Earlier today, at a very well attended press conference in Leinster House, the all-party Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy released their report, ‘The case for a climate change law’.
Committee rapporteur, Liz McManus likened the position we now find ourselves in and the scale of what is required to address it as being “like a war effort”. This, from the Opposition, is extremely encouraging. McManus has for the last year or so, given the distinct impression that she realises this is no phoney war. In that regard, she remains in a small minority within Dáil Eireann.
I’d like to believe the numbers are growing, but with the scant, patchy and highly erratic way the media in general continues to cover this issue (with more scare stories about how we “can’t afford” to do anything, or contributions from the it’s-all-a-scam circus) doesn’t lead to any excessive optimism.
The influence of the English papers sold in Ireland only makes matters worse. Take this front page screamer from the Daily Express at the weekend: “ECO TAX WILL COST US BILLIONS” and you’re reminded of the mountain that has to be climbed if we’re to be saved from our own relentless stupidity.
The Irish edition of last weekend’s Sunday Times had a very strange angle on a report featuring Prof Richard Tol of the ESRI, the implication of which, to the casual reader, being that climate change is unlikely to trigger resource wars, since, historically, resource conflicts were more likely to erupt during cold, rather than warm periods. The not so technical term “bullshit” sprang to mind as I scanned this piece.
I can only hope sincerely that Prof Tol is being greviously misquoted, though it’s hard to know what side of the fence he is straddling. Some of Tol’s public utterances are, let’s say, enigmatic. As far back as five years ago, the Pentagon was warning the Bush administration in no uncertain terms that climate-related disruption, from water wars, mass movement of climate refugees, food shortages, coastal innundation and a global energy crisis were the real threats to US national security. “An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is ‘plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately”, the report found.
Earlier this evening I joined Liz McManus along with FF’s Charlie Flanagan and the Irish Examiner’s pol corr, Seán Connolly on the panel of RTÉ Radio One’s ‘The Late Debate’, hosted by Rachel English. The first half of the one-hour discussion was all about who would or wouldn’t get the top job of president of the EU Council, with Tony Blair the apparent shoo-in, but now encountering some serious Euro-flak.
Mary Robinson would have got my vote, as a leader with a world profile, including her recent Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian award, great experience as UN High Commissioner and seen to be ‘above’ partisan politics – a respected figure Europeans could unite around. Sadly, she has firmly ruled herself out, but Europe’s loss is the world’s gain, as the reason Robinson turned it down was that she intends concentrating on advocacy and awareness-raising on climate change. Mary Robinson… David McWilliams. Who knows, maybe Sammy Wilson next. I’m beginning to think we’re really starting to get somewhere!
As the programmed drew to a close, a headline from Thursday’s Irish Times was circulated in studio, to the effect that John Bruton has thrown his hat into the ring for the EU presidency. Europe could do a hell of a lot worse.
Then there’s the Irish Commissioner, now that Charlie McCreevy is to be hauled ashore (hurrah!), his bubble well and truly pricked since his beloved free markets crashed a year ago. Today’s Indo flew a kite on its front page to the effect that the much unloved Mary “calamity” Coughlan was much in demand in Brussels. I didn’t see anyone giving that notion much credence.
Tomorrow (Thursday) morning sees a double launch, by Environment Minister John Gormley. First, is the Irish ‘franchise’ of the 10:10 concept. You can log on to their website and take the pledge to cut your personal carbon emissions by 10% by the end of 2010. It’s a practical, no nonsense grassroots-led approach. It won’t solve anything as such, but we have to start somewhere, and this seems as good a place as any.
The other half of tomorrow’s launcy is by the EPA (its director general, Dr Mary Kelly also attended today’s climate change press launch) of its report entitled ‘The State of Knowledge of Impacts of Climate Change on Ireland’.
The $64,000 question remains: when are we actually going to get this climate legislation? Committee chair, Seán Barrett reckoned they could send off their report to the AG’s office and expect to have a Bill drafted in a week or two. In reality, it looks more like mid-2010 by the time solid climate legislation is ready to be enacted.
Still, with less than 40 days to Copenhagen, we had better at least produce the Heads of a Bill as fig leaf of sorts to spare the blushes of Gormley (and Cowen?) when they head to Denmark in December. There are weeks, even months, where absolutely nothing seems to be happening, then every now and again, a surge of activity.
Keeping the media’s attention, and ensuring this issue is covered more responsibly remains a huge challenge. In the UK for instance, the Guardian has publicly backed the 10:10 campaign, throwing its weight behind the inititative. Anyone here prepared to step up?
(and speaking of wars, I used the analogy during the debate of the Marhsall Plan that the US devised to help war-torn Europe to rebuild from 1948 onwards. After the broadcast, Liz McManus told me her late father had been the Irish representative liaising on the Plan. Small world indeed).
The Sunday Times correctly summarised our work. Over the last millennium, there was a negative correlation between temperature and violent conflict in Europe. The same was found, independently, for China for the same time period. In Europe, the correlation disappears around the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Extrapolating this into the future, warming would, if anything, reduce violent conflict. More likely, it would have no effect.
This research is limited to temperate climates. There is no comparable research for the tropics.
Richard, appreciate the clarification. Haven’t yet had the benefit of reviewing the original report, so my comments are restricted to the ST coverage as presented. It follows a curious pattern in that paper (and in most other media outlets controlled by its proprietor) of scepticism/hostility to climate science, and gushing coverage for ‘outliers’, no matter how obscure or uncorroborated.
This, rather than your paper specifically, was what caught my eye. However, re. your statement: “Extrapolating this into the future, warming would, if anything, reduce violent conflict. More likely, it would have no effect.”, I respectfully find this an astonishing leap of logic.
How would you imagine India, Pakistan and China will, for instance, set about resolving the life-or-death issue of control over dwindling fresh water as a result of rapid glacial melt in the Himalayas driven by global warming, combined with equally stressed aquifers and high levels of pollution in the water that remains?
I don’t think history is a good judge of the future here. First, during previous eras, there was always some room for peoples to relocate in the event of inclement climatic conditions. Today, the habitable world is stuffed with people, realistically there are no buffer zones available to escape to.
Second, humanity has never coexisted with atmospheric CO2 levels in excess of 300ppm. Today, with CO2e, we’re looking at 420, perhaps 440ppm equivalent, and rising at the rate of 3ppm per annum.
Almost 7 billion people in pursuit of sharply declining resources, all in a climatic no-man’s land has no historical analogues that I’m aware of, hence, the ST taking a Polyanna extrapolation based on historical data seemed to me, pointed.
But if you yourself support that analysis, I stand corrected in terms of assuming they had spun the story to match their general editorial line. John G.
The Sunday Times correctly covers a peer-reviewed paper. It is the second paper that estimates the relationship between violent conflict and temperature and precipitation over a long period of history. The two papers, ours on Europe and David Zhang’s on China, agree on the sign and the size of the effect.
There is a large literature on resource scarcity and violent conflict, using case studies and cross-sectional analysis. That literature also finds little evidence to support your claims.
Clionadh Raleigh nicely summarises this here:
She also does proper academic stuff, as you can see here:
saw that article in the sunday times as well and was wondering what the score was, they stuck the ersi guy up the top i guess to make it look like an irish story, hadn’t really thought too much about it till I read this blog, guess that’s the way this guy Tol sees it so can’t argue with that. Not convinced, tho, doesn’t; make sense, evertyhing i’ve read about global warming is the opposite of what this study now says, maybe i’m still missing something
John, I agree with your analysis. While untold millions will not have the means to resort to war and will simply die of starvation, countries with the resources to do so will go to war over diminishing water assets and arable land. It’s inevitable.
The resource wars have already started, if you consider that the war in Iraq is purely about securing the last major oil deposits for the west.
Tol’s paper is not applicable in today’s world and he is only giving the Sunday Times ammo for their contrary editorial line. Many people will migrate while they still can, and numbers seeking entry to Ireland will soar, as this country is expected to escape desertification. As the situation becomes more critical, we may have difficulty defending our borders, as will the EU as a whole.
I welcome the new 10:10 pledge initiative from John Gormley; it would make a big difference if everyone took it on. But while many will reduce their carbon footprint, others will exploit this by increasing their own. There are those who drive SUVs and take flights overseas every year, careless of the consequences. There are 250,000 car journeys made to the North every week for grocery shopping (also impacting on jobs) and something like 50,000 planning to fly to New York for Christmas shopping. These are not seal-clubbers. Many are actually eco-aware but still aren’t changing their habits. Giving up or at least halving their plane trips would reduce their gigantic footprints gigantically.
On RTE Radio’s The Late Debate a few days ago, you mentioned Mary Robinson was now seeking to combat global warming, making it her new priority. Someone of this calibre is required to bring about a sea-change in behaviour. Good to see that Labour’s Liz MacManus is pushing the boat out on a Climate Change Bill as well. Your work is bringing about change, methinks.
Governments can do very little about climate change. Passing laws to bring down CO2 emissions is naive in the extreme. Most of the environmental initiatives such as wind turbines, solar water heaters,electric cars etc will probably increase the use of fossil fuel due to the relatively short life period of these devices and not only the embodied energy required in their manufacture
, but the need for consumers to stress the environment ie use fossil fuels ,in order to earn the money to purchase them.
If we are serious about reducing CO2 output, we need to ban flying, and tourism first off. However due to the huge loss of jobs worldwide, this would be virtually impossible without alternative low energy forms of employment.
Unfortunately, all other ways of reducing CO2 output would also involve losing jobs.
We need a think tank of engineers, economists and sociologists to formulate a new way to live if we want to continue inhabiting this earth.
Badly educated polititcians meeting in Copenhagen are not going to be able to prevent our descent into climate hell.
The 10:10 initiative, while laudable, will be hobbled by people’s inherent selfishness. The authors of Superfreakonomics say people will not change their habits voluntarily to avert global warming because they see it as something that will effect only future generations, not them. While this is not true – impacts could be serious within 20 years – nevertheless, the argument holds, and therefore only something that is imposed (like the plastic bag levy) will work. Cue the carbon tax, which could help to bring about modal shift in transport, but it is being set at such a low level that it probably won’t make much difference. The Greens missed a golden opportunity to insist on a meaningful carbon tax in their recent negotiations with FF. Had they won some useful concessions on climate change in the negotiations, their poll ratings might have risen. They still have time to work something meaningful into the December budget. I mean, if Dan Boyle can now be looking for changes to NAMA after having signed off on it weeks ago, then surely they can still haggle for a bigger and better carbon tax?
On another topic, the Royal Irish Academy in recent days issued a statement on how CO2 emissions could best be reduced in Ireland. Looking at costs and feasibility, they compared everything from light bulbs to wind farms. While they included onshore wind farms in their analysis, offshore wind farms did not get a mention. Why? Are they implying that these would not be cost-effective? Perhaps if they factored in the likely nimby resistance to onshore wind farms and the long delays this will cause, then offshore would start looking a lot more attractive.
The RIA statement calls for a carbon tax. It does not favour or disfavour any particular technology.
Richard, I’m referring to the RIA ‘8th Scientific Statement’ issued earlier this week, which says: ” There are many options for reducing CO2 emissions – some are cheap, some are very expensive.” This is followed by a graphic of various options – the graphic does not include offshore wind farms.
That graph is for illustration only.
If you read the Irish Times on Saturday, you might have seen an interview/free PR plug for somebody called Brendan O’Neill of spiked-online.com, described as an “outspoken climate-change sceptic”. If his objective was self-publicising, then fair play to O’Neill, but the pitiful level of argument this “outspoken sceptic” brought to bear says a lot for where the “sceptic” camp/tank is right now.
A. “Radical environmentalists present themselves as outsiders. But, in fact, they’re taken very seriously and have the ear of practically every government in the world”. Huh?????????
B. “It reminds me of the church a hundred years ago, telling people that it is godly to be poor. They’re rehabilitating the sin of gluttony in language like “sustainable development” and “carbon footprint”. Jaysus, he’s been inhaling Kevin Myers.
C. “Environmentalists always claim to speak on behalf of unborn generations, which I think is really cynical and undemocratic. If we continue down the road we’re on, where development and progress are portrayed as bad things, I think future generations are more likely to upbraid us for being so meek and cautious, for accepting environmentalist dogma when we could have put the interests of mankind first”.
Brilliant Brendan, you’ve certainly nailed it for me. Especially enjoyed: “…likely to upbraid us for being so meek and cautious…”, as the face of the earth is being ripped to shite and the atmosphere thrashed right now, all for a quick trillion or two…
When 4×2 planks like that are (still) getting full page coverage in quality newspapers to show off their ideological blinkers, it suggests that nothing, absolutely nothing short of strong governmental compulsion is ever going to make a dent in our efforts at collective decarbonisation. JG
You have just strengthened Brendan O’Neill’s case. You argue against the right of free speech. You equate greenery with big government. In your original post, you slur a colleague before checking whether he correctly reported on an academic paper.
John, you would have to admit that your dismissive reference to Brendan O Neills interview in the Irish Times as “free PR plug” is a bit ironic. After all, you get to publish your own opinions in the Irish Times with 750 uncontested words most Thursdays. As far as I can tell this is the only regular editorial piece that appears in any Irish media outlet relating to climate change. To position your argument as one that is largely ignored by the mainstream media is fanciful. There is no doubt that the Irish media are “on board” with their reporting of climate change. I would be delighted if you could point me towards a single story from RTE that does not support the consensus.
Don’t think stating that the ST had a “very strange angle” on a report counts as a slur (no individual names were mentioned, so no “colleagues” should feel slurred). The ST takes “lines” on issues, as its Irish Editor, Frank Fitzgibbon made clear, for example, on Lisbon 1. No point in being naive about this.
I have no problem with free speech, but would like it to at least making a stab at being informed. Perhaps if polemicists would simply identify themselves as such, that would save anyone having to take it seriously (including bothering with rebuttals).
Don’t know what greenery is. Lettuce, cabbage, perhaps? To mangle a line made famous by Helen Shapiro, this blog is my party, and I’ll pry if I want to. As I’ve been doing for the last two years.
Should you want my ‘official’ position on any issue, they’re all freely available on the record. Blogs, by definition, are more about what’s on your mind, what’s pissing you off, what inspires you. Free speech, in fact.
fair point, though on the subject of irony, you tell me that it’s fanciful to say that my arguments re. climate change are ignored by the mainstream media, but in the same breath, you point out “As far as I can tell this is the only regular editorial piece that appears in any Irish media outlet relating to climate change”.
Gary, what’s doing my head in is exactly this, the LACK of regular, indeed daily systemic coverage of the web of related climate issues. The International Herald Tribune, for instance, probably features climate, carbon or energy-related stories on its front page 2-3 times a week, every week, with pretty much daily inside page coverage.
Why? Because this is the world’s most important story, bar none.
For the Irish media, including RTE, they cover this as a ‘regular’ news story, i.e, it pops up on the roster every now and again, usually with very little supporting context. No wonder people are so shocked and surprised when the full extent of the climate crisis is spelled out for them – since this is demonstrably NOT how this story is covered in Ireland.
I make no apologies for being an advocate on this issue. Anyone I know who understands climate science (including climate scientists themselves, apart from the vanishingly rare contrarian or two) thinks I am, if anything, pulling my punches in the Irish Times.
I saw the article in the Irish Times magazine; it spoiled a good supplement, I thought, but I suppose the editors felt they needed some balance and rolled out a token sceptic. Such pieces cloud the issue, which is not helpful when we need consensus.
Breda O’Brien (Irish Times, Sat) seems to think there is an altruistic side to people that will result in voluntary action to cut CO2 emissions. Perhaps she should re-read the history of Easter Island and other civilisations that masterminded their own demise.
It is astounding how little coverage climate change gets in the Irish papers and TV when this is the most important issue, “bar none.” English papers cover it almost daily, and even the Daily Express headline last week, “Eco tax will cost us billions,” could be read as a subliminal message to readers that we need to start taking climate change very seriously. We won’t, here in Ireland, until the media and body politic make it front page news more regularly. But the next three weeks will probably be given over to the public spending cuts, and with only 34 days left to Copenhagen.
Some time ago you wrote a brilliant piece in the Sunday Times ‘Think-tank for the 21st Century’ in which you advocated building pumped storage reservoirs for wind farms so that surplus energy harnessed during windy spells could be availed of during periods of calm. I was so impressed with this idea that I wrote to Minister Gormley (or Ryan, I can’t remember which) and asked why they weren’t moving on it already.
So it was with some surprise that I read in the Sunday Times about your recent paper on conflicts in history and, latterly, your puzzling messages to this forum. I think that you can make an immensely useful contribution and I’m waiting with great anticipation to see what else you’ll come up with. I don’t know what you mean by ‘greenery and big government’ either, but I guess it is meant to be disparaging. If you could ply your intellect to the problem at hand, please, that would be of greater service.
The Sunday Times correctly reported on a piece of academic research. The (single) author of the newspaper article checked the facts with one of the authors of the learned paper. Without having bothered to check the original paper or having spoken to the academic, you asserted that this ST piece is “bullshit”. Perhaps you should take “a stab at being informed”.
On free speech: You seem to argue that Brendan O’Neill should be silent until he is properly informed. You also seem to arrogate the right to decide whether or not he is properly informed.
I think your command of English is sufficient to understand what I meant by “greenery”. On big government, you wrote “nothing, absolutely nothing short of strong governmental compulsion is ever going to make a dent in our efforts at collective decarbonisation”. This is easily interpreted as that environmentalists, like yourself, are in favour of central planning. Greens are the new reds, as it were.
John, standing up for your convictions is laudable, deliberate exaggeration to reinforce a point is ultimately counterproductive. Even those not familiar with the issue will suspect that they are being manipulated….. You refer to “the rare contrarian or two” ???? 160 senior members of the American Physical Society have just petitioned their Society to adopt a less alarmist position on climate change. The Manhattan Declaration last year was signed by hundreds of climate scientists. If you include people in related fields, as the IPCC’s ARs do, the number is over a thousand. Whether you like it or not, there is a large body of scientific opinion that does not support the consensus. Pretending that they don’t exist or characterising them as fringe crackpots undermines your own case.
Re. the ST, agreed. They accurately reported an academic study. My issue is with the quote attributed to you: “Extrapolating this into the future, warming would, if anything, reduce violent conflict. More likely, it would have no effect.” This is, in my view, baseless extrapolation that is utterly confounded by a mountain of contrary ‘real world’ evidence. So the term “bullshit” was inaccurately attributed to the ST when it was a commentary on your quoted remark. Happy to clarify that.
Brendan O’Neill and Spiked Online pursue a no-prisoners free market ideology, and fair play to them. If Brendan talks arse, he can expect to get it kicked. The same Brendan is well able to dish it out, so don’t concern yourself on his behalf.
Re. ‘greenery’, when you twist language into pejoratives, it does invite an obvious response.
Greens as the new reds? Very witty. How’s this for amusing: I’m the red environmentalist who by day is an entrepreneur running a business that I set up 18 years ago (in the middle of the last recession) from nothing, with a staff of 25 today and there’s you, the champion of bare-knuckle capitalism operating from a State-funded think tank paid for by my taxes and the taxes of my colleagues!
I’ll sign off this discussion on that note, as it’s taking up more time than work commitments allow. I do however thank you for dropping by my blog and agree with Coilin’s remarks above that you have the ability to make “an immensely useful contribution” to this issue – if you so choose.
I for one would be happy to publicise and champion all constructive contributions on this front, so any time you have anything that meets that description, feel free to send it on. JG
what peer-reviewed evidence have these “160 senior members of the American Physical Society” presented? Can I direct you to the new book, ‘Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming’, it explains far better than I ever could how the phalanx of big business interests and their front groups, such as the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Heartland Institute work in co-ordination with large tracts of corporate-controlled media (such as Murdoch’s WSJ, and all his other papers, come to think of it) to fabricate a phony ‘debate’ on global warming while the transnational corporations get on with the serious business of milking the planet to death. Some of us who have to live here too are not happy about this. Sorry.
I never wrote in the Sunday Times about pumped storage, and if I had, I would have written that it would be a bad investment.
Apologies. It seems I have been confusing you with Professor Igor Shvets, an electrical engineer in TCD, who wrote the article in the Sunday Times on December 7, 2009, entitled: “A high-energy solution: cliff-top reservoirs could meet all of our power needs.” Here is the link to that article, should anyone want to read it: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article5298767.ece
Shvets and I are very different people.
He’s a materials scientist, by the way, not an electrical engineer.
The Sunday Times article does look like a somewhat one sided discussion of your paper. For instance:
“In West Africa, for instance, the situation is already so tense that additional refugees are unlikely to do any good — the coasts of Cameroon, Gabon and Nigeria are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise… However, these impacts will not be on today’s world. Sixty-six years ago, western Europe was at war. In 2075, south Asia and west Africa may be stable and prosperous.”
“In West Africa, for instance, the situation is already so tense that additional refugees are unlikely to do any good – note that the coasts of Cameroon, Gabon and Nigeria are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Similarly, forced migration of large numbers of Bengali from the coastal plain to the hills of northern Indian and Bangladesh would not be without problems either, and may even escalate to nuclear war. However, these impacts will not be on today’s world. Sixty-seven years ago, Western Europe was at war. In 2075, South Asia and West Africa may be stable and prosperous”
Given the fact that they left out the sentence about a possible nuclear exchange do you feel that this is a fair representation of your work for the average reader who will not go on and read your paper? Also, as you say yourself ‘this evidence is not very robust’, and “It does not follow that a
warmer future would be more peaceful. The relationship between temperature and warfare may be reversed in the tropics” – however these aspects of your paper seems to have been lost in translation when written in The Sunday Times.
Good paper by the way, I enjoyed it. Just don’t think the coverage in the Times did it justice.
Thanks for throwing some welcome context on a debate that was threatening to generate far more heat than light (and there was me apologising for daring to suggest that the ST were up to their selective-editing-to-achieve-angle-that-proprietor-will-approve-of!).
How exactly a news report quoting a paper that specifically refers to the possibility of mass migration leading to nuclear war could omit this rather salient fact is intriguing. Very generous of Richard Tol not to be at all concerned at the ST’s version of his study.
“The author of the newspaper article checked the facts with one of the authors of the learned paper”, to use Tol’s own words when upbraiding me for “slurring a colleague”. Inside I’m laughing. Richard Tol clearly also has an extremely sophisticated sense of humour and I’m honestly gasping to keep up.
On the other hand, many academics I could think of would be howling at this kind of subtle-yet-not-that-subtle media spin.
The ST left out a sentence, or one of two examples. Given the relative peace in the eastern half of the Indian subcontinent, I would have left out that example when pressed for space. It is about as likely that Pakistan or China would use nuclear weapons to defend Bangladesh as it is that Nigeria would acquire such weaponry by 2050. The ST left in the crucial sentence, namely that other signals dominate the climate signal.
The stuff in the paper about the inability to extrapolate the findings for China and Europe to other places is just that. One cannot use these results in the tropics.
That means that you cannot say whether the impact of climate change on conflict in Africa would be positive or negative. There is no information.
Why would you put that in a newspaper?
That part of the paper is just the usual fluff that academics use to signal to other academics that they know the limits of their analysis. It’s just fluff.
Last weekend’s Irish Times Ragazine was all about hijacking people’s concerns for sustainability and turning them into a vehicle to show off how rich they are. It’s a classic example of doing it wrong. As you know this is far too important to leave it to middle-class do gooders.
You seem to think that indicating the limits of your knowledge, as you put it, is necessary in a scientific paper for an academic readership, but that when communicating to a general audience in a newspaper indicating the limits of your knowledge is not important.
This does not make sense to me.
Also, you seem to regard indicating the limits of your knowledge as ‘fluff’. Do you not think it may be vital to indicate these limits of your knowledge when communicating to a general audience, especially with this paper – which as you say does not cover the tropics, which are likely to feel the effects of climate change first, and hardest? The average reader might not get your sophisticated analysis…