It’s a Vision thing

Last week the Visions 2100 international roadshow came to Dublin. I first encountered it, driven by the irrepressible John O’Brien, as a side event at last December’s COP21 conference, where, as one of 80 contributors to the book from around the world, I attended and spoke at the Paris launch (click here for a backgrounder piece I wrote at the time).

The venue for last week’s event was the newly refurbished Great Hall in Tailors Hall, Christchurch, home of An Taisce. The hall was packed out for the event, with standing room only. Speakers included former communications minister, Alex White, Dr Cara Augustenborg of UCD, Aideen O’Hora of Sustainable Nation and myself.

Climate committee chair, Phil Kearney welcomed the launch on behalf of An Taisce. Cara’s account of the meeting is here, and there’s another report by sustainability blogger, Aideen O’Dochartaigh here.

Since there are ample meeting reports above, I’ve added a video recording I made of the event below, for anyone who might be interested in catching up.

For the record, below is my ‘vision’ for the world in 2100, as published in John O’Brien’s book. Some would call it dystopian, but as was pointed out at the meeting, my estimate of there still being 50 million humans alive in 2100 is exactly one million times more optimistic than the lowest estimate in the book!

“First, the good news. Against the odds, we made it to 2100. Only fifty years ago it looked like it was game over for homo sapiens. It sounds crazy now, but back in my grandparents’ time they really did carry on for a while like there was no tomorrow: tearing down rainforests, flattening mountains, poisoning the seas, waging war on nature – all in pursuit of this strange idea they called ‘growth’.

There aren’t that many books now, but our teachers describe the Age of Madness, as it’s called, when the scientific community repeatedly warned that Earth systems were in extreme danger. But nobody listened, and few chose to act.

How could this have happened? Everyone, it seems, was competing with everyone else for money, resources, status. No one seemed to notice that this spree couldn’t last forever. Even the revelation back in 2015 that half of all the world’s wild animals had been wiped out failed to ring the alarm bells. And as for all the warnings about climate change, they always seemed to be about someone else, or some time in the future…

Well, that future is now. This generation has learned the hard lesson of hubris – and humility. There’s barely fifty million of us now globally. Life is tough, but we’re managing. This time, we’re keeping it simple. They say the Earth is healing, maybe they’re right. Maybe we can at last live in a world where, in the words of the poet Seamus Heaney, “hope and history rhyme”.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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One Response to It’s a Vision thing

  1. Fergal Costello says:

    Time to call a Spade a Spade; Random thoughts from abroad

    Missing the upcoming workshop on climate change set me thinking about what contribution I might have made were I in a position to attend. At such events I always feel as though I am playing catch up; such a complex issue and so much to learn. If I feel that way after so many years reading and learning about climate change how do many members of the public feel? Probably confused and uncertain. Does it have to be so? I don’t think so.

    When it comes to presenting the issues, the language and terminology we use really matters.
    In general, that language and terminology is taken directly from university and scientific forums and papers. It tends to be objective, cautious and neutral. Maybe it’s not suited to the purpose of campaigning to the wider public?

    We talk about the need to tackle global warming and to keep temperature levels to less than 1.5 to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. How might this objective be perceived by many if not a majority of the Irish public. The phrase “global warming” is neutral or in the context of our weather, even benign. Warming is a nice word. We like to be warm, even in summer we could do with one two or even three degrees more warmth. So that’s good isn’t it? However if we said “global heating” that’s not so good and “global overheating” is even worse. But that’s what’s happening already in parts of Europe such as here in Cádiz in southern Spain. This summer was the hottest on record. It wasn’t just warm, it was hot, hot, hot. Holiday makers were forced to leave the beach and crowd into the relatively less hot city.

    We speak of climate change and the need to tackle it. But again climate change sounds neutral. It could be good or bad. Climate chaos, climate crisis and climate disaster, on the other hand, sound negative and aptly describe our recent weather. We speak about the need to stop burning fossil fuels, to leave them in the ground. What percentage of the population knows what fossil fuels are?Perhaps a majority does but for sure a significant percentage does not. Everyone understands what dirty, toxic, unhealthy, polluting, contaminating and imported fuel means. So maybe we should use these descriptions more.

    Wind turbines have a reputation for being ugly, unsightly, spoiling the countryside, killing birds and driving people mad with the noise and shadows they create. Am I alone in thinking they are beautiful. I thought so from the first day I saw them as I climbed the hillside above Tarifa. It did my heart good to think of how they were capturing an energy resource that was always there and probably always will be without polluting the atmosphere. I saw some new ones the other day returning to Dublin from Gorey and they also looked beautiful. I’ve seen thousands of them south of Pamplona and they always lift my spirits. Maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Instead of the perjorative terms above, renewables could be presented with positive language; clean, community-based, home produced, sustainable. Energy that keeps investments and profits within local communities, builds mutual trust and friendship and can be used to extend co-operative ventures.

    While solar has yet to receive as negative a press as wind no doubt it will be attacked also.
    All the positives that apply to wind can apply to it too.

    To repeat, the words we use really matter. “Green” “Eco” and “sustainable” are good, although sustainable has been devalued somewhat because of its wider application. Subsidised diesel can make a farmer’s business model sustainable while at the same time being environmentally unsustainable. Some argue that nuclear energy is sustainable on the basis it has potential to continue for a long time. “Green” is clean, synonymous with nature and also with Ireland. “Eco” is widely understood, and linked with health and respect for the environment.

    Biomas is a term that is not widely understood and needs more elaboration as in, wood chip, wood pellets etc. What can be readily understood is that we should be self sufficient in biomas or even capable of exporting it wheras we are still importing it.

    All these clean, renewable energies are supposedly uncompetitive aren’t they? After all our cash- strapped citizens are being required to pay a levy to meet the difference between these clean fuels and dirty fuels. People need to come to the realisation that this is a political choice that conceals the huge subsidy citizens pay to fund dirty energies. The subsidy occurs first at the points of exploration, gifting and extraction but the biggest price citizens must pay is for the enormous damage done by these dirty fuels. Think of the financial consequences in terms of public health, weather chaos, flood damage, the cost of building flood defences and subsidies for lost harvests. Think of the consequences caused by disruption of habitats, extinction of species, loss of biodiversity disruption of food chains. Why is the dirty fuel industry not required to pay for these in the same way that chewing gum producers are levied to meet the cost of removing gum from our footpaths, or as it’s proposed to levy the sugar industry? If this were done it is the dirty fuels that would be shown to be truly uncompetitive. Instead of putting the levy on green energy why don’t we put a “polluter pays” levy on the use of coal, oil and gas. This levy could be ring fenced to help fund the respiratory and cancer departments of the health service, flood defences and prevention and farm supports for crop loss.

    When it was proven that cigarette smoking leads to early death we introduced health warnings and plain packaging. Well, the burning of coal, oil, diesel, petrol and gas lead to death and destruction of the planet and its inhabitants. It is wiping out plant, animal, bird, and marine species that have taken thousands of years to evolve to their present state. It’s proven. So what are we waiting for. Isn’t it time for plain packaging and health warnings on these products also.

    I was really impressed by Cara’s interview on Countrywide. She had some great one liners and phrases that remain in the mind. “Farmers can become energy producers” , “farmers are among the first to experience the effects of climate change” and of course they are also among the main contributors to our overall carbon emissions. “It’s not the carbon efficiency of our farming that matters but rather our overall emissions”.

    It is the stated policy of the IFA to support and encourage community energy schemes. This is also Government policy. Despite this big companies are being allowed to buy solar options from farmers in strategic locations near power sub-stations. This is the opposite of community energy and is sure to create friction with local communities down the line. The Government, the IFA and Macra should be pressured to step up to the plate and follow through on their stated community energy policies.

    If the Environmental Protection Agency exists to protect the environment why does it keep issuing licences to turf burning power stations. Bord na Móna pleads that large numbers of it’s workforce would be out of a job if these power stations switched to a renewable fuel source like biomas. But Bord na Móna seeks credit for their entry into biomas production. So why can’t it move to redeploy these workers into the biomas sector. Biomas production plants can be located anywhere so why not locate them near to where the workers are being displaced? These would be in the low lying areas mainly in the central plain, areas that are ideal for tree planting and flood mitigation. Tactically it might be best to direct our fire ( protests, pickets whatever) at the EPA while pointing out Bord na Mona’s responsibility to plan now to redeploy it’s workforce.

    Fergal Costello,
    Cádiz, Spain,
    6th Oct. 2016′

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