Engineer Trump leads Human race to the bottom

Below, my article, as it appears in the current edition of Village magazine (ok, apart from adding in the referencing, there were a few other tweaks and alternate adjectives I had probably wished I’d completed with for one final round of amends before submitting the magazine version; guess the web means never having to say you’re sorry!).

No sooner had the reality of having the execrable Donald J Trump as US president begun to truly sink in than the rationalising began. All those awful things he said and did were all really just campaign rhetoric for his hard-core supporters. He’ll pivot to the centre. The system is bigger than one man. American institutions are strong. The Republican Party will rein him in. Besides, it can’t happen here.

Well, it did and it has. While Trump’s staggeringly clumsy overreach in trying to dismember Obamacare led to an embarrassing setback, this was a rare bump in the road to ruin that Trump’s new kleptocracy of billionaire bandits and ideologues have been busy mapping out. Continue reading

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Nature is the silent victim of Nimbyism

Last November Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2 attracted 9.4 million viewers for one episode- two million more than watched the X-Factor that night. It was the most watched nature show in the UK for 15 years. No doubt, like myself, many thousands of viewers from Ireland also tuned in, transfixed by scenes of snakes chasing iguanas, rare footage of snow leopards mating in the wild and a face-off between Komodo Dragons.

That’s what makes it so hard to reconcile this interest in nature documentaries with our national ambivalence to our natural heritage here in Ireland. We love all that wildlife in Africa, Asia and the Americas – we’re just not that keen on the stuff back home. Nature, it seems, suffers from Nimbyism. Everyone seems in favour of it, but not just in their own garden, backyard, townland, parish or county.

This might sound like a harsh, sweeping statement damning all. But then again, we’re living in a country where the government tried to change the law to extend the hedge-cutting and permitted burning dates to the detriment of the wildlife habitats. Thanks to a hard-fought rearguard action by a handful of politicians and NGOs and a petition signed by 27,000 people, a watered-down version of the bill looks like to come into effect – a bill that will still allow hedgecutting on road sides to take place in the nesting season. Continue reading

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Lights out for Earth Hour? Save your energy

Dreamed up as a PR stunt by an ad agency 10 years ago, Earth Hour has become surprisingly succesful. This is, I suspect, because it’s long on tokenism and photo opportunities and desperately short on actual resolve, sacrifice or meaningful political action. Anyhow, my lights stayed remained undimmed on Saturday night last. Below, the original version of my piece, as featured in Saturday’s Irish Times:

ANY PLANS for Earth Hour this evening? If so, you’re not alone. Tonight in Ireland and in some 7,000 cities and over 170 countries around the world, upwards of a billion people will turn off the lights to mark Earth Hour, an event the organisers, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), claim is the world’s largest voluntary action.

Now in its 10th year, the event has been warmly embraced in Ireland, with lights being dimmed in government buildings and major heritage sites. For instance, in 2014, then Environment Minister, Phil Hogan had this to say: “I am happy that Ireland is again joining this global effort to highlight environmental sustainability and I hope that Irish people will support this powerful symbolic initiative by turning out the lights”. Continue reading

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Dublin airport censorship just doesn’t fly

There is a rich irony in the fact that an airline company sponsors the weather on RTÉ Radio One, with its ‘smart flies Aer Lingus’ tagline transmitted into a million homes, on the hour, every hour. After all, aviation is the world’s fastest growing source of climate-altering carbon emissions, so in a very real sense, Aer Lingus is changing the very weather whose forecasts it sponsors.

There are, as far as I’m aware, no grounds on which RTÉ, a state broadcaster could be compelled to stop accepting money from a company whose very business model is fuelling the dangerous destabilisation of the global atmosphere upon which we all depend.

After all, if the climate-destroying, biodiversity-thrashing Bord Na Mona can pass itself off as ‘Naturally Driven’, who could possibly object to Aer Lingus sponsoring the weather? And this of course assumes there exists even an iota of political will to be mustered in our collective defence (here’s a link to an Irish Times article on climate and aviation I wrote some years back; the stats may be a little out of date, but the gist is still relevant). Continue reading

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Time to push fossil fuel sponsorship beyond the Pale

Below, my article, as it appeared in the Irish Times earlier this month. Having had family members as past winners of the Texaco Children’s Art Competition made me leery about taking on writing about this long-running sponsorship, but then I realised part of the formula for corporate sponsorship of events or competitions actually depends on producing feelings of guilt and/or gratitude on the part of us adults. So, with a slightly heavy heart, I put them on hold on this occasion.

THE GLOBAL movement to delegitimise fossil fuels received a boost in recent days with the passage through Dáil Eireann of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill. This historic bill, introduced by Thomas Pringle, TD directs Ireland’s €8 billion Strategic Investment Fund to avoid investments in oil, coal or gas. Ireland is the world’s first country to make such a bold move.

While this decision is by itself unlikely to make even a dent in the trillion dollar hydrocarbon energy business, its real significance is symbolic, sending out a political and economic signal that the fossil fuel industry is to be regarded as a necessary evil, to be tolerated only until viable, safe alternatives can be brought on stream. Continue reading

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A wealthy, kick-ass climate NGO: what are the odds?

There is never a shortage of stupid things to do with money, especially if you suddenly find yourself with loads of it. US socialite Theresa Roemer, for instance has a three-storey, 3,000-square foot closet; that’s a space twice the size of the average Irish family home…to store her shoe collection.

Then there’s the €180 million Palazzo di Amore mansion in Beverly Hills — with 12 reception rooms, 22 bathrooms, a 50-seat cinema, swimming pools and a 12-acre vineyard. This property has been entirely vacant for the last eight years.

Oxfam recently published figures confirming that the world’s richest 62 people control as much wealth as the combined assets and incomes of the world’s poorest 3.7 billion people, and this trend is, if anything, accelerating.

With yet another EuroMillions winning ticket sold in Ireland recently (giving some indication as to how disproportionately much we are gambling per capita), our media went into overdrive with advice on how to spend the estimated €88 million fortune. The Sunday World’s staggeringly banal list of suggestions includes buying an island, or 17.4 million pints of beer, or 355 Audi R8 V10s. Continue reading

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Toothless watchdog lets its Standards slip

{PROLOGUE}

LOCATION: Bord Na Mona conference room*

DATE: Early 2016.

TOPIC: Ad planning meeting (*fictional)

BnaM Marketing Exec: ‘I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s the challenge: we’re a company that, pound for pound, is the biggest polluter in Ireland. We’ve wrecked nearly 80,000 hectares of boglands right across the country, increased flooding in the Shannon basin and polluted a lot of the waterways. Oh, and we get bunged well over a hundred million quid a year to keep three hopelessly inefficient peat-burning stations open; the dogs in the street know it’s the most expensive JobBridge scheme in the country. People are starting to wise up to climate change as well, and, to be honest, we’re a disaster area on that front too. Jesus, even some of the politicians have noticed. It turns out that simply draining bogs turns them from carbon sinks into carbon pumps. And as for the biodiversity, well, let’s just say, once our machines have ripped up a bog, it looks like a scene from Apocalypse Now. Total dead zone, nothing much bigger than an ant survives peat harvesting. Nada. Zip’.

Agency Suit: ‘Guys, guys, guys. Take it easy! For starters, how many people have ever been out on a Bord Na Mona bog – or a living bog, for that matter? Not many, right? So, they haven’t a clue what happens out here. How many know or care about carbon sinks and climate whatsit? Right again. Ladies and gents, welcome to 2016. The truth, or the post-truth, if you prefer, is precisely what we tell them. And as for the media, no problemo. We’ll organise to bus a few of them down from RTE, the Times, Indo etc. and give them the ‘conservation tour’, you know the one, where we do the touchy-feely talk about hares and sphagnum moss and restoration, the standard PR drill. We can bring in some friendly conservation types to give the gig a bit of cred, then just sit back and wait for the positive coverage. No problemo. Fish in a barrel’. Continue reading

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Nine years later, and deeper in debt

It’s nine years to the week since my first posting on ThinkorSwim went live – on the last day of November 2007. It was, in many ways, a different world. The mood was radically different too. For starters, the Greens were in government, holding both the Environment and Energy & Communications portfolios. The needle was moving alright; you couldn’t quite see it but you could sense the palpable energy for change.

While not exactly mainstream, green was certainly in vogue. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report had been delivered earlier that year in a blaze of overwhelmingly positive publicity. The huge success of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ a year earlier seemed to have struck a real chord with public and media alike. And the dismal failure of the Copenhagen Summit and the Climategate hoax were still two years in the future.

I kept a scrapbook that year of newspaper clippings, mostly from the Irish Times and Sunday Tribune, on climate-related coverage, and by late November, it was bulging. Expert contributors included the late great Dr Brendan McWilliams and of course the indefatigable Prof John Sweeney. The overall editorial tone was, viewed in hindsight, surprisingly serious and business-like. The contrarians and outright deniers were then rarely seen. They were, as it transpired, lying low as the prevailing tide swept a stream of positive coverage along. Continue reading

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A new age of endarkenment draws ever closer

Like millions of people all over the world, I’ve spent the last almost two weeks in a state of shock and disbelief. I had sat up with friends late on the evening of Tuesday November 8th into the early hours of the following morning. It started well enough. Preliminary polling numbers had Clinton ahead in both Ohio and Florida. Clinton winning either of these would seal off any possible path to victory for Trump, the TV pundits opined reassuringly.

As it transpired, and rather like the visit of Mr and Mrs Lincoln to the Ford’s Theatre in April 1865, this night too was not to end well. I crashed into an agitated, dreamless sleep sometime around 6.30am on Wednesday, and on waking some three hours later, for a few blessed moments my addled brain actually fooled me into thinking I had imagined the whole wretched event.

No such luck. As the Nightmare-Elect unveiled his chorus of bigots, crooks, crypto-fascists and religious zealots to stuff into the critical positions in his new administration, the feeling of dread was all-encompassing. I sat down more than once to write up a blog post on how I felt this would play out, but abandoned each effort. Continue reading

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A crisis in media and climate communication

Overlaying the climate crunch, there is a parallel full-blown crisis, in Ireland and elsewhere in the Anglophone world in climate change communications. This will not be news to regular visitors to this blog, but happily, there is now a lot more solid evidence to back up this impression.

A valuable new addition to our national understanding of this crunch issue has just been published by the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Climate Science. Its paper, entitled ‘Climate Change Communication in Ireland’, was authored by Emmet Fox and Henrike Rau.

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The paper sets out to review and assess existing research on climate change communication in Ireland, rather than engage in primary research in the field. It points to the “marginalization of climate change in the mainstream media, which is further amplified by its segregation from closely related topics of major public concern in Ireland such as extreme weather events, flooding, energy resources, or economic recovery”. Continue reading

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Cultivating hope, managing despair

There have been countless millions of words written and spoken in recent years on how humanity can and must begin at last to grapple in earnest with the existential challenges of climate change, resource depletion and the ongoing global biodiversity crash.screenshot-2016-10-30-21-38-48img_4683 img_4682

A lot less attention has been focused on how we, as aware individuals and our societies are coping to come to terms with the realities of what it means to be alive right in the middle of the Sixth Extinction.

This week, a workshop, held in Dublin’s Tailor’s Hall entitled ‘Cultivating Hope, Managing Despair’ took a tentative step down this road. It attempted to open a dialogue among a group of around 30 people in attendance, many of who might describe themselves as Early Accepters. The sub-title of the workshop catches the mood more concisely: ‘How to positively respond to the mess we are in without going insane’. Continue reading

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Raising the bar on climate change coverage in Ireland

I’ve often wondered aloud what it might be like to live in a place and in a time where climate change, the world’s biggest, baddest and most persistent crisis, was given media coverage something even vaguely approaching its actual significance.

As we’ve covered before in depth, Irish media performance on climate and environmental coverage in recent years would actually have to improve quite a bit before it could even be labelled abysmal. Notwithstanding the odd well-intentioned foray by its part-time environment correspondent George Lee, the national broadcaster has been truly awful (and none more so than the senior editorial crew of its flagship show, PrimeTime).

The rest of the broadcast media are little better, while climate coverage in the print media, what remains of it, best resembles scorched earth. The erstwhile Paper of Record, since the retirement of its environment corr, Frank McDonald in January 2015, has not so much dropped the ball as picked it up and gone home with it.

The best of the rest over the last year or so has tended to be the Irish Examiner, but even here, its recent coverage of Danny Healy-Rae’s flat capped flat earther insights have given aid and comfort to the lunatic fringe.

Continue reading

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Battling for Ireland’s battered biodiversity

My interview below, with Dr Liam Lysaght, Director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, was published in the September edition of Village magazine:

IRELAND’S largely dysfunctional relationship with its natural environment was neatly summed up by former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, when he moaned that his ill-fated Celtic Tiger was being stymied “because of swans, snails and the occasional person hanging out of a tree”.

While the Ahern era was hardly a high watermark of environmental awareness and ecological literacy, one useful resource to emerge from this time was Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre, which was established by the Heritage Council in 2007 and is funded by the it and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Centre was set up to collate, manage, analyse and distribute data on Ireland’s biodiversity. Headed by Dr. Liam Lysaght, the Centre is based in Waterford city. “We are trying to put in place systems to track changes in the countryside”, Lysaght told Village in a recent in-depth interview. “It’s about building the evidence base to support biodiversity policy”. Continue reading

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Welcome to the Climate Madhouse

Below my article, as published in the September edition of ‘Village’ magazine

IMAGINE for a moment the dilemma: you’re a celebrated climatologist whose work has helped shaped the modern science of climate change. In the course of your work, you have gradually come to the same basic conclusion as pretty much all of your professional colleagues: humanity and the industrial civilisation we have constructed is on a one-way collision course with physics.512JfC3iFlL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Clearly, as a scientist, your job is to check and re-check the numbers, then, once the evidence is solid, alert the politicians and policy makers and provide them with the expert guidance so they can make the tough-but-necessary decisions to avert the worst of the projected negative impacts, while hunkering down for those which can’t be entirely avoided.

That, in a sane world, is how the system works. This is not, however, the world in which we live, and it certainly is not the planet that renowned paleoclimatologist, Prof Michael Mann inhabits. He sprung to fame in 1999 with the publication of a reconstruction of the global climate record stretching back some 1,000 years, which became known as the ‘Hockey Stick graph’ since, from past to present, it slopes gently downwards, before turning sharply upwards in recent decades, like the blade of an American ice hockey stick.

Continue reading

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Who’d choose to bring a child into a climate-changed world?

Below is my article, as published in yesterday’s Irish Times, under the headline (not my wording) ‘Is having children bad for the planet?’ I’ve added in some of the sources below that I used when researching this piece. The features editor suggested adding a picture of me with my two daughters, given that I had mentioned my own circumstances. I have tried as far as possible to keep my personal life out of my writing, but having penned a piece posing the question as to the wisdom or otherwise of bringing a child into a climate-changed world, I felt it only fair to put my cards on the table regarding my own situation and how it has informed some of the choices I have made.

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ONE OF the biggest decisions any of us will ever face is whether or not to become a parent. While for women, bearing children was until recently almost a foregone conclusion, today in Ireland one in five women, either by choice or circumstance, will never become mothers.

The drive to reproduce is as ancient as it is powerful, but can become derailed, in humans as in other species, in situations of extreme stress. For instance, birth rates have plummeted in Greece since its economic crash. This also happened during the Great Depression in the US in the 1930s.

More modest but marked declines in fertility rates have been measured since 2009 across most of Europe, the US and Australia as widespread anxiety about the future caused people to postpone or abandon plans to start families. Continue reading

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