future down the river

Below, my article as it appeared on DeSmog.uk on May 15th.
 
ENVIRONMENTAL groups have united in opposing a massive new terminal that would receive fracked gas from the US in a protected area on Ireland’s west coast. They fear the plan runs counter to Ireland’s newly agreed climate commitments and is contrary to the country’s decision to ban fracking.

The public consultation on the proposal closed yesterday.

Brexit fears played a key role in the reactivation of plans to develop a massive liquid natural gas (LNG) deepwater terminal in the Shannon estuary. Irish government ministers were alarmed that in a post-Brexit situation, LNG being piped into Ireland from the UK via interconnectors could be subject to tariffs.

The proposed terminal, which would be capable of docking the world’s largest LNG carriers, is to include four massive LNG storage tanks, each with a capacity of 200,000 cubic metres. Some 23 environmental groups from Ireland, Germany, Belgium and the US have united to oppose the terminal, with the principal objection being that its principal source of LNG would be from fracked gas fields in the US.

Last year, Ireland became one of only three countries in Europe to introduce a total ban on onshore fracking.

According to Friends of the Earth: “we banned fracking in Ireland, it would be absurd to import fracked gas instead. It would lock us into fossil fuel dependence and blow our chances of containing climate change”.

Friends of the Earth added that the Irish planning regulator, An Bord Pleanála “should not extend the planning permission for Shannon LNG. The Government and the EU should not support or subsidise it”. Permission was originally sought for the project in 2008, but the original backer, the US investor, Hess, pulled out after wrangles with the regulators over compulsory contributions towards the cost of linking to the Ireland-UK interconnector.

Some 99 percent of the total Irish gas supply is currently imported via the UK through the two undersea interconnectors.

Another anti-fracking group opposing the terminal, ‘Not Here, Not Anywhere’ pointed out the “quite hypocritical position that Ireland, having introduced a domestic fracking ban, thinks it’s fine to import fracked gas from the US”, spokesperson Ciara Barry told DeSmog UK.

“The promotion of natural gas of any kind as a ‘transition fuel’ is deeply flawed, and ignores for instance the highly damaging methane emissions associated with extraction”, Barry added. “This also locking us in to infrastructure with a 40-50-year life span, which makes any transition to a low carbon economy in the time scale needed completely impossible”.

The spectre of Brexit has breathed new life into a once-mothballed terminal proposal. Among the strongest advocates for it has been Irish MEP, Seán Kelly. Largely due to his lobbying, the project has now been designated as a European Project of Common Interest. This means, crucially, that the project, with an estimated cost of €500 million, may become eligible for investment from both the European Investment Bank and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

“This project is not just an option, it is becoming an imperative We’re actually by far and away the most vulnerable of all the 28 member states in the EU now”, Kelly told the Irish Examiner. “The countries that are vulnerable in terms of energy requirements across the EU are well advanced on plans to sort that out by building their own energy terminals but we’re not doing that”.

According to the NGO Food and Water Europe, The Shannon estuary, the proposed site of the LNG terminal, has been declared by the EU an Estuaries Special Protection Area (SPA); however, Ireland has a very poor record of enforcing protection for its EU-designated SPAs and has frequently faced EUlegal enforcement actions on SPAs, most notably sensitive peatlands.

Campaigners against the LNG project point to the decision in November 2017, by BNP Paribas, a leading European and global financial services provider to “no longer do business with companies whose principal business activity is the exploration, production, distribution, marketing or trading of oil and gas from shale and/or oil from tar sands”.

BNP Paribas explicitly singled out “LNG terminals that predominantly liquefy and export gas from shale” as being among the projects it would no longer provide finance for. This is a hugely significant shift, as major banks and financial institutions like BNP Paribas switch to: “financing and investment activities in line with the International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario, which aims to keep global warming below 2°C by the end of the century”.

Ireland’s energy and ‘climate action’ minister, Denis Naughten is understood to see the Shannon LNG project as an important tool in maintaining security of supply for energy, the Irish Examiner reported. Domestic political anxiety about Ireland being at the very end of a gas pipeline network stretching thousands of miles across Europe has been heightened by the political and economic uncertainties posed by the shambolic Brexit process.

Ireland’s largest coal-fired power station, the 915 megawatt Moneypoint facility is located just across the Shannon estuary from the site of the proposed new terminal. The Irish government is under pressure to exit from both coal and peat burning, and while renewables are now providing around a fifth of electricity production (with over 2,800 megawatt wind energy capacity), it still leaves major gaps in supply, with both gas and biofuels being touted in government circles as so-called ‘bridge’ fuels.

The energy and environmental landscape has shifted significantly since the original Shannon LNG project was granted planning permission in 2008. Three years ago, the Irish parliament passed the Climate Action law to give effect to government policy of reducing Irish carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

A subsequent Energy White Paper adopted by government upped the target for the energy sector of cutting emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. Campaigners point out that these ambitious but essential targets for decarbonising Ireland’s energy system would be impossible to realise if costly new LNG infrastructure is locked into place for the next several decades.

A ruling on the public consultation that closed yesterday is expected in the coming weeks.

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Mainstreaming doubt and nurturing climate denial

Fake news has, since January 2017, received a whole new lease of life, with peddlers of misinformation greatly emboldened by the installation of the Liar-In-Chief at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. However, climate science denial has been in full swing for decades; hardly surprising when you consider the trillion-dollar interests its (factual) findings threaten. Organised climate denial is, however, a new phenomenon in Ireland, first rearing its head in May 2017.

There are those who argue that by covering the activity of these jokers, you’re simply empowering them, since most are needy attention-seekers to begin with. But I would counter-argue that it it precisely because we have failed to take deniers and liars seriously that we find ourselves in our present global imbroglio. Below, my piece as it appeared on DeSmog.uk in April: Continue reading

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World awakens slowly to unfolding plastics catastrophe

Below, my article as published in the April 2018 edition of Village magazine. I’ve been writing for years about the pervasive and ever-expanding threats posed by plastic wastes, but have found few takers in the mainstream media; given the staggering numbers and absolutely undeniable havoc these persistent environmental toxins were causing, I always found the lack of interest on the part of many editors puzzling, to say the least. It seems the tipping point (if that’s a phrase you can actually use here) on plastics occurred with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which brought the issue of the devastating impacts of marine plastic into the homes and onto the TV screens of millions of people. Suddenly, the wider media seemed to twig that this was a ‘real’ story, and since then, awareness of plastics as a truly massive problem has gone mainstream. Of course, as regular ThinkOrSwim readers will know, plastic pollution is but one of a phalanx of vast, seemingly intractable and interconnected crises gathering strength on our near horizon.

FOR YEARS, it was widely ignored, even as the evidence grew more and more overwhelming. Reports had been flooding in from some of the remotest places on Earth, from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the North Pole. Researchers found its impact was hammering every ecosystem, disrupting natural processes and spreading havoc across the living world. Continue reading

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Failing farmers, the environment & wider society

My article on our broken agricultural system, as it appeared in the Irish Times on April 7th last. Getting a decent splash on the main OpEd page in the Saturday edition (the IT’s most read day of the week by a distance) meant it garnered a good deal more attention than I’d normally expect.

It may be just an impression, but I’m beginning to sense that the IFA in particular are no longer winning the war for ‘hearts and minds’ with the general public, something they’ve been amazing effective at over several decades. Even the deferential armchair ride they’ve come to expect in the media is no longer assured as the hard questions about emissions and environmental impacts pile up and their answers so often seem threadbare and evasive.

IN OCTOBER 2013, just months after that year’s fodder crisis, a study by researcher Dr Stephen Flood warned of severe future impacts of climate change on Irish agriculture. Then agriculture minister Simon Coveney launched the report, and promised that climate projections would be incorporated into plans for the sector. Continue reading

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Day of reckoning on global extinction crisis draws near

Below, my article as it was published in the Irish Times last month, with some referencing added back in. To borrow one of my own lines, “A solitary species has, in a heartbeat of geological time, overturned and routed half a billion years of evolutionary history”. That, rather than the extinction of yet another species of charismatic megafauna, is what this story is really about.

NATURE IS falling silent. From the once-common cry of the curlew to the roar of lions, buzzing of bees and the cacophonous chatter and chirping of countless billions of creatures and critters, now an ominous, ever-expanding wave of stillness is spreading across the natural world like a slow tsunami.

This week’s news of the death of the world’s last remaining northern white rhino in Kenya caused a mild ripple of interest in an ocean of public indifference and incomprehension. While everyone agrees it is sad that another iconic species has disappeared, media attention quickly shifted back to “the real world” of economics, politics and social media. Continue reading

Posted in Biodiversity, Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Pinker serves up a Panglossian three-card trick

“Things can only get better”, went the lyrics to the hit by D:Ream which became the anthem of the incoming New Labour government in 1997, fronted by the relentlessly upbeat Tony Blair. Six years later, Blair joined the US in its illegal invasion of Iraq, a move that plunged the entire Middle East into a new era of violent instability and a refugee crisis that today, some 15 years later, shows little signs of abating.

Things, it turns out, can also get worse. Statistics can, however, be schooled into presenting a beguilingly different picture of the true state of the world, and the darling of global optimism, psychologist and author Steven Pinker is a skilful inquisitor of data. His scholarship seems to have caught the zeitgeist of latest wave of techno-optimism, and his data-fuelled Panglossian creed is being enthusiastically embraced by global influencers like billionaire Bill Gates. Continue reading

Posted in Economics, Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Psychology | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Tall tales trump Varadkar’s Washington debut

Below, my piece published on DeSmog.uk from March detailing our Taoiseach’s travails when attempting to cosy up to the US president during the traditional St. Patrick’s Day visit.

IRISH prime minister, Leo Varadkar dropped a major climate clanger in Washington this week, when boasting about intervening with Irish planning authorities on behalf of Donald Trump. The incident occurred in 2014, prior to Trump’s presidential run and when Varadkar was then Irish tourism minister. Continue reading

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All talk, no action: agri sector’s spin over substance

My article, which ran in the Irish Examiner in early February, is below

IRISH agriculture faces enormous threats, both from direct climate change impacts and the urgent need to sharply reduce emissions, yet the sector has been remarkably slow to engage with climate reality. Unfortunately, the latest report, published by the dairy industry lobby group, ICOS is virtually silent on how to achieve significant cuts in total emissions from the sector.

The presence of the chairman of the government’s Climate Change Advisory Council, Prof John FitzGerald, at the launch of ‘Positive steps towards a low carbon future for the Irish dairy sector’ may have given the media the impression that it was an earnest, scientifically-led document. If so, they were misled.

The report was published as the industry’s response to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. It was developed by a 20-person working group, all from the dairy industry, with no apparent NGO or named academic input whatever, and zero dissenting voices. And it shows. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Sinking ever deeper into ecological debt and climate denial

Eschatology, or the study of the end of times, is at least as old as the written word. The concept spans many of the world’s major religions, usually referring to some future day of judgement or reckoning.

Beyond the realms of theology, eschatology as a concept is currently undergoing something of a renaissance, especially after the tempestuous and chaotic first 12 months of the Trump regime. In this time, almost everything we once took for granted about inherent stability, even inevitability, of western democracies and the robustness of our institutions has been shaken profoundly.

As if to add to the sense of impending calamity, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their famous Doomsday Clock for 2018 forward in late January– to two minutes to midnight. This is the closest it has ever been to the witching hour. Continue reading

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2017: yet another year of living dangerously

And so 2017 comes, at last, to a close. From a climate and wider environmental standpoint, it has been an unmitigated disaster. It hardly bears repeating that the installation of the Trump regime in Washington was the worst possible news, at the worst possible time, for those of us interested in handing on a habitable biosphere to the next generation by mid-century.

Of the 10 years I’ve been operating as a journalist and activist in this arena, 2017 stands out as the most depressing of all, especially coming hot on the heels of the Paris Accord of December 2015, which, for all its inadequacies and compromises, did at least hold out the vague prospect of providing a platform for ramping up far more radical action in the next decade or two. Well, that was then. Having appeared to plateau over the last two years, CO2 emissions took off again in 2017, when human actions added a whopping 3% to global CO2 levels. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Sustainability | Tagged , , | 6 Comments