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

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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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Can direct democracy succeed where politics has failed?

Earlier this month, I was pleased to have my third article appear on Guardian Environment. The topic was one I have previously teased around the edges, here and elsewhere, on numerous occasions. In a nutshell: once we’ve figured out our elected representatives don’t represent us, once we’ve finally grasped that yes, the system is indeed crazy enough to literally burn the world down, destroying itself the rest of us in the process….what then?

Direct action, legal action, protest, civil disobedience; given what’s at stake, and given that everything is on the line, then surely absolutely every option has to be considered. It’s not like time is on our side. Twenty-five years ago, a stark ‘Warning To Humanity‘ was issued by 1,700 top scientists. We ignored it and carried on regardless. Now, it has been reissued, this time signed by tens of thousands of scientists.  Well, I’m with Don McLean on this one: ‘They would not listen, they’re not listening still, perhaps they never will‘. Continue reading

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The Citizens have spoken: no more excuses, climate action now

I spent all day Saturday November 5th in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, covering the penultimate session of the Citizens’ Assembly hearings on climate change. Having watched much of the previous weekend’s deliberations via live stream, I had the sense that something genuinely important, perhaps even historic, was unfolding. The eight hours or so I spent observing the process up close reaffirmed that impression.

If parliamentary democracy is terminally clogged up with fearful politicians and choked with special interest groups, then think of the direct democracy on show from the Citizens’ Assembly as a powerful enema to unblock the BS that has made even the most rudimentary progress on tackling climate change all-but-impossible. My impressions of the process were published on Desmog.uk the day after its Recommendations were issued. It was a privilege to be there to witness it. The full text is below: Continue reading

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Eating the future, one bite at a time

Futurology is a favourite journalistic parlour game, usually reserved for a slow news week or the lifestyle section. When I saw the following bold opening statement in a recent Irish Times magazine cover story, “Half of the babies born today in industrialised countries will live long enough to celebrate their 100th birthday”, it got me thinking about the chasm that separates ‘environmental journalism’ from that altogether rosier alternate world where the rest of the media seemingly reside.

The below was published last Friday on the Irish Times OpEd page, partly in response to the futurology piece the previous weekend. Kudos to the IT for being open-minded enough to print a critique of their own journalism; the mark, in my book, of a responsible, diverse media outlet. Continue reading

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Nuclear near-miss a chilling portend of our climate future

Below, my article as it appears in the current issue of ‘Village’ magazine. I’ve included links to watch the film in its entirety, as well as the subsequent ABC studio discussion. A third of a century later, it’s still strangely gripping and, in the light of all that has happened in world politics in the last year or so, in the words of Yogi Berra, it feels like déjà vu all over again.

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ON THE NIGHT of November 20th, 1983, US network ABC aired a made-for-TV film entitled ‘The Day After’. By some estimates, around 100 million people sat down to watch the film, which dramatized the build up to and the immediate aftermath of an all-out nuclear war between the US and the USSR. Continue reading

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