Too big to fail? Great Barrier Reef nears final collapse

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

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

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

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

This week, surveys of the reef revealed that an estimated 29 per cent of shallow-water corals had died from bleaching in 2016, mostly in the north of the reef. The figure is up from the 22 per cent estimated in mid-2016, according to surveys by Australian agencies including the country’s Institute of Marine Science.

Coral reefs are a symbiosis between tiny marine animals called polyps and a type of single-celled algae called zooxanthellae. While the polyps build the distinctive calcium carbonate external skeleton, the algae attach themselves to the coral, and, in exchange for a safe home, provide a food source for their hosts.

The countless nooks and crevasses in a coral reef system provides ideal shelter for huge numbers of marine animals to raise their young, and a healthy reef system, as depicted in the animated film Finding Nemo, is a riot of colour and activity.

A bleaching event occurs when water temperatures increase beyond a level that the heat-sensitive zooxanthellae can tolerate. This causes them to begin to break down and emit toxins. The polyps then eject them from the reef in self-defence, leaving the bare white coral skeleton, and this is what is described as a bleaching event.

No living system survives in the turbulent oceans for millennia unless they are both hardy and adaptable. Corals are undoubtedly resilient. If ocean temperatures reduce, the reefs welcome back their algal partners and co-operation resumes. As long as the damage hasn’t been too severe or protracted, a bleached reef system can be on the path to recovery within a decade.

However, reef systems adapted to bounce back from infrequent disasters driven by spikes in water temperatures are ill-equipped to cope when one bleaching event follows another in close succession.

For instance, the 20th century’s single most intense El Niño event occurred in 1998, and this largely natural phenomenon, which causes big but short-lived increases in surface water temperature, led to significant coral bleaching.

Were this a once-off, reefs such as the Great Barrier would undoubtedly be able to remain cool and carry on. The relentless rise in ocean surface temperatures as a result of global warming has completely changed the equation.

More massive bleaching events struck in 2002 and 2006, followed by the latest series of catastrophic bleaching events, from December 2015. The return of the El Niño compounded the problem, but it was the underlying warming pulse that did the real damage.

Some recent media reports have prematurely pronounced the Great Barrier Reef as already dead. Along the Barrier Reef, the northern end has been the most severely impacted, with over 80 per cent bleached and 26-67 per cent dead. Further south, the damage has been less severe.

The International Society for Reef Studies, which represents coral reef scientists and managers, has warned that if average global surface temperatures increase by 2°C or more, the resultant ocean warming, along with acidification, “will lead to continued widespread destruction of coral reef ecosystems over the next few decades”.

In other words, if international action to rapidly and permanently slash greenhouse gas emissions is not successful, the world’s reef systems are doomed, and with them goes much of life in the ocean.

Leaving aside the fathomless tragedy of losing some of the world’s richest ecosystems in just the next couple of decades, for those unmoved by the death of the oceans, there are also staggering economic losses to contemplate.

The Australian Climate Council in a 2015 report calculated the value of the world’s reef systems at more than $1 trillion. The report found that globally, the livelihoods of some 500 million people were largely dependent on healthy reef systems.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s biggest tourist draws, contributing over $1 billion in revenues annually. No one is going to pay to visit a bleached, lifeless reef.

Another major function of healthy reefs is as a storm buffer for coastal regions, sheltering them from the worst impacts of tropical storms. Strip the coral away, and many more storms are going to make landfall in newly-exposed coastal regions.

Three-quarters of the world’s reef systems are now officially classified as threatened. Apart from warming waters, overfishing, careless tourism and pollution, ocean water acidification as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels is impeding the ability of marine creatures including polyps to make shells. Sick reefs are also more prone to invasive species, such as the deadly crown-of-thorns starfish.

While you would normally associate coral reefs with the turquoise waters of the Caribbean or Australia, Ireland too has its share of coldwater coral reefs. These were first identified by UCC scientists just two years ago some 300km off the coast of Kerry on the Porcupine Bank canyon. Even though these unusual corals were located at a depth of up to 900 metres, the survey team also found discarded fishing gear and litter in this remote, ostensibly pristine, abyss.

The window for global action to save our critical reef systems is closing fast. If we continue on our current path of the uncontrolled dumping of some 40 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the global atmosphere every year, climate scientists believe the point of no return for the Great Barrier Reef is almost upon us.

John Gibbons is an environmental writer and commentator. ThinkOrSwim.ie @think_or_swim

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Doubling down on climate denial: ICSF hosts Happer

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

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

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

Happer is a director of the US-based CO2 Coalition, whose tagline is “Carbon dioxide, a nutrient vital for life”. In December of 2015, Happer was implicated in a Greenpeace investigation where activists posed as consultants for a Middle Eastern energy company and asked Happer and Frank Clemente, an emeritus sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, to author reports on the benefits of coal and carbon dioxide emissions and keep the source of the funding secret.

Happer delivered his behind-closed-door presentation in an upmarket Dublin hotel to a hand-picked audience, numbering around 40-50, which included a number of senior staff from Met Éireann, Ireland’s national meteorological service.

His presentation, which DeSmog has seen, was titled: ‘Irish Agriculture – A New Look at the Influences of Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Carbon Dioxide’.

The ICSF describes itself as “a voluntary group of Irish scientists, engineers and other professionals” and claims to carry out: “neutral, independent analysis of the latest climate research with the purpose of better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

In May, DeSmog UK revealed the group launched with a speech by US climate science denier Richard Lindzen.

Spreading Misinformation

Happer began is speech by excoriating what he called “climate hysteria” and went on to accuse people involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of being “on the take”. Happer added that others, such as climate NGOs and activists, were driven primarily by a “financial agenda”.

Within his presentation, one slide claimed that fossil fuel power plants emit no pollution, and equated their CO2 emissions with a human exhaling. His inability to distinguish between CO2 in the current carbon cycle versus injecting carbon from millions of years ago is a standard denier sleight of hand, but it went unchallenged by his Dublin audience sources claim.

Next, Happer presented a series of charts purporting to show that “Global Warming Models Don’t Work!”. For this, he used a long-debunked chartproduced by Dr John Christy of the University of Alabama and a favourite among climate deniers in the US Republican Party.

Happer then did a number of slides explaining how CO2 is really “plant food” and how the world has been in a “CO2 famine for the last several million years”. When challenged by an audience member on this “CO2 as fertilizer” myth, Happer admitted that this was not in fact his area of expertise. But this in no way prevented him from continuing to spread misinformation.

One audience member attending Happer’s talk was rural TD (member of parliament), industrial turf cutter and noted climate denier, Michael Fitzmaurice. In a surreal moment, he asked Happer for advice on how to defeat the arguments of people “who claim that climate change is real”.

Happer next stated that radiative forcing “cannot be verified by direct measurement”. This too is manifestly false, as demonstrated by the USDepartment of Energy’s Berkeley Lab research.

The presumed reason the ICSF invited Happer to present is to provide ammunition to downplay the role of agricultural emissions by inferring that methane is largely irrelevant to climate change. This is the key message the founder of the ISCF, Ray Bates, a retired meteorologist who is an active lobbyist to exempt Ireland’s GHG-intensive beef and dairy sectors from the impact of climate regulations.

Ireland’s agricultural emissions are by far the highest per capita in the EU, with the government committed to backing the politically powerful farm lobby expanding both forms of ruminant agriculture despite the climate implications.

Closed-Door Science

Dr Gerard Fleming, Head of Forecasting with Met Éireann, was invited to both talks but declined to attend. Fleming has also seen Prof Happer’s slide presentation and commented: “a lot of the stuff in there wasn’t science”, adding that it went instead “into the realm of political advocacy”. He stressed that Met Éireann has no corporate connection whatever with the ICSF (Bates is a former assistant director).

Dr Fleming emphasised that Met Éireann regard IPCC science as the “gold standard” and was baffled by Happer’s assertion about alleged IPCC corruption. “I haven’t seen too many [climate] scientists driving around in gold-plated cars,” he added.

He accepted that the presence of senior Met Éireann staff at both ICSF events could lead to the perception that they were giving the event “silent assent”, but stressed no formal discussion had yet occurred within Met Éireann. “We will probably now have to sit down and consider this internally”.

Dr Fleming added that he was personally unhappy with the closed nature of the ICSF meetings. “Science is not to be discussed behind closed doors; I’m not at all comfortable with that idea of inviting some and excluding others. We need an open exchange of views”.

No information on the funding for Happer’s visit was made available. It is understood that, once again, no cover charge was levied for the meeting, and no donations were sought.

Following ICSF hosting Lindzen for their inaugural meeting last month, their choice of another hard-core denier as their second speaker removes any remaining doubt as to the climate-denying credentials of the well-funded ICSF, whatever about its stated aims of “better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

Group organiser, Jim O’Brien, an engineer, refused to answer any questions from DeSmog UK and barred our reporter from attending. DeSmog UK also contacted Happer directly by email with a series of questions, but at time of going to press, he had not responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From pipsqueaks to bullies: farm leadership, 50 years on

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

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

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

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

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The ICSF – Irish Contrarians Serving Farming?

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

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

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

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Dad’s Army of climate deniers rallies in Dublin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funding for ICSF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Behind the New Group?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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Engineer Trump leads Human race to the bottom

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

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

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

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Nature is the silent victim of Nimbyism

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

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

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

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Lights out for Earth Hour? Save your energy

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

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

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

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Dublin airport censorship just doesn’t fly

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

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

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

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Time to push fossil fuel sponsorship beyond the Pale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toothless watchdog lets its Standards slip

{PROLOGUE}

LOCATION: Bord Na Mona conference room*

DATE: Early 2016.

TOPIC: Ad planning meeting (*fictional)

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

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

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Nine years later, and deeper in debt

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

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

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

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

A new age of endarkenment draws ever closer

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

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

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

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