A goose wrapped in tinfoil, pushed further into oven each year

Earlier in July, New York magazine ran a thumping article titled ‘The Uninhabitable Earth‘, by writer David Wallace-Wells. It was a meticulously researched piece of long-form journalism, based on an extensive review of the scientific literature as well as interviews with leading climatologists.

It then did something highly unusual for an article about climate change: it went viral. The article quickly became the most viewed piece in the magazine’s history, as well as attracting a slew of reaction pieces, many critical, from across the media and scientific spectrum. The respected website, ‘Climate Feedback‘ invited 17 scientists to review the article, and they gave it an overall ‘Scientific Credibility’ ranking of -0.7, meaning its credibility is ‘low’.

This, to many, seemed unduly harsh. There are execrable articles published about climate change, usually motivated by ignorance, ideology or a combination of both; this article is absolutely not in that camp. The author made every effort to understand the science and present it fairly. The criticisms, some would speculate, come from a scientific community so used to being harangued and harassed by deniers and witch-hunting politicians that they are collectively scared witless at sticking their head over the parapet at at all.

Wallace-Wells quickly published a comprehensive ‘Annotated Edition’ of the article, with links back to many of the interviews with scientists upon which the article is based. It was a sterling piece of journalism, and, in my view, shows that ‘Climate Feedback’ got it significantly wrong on this occasion.

Probably the highest profile scientific critic was Prof Michael Mann, who was critical of the article’s ‘doomist’ framing, as he put it. Mann has been on the frontline of defending science from denier attacks for years, so his words carry real weight. Not so fast, says noted science writer David Roberts of Vox magazine, who pointed out that most of the scientific critiques were around the margins, and not about the substantive points in this blockbuster article.

Roberts also points out, not unreasonably, that we are regularly showered with climate articles that paint ludicrously optimistic scenarios, and continually assume that humans are not irrational and bent on self destruction and that, someday soon, just you wait, “humanity” will suddenly snap out of it, and turn this ship around. Or, equally improbably, we will invent some amazing new gadget to fix the mess made by all our other gadgets.

This might happen. I certainly hope it does happen. However, there is not a shred of credible evidence to support such a scenario, and a ton of data pointing in the opposite direction. Therefore, why not hold your breath, approach the guard rail, lean forward and…peer into the fathomless abyss that our current civilisation is hurtling towards at breakneck speed.

Susan Matthews, writing in Slate magazine, also took issue with the Wallace-Wells article, this time for not going far enough, with a piece headed ‘Alarmism Is the Argument We Need to Fight Climate Change’. She posited that the article could turn out to be the ‘Silent Spring’ of our generation, a wake-up call, or more likely, a Last Call before the deluge. “As I read it in bed at midnight Sunday night, for the first time I started to realize just exactly why climate change might be a reason not to have children—because if those children have children, this could be their world. That’s how close to the edge we are”, wrote Matthews.

She and Roberts both argue stridently that pussy-footing around the climate disaster for the last couple of decades, for fear of scaring or upsetting people, has manifestly failed utterly and completely. So, as a last throw of the dice, how about some alarmism, or ‘climate realism’, if you prefer? If you want to avoid the hellscape outlined in the New York magazine article, “we need to start by being more alarmed”, she concludes.

Wallace-Wells sums it up as follows: “when it comes to the challenge of climate change, public complacency is a far, far bigger problem than widespread fatalism — that many, many more people are not scared enough than are already “too scared.” In fact, I don’t even understand what “too scared” would mean…I don’t think it’s a slur to call an article, or its writer, alarmist. I’ll accept that characterization. We should be alarmed.”

While the New York magazine article was making ripples right across the global media landscape, I tried in vain to find a single article here in Ireland, positive, negative or otherwise, about it, so I pitched the Irish Times, and they agreed to publish a piece in their Weekend section, presented in a chatty, Q&A format. Here’s how it ran:

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Give Me A Crash Course In….A climate change warning

So there’s been yet another warning about climate change? Nothing new, surely?

Yes and no. The article, published earlier this month in New York magazine, titled ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ by David Wallace-Wells runs to a hefty 7,000 words and has caused a publishing sensation. With million of views, it’s the most read article the magazine has ever published, and it has triggered a firestorm of reaction, both from the media and within the scientific community.

But why? Isn’t everybody bored of scary, finger-wagging climate articles?

You might have thought that, but apparently not. Wallace-Wells doesn’t hector, but the article is certainly scary. “No matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough”, is how he frames it. His article assumes that humanity continues on its current high-emissions pathway. With Trump in the White House and countries like Ireland doing almost nothing to cut emissions, it’s a reasonable bet. And that path leads to climate hell.

Haven’t climate scientists rubbished this article?

Not exactly. There have been some quibbles from scientists, mostly about timescales, and a couple of factual errors have been updated, but the nub of his argument remains intact. In a nutshell, while our goose may not yet be cooked, it’s already wrapped in tinfoil and we’re collectively sliding it further into the oven each year.

Isn’t it a bad idea to be so negative?

That’s exactly what has upset most of Wallace-Wells’ critics. The argument runs something like this: the experts know the situation is dire, but if the public gets wind of just how bad things really are, they will become depressed, apathetic, then switch off and tune out. Which in turn guarantees the very worst case outcome…

So, articles like this are really unhelpful then?

That’s one view. Another is that when things are really, really bad, that’s the time for honesty, not false optimism. Let’s say you’ve just been diagnosed with a tumour: opting for herbal remedies and homeopathy instead of the grim chemotherapy recommended by your doctors might make you feel good for a while, but it’ll probably cost your life. Being brutally honest about climate change today may help us face the truly tough decisions that could one day save our children’s lives.

Surely you exaggerate. What’s the worst that could happen?

If you really want to know: humans stand a reasonably good chance of going extinct in the relatively near future. Yes, all of us. An increase of 2ºC in average global surface temperature is widely seen as the tipping point towards an apocalyptic future on Earth, yet we’re already more than half way there. The ultra-conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects 4ºC this century, on our current pathway. This is a ‘Mad Max’ vision of a collapsed global economy and shattered environment, with billions of people scrambling just to survive.

OK, now you’re freaking me out. What if it’s really not that bad?

There is a possibility that Earth’s climate turns out to be a lot less sensitive to CO2 than feared, and so the effects of climate change may be less severe. This is, however, unlikely. It’s is equally unlikely that so-called positive feedbacks (hidden tipping points in a complex climate system) could kick in and actually make things far worse than even the IPCC’s modelling suggests. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but uncertainty is not our friend.

How come this hasn’t been picked up by the Irish media?

Maybe it’s that we live on a small, damp island that many people in the media manage to kid themselves that it’s not really our problem. Mistake. Yuge mistake.

JOHN GIBBONS

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An outside view on Ireland’s ‘climate action’

Below, my article, as published last week on the Guardian – my first article on what is arguably the world’s foremost news media source for environment and climate news and opinion.

Having been banging on about these issues domestically for years, and trying to draw attention within the national media on Ireland’s generally woeful performance, (as well as the rise of organised climate denial) in recent months I changed tack and began looking at non-Irish media outlets. Since May, I’ve had a total of four news features published on DeSmog.uk, a leading site focusing on identifying and calling out climate denial in all its many guises.

From there, I approached the Guardian earlier this month and this led to the below piece being commissioned (ok, to fess up, I’ve been knocking on their door, on and off, for around three years. These things clearly take time, lots of time). It appeared on Guardian.co.uk last Wednesday morning, and spent almost the entire day ranked as first or second on the ‘most read’ list on Guardian/Environment. To date, it has garnered almost 30,000 views just from Ireland, as well as 530 comments posted online under the article. And finally, the inevitable  article about the article, on Joe.ie no less.

Reaction among the agribusiness lobby has been, let’s say, not warm, with dark mutterings in some corners that my writing about this in an English publication somehow smacked of colonialism (pull the other one, lads).  Having painted itself into a corner on beef/dairy expansion as the cornerstone of agri policy for at least the next decade, this group now seems to feel it has no choice but to rubbish anyone who dares to point out that, however you slice or dice it, this is an ultra-high emissions road to failure. That beef is also failing to even deliver a basic living for most farmers is another inconvenient fact that seems to attract a frenzied reaction when pointed out.

Hope you’ll forgive me wrapping this up by borrowing a line from ever-quotable Churchill: ‘The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.’

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ON THE FACE of it, Ireland appears to be acting on climate change. Last year it appointed its first ever “climate action minister”, and in June it outlawed onshore fracking. What’s more, the telegenic new taoiseach Leo Varadkar dedicated much of the first day of his Cabinet retreat to discussing climate change.

Last week Varadkar introduced Ireland’s first national mitigation plan (NMP) in more than a decade, and said that addressing climate change would “require fundamental societal transformation and, more immediately, allocation of resources and sustained policy change.” If success could be measured simply by repetition – the word “sustainable” appears no fewer than 110 times in the NMP – Ireland would undoubtedly be among the world’s leading countries.

But looks can be deceiving. The promised “fundamental societal transformation” turns out to be a soothing combination of words entirely lacking in substance.

The climate action minister, Denis Naughten, glossed over the gaping holes and staggering lack of ambition in the NMP by declaring it a “living document”, with the vague understanding that it will, zombie-like, spring to life at some point closer to 2050.

Naughten’s discomfort in media interviews was obvious. Ireland was, he stressed, “playing catch-up” and perhaps shouldn’t be judged too harshly. Naughten is adamant that the government doesn’t want to be prescriptive on how to hit our targets. But in practice, this translates into ducking the tough but necessary near-term decisions.

Naughten recently pleaded in Brussels that the 2020 targets (of a 20% emissions cut compared with 2005) that Ireland chose to sign up to are too onerous, and threatening to delay EU-wide implementation of the Paris accord. By 2020 Ireland will only have achieved a paltry 5-6% reduction in emissions, with greenhouse gases from transport and agriculture actually rising. The spectre of serious EU fines looms ever closer.

Per capita, Ireland’s emissions are the third highest in the EU, and it is one of only four EU states (alongside Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria) expected to miss its 2020 targets. Things may be about to get a lot worse. With no public announcement, on 11 July Naughten’s department issued a licence permitting oil drilling on the Porcupine Bank off Ireland’s west coast.

Some 5bn barrels of offshore oil may be recoverable, which, when burned, would release 1.5bn tonnes of CO2 – the equivalent of more than a quarter of a century of Ireland’s current total emissions from all sectors.

Irrespective of whose balance sheet this oil ends up on, issuing such a licence is “complete doublespeak” and shows “inconsistency and incompetence”, according to Green party senator, Grace O’Sullivan.

While the Porcupine Bank oilfield presents a prickly political problem for a government claiming to take its climate obligations seriously, its real challenges are closer to home; first, in the transport sector where a lack of strategic planning means emissions are set to spiral by 14-16% by 2020.

Second, government agriculture strategy is set out in Food Wise 2025, a policy document unashamedly drafted not by civil servants but by the food industry. By 2020, agriculture will account for 45% of Ireland’s total emissions outside the emissions trading scheme. The government continues to argue that Ireland’s largely grass-based beef and dairy sector is uniquely climate-friendly and so should not be discouraged.

However, a study commissioned by the European parliament earlier this year severely dented this narrative, as it found Ireland had the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per euro of agricultural output in the entire EU.

Ireland’s claim to be a “food island” was further undermined by UN data for 2011, which found it to be a net importer of food calories since 2000. Rather than feeding the world, Ireland isn’t even feeding itself. In fact, most Irish beef farmers are losing money, and only remain afloat due to EU subsidies.

Awkward questions posed by domestic NGOs about the impossibility of Ireland meeting its EU-mandated emissions targets as long as the agriculture sector enjoys an emissions “free pass” are met with an increasingly tetchy official response. The agriculture minister, Michael Creed, recently argued that critics of farming emissions were doing a “huge disservice” to the country.

Other parts of the industry have taken it a step further, and teamed up to actively promote a new Irish climate denial group. It flew in guest speakers including Richard Lindzen and William Happer this summer to spread doubt on climate science. This denier messaging was then uncritically reported by the farming press.

When it comes to a coherent climate policy, Ireland’s turns out to be more greenwash than green.

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In deep water: Naughten approves major offshore oil drilling plan

Below, my story, as it appeared a few days ago on DeSmogUK:

IRELAND’S first minister for Climate Action, Denis Naughten, quietly signed off this month on the Druid/Drombeg exploration field off Ireland’s west coast which is eyeing an estimated five billion barrels of offshore oil.

The department issued no press statement about the initiative and it didn’t even merit a mention on the department’s website.

The news instead leaked out via an industry website, Proactive Investors, which revealed that Providence Resources PLC had confirmed that drilling operations had begun for the exploration well near Porcupine bank off the Irish coast.

As the website stated, it is “expected to be a high impact exploration programme, if the well successfully confirms the prospects seen in pre-drill analysis.” Continue reading

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Irish Farmers Journal: fearlessly on the side of fake news

Back in the 1970s, there was striking advertising poster in Kilkenny Mart featuring a powerfully built bull with a ring through its nose. The unsubtle slogan: ‘No bull in the Irish Farmers Journal’. The old Kilkenny Mart building is long gone, but the Farmers Journal rumbles on. Founded in 1948, it is approaching its 70th birthday and, in an age of plummeting newspaper sales, continues to have a robust weekly circulation of nearly 70,000.

And while never at the journalistic bleeding edge, the Journal has enjoyed grudging respect, both for its commercial savvy and for wielding significant political clout in the agribusiness sector. In recent months, however, the proverbial bull has not only returned to the Journal, it has run amok. Continue reading

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Too big to fail? Great Barrier Reef nears final collapse

Below, my article on the plight of reef systems worldwide, with a focus on the Great Barrier Reef, as it appeared in the Irish Times earlier this month…

AUSTRALIA’S Great Barrier Reef is best described in superlatives. Covering an area the size of Italy, it is the only living structure clearly visible from space. Rather than a single reef, the mighty Barrier Reef, which extends much of the length of Australia’s east coast, is instead an archipelago of some 3,000 co-habitating reefs.

Although covering barely one-tenth of 1 per cent of the ocean floor, globally, reefs are the nurseries for around a quarter of all marine species. Their importance to the oceans’ ecosystems vastly outweighs their physical extent.

Despite its size, the Barrier Reef is manifestly not too big to fail. Marine scientists have been ringing alarm bells as an unprecedented series of major recent “bleaching” events have left large parts of the reef system dying or dead. Continue reading

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Doubling down on climate denial: ICSF hosts Happer

Below, my latest article on Desmog.uk, covering the recent ultra low-key visit of well known climate contrarian, William Happer to Dublin. Publication was delayed by around a week as Desmog turned its editorial focus to the UK elections – including the climate-denying DUP’s surprise ascent to centre stage.

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The second meeting in a month of the newly formed climate sceptic group, the Irish Climate Science Forum, took place behind a veil of secrecy and a media blackout in Dublin on June 1, DeSmog UK can confirm.

Guest speaker was noted climate science denier William Happer, a retired Princeton professor who is currently understood to be on a shortlist for the role of Science Advisor to the climate-denying Trump administration in the US. Continue reading

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Ulster says hoax: a short history of the DUP and climate denial

Below, my article as it appeared on DeSmog.uk over the weekend, in the light of the extraordinary decision by the Tories to throw in their lot with Ulster’s not-particularly-Democratic Unionist Party.

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Theresa May’s general election gamble has seen a little-thought-of and highly controversial party thrust into the spotlight: Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Having failed to gain enough seats to form a majority the Conservative Party has turned to the DUP, which won 10 seats, to create an alliance and give the Tories the ability to govern as a minority.

While the two parties are said to still be “in discussions” over a possible agreement,  the decision to try and strike a deal has seen hundreds of protesters descend on Westminster due to the DUP’s stance on abortion, gay rights and climate change. Already more than 500,000 people have signed a petition condemning the Tory-DUP alliance.

The DUP until now hasn’t garnered much attention in the British press but the party has a long history of science denial.

It is a most unusual party for a number of reasons, including its well-documented links to Protestant paramilitary groups and dark money links to the Saudi Arabian intelligence service. Continue reading

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From pipsqueaks to bullies: farm leadership, 50 years on

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Ireland’s National Farmers’ Association (NFA) was a political pariah, with then Taoiseach, Fianna Fail’s Jack Lynch threatening to have the organisation proscribed, a move that would have placed every farmer in the NFA on the same legal footing as an IRA member.

This was almost exactly 50 years ago, in April 1967, when tempers flared and relations between the NFA – forerunner to today’s politically powerful IFA – and the state hit an all-time low. Just before dawn on April 24th, 1967, a series of co-ordinated Garda raids, led by Special Branch detectives and backed up by armed soldiers, descended in darkness on the homes of selected farm leaders.

Later that evening, Jack Lynch was to solemnly address the nation on television and warn that if the NFA’s campaign of refusing to pay agricultural rates was not stood down, the consequences would be dire: “The restraint that the Government have shown up to now proves to any fair-minded person that the Government have no desire to see the dissolution or the disintegration of the NFA, but if it is a choice between that and the maintenance of our basic political institutions and the rule of law, the decision is clear”, he intoned.

This was serious stuff. “By their speeches and actions, the NFA leaders have shown they are prepared to challenge the basic political institutions of this country. Questions of agricultural policy have become secondary”, said Lynch. Continue reading

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The ICSF – Irish Contrarians Serving Farming?

When I first heard about the newly formed climate denier group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF), I tipped off my usual Dublin media outlets, but nobody was biting, so from there, I went to the London-based Desmog.uk, part of the influential Desmogblog network of websites specialising in countering climate denial and misinformation, or, to use their slogan: ‘Clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science’.

Desmog.uk were both receptive and very thorough, with volleys of questions and clarifications sought prior to their deciding the piece was fit to publish. As a writer, it’s good to be robustly challenged at the editorial desk. Plus, this process can help winkle out any of the author’s own prejudices or preconceptions (yes, we all have plenty of both) and ensure they don’t unduly colour the final piece.

Anyhow, the article went live on the website as its main story on Friday evening, and remained in that position for a couple of days. And that, I assumed, was that. A number of people in the Irish media were tipped off about the piece, which got some modest traction on social media, but nothing appeared in print. Then, it fell under the gimlet eye of RTE’s Philip Boucher-Hayes. Continue reading

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Dad’s Army of climate deniers rallies in Dublin

My piece below, as published last Friday on the respected climate science website, Desmog.uk. As outlined below, I was tipped off about the meeting early last week, and wrote to the organiser, Jim O’Brien, who informed me I would not be allowed to attend. To use his exact phrase: “Please be advised that this is a strictly private event. We decided ab initio to exclude politicians, media and NGOs”.

Despite this setback, I decided to drop down to the event venue, the Sandymount Hotel in south Dublin, to see the lie of the land, if you’ll pardon the phrase. While denied admittance, I did manage to snap a shot of Lindzen (74) and his (almost entirely elderly, grey-haired, male) audience through the glass doors at the rear of the room.

Knowing how much fringe groups like this feed on fantasies of persecution by ‘climate zealots’ (you know who you are) I decided against attempting to doorstep any of the attendees for interview or comment. However, there were one or two people in the room underwhelmed by Lindzen’s brand of so-called skepticism who were prepared to give me a detailed run-down of his talk and the Q&A that followed.

Interestingly, the originally advertised venue for the event was the Institution of Engineers HQ on Clyde Road in Ballsbridge, but this was switched at the last minute to the hotel venue. We understand that EI may have developed cold feet at being seen to facilitate an anti-science forum like this. When I asked O’Brien to explain the sudden shift from the advertised venue, his reply: “no comment”.

We don’t know too much about the shadowy ICSF, except that in August 2016, O’Brien registered the a domain (www.icsf.ie) on the group’s behalf, so there has clearly been a plan of some kind afoot for some time. One can only speculate on how energised a contrarian grouping like this must have been with the installation last January of the the most anti-scientific US administration in history, with climate deniers and energy industry apparatchiks now swarming over key positions in critical federal agencies like the EPA and NASA.

Then there is a certain R. Lindzen calling on Trump to slash funding on climate research “by 80-90%”. Quite the inaugural guest speaker to choose for an organisation claiming an interest in ‘neutral, independent analysis of the latest climate research’ alright. Watch this space: we’ll be tracking the ICSF with interest.

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[4/5/2017] THE INAUGURAL meeting of a newly formed climate sceptic group, the Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF), took place in Dublin on Thursday night, DeSmog UKcan reveal.

The organisers described the meeting as a “strictly private event” and barred access to “politicians, media and NGOs”, according to organiser, Jim O’Brien, an energy consultant. There were roughly 50-60 guests in attendance.

Guest speaker for the meeting was noted US climate science denier, Richard Lindzen, retired MIT professor, whose lecture was entitled “The Science and Politics of Climate Change”. Lindzen is also an academic adviser to the UK climate denial group the Global Warming Policy Foundation and works at the Koch-founded U.S. conservative think tank the Cato Institute.

The ICSF describes itself as “a voluntary group of Irish scientists, engineers and other professionals, currently in a formative stage”. It plans to carry out what it says is “neutral, independent analysis of the latest climate research with the purpose of better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

Funding for ICSF

The ICSF claims to be only funded by “modest personal donations from its members and has no vested interests other than seeking the most sustainable future for Ireland and its citizens.”

There was no entry fee to the evening meeting on 4 May, nor were attendees asked to make any donations, so it is unclear what the source was for the significant funding required to fly in a high-profile climate science denier and host a meeting in an upmarket hotel.

In chairing the meeting, O’Brien, an engineer, stated that: “People think our organisation is funded by fossil fuel interests, but we have no donations from fossil fuel sources, only from private sources”.

Speaking to DeSmog UK, O’Brien said Lindzen didn’t charge to give the talk and that they only paid for his expenses (he didn’t clarify who the “they” were). O’Brien repeated his line that ICSF is all self-funded and told DeSmog UK that their total funds are “only around €5,000”.

Lindzen opened his talk on Thursday night by condemning the “narrative of hysteria” that he claims surrounds the science of climate change. Carbon dioxide, he told the audience, is a plant fertilizer, and the Earth was lush 600 million years ago when atmospheric CO2 levels were far higher than today. He described any climate change that has occurred to date as “miniscule”, calling it all for the good.

Lindzen insisted that the warming experienced in the last two decades fell within the range of “natural variability”, and repeated the long-debunked argument that climate sensitivity to a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels was limited to just 1ºC. To hedge his bets, Lindzen added that, in any event, “warming would actually benefit the Earth”.

Among those attending the event, which mostly consisted of engineers and meteorologists, were a number of senior Met Éireann staff, as well as Dr Rory O’Donnell, director of Ireland’s National Social & Economic Council, and Matt Dempsey, CEO of the Irish Farmers Journal, a newspaper owned by the powerful lobby group, the Irish Farmers Association.

Lindzen reacted angrily to a question from an audience member asking about his prior involvement as a tobacco lobbyist, stating any such suggestion was “libellous”.

That was the only brief note of discord from an otherwise hand-picked audience, almost exclusively male and with an estimated average age of 65–70. A “vote of thanks” for Lindzen was led by engineer and former Siemens and Science Foundation Ireland chairman Brian Sweeney.

Who Is Behind the New Group?

Retired UCD meteorologist Dr Ray Bates is understood to be a key mover behind the development of the ICSF. In recent years he has become an active lobbyist for climate inaction in defence of Ireland’s greenhouse gas–intensive beef and dairy sectors.

Speaking with DeSmog UK, O’Brien refused to name any other members of the ICSF. When asked whether Bates was behind the project, O’Brien replied “you may make that assumption”.

Why a meteorologist with no expertise in agriculture chooses to publicly lobby in this area has never been fully explained. And, like Lindzen, Bates has been an enthusiastic promoter of the debunked “global warming hiatus” theory.

Last night’s meeting concluded without any direction from the organisers as to the next steps. However, the web domain ICSF.ie has been registered on its behalf by O’Brien, so it is expected that the secretive group will, at some point, launch a website to support its stated aim of “better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

Judging by the choice of speaker for last night’s inaugural meeting, the ICSF appears intent on attacking and discrediting mainstream science and providing cover for further inaction.

John Gibbons is a Dublin-based specialist writer and commentator on climate and environmental issues. He blogs at ThinkOrSwim.ie You can follow him on Twitter here.

Continue reading

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Engineer Trump leads Human race to the bottom

Below, my article, as it appears in the current edition of Village magazine (ok, apart from adding in the referencing, there were a few other tweaks and alternate adjectives I had probably wished I’d completed with for one final round of amends before submitting the magazine version; guess the web means never having to say you’re sorry!).

No sooner had the reality of having the execrable Donald J Trump as US president begun to truly sink in than the rationalising began. All those awful things he said and did were all really just campaign rhetoric for his hard-core supporters. He’ll pivot to the centre. The system is bigger than one man. American institutions are strong. The Republican Party will rein him in. Besides, it can’t happen here.

Well, it did and it has. While Trump’s staggeringly clumsy overreach in trying to dismember Obamacare led to an embarrassing setback, this was a rare bump in the road to ruin that Trump’s new kleptocracy of billionaire bandits and ideologues have been busy mapping out. Continue reading

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Nature is the silent victim of Nimbyism

Last November Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2 attracted 9.4 million viewers for one episode- two million more than watched the X-Factor that night. It was the most watched nature show in the UK for 15 years. No doubt, like myself, many thousands of viewers from Ireland also tuned in, transfixed by scenes of snakes chasing iguanas, rare footage of snow leopards mating in the wild and a face-off between Komodo Dragons.

That’s what makes it so hard to reconcile this interest in nature documentaries with our national ambivalence to our natural heritage here in Ireland. We love all that wildlife in Africa, Asia and the Americas – we’re just not that keen on the stuff back home. Nature, it seems, suffers from Nimbyism. Everyone seems in favour of it, but not just in their own garden, backyard, townland, parish or county.

This might sound like a harsh, sweeping statement damning all. But then again, we’re living in a country where the government tried to change the law to extend the hedge-cutting and permitted burning dates to the detriment of the wildlife habitats. Thanks to a hard-fought rearguard action by a handful of politicians and NGOs and a petition signed by 27,000 people, a watered-down version of the bill looks like to come into effect – a bill that will still allow hedgecutting on road sides to take place in the nesting season. Continue reading

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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”. Continue reading

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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 and aviation I wrote some years back; the stats may be a little out of date, but the gist is still relevant). Continue reading

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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 on 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. Continue reading

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