RTE bog broadcast sinks into mire of low standards

Below, a piece I ran in a well-known satirical magazine in May 2018. It was subsequently picked up by the Sunday Times, who also gave the show a bit of a scalding under a piece headed: ‘RTE turfed into trouble over bog show sponsorship’. The paper put a query in to the BAI as to the legality of this unflagged advertorial being run on the national broadcaster. The BAI responded by saying it was: “aware of reports in respect of this programme and will be in touch with RTE to discuss this matter in due course”. Sadly, the show has since disappeared from the RTE Player, which is a shame, as its craven, brown-nosed woefulness really had to be seen to be believed. I’ve done my best in the piece below to give you at least a flavour of this execrable confection.

“THIS IS THE STORY of Ireland’s best kept secret”. So RTÉ’s Derek Mooney began ‘Turf Life – a day on the bog’. This statement was true in more ways than the presenter might have imagined. The TV programme, broadcast on May 4th, was sponsored by Bord na Móna, Ireland’s chief bog destroying enterprise.

Due to what RTÉ told me was “an oversight which has since been corrected”, there was no mention whatever of Bord na Móna’s involvement, either in the opening or closing credits. RTÉ’s say they have“adjusted our internal processes to ensure this does not happen again”. However, despite this, the programme remained on the RTÉ Player sans any kind of sponsorship line whatever for at least two weeks after it aired. Continue reading

Posted in Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Irish Focus, Sustainability | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

LNG at Shannon: selling our future down the river

Below, my article as it appeared on DeSmog.uk on May 15th.
 
ENVIRONMENTAL groups have united in opposing a massive new terminal that would receive fracked gas from the US in a protected area on Ireland’s west coast. They fear the plan runs counter to Ireland’s newly agreed climate commitments and is contrary to the country’s decision to ban fracking.

The public consultation on the proposal closed yesterday.

Brexit fears played a key role in the reactivation of plans to develop a massive liquid natural gas (LNG) deepwater terminal in the Shannon estuary. Irish government ministers were alarmed that in a post-Brexit situation, LNG being piped into Ireland from the UK via interconnectors could be subject to tariffs.

The proposed terminal, which would be capable of docking the world’s largest LNG carriers, is to include four massive LNG storage tanks, each with a capacity of 200,000 cubic metres. Some 23 environmental groups from Ireland, Germany, Belgium and the US have united to oppose the terminal, with the principal objection being that its principal source of LNG would be from fracked gas fields in the US.

Last year, Ireland became one of only three countries in Europe to introduce a total ban on onshore fracking.

According to Friends of the Earth: “we banned fracking in Ireland, it would be absurd to import fracked gas instead. It would lock us into fossil fuel dependence and blow our chances of containing climate change”.

Friends of the Earth added that the Irish planning regulator, An Bord Pleanála “should not extend the planning permission for Shannon LNG. The Government and the EU should not support or subsidise it”. Permission was originally sought for the project in 2008, but the original backer, the US investor, Hess, pulled out after wrangles with the regulators over compulsory contributions towards the cost of linking to the Ireland-UK interconnector.

Some 99 percent of the total Irish gas supply is currently imported via the UK through the two undersea interconnectors.

Another anti-fracking group opposing the terminal, ‘Not Here, Not Anywhere’ pointed out the “quite hypocritical position that Ireland, having introduced a domestic fracking ban, thinks it’s fine to import fracked gas from the US”, spokesperson Ciara Barry told DeSmog UK.

“The promotion of natural gas of any kind as a ‘transition fuel’ is deeply flawed, and ignores for instance the highly damaging methane emissions associated with extraction”, Barry added. “This also locking us in to infrastructure with a 40-50-year life span, which makes any transition to a low carbon economy in the time scale needed completely impossible”.

The spectre of Brexit has breathed new life into a once-mothballed terminal proposal. Among the strongest advocates for it has been Irish MEP, Seán Kelly. Largely due to his lobbying, the project has now been designated as a European Project of Common Interest. This means, crucially, that the project, with an estimated cost of €500 million, may become eligible for investment from both the European Investment Bank and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

“This project is not just an option, it is becoming an imperative We’re actually by far and away the most vulnerable of all the 28 member states in the EU now”, Kelly told the Irish Examiner. “The countries that are vulnerable in terms of energy requirements across the EU are well advanced on plans to sort that out by building their own energy terminals but we’re not doing that”.

According to the NGO Food and Water Europe, The Shannon estuary, the proposed site of the LNG terminal, has been declared by the EU an Estuaries Special Protection Area (SPA); however, Ireland has a very poor record of enforcing protection for its EU-designated SPAs and has frequently faced EUlegal enforcement actions on SPAs, most notably sensitive peatlands.

Campaigners against the LNG project point to the decision in November 2017, by BNP Paribas, a leading European and global financial services provider to “no longer do business with companies whose principal business activity is the exploration, production, distribution, marketing or trading of oil and gas from shale and/or oil from tar sands”.

BNP Paribas explicitly singled out “LNG terminals that predominantly liquefy and export gas from shale” as being among the projects it would no longer provide finance for. This is a hugely significant shift, as major banks and financial institutions like BNP Paribas switch to: “financing and investment activities in line with the International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario, which aims to keep global warming below 2°C by the end of the century”.

Ireland’s energy and ‘climate action’ minister, Denis Naughten is understood to see the Shannon LNG project as an important tool in maintaining security of supply for energy, the Irish Examiner reported. Domestic political anxiety about Ireland being at the very end of a gas pipeline network stretching thousands of miles across Europe has been heightened by the political and economic uncertainties posed by the shambolic Brexit process.

Ireland’s largest coal-fired power station, the 915 megawatt Moneypoint facility is located just across the Shannon estuary from the site of the proposed new terminal. The Irish government is under pressure to exit from both coal and peat burning, and while renewables are now providing around a fifth of electricity production (with over 2,800 megawatt wind energy capacity), it still leaves major gaps in supply, with both gas and biofuels being touted in government circles as so-called ‘bridge’ fuels.

The energy and environmental landscape has shifted significantly since the original Shannon LNG project was granted planning permission in 2008. Three years ago, the Irish parliament passed the Climate Action law to give effect to government policy of reducing Irish carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

A subsequent Energy White Paper adopted by government upped the target for the energy sector of cutting emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. Campaigners point out that these ambitious but essential targets for decarbonising Ireland’s energy system would be impossible to realise if costly new LNG infrastructure is locked into place for the next several decades.

A ruling on the public consultation that closed yesterday is expected in the coming weeks.

Continue reading

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Mainstreaming doubt and nurturing climate denial

Fake news has, since January 2017, received a whole new lease of life, with peddlers of misinformation greatly emboldened by the installation of the Liar-In-Chief at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. However, climate science denial has been in full swing for decades; hardly surprising when you consider the trillion-dollar interests its (factual) findings threaten. Organised climate denial is, however, a new phenomenon in Ireland, first rearing its head in May 2017.

There are those who argue that by covering the activity of these jokers, you’re simply empowering them, since most are needy attention-seekers to begin with. But I would counter-argue that it it precisely because we have failed to take deniers and liars seriously that we find ourselves in our present global imbroglio. Below, my piece as it appeared on DeSmog.uk in April: Continue reading

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World awakens slowly to unfolding plastics catastrophe

Below, my article as published in the April 2018 edition of Village magazine. I’ve been writing for years about the pervasive and ever-expanding threats posed by plastic wastes, but have found few takers in the mainstream media; given the staggering numbers and absolutely undeniable havoc these persistent environmental toxins were causing, I always found the lack of interest on the part of many editors puzzling, to say the least. It seems the tipping point (if that’s a phrase you can actually use here) on plastics occurred with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which brought the issue of the devastating impacts of marine plastic into the homes and onto the TV screens of millions of people. Suddenly, the wider media seemed to twig that this was a ‘real’ story, and since then, awareness of plastics as a truly massive problem has gone mainstream. Of course, as regular ThinkOrSwim readers will know, plastic pollution is but one of a phalanx of vast, seemingly intractable and interconnected crises gathering strength on our near horizon.

FOR YEARS, it was widely ignored, even as the evidence grew more and more overwhelming. Reports had been flooding in from some of the remotest places on Earth, from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the North Pole. Researchers found its impact was hammering every ecosystem, disrupting natural processes and spreading havoc across the living world. Continue reading

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Failing farmers, the environment & wider society

My article on our broken agricultural system, as it appeared in the Irish Times on April 7th last. Getting a decent splash on the main OpEd page in the Saturday edition (the IT’s most read day of the week by a distance) meant it garnered a good deal more attention than I’d normally expect.

It may be just an impression, but I’m beginning to sense that the IFA in particular are no longer winning the war for ‘hearts and minds’ with the general public, something they’ve been amazing effective at over several decades. Even the deferential armchair ride they’ve come to expect in the media is no longer assured as the hard questions about emissions and environmental impacts pile up and their answers so often seem threadbare and evasive.

IN OCTOBER 2013, just months after that year’s fodder crisis, a study by researcher Dr Stephen Flood warned of severe future impacts of climate change on Irish agriculture. Then agriculture minister Simon Coveney launched the report, and promised that climate projections would be incorporated into plans for the sector. Continue reading

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Day of reckoning on global extinction crisis draws near

Below, my article as it was published in the Irish Times last month, with some referencing added back in. To borrow one of my own lines, “A solitary species has, in a heartbeat of geological time, overturned and routed half a billion years of evolutionary history”. That, rather than the extinction of yet another species of charismatic megafauna, is what this story is really about.

NATURE IS falling silent. From the once-common cry of the curlew to the roar of lions, buzzing of bees and the cacophonous chatter and chirping of countless billions of creatures and critters, now an ominous, ever-expanding wave of stillness is spreading across the natural world like a slow tsunami.

This week’s news of the death of the world’s last remaining northern white rhino in Kenya caused a mild ripple of interest in an ocean of public indifference and incomprehension. While everyone agrees it is sad that another iconic species has disappeared, media attention quickly shifted back to “the real world” of economics, politics and social media. Continue reading

Posted in Biodiversity, Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Pinker serves up a Panglossian three-card trick

“Things can only get better”, went the lyrics to the hit by D:Ream which became the anthem of the incoming New Labour government in 1997, fronted by the relentlessly upbeat Tony Blair. Six years later, Blair joined the US in its illegal invasion of Iraq, a move that plunged the entire Middle East into a new era of violent instability and a refugee crisis that today, some 15 years later, shows little signs of abating.

Things, it turns out, can also get worse. Statistics can, however, be schooled into presenting a beguilingly different picture of the true state of the world, and the darling of global optimism, psychologist and author Steven Pinker is a skilful inquisitor of data. His scholarship seems to have caught the zeitgeist of latest wave of techno-optimism, and his data-fuelled Panglossian creed is being enthusiastically embraced by global influencers like billionaire Bill Gates. Continue reading

Posted in Economics, Global Warming, Habitat/Species, Psychology | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Tall tales trump Varadkar’s Washington debut

Below, my piece published on DeSmog.uk from March detailing our Taoiseach’s travails when attempting to cosy up to the US president during the traditional St. Patrick’s Day visit.

IRISH prime minister, Leo Varadkar dropped a major climate clanger in Washington this week, when boasting about intervening with Irish planning authorities on behalf of Donald Trump. The incident occurred in 2014, prior to Trump’s presidential run and when Varadkar was then Irish tourism minister. Continue reading

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All talk, no action: agri sector’s spin over substance

My article, which ran in the Irish Examiner in early February, is below

IRISH agriculture faces enormous threats, both from direct climate change impacts and the urgent need to sharply reduce emissions, yet the sector has been remarkably slow to engage with climate reality. Unfortunately, the latest report, published by the dairy industry lobby group, ICOS is virtually silent on how to achieve significant cuts in total emissions from the sector.

The presence of the chairman of the government’s Climate Change Advisory Council, Prof John FitzGerald, at the launch of ‘Positive steps towards a low carbon future for the Irish dairy sector’ may have given the media the impression that it was an earnest, scientifically-led document. If so, they were misled.

The report was published as the industry’s response to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. It was developed by a 20-person working group, all from the dairy industry, with no apparent NGO or named academic input whatever, and zero dissenting voices. And it shows. Continue reading

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Sinking ever deeper into ecological debt and climate denial

Eschatology, or the study of the end of times, is at least as old as the written word. The concept spans many of the world’s major religions, usually referring to some future day of judgement or reckoning.

Beyond the realms of theology, eschatology as a concept is currently undergoing something of a renaissance, especially after the tempestuous and chaotic first 12 months of the Trump regime. In this time, almost everything we once took for granted about inherent stability, even inevitability, of western democracies and the robustness of our institutions has been shaken profoundly.

As if to add to the sense of impending calamity, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their famous Doomsday Clock for 2018 forward in late January– to two minutes to midnight. This is the closest it has ever been to the witching hour. Continue reading

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2017: yet another year of living dangerously

And so 2017 comes, at last, to a close. From a climate and wider environmental standpoint, it has been an unmitigated disaster. It hardly bears repeating that the installation of the Trump regime in Washington was the worst possible news, at the worst possible time, for those of us interested in handing on a habitable biosphere to the next generation by mid-century.

Of the 10 years I’ve been operating as a journalist and activist in this arena, 2017 stands out as the most depressing of all, especially coming hot on the heels of the Paris Accord of December 2015, which, for all its inadequacies and compromises, did at least hold out the vague prospect of providing a platform for ramping up far more radical action in the next decade or two. Well, that was then. Having appeared to plateau over the last two years, CO2 emissions took off again in 2017, when human actions added a whopping 3% to global CO2 levels. Continue reading

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Unmasking Ireland’s real ‘climate radicals’

Below, my article as it appeared earlier this month on the OpEd page of the Irish Times. I’ve been intrigued for many years at the way some people are automatically pigeon-holed as outliers and ‘radicals’ in certain debates. Nowhere is this more widely seen than when the media approaches climate and environmental coverage.

Leave aside for a moment the phoney ‘balance’ of allowing folks representing between 0–1% of mainstream scientific opinion equal air time. That’s bad enough, but the reality is in fact worse. The media, civil servants and state agencies defer (consciously or not) to what they perceive are the ‘voices of authority’. That, by itself is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if those voices are of bona fide experts giving independent advice on technical issues.

The real problems start when the ‘voices of authority’ are instead co-opted by most powerful vested interests, the organisations with big media and PR budgets, insider access to politicians and policymakers? Take the employers’ group, IBEC for instance. Last year its turnover was a whopping €21 million. The agri industry and farm lobby group, the IFA has a turnover of around €17 million, with offices in Brussels to ensure its lobbying reach goes well beyond our shores. Continue reading

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Don’t give up on democracy just yet

Below, my article from the November edition of Village magazine, looking back on the historic proceedings of the Citizens’ Assembly:

It’s been a bad couple of years for democracy. The Brexit fiasco was the most humiliating British retreat from Europe since Dunkirk, but this time, entirely self-inflicted. Yet, rather than a wake-up call, Brexit instead turned out to be a blueprint for the bloodless US coup that followed, where right wing extremists, aided and abetted by assorted foreign powers, seized the world’s most powerful political office.

Some 95 million Americans didn’t vote in November 2016. “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”, is how Greek philosopher, Plato presciently put it. Continue reading

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Not waving, drowning: Ten years of ThinkOrSwim

This evening, exactly ten years ago, I tentatively pressed the ‘Publish’ button on my brand new blog, and released the first ThinkOrSwim posting into the wild. Titled ‘Wind of change finally reaches Ireland?’ it foolishly opined that the new government was at last getting real about climate action, “after 10 ten years of inaction and rising emissions”.

Then Environment minister, John Gormley had just earmarked €15 million for a public awareness campaign on climate change (remember those?), which was due to kick off in early 2008. “There is a mountain of disinformation and ignorance (both wilful and genuine) out there to be scaled before this issue can be tackled in earnest”, was how the younger, ahem, greener me summed it up on that November evening 10 years ago. Continue reading

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Pushing back against the tide of junk science

I published two articles over the summer in Village magazine on the subject of the new Irish climate denier group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF), founded by retired UCD meteorologist, Ray Bates. The first of these, in the June issue, focused on the junk science being peddled by septuagenarian US climate deniers, Richard Lindzen and William Happer, both of whom were flown in to Dublin as part of an apparent concerted effort by the ICSF to stymie an Irish response to the climate crisis by disguising political lobbying as scientific analysis. Continue reading

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