Last Tuesday evening, Duncan Stewart’s excellent Eco Eye series turned its focus on climate change, and specifically, the impacts already manifesting themselves on Ireland’s weather. You can watch the full show below:
Among the experts directly interviewed for the show were Prof Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Institute in Manchester. It was a coup to get Anderson, one of the world’s heaviest of hitters on climate science, to participate. What’s refreshing about Anderson is his willingness, as a senior scientist, to join the dots and spell out in clear terms that our current global emissions trends are actually worse than the very worst case scenario that IPCC modelling actually allows for.
Astonishingly, there is absolutely no indication whatever of any intention on the part of the world’s political classes to attempt to limit carbon emissions to within what climate science tells us are the physical limits of the biosphere. We are, Anderson states, on trajectory this century “for temperatures that could be 4, 5, even 6 degrees (C) higher, compared with now”. Today’s global average surface temperature is around 14.5C. Global warming to date has already pushed this figure, which is the average for all land and oceans surfaces, 0.8C higher than the pre-industrial average.
Pushing that figure towards 17, 18, even 20C in the coming decades would unleash a climate catastrophe of quite simply unimaginable proportions, with mass crop failures as extreme temperatures destroy agriculture and with it, global food production. A temperature jolt of this magnitude commits the massive Greenland ice pack to accelerated collapse, with the western Antarctic peninsula similarly threatened. These would mean, over time, rises in global sea levels far beyond any possible means of adaptation. This will force the abandonment of most of the world’s great cities and ports.
The economic and political crises triggered by a destabilised climate system are likely to unleash intensified resource conflicts, with water wars a very real possibility as nation states try to secure adequate supplies for their own populations, even if this means taking control of shared water and agricultural resources by force.
Duncan Stewart chose to tell the climate change story to an Irish audience through the lens of extreme weather, and the serious impacts already being felt by tens of thousands of Irish families who can no longer insure their homes against flood damage. Irish farming is also exposed to an increasingly restive and unpredictable climate, with major shifts in precipitation rates and patterns, as well as a blurring of the traditional Irish seasons.
I contributed later in the show, opening by repeating the quote from the president of the World Bank, who famously described a 4C global average temperature rise as a “doomsday scenario”. There’s an extended version of my interview below (Duncan actually recorded over two solid hours over the course of our interview, so perhaps there’s an über-long version somewhere in the archives?).
Fears that putting climate change on-air would be a major turn-off for Irish audiences appear to be unfounded. The Eco Eye on climate change had 405,100 viewers and achieved an impressive 27.5% audience share. When figures are added in for those who watched the show on RTE+1, the RTE Player and a repeat showing early next week, upwards of 600,000 people will have seen the show. Well done to all at Earth Horizon for a fine effort in keeping the moribund coverage of this crunch issue from disappearing entirely from our national airwaves.
The day after the broadcast, I was invited on to The Right Hook to discuss new European Commission emissions reductions targets with a rather skeptical George Hook. The interview ran to around 15 minutes, and, to be fair to the presenter, he allowed a full and detailed discussion to ensue, rather than trying to shut it down, as is so often the case. Hook was prepared to discuss the issues with me directly. Others, such as Tom McGurk or Pat Kenny, prefer to hide behind the “debate” format, ie. bring in a denier wing nut and use them to stir up a bogus ‘controversy’, with the host tut-tutting in the middle, feigning objectivity while wondering aloud why “the sides in this debate are so deeply divided”.
It’s a cynical ploy, known in the trade as bias-in-balance, it’s also the laziest stratagem in journalism, allowing the interviewer to disguise their ignorance, bias – or both – from their audience. Credit where it’s due to George Hook for being prepared to man up and take responsibility on himself to present the ‘skeptical’ (in the true sense of the word) counterpoint on climate change, and to manage the discussion in a courteous, professional manner. You would think that goes without saying, but sadly, that’s often not the case.