Lights out for Earth Hour? Save your energy

Dreamed up as a PR stunt by an ad agency 10 years ago, Earth Hour has become surprisingly succesful. This is, I suspect, because it’s long on tokenism and photo opportunities and desperately short on actual resolve, sacrifice or meaningful political action. Anyhow, my lights stayed remained undimmed on Saturday night last. Below, the original version of my piece, as featured in Saturday’s Irish Times:

ANY PLANS for Earth Hour this evening? If so, you’re not alone. Tonight in Ireland and in some 7,000 cities and over 170 countries around the world, upwards of a billion people will turn off the lights to mark Earth Hour, an event the organisers, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), claim is the world’s largest voluntary action.

Now in its 10th year, the event has been warmly embraced in Ireland, with lights being dimmed in government buildings and major heritage sites. For instance, in 2014, then Environment Minister, Phil Hogan had this to say: “I am happy that Ireland is again joining this global effort to highlight environmental sustainability and I hope that Irish people will support this powerful symbolic initiative by turning out the lights”.

The extent to which the Earth Hour idea has spread, he added: “shows the degree of worldwide concern for our environment.” The key word in Hogan’s speech was ‘symbolic’. Symbolic actions on climate change are our politicians’ very favourite kind. These allow them to bathe in the bright green glow of feel-good environmentalism for an hour or two, without the awkwardness of having to commit to any tangible actions whatever, especially those that might discommode powerful vested interests.

Another likely reason politicians and corporations support Earth Hour is that it subtly shifts responsibility away from them and back onto the individual. Switch off the lights, don’t fly so often, eat less meat, use public transport more. Of themselves, these are all good ideas, but even in the unlikely event they could be scaled up massively, they ultimately deflect attention from the reality that the global climate and ecological crisis can only be addressed at an intergovernmental scale. This means binding treaties and strong regulations to massively decarbonise the global economy, rein in overconsumption, stabilise the biosphere and reduce pressure on biodiversity.

Besides, why should the average Irish person be expected to consider sacrificing aspects of their lifestyle for a cause that their government has, for the last six years, done precisely nothing to promote or explain? As for leadership, Ireland does at least now have its first ever minister for Climate Action. However, Denis Naughten’s recently published draft National Mitigation Plan was panned for its stunning lack of ambition or urgency. Meanwhile, Naughten himself in media interviews repeats, mantra-like, the odd promise ‘not to tell people what to do’.

This all might infer that Ireland is a mere disinterested bystander; in fact, in recent years we have punched well above our weight in back-pedalling and special pleading for sectional interests at EU level. Our government’s efforts, primarily on behalf of the agricultural lobby, have made a small but telling dent in the union’s resolve to act collectively while there is still time. As government buildings go dark this evening, it might be more apposite as a way of marking our shame at the betrayal of both the developing world and all future generations.

The Earth Hour symbolism of turning out the lights as an action against climate change is in itself curious. How much energy we use is important, but lighting is just a tiny fraction of overall energy usage, and this has actually declined sharply in the last decade, with the widespread adoption of low energy technologies.

What matters most is how the energy is produced. Ireland, for instance, is now increasing the amount of coal-fired energy on the grid via the ESB’s Moneypoint plant, thanks to the low price of coal on the world market. Cheap comes, however, at a fearsome price. While the ESB and Bord Na Móna pocket the profits, Ireland’s hospitals and GP surgeries bear the human cost of the air pollution the world’s fossil fuel-burning utilities continue to spew out. And that is before the climate damage is tallied.

To add insult to illness, Irish electricity users massively subsidise three loss-making, ecologically devastating peat-burning plants as part of what is in essence a politically inspired job-creation scheme in the midlands.

In 2007, when Earth Hour was first unveiled by an Australian ad agency as a publicity stunt, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) had reached 385 parts per million, their highest level in around four million years. Since then, CO2 levels have broken through the symbolic 400ppm barrier and continue to rise sharply.

The impacts have been stark. Eight of the 10 hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 2007, with 2016 smashing all previous records, pushing Earth systems into what the World Meteorological Organisation this week called “truly uncharted territory”.

“Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere”, according to US glaciologist Jeffrey Kargel. If homo sapiens really has the wit and ambition to survive this century, from here on every hour has to be Earth Hour.

John Gibbons is an environmental writer and commentator. He tweets @think_or_swim

Posted in Energy, Global Warming, Irish Focus | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dublin airport censorship just doesn’t fly

There is a rich irony in the fact that an airline company sponsors the weather on RTÉ Radio One, with its ‘smart flies Aer Lingus’ tagline transmitted into a million homes, on the hour, every hour. After all, aviation is the world’s fastest growing source of climate-altering carbon emissions, so in a very real sense, Aer Lingus is changing the very weather whose forecasts it sponsors.

There are, as far as I’m aware, no grounds on which RTÉ, a state broadcaster could be compelled to stop accepting money from a company whose very business model is fuelling the dangerous destabilisation of the global atmosphere upon which we all depend.

After all, if the climate-destroying, biodiversity-thrashing Bord Na Mona can pass itself off as ‘Naturally Driven’, who could possibly object to Aer Lingus sponsoring the weather? And this of course assumes there exists even an iota of political will to be mustered in our collective defence (here’s a link to an Irish Times article on climate I wrote some years back; the stats may be a little out of date, but the gist is still correct).

So, if you can’t beat them, join ‘em? To test this idea, I developed a simple advert on behalf of An Taisce’s climate change committee, and submitted it to the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), the semi-state that operates all commercial activities at the airport. The draft advert read: ‘Frequent Flyer? Is your flying costing the Earth?’ I explained the rationale for placing the advert (with an extremely modest spend) at the airport as follows:

As a charity, our budget is very limited, but we did feel the Airport would be an ideal location to address the issue of the impacts of flying (especially frequent flying) on climate change. Research has shown that the flying public greatly underestimates the impacts of aviation-based carbon emissions, so we are hoping to begin to bridge that gap with ads that encourage the public to think about their flying and to better understand its impacts.

Not, I hope you will agree, a very menacing or unreasonable explanation. It took over a week to coax a response from DAA’s commercial department, as follows:

“Dear John,

I am sorry but we are not in a position to accept your advertisement for display.   DAA has a statutory obligation to grow its business at Dublin Airport and as our customers are the airlines we are unable to accept advertisements which attack our customers.  I trust that you understand our position”.

I was at a bit of a loss to understanding where exactly we were involved in an ‘attack’ on DAA’s customers. Surely if RTÉ can accept sponsorship for its weather bulletins from a company that is involved in an actual attack on our climate, then DAA can tolerate one or two modest ads from a charity pointing out that aviation carries grave, measurable environmental impacts? Well, apparently not. Whatever happened to free speech?

Undeterred, I decided to give it another lash, and wrote once more to the DAA, offering them a homoeopathically watered-down version of our proposed ad wording, one that surely no one could reasonably refuse to publish?

The revised wording was as follows:

“Want The Facts About Climate Change & Flying? Visit Antaisce.org/climate

I accompanied this revised wording with the below email:

This line is, I’m sure you will agree, not attacking anyone, but simply offering links to factual information, based on peer-reviewed science.

We hope you will review the above advert and find it to be in no way offensive, misleading or inaccurate, and this being the case, there are no reasonable grounds, we believe, on which the DAA can refuse to allow us to advertise this message.

You mentioned the DAA having a ‘statutory obligation to grow its business’. You may be familiar with the provision in section 15 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 for Public Bodies (including DAA) to have regard to:

“(c) the furtherance of the national transition objective, and
(d) the objective of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change in the State.”
http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2015/act/46/enacted/en/print#sec15

Briefly, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 puts a legal onus on all Irish public bodies to promote mitigation of climate change. This too is a ‘statutory obligation’ and makes it clear that Public Bodies have obligations that cannot be waived by statements such as “growing our business”.

I thought it not unreasonable to point out that since DAA defended its refusal to run our ad by sheltering behind its ‘statutory obligations’, surely they should also have cognisance of other statutory requirements too?

It took another two weeks and a series of reminder emails to elicit a response to my revised proposal, and this was issued on February 15th, as follows:

“Dear Mr Gibbons,

Thank you for your recent email and please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

In relation to your query regarding the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, 2015, DAA is fully aware of, and is committed to managing and reducing its carbon emissions in line with best practice.

  • DAA manages and reduces its own direct emissions in line with our public sector agreement with SEAI for improved energy efficiency and actively participates in the voluntary Airport Carbon Accreditation Programme.  DAA has signed up to achieve 33% efficiency in its own energy use in buildings and vehicles by 2020. Dublin Airport is well on track to meet this target through a wide range of energy efficiency measures such as the installation of LED lighting, the purchase of electric vehicles and the upgrading of its buildings.
  • DAA continues to influence others to manage their emissions and supports, in line with the National Aviation Policy, the implementation of a global scheme for managing international carbon emissions.
  • In terms of aircraft-related emissions, we work with our stakeholders such as the Irish Aviation Authority and our airline customers to reduce delays on the ground and in the air. We also support the use of fixed electrical ground power on aircraft parking stands.
  • International aviation emissions fall outside the scope of the Climate Act and do not form part of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) targets under the Paris Agreement (COP21).  International aviation emissions are dealt with through the international aviation body ICAO. Agreement on a global scheme for aviation emissions was reached in ICAO on 6 October 2016. Ireland, as part of the 44 member European Civil Aviation Conference, has made a declaration to adhere to the international scheme from its first implementation phase.

While cognisant of all of the above, we do have a statutory obligation to grow our airport business for the good of the Irish economy and also to promote Dublin as a hub airport as outlined in the State’s National Aviation Policy.

We therefore cannot accept an advertisement that may have the effect of encouraging consumers not to use the services of our airline customers. “

Well, that was that. The only route of appeal to this DAA diktat lay in the court of public opinion, so I contacted the Sunday Times and provided them with the trail of correspondence, and the below piece, penned by reporter Valerie Flynn, appeared on its news pages at the weekend as follows:

Airport blocks green advert

The Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) has refused to sell advertising space to an environmental charity for a campaign highlighting the impact of air travel on climate change.

An Taisce wanted to take out an ad in Terminal 2 with the slogan: “Frequent flyer? Is your flying costing the earth?” DAA would not accept it. “As our customers are the airlines, we are unable to accept advertisements which attack our customers,” the authority said.

An Taisce proposed the more conciliatory wording: “Want the facts about climate change and flying? Visit AnTaisce.org/climate.” However DAA rejected this proposal too, saying: “We cannot accept an advertisement that may have the effect of encouraging customers not to use the services of our airline customers.”

It said it had a “statutory obligation” to expand the business “for the good of the Irish economy”.

Air travel accounts for about 2% of emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide. Emissions from EU aviation rose by 80% between 1990 and 2014 and are forecast to grow a further 45% between 2014 and 2035. Dublin was Europe’s fastest-growing airport last year with 28m passengers, up 11%.

John Gibbons of An Taisce’s climate-change committee said a return flight from Dublin to New York generated as much CO2 as a year of driving a diesel car. He called the advert “fairly innocuous”.

The DAA said it takes its “responsibilities to climate change seriously”.

Another member of An Taisce’s climate committee, half in jest, suggested that the final sentence might better be reworded as follows: “The DAA takes its responsibility to change the climate seriously”. Funny or otherwise, it’s a whole lot closer to the truth.

Meanwhile an Austrian court has just blocked a 3rd runway at Vienna airport, arguing the new runway will work counter to the country’s pledges made as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. This ruling comes at a very interesting time, considering preparatory work on runway 3 at Dublin airport has just commenced. Planning permission for this project was originally issued in 2007 (with DAA applying in 2008 for amendments to remove numerous restrictions on nighttime use of the airport placed on their permission) but the recession led to the whole project being put on ice for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, the Green Party’s David Healy, a member of Fingal County Council, put out a statement this week that this proposed expansion may well contravene our Climate Act.

Many people in Ireland are now looking askance at political developments in the US, as the Trump regime installs climate deniers, oil company hacks and assorted shills to shred the hard-won regulatory oversight that keeps water safe, air breathable and entertains at least the possibility of climate change being addressed.

It’s easy to point at such ghastly caricatures as Scott Pruitt and Myron Ebell and console ourselves that at least Ireland does not harbour such anti-science ideologues and zealots. Yet, when you look at our semi-states, from Bord Na Mona to DAA to Coillte to Bord Bia, each pushes a self-serving agenda fundamentally at odds with our national and international obligation to rapidly and permanently decarbonise all aspects of the Irish economy.

Each in turn can argue, as DAA has done in the small instance cited here, that they are acting rationally, citing their ‘statutory obligation’ to grow, grow, grow, and devil take the hindmost. But then, it might seem entirely unreasonable to expect semi-states to take the lead when their political masters are rooted to the spot.

To give one final glimpse into the madhouse that is Irish climate policy, look no further than the recently published ‘Briefing Document on Ireland’s First National Mitigation Plan’. Here, Denis Naughten’s document claims, in language approaching Trump-speak, that ‘flat-lining in (agricultural) emissions represents enormous ambition rather than complacency’.

Success is inevitable when you set the bar so ridiculously low as defining abject failure to reduce emissions in our single most polluting sector as showing ‘enormous ambition’.

 

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

Time to push fossil fuel sponsorship beyond the Pale

Below, my article, as it appeared in the Irish Times earlier this month. Having had family members as past winners of the Texaco Children’s Art Competition made me leery about taking on writing about this long-running sponsorship, but then I realised part of the formula for corporate sponsorship of events or competitions actually depends on producing feelings of guilt and/or gratitude among the part of us adults. So, with a slightly heavy heart, I put them on hold on this occasion.

THE GLOBAL movement to delegitimise fossil fuels received a boost in recent days with the passage through Dáil Eireann of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill. This historic bill, introduced by Thomas Pringle, TD directs Ireland’s €8 billion Strategic Investment Fund to avoid investments in oil, coal or gas. Ireland is the world’s first country to make such a bold move.

While this decision is by itself unlikely to make even a dent in the trillion dollar hydrocarbon energy business, its real significance is symbolic, sending out a political and economic signal that the fossil fuel industry is to be regarded as a necessary evil, to be tolerated only until viable, safe alternatives can be brought on stream.

While this might sound harsh for an industry that has fuelled the world for the last century and more, in reality, the sector has been the author of its own misfortune. Oil giant Exxon, for example, first became aware of the dangers posed by climate change four decades ago, when its own senior scientists warned the board in 1977 that continued burning of fossil fuels would in time dangerously destabilise the global climate.

Faced with clear evidence of catastrophic future harm from its business model, Exxon did not simply decide to hush up the scientific evidence and keep drilling. It instead teamed up with other industry players and invested millions of dollars in funding doubt and disinformation about climate science in the media, politics and among the general public.

It worked. Simply creating the impression of doubt and controversy was enough to muddy the waters. They followed a playbook pioneered in the 1960s by cigarette manufacturers to downplay the dangers of smoking.

That strategy was hugely successful, shielding vast corporate profits for decades while millions of smokers died of a habit they had been conned into believing was largely harmless. The US government eventually prosecuted the entire industry, culminating in fines totalling over $200 billion in 1998.

The appointment of former Exxon chief, Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state paradoxically underlines the weakness of the hydrocarbon industry and its desperate attempts to hijack the political process to prop up its precarious, reality-denying business model by enabling a reality-denying president.

Mainstream businesses, mindful of their reputations, are slowly backing away from the energy dinosaurs. Danish toymaker Lego at the end of 2014 cancelled an €80 million deal with Shell to distribute their toys at fuel stations. A year later, the UK Science Museum announced that it would not renew a bizarre sponsorship deal with Shell for its climate change exhibition.

Ireland’s longest running sponsorship programme is the Texaco Children’s Art competition, which has operated since 1955 and has undoubtedly done much to promote and encourage young artists over the decades. Entries for this year’s competition close on February 28th.

My then five-year-old daughter was a prizewinner back in 2008 and it was a proud day out for the family. At that time, Texaco was owned by Chevron. Its CEO this week praised the Trump regime’s plans to demolish life-saving environmental regulations.

Texaco Ireland’s new owners, Valero Energy, were rated by the US Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in a 2012 report as among the three most “obstructionist” energy corporations on climate change. The UCS found that Valero’s corporate PR was ‘pro-climate’ while its all-important ‘corporate actions’ were strongly anti-climate.

I realise now what I failed to notice in 2008: the real climate radicals are not the handful of eco activists battling impossible odds. The true radicals are in fact fossil fuel companies and their senior executives and shareholders whose science denial and cynical profiteering have taken us to the brink of an unfathomable global catastrophe.

Ignorance of the consequences of their actions is no longer tenable. The hydrocarbon industry has done this knowingly, and continues to collude with rogue politicians and corrupt regimes, from the Middle East to the Niger delta to Washington. Radicals indeed.

For all its history, ultimately the Texaco Children’s Art competition is a clever distraction from the true nature of its sponsors, and an industry’s reckless disregard for the future these same children must face. In hindsight, we as a family were wrong to participate.

Tobacco company PJ Carroll sponsored the GAA All Stars until 1978. Who today would find a tobacco firm sponsoring a sporting event or children’s competition acceptable? We as individuals may feel powerless, even complicit. After all, so many aspects of our lives, from home heating to transport, depend on these same fuels.

Yet, despite the industry’s tireless lobbying efforts, change is possible. Passive house technology for new homes is already here, while retrofitting would save billions in imported fuel costs. A national electric fleet is set to break our dependence on liquid fuels for public and private transport and lead to cleaner, safer air. The missing ingredient is political will.

John Gibbons is an environmental writer and commentator and tweets @think_or_swim

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Media | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A wealthy, kick-ass climate NGO: what are the odds?

There is never a shortage of stupid things to do with money, especially if you suddenly find yourself with loads of it. US socialite Theresa Roemer, for instance has a three-storey, 3,000-square foot closet; that’s a space twice the size of the average Irish family home…to store her shoe collection.

Then there’s the €180 million Palazzo di Amore mansion in Beverly Hills — with 12 reception rooms, 22 bathrooms, a 50-seat cinema, swimming pools and a 12-acre vineyard. This property has been entirely vacant for the last eight years.

Oxfam recently published figures confirming that the world’s richest 62 people control as much wealth as the combined assets and incomes of the world’s poorest 3.7 billion people, and this trend is, if anything, accelerating.

With yet another EuroMillions winning ticket sold in Ireland recently (giving some indication as to how disproportionately much we are gambling per capita), our media went into overdrive with advice on how to spend the estimated €88 million fortune. The Sunday World’s staggeringly banal list of suggestions includes buying an island, or 17.4 million pints of beer, or 355 Audi R8 V10s. Continue reading

Posted in Economics, Global Warming, Media | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Toothless watchdog lets its Standards slip

{PROLOGUE}

LOCATION: Bord Na Mona conference room*

DATE: Early 2016.

TOPIC: Ad planning meeting (*fictional)

BnaM Marketing Exec: ‘I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s the challenge: we’re a company that, pound for pound, is the biggest polluter in Ireland. We’ve wrecked nearly 80,000 hectares of boglands right across the country, increased flooding in the Shannon basin and polluted a lot of the waterways. Oh, and we get bunged well over a hundred million quid a year to keep three hopelessly inefficient peat-burning stations open; the dogs in the street know it’s the most expensive JobBridge scheme in the country. People are starting to wise up to climate change as well, and, to be honest, we’re a disaster area on that front too. Jesus, even some of the politicians have noticed. It turns out that simply draining bogs turns them from carbon sinks into carbon pumps. And as for the biodiversity, well, let’s just say, once our machines have ripped up a bog, it looks like a scene from Apocalypse Now. Total dead zone, nothing much bigger than an ant survives peat harvesting. Nada. Zip’.

Agency Suit: ‘Guys, guys, guys. Take it easy! For starters, how many people have ever been out on a Bord Na Mona bog – or a living bog, for that matter? Not many, right? So, they haven’t a clue what happens out here. How many know or care about carbon sinks and climate whatsit? Right again. Ladies and gents, welcome to 2016. The truth, or the post-truth, if you prefer, is precisely what we tell them. And as for the media, no problemo. We’ll organise to bus a few of them down from RTE, the Times, Indo etc. and give them the ‘conservation tour’, you know the one, where we do the touchy-feely talk about hares and sphagnum moss and restoration, the standard PR drill. We can bring in some friendly conservation types to give the gig a bit of cred, then just sit back and wait for the positive coverage. No problemo. Fish in a barrel’. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Irish Focus, Media, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

Nine years later, and deeper in debt

It’s nine years to the week since my first posting on ThinkorSwim went live – on the last day of November 2007. It was, in many ways, a different world. The mood was radically different too. For starters, the Greens were in government, holding both the Environment and Energy & Communications portfolios. The needle was moving alright; you couldn’t quite see it but you could sense the palpable energy for change.

While not exactly mainstream, green was certainly in vogue. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report had been delivered earlier that year in a blaze of overwhelmingly positive publicity. The huge success of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ a year earlier seemed to have struck a real chord with public and media alike. And the dismal failure of the Copenhagen Summit and the Climategate hoax were still two years in the future.

I kept a scrapbook that year of newspaper clippings, mostly from the Irish Times and Sunday Tribune, on climate-related coverage, and by late November, it was bulging. Expert contributors included the late great Dr Brendan McWilliams and of course the indefatigable Prof John Sweeney. The overall editorial tone was, viewed in hindsight, surprisingly serious and business-like. The contrarians and outright deniers were then rarely seen. They were, as it transpired, lying low as the prevailing tide swept a stream of positive coverage along. Continue reading

Posted in Biodiversity, Global Warming, Irish Focus, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

A new age of endarkenment draws ever closer

Like millions of people all over the world, I’ve spent the last almost two weeks in a state of shock and disbelief. I had sat up with friends late on the evening of Tuesday November 8th into the early hours of the following morning. It started well enough. Preliminary polling numbers had Clinton ahead in both Ohio and Florida. Clinton winning either of these would seal off any possible path to victory for Trump, the TV pundits opined reassuringly.

As it transpired, and rather like the visit of Mr and Mrs Lincoln to the Ford’s Theatre in April 1865, this night too was not to end well. I crashed into an agitated, dreamless sleep sometime around 6.30am on Wednesday, and on waking some three hours later, for a few blessed moments my addled brain actually fooled me into thinking I had imagined the whole wretched event.

No such luck. As the Nightmare-Elect unveiled his chorus of bigots, crooks, crypto-fascists and religious zealots to stuff into the critical positions in his new administration, the feeling of dread was all-encompassing. I sat down more than once to write up a blog post on how I felt this would play out, but abandoned each effort. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Psychology, Sceptics | 3 Comments

A crisis in media and climate communication

Overlaying the climate crunch, there is a parallel full-blown crisis, in Ireland and elsewhere in the Anglophone world in climate change communications. This will not be news to regular visitors to this blog, but happily, there is now a lot more solid evidence to back up this impression.

A valuable new addition to our national understanding of this crunch issue has just been published by the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Climate Science. Its paper, entitled ‘Climate Change Communication in Ireland’, was authored by Emmet Fox and Henrike Rau.

screenshot-2016-11-03-21-01-54

The paper sets out to review and assess existing research on climate change communication in Ireland, rather than engage in primary research in the field. It points to the “marginalization of climate change in the mainstream media, which is further amplified by its segregation from closely related topics of major public concern in Ireland such as extreme weather events, flooding, energy resources, or economic recovery”. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Media, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Cultivating hope, managing despair

There have been countless millions of words written and spoken in recent years on how humanity can and must begin at last to grapple in earnest with the existential challenges of climate change, resource depletion and the ongoing global biodiversity crash.screenshot-2016-10-30-21-38-48img_4683 img_4682

A lot less attention has been focused on how we, as aware individuals and our societies are coping to come to terms with the realities of what it means to be alive right in the middle of the Sixth Extinction.

This week, a workshop, held in Dublin’s Tailor’s Hall entitled ‘Cultivating Hope, Managing Despair’ took a tentative step down this road. It attempted to open a dialogue among a group of around 30 people in attendance, many of who might describe themselves as Early Accepters. The sub-title of the workshop catches the mood more concisely: ‘How to positively respond to the mess we are in without going insane’. Continue reading

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

Raising the bar on climate change coverage in Ireland

I’ve often wondered aloud what it might be like to live in a place and in a time where climate change, the world’s biggest, baddest and most persistent crisis, was given media coverage something even vaguely approaching its actual significance.

As we’ve covered before in depth, Irish media performance on climate and environmental coverage in recent years would actually have to improve quite a bit before it could even be labelled abysmal. Notwithstanding the odd well-intentioned foray by its part-time environment correspondent George Lee, the national broadcaster has been truly awful (and none more so than the senior editorial crew of its flagship show, PrimeTime).

The rest of the broadcast media are little better, while climate coverage in the print media, what remains of it, best resembles scorched earth. The erstwhile Paper of Record, since the retirement of its environment corr, Frank McDonald in January 2015, has not so much dropped the ball as picked it up and gone home with it.

The best of the rest over the last year or so has tended to be the Irish Examiner, but even here, its recent coverage of Danny Healy-Rae’s flat capped flat earther insights have given aid and comfort to the lunatic fringe.

Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Media | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Battling for Ireland’s battered biodiversity

My interview below, with Dr Liam Lysaght, Director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, was published in the September edition of Village magazine:

IRELAND’S largely dysfunctional relationship with its natural environment was neatly summed up by former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, when he moaned that his ill-fated Celtic Tiger was being stymied “because of swans, snails and the occasional person hanging out of a tree”.

While the Ahern era was hardly a high watermark of environmental awareness and ecological literacy, one useful resource to emerge from this time was Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre, which was established by the Heritage Council in 2007 and is funded by the it and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Centre was set up to collate, manage, analyse and distribute data on Ireland’s biodiversity. Headed by Dr. Liam Lysaght, the Centre is based in Waterford city. “We are trying to put in place systems to track changes in the countryside”, Lysaght told Village in a recent in-depth interview. “It’s about building the evidence base to support biodiversity policy”. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Sustainability | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to the Climate Madhouse

Below my article, as published in the September edition of ‘Village’ magazine

IMAGINE for a moment the dilemma: you’re a celebrated climatologist whose work has helped shaped the modern science of climate change. In the course of your work, you have gradually come to the same basic conclusion as pretty much all of your professional colleagues: humanity and the industrial civilisation we have constructed is on a one-way collision course with physics.512JfC3iFlL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Clearly, as a scientist, your job is to check and re-check the numbers, then, once the evidence is solid, alert the politicians and policy makers and provide them with the expert guidance so they can make the tough-but-necessary decisions to avert the worst of the projected negative impacts, while hunkering down for those which can’t be entirely avoided.

That, in a sane world, is how the system works. This is not, however, the world in which we live, and it certainly is not the planet that renowned paleoclimatologist, Prof Michael Mann inhabits. He sprung to fame in 1999 with the publication of a reconstruction of the global climate record stretching back some 1,000 years, which became known as the ‘Hockey Stick graph’ since, from past to present, it slopes gently downwards, before turning sharply upwards in recent decades, like the blade of an American ice hockey stick.

Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Media, Sceptics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Who’d choose to bring a child into a climate-changed world?

Below is my article, as published in yesterday’s Irish Times, under the headline (not my wording) ‘Is having children bad for the planet?’ I’ve added in some of the sources below that I used when researching this piece. The features editor suggested adding a picture of me with my two daughters, given that I had mentioned my own circumstances. I have tried as far as possible to keep my personal life out of my writing, but having penned a piece posing the question as to the wisdom or otherwise of bringing a child into a climate-changed world, I felt it only fair to put my cards on the table regarding my own situation and how it has informed some of the choices I have made.

=================

ONE OF the biggest decisions any of us will ever face is whether or not to become a parent. While for women, bearing children was until recently almost a foregone conclusion, today in Ireland one in five women, either by choice or circumstance, will never become mothers.

The drive to reproduce is as ancient as it is powerful, but can become derailed, in humans as in other species, in situations of extreme stress. For instance, birth rates have plummeted in Greece since its economic crash. This also happened during the Great Depression in the US in the 1930s.

More modest but marked declines in fertility rates have been measured since 2009 across most of Europe, the US and Australia as widespread anxiety about the future caused people to postpone or abandon plans to start families. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Psychology | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

It’s a Vision thing

Last week the Visions 2100 international roadshow came to Dublin. I first encountered it, driven by the irrepressible John O’Brien, as a side event at last December’s COP21 conference, where, as one of 80 contributors to the book from around the world, I attended and spoke at the Paris launch (click here for a backgrounder piece I wrote at the time).

The venue for last week’s event was the newly refurbished Great Hall in Tailors Hall, Christchurch, home of An Taisce. The hall was packed out for the event, with standing room only. Speakers included former communications minister, Alex White, Dr Cara Augustenborg of UCD, Aideen O’Hora of Sustainable Nation and myself.

Climate committee chair, Phil Kearney welcomed the launch on behalf of An Taisce. Cara’s account of the meeting is here, and there’s another report by sustainability blogger, Aideen O’Dochartaigh here.

Since there are ample meeting reports above, I’ve added a video recording I made of the event below, for anyone who might be interested in catching up.

For the record, below is my ‘vision’ for the world in 2100, as published in John O’Brien’s book. Some would call it dystopian, but as was pointed out at the meeting, my estimate of there still being 50 million humans alive in 2100 is exactly one million times more optimistic than the lowest estimate in the book!

“First, the good news. Against the odds, we made it to 2100. Only fifty years ago it looked like it was game over for homo sapiens. It sounds crazy now, but back in my grandparents’ time they really did carry on for a while like there was no tomorrow: tearing down rainforests, flattening mountains, poisoning the seas, waging war on nature – all in pursuit of this strange idea they called ‘growth’.

There aren’t that many books now, but our teachers describe the Age of Madness, as it’s called, when the scientific community repeatedly warned that Earth systems were in extreme danger. But nobody listened, and few chose to act.

How could this have happened? Everyone, it seems, was competing with everyone else for money, resources, status. No one seemed to notice that this spree couldn’t last forever. Even the revelation back in 2015 that half of all the world’s wild animals had been wiped out failed to ring the alarm bells. And as for all the warnings about climate change, they always seemed to be about someone else, or some time in the future…

Well, that future is now. This generation has learned the hard lesson of hubris – and humility. There’s barely fifty million of us now globally. Life is tough, but we’re managing. This time, we’re keeping it simple. They say the Earth is healing, maybe they’re right. Maybe we can at last live in a world where, in the words of the poet Seamus Heaney, “hope and history rhyme”.

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Media, Psychology | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Flights of folly at Dublin airport

Fallout from the recent Brexit vote may prove something of a gift for the Dublin Airport Authority’s (DAA) ambitious plan to have a second runway built and ready for business by 2020.

The huge cloud of economic uncertainty now parked over Britain may put the kibosh on its own 2015 Airport Commission recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow, at the eye-watering cost of almost €23 billion. The fact that Boris Johnson fiercely opposes the Heathrow expansion plan hardly increases its chances of success.

Another heavy hitter against the Heathrow plan (on cost grounds) is Willie Walsh’s IAG, owners of Aer Lingus. One of the reasons IAG splashed out for Ireland’s national carrier was to access Dublin as a cheaper hub.

Planning permission for Dublin airport’s second runway was issued in 2007, using a land bank bought up by the DAA as far back as the 1960s. The crash of 2008 saw expansion plans mothballed. However, since 2011, passenger numbers have rebounded strongly, growing by some 35% to over 25 million in 2015. Continue reading

Posted in Energy, Global Warming, Irish Focus | Tagged , | Leave a comment