‘I have fed – and starved – species greater than you’

Back in the bleak 1980s, some 500 Irish river locations boasted pure, clean water. What of today’s modern, sustainable and super-green Ireland? Now, a mere 21 river locations remain of very high quality, according to the EPA’s newly published Water Quality in Ireland, 2010-2015 report. This represents an astonishing collapse in water quality in just 30 years, and agricultural intensification is the chief culprit.

This may also come as quite a shock to Irish TV viewers, who have been treated to Bord Bia’s latest lush, evocative ‘Origin Green’ advertising campaign, which ironically opens by panning from a height across seemingly pristine rivers and pastoral scenes reminiscent of a Constable painting.

The campaign was developed by agency Rothco with a whopping €536,000 production budget. Bord Bia will spend at least as much again this year on TV, press and online ads, including advertorials pushing the message that the Irish agri sector is not only uniquely sustainable, it is also somehow involved in “solving one of the planet’s most pressing problems”. Quite.

This miraculous gift to problem-solving is known as the National Food Sustainability Programme, to which thousands of Irish farmers are signed up. I wondered just how tough it was to receive Origin Green certification, so I contacted Bord Bia to find out. They confirmed to me that, to date, some 0.5% of applicants have been deemed ‘not eligible’. In other words, 99.5% of farmers in Ireland are practising sustainable, ecologically friendly agriculture.

With such a uniquely talented, well-regulated and conscientious pool of farmers, small wonder we are the envy of the world when it comes to sustainability. Which makes it all the more mysterious as to how some two thirds of total water pollution is attributed by the EPA to the agricultural sector. And why it is also the number one threat to biodiversity, as well as Ireland’s largest source of greenhouse gases.

Indeed, it’s equally baffling to the Irish Farmers Association; its press release on the report talks at length about the ‘disproportionately negative impact on water quality’ of…urban areas. Nowhere did the IFA spin doctors mention agriculture being in any way culpable, let alone the chief offender. Perhaps they were too mesmerised by the stunning overhead photography and silken prose in that lavish new ‘Origin Green’ ad to actually read the EPA report?

The current advert follows an earlier Bord Bia series from some years back featuring a very young Saoirse Ronan wandering dreamily through a monocultural landscape while cooing about greenness, sustainability, nature etc. etc. It too was as visually stunning as it was vacuous, appealing to an Ireland that exists only in the minds of commercial filmmakers.

Nor is Bord Bia alone in schmaltzy, deeply deceptive advertising. Fellow semi-state, Bord na Móna faces huge problems over its environmentally destructive core business. Its answer has been to hilariously rebrand itself as ‘Naturally Driven’ and churn out soft-focus ads that glibly feature butterflies, ladybugs and sphagnum moss, while glossing over the massive and ongoing environmental wreckage it makes its actual money from.

This blizzard of eco-blarney did some unintended good in annoying ecologist, Pádraic Fogarty sufficiently to inspire him to research and write a hard-hitting book entitled ‘Whittled away – Ireland’s vanishing nature’. For him, Bord Bia’s deeply cynical Saoirse Ronan ad campaign was the last straw.

It is no coincidence, as Fogarty points out, that Bord Bia received three times more in taxpayer funding for its PR work than the National Parks and Wildlife Service to look after our actual natural heritage. It is equally unsurprising that during the recent recession the NPWS – now under the ministerial remit of agri industry-friendly Heather Humphreys, found its funding top of the list to be slashed.

Imagine for a moment that Mother Nature had access to a top creative agency, with celebrities willing to do the voiceovers – what might such an ad campaign look and sound like? The NGO Conservation International put together such a series a couple of years back, featuring the voices of Julia Roberts, Liam Neeson, Kevin Spacey, Ed Norton and Penelope Cruz, among others.

The series, entitled ‘Nature is speaking’, is beautifully produced, but the charity didn’t have millions in taxpayers money, like Bord Bia to buy TV space. It relied instead on social media to spread the word. My favourite, entitled ‘Mother Nature’, has so far been viewed over 6.8 million times on YouTube. “I have been here for aeons”, Mother Nature warns us. “I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you…your actions will determine your fate, not mine”.

So much for that ridiculous ‘saving the planet’ conceit. Saving ourselves is always what this has really boiled down to, despite our fonder delusions about planetary stewardship. And frankly, even that more modest project looks to be well beyond out collective abilities.

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Right here, right now. Climate change impacts get real

Below, the original version of my article, which ran in the Irish Times last week, including some links:

THE US National Weather Service is not noted for making alarmist pronouncements. So, when it earlier this week described Hurricane Harvey as “unprecedented – all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced”, it became clear we are fast moving into dangerous new climatic era.

Meteorologist and science communicator Eric Holthaus set the facts out bluntly: “in all of US history, there’s never been a storm like Hurricane Harvey, but there’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around. We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen and we didn’t care… Harvey is what climate change looks like”.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Ireland again felt the latest lash of extreme weather with the sudden recent deluge that caused havoc in Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula. Met Éireann labelled it a “once in 100-year event” and pointedly avoided discussing any possible climate component.

However, UCC climatologist, Dr Kieran Hickey told me that “phrases like ‘once-in-a-hundred years’ to describe these extreme events really need to be retired”. Over the last decade or so, he calculates that Ireland has experienced an extreme weather event, on average, every 6-8 months. This represents an astonishing four to five-fold increase in the frequency of such extreme events versus Irish weather several decades ago.

While there is no doubt the Donegal deluge was a freak event, “if we were to do an in-depth analysis, I suspect we would detect a climate change element in terms of its severity”, said Dr Hickey.

A new EPA-funded climate attribution project involving Dr Hickey and colleagues at UCC, as well as world-renowned attribution expert, Prof Myles Allen of Oxford University will spend the next two years investigating the specific fingerprint of climate change on recent extreme weather events in Ireland.

Climate Action minister, Denis Naughten acknowledged that “severe weather events like the ones we’ve seen in Donegal are going to happen more frequently”. He added that “funding would need to be put in place to deal with the colossal costs of repairing the damage after every new extreme weather event”. Naughten is notably less sure-footed when it comes to the politically thorny issue of taking on the domestic carbon polluters who are actually helping fuel this upsurge in extreme weather.

Already, the cost to the taxpayer of flood defences has increased ten-fold to around €400–€500 million per annum over the last decade, and this figure is set to continue to spiral. Dr Hickey cautions against the belief that there are engineering solutions to climate change: “we could spend billions on adapting our infrastructure to climate change but since the baseline keeps shifting, we don’t know what we need to adapt to”.

In terms of actually tackling the emissions that are fuelling dangerous climate change, he adds: “we are failing miserably; we’re not being led politically”.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is the government agency with key responsibility for flood risk management. It is, in the view of NUI Maynooth climatologist, Dr Conor Murphy, “the most climate-engaged organisation in the country”. Given the number of state agencies such as Bord Na Mona (‘Naturally Driven’) and Bord Bia (‘Origin Green’) actively engaged in corporate greenwashing, the bar for success in this context is quite low.

The OPW is now moving towards a risk-management approach to future weather extremes. What this means in practice is looking at worst-case scenarios and then assuming specific extreme events could be 20 per cent worse than even the most pessimistic modelling scenarios.

While the do-nothing advice of an active cohort of Irish climate contrarians may hold sway with some politicians, media and lobby groups, the actual front-line experts such as the OPW can see the fatal folly of playing wait-and-see.

However, against the shifting backdrop of ever-escalating climate change, no amount of planning can offer a panacea against future catastrophes. Flooding is almost certainly Ireland’s chief climate vulnerability. For every degree of temperature increase, the atmosphere can hold seven per cent more moisture. We are already having to cope with a supercharged atmosphere. Unabated, this can get much worse, much sooner than many people may realise.

As the OPW points out, every major Irish city and town is either by the coast or adjacent to a large river, which means we are extremely vulnerable both to monster flooding events and to the equally dangerous threat posed by sea level rise and storm surges.

While the ultra-conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects sea level rises of up to one metre by 2100, the IPCC’s co-chair Prof Chris Field told a conference in Dublin that it would in fact be prudent for Ireland to plan based on a massive two metre rise this century.

As Texas drowns, over 1,200 people across Asia have already been killed in the worst floods in decades. Ominously, wildfires have this summer swept areas of Greenland as well as deep into the Arctic circle. “This idea that climate change is just something taking place in other parts of the world needs to change”, added Dr Murphy. “It’s also happening right here, right now”.

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

 

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An Inconvenient Truth – then and now

Below, my article as it appeared in the Irish Times on August 19th last. I had been, along with my family and some friends, to the preview screening of ‘An Inconvenient Sequel – Truth To Power’ in the Lighthouse Cinema on August 1st last, and confess to having found it disappointing (a view not shared, incidentally, by the kids who attended).

Maybe it was a little too much to expect the sequel to pack anything like the raw emotional punch of the 2006 original There was also that nagging feeling that it really was time for Al Gore, having done so much to inspire, mobilise and broaden the so-called ‘environmental movement’, to step aside and let other, newer, voices lead the next phase.

None of this takes from the debt of gratitude I and many others owe to Gore for his outstanding leadership and morally grounded activism at another time of great despair and science denial within US politics. Hard to believe that anyone would ever look back ever-so-slightly wistfully at the GW Bush era, but such is the state of play with the current incumbent that anything other than profound pessimism on our remaining chances of avoid climate meltdown seems borderline delusional.

Meanwhile, I asked six well-known figures from environmental science and campaigning for their reflections on the impact of the original movie:

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THE RELEASE in 2006 of the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth was a surprise box office and critical hit, as well as a landmark moment in raising awareness about dangerous climate change.

Grossing more than $50 million, it became one of the most successful documentary films ever made, and was widely regarded as having reinvigorated the global ecological movement. It also earned its creator Al Gore a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Gore’s follow-up film, An Inconvenient Sequel – Truth To Power, opens nationwide on August 18th.

For me, the film was an environmental epiphany – an electrifying moment when everything I’d been studying and trying to process emotionally for several years came crashing into focus.

By the time the final credits were rolling, I sensed my days of cynical indifference on this issue were over. Being a parent of what were then very young children sharpened its impact. After all, the timelines for catastrophe ran right through their future adult lives. Who, knowing this, could choose not to act? In Gore’s own words, doing nothing in the face of what we now know about climate change “is deeply unethical”.

I have asked some well-known figures from environmental science and campaigning for their impressions, then and now, of An Inconvenient Truth. Did the Earth move for them?

Anja Murray: Ecologist, environmental policy analyst and ‘Eco Eye’ presenter

When it came out I remember feeling excited that someone had actually made a feature film about global warming. At that time it wasn’t a big deal in the collective consciousness; most people hadn’t really grasped the consequences of rising emissions.

I think the film had a huge impact on how we, as a society, understood climate change. It made the science of climate change accessible to a huge audience, and as an environmental scientist, I felt it helped give our work a boost and endorse our efforts for change.

Tragically, the resulting shift in awareness didn’t translate in to policy changes. Even now, a decade later, we all still have our heads in the sand. We know the basic facts, we know the scale of destruction and injustice that climate change brings about, yet any real positive action is still dismissed as “extreme”. I hope the film’s sequel will help resolve this cognitive dissonance.

Prof John Sweeney: Climatologist, NUI Maynooth

The International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fourth assessment report came out later that year, and the real importance of the film is that it articulated the science to the public in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Up till then, IPCC reports were seen as dusty old documents that were kept in a drawer. Al Gore showed their relevance by explaining the impact of climate change on us as individuals. Gore also provided leadership to the environmental movement at that time, someone they could coalesce around to express their particular concerns.

Some of the way he conveyed the science was populist, and you could pick holes in some of his arguments, as his critics tried so often to do, but the overall thrust of what he said in the film is true, and has been proven true ever since.

Dr Cara Augustenborg: Environmental scientist and lecturer

Gore’s first movie had a profound effect on me. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I cried when the credits came up because it was the moment I realised that, if we didn’t solve climate change, everything was at risk. Yet the problem was so big I couldn’t fathom how to fix it.

The original film did a great job raising awareness of climate change but it stopped short of providing much in the way of solutions. I think that’s part of the reason it failed to make a huge impact with the public – not everyone wanted to go to the cinema to get depressed.

However, Gore’s Climate Reality project, which came after the film, has had real impact. I am one of over 8,000 “climate leaders” in 126 countries who have been trained to give a version of his famous PowerPoint presentation. That may be its enduring legacy.

Prof Michael Mann: Distinguished professor of atmospheric science, Penn State University

Has any public figure been more pilloried for their efforts to communicate the climate threat than Al Gore? Going back to his time as US vice-president, where he worked hard to put global warming on the political agenda, he has been under relentless attack from the well-funded forces of denial.

The release of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 led to an intensification of the hate campaign against Gore that continues to this day.

In his original film one of Gore’s slides featured a graphic of the famous “hockey-stick” curve that my co-authors and I published in the late 1990s. This showed a dramatic spike in temperature over the past century.

Every bit as dramatic has been the quite extraordinary global growth in clean energy in the past 10 years. The deniers said it couldn’t be done. They were wrong, yet again. Despite everything, there are still reasons for cautious optimism, and Al Gore can take a lot of credit for that.

Oisín Coghlan: Director, Friends of the Earth, Ireland

The movie led to a breakthrough moment in public debate and media coverage of climate change. Suddenly it was a zeitgeist issue. Journalists were looking for the climate angle on almost everything. I remember reading an Irish Times profile of eight young women writers where six of them named climate change as a concern, and thinking “we’ve made it”.

Then came the economic crash, which knocked climate right off the political and media agenda. Irish vested interest groups have also worked hard to put protection of short-term private profit above longer-term public interest.

Personally, I liked the movie and the way Gore wove the story of his family’s tobacco farming with his own discovery of the science of climate risk. And his naïve hopes that evidence alone would sway his fellow Congress members.

There are two memorable quotes from the movie. One is the worry that people might swing from denial to despair without pausing in the middle for action. The other is that only thing preventing action is a lack of political will, and political will is a renewable resource.

Eamon Ryan: Green Party leader and former minister for communications

Back in 2006, there was in fact a lot of political support for action on climate. The European Council that year agreed the 2020 (emissions reduction) targets. This happened around the time the film came out, and there is no doubt that it helped. I’ve seen the tide go in and out on climate action over the years; An Inconvenient Truth was definitely a high-water mark.

Gore’s real achievement was in turning dry scientific information into easily understood, digestible material. For me, the “wow” moment in the film was that one graph (tracking projected carbon dioxide levels by mid-century) that went literally through the roof.

Having lived for a while in the US, I also liked the closing sequence featuring a shot of the river near his home, connecting him to the beauty of the place he grew up in Tennessee and the awareness that this really could all be lost.

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

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

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

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

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An outside view on Ireland’s ‘climate action’

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

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

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

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In deep water: Naughten approves major offshore oil drilling plan

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

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

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

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

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

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Irish Farmers Journal: fearlessly on the side of fake news

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

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

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Too big to fail? Great Barrier Reef nears final collapse

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

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

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

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

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Doubling down on climate denial: ICSF hosts Happer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From pipsqueaks to bullies: farm leadership, 50 years on

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

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

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

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

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The ICSF – Irish Contrarians Serving Farming?

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

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

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

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Dad’s Army of climate deniers rallies in Dublin

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

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

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

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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