Brave new world – or dystopian wasteland? Visions from 2100

CT_tUVGUsAAIN8O.jpg-largeEver stop to ponder what kind of a world might await our
descendants by the end of this century? Irish-Australian entrepreneur and author, John O’Brien has spent more time than most gazing towards the year 2100 through the environmental prism. The fruits of his labours were published earlier this month in his book Visions 2100 – Stories From Your Future.

Visions assembled a panel of 80 environmental writers and thinkers from around the world and from a wide range of backgrounds, each of whom was asked to contribute a short précis of the kind of world they expected – or perhaps hoped – might come to pass at the beginning of the 22nd century.

Two Irish contributors were included – former president Mary Robinson and myself. In the introduction, writer Donella Meadows is quoted as follows: “Environmentalists have failed perhaps more than any other set of advocates to project vision. …The best goal most of us who work toward sustainability offer is the avoidance of catastrophe. We promise survival and not much more.”

Nobody could accuse Mrs Robinson of lacking in optimism. Her contribution to Visions reads as follows:

“My great-grandchildren share the world with over nine billion people; they truly share the planet. They know the reality of their interconnected dependence on their fellow human beings and therefore they respect each other and the planet.

The decisions my generation took in 2015, to set the course for transformative change for a safe world for future generations, have been realised.

So now, poverty is eradicated. Every child goes to school regardless of sex, race, religion or place of birth. Every woman enjoys equality with every man. Every household has access to energy; energy sourced from renewables that has enabled the development of nations, communities and families while protecting our planet.

In 2100, the world is just.”

Nothing would make me happier than to imagine that Mrs Robinson’s vision for a just, equitable future had come to pass. A future where the scourges of poverty and inequality have been eliminated, and 9 billion people have, in the space of eight decades, set aside everything we know about human nature for at least the last 10,000 years and somehow agreed to live in broad harmony with one another and with the ecological systems upon which all depend.

No evidence is advanced to support exactly how a cure was at last found for the human condition, but that is perhaps beyond the scope of such a short, hopeful, contribution. Cynics might dismiss the above as utopian. As philosopher Immanuel Kant put it: “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made.”

I’m still struggling with the notion that humanity might somehow compress 100 millennia of neurological evolution into less than a century. Maybe we will have moved beyond greed, egotism, status-seeking, paranoia, xenophobia, tribalism, religious hatred and toxic neoliberalism by then.

Maybe along the way we will also, somehow, have tip-toed through the ecological minefield of climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity collapse, freshwater depletion, resource exhaustion, desertification, deforestation – and a host of related systemic crises drawing ever closer as we move towards the second half of the second decade of the 21st century. Maybe.

Then again, maybe not. Here’s my slightly more dystopian take on the same assignment, entitled ‘The Age Of Madness’.

“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”.

Given the gloomier tenor of my piece, O’Brien initially planned to run it in the chapter covering ‘Fears’ but instead My contribution was included in Chapter 21, intriguingly entitled ‘The Journey To Letterfrack’. He explains it as follows:

“John Gibbons is an Irish journalist and environmental activist and he does not see “things going so well. His vision could easily sit with our pessimists in Chapter 5, but he is included here for a very specific reason. John has run a successful medical communications business for over twenty years and is a regular commentator in the Irish media on environmental issues, including a weekly environment column in The Irish Times between 2008 and 2010. John is a virulent critic of the media’s lack of responsibility in the reporting of climate change and this is why he is included in our chapter about setting off from here.

John’s vision includes more bad news than good news and he recalls the ‘Age of Madness’ where people decided not to act and not to listen to the scientists. Even the news, published in 2014 by WWF, that ‘half of all the world’s wild animals had been wiped out’ was not enough to gain attention. The fifty million survivors have experienced ‘hubris and humility’ and in their redesigned world, they are ‘keeping it simple’.

On his website, John sets out this position: ‘Like it or not, we live in the Era of Consequences. Neither ignorance nor cynicism is a defence. For those armed with the “the facts, doing nothing is no longer an option.’ This is our starting point. If you have read this far then, for you, ‘nothing is no longer an option’.

He views the media as a critical tool in enabling the community to gain a greater understanding of the problem and the ways we can resolve it. The media tells us that climate change does not sell and is not of interest to their audience. This challenge however may be due to a lack of imagination on the part of the media and those advocating action and is not a valid reason to omit meaningful coverage of a critical issue.”

Having considered the many contributions on the world of 2100, O’Brien, an unapologetic optimist, concludes with his own vision, which he calls ‘Free At Last!’:

“It is hard to believe that less than 100 years ago, organisations used to speak proudly of ‘human capital’ being its ‘best asset’ as if employees were property. Life is 2100 is far removed from this shortsighted approach.

Our natural and social capital are now also treated with more respect. The circular economy is in full swing. Everything is fully recyclable or able to be repurposed. Most things are shared.

The world is changed in other ways beyond recognition. The climate migrations and water wars changed what was valued and how the world was run. Lives are cherished with most people now focussed on building a better world and not running a ‘rat-race’. Our leaders succeed because of their authenticity. Complex societal problems are assigned to the Innovation and Creativity Programs at the many Complexity Institutes. Education is entirely based around systems thinking, common wealth and emotional comprehension. Medics better understand human physiology and can finally control chronic pain effectively.

Of course we still have problems. Human greed is still there and people abuse the system. Criminal convictions for Avarice are however starting to decline as the new global culture gets bedded down. Equity and justice remain primary concerns for our global authorities.

Humans have emerged from the chrysalis of the industrial revolution and are at last starting to reap the real benefits of progress. Our culture of sharing dreams and creating one’s own future has finally given people the freedom of being human – of being ‘Free at last!”

What I labelled ‘The Age Of Madness’, another contributor, Rohan Hamden, an Australian climate risk specialist, segued into ‘The Century of Awakening’, a century in which humanity awoke from its zombie-like consumerist trance. “It turned out that 99% of people just wanted to live happy and purposeful lives. Values they realised they shared with almost everyone on the planet. Democracies suddenly found they could not be elected on fear-based policies. Even autocracies found little support for hatred and protectionism.”

This Century of Awakening, he added, was: “the time when we finally shook off our fear of the natural world, and our fear of each other, and became the real stewards of the planet. Instead of cursing us for the world we left them, those born in the twenty-second century looked back and praised us for the peace and sustainability we had created”.

Hamden’s outline, though necessarily still sketchy, offers a bridge towards how the vision of humanity choosing, against the odds and evidence, to leave behind boom-and-bust and instead collectively opt to survive and thrive could, however improbably, come to pass. Maybe, just maybe.

I think the estimable Bill McKibben may have got it about right in this book when he wrote:

“Looking back on the century, the only real thought is: why didn’t we do this sooner? The technology we’re using – solar panels, windmills, and the like – were available in functional form a hundred years ago. But we treated them as novelties for a few decades – and it was in those decades that climate change gathered its final ferocity. Now we live in a low carbon world and it works just fine – except that there’s no way to refreeze the poles, or lower the sea level, or turn the temperature back down to a place where we can grow food with the ease of our ancestors. Timing is everything, and it hurts to think we blew it.”

It does indeed hurt to think we may have blown it, and blown it big time. There’s plenty to agree and even more to disagree with in the many voices assembled in Visions 2100, but it is undoubtedly a useful addition to the ever-expanding canon of books on the subject of the collision of human aspirations with the uncompromising realities of the physical world.

While the book has already had a number of launch events in Australia, its formal European debut takes place in Paris on December 5th next, right in the middle of COP21 – and since it doesn’t involve marching or placard-waving, I’m working on the assumption that the French authorities won’t be shutting it down.

All other things being equal, I look forward to joining John O’Brien and a good number of fellow contributors at the event. Along the way, I’m hoping to persuade them to come to Dublin in February/March of 2016 for a launch event here.

Visions 2100 can be bought from the iTunes Store at this link. It’s also available from Amazon, either as a paperback or Kindle download, at this link. It’s also on the Easons website at this link.

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“Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!”

Coalition partners Fine Gael and Labour are fast becoming the Laurel and Hardy of environmental regulation, with chaotic, contradictory and just plain wrong statements emanating from the government parties as they attempt to talk their way out of their shambolic non-position on tackling climate change.

Last week, Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes announced that ‘Ireland can meet 2020 emissions targets, according to the EU Commission’. Hayes claimed to have been told by EU Climate Commissioner Arias Canete that, allowing for flexibility mechanisms under EU rules, “Ireland is on course to meet its (2020) obligations”.

This statement may have come as a surprise to Commissioner Canete, whose actual report stated that while the EU overall would beat its 2020 emissions targets, “the report warned that Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and Austria would miss the 2020 target”, according to Euractiv.

Within 48 hours of Hayes’ announcement that Ireland was on target to meet its legally mandated EU emissions reductions targets, his government colleague and Environment Minister, Labour’s Alan Kelly, admitted, in a newspaper interview ahead of the UN Global climate summit in Paris, that ‘it is no secret that Ireland is not going to meet the EU greenhouse emissions targets for 2020’.

Kelly went on to assert – incorrectly – that: “While we won’t meet the 2020 targets we are in a trajectory or a line that is going in the right direction”. Evidence from the EPA flatly contradicts Kelly’s view that Ireland is “going in the right direction”. According to the EPA’s latest emissions projections report: “Ireland is not on track towards decarbonising the economy in the long term in line with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 and will face steep challenges post-2020 unless further polices and measures are put in place over and above those envisaged between now and 2020.”

The chaotic double-speak being engaged in by Hayes and Kelly may best be explained by Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s own dazed and confused performance regarding climate, an issue he has chosen not to understand.

Having last year told the UN in New York that we need to show “conviction, clarity, courage and consistency” in responding to climate change, in reality, An Taoiseach has applied his political efforts to get Ireland off the hook for proposed EU fines that he said could reach as much as €5 billion. His breathtaking answer to Ireland facing EU emissions fines is: we won’t clean up our act, so just change the rules and give us a free pass!

Mr Kenny’s ethics-free approach to key environmental issues was again highlighted in a New York Times investigation on cynical lobbying by car-makers, which stated: “In the summer and fall of 2013, Ms Merkel pressed Brussels and succeeded in overturning an already concluded agreement on CO2 emissions, postponing some regulations until 2021….Ms Merkel was said at the time to have worked with Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, on the lobbying effort”.

The crisis that engulfed the German car industry as a result of the WV emissions rigging scandal proves yet again the scope for corruption of politics and the huge damage to the public interest when our leaders cozy up to powerful special interest groups, be they car makers, the farm lobby or energy companies. Many thousands of Europeans will have died prematurely or suffered extreme ill health as a result of the cynical deception by the Volkswagen group of its nitrous oxide emissions.

Sadly, this deeply cynical approach to public health and environmental issues in the corporate sector appears to be the norm, not the exception, as underlined by recent revelations on how oil giant Exxon was told in the late 1980s by its own scientists that global warming as a result of fossil fuel burning would lead to global climate destabilization by the early 21st century. Scandalously, Exxon not alone failed to act on this information; instead, it actively funded and promoted climate denial for the last two decades.

How many millions more will suffer in the future as leaders like Mr Kenny continue to cosy up to special interests and engage in a dangerous game of delay-and-deny, rather than following the best scientific advice and acting decisively on the public’s behalf to tackle the deadly by-products of industrial society, be they nitrous oxide, CO2 or diesel particulates?

(Above is based on a press release I wrote and was issued on behalf of An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee)

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Microbeads – tiny pollutants with a fearsome impact

Below, my article, as it appears in the Sept/October 2015 edition of Village magazine:

THERE ARE some products, notably tobacco, that are only tolerated by dint of having been around for a very long time. These days, no one in their right might would expect to deliberately bring such a toxic product to the market in western countries and be allowed promote and sell it to the public.

Or so you would think. Back in the late 1990s, the product development team in a cosmetics company came up with a brilliantly simple – and cheap – solution for how to add texture to personal hygiene products, such as exfoliants.

Until then, the industry used natural materials, including dried coconut, crushed and finely ground walnut shells to add an abrasive touch to cosmetics.

These are, however, relatively expensive, and present manufacturing challenges. The industry’s ingenious solution was to quietly replace these natural ingredients with tiny round balls of polyethylene. Inexpensive and easy to handle, thousands of billions of these tiny balls have since been embedded in hundreds of personal care products, including some brands of toothpaste.

These microbeads are typically less than 1mm in width, and, once used, they quickly find their way into water systems, both inland and offshore. Their tiny size means they slip through the filters of almost all water treatment facilities. In the US, an astonishing 1,200 cubic metres of microbeads end up in the rivers, lakes and seas every year.

Microbeads may be tiny, but they pack a fearsome ecological punch. Given their large surface area relative to their size, potent organic pollutants like PCBs and DDT adhere to microbeads, forming super-concentrated mini toxin balls. These travel quickly up the food chain, as plankton ingest individual dots and are then ingested in huge quantities by other creatures across the food web.

And, lest we forget, humans sit at the apex of the world’s aquatic food chains. While other creatures have little choice, by failing to regulate these dangerous plastics, we as a species are actually choosing to poison ourselves.

At a stretch, you might argue that the industries responsible for introducing this potent new aquatic pollutant could have initially argued that nobody really thought about what happened to these products once they were washed down the drain.

However, years of campaigning by environmental NGOs, scientists and concerned public officials have proved that the manufacturers couldn’t care less just how much damage their products cause. Since they don’t have to contribute a cent towards clean up the mess, microbead pollution is just another off-balance sheet ‘externality’ the shareholders of corporations like Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Procter & Gamble are happy to make someone else’s problem.

In mid-2014, New York State became the first place in the world to outright ban products laced with microbeads (a single tube of a well known facial cleanser was found to contain over 350,000 individual plastic beads). This followed entirely unsuccessful efforts to persuade cosmetics companies to voluntarily withdraw these toxic but profitable products.

The decision of the New York State Assembly to go for a total ban followed findings by scientists that America’s Great Lakes were becoming cesspools of floating plastic beads. Water samples drawn from Lake Ontario found 248,000 microbeads per square kilometre of the lake. When dissected, the innards of fish caught in the Great Lakes were found to be “festooned with microbeads”.

The scientist who led the research, Dr Sherri Mason, was asked by a reporter what she thought would be an ‘acceptable’ level of plastic in the Great Lakes. Her reply: “There shouldn’t be any plastic in our water, period”. Within New York State, more than two thirds of its 610 waste water treatment plants are unable to filter out fine plastic particles.

At EU level, progress on phasing out microbeads remains painfully slow, thanks to well organised foot-dragging by many of the main culprits. A spokesperson for Irish Water described microbeads to me as “an emerging contaminant issue”. Irish Water plans to commence a monitoring programme to determine the scope and scale of the problem here, and to assess to what extent, if any, Irish water treatment plants are capable of filtering out these tiny beads.

In a sane world, no corporation could introduce such a novel element, unannounced, into its products without them first being rigorously independently reviewed and assessed, both for toxicity and for their potential to disrupt food webs. In the real world, polluters profit and the rest of us pick up the tab.

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

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We’re in a war with the Earth where no one wins

Below, my article, as it appears in the September edition of Forum, journal of the Irish College of General Practitioners

BY ALMOST any measure, climate change poses the greatest threat to human health and well being in the 21st century. An international scientific consensus attributes the same level of certainty that climate change is both extremely dangerous and primarily anthropogenic in origin as exists linking tobacco and a range of life-threatening conditions.

There are, of course, those who disagree. That a handful of historians continue to dispute that the Holocaust actually occurred, or that a tiny minority of doctors oppose all vaccinations hardly weakens the consensus evidence, accumulated over decades, supporting both the terrible reality of the Holocaust and the enormous health benefits that have flowed from vaccination programmes.

Philip Michael has detailed elsewhere the agonisingly slow progress of international efforts to curb the worst effects of climate change. Meanwhile, the unstoppable march of growth-based global consumerism is on a collision course with the immovable limits of a finite, battered planet.

Our shared biosphere is being unintentionally overwhelmed by the collective activities of billions of people going about their daily lives. “An Armageddon is approaching at the beginning of the third millennium. It is not the fiery collapse of mankind foretold in sacred scripture. It is the wreckage of the planet by an exuberantly plentiful and ingenious humanity,” is how famed naturalist, Prof EO Wilson put it.

In the four decades or so since 1970, the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish in the wild has declined by an average of 52%. For every two wild creatures alive on Earth when I was in primary school, today only one remains. “This global trend suggests we are degrading natural ecosystems at a rate unprecedented in human history”, according to the WWF.

Our fellow species have thus far borne the brunt of this dramatic reshaping of the surface of the planet to provide for the needs and wants of a single species. It is difficult to imagine that, having sown the storm, human health and welfare can expect to escape the gathering whirlwind of a destabilised global climatic system.

The portents of widespread system failure are everywhere to seen. In China, air pollution is now so severe that scientists have described its effects as being akin to a nuclear winter, with plant photosynthesis being disrupted – potentially wreaking havoc on China’s food supply. Beijing’s pollution levels have rendered it “almost uninhabitable for human beings”.

Closer to home, the World Health Organisation (WHO) produced a study on European air pollution. The word they used to summarise their own conclusions was “staggering”. The WHO study attributed some 600,000 deaths in Europe every year directly as a result of air pollution; it calculated the annual cost of illness and death at some $1.6 trillion.

One in four Europeans falls ill or dies prematurely from environmental pollution, and the number one cause of this pollution is the wide-scale combustion of fossil fuels, notably the filthiest of fuels, coal and peat. Diesel engines are a major urban killer. A study in The Lancet in 2011 implicated traffic exposure to particulates as the single most serious preventable trigger of heart attack in the general public.

To date, global average surface temperatures have increased by around 0.85C. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s the fastest rate of change since the last Ice Age. Atmospheric CO2 levels haven’t been this high in at least three million years. At that time, sea levels were 20 metres higher than today.

The agreed threshold beyond which climate change accelerates from ‘dangerous’ to ‘irreversible’ is +2C above pre-industrial levels. We are almost half way to that red line, and emissions continue to rise, year on year. To have any hope of staying below the +2C guard rail, at least 80% of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves can never be burned.

Given that these are worth trillions of euros, persuading or coercing corporations and governments to not tap into this easy, but deadly, wealth, is a challenge of epic proportions.

Harnessing the power of fossil fuels has proved to be a Faustian bargain. It lifted much of humanity out of poverty, and allowed the explosive increases in food production necessary for a quadrupling of our numbers in a single century. Life expectancy and health outcomes have improved for many, yet growing inequality means billions more continue to live in grinding poverty.

The price of bare-knuckle ‘economic progress’ has been the unprecedented wreckage of the natural world – the very systems upon which, ultimately, all human welfare depend. In the words of author and activist Naomi Klein: “our economy is now at war with many forms of life on Earth, including human life”. In this war, there are no winners.

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We mourn for Cecil while ignoring destruction of natural world

Below, my article, as it appears in this weekend’s Irish Times.

WITH modern technology and firepower, it takes little courage and even less skill to kill wild animals. This week US dentist and recreational ‘big game hunter’ Walter James Palmer found himself squarely in the crosshairs as an international controversy exploded over his casual slaughter of an iconic Zimbabwean lion known as Cecil.

Palmer had paid $50,000 for the privilege of killing a lion for ‘sport’, an activity that is technically legal in Zimbabwe. Cecil was, however, based in the protected Hwange National Park, but was lured out using bait and inexpertly shot by Palmer with a crossbow.

The semi-tame lion, which had been fitted with a GPS tracking device as part of a long-term Oxford University study, fled, wounded, and survived for 40 agonising hours as the weekend warrior and his guides stalked it across the savannah.

Dr Palmer’s online profile boasts at least 43 other ‘kills’ of wild and endangered animals, from polar bears to leopards and buffalo. However you may feel about the Minnesota-based dentist’s idea of fun, what makes his case unusual is that, for once, the world actually took notice.

Cecil’s fate has been similar to that of countless billions of other living creatures in recent decades. The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) 2014 ‘Living Planet Index’ confirmed the depth and severity of the global biodiversity crux: habitat loss and degradation, pollution and climate change have led to a precipitous decline of 52 per cent in the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Put another way, for every two wild creatures alive on Earth in 1970, today only one remains.

“This global trend suggests we are degrading natural ecosystems at a rate unprecedented in human history”, according to the WWF. While species extinctions are difficult to quantify, scientists now estimate that some 50,000 species are disappearing every year – that’s around 135 species a day, every day. This is at least 1,000 times higher than the natural or ‘background’ extinction rate.

It is no coincidence that in just the last four decades, human numbers have doubled, to over seven billion, while the global economy has more than quadupled in precisely the same time frame that the natural world has undergone unprecedented decline.

The global economy is, in a very real sense, eating the foundations of life on Earth by consuming its natural capital at a rate far in excess of the planet’s ability to regenerate, and by accumulating the toxic by-products of global scale industrial and agricultural activity so rapidly it is overwhelming the capacity of the biosphere to absorb and render harmless.

In just the last 15 years, the global hunger for resources has seen the world’s rainforests being felled at the astonishing rate of the equivalent of 50 football pitches – every minute. On an annual basis, that’s an area of rich biodiversity twice the size of Ireland lost forever. Our own record isn’t much better. Ireland’s ecologically rich peatlands are being progressively destroyed by a combination of Bord na Mona and private contractors using heavy industrial equipment.

Given our careless collective evisceration of the natural world, why then have millions of people been so moved by the fate of a single lion?

Biodiversity specialist Dr Ernest Small has published research on why humans seem to favour some animals over others (the WWF, for example, has the cuddly Panda as its logo). Dr Small wrote that: “most humans are not just ignorant of but indifferent to almost all of the species on the planet… and are slightly to extremely negative towards the majority of species they encounter.”

The exception to this rule is our collective attitude towards what are known as charismatic megafauna – in other words, large, photogenic animals, notably elephants, giraffe, big cats and bears. “You can’t get much more charismatic than a lion. Here we are as humans getting very excited about charismatic animals. We never think about all the pain we cause to billions of sentient creatures”, Dr Small told

Apex predators such as big cats, wolves or sharks play pivotal roles within their ecosystems. The term ‘trophic cascade’ is used to describe the top-down regulation of ecosystems by predators, and is an essential element of an intact ecosystem. Targeting top predators has negative consequences far beyond just one species.

Fifty years ago, there were half a million lions in the wild in Africa. Today, that number is down by over 95 per cent to barely 20,000. There are more tigers kept as ‘pets’ in the US today than now remain in the wild worldwide. Meanwhile, in Africa this week, president Obama promised a crackdown on the ivory trade that is leading to the grisly slaughter of 25,000 elephants a year.

Barring a profound change of attitude, we are on track to be the last generation to share the Earth with these magnificent wild animals. Their destruction at our hands would be an indelible stain on our species – and a spectacular evolutionary own-goal for homo sapiens.

John Gibbons is an environmental writer and tweets @think_or_swim



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Challenging Ireland’s climate contrarian-in-chief

Back in May 2014, UCD meteorologist, Prof Ray Bates penned a heartfelt plea for continued inaction on climate change, under the lurid headline: ‘Warning of over-alarmist’ stance on climate risk’. It was a weak, poorly argued exercise in that most unscientific of pursuits, namely cherry-picking. The piece was duly taken apart on this blog and elsewhere.

The most comical aspect of Bates’ stirring call to climate inaction was that, as far as we could tell, the reason this scientist was demanding that we low-ball the real and rapidly accelerating risks from climate change was his passionate desire to ensure that the expansionist agenda of the Irish agricultural sector not be in any way constrained by such irksome burdens as our legally mandated requirements to cut GHG emissions in the near and medium term. What, you might ask, has exporting beef and milk powder got to do with climate science? Yes, precisely nothing.

As I wondered aloud at the time: “What I am curious to know is why Prof Bates – a meteorologist – spends so much time lobbying for agriculture, and much less time taking about the very real threats that climate change poses to us all – and that very much includes our agriculture sector”.

We are all still waiting for an answer. Undeterred, Bates at the start of this month winkled his way back onto the OpEd pages of the Irish Times to essentially re-hash his 2014 cri de coeur for his beloved beef and dairy industry. Sheltering behind his impressive scientific credentials, Bates this time went a good deal further.

He concluded his latest jeremiad with the stirring injunction that we should approach the Paris COP21 negotiations later this year: “based on scientific findings and on pragmatism, not ideology”. For Bates to conclude his ideologically charged and scientifically suspect article in this fashion was bordering on high farce.

Under his newly minted guise of “an Irish citizen”, Bates rolled off a sly misrepresentation of the (already highly conservative) IPCC findings. Barry McMullin of An Taisce offered a robust critique of this article via the Letters page, zeroing in on his “idiosyncratic downplaying of the stark warnings contained in recent reports from the highly respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

Next, Justin Kilcullen weighed in with a killer blow regarding Bates’ canard about food security: “Let’s be clear about a couple of things. Firstly, beef and dairy production have nothing to contribute to world food security. If anything they will achieve the opposite in the long term. The idea the people of Africa and Asia will be surviving on Irish beef and cheese in years to come is risible.”

While McMullin, Kilcullen and others made valid criticisms of Bates’ piece, what was missing from the ensuing correspondence in the Letters page was an expert response to the equally risible scientific claims set out by Bates under the cover of his CV as a once-decorated scientist.

What, you might ask, did Ireland’s pre-eminent climate scientist, Prof John Sweeney, make of this article? Surely, if it really was as bad as I’m suggesting, you’d expect Prof Sweeney to have had no choice but to set the record straight. Well, that’s exactly what he did…or tried to do. Sweeney wrote a careful, measured but quite devastating response, picking apart the deeply flawed science in Bates’ article (“complacent…contrarian…cherry-picked”) and submitted it to the Letters page within two or three days of publication of the offending article.

Incredibly, while the Irish Times was prepared to give prominent editorial space to a climate contrarian, it then denied the ‘right of reply’ of the 97% IPCC consensus of climate scientists to the numerous (and I use Sweeney’s own phrase here) “scientific inaccuracies which permeate the article”.

In the interests of a complete and accurate response to Bates’ article, I reproduce below in full the letter the Irish Times, in its wisdom, deigned not fit for publication (An Taisce have just issued a press statement on a modified version of this here):



I congratulate the Irish Times for its enlightened editorial of Friday 3rd July, particularly as it offered a rebuttal of some of the opinions expressed earlier in the week by Professor Ray Bates. Not for the first time, Professor Bates sought to espouse his contrarian views regarding the seriousness of climate change by a selective ‘cherry picking’ of the recent IPCC Assessment Report and a misinterpretation of current climate science.

There are many aspects of the various contentions made by Prof. Bates which lack robustness, too many to reply individually to. However what is most disappointing from an academic perspective is the selective quoting of only that part of a paragraph from the 5th Assessment Report which appears to suit his arguments. He states that recent warming has been confined to two periods (supposedly ending in 1998), and contends that the human contribution to this warming is comparable to the ‘natural’.

The sentence cherry picked from the IPCC was as follows: “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Had he wished to accurately report the paragraph concerned he would have emphasised the immediately following sentence in the Report also. This clarifies that the “more than half” attribution is effectively a minimum; in fact the current best scientific estimate is that essentially all of the warming over the last 60 years is due to human activity (“The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period”).

There are a number of other scientific inaccuracies which permeate the article. The claimed increased uncertainty regarding causes of future sea level rise is just one. Far from increased uncertainty in attributing causes to sea-level rise, the recent IPCC Report provided a closed budget for the first time, the very opposite of increased uncertainty. Similarly, the preoccupation with the rate of warming since 1998 is also at variance with what has actually been observed. Warming has continued since 1998 and 2014 was the warmest year on record, with early indications that 2015 will exceed even this. While short term variations occur in where the heat of the planet is being stored, its continuing, rapid, and accelerating warming, due primarily to human activity, is not in any significant scientific doubt whatsoever.

Despite Professor Bates’ complacent contention to the contrary, it is absolutely valid to describe the problem of climate change as a ‘planetary emergency’. This weekend in southern Germany over 30 science Nobel Laureates gathered to make a declaration on climate change. They made a similar declaration nearly 60 years ago about nuclear arms. Their considered opinion is that “our world today faces another threat of comparable magnitude”.

Professor Bates cites an unidentified conference to substantiate his alternative arguments. Perhaps if he had attended the Climate Justice conference in Maynooth two weeks ago that he refers to, and listened to UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson, or heard the poignant case made by the Prime Minister of Tuvalu at the recent conference on the Papal Encyclical in Rome which I attended, he might reconsider his blind acceptance of the ‘national interest’ as the message Ireland wants to send the world on this issue.

Yours etc.

Emeritus Professor John Sweeney, Maynooth University


Shortly before placing his article with the Irish Times, Bates had rehashed the same arguments for that most eager of audiences – the Irish Farmers Journal, mouthpiece of the IFA, an organisation that has shown great determination to not understand climate change (presumably because that might throw a sprong in the wheels of their agri-expansionist agenda).

In keeping with his curious habit of replying to private emails by cc’ing uninvolved parties, Bates responded to a (private) email I sent to him in early June wondering if he was aware that both NASA and the NOAA had now categorically refuted the ‘climate hiatus’ hypothesis by cc’in the Editor of the Farmers’ Journal, among others.

I pointed out that, according to NOAA, the peer-reviewed study found that: “the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or “hiatus” in the rate of global warming in recent years”. Well, that’s pretty clear then.

Then again, maybe not. Ray explained to me that, being a proper scientist, and not a mere ‘science writer’ like me, he doesn’t rush to judgement. Fair enough. His point was ever so slightly undermined by his including and referencing in his email reply a copy of an article from Wattsupwiththat, a hardcore US climate denial website. According to Bates, “I have read some reactions to the paper by scientists who have had time to study it – please see the attachment.  These comments, some of which are by scientists for whom I have great respect, do not inspire confidence in the results or significance of the paper.”

So, who are the folks in the WattsUpwiththat article who Bates finds more convincing than those alarmists at NASA and the NOAA? (didn’t those same NASA shysters who he finds so uninspiring just manoeuvre a space probe 5 billion kilometres across the solar system to map Pluto in exquisite detail?). How about Judith Curry, Patrick Michaels, Richard Lindzen – and my personal favourite and occasional sparring partner, the litigious Honourable Lord Monckton of Blechley. In short, a roll-call of some of the world’s most prominent anti-climate science ideologues, contrarians and spin doctors.

These are also the people Ray Bates has such tremendous respect for that he is prepared to take their word ahead of NASA, the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK Royal Society, and their counterparts in every major country in the world.

And as for the IPCC? Bates has found, like many others engaged in motivated reasoning that if you pick and choose your sentences carefully, you can claim – to a lay audience – to be speaking with the authority of the IPCC. As Prof Sweeney has shown so clearly above, Bates is instead grossly misrepresenting and distorting the IPCC’s published reports to buttress his own idiosyncratic, contrarian standpoint.

His Canute-like defence of industrialised beef and dairy exporting at the very moment when every credible scientist and scientific organisation on Earth is warning of a deepening global emergency would be comical, were it not for the fact that, at least in some quarters, Bates is still seen as having something useful to contribute to the debate on how we respond to climate change.

Despite his repeated public utterance on agriculture and climate change, Bates has never – ever – published anything in the scientific literature on this subject, hence his new “concerned citizen” persona, ie. I’m a respected expert when it suits, but just Joe Public when it doesn’t.

Apart from not being an expert of any sort in this field, Bates also refuses to engage with the ample scientific literature, both in Ireland and elsewhere, which shows the absolute vulnerability of the agricultural sector to the ravages of climate change. While the IFA may be forgiven for such blinkered thinking, for a trained scientist to tip-toe over these facts is, to put it mildly, bizarre.

I wonder what the actual experts on agriculture might think? Prof Alan Matthews of TCD is such a specialist. He is also on the newly formed Advisory Council on Climate Change. Back in early June, Matthews committed the treasonable heresy of pointing out that, in the absence of EU subsidies, virtually the entire Irish beef sector would be insolvent. For his insolence, the IFA suggested he be removed from the Advisory Council.

“If you were to add in the additional costs of greenhouse gases those net margins would be even more negative. This really makes you wonder, is this not a cheap abatement option?”, ventured Matthews. Ireland would benefit, both financially and environmentally, by exiting the unprofitable and GHG-intensive beef business and transferring large areas of the country to forestry.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the exquisite irony by now, of the (actual) agriculture expert concerned about climate change and GHG abatement versus the meteorologist cheerfully prepared to gamble on the future of human civilisation and ignore every red flag warning from all the world’s leading scientific academies and journals, just as long as the beef and dairy sectors keep on putting luxury foods on the tables of the world’s middle classes.

Bates’ argument, in summary, is that he reckons future global warming will be on the low end of the range of probabilities set out in the various IPCC reports (MIT scientists have helpfully developed a ‘Greenhouse Gamble’ wheel, which you can click to calculate probability of a range of outcomes. It is not even remotely reassuring). To support this view, he carefully picks and chooses supporting arguments, while ignoring uncooperative evidence (such as the recent NOAA/NASA study) and suggesting that maybe, just maybe, the IPCC climate models have got it wrong (which in turn conveniently ignores the fact that global instrumental observations are also tracking the unmistakable signature of rapid anthropogenic climate change).

He may, of course, be right. Statistically, the likelihood of low climate sensitivity leading to less than 2C of global warming this century is possible, but just not at all likely (even less so  when policymakers follow the advice of contrarians). It is every bit as possible, statistically, that the climate may instead show high sensitivity, leading to 4,5 or 6C+ temperature rises this century, leading to a carbon Armageddon, including the evisceration of global agriculture.

The most likely (c.3C) mid-range climate sensitivity would change the face of the Earth this century, placing billions of people in danger, inundating low-lying (and heavily populated) coastal areas and creating countless millions of climate refugees.

While we can all hope for low climate sensitivity (and that no nasty positive feedbacks kick in any time soon), it would be grossly irresponsible to base a do-nothing policy on what is little more than ideologically motivated, scientifically baseless optimism that is likely to lead to irreversible human immiseration on a scale beyond our bleakest imaginings.

Bates is as entitled as you, me or anyone else to express his views on climate science and, for that matter, agricultural policy. But the fact that he speaks as a rank amateur on the latter while systematically misrepresenting the former means the media and other organisations’ tendency to present him as a disinterested ‘climate expert’ needs to be vigorously – and repeatedly – challenged.

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

Francis speaks frankly on the crisis of civilisation

Below, text of my article that first appeared on last night, just ahead of the unveiling of the eagerly awaited Papal Encyclical. Thus far, it has been read over 48,000 times, with well over 1,000 shares via Facebook and solid pick-up on Twitter too. What this suggests is that, contrary to the prevailing view within our mainstream media, there is indeed a keen public appetite to be told the unvarnished truth about the unfolding climate and ecological crises.

Ironically, the last time the Irish Times published an article of mine, it attracted almost 700 online comments, and was the ‘most read’ article on for most of the day it was published. So, while the public wants journalism to be honest and forthright, editors remain fearful, uncertain, indifferent and distracted; this is masked, I suspect, by hard-boiled cynicism.

Whether this will in any way be dented by the powerful papal intervention seems, at first glance, unlikely. After all, he appears to have been channeling Naomi Klein in pointing out the inescapable fact that one exuberant, restless and ingenious species has, in the blink of a geological eye, overwhelmed the natural world, upended aeons of evolution and swept all before it on what looks ever more like a rendezvous with self-inflicted oblivion.

But, at least to this observer’s eye, there is something dramatically different about this high-level intervention (even allowing for the Catholic church’s many self-inflicted travails). As ever, time will tell.


FEW COULD imagine the ultra-conservative Vatican at the epicentre of a rebellion against rampant capitalism and its destruction of the natural world. The release tomorrow (June 17th) of what may well be the most radical papal encyclical in modern history strongly suggests we do indeed live in extraordinary times.

A leaked draft of the encyclical (or teaching letter) suggests that Pope Francis, a boxer in his youth, is coming out swinging, warning of the need for truly radical steps to arrest the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem”. Put plainly, he warned: “destroy Creation and Creation will destroy us”.

The pope explicitly links bare-knuckle capitalism with both ecological catastrophe and growing inequality. Given that just 67 billionaires control more than half the entire world’s wealth – each individual billionaire controlling more resources than an average 100 million people – it is clear that the pope is making some powerful new enemies. These same plutocrats bankroll politics and own the media in many countries, so the backlash against Francis will be epic.

In recent months, the science-savvy pontiff, who holds a Masters degree in chemistry, outraged neoliberals by dismissing ‘trickle-down’ economics as “a failed theory”. He went on to warn that “the invisible hand of capitalism cannot be trusted”. He also argued that “excessive consumerism is killing our culture, values and ethics…and the conservative ideal of individualism is undermining the common good”.

Francis is the first pope from the Global South, the part of the world that has been the loser as globalised capitalism concentrated more power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands. His experience in his native Argentina, which was torn apart by economic collapses has left Francis deeply skeptical of the very capitalism pretty much every Irish politician, economist and commentator believes is essential to ‘grow the economy’.

Economic growth has come with a fearsome price tag. Half of all the wild animals on Earth have disappeared since 1970, according to a major WWF study. On our current trajectory, within the next three or four decades most of what remains of the natural world will quite literally have been wiped off the face of the planet. This generation of humans is both living through and the driving force behind the greatest global mass extinction event in at least the last 50 million years.

Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of the deniers to claim otherwise, climate change continues gathering both pace and momentum, setting in train processes that are, at least on human timescales, essentially irreversible.

Polar scientists now calculate a minimum of five metres of sea level rise is already ‘locked in’ as a result of unstoppable melting events in Antarctica and Greenland. This is sufficient to redraw the map of the world, and render many of our great coastal cities uninhabitable over time. However, our current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pathway could, in just another decade or two, increase the amount of ‘locked-in’ ice melt to raise global sea levels by a staggering 20 metres over time.

While global average temperatures have already risen by almost 1C, causing sharp rises in extreme weather events across the world, climate scientists warn that our ever-increasing GHG emissions as a result of burning fossil fuels are rapidly pushing the global temperature gauge towards the +2C ‘red line’. Beyond this point lies a near future of weather disasters, famines, droughts and widespread economic and social disruption on a scale not witnessed since World War II.

The ecological and climate emergency is quite literally the gravest threat human beings have ever collectively faced.

While speaking as the head of the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic church, Francis stresses that this encyclical, Laudato si (“Blessed are You”) is first and foremost a moral, rather than an overtly religious message. To drive home this point, the 200-page document will tomorrow be jointly launched by a Catholic cardinal, a Christian Orthodox church leader and a climate scientist who happens to be an atheist.

The encyclical will make acutely uncomfortable reading for practising Catholics like Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who, in tandem with Environment minister, Alan Kelly, has decided – for short-term gain – to make ignoring climate change de facto government policy.

The timing of Francis’ intervention is propitious: the UN’s major climate conference, dubbed COP 21, takes place in Paris in December, and the pope is taking to the road on an intensive lobbying campaign in support of a deal radical enough to avert disaster. Scientists are impressed. “The encyclical is probably going to have a bigger impact than the Paris negotiations”, said Gavin Schmidt of NASA.

“The attitudes hindering the path towards a solution…go from negating the problem to indifference, to an easy resignation, or to blind faith in technical solutions”, wrote Francis. At a stroke he dismantled the favourite talking points of deniers. He also dismissed ‘market fixes’ such as carbon credits, pointing out that these most likely “give rise to new forms of speculation”.

Laudato si may be the most genuinely radical document in a generation. It strikes at the heart of a deadly crisis by identifying unrestrained capitalism and the ideology of throw-away consumerism as widening inequality while both devastating the natural world and destabilising the global climate.

If Pope Francis’ intervention does indeed prove a decisive turning point, even the most cynical among us may have to concede that, from time to time, miracles do happen.


Footnote: below, the comments made jointly by Prof John Sweeney and Fr Sean MacDonagh (the latter is known to have had a significant direct input into shaping Francis’ thinking on climate justice and theology in particular) in response to today’s encyclical. I felt it worth carrying them in full:


THE PAPAL Encyclical Laudato Si, or Praised Be is titled after a famous prayer by St. Francis of Assisi and reflects the commitment of Pope Francis to the themes of environmental stewardship and climate change. In it he calls for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality. This eagerly awaited encyclical from the first Pontiff from the Developing World brings immense moral authority to the requirement, especially by developed countries to address in a meaningful way the growing threat of climate change. In what is an endorsement of the environmental movement from the world’s oldest and largest international organisation, Pope Francis, a trained chemist, calls for urgent action to develop policies to reduce greenhouse gases, including substituting fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources.

The Encyclical follows on from a number of comments by previous Popes on the subject and emphasises that climate change is not simply an economic issue, but one with immense moral and ethical dimensions. In the lead-up to the crucial Paris Conference in November, when a global agreement is hoped for it provides an important contribution. The Irish bishops have also been prominent in addressing this issue through their recent project/pastoral letter entitled: “Cry of the Earth” prepared in conjunction with Trocaire. Indeed the two principal authors of this document: Fr. Sean McDonagh and Professor John Sweeney are aware that their work was provided to Cardinal Turkson, the main author of the encyclical. A major conference on Climate Justice supported by Trocaire, Maynooth University and St. Patrick’s College, timed to coincide with the encyclical, will take place in Maynooth next week1.

The main theme of the Encyclical is that of climate justice, essentially that the burdens imposed by the main greenhouse gas emitters should be recompensed, that the polluter should pay principle be recognised. This is highly relevant to Ireland, which has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rates in the world. It is also relevant to the current Climate and Low Carbon Development Bill, currently making its way through the Oireachtas.

It is ironic that Irish politicians have refused to accept modest amendments designed to make the bill an effective instrument to tackle Ireland’s contribution to adverse climate change impacts. It is particularly ironic, given the worldwide attention on climate justice, that the government vetoed an amendment to include mention of climate justice in the Bill as recently as last week. It is also regrettable that Ireland refuses to express in its legislation a target for greenhouse gas reduction as far away as 2050, a year that most other countries specify in their legislation.

The Pope’s message is highly relevant to Ireland. It is a reminder of the urgent and compelling need for courageous political leadership to see off short term powerful interest groups in putting in place a legislative regime that is not simply a sop to the problem. It is also a reminder that climate change mitigation is should not simply involved an economist-centred approach, but one that reflects the global as well as local interests of climate justice.

Posted in Global Warming, Media, Psychology, Sustainability | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A Climate Bill that’s built to fail?

The confirmation earlier today that retired ESRI economist, Prof John FitzGerald has been given the plum job of chairing the Expert Advisory Council on Climate Change has hardly been greeted with universal applause.

The first question is what exactly qualifies FitzGerald for the gig? Many people were wondering the same thing last week regarding Patrick Neary, our one-time Financial Regulator, or The Dog That Didn’t Bark, as he is better known.

What’s the connection between Neary and FitzGerald, you may ask? Well, during his pitiful presentation on the multiple failings of his tenure as regulator, Neary was at pains to point out that while he was a humble civil servant doing a difficult task for which he was ill-equipped and with zero political backing, he took his cues from the real experts, specifically those highly polished top-drawer economists over at the ESRI.

After all, they weren’t beholden to anyone, they had plenty of analytical tools and no shortage of in-house expertise. They also had ready access to the media, both print and broadcast. If there was anything rotten in the Irish economy, surely the high-powered economists at the ESRI would know about it? Well, apparently not.

While by 2007, the dogs in the street seemed to have spotted that Ireland had become a bubble economy, with critically dangerous levels of dependence on a seriously overheated property sector, none of this was to come between the ESRI’s finest and their economic models and carefully tabulated assumptions as set out in its now-infamous Medium Term Review, 2008-2015.

In its Executive Summary, they projected annual growth rate from 2008-2015 of 3.75%. Even though the cracks were already showing at the time of its writing, FitzGerald et al cheerfully opined: “Our analysis suggests that, even if the current downturn were to be more severe than anticipated, the economy would eventually recover more vigorously to realise the medium-term growth rate”.

While Neary was pensioned off into well-compensated ignomony, nobody at the ESRI, to the best of this writer’s knowledge, lost their jobs as a result of providing this hideously inaccurate State economic forecasting service that, in no small degree, helped steer our Ship of Fools onto the rocks as the economy collapsed and tens of billions of unrepayable gambling debts of dodgy bankers and builders were piled onto the hapless Irish public (in response to this blog, UCD economist Karl Whelan rushed to FitzGerald’s defence on Twitter earlier today. Apart from excoriating the poor quality of this post – naturally – he added: “Fitz has promoted the idea of higher carbon taxes for lower income taxes for at least 25 years. Shooting the wrong messenger”).

You may have found yourself snickering at Neary’s pathetic performance last week, but when he said the ESRI from its economic crows’ nest gave no warning whatever as to the disaster that would befall us, in that at least he was being entirely accurate.

I spotted said Prof FitzGerald at an EPA lecture on climate change in Dublin’s Mansion House back in early March. The fruits of his research appeared later that month in his Irish Times column, in an article inauspiciously titled, ‘Solution to global warming is technology’. Given the vast ranges of uncertainties involved in Earth sciences, understanding climate change and grasping its wider implications is largely about risk assessment.

And if anyone in Ireland should be chastened by their own calamitous personal failure to assess risk, it would be said Prof FitzGerald. This, to me, was a good thing: nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes, but only the truly foolish fail to learn from these painful experience. So what exactly has FitzGerald learned? Well, if his own writing is anything to go by, the answer is: absolutely nothing.

As I explained at length in a ThinkOrSwim posting back in March, FitzGerald’s Irish Times article was again that chilling mix of hubris and incompetence that so many economists seem to bring to climate change. Then again, since FitzGerald’s punishment for being dead wrong about the crash is ready access to the media and now, chairmanship of the Expert Advisory Council that will advise the Government on implemeting the Climate Act when it finally comes into being, what on Earth would be the point of learning from his mistakes?

A cynic once described experience as the process of making the same mistakes, but with increasing confidence. This being the case, we can be said to have a truly experienced figure heading up the Advisory Council. Ireland does of course have a handful of actual climate experts, most notably Prof John Sweeney of NUIM, who has been part of Ireland’s representation as an IPCC expert for many years.

Sweeney has been, it appears, excluded from this new Expert Advisory Council. If you are wondering why, his trenchant response to FitzGerald’s pitiful article back in March could have sealed his fate. Sweeney, a man who rarely seeks out the limelight and is always polite and measured in his exchanges, was unusually animated in calling out the “deeply flawed” nonsense being pedalled by FitzGerald, which he said “betrays the fallacy of framing the climate change problem solely in an economic paradigm”.

Sweeney went on to point out that “narrowly focused economic perspectives on the climate change problem frequently reinforce political inertia by emphasising the “what’s in it for us” issues that enable procrastination based on perceived national self-interest.” The NUIM professor concluded his broadside by pointing out that climate change “is a game changer which cannot be accommodated in conventional economic paradigms”. The science, Sweeney presciently warned, “and not economics or national self-interest, must drive policy”.

And so, in a nutshell, the champions of narrow national self-interest (Coveney, Kelly et al) have ousted the ‘science science’ in favour of that far more pliable pseudo-science of economics, where uncooperative physical realities such as finite resources and limits set by physics, such as the carrying capacity of the atmosphere, can be blithely ignored and reasoned away with a quick tweak of a discount rate (FitzGerald’s former ESRI colleague, the neoliberal economist Prof Richard Tol, has been muddying the waters of climate change policy for years by using an assortment of techniques to low-ball risks and ignore the benefits of dealing with climate change).

I speculated back in March that Prof FitzGerald’s new-found interest in climate change was probably linked to his brushing up the auld CV for the Advisory Council gig, and so it came to pass.

That FitzGerald is hopelessly out of touch with (or, more likely, simply unaware of) the stark realities presented by the physical science of climate change is evidenced by the following knuckle-headed assessment: “It is our grandchildren and great grandchildren who would benefit from applying the brakes today to bring the momentum of climate change to a slow halt. Like development aid, action on climate change involves an appeal to altruism on the part of voters – there is little in it for people living in Ireland today.”

That view might, in 1995, or perhaps, at a stretch, 2005, have been seen as misguided but understandable. Given the absolute clarity and overwhelming scientific consensus that now surrounds the core science of climate change, and given the extremely narrow window remaining in which the global community can exercise any meaningful control on climate change before it becomes a planetary runaway train, FitzGerald’s opinions sound naive and outdated.

So far, so bad. Prof Frank Convery, late of UCD and Prof Alan Matthews of TCD, are also, according to today’s news report, also likely to be on the Council. Matthews does appear to have a solid grasp of reality, while we await Convery’s inputs with interest. Beyond that, the EPA, Teagasc and the SEAI all get ex-officio seats, with six further spots to be filled.

Prof Ray Bates of UCD may have been busy positioning himself for a spot on the Council. Bates has taken an increasingly skeptical position in recent years; in particular he has been busy pedalling the ‘climate hiatus’ angle – this is the notion, crudely expressed, that global warming has somehow stopped or levelled off since the late 1990s.

According to Bates, “…No completely confident explanation of either the warming hiatus or the models’ failure to replicate it is at present available”. And on this basis, he merrily thrashes even the highly conservative, politically diluted and ultra-cautious IPCC AR5 report on the grounds that ‘it’s the hiatus, stupid’, or arguments to that effect.

Bates quotes career climate contrarians such as Richard Lindzen and Judith Curry to buttress his argument; recently, he sent a link to a document from the secretly funded denialist think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, to defend his challenging the IPCC’s findings on CO2 and ocean acidification. The problem with the ‘hiatus’ argument is that it is incorrect. A major recent NOAA study has blown it clean out of the water. It “refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or ‘hiatus’ in the rate of global warming in recent years”.

Since the release of the IPCC (AR5) report, “NOAA scientists have made significant improvements in the calculation of trends and now use a global surface temperature record that includes the most recent two years of data, 2013 and 2014—the hottest year on record”. Its conclusion: “Our new analysis suggests that the apparent hiatus may have been largely the result of limitations in past datasets, and that the rate of warming over the first 15 years of this century has, in fact, been as fast or faster than that seen over the last half of the 20th century.”

This is very awkward indeed for those, like Bates, who argue publicly that the short-term interests of industrialised, export-driven agriculture are somehow of more consequence than the existential threats posed by climate change (and before you ask why would an atmospheric scientist be publicly lobbying for Irish beef and dairy expansion, while ignoring all the published science that points out the extreme vulnerability of food production to climate change? I have no idea. I did enquire, but have yet to receive a reply).

Tomorrow (Tues/9th) afternoon sees the Committee Stage of the Climate Bill (list of proposed Opposition amends is here). The indefatigable deputy Catherine Murphy has submitted a slew of useful amendments. “The Bill aims for a low-carbon Ireland but doesn’t say what that means. We think the Bill should include a simple 80% emissions reduction target like recent law in Finland” Oisin Coghlan of FOE is quoted in the Irish Times. “At the very least the Government’s own definition of low carbon should be included in the Bill. Without that clarity the law will fail to deliver the climate action it promises.”

In summary, what most observers would like to see emerge is a clear political signal that Ireland is irrevocably committed to an ultra low-carbon future. This will give confidence to a slew of investment in both renewable and energy-saving technologies, as well as reshaping transport and agriculture policy towards genuine sustainability.

For my money, we have to impose ‘carbon budgets’ on each Government department, in exactly the same way as each operates within a fiscal budget. Failure of a minister to deliver on required reductions their department’s annual carbon budget should be as serious as failing to live within agreed financial targets. Scotland last month produced more electricity from wind energy than used by its entire domestic sector. Clean, locally produced energy and jobs, or filthy, imported fuels that foul the air locally and destroy our shared atmosphere – is that really such a tough choice?

The independence and expertise of the Advisory Council, notwithstanding the abovementioned concerns about its Chair, is still crucial. If Fitzgerald sticks to being an effective chair and lets the actual climate experts get on with their tasks, he may yet prove my reservations groundless.

Behind the scenes, underfunded and outgunned NGOs and umbrella groups like the Stop Climate Chaos coalition and An Taisce have been keeping on the pressure to get a much, much better Bill. They are up against political cynicism, public service inertia and vigorous and well-funded lobbying by special interest groups like the IFA and IBEC.

It’s an entirely unequal battle, but what evens things up in the long run is that those fighting climate change are on the right side of history, and this reality, sooner or later, will be largely uncontested.

Posted in Economics, Global Warming, Irish Focus | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Europe’s air pollution crisis brings climate reality close to home

Below, my article as it appears in this month’s Village magazine…

WHILE global pollution crises, from climate change to plastics in the oceans, are showing no signs of abating, the worst effects are, we in the ‘developed world’ are reassured to believe, clustered in poorer countries and distant ecosystems.

One of the many environmental paradoxes is that, while global ecological indexes are in freefall, we in the more prosperous parts of the world have never had it so good. The outsourcing of heavy industry from much of Europe and the US to the Far East over the last two decades has been a win-win for the west. The cost of manufactured goods plummeted thanks to the vast new pools of cheap labour, leading to the last decade and a half turning into greatest shopping spree in human history.

While we shopped, they dropped. China today burns nearly half the world’s coal. Air pollution is now so severe that Chinese scientists have described its effects as being akin to a nuclear winter, with photosynthesis in plants being disrupted – potentially wreaking havoc on China’s food supply. A 2104 report from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences stated that that Beijing’s pollution levels made the city “almost uninhabitable for human beings”.

While the climate-altering greenhouses gases spewing from thousands of new smokestacks across Asia are demonstrably as much a threat to Ireland as they are to China or India, it remains alarmingly easy for our politicians and policymakers to poo poo such abstractions as the concentrations of an invisible, odourless gas like carbon dioxide (CO2) while instead tilting their ire, Don Quixote-style at ‘unsightly’ windmills.

And while the silent apocalypse being wrought by the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels inches ever closer, we can at least console ourselves that it’s a problem for ‘other’ people (those divided from us either by geography or by time) to deal with.

This narrow view was shattered by a recent report from the World Health Organisation (Europe) that took an in-depth look at the costs to Europe right now from air pollution. The word they used to summarise their own conclusions was “staggering”. It’s hardly an overstatement. The WHO study attributed some 600,000 deaths in Europe every year directly as a result of air pollution; it calculated the annual cost of illness and death at some $1.6 trillion (yes, trillion).

This enormous sum is the equivalent of some 10% of the GDP of the entire European Union. “Curbing the health effects of air pollution pays dividends. The evidence we have provides decision-makers across the whole of government with a compelling reason to act”, according to Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “If different sectors come together on this, we not only save more lives but also achieve results that are worth astounding amounts of money”.

The economic cost of deaths accounts for over US$ 1.4 trillion per annum. Another 10% is added to this to account for the cost of diseases from air pollution, resulting in the total of around US$ 1.6 trillion. The economic value of deaths and diseases due to air pollution is, according to the WHO, based on the amount societies are willing to pay to avoid these deaths and diseases with necessary interventions. In these calculations, “a value is attached to each death and disease, independent of the age of the person and which varies according to the national economic context”.

More than nine in 10 people living in the European Region are exposed to annual levels of outdoor fine particulate matter that are in excess of the WHO’s air quality guidelines. This translates into 482,000 premature deaths in 2012 from heart and respiratory diseases and strokes, as well as lung cancers. Indoor air pollution accounted for another 117,200 premature deaths, five times more in poorer than in higher-income European countries.

A related WHO study tallied that one in four Europeans falls ill or dies prematurely from environmental pollution. So much for this simply being a far-away problem affecting people and places we know and care little about.

The law of unintended consequences applies in attempts at curbing pollution. Many European governments, including the Fianna Fail/Green coalition, moved to introduce reforms in motor taxation to favour vehicles that produced lower CO2 emissions. While this undoubtedly nudged car makers into producing cleaner engines, the single biggest switch was from petrol to diesel combustion.

The massive shift to diesel on Irish roads has happened rapidly. This seemingly ‘environmentally friendly’ move (diesel engines produce around 20% less CO2 per kilometre travelled than petrol equivalents) has a nasty sting in the tailpipe. Diesel engines emit 10 times the fine particles and up to twice the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of petrol. These toxins have been linked to 7,000 deaths in the UK each year.

A study in the medical journal, The Lancet in 2011 implicated traffic exposure to particulates as the single most serious preventable trigger of heart attack in the general public, and the principal cause of 7.4% of all attacks. Particulates are classed as carcinogens by the WHO. Fine particulates (those below 2.5 micrometers, or less than 30 times smaller than the width of a single strand of hair) are particularly dangerous.

These microscopic particulates penetrate deep into the lungs, and into individual alveoli, passing through cell membranes and migrating into other organs. Established health effects include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, premature delivery, birth defects and premature death. Infants and children are particularly at risk from the effects of particulates, and these in turn are most intense in urban areas in proximity to heavy traffic.

In April 2015, its Supreme Court ruled that the British government must take urgent steps to tackle air pollution in cities. The UK is facing huge fines from the European Commission for failing to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The Supreme court ordered the UK Department for the Environment to draw up new air quality plans by the end of 2015, setting out how it plans to dramatically tackle air pollution.

According to the WHO analysis, the cost to Ireland of air pollution is just over $2.5 billion annually, estimated at around 1.3% of Ireland’s GNP. The figures are very significantly higher in many eastern European countries, where the annual cost of air pollution averages up to 20% of GNP.

Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency monitors domestic air quality, and in 2014 it raised concerns over levels of the cancer-causing particulates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are produced by burning solid fuels, and ozone which in high concentrations causes breathing problems, damages lungs and can trigger asthma.

The EPA noted that local air quality was significantly impacted by burning coal or peat in the home, as well as the level of vehicular traffic in urban areas. The EPA also expressed concern about the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air in urban areas.

“Ireland must develop and implement policies to reduce travel demand, emphasising sustainable transport modes such as cycling, walking and public transport and improving the efficiency of motorised transport,” according to the EPA.

In tandem with its atrocious performance on the Climate Bill, there is zero indication that the government or indeed the execrable current environment minister, Alan Kelly has any interest whatever in curbing pollution or tackling our spiralling transport and agricultural emissions, any more than he has in lifting a finger on climate change.

To the contrary, the science-illiterate Kelly appears to favour a return to industry-friendly light touch regulation in housing, coupled with vague and deliberately meaningless ‘targets’ on emissions reduction with no mechanism to actually deliver them.

We may now be witnessing a rapid regression to the cowboy building blitz of the boom years, coupled with toothless and useless climate legislation. Meanwhile, the new WHO data on air pollution is a timely reminder that what you can’t see can indeed hurt you. Right now, people are paying with their health and their lives for our failure to address air pollution.

The same steps needed to tackle this epidemic would also set us on the road to climate stabilisation by reining in the reckless burning of fossil fuels and rapidly transitioning to clean, safe alternatives. But as long as we continue to vote in politicians prepared to gamble with our health as well as our future, that prospect remains remote in the extreme.

– John Gibbons writes on climate and environmental issues and is online @think_or_swim

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Guardian seeks to rouse media from its climate torpor

Below is my article as it appears in the current edition of Village magazine:

THERE is nothing new about newspapers striking poses over climate change. On December 7th, 2009, some 55 major newspapers from all over the world (including the Irish Times) ran a joint editorial just ahead of the opening of the Copenhagen UN climate conference.

Who could forget the dramatic call to arms from some of the world’s most respected newspapers, which began: “humanity faces a profound emergency”.

“Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting… In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

“Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness. The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.” Continue reading

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An economic analysis that just doesn’t add up

I was pleased to spot economist Prof John Fitzgerald among the audience at the recent EPA lecture in the Mansion House, Dublin, presented by Prof Myles Allen. As it transpires, Fitzgerald was doing some field work for an opinion article that appeared in the business section of the Irish Times earlier this week, under the headline: ‘Solution to global warming is technology’ (authors rarely get to write the headline, so we won’t hold that one against him).

This is one of only a handful of articles the otherwise prolific Fitzgerald has dedicated to the topic of climate change. It is always welcome to see a senior Irish economist to turn his quill to this vast, challenging topic (two fairly strong critiques of Fitzgerald’s piece, by Profs Barry McMullin and John Sweeney appeared in the Letters Page a week after publication)

To be fair, it started well enough, with phrases such as: “If urgent action is not taken the world’s climate will get worse at an accelerated pace”. That’s as good as it gets, alas. “Governments rarely choose to go to their electorates and tell them they are going to make life more expensive and that there will be no go financial reward for their pain” is how Fitzgerald sums up moves to address climate change. Continue reading

Posted in Economics, Global Warming, Irish Focus, Sceptics | 13 Comments

Come back, Liz McManus – your country needs you!

In case you haven’t heard, our current Minister for the Environment is a Labour party TD called Alan Kelly. He is the man who brought us the no-lobbyist-left-behind Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015, a piece of draft legislation that has been warmly welcomed by the IFA, ICOS, IBEC, etc., i.e. by the folks who have worked tirelessly over the last several years to ensure that no meaningful climate legislation ever found its way onto our statute books. In that regard, the Climate Bill looks like ‘Mission Accomplished’.

Kelly was interviewed by Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio yesterday. It was, in a sense, revealing. Kelly is “a person of conviction”, we learned. We know this because he told us he was. We also learned that Kelly’s proudest boast is that Ireland has the “highest growth rate in Europe” (again), and that he pursues what he calls a “progressive agenda”. Kelly is also deputy leader of the Labour party, therefore the proverbial heartbeat from being Tánaiste.

To wind him up a bit, O’Rourke played a clip of former minister, Eamon Ryan describing Kelly as “an anti-green Minister for the Environment…he reads the political tea leaves and sees there isn’t a constituency (in tackling climate change)”. Ryan went on to describe Kelly as “our greatest electoral asset, every time he goes out, he saying Labour doesn’t give a damn about that vision of the future”. Continue reading

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Breaching our planetary boundaries, one by one

Below, my article, as it will appear in the latest Village magazine:

BACK IN 2009, some months before the ill-fated UN climate conference in Copenhagen, an Earth system framework was proposed by an international collaboration of environmental scientists. Their aim was to establish a measurable set of ‘planetary boundaries’ with a view to identifying a “safe operating space” for humanity.

The research team, involving scientists from a range of disciplines, developed a set of nine key boundaries, beyond which lay the risks of “irreversible and abrupt environmental change”. In January 2015, the team published an in-depth update on their investigations in the journal Science, and it was discussed in depth at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. The findings took even seasoned environmental commentators and observers by surprise.

The paper confirmed that humanity has already breached four of the nine key boundaries, namely biodiversity loss, deforestation, atmospheric CO2 levels and the flows of nitrogen and phosphorus used in agriculture into the world’s waterways and oceans. Continue reading

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

Milking the (climate) system, Irish-style

Below, article as it appears in the current edition of ‘Village’ magazine. (I co-authored this piece with Paul Price).

“IT IS DIFFICULT to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. Novelist Upton Sinclair’s famous observation could well have been describing Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, a rare ambitious and ascending star on an otherwise jaded Fine Gael front bench.

Coveney’s understanding of the most basic of scientific facts will clearly not encumber his possible trajectory towards the goal of being Cork’s first Taoiseach since Jack Lynch. So, when Coveney appeared on a recent edition of RTE’s PrimeTime, only the thinnest of smiles betrayed the fact that he was selling a series of fat porkies on national television.

Coveney’s claim that the Irish dairy herd could be expanded by over 300,000 cows in the next five years “while maintaining the existing carbon footprint of the agriculture sector” is, he must well know, nonsensical.  To defend it, he engaged in some unconvincing waffle about higher yields per animal somehow magically offsetting the massive increase in our national herd. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Irish Focus, Sustainability | 37 Comments

The Dream (A Fantasy at Christmas)

It was still dark when Enda Kenny fell awake from a fitful sleep. He rose unsteadily, exhausted, almost stumbling as he made his way to the bathroom. With the light on, he noticed his pyjamas were almost completely soaked in sweat; beads clung to his forehead and over his upper lip. He washed his face, changed his clothing and sat silently in near-darkness in the kitchen for around twenty minutes.

“Jesus H. Christ”, he muttered almost inaudibly, his thoughts interrupted by the ring of his mobile phone. It was Leo Varadkar. “Sorry boss to call so early, but there’s something really strange going on. My phone has been ringing since just after six am. People are freaking out”, said the Health Minister. “Slow down Leo, for feck’s sake”, said Kenny. “Who’s freaking out, what’s this about?”

“I really don’t know how to explain this without sounding like I’m losing my marbles, boss, but it’s this dream…” Kenny froze. “Dream…what…dream?” The words tumbled out, almost afraid of the answer. “Jesus boss, don’t laugh, but I’ve just had the worst dream of my life. I woke an hour ago and nearly threw up. Then, the phone started ringing. First, it was Coveney, crying like a baby, then Reilly, then a couple of lads from the constituency office, then my pal from Trinity…” His voice trailed off.

“Christ, man, get to the point”, said Kenny, who became aware that his own lips were bone dry and almost stuck to one another as he spoke. “Sorry boss, this sounds completely mental, I know, but everyone I’ve spoken to in the last hour has had the same dream…seriously, the same actual goddam dream, the same dream. And people are phoning in and emailing from all over the world saying the same thing. Twitter has nearly exploded. Jesus boss, I’m a feckin’ medical doctor and I can tell you for a fact this is impossible, completely impossible. But it’s also true.”

Kenny slumped back into the chair, the mobile phone almost slipping from his sweat-soaked grasp. “This dream, Leo, did it have anything…you know…to do with some kind of… disaster…. anything like that?”

“Em, yes boss, it was that exactly; I felt like I was trapped alive in the worst horror story you could ever imagine…everything had fallen apart, there was floods, storms, looting, rioting, chaos, the lights were out, no water or food, the guards, firemen, hospitals, army, everything gone…but it was right here in Dublin, well, all over Ireland in fact. There wasn’t much contact with the outside world, but from what we could make it, it was at least as bad everywhere else. I know it had to have been a dream, but I’d swear to you it was real, I knew exactly what was going on every moment of it…” added Varadkar.

“Hello, hello, boss, are you still there?” After several seconds of silence, Kenny replied haltingly: “You’ve just pretty well described my dream…Leo, call a Cabinet meeting for noon today; whatever ministers are away, get them back. We need to get the general secretaries of all departments in as well. The Garda commissioner, Civil defense, army chief of staff, you know, the usual suspects. We’ll meet with them later this afternoon. We need to get all the ambassadors on a teleconference too, see if we can get a clearer picture from around the world.”

“What about a press briefing?”, Varadkar enquired half-heartedly. “Christ Leo, what are we going to say to them, some kind of Martin Luther King ‘I have a dream’ moment, I don’t feckin’ think so. Get the press officers in and let them get together and figure something out”. A fit 63-year old, this morning Kenny felt more like 93. His wife Fionnuala appeared. She too looked exhausted and ashen-faced. “Christ Enda, you won’t believe the dream I’m after having…”


And so it spread, all over the world. Billions woke that day frightened, confused and anxious. As news spread, churches, mosques and temples quickly filled to overflowing. The impossible had just happened. Years of warnings by leading scientific agencies that the world was on the path to catastrophic climate change and an epic global extinction event had gone unheeded. Nobody knew how it happened but now, everyone knew. The realisation fell like a hammer.

An emergency session of the United Nations was summoned, and leaders of over 190 countries, including Kenny, flooded to New York for an intensive behind-closed-doors briefing session with senior scientific members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK Royal Society and their counterparts from another 20 or so major nations, including China and Japan. Even the Russians came in from the cold. Long-standing enmities and even the bitterest of rivalries were, for now, put on ice.

CEOs and chairmen of the world’s major transnational corporations were also invited to participate, as were the publishers and senior editors of over 300 newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and news websites. Senior delegates from all the world’s major religious organisation also attended.

After several days and nights of intense negotiations, four figures emerged to make a joint address to the UN General Assembly. They were US president, Barack Obama, China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Jean-Claude Juncker on behalf of the EU. This was their statement:

“Something truly unprecedented has happened in the last few days. While we may never fully understand what has just occurred, its import is crystal clear. Together, we stand at the edge of the greatest crisis in human history. It is, quite simply, without precedent. Our scientists have been telling us this, in so many words, for years, but we, the politicians, the business community, religious and civil society, we haven’t been listening. We have been asleep. It took a dream to wake us up.

“Having consulted with other world leaders, we are today declaring a global climate emergency. With immediate effect, all energy production is being nationalised, and energy rationing will begin shortly. Every coal-burning plant in the world is to be fully decommissioned within 10 years. A trillion dollars is being ring-fenced for a multi-national renewable and nuclear energy programme. Work begins immediately.

“We are also declaring 500 million hectares of land off-limits to all human activity or encroachment. All logging and mining in these conservation areas is hereby declared illegal, and these will be rigorously enforced. We are also declaring the entire Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland regions, including surrounding oceans, as completely off limits to anything other than strictly regulated scientific activities. New laws are being put in place to enshrine the right of the natural world to exist and to flourish, and to be strictly protected from human encroachment.

“With immediate effect, couples will be limited to one child. To support this policy, policies, customs and religious rules restricting the rights of women and girls to full educational equality, including free access to family planning services, will be outlawed. Stringent new carbon taxes will be targeted at non-essential or luxury items. All tax shelters for corporations and rich individuals are being shut down, and we are restoring the top rate of income tax for high earners to the levels that applied in the early 1960s – ranging from 70–92%.

“Much of the proceeds of these new taxes will be used to improve conditions for the low-paid and those in poorer countries. Our shared ambition is to tackle income inequality, both between individuals and between states, as the only safe way of ensuring the social cohesion that is going to be essential in the extremely difficult times that lie ahead.

“Yes, these new regulations will impose hardships on some, but, as we all now know, the alternative is to be complicit in the greatest calamity in all of human history, and the destroy this world for all future generations. This would be the gravest stain on our species. We stand together, collectively determined that this generation will not and must not let this catastrophe come to pass.”


Some called it a communications failure, but it might be better thought of as a failure of imagination. Decades of growth and seemingly endless economic and population expansion and its accompanying ideologies had inured the world to the reality of the ever-tightening resource crisis, spiralling emissions, collapse in global biological diversity and the great unravelling of complexity across the biosphere.

The consequences of this massive fraying of the very fabric of life on Earth were, until that fateful night, beyond the reach of people’s imagination, and thus, in a very real sense, unreal, remote and of no great consequence.

And so began a new era in human affairs, one that would, in time, become known as The Great Contraction. Whether even such radical steps could avoid or forestall the severe impacts of a battered biosphere and a restive climate system would only become apparent by mid-century.

But, in starting over, there was reason to believe once more.

Merry Christmas.

Posted in Global Warming, Psychology | 2 Comments