2011-2016: five more lost years for Ireland’s climate response

Below, my article as it appears in the Election Edition of Village magazine. This was written ahead of the publication of the assorted party manifestos (these are just now starting to trickle out) but it seemed a more useful exercise to step back to looking at the 2011 FG/Labour Programme for Government and see, from the environment/climate standpoint, how they actually performed. Here’s what I concluded.


THE OUTGOING Fine Gael/Labour coalition government did manage to pull off one headline act that had eluded the previous FF/Green administration, and that was they got climate legislation, of sorts, onto the statute books for the first time ever.

In its 2016 Annual Report on the Programme for Government, this fact is trumpeted as burnishing the ecological credentials of an administration that has, over the last five years, shown a strong aversion to what husky-hugging UK prime minister David Cameron once memorably called “that green crap”.

The reason is hardly a mystery. Both IBEC and the IFA are among the lead industry players who have lobbied tirelessly to ensure any climate actions that should emanate from the Cabinet table would be so diluted as to be worthless. And, with Fine Gael in particular basing its entire political pitch on growth-at-all-costs, nothing that looked like slowing that gallop was ever going to be entertained.

‘The recently enacted Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 builds on existing efforts to decarbonise the economy and places the Government’s adaptation efforts on a legal statutory footing’, according to the Annual Report. And those ‘existing efforts’ would be, what exactly?

‘The Act provides for a National Mitigation Plan which will specify how we will achieve our objectives as well as a National Climate Change Adaptation Framework which will provide a strategic policy focus’, it goes on to say. This Mitigation Plan has been safely kicked into that distant place known only as “later in 2016” – somewhere safely beyond the shores of this election.

Back in February 2011, Fine Gael and Labour jointly published their Programme for Government. Its section dealing with climate change ran to all of 95 words, including the promise to deliver a Climate Change Bill, which “will provide certainty surrounding government policy and provide a clear pathway for emissions reductions, in line with negotiated EU 2020 targets”.

The section also promised legislation to give the relevant ministers temporary powers over the State’s response to what it calls ‘natural disasters’. This was at least prescient, given the unnatural number of weather-related disasters that have occurred in the term of the outgoing government, up to and including the severe winter flooding that – yet again – recently plunged much of the Shannon region into chaos.

The last, brief, section in this 2011 document promised to “further improve energy efficiency for new buildings, with a view to moving towards zero carbon homes in the longer term. All new commercial buildings will be required to significantly reduce their carbon footprint”. By ‘further improve’, this presumably meant, at the very least, maintaining the progress of the outgoing FF/Green administration regarding energy efficiency in the building sector.

How has this one measurable commitment panned out? One of the widely accepted successes of the previous government was its home retrofit programme. In 2011, some 67,500 homes underwent an energy overhaul under the scheme. By last year, under FG/Labour, this had plummeted, to just 21,600 energy retrofits. Indeed, efforts by the atrocious outgoing Environment minister Labour’s Alan Kelly to stymie local authorities from pushing towards ‘passive house’ standards speaks volumes for the “green crap” mentality that has pervaded the Cabinet since 2011.

To be fair, the writing was on the wall from the outset. Take a section in the 2011 Programme for Government under the heading ‘Peat’. First off, the incoming administration magisterially granted ‘an exemption for domestic turf cutting on 75 National Heritage Area sites subject to the introduction of agreed national code of environmental practices’. What, you might wonder, is the value of a bog being designated as a National Heritage Area when the government signs off on this free-for-all before even taking office?

Soothingly, they went on to promise to ‘establish an independent mediation to resolve outstanding issues associated with turf cutting on blanket bogs’. It would be unfair to single out the private contractors and their political accomplices for sole mention in this regard.

Three woefully inefficient peat-burning plants in the midlands only remain open thanks to the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy on electricity bills siphoning some €120 million a year into these plants – that’s around €2.5 million a week in subsidies to produce the dirtiest, poorest grade and most ecologically damaging form of energy possible. In 2014, this State-supported madness exceeded the total PSO support for the production of clean electricity using renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the government has extended the life of these monuments to parochialism and incompetence by another 15 years, which is nicely timed to coincide with 2030, by which time Bord Na Mona will have completed its decades-long assault on some of Europe’s richest ecological regions, as well as what used to be our most efficient carbon sinks. Quite where this fits with the government’s new climate legislations that ‘builds on existing efforts to decarbonise the economy’, it’s difficult to even begin to fathom.

To understand the true objectives of the 2011 Programme for Government, it’s necessary to look elsewhere. For instance, under the section headed ‘Growing the agri-food sector’, the seeds of the agri-steamroller later known as Food Harvest 2020 are clearly set out: ‘Further expansion and innovation in our dairy and meat sectors will be a key priority under a reformed CAP and we will work with industry to achieve more intensive levels of production’.

Note the blunt language above. Such sly euphemisms as ‘sustainable intensification’ hadn’t yet entered the lexicon of spin – this was a straightforward declaration of expansion and intensification. Later in the same section, it mentions that Bord Bia will be given a number of marketing tasks, including developing ‘value-added Irish food brands, such as an eco brand’.

The State food board has been an enthusiastic ambassador of a ‘greenwashed’ Irish food sector. Irish agriculture currently accounts for well over a third of Ireland’s GHG emissions, and this will, according to EPA estimates, rise to 45% by 2020. In a stunning act of moral larceny, one small, albeit politically untouchable, sector of the Irish economy has sequestered virtually half of the entire nation’s emissions budget.

Its boosters, notably outgoing Agriculture minister, Simon Coveney have made it abundantly clear that our most emissions-intensive forms of agriculture (beef production and dairying) are planning to continue to ramp up as the national dairy herd expands dramatically.

The fly in the manure heap is in the form of pesky EU-mandated EU emissions cuts (20% by 2020, rising sharply, to 40% by 2030). This exposes Ireland to fines that even An Taoiseach admits may run towards half a billion euros per annum. Just as the banking industry’s gambling losses were ‘nationalised’, it seems clear that the beef and dairy sectors are using similar political clout to ensure the hapless general taxpayer once again picks up the tab.

Anyhow, if all else fails, it’ll be Enda The Penitent, cap in hand, off to Brussels later this year to ask the big lads if they’d be able to do us a dig-out on all these fines…by rewriting the emissions rules as they might apply to Ireland, in light of the ‘special position’ of our agriculture sector (which is already, lest we forget, in receipt of EU taxpayers’ largesse to the tune of over €2 billion cash transfers annually).

Enda Kenny completely misread the mood of the COP21 Climate Conference in December. He breezed in to Paris to tell journalists not to pay heed to the high-sounding blarney in his formal speech. This backfired spectacularly, leading to some frantic back-pedalling as the gravity of the Paris Agreement came to be better understood. Whether this could help loosen the iron grip of corporate lobbyists on a new Fine Gael-led coalition remains to be seen.


In Summary:


2011: Climate Change legislation promised

2016: Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 delivered, to mixed reviews. Long on aspirations, short on targets or enforceability. Climate Advisory Council, heavily laden with economists, convened.

Home Energy:

2011: Promised to double funding for home energy efficiency & renewable energy until end of 2013, then replace it with ‘pay as you save’ scheme.

2016: 75% fewer homes being retrofitted than five years earlier.


2011: Promised to create a new State company, Irish Water to ‘take over the water investment maintenance programmes of the 34 existing local authorities’

2016: After a botched launch and numerous PR fiascos, Irish Water, mired in controversy, staggers on the brink of insolvency. Incentive to conserve water, via pay-as-you-use metering, has disappeared.

Green Jobs:

2011: Ireland to be established as ‘a renewable manufacturing hub to attract international and domestic investment’. Energy co-ops to be supported in order to ‘make it easier for small- scale renewable energy providers to contribute to our renewables targets.’

2016 – Promises long forgotten. No renewable energy ‘hub’, and worse, the feed-in tariff for small-scale energy producers, rather than being expanded, has been scrapped by the ESB, under government guidance.


2011 – Promise to ‘support geothermal energy sector’. Commitment to develop wind farms in ‘plan-led’ Gate 4 process, as opposed to existing developer-led model. Government also promised to ‘incentivise and promote off-shore (oil) drilling’

2016 – Geothermal sector – what sector? Patchy progress on bringing more renewable energy onto grid, stymied by rural backlash against both turbines and pylons. No meaningful progress on ‘community energy’ approach so successful in Denmark, Germany.


2011 – ‘We recognise the need to rebalance transport policy to favour public transport…’

2016 – Bus and rail fares increased. Private car sales return to pre-2008 levels. Traffic chaos returns to M50. Instead of reducing, emissions from Ireland’s transport sector set to rise by 12% between 2013 and 2012, according to SEAI data.


REPORT CARD: The 2011 Programme for Government showed little real engagement with climate or wider environmental issues, with ‘the economy’ overshadowing everything. Having promised little, the government went on to deliver even less. Advice for next term: ‘The dog ate my climate policy’ is not a valid excuse.

OVERALL RATING: D minus (avoided a ‘fail’ by scraping in Climate Act)


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Every sector must pull its weight on curtailing climate change

Below, my article as it appeared in today’s Irish Examiner. I wrote this piece on behalf of An Taisce, prompted by this self-serving and misleading piece by the IFA in the same paper last week. The agribusiness lobby has been working flat out to twist the outcome of the Paris Agreement into (yet another) blank cheque for industrialised food production, including of course the exporting of vast amounts of meat and dairy produce to sate the appetites of the world’s emerging middle classes.

Rather than simply serving the ‘need’ for this energy and emissions-intensive foodstuff, the Irish state is actively using all its political, commercial and marketing nous to stoke up demand for these products, at the behest of the rancher class of Irish farmer that the IFA now primarily represents, and, more particularly, the giant agrifood PLCs, such as Glanbia, Kerry and APB Foods.

The IFA has long been used to having its way in the public discourse about what is and is not ‘good’ for Ireland. The increasingly bitter tone emanating from Farm Centre in recent weeks against the environmental NGO sector (‘An Taisce knickers in a twist‘ is an example from the current edition of the Farmers Journal) suggests they really don’t like it when people are prepared to ask hard questions and demand answers, rather than just well-rehearsed guff and bluster, from the agri sector.


LIKE IT OR NOT, climate change is now a fact of life, both here in Ireland, as evidenced by our ever more frequent flooding disasters, and globally. The Paris Agreement hammered out and agreed by almost every nation on Earth last month, binds us to dramatically and urgently reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This Agreement leaves each country to figure out how best to decarbonise. Ireland is tied into the EU’s legally binding commitment to cut GHGs by 40% by 2030. Yet even this may not be enough to avert climate chaos.

Ireland has two key problems, namely our agriculture and transport sectors. According to the EPA, these two areas alone will account for three quarters of Ireland’s entire non-traded GHGs by 2020.

Agriculture, although a small part of our total economy, is by far our biggest polluter, principally due to the size of our national beef and dairy herds. There are more cattle than people in Ireland, and ruminant agriculture is hugely pollution-intensive, despite repeated spin from minister Simon Coveney and the food industry lobby.

A study by the influential UK Chatham House institute found that despite its vast contribution to climate change, beef and dairy “attracts remarkably little policy attention”. Report author Rob Bailey added: “You can make a compelling case that without dietary change at the global level, the 2C goal is pretty much off the table”.

The world’s population today is well over seven billion, and, barring disaster, will rise to beyond nine billion in the coming decades. The Irish agri-industrial lobby argues it should receive special treatment regarding emissions because of our contribution to global food security.

This notion was demolished recently by Trocaire’s Justin Kilcullen, who noted: “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.”

As a means of converting calories into food, red meat production is uniquely inefficient. Recent research found that compared to foods like potatoes, wheat and rice, producing one calorie of beef requires a staggering 160 times more land and produces between 11 and 48 times more GHGs, depending on exactly how it is calculated. “The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat,” according to Prof Tim Benton of the University of Leeds.

The Irish beef sector only survives thanks to generous EU subsidies. Prof Alan Matthews of TCD (who is also a member of Ireland’s new Climate Advisory Council) calculated that the typical cattle operation in Ireland lost €122 per hectare in 2013. Without EU subsidies averaging €400 per hectare, these farms “could not continue”.

Prof Matthews added that when the additional costs of GHGs were added in, the picture is even worse, and he urged farmers to improve their own financial position by moving large areas of beef and dairy production into forestry, which could also benefit Ireland in both GHG abatement and flood control. Reaction from the farm lobby to Matthews’ suggestion was so hostile, no politician has since been prepared to discuss it openly.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has admitted there is little possibility of Ireland evading EU fines running into hundreds of millions of euro per annum between 2020 and 2030 as a result of our failure to meet our emissions targets. An Taisce has repeatedly asked why the ordinary taxpayer should have to pay the EU fines arising from adding 300,000 dairy cows to our already massive national herd, as set out under Food Harvest 2020.

The farm lobby also claims it is not looking for a ‘free pass’ on emissions, yet when asked to quantify how it plans to make the kind of cuts demanded by science, no meaningful answer has been forthcoming.

Despite the wishful thinking of the agri-food industry, in reality no sector is more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than agriculture. A report by Dr Stephen Flood of NUIM projected the total economic costs of climate change to Irish agriculture in the region of €1-2 billion p.a. by mid-century. In other words, it likely wipes out all gains expected under Food Harvest 2020.

To confront the existential threat of climate change, we must use science to inform policy, not the other way round. And science tells us that, unless we rapidly change direction, calamity beckons. Whether you’re a farmer or a city dweller, we are all Irish citizens, and surely deserve an honest debate about the very real threats to our shared future.

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Met Éireann & climate change: time to break the silence

What is it with Met Eireann and climate change? Take the below, entirely typical, recent comments from forecaster Joanna Donnelly:

“It is a global phenomenon that needs to be looked at globally over decades and not days…Our climate is changing but you could not use the weather in any one country in any one month, day or year to say that this is the evidence of climate change…Climate change is evident all over the globe all of the time”.

The above quote is from a news article in the Irish Independent, dated December 3rd last. Just four days later, the Irish Examiner carried a report headed: ‘Storm Desmond: All the evidence points to climate change, says Met Office’. The Met Office in question is of course the UK version. Its chief scientist, Dame Julia Slingo had no difficulty stating the obvious, which is: “all the evidence points to climate change”.

In a BBC Radio Four interview, Dame Slingo expanded: “The latest research we published last month looking back at the 2013/14 floods was that for the same weather pattern, heavy rainfall of the type we have seen this weekend is now seven times more likely than in a world without human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

So, while the UK Met Office states in plain language that the types of ferocious rainfall accompanying Storm Desmond is seven times more likely as a result of anthropogenic GHGs, the best its Irish counterpart can come up with is a largely meaningless combination of words like this: “Our climate is changing but you could not use the weather in any one country in any one month, day or year to say that this is the evidence of climate change…”

This is not to single out Ms Donnelly. Dr Gerard Fleming, its head of forecasting and forecaster Evelyn Cusack have both been at pains in their recent public utterances on the almost unprecedented series of December flooding events to ensure no one could form the impression this latest freak weather is part of any larger pattern, or, heaven forbid, be actually be precisely what we can expect from climate change.

On a Morning Ireland interview in late December, Fleming dodged several attempts by the interviewer to attribute any possible cause for the recurrence so soon of the so-called once-in-a-century flooding events last endured just six years ago. While quite reasonably emphasising the enormous variability within the weather system, and nodding to the contribution of the current El Nino event, as well as the underlying climate change signal Fleming concluded by reminding the interviewer that Ireland is located adjacent to a vast ocean, the unavoidable implication being that this is just another of those random ‘weather events’.

In an Irish Times article from mid-November under the entirely unfortunate heading: ‘State better prepared than ever to respond to extreme weather’, even the Minister for the IFA, Simon Coveney was prepared to concede that climate change is beginning to bite right here in Ireland. The strongest Fleming could add was that climate change projections suggest “our weather is likely to become more extreme” with wetter winters and drier summers and “less of what we might call ‘normal’ weather”.

I am quite sure that Dr Fleming, a respected meteorologist, is not engaged in some sinister plot to deny the reality of climate change, a reality I know from first hand experience he is au fait with. But the reluctance of Met Eireann personnel across the board to engage in ‘attribution’ is so widespread it looks like it’s a policy, rather than personal, decision.

Met Eireann staff are civil servants, and civil servants quickly learn to know which way the wind is blowing. And, since 2011, there has been a distinctly chilly breeze emanating from Government Buildings regarding climate change. Remember the first Coalition Environment Minister, Phil ‘the fixer’ Hogan? Fine Gael put down a clear marker with Hogan’s appointment that all that “green crap” was strictly off the political agenda. Passing the Environment baton to uninterested Labour neophyte Alan Kelly reinforced its fall from relevance.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the good folks in Met Eireann’s Glasnevin HQ got the memo too – stick to the weather, boys and girls, and don’t be upsetting the apple tart, as a former Taoiseach might have put it, with all this aul’ guff about climate change.

After all, if climate change were to become a widely understood and accepted reality among the Irish public, then pet political projects keeping key special interest groups sweet, specifically Food Harvest 2020, would be dead in the water.

And, by and large, Met Eireann has done a solid job of avoiding giving the public and media any meaningful guidance as to the fact that climate change is already in full swing, both here and globally.

If this sounds harsh, compare and contrast the respective websites of the Irish and UK Met services. The latter places the ‘Weather’ and ‘Climate’ tabs in the most prominent positions on the site navigation. Clicking the ‘Climate’ button takes you into a rich channel with articles, news feeds and videos featuring senior Met Office personnel setting out in plain language the reality of climate change, and directly linking it to recent and current extreme weather events.

Article titles include: ‘Planet under pressure’ and ‘What do we mean by climate?’, as well as an in-depth section dealing with the science of climate change, and featuring links to the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services. You’ll also find ‘Expert climate advice for policy-makers’ plus background on the ‘AVOID2 programme on avoiding dangerous climate change’. And, as you might expect, the UK Met Office offers in-depth resources under ‘Helping the UK prepare’.

The UK Met Office works with the insurance industry to investigate “how climate change may alter the frequency, severity and location of extreme events. This is helping insurers to manage the changing risks posed by the changing climate”. It also advises the UK government by contributing to Britain’s first nationwide climate risk assessment across a wide spectrum of sectors. It gives expert guidance to the UK rail industry and Highways Agency on the projected impacts of high temperatures and increases in severe rainfall events on the entire rail and road infrastructure.

You can also download an 8-page synopsis, ‘Our changing climate – the current science’ from its website. This lays out in as non-technical a language as possible the key elements of what we know about climate change, including unequivocal guidance on event attribution. Commenting on the ‘UK winter rainfall 2013/14 – the wettest winter in UK observational records’, its Findings state: ‘Under the same weather pattern experienced in winter 2013/14 (a persistent westerly flow), extreme rainfall over 10 consecutive winter days is now seven times more likely than in a world without man-made greenhouse gas emissions”.

Its guidance on the IPCC science on emissions and, in particular, the need for ‘Early action…to reduce the chances of dangerous climate change’ is clear and leaves little room for the peddling of dangerous nonsense which, regrettably, still passes for discourse on climate change in parts of our media, most notably RTE’s flagship current affairs programme, ‘PrimeTime’. Its show, broadcast on December 3rd last, under the title ‘The cost of climate change’ featured a studio ‘debate’ so badly skewed and so blatantly misleading that, were it about almost any other subject than climate change, the editor of PrimeTime would by now be busy updating his CV for the 2016 jobs market.

Atrocious programming like this does not happen in isolation. If the show’s production team had looked up the Met Eireann website for guidance on the science of climate change, what might they have found? They would likely have clicked the tab marked ‘Climate of Ireland’, where articles on temperature, rainfall, wind, sunshine, water vapour, major weather events and weather extremes are located.

It would be inaccurate to say that the Met Eireann website does not address climate change. I dug around and found a subsection of an article entitled ‘Climate of Ireland’, but had to scroll down 10 sections or so before encountering a heading: ‘What does Climate Change mean for Ireland?’ This section in total runs to around 370 words, and includes a couple of quite technical charts (a version of this was posted to the site’s home page ‘Weather News’ section on December 22nd, under the heading “What does climate change mean for Ireland?”, authored by Séamus Walsh, Head of Climatology and Observations).

I invite you to read this sub-section in full. It confirms that Ireland’s average air temperature has risen by 0.8C in the last century, and that this has already impacted, for instance, the growing season. By mid-century, is says, all seasons are likely to be 1-1.5 warmer, but it’s not all doom and gloom by any means: “Milder winters will lead to a reduction in winter mortality due to fewer cold spells but the increasing likelihood of heatwaves and hot days (days over 30 °C) may have the opposite effect in summer.”

So, good news and bad news then. On precipitation, it continues: “climate projections…show an increased risk of winter flooding, an increased risk of short duration ‘flash’ floods and possible water shortages in summer months due to higher temperatures and lower rainfall. The rise in sea levels will make low lying coastal areas more prone to flooding, especially from storm surges.”

Happily, none of that alarmist IPCC nonsense about the impossibility to adapting to a world of +4C climate change, as set out on the UK Met Office website, has found its way onto its Irish counterpart. Instead, we get this soothingly reassuring commentary: “Changes in our climate regime will continue to be incrementally small and barely noticeable on a year to year basis, and will occur against the background of natural climate variability such as El Nino and variations in the sea temperature of the north Atlantic”.

It continues: “Extreme weather events will continue to occur, while it might not be possible to explicitly attribute these to human induced climate change, the probability of occurrence of extreme events is expected to increase.” Finishing on an upbeat note, the Met Eireann article adds: “The impacts of climate change on Ireland may be less severe than those expected in other parts of the world, nevertheless we need to put adaptation and mitigation strategies in place now to ensure the best societal outcome for Ireland.”

There is certainly nothing in the foregoing to alert any reader to the possibility that the series of recent weather calamities to have battered Ireland have anything whatever to do with, ahem, climate change. Ironically, in its news feed, the Met Eireann site carries a WMO press release dated November 27th, and the good folks in the WMO have no problem whatever in attributing current severe weather events to climate change. “Scientific assessments have found that many extreme events in the 2011-15 period, especially those relating to extreme high temperatures, have had their probabilities over a particular time period substantially increased as a result of human-induced climate change – by a factor of 10 or more in some cases.  Of 79 studies between 2011 and 2014, more than half found that anthropogenic climate change contributed to extreme events. The most consistent influence has been on extreme heat, with some studies finding that the probability of the observed event has increased by 10 times or more.”

Met Eireann boasts many excellent scientists, who have of course undertaken and published plenty of high quality climate-related studies. The 2008 document, ‘Ireland in a Warmer World‘ for instance, runs to over 100 pages and features studies on climate and hydrology as well as storm surges in Ireland, with flooding mentioned on no fewer than 23 pages.

A more recent (2013) Met Eireann publication, ‘Ireland’s Climate – The Road Ahead’ includes a chapter, by Paul Nolan, Ray McGrath, Emily Gleeson and Conor Sweeney, entitled: ‘Impacts of climate change on Irish precipitation’. Its findings point to a sharp (>20%) increase in the frequency of ‘very wet days’ in winter. It adds: “Changes in the occurrence of extreme rainfall are particularly important because of the link with flooding”. However, these findings are based on modelling of expected changes by mid-century (2041-2060) and so offer no useful guidance on attribution for the severe hydrological events that are happening in the opening decades of this century.

In stark contrast, the UK Met Office is crystal clear on climate change attribution of the severe weather of the last number of years; ditto the WMO (of which Ireland has been a member since 1950) yet the cat seems to have got the collective tongues of our national meteorological service. It wasn’t always like this. In September 2011 forecaster Evelyn Cusack concluded a broadcast one evening by stating: “climate change is not a matter of faith, it’s a matter of physics”.

In case nobody noticed, the historic Paris Agreement on climate change also happened this month. Oh, and 2015 is off the charts globally as the hottest year ever recorded, smashing through the +1C milestone, i.e. fully half way to irreversible climate chaos. As long as our professional meteorologists continue to engage in fence-sitting, the field remains open for spoofers and emeritus contrarians to fill the gap in the public discourse, hiding behind their ‘expert’ status to slyly misrepresent climate science and skew the crucial policy decisions that arise from it.

Dear Met Eireann: the tide has turned. The deniers are on the run. You hold a crucial public trust; there is no reason for you to be afraid or reluctant to speak up. After all, saying nothing also speaks volumes. Here’s a New Year’s resolution for 2016: Time to give it to us straight.

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On the brink of history, at the edge of the abyss

News tonight from Paris is surprisingly good. The latest Draft text catches up with scientific reality in emphasising that the mythical +2C global average temperature rise is not some political bargaining chip; rather, it is the place no sane climate policy dare take us – not soon, not ever.

The critical phrase that has made it into the new draft is as follows: “Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change”. Continue reading

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Never mind the bullocks, Enda isn’t cowed at COP

And so, to Paris. COP21 kicked off on Monday with each of the almost 200 world leaders chipping in their opening contributions. The feeling at the last mega-COP (in Copenhagen in December 2009) was that leaders only engaged at the very end, by which time the bones of the conference had been picked clean of any meaning, leaving a hollow shell as its legacy.

Quite how many more ‘final warnings’ anyone can seriously think the global scientific establishment can issue before anyone pays heed remains unclear. What we do know is that the mood music in Paris is significantly more sombre and serious than in any of the previous 20 Conferences of the Parties since the whole UNFCCC jamboree kicked off in 1994. (a year probably best remembered for Ray Houghton’s winner against Italy in the World Cup). Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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”. Continue reading

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Francis speaks frankly on the crisis of civilisation

Below, text of my article that first appeared on TheJournal.ie 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 Irishtimes.com 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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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”. Continue reading

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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

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