Bord na Mona: of strip-mining and greenwashing

You can hardly have missed the hugely expensive PR and advertising blitz from the semi-state, Bord na Mona, whose ad agency has come up with a snazzy new campaign called ‘Naturally Driven’. They even managed to get RTE’s George Lee down to do a segment for the news to announce its new-found interest in sustainability, while Apart from its cloying 30-second TV ad, you can enjoy the full five minute corporate video here. Or, if you’d prefer to apply a ‘truth filter’, some wag has re-scripted and re-voiced a 30-second parody version here.

This multi-media campaign also included broadsheet adverts featuring a hare on it hind legs in a pristine environment of wildflowers and other native flora. The caption: ‘This land is his land. We never forget that’. The sub-text helpfully explains how ‘at Bord na Mona, we’re responsible for over 80,000 hectares of Irish landscape, and that responsibility extends to those who inhabit the land’.

Well, I can only imagine how grateful the countless million of plants and creatures, great and small, which have been ground to pulp under the wheels and tracks of Bord na Mona machines or have been slowly-but-surely doomed by the annihilation of their habitat will be to discover their tormentors are in fact really their carers and advocates.

Of all the vacuous tripe rolled out under the umbrella of ‘corporate rebranding’, this current campaign may well be the subject of doctoral theses for future academics on how senior executive in organisations, drunk on self-delusion and introspection and incapable of critical thinking, can actually sign off on material as profoundly, irredeemably dishonest as ‘Naturally Driven’.

How about this, direct from the extended video: “Today, we continue to harvest peat in a responsible manner, to help generate electricity to power Irish homes, yet at the same time we are actively contributing to ensuring Ireland meets its renewable electricity targets”. Hilariously, the ‘responsible peat harvesting’ bit is accompanied by footage of giant machinery open-cast mining peat in a barren moonscape as far as the eye can see. Japanese whaling ships are branded ‘Research Vessels’ and engage in a gigantic fraud, along with Norway and Iceland, known as ‘scientific whaling‘.

Bord na Mona is the landlubber equivalent of the scientific whaler, sweeping all life before it while insisting that it’s destroying the bogs so that it can ‘restore’ them at some future point. And, just like the whalers, they’ll tell you about all the local communities who depend on them. The reality, as set out in more detail below, is that the entire peat-for-energy racket is so hopelessly uneconomic, the ordinary electricity consumer is lumped with compulsory surcharges to prop this house of cards up.

By one calculation, the jobs of each and every employee engaged in burning peat for power production are subsidised to the tune of around €240,000 per annum. For that money up in smoke, three or four sustainable jobs with a long term future that involve neither destroying the environment nor poisoning or flooding your neighbours could be financed.

If Bord na Mona wants us to believe it is sincere about its new-found interest in sustainability, and restoring and rehabilitating peatlands, it would be a whole lot more convincing if it fessed up to the fact that the reason these once-pristine landscapes have been destroyed is because Bord na Mona destroyed them.

Its new campaign seems to position the organisation not as a prolific ecological pariah intent on redeeming itself for its atrocious ‘stewardship’ of tens of thousands of hectares of sensitive, once-ecologically rich bogs but as some disinterested party that has stumbled innocently upon degraded peatlands and is now determined to, in their own words, “create havens of natural beauty for local communities to enjoy, working responsibly with nature…etc. etc.”

Apart from taking zero responsibility for its own actions to date, Bord na Mona’s wilful intention to continue strip-mining peat for electricity production for the next 14 years makes a mockery of the formal policy of its owner, the Irish state, to rapidly and permanently decarbonise the entire economy. This places the board and management of Bord na Mona on the same moral plane as the executives in Exxon, Shell and other fossil fuel ‘producers’ who peddle excuses and talk about ‘jobs’ and repeat hollow slogans about ‘sustainability’ while the global environmental collapse they are so generously contributing towards continues to gather pace.

Below, including some edits, is the text I drafted earlier this month on behalf of An Taisce’s climate change committee in response to this campaign:

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BORD na Mona’s corporate rebranding as ‘Naturally Driven’ is an exercise in cynicism. It pedals empty PR slogans in place of genuine reform of what could well be Ireland’s single dirtiest, most polluting and ecologically damaging organisation

“We suggest they drop their new ‘Naturally Driven’ slogan and replace it with the phrase ‘Profit Driven’. Then Bord Na Mona would at least be able to sell its business plan with a straight face”, according to An Taisce.

The industrial harvesting of peat is one of the least sustainable and most environmentally (un)friendly industries on the face of the planet. There is no long term future in peat and there can be no short term future in it either if we hope to prevent the devastating consequences of climate change and global biodiversity loss.

Born na Mona have effectively told us that they will stop harvesting peat when there is essentially no peat left to harvest  and through a flashy media campaign have marketed this as ‘progress’. This semi-state company continues to destroy some of Ireland’s most endangered habitats and unique cultural landscapes beyond repair. Often this is done in open breach of environmental law.

The organisation claims they have turned over a new leaf and have the best interests of local communities at heart, yet at the height of the past winter’s floods Bord na Mona continued to pump flood water off their bogs and back into the Shannon. This kept Bord na Mona’s peat dry while downstream communities bore the brunt of flood waters.

Bord na Mona bogs are also a significant source of water pollution. Communities throughout the region have seen streams that once teemed with fish reduced to dark peat-ladened mires. There is a serious health implication with this pollution in the form of THMs, which are chemicals created when peaty water is treated with chlorine. Long-term exposure to THMs can cause an increased risk of certain cancers, reproductive problems and damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and central nervous system.

Its statement that it will continue to devastate Ireland’s fragile boglands for the next 14 years to feed millions of tonnes of peat into three hopelessly inefficient, loss-making peat-fired power stations being propped up by compulsory levies on electricity bill-payers is about as far from ‘sustainable’ as it is possible to be.

Based on the current level of subsidies being paid, it is estimated that over the remaining life of these peat-fired stations, up to €1.5 billion in PSO subsidies will be handed over to keep them open. Apart from the economic madness and regional environmental degradation, destruction of our bogs is a massive contributor to Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Given our legally mandated EU commitment  to urgently decarbonise the Irish economy, there is no justification whatever for Bord na Mona, a state-controlled company, continuing a policy that completely undermines national efforts to achieve rapid reductions in dangerous greenhouse gases.

An Taisce expressed concern at Bord na Mona’s statement: “Our target to cease harvesting peat for power by 2030 is a clear destination point in our journey to sustainability”. Apart from the complete unacceptability of continuing peat harvesting for power generation for another decade and a half, nowhere in the above statement does Bord na Mona commit to exiting its equally damaging horticultural and domestic peat businesses.

“For a company engaged in the massive strip-mining of millions of tonnes of Ireland’s most fragile landscapes to boast on its website that it is becoming more ‘environmentally friendly’ by encouraging its employees to “print less, turn off lights and recycle more” strongly suggests an organisation that is in the most profound denial of the environmental consequences of its ‘core business’ and is instead engaged in an expensive greenwashing exercise.

The government need immediately to put an exit strategy in place that will bring about the cessation of peat extraction by 2020 at the very latest. We need to develop a vision that can deliver true sustainability and prosperity for communities that have been ignored for too long. This must be part of a broader government agenda for the development of rural Ireland. This is a portfolio that warrants a full Ministerial position.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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5 Responses to Bord na Mona: of strip-mining and greenwashing

  1. Such a clear example of the unquestioned everyday ecocide that our society rests on. No wonder we now have a government that has abandoned the Dept of the Environment. No reference to the Pope’s environmental encyclical will be entertained here, will it?

  2. John Gibbons says:

    Sadly true, Cathy. We’re adrift, our collective moral compass nowhere in sight. This will, I’d suggest, turn, and turn quickly, but only long after it’s too late for our actions or intentions to have the slightest impact on the unfolding ecological crunch.

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