Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson

It has been a bruising couple of days for the image of politics in Ireland. Yesterday morning, of course, we had a tired-and-emotional performance on RTE radio by Taoiseach Brian Cowen. A few hours earlier, junior minister Conor Lenihan had sent the squirm factor off the charts with his bizarre decision to preside at the launch an anti-evolution tirade authored by an obscure constituent suffering from an acute case of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Regular mortification was of course compounded by the fact that Conor Lenihan is Science Minister. It was a bit like sending our education minister to a book burning, or catching the justice minister laundering red diesel. Lenihan did back down as the firestorm broke over him, but still planned to attend the ‘book’ launch in Dublin earlier this evening, pointing out that “diversity of opinion is a good thing”. No matter how dumb, ill-informed or just plain wrong that opinion may be, it appears. The assault on science and the scientific method is, it appears, by no means restricted to the Tea Party lunatic fringes of US politics.

Things took a distinct turn for the better yesterday afternoon with the launch of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ), a non-profit organisation that will be based in Dublin from the end of 2010. The stated aim of the foundation is to “ensure human rights are at the heart of the climate change agenda”.

Robinson’s outstanding career as a lawyer, academic, activist, politician and campaigner spanning more than four decades has been fired from the outset by a burning sense of outrage at injustice, and a determination to stand up for the oppressed. Cutting your teeth as a young female liberal academic and senator in the Ireland of the late 1960s proved to be an excellent boot camp to prepare Robinson for the rocky road towards justice and equality that lay ahead.

Now 65, and after many years away, Robinson is finally coming home to stay at the end of this year. Rather than collect her free bus pass, she is instead to head up the MRFCJ on a pro bono basis, with her long time advisor, Bride Rosney taking over as CEO. The foundation is to be “a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world.”

Herself a relatively late convert to climate change as a core issue, Robinson has quickly come up to speed, and is now throwing her very considerable international reputation and moral authority behind increasingly desperate efforts to put the climate catastrophe back on centre stage. In all of history, climate change may well prove to be the most egregious injustice ever foisted by the rich upon the poor and powerless.

I had the privilege of meeting Mary Robinson yesterday afternoon in the MRFCJ’s new headquarters just across the road from her Alma Mater, Trinity College, Dublin. She gave extremely generously of her time, sitting for a solid hour for a wide-ranging interview.

She pointed out to me that, until now, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process has been led by scientists, environmentalists and economists (including Nicholas Stern, whose eponymous Stern Review for the UK government in 2006 famously described climate change as “the greatest market failure in history”). What hasn’t yet been grasped and what Robinson believes may yet change our collective mindset is the clear realisation that people are right now bearing the brunt of climate impacts. This, says Robinson, is happening “in parts of the world Irish people care a great deal about”.

Robinson is highly skilled and measured in her use of language, weighing and wielding each phrase with the precision of a senior counsel, yet what sets her apart from the great bulk of the political and policymaking establishment (at least here in Ireland) is that she absolutely gets it. No amount of polish can conceal the fact that she clearly grasps the existential nature of the climate crisis; that we are the generation that either rises to this tremendous challenge, or is – quite literally – swept away by it.

Having been battered by the Climategate hoax, bewildered by the Copenhagen COP-out, infuriated by the media blow-hards, befuddled by our very own idiot savant class of ‘sceptical economists’, and humiliated by our Science Minister (and his boss), the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice could hardly have come at a time of greater need.

All is not lost. Moral leadership has been restored and our compass once again points towards True North.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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71 Responses to Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson

  1. John,

    I had heard sometime ago that Mary R was very committed in this area, so this is fantastic news… surely the media will change their tune soon

  2. John Gibbons says:


    I hope you’re right, but struggle to share your optimism. Some of the most entrenched sceptics/deniers are in fact at the highest levels within journalism, and, by and large, are entirely impervious to reason, having long since made their minds up that they basically don’t like environmentalists, ergo everything they say must be wrong too. They even manage to rubbish climate science by Googling whatever their preconception is and finding some Tea Party-affiliated right wing think tank to agree with them. That’s the trouble with having all the answers. Just look at the parody of journalism that is Pat Kenny. But yes, Mary R is a force to be reckoned with, so maybe there really is scope for some optimism…

  3. Kathy Molloy says:

    This really is brilliant news. I was only 8 in 1990 and can only barely remember Mary Robinson being elected, but I do remember how thrilled my mum was, she said it was the happiest day of her life. And she really did change things. Just look at the Irish Times survey yesterday and today, Ireland is no longer the priest-ridden land of squinting windows. We may be broke, but we’re not on our knees, and as a woman, like my mum, I’m eternally grateful to Mary Robinson for ‘rocking the system, not the cradle’, so that people of my age group can be proud to be Irish.
    I’m looking forward to reading John’s interview with Mrs Robinson – I first heard about her involvement in climate justice in his Irish Times column a few months ago, and was hoping this was something she would follow up with. I’m absolutely thrilled to hear about the launch of this new Foundation.

  4. Barthololmew says:

    We need the best Engineers to solve the most complex energy problems. Can’t see what this organisation will do. Might give the media more to write about but that’s not solution based. We need technical people heading up technical organisation – not lawyers. We need technical people explaing technical problems not politictians. Climate change is a scientific, engineering, technical, mathematical problems.

    Mary Robinson’s skills lie elsewhere. She might make herself feel great in the same way Bono does but I’ll reserve judgement until I see plans, goals and results.

  5. John Gibbons says:

    @ Kathy

    I agree entirely. When Mary Robinson first joined the Seanad in 1969, Irish women were being thrown out of jobs due to the marriage bar, homosexuality was a criminal offense, all forms of contraception – even simple condoms – were illegal, so women were deprived by the State/Church of the most fundamental right to control their own fertility. Also at this time, thousands of Irish women and children were incarcerated in religous-run sweatshops and de facto forced labour gulags that “decent” Irish society pretended weren’t there.

    Her role in dragging Ireland into the 20th Century cannot be overstated, nor can her personal courage in standing up to the yahoos, gombeens and god-botherers who fought every inch to defend their narrow, intolerant quasi-theocracy.

    @ Barthololmew

    Engineers don’t solve ethical problems or give moral leadership. Technical people heading up technical organisations, all focused on “doing their jobs”, ie. making their employers more and more money chasing the endless growth fantasy, is precisely how we got into this mess in the first place.

    Climate change poses massive scientific, engineering, tech and mathematical problems – no argument. You can’t simply divorce the ethical element – for instance, how do you value or put a cost on the intergenerational justice element of carbon emissions that benefit us today but place a huge burden on the next generation – who, like the poor, are not in a position to advocate for themselves, but who pick up the tab for our unsustainable lifestyles? If there’s a mathematical equation for that, I have yet to see it.

  6. Barthololmew says:

    For ethical questions, you get a philosopher like Peter Singer. Have you read “One World” for example? An entire chapter devoted to climate change. It’s very good. A philosopher can bring clarity to the ethical and moral questions. A legal eagle can’t.

    Legal eagles are very good at arguing a particular stance no matter what even if that involves a bit of spin or a bit of sophistry. That’s what they are paid / trained to do.

    The problem is though the Oil companies will just employ other legal eagles and it goes around in circles. We need a new approach with the right people in the right roles.

    Anyway, I am a bit surprised at your latest stance. Lomborg takes on ethical questions and you rebutt these ethical questions on scientific grounds. But his ethical questions are actually outside science and really based on utilitarianism. Now you are taking a similar approach taking on ethical questions but agreeing that they are also outside science.

    Are you now disassociating ethics from science? Before from reading this blog you didn’t.

  7. Tara says:


    Technology is needed of course but policies and attitudes must also be changed if the required technologies are to be implemented in the most successful manner.

    I go to many conferences where scientists say they have X, Y, Z technology but are having great difficulties with funding, regulation etc. It is not technologists who will solve this part of the problem but rather advocates, policy analyists and the like.

  8. John Gibbons says:


    You’ve hit it on the head. Technologies are tools. How we use – or misuse – these tools is in the realm of politics, advocacy and policy analysis. Having a shovel is one thing. Knowing where to dig, and where not to dig, is quite another.


    Dismissing Mary Robinson as merely another ‘legal eagle’, on a par with some hired legal gun from an oil company shows a tremendous lack of knowledge and/or respect on your part for one of the finest public citizens Ireland has ever given to the world – an internationally respected advocate and human rights champion, and an individual of the highest personal integrity.

    Lomborg, on the other hand, is an internationally renowned snake oil salesman, a figure held in the lowest contempt by the scientific community for his tireless work in systematically distorting and misrepresenting climate science for the last decade and more. Lomborg is no doubt crying all the way to the bank about this, having worked an extremely lucrative career out of spinning and sophistry and feigning expertise and insights he does not possess.

  9. Bartholomew says:


    Our biggest hope in saving the planet is Engineering. It wasn’t too long ago that that many people did not have a PC or a mobile phone. Engineers come up with solutions to bring down prices and make better technology all the time and now these things are ubiquitous. Look at the improvements in Wind Technology. All from Engineering. Nothing to do with having to change anyone’s attitude. You can make same points about rechargable batteries. When Engineers try to solve problems they don’t try to change people’s attitudes. They accept them. So with energy its about cost. If people can get cheaper technologies than Oil well then they’ll take them.

    I agree Mary is an honourable person. All I am saying is that what she can offer can be very easily cancelled out about by the Oil Industry. If an Engineer comes up with a new technology that is cheaper than Oil, that will be much harder for them to cancel it out.

    As for Lomborg, I’d be very interested in a specific example where there is a problem with any of Lomborg’s central arguments. You keep up with these ad hominens. Just pick one very good example where one of his central arguments can be easily refuted.

  10. Kathy Molloy says:

    I can’t believe the comments made by that poster Bartholomew about Mary Robinson, they are disgraceful. I have read about the internet bulletin boards and chat rooms being flooded by industry-funded denialists. Is there any way you can look this person up to see if he is actually on somebody’s payroll to be saying horrible things like this. I would also respectfully question whether Think or swim should consider NOT publishing remarks like this. Yes, I know I’ll get shouted down for ‘censorship’ but sometimes it’s the only way to actually prevent a valuable platform for intelligent discussion like this blog being hijacked by extremists.

  11. Bartholomew says:

    Kathy, why don’t you point out exactly what is wrong with my points?
    I’d be happy to try to answer them. I am not a denialist and I think Mary Robinson is an honourable person – so I am wondering what your problem is?

  12. Paddy Morris says:

    @ Bartholomew

    Technology has a massive role to play, but some of the largest carbon savings to be got come from energy efficiency and retrofitting. These solutions exist already, and are relatively simple, but are currently under-utilised.

    Changing attitudes – from looking at what it will cost upfront this year, to the cost/carbon saving over our lives and our kids lifetimes is very important.

    As is looking at the cost of inaction.
    For our grandchildren, our inaction will have a significant cost.

    For those in less developed countries, who can afford it least, our inaction is already having a large cost. This cost is simply unbearable for those already on the edges of global society.
    These people will continue to bear the worst effects of climate change first, even though they have contributed least to the problem. This is completely immoral and unjust. Our record on charitable donations in this country shows that Irish people can and will respond when shown that an issue is unfair, unjust and inequitable.

    Action on climate change is not going to be either/or. It is possibly the most complex problem our global society has faced, and all sectors of global society will have to help mitigate, adapt and prevent the worst effects of climate change – engineers, philosophers and even (shock, horror) lawyers have a role to play. It is quite difficult to get an internationally-binding climate agreement without lawyers, and the certainty that such an agreement will provide to those investing in alternate low carbon technologies (and other engineering solutions to this problem) is badly needed, even if the agreement itself does not deliver the absolute carbon reductions necessary in and of itself.

  13. John Gibbons says:


    I think the poster you comment on is doing a Devil’s Advocate routine, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you suggest. He says he is not a denialist and I for one am inclined to accept that at face value (that doesn’t mean you have to, of course!). I think Bartholomew is a contrarian, and is probably enjoying stirring it up a little here. Since I’ve been known to do the same from time to time, guess I’d better not be too po-faced about him…


    I think you’re correct in believing that there is a strong streak of basic decency in the Irish public, maybe it’s our folk memory of being on the receiving end of colonialism and manifest injustice not all that long ago? Mary Robinson would certainly concur in believing that we react instinctively against injustice, and that’s a powerful vein of basic humanity to tap.

  14. Bartholomew says:

    I don’t think you disagree with anything I am saying. I am just going a step further. We need the right people in the right roles otherwise we are wasting money and time.

    It wasn’t lawyers who came up with human rights it was philosophers. All lawyers did was implement it (and make some good money out of it).

    From a technical point of view, climate change is far more complex. For example, the UDHR is a simple document that anyone could read.
    None of the mathematics in climate change is simple. In fact none of the mathematics in any weather forcasting is simple. The problem is that there are people who are incapable of understanding the complexity in the wrong positions. This is one reason we are making very little progress on it despite the huge amount of money and politicial time that has thus far gone into it.

    I see no point in engaging in media wars with climate deniers. It doesn’t solve the problem. What solves the problem is coming up with smart solutions. I see Engineers as the best people and the most relevant skill.

    The scientists have done their work, now its time for the Engineers to solve the problem.

  15. Paddy Morris says:

    In other news, 50% of the commenters on this post have been women. My (extremely) unscientific appraisal of previous thinkorswim posts shows this to be almost unique… And wonderful news, long may it last!

    Bartolomew, I think we can agree on much, and I certainly agree that we do need the right people in the right places. Mary Robinson is one of the finest advocates of human rights Ireland (and possibly the world ) has seen in the last 2 decades.

    She also has a track record of speaking truth to power, which will be useful when advocating for those whose lives are already being affected, who can’t afford engineers, and who (no matter how good the engineering solutions proposed and implemented) will continue to bear the brunt of impacts from climate change for the next 3 or more decades, no matter what we do, due to the lags in the climate system. Those with least responsibility for carbon emissions, who don’t have the resources for adaptation, are feeling the impacts first, and hardest, and pointing out the unfairness of this is essential.

    Mary Robinson is doing what she is best at, and performing a necessary task for globa,l and Irish, society.

  16. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    Great to see Mary Robinson lending her international weight and moral authority to the most critical issue of our times. No doubt she will influence many, such is the esteem in which she is held, and a groundswell of support will build quickly. But given the criticality of the climate catastrophe and the fast approach of multiple tipping points, a public and media swing might come too late and have a restricted geography. Better for Robinson to try to convene a meeting of world leaders behind closed doors, Oslo Accords-style, and bang their heads together until they agree a way forward. No need to round up every world leader from Washington to Tuvalu, but just a meeting of the EU top brass and the G8s of Canada, Japan, UK, USA and Russia to begin with, ahead of Cancun. Then take their unilateral declaration to secret talks with China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Australia and bang out something there. If something emerged, we could be well on the way to a binding agreement between the major polluters and could look forward to Cancun with some hope. With Al Gore and other heavies involved in Robinson’s Foundation, Bonn and Cancun could have better outcomes than predicted and we might see white smoke, a ‘Kyoto II’.

    Okay, that’s far far too much to expect of the Foundation, especially in such a short time-frame. Robinson’s going to need all the support she can get, and then some, so hopefully the public will get behind her and create a bit of momentum. Only good can come from this. She is taking a new angle on the problem, climate justice, but at the end of the day it’s the world leaders who will decide – that’s if they can disentangle themselves from the purse-strings of the multinational corporations. At least Gormley is trying to do that here with his plan to end corporate donations.

    @Paddy, – The next three or more decades? You wish. Try adding hundreds of years. Don’t worry, the main thing is to get it under control now and wait out the recovery. Not us obviously, but future generations.

  17. Barthololmew says:

    I am enjoying this chat. Climate change isn’t really a human rights issue. Let me bit a more specific. The relevance of the UDHR is for groups like Amnesty (who are superb) to highlight rogue states in some sort of objective manner.
    They are brilliant at his. But in Mary Robinson has as much relevance as someone like Colm O’Gorman.

    What we want our feasible solutions. Quickly. Because this issue is extremely complex, I just don’t its appropriate that people with no technical expertise are in powerful positions. You don’t appoint an engineer to be a high court judge or a human rights officer, you get a lawyer. The same logic holds the other way around.

  18. Tara says:

    @Bartholomew. I don’t think anyone here is disputing that technology will provide the tools for creating a more sustainable society but what use are tools if they are not properly funded, not given the appropriate market support and therefore not implemented? What technology will provide us with a price for carbon? What technology will provide market support for renewables? It isn’t a question of technology vs policy, it’s technology PLUS policy that will bring us to where we want to go.

    Take Sweden with its approximate annual per capita CO2 emissions of 5 tonnes and Ireland’s figure at closer to 15 tonnes. Is there some magical technology that Sweden knows about that we don’t? No. They have different policies and regulations as a result of which they have different attitudes and policies and therefore technologies at work.

    Mary Robinson’s work is sorely needed.

  19. Ultan Murphy says:

    If I was Minister for Science and I was asked by a friend to attend a book launch which had the creationist view of evolution, I would happily attend.

    If asked to say a few words, I would cite whatever positives in the book and my friend, but would also bring up the contentious issues around evolution. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and vast areas of science are pretty much open for discussion. For example, when did anyone last see a cross between a chaffinch and a greenfinch? I never did. I don’t expect anyone else did either. But just when you think you have all the answers, up pops our good old friend the Polar Bear and he goes and interbreeds with a female Grizzly. And they produce real offspring. This throws up the question: are Polar Bears really a unique species?

    Anyway, the issue I would raise here is that while many people are happy to slag off creationists becuase they don’t accept the evolution theory, possibly the very same people doing the slagging, happily go to mass on sundays, believe that Jesus was a historical person, was begotton by devine intervention, changed water into wine, came back to life after 2 or so days dead, walked on water, appeared in spirit form after dying, still speaks to us through our thoughts etc, and was there before the big bang. (In the beginning was the word, the word was God and the word was with God etc etc)

    You see, I’d like the very same people who dislike creationists to explain the chemistry of changing Water H2O into Wine (12% Ethanol with a vast mix of complex molecules)…

    I assume you must be an Atheist John? Or what about the whole issue of transubstantiation?

    All creationists are guilty of doing in my opinion is being totally consistent with the christian doctrine they have been brought up with to accept as “faith”. Who am I to tell them they’re wrong? After all, we can be sent to prison for religious persecution.

  20. Barthololmew says:

    Good points.
    Sweden are far more scientifically literate than we are. They have a culture of it. Nobel prizes and all that. We have a culture of scientific ignorance and culture of filling our Dáil with lawyers and teachers.

    Also, isn’t there a potential of another Al Gore here? She misunderstands the complexity of it and then gives the deniers something easy to refute?

    And back to this human rights things. The UDHR was written in 1948. World was a very different place then and there was very little knowledge of the complexity in climate and weather compared to what we know now.

    I just think people are bit misguided here.

  21. Barthololmew says:


    Firstly let’s define a species. A species is something that can only breed with itself. You can get some species that can mate with other species (usually a close relative Donkey / Horse for example) but the offspring become increasingly sterile.

    Arguing evolution is like arguing against gravity. The scientific evidence is conclusive. A billion or so fossils and an infinite amount of DNA analysis. It’s extremly poorly thought because the scientific education and knowledge in this state is pretty shocking.

    But think about this:
    Where do you think MRSA came from?
    Why do you think we use triple anti-retroviral therapy for HIV?

    If evolution isn’t true our complete understanding of disease is flawed. Do you go to your Doctor when you’re sick? Well there’s no point going if you reject the basis of scientific understanding of diseases and bacterial resistance.

    As for the Christian faith. Many views on that. Augustine in the 6th century make specific points about not taking the Bible literally. Other churches have adopted similar stances.

    As for the rest of Catholic theology – I agree. Barmy. But I am not a religious person and don’t see the relevance of bringing this into a climate change forum?

  22. Tara says:

    @Bartholomew, I think what you are talking about are cultural changes which cannot be solved by scientists, unless they are social scientists.

    In what way does Mary Robinson not understand the complexity of climate change? And I’m not sure why you’re trying to make Mary Robinson accountable for the entire human rights movement or what specific relevance it has to her attempts to tackle climate injustice. Are you saying that the issues she is raising are not valid?

  23. Eric Conroy says:

    Its very good news to see Mary Robinson committing herself so whole-heartedly to the climate change cause. She was to give a talk about her campaign earlier in the year but unfortunately it was cancelled by the Icelandic ash cloud. Are there any plans to reschedule this before long?

  24. denis says:

    The Green ideology stance is the equivalent of blind faith based religious belief.
    Alternative energy cannot possibly replace our fossil fuel based energy system for several science based reasons, [ see the today ] and yet those who believe otherwise will argue endlessly that it can.
    The argument is ok, apart from the annoyance of having to listen to arrant nonsense, but what is really serious is when technically illiterate people in power believe this stuff, and start spending our valuable dwindling resources on daft schemes such as electric car networks and powering the country with wind mills.

  25. John Gibbons says:


    “Climate change isn’t really a human rights issue”. Have to disagree profoundly on that score. Climate change is probably the most egregious assault by the world’s rich upon the world’s poor (however unintentional) in all of history. The emissions from the fossil energy that we burned and continue to burn in order to get rich are wreaking havoc today, right now, among the world’s most vulnerable populations, pushing millions closer to ruin. If that ain’t a human rights issue, I’m not sure what is. The solutions may well involve all manner of technical gee-whizzery, but the root cause remains inequality.

    Mary Robinson’s pedigree as a defender of human rights and a battler against manifest inequality places her in an ideal position to ensure that our efforts to battle climate change occur within an ethical framework, and that solutions place the bulk of the responsibility firmly on those who created the problems in the first place.

  26. Liam H says:

    To John’s list of national embarrassments, don’t forget to add Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary.

    “Do I believe there is global warming? No, I believe it’s all a load of bullshit. But it’s amazing the way the whole fucking eco-warriors and the media have changed. It used to be global warming, but now, when global temperatures haven’t risen in the past 12 years, they say ‘climate change’.”


    “The scientific community has nearly always been wrong in history anyway. In the Middle Ages, they were going to excommunicate Galileo because the entire scientific community said the Earth was flat… I mean, it is absolutely bizarre that the people who can’t tell us what the fucking weather is next Tuesday can predict with absolute precision what the fucking global temperatures will be in 100 years’ time. It’s horseshit.”

    Arise Conor Lenihan and Brian Cowen, your intellectual soul-mate is based just down the road in Mullingar.

    I wonder what Ireland can do next to further galvanise our new-found reputation as the world capital of in-breeding, drunkenness, creationism and cretinism? How about a book burning? Yea, let’s start with the Book of Kells – that’ll show the global doom monger climate change warmist bastards!

  27. Barthololmew says:

    You are mixing up the concept of a “human rights” issue with a “humanitarian” issue. Climate change is a humanitarian issue. And Mary Robinson experience is in human rights. “Human rights” is referring to things like the universal declaration of human rights which was written in 1948, long before climate change we are discussing enter the fold. It’s an internationally defined legal safeguard to stop tryants like Pol Pot or Mugabe repressing their people. It is also a mechanism so that people can critise states such as Israel for the human rights violations in some sort of legal and objective manner.

    There’s no way you can progress on climate change through the UDHR. It would be a huge waste of time and money.

    What you are saying would be the equivalent of saying it makes sense Mary Robinson tries to sort out the bank crisis and then arguing her experience of human rights is relevant because this is a human rights issue.

    You might thinh it’s a human rights issue but in the context of all the legalities pertaining to human rights and the areas Mary worked in, it’s not.

  28. Barthololmew says:

    Just on that point about Michael O’Leary:

    “it is absolutely bizarre that the people who can’t tell us what the fucking weather is next Tuesday can predict with absolute precision what the fucking global temperatures will be in 100 years’ time”

    You see this is where people like Mary Robinson are useless. There are very good mathematical reasons why it’s difficult to predict the weather and the people deserve to have them explained to them by mathematicians, scientists and engineers – not lawyers whose expertise lies elsewhere. When they are explained properly, you won’t hear these misunderstandings in the media.

  29. Barthololmew says:

    No I am saying climate change is an intellectual matter of extreme complexity and should be treated by such. The public should have it explained to them by the best brains in the field and we should have the best brains working on it.

    Mary Robinson has great skills but she has no experience or adacemic training in maths, engineering or science so I do not see how she can have a deep understanding of the problem. It’s a bit like hoping Bob Geldof will solve it or work wonders. He too is very intelligent but has none of the specific skills needed.

    Climate change is unlike any other humanitarian issue. We have solutions for every other humanitarian problem: malaria, hiv and diariah (we just don’t fully implement them but that’s another matter).

    We do not have a solution for climate change. This is why we need people with the right skills in the right posts, more then over.

  30. Tara says:


    Why do you think scientists are the best ones at explaining these issues? And you seem to be suggesting that the “best brains” are only in maths, engineering and science.

    It’s also a little bit insulting to compare Mary Robinson, barrister, former President of Ireland, Senator and UN Human Rights Commissioner and her many other posts and positions to a pop star. But even Bob Geldof can play a role in raising public awareness and engaging in advocacy work. You haven’t explained why a deep scientific knowledge is required to carry out successful work in this area. Once you understand the workings and basic impacts of climate change and the opportunities presented by the technology and policy instruments, what exactly do you need a PhD in Electrical Engineering for?

    You keep talking about the “right skills” but seem unwilling to acknowledge that the skills required to tackle climate change will come from all sectors, not just maths and engineering. Mary Robinson isn’t claiming to be about to discover a new form of renewable energy and your intent to dismiss her on that basis is puzzling to say the least. You admit yourself that even existing solutions for other problems are not fully implemented, yet refuse to acknowledge that work in the areas of policy/advocacy/implementation is needed? Are you waiting for engineers to solve the implementation problem as well? This makes no sense.

    You’re incorrect about us not having the solutions for climate change. I point once again to Sweden who has much lower carbon emissions than we do as a result of using existing technology. And, again, even if we don’t have all the technologies we need, that still doesn’t negate the fact that we need people like Mary Robinson engaging in policy and advocacy work to ensure those technologies are fully implemented.

  31. Liam H says:


    you are naive in the extreme if you seriously believe the reason Michael O’Leary doesn’t “understand” climate vs weather is because there aren’t sufficient engineers, scientists, etc. going blue in the face trying to explain this. O’Leary understands one thing: Money. Big bags of cash. Moolah. Ching Ching. Everything else can go stuff and screw if it threatens to get between Mick and his Money.

    You seem like a reasonably intelligent person (you’ve certainly got lots to say anyhow) but you really aught to be a little more sceptical (in the true sense of the word) about people’s motivation. You are seriously undermining your own arguments all over the place. Mick O’Leary is another money-mad Doctor Strangelove figure who will spout whatever Tea Party-inspired drivel he thinks will keep the cash flowing in for another five minutes.

    Reasoning with a mad dog like O’Leary is a waste of time.

  32. John Gibbons says:


    with respect, you might want to slow down a bit with your posts, and put a little more time into them instead. The only one “mixing up” human rights and humanitarianism is your good self. Your attempted analogy with the banking crisis is clumsy and laboured. If you don’t think climate change has a human rights dimension, that’s a view you’re entitled to hold, and one you’re unlikely to be parted from. This is, I believe, a false premise, yet it’s the one upon which your various arguments depend. This, in turn, undermines them.

  33. Barthololmew says:


    It’s not an analogy. An analogy would be if I used two completly different subjects. In my argument one subject was consistent – human rights. The other changed, climate changed –> banking,

    An analogy (and fallacious argument) would be when both subjects changed – for example, if I said: “that would be like asking the postman to fix your telephone”.

    Believe it or not I have done some work with human rights so I have a bit of clue what I am talking about. Here is the declaration of human rights.

    It doesn’t deal with things like infectious diseases, climate change etc.

    Climate change has no more of a human rights dimension than the banking crisis. I support this argument by directly reference the universal declaration of human rights. This is broadest accepted definition of “human rights”.

    You are referencing nothing bar your own subjective use of the terms. Now I hope you respond with something more meaningful than:

    “Sorry Bartholomew, we’re never gone to see eye to eye on this get lost.”

  34. Barthololmew says:

    @Liam H
    I agree with you O’Leary is motivated by dosh. However, it would be impossible for O’Leary to say the earth wasn’t round or that 300 * 10 is 5,000.

    So, why is it possible for O’Leary to make such crazy statements about climate change? Because the public understanding of it is ridiculously low.
    Why is it the public understanding of it ridiculously low? Because we don’t discuss it scientifically. The media’s knowledge and respect for science and engineering is appauling and the way we are going about solving climate change and increasing awareness is misguided.

  35. Barthololmew says:

    Engineers can solve the implementation problems. That’s what engineering is all about. It’s completly solution based. The reason why Sweden (great example) is way ahead of us is because their engineers are better and their solutions are smarter. Their overall scientific acumen is also way higher.

    You’re correct that we need a broad range of skills. But, right now, science, engineering and maths are completly under-represented. In Sweden, these subjects get the respect they deserve; they don’t here. For example, how many scientists, engineers and mathematicians are in the media regularly? How many in the Dail? When was the last time RTE showed made a decent scientific program? It doesn’t.

  36. John Gibbons says:

    Er, sorry Bartholomew, we are never going to see eye to eye on this, but ….. as long as the discourse is interesting, and isn’t simply going around in circles, I’m happy to keep throwing the odd log on the fire.

  37. denis says:

    Bartholomew makes a lot of sense to me on the role of the engineer and the human rights advocate in the climate change scenario.
    I think it is you John are being a bit difficult in not granting him his points here.

  38. John Gibbons says:


    Fair enough, we can all agree to differ from time to time, no harm there. It’s good to see a lively and constructive debate though. Bartholomew attributes Sweden’s greener/smarter economy to cleverer engineers; perhaps this is the case, though I find a more convincing explanation in their strong social democracy that emphasizes equality and social inclusion. Neither of these are feats even the cleverest engineer can perform if the ideas are wrong. And these ideas emanate from our political and civil institutions.

  39. John Gibbons says:

    For the record….The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice is now on Facebook (including a link to this blog entry), so if you’re a Facebooker, you might want to call by and hit the ‘Like’ button to receive regular updates:

  40. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    Mary Robinson has realised in the last few years that the billions spent annually on alleviating poverty and famine in developing nations will not be of much use to them in the long run if the earth continues to warm.

    She sees (I presume) excellent charities like Goal, Concern, Bóthar and Trócaire (to name a few Irish ones) sending trained personnel into war-torn, famine-stricken countries and doing their utmost to alleviate suffering, transfer basic technologies, teach some adaptive skills, offer some hope. But what hope is there if these countries are turning to desert, their crops failing, their livestock dying, as a result of climate change? Or in other situations, prone to massive floods as a result of heavier rainfall patterns and mountains being stripped of their forests, increasing the water run-off?

    Of course the humanitarian work of John O’Shea and the others is life-saving and heroic, we need to recognise and honour it, I think we have to some extent. People working for Goal are often prepared to risk their lives to help others. It is very heartening that the human spirit is able to show such deep empathy and compassion for the oppressed and the desperate; I think we’ve all got a bit of this in us.

    But Mary Robinson has been around the globe, held dying babies in her arms, looked out on parched landscapes and thought: this is just fire-brigade action. We won’t save these people until we bring back the rains. We are putting billions and billions of dollars into food aid and emergency relief, but if we put the same billions, or even half of them, into replacing the carbon economy with one based on renewables, we will do a helluva lot more good for these people long-term, they will get their agriculture back, they will grow their own food again. I think this must be the basis for Robinson’s new focus on climate justice.

    Part of the climate injustice is that the richer nations are loathe to make that change to renewables, quickly and comprehensively. They want to hang on to the opulent wasteful lifestyle that fossil energy has made possible over the last 100 years. But this is at the expense of climate and agriculture in the most at-risk countries, below the Sahara, and will eventually claim the entire globe.

    The empathy in the human spirit is potentially world-changing, not just for people in extremis but for endangered animals, the seas, the forests, the birds and bees, even the odd cat dumped alive in a wheelie bin by some loo-lah. This empathy was once restricted by the narrow world view of an extended family in a jungle clearing and then as communication (e.g. the written word) developed it extended to the tribe, the region, the nation, the religion. And now, in a fully interconnected world, empathy reaches out to humanity as a whole, and to the biosphere as a whole. Now we talk about the planet as seen from space, tiny, fragile and barely able to support us. It is within humanity’s gift to locate that empathy, recognise it, drag it to the surface and direct it at fixing the climate change problem, and all the other great problems, notwithstanding the ingrained propensity for acquisitiveness, power and empire-building. We need more Obamas and fewer Bushes, more Gormleys and fewer Berties, more Robinsons and fewer Palins. Or a whole new set of people, the Robinsonians.

  41. Barthololmew says:

    My last comment not posted, so I’ll try again.

    Sweden’s social democracy also has very high rates of divorce, abortion, late abortions, suicide and was engaging in sterilisation programs up until the 70s. I lived and worked in Sweden. And don’t get me wrong there are many things we can learn for them. But this idea that they have some sort of social utopia where everything is fair is probably a little a bit naieve. Yes they have much better wealth redistribution there but I don’t think you get smart climate change policies without smart people with a very deep understanding of the problem.

    Ok here’s an analogy – not meant to be watertight but just thought provoking 😉

    If you look at IKEA, why is it such a success?
    Is it because Sweden is a Social Democracy or Fair? No.
    It’s because it’s a smart well thought out solution.

  42. Barthololmew says:

    Your arguments about cost are far more complex than I think you make out. It’s very difficult costing humanitarian things accurately. I am not trying to shoot you down here, but I think you’ll find it hard to get published economic papers with accurate costs that we all agree on.

  43. denis says:

    Without worldwide birth control, all humanitarian efforts in the so called third world will come to naught—-this is the most pressing problem of all.
    Intellectually bankrupt religious systems, make this problem virtually impossible to deal with.
    When the fossil fuel starts to run out [ and therefore the food ], nature will impose it`s own cruel solution—–thousands of millions of deaths—-which we in the West, in the throes of our own crisis, which is probably starting now, will be totally unable to help with—-witness Pakistan and Haiti and multiply it by 100, nay a 1000.

  44. Barthololmew says:

    Great points. The more that live on the planet, the more pressure on it.
    And population growth is subject to expondential mathematics which means unless you have a wars, diseases, you populations doubles every 35 years or so.


  45. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @Bartholomew, – I’m not sure how much is spent on humanitarian aid to undeveloped countries (I said ‘developing’ but that was an error) or how much of it gets to where it’s really needed, probably a fraction. I’d say Robsinson would take issue with diverting even a penny of it to other goals such as building renewables infrastructure, and that funds for that should be raised from other sources. I should have said that military spending be diverted to solving the climate problem. The US is spending more per annum in Iraq and Afghanistan than Obama recently announced in a stimulus package for the US economy (unfortunately most of it going on roads, which will only exacerbate the problem). The trillions spent on occupying countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan that hold massive reserves of oil and rare earth minerals, a.k.a. “fighting terrorism,” would have been more usefully spent on greening America. Failing that, I think all capital budgets for new motorways everywhere should be put into renewables right away.

    @Denis, – I agree that tacking population escalation is necessary, but given that the richer nations, where population growth has levelled off or is falling, produce the vast bulk of current greenhouse gas emissions, the immediate climate crisis can only be addressed by greatly reducing the emissions of developed countries and moving as quickly as possible to a zero carbon economy. It will take many decades for population growth to slow, whereas the climate problem has to be addressed comprehensively in this decade.

  46. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    I should add that deforestation globally contributes another very large percentage of the emissions and that this must be tackled in tandem with emissions in the richer countries. But we need to avoid the risk of shifting the burden onto the forested nations or using that as an excuse to make smaller cuts in the richer economies.

  47. denis says:

    A seriously large portion [someone will be able to elighten me as to the actual amount ] of global Co2 comes from coal fired base load power stations in most countries.
    No amount of fooling around with solar panels, windmills, wave machines etc will have any effect whatsoever on baseload power output and the concomitant Co2 output—-in fact the manufacturing of these ineffective toys will only make the Co2 problem worse.
    We need to pick the best design of nuclear reactor, and set up a factory [or more likely factories ] to mass produce them, and schools to train the future operators, [like they do in France ] and supply the world with a practical solution to the approaching horror of global warming.
    With a clean surplus of electrical power, many things are possible—-from the production of liquid fuels, to the warming of countless greenhouses for efficient food production etc etc.
    If we are not able to think and act on a grand and practical scale, we are most certainly doomed.
    The Engineer is really your only man to save the world.

  48. Barthololmew says:

    I agree with you and I wish there were never any wars and any military spending. However, I think it’s a bit naive to expect a major u – turn in this policy.

    You could also say something similar about the Irish government. Imagine putting 30 billion into renewable energies rather than Anglo?

    However, I think things are really far more complex than that.

  49. John Gibbons says:

    Denis, am inclined to agree strongly that our – slender – chances of avoiding a system collapse hinge on nuclear energy. The Greens are wedded to a redundant Cold War anti-nukes ideology they are tragically unable to evolve beyond. Coal burning is in a race with peak oil to crash industrial civilisation and our ecosystem. Absolutely anything that give us serious, industrial scale alternate options, has to be on the table. On energy, Green ideology is unfortunately as blinkered as the Burn Baby Burn globalisation it despises.

  50. Barthololmew says:

    Agree with nuclear power. And where did that come from? Science gave us E = M C pow 2. And Engineering did absolutely everything else.

  51. toby says:

    Like everyone else, I was delighted to read this news about Mary Robinson.

    It was a boost, especially after Michael O’Leary’s ignorant and stupid comments about climate change. It was notable how no journalist even bothered to check that O’Leary’s comments were false even by the standards of Junior Cert Science. The words of the Great Man were allowed to pass unchallenged. It was Seanie Fitzpatrick and the Property Boom all over again.

    We are paying a heavy price for the lack of any science background among our political and business elite.

  52. Tara says:

    @John, nuclear was never on the cards in Ireland even before the Greens came in two years ago.

    We will never have nuclear in this country because by the time the plants come down in cost and size, we will have sufficient interconnection with nuclear plants on the European grid.

    (Apologies if you meant the wider Green political movement, not just the Irish Green Party)

  53. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @John, – I rarely disagree with you, but on the point of the Greens being “blinkered” I would have to differ. I think you will find that energy minister Eamon Ryan is not against nuclear energy and would take that route if it made sense; and might still do so, if possible. However, it would take 10-15 years to get a nuclear plant up and running, cost a fortune and depend on a ready supply of radioactive material. Global uranium reserves will last only three decades, or less if nuclear energy becomes the solution of choice globally, so this could become an increasingly expensive and insecure option.

    If we invest in renewables now (as we are doing) we can become self-sufficient in energy, quite quickly, and not just for 30 years, but indefinitely. Fine, if some cheaper, faster newer generation of nuclear comes on-stream quickly, then go for it. But I think it makes more sense for Ireland to develop its own resources – wind, tide, wave, solar, biomass – while leaving the nuclear option for other countries to exploit, countries that have the technology, know-how and ready access to the radioactive material. We can access that energy via undersea transmission cables anyway, if needs be, so why go to the expense of building our own? It would also mean importing all of the know-how and manpower from abroad.

    The Greens have a progressive, practical vision for this country and the will and ambition to implement it. Ryan is by far the brightest, most able minister in the current administration. The other parties are clinging desperately to the failed, business-as-usual model that precipitated the crisis and which you regularly condemn. A complete new way of thinking is vital. If the Greens are not in the next government, things can only get worse.

    And yes, I do think Anglo bondholders should absorb their losses and free up some billions for immediate investment in renewables.

  54. denis says:

    @ Bart.
    Putting money into so called renewable energies will have much the same result as putting it into the banks—-you will line the pockets of people who have little interest in the future of the world.
    Renewable energy cannot work—– it is built and backed up by fossil fuel.
    When fossil fuel runs out, or becomes to expensive to produce, renewable energy will not be able to provide anything like enough energy to run the world, let alone have a surplus to reproduce the hardware required to collect the so called free energy in our environment.
    Even if this Government`s stated policy of producing 40% of the electrical energy we use in Ireland by 2020 from wind turbines actually comes to pass, where is the remaining 60% going to come from?—-burning cow dung ?—–these idiots have to go, and the sooner the better.
    Engineers have to speak up, educate the people, and get some political power.

  55. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @Denis, – Well, that’s funny, because Portugal (one of the PIIG countries, which include Ireland) has increased its reliance on green electricity from 17% to 45% in just five years, and its next target is 60% renewable energy by 2020! Who said it couldn’t be done?!

    See the Guardian article at:

  56. John Gibbons says:


    Yes, I had the wider Green movement in mind, rather than just the Irish Greens. In fact, the German Greens are currently spearheading a suicidal bid to have a generation of perfectly serviceable existing reactors shut down. And replaced with what, exactly? Solar or wind? To run an energy-intensive industrial economy with a major heavy manufacturing sector? Fat chance. More coal, then? Nein danke! I don’t share your optimism about us having access to interconnectors. These only function in ‘normal’ times. If the lights start flickering in London or Manchester, they’ll pull the plug on the interconnector in jig time and leave us in the dark (we’d do the same, if things were in reverse).

    @ Coilin

    I agree that Eamon Ryan is a good guy, a smart guy, and easily the most impressive minister in the current Cabinet (only the adult of the Lenihan boys comes close). Eamon will talk and talk about nuclear, while screwing his eyes up as he does it. It’s a founding principle of the Green movement – a shared loathing of nukes. Ask John Gormley. It probably got half this generation of Greens into politics in the first place back in the summer of ’79 when they helped scupper Carnsore Point (Darn, that was stoooooopid).

    The uranium you refer to is U235? As I understand it, there is a hell of a lot of U238 out there, probably a couple of centuries worth, and that’s before taking ‘fast breeder’ reactors into account – they would increase our nuke energy yield 10-fold, and reduce radioactive waste by a similar ratio. Are there risks? Sure. Will it cost a ton of money? Absolutely. Has anyone got a better option for the 60-70 per cent of our power that will never, ever come from renewables? I don’t believe so. ‘Clean coal’ via CSS just proves that that industry has a sense of humour.

    The Greens won’t be in the next Government; Fine Gael look clueless on energy and climate generally; Labour’s best performer in this field, Liz McManus, won’t be standing for re-election. Reasons to be cheerful? Not many. The Green baby will be dumped with the grimy FF bathwater.

    Re. what Portugal has achieved: great to see it, but on a global scale, it’s hardly a spit in a bucket of carbon. Ditto Ireland’s very best efforts at renewables. And this matters a lot, since the atmosphere is a shared resource/liability.


    I’m all for engineers speaking up, educating people and getting political power. Then I remember that my old sparring partner Pat Kenny, a man with access to almost unlimited media, in a great position to educate people and one who wields some political clout too is: (a) a persistent climate change Denier; and (b) an ENGINEER!

  57. denis says:

    Coilin——–nothing is as simple as one would like it to be.
    The following was obtained on the comments page of The Oil Drum—-a website that is essential reading for those interested in all things energy.

    Portugal is a very special case. First of all, it doesn’t produce 45% of its energy with renewables, but only about 35-36%. In their energy reporting, they unfortunately report a significant part of natural gas power production as part of the pie with the label “PRE Outros”, which has a share of 15% or 17% respectively. The vast majority in this category, which stands for “regimen especial” (another word for feed-in tariffs) comes from natural gas powered CHP plants, so between 50-60% of those 15-17% isn’t renewable at all, but highly flexible gas power. The rest is everything else, like biogas, a little bit of solar, wave, waste, etc.). Please see:…. Wind itself stands at around 17%.

    What Portugal did, and successfully given its topography, is to build hydropower, which helps to deal with the increasing market share of wind. However, over time, Portugal shows the pattern of every small country with a lot of wind. The fluctuations get compensated by heavy use of hydro, natural gas and foreign inputs. If we had hourly data like with Denmark, we would see a similar pattern of extremely high fluctuations from stocks, but even the ever-increasing share of the flexible compensators shows that this is a problem. Wouldn’t it be for heavy imports providing the buffer, Portugal might already now have some trouble (see page 9 in this document, showing data for 2009, 2010 was nowhere to be found:

    For 2010, the pattern is as described in our paper. In the first 7 months, it produced 18% of its electricity from wind, but only 13% in July. Together with hydropower this creates another problem, as Portugal shows very well. In most countries, this is equally a seasonal source. Towards the summer, both rivers and reservoirs go empty (see page 7 on the above document, where the part of hydro that gets feed-in tariffs (mostly recently built, small-scale run-of-river) goes from almost zero in summer to 20% of PRE in winter and spring and then back to almost zero in July 2010. This is equally reflected in 2010 data, where the hydropower sources were down from 35% (Jan-Jul 2010) to 16% (July only) of total consumption. Unfortunately, summer is also the worst time of year for wind power (wind only provided 13% instead of 18% in the first 7 months together). This is also exactly why storage doesn’t work. We don’t talk about a few days of shifts with renewables, but instead we have extreme seasonal shifts. A country with an 18% average share of wind in one year is likely to have one half year where this wind capacity provides 22% of demand, and another six months where it provides 14%. There is no way for storage to fill that gap.

    This by the way is a very good example for the long term fluctuations from renewables, here a drop in hydro coincides with a drop in wind (for July), which gets heavily compensated by a lot of natural gas being burnt (about 37% of total production), plus imports suddenly making up 13% of total production. Without those two very flexible sources, Portugal would have been dark in July.

    So Portugal (and other small countries like Denmark) are already now fully dependent on larger neighbors to deal with their current share of wind power. The model they employ is unfortunately not scalable for larger countries, like the UK, France or Germany (where even half of Portugal’s share of wind power is causing serious headaches), or the U.S. If a country isn’t naturally lucky to have a lot of hydropower or neighbors that are ready to buffer 13% of consumption (like with Portugal in July), or both, there is no way to maintain 15 or 20% wind power without matching everything with natural gas generation capacity.

  58. denis says:

    John, I think you are stretching the truth a bit in accusing Pat Kenny of being a climate change denier—-he may interview ccd`s in a sympathetic way, but that does not place him in the same camp as them.
    He is only doing his job as a medium introducing many people and their ideas to a wider general public, and I for one enjoy his program for its intellectual diversity and quality.
    I also think that you have misunderstood Lomborg`s theses—-I too have read his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, and did not reach any of the conclusions that you did .
    It appeared to me that he totally accepted global warming, but thought [ as I do ] that most of our efforts to cure this unwelcome outcome of burning fossil fuel would cost us a fortune, and produce more Co2 in the process, and would be totally ineffective in delaying the outset of chronic global warming by more than a few paltry years.
    I don`t however, think that BAU is good enough either, and have to say I welcome your site as a place in which we might explore and learn from each other exactly what we may and may not do to reach a solution to this terrible problem, which threatens the majority of life on this unique and curious little planet.

  59. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @Denis, – Well, you’ve done more research than I have, and it’s useful to read. I will have to read more on this, but I thought some factors in favour of Portugal increasing their share of energy from alternative sources was their good resources of solar energy, which I think they’re planning to use, and their coastline and offshore, for wind energy. They seem to have developed more wind with a much shorter coastline than we have in Ireland, where I think winds are stronger and more consistent. It has been calculated that we could produce energy surplus to our requirements from offshore windfarms alone.

  60. denis says:

    Coilin, thank you for your acknowledgment—–there is a similar discussion going on over at politics .ie on the “kevin myers on wind power in todays indo “—–have a look at it and no marks for guessing my handle over there !

  61. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @John, – You seem very confident about nuclear. If it were that simple, why would everyone from China to Texas be building wind and solar farms with such urgency and progressing plans for a Saharan solar farm to power Europe?

    And what’s your basis for the 60-70% figure that you think won’t ever come from renewables? Do you mean in Ireland or in general? I don’t think we’ll have the luxury of not going alternative anyway, unless we include annihilation as a choice.

    Given that Fine Gael and Labour are as clueless as Fianna Fáil, you can’t rule out a resurgence in the Fianna Fáil vote when the election comes, meaning the Greens could again hold the balance of power. I think Liz McManus is too young to retire and should consider jumping ship and standing for the Greens; she did get all-party support for climate change legislation. They need some new high-profile candidates; and now that Deirdre de Búrca has left, Green votes have been liberated in her constituency.

    You are upbeat and yet totally pessimistic. I see George Monbiot has also basically thrown up his hands in despair today. I take hope from the Portugal story anyway; by any measure it’s significant; just replicate it across Europe.

    If you get a chance, could you do a short piece on the Labour Party’s Climate Change Bill and the Greens’ targets and see if they amount to anything. They don’t look ambitious enough to me.

  62. John Gibbons says:


    My apparent enthusiasm for nuclear is when put alongside the alternatives. Very few countries embraced nuclear (France, mainly, after the 1970s oil shocks) and Chernobyl pretty much did for anyone even thinking about thinking about building a nuke plant in the last 3 decades. I certainly never suggested building nuke plants was simple – or cheap. But when you factor in zero emissions energy, the economics of nukes is transformed. Problem is, since we DON’T charge for CO2 emissions from coal, oil, peat or gas burning, nuclear will always look too expensive/risky by comparison.

    On the 60-70% figure, that’s my best estimate based on what I’ve read in recent years. The fossil energy industry is valued in trillions, took nearly a century to construct, and we were able to build it thanks in the main to cheap oil. If we get amazingly lucky, we may, just may, be able to build renewable replacements for 30-40% of that lot in the next 2-3 decades, but it would literally take a Marshall Plan to do it.

    With the world economy teetering on the edge, oil prices threatening to rebound to over 100 dollars a barrel, are we really going to just drop everything and get the might of the world’s heavy industries to shut down their Lexus production lines and start spitting out wind turbine components and solar panels instead? Who exactly is going to throw that switch, especially given that the majority of people seem to have absolutely no idea of our predicament in the first place?

    If FF should, zombie-like, reappear after the next election, which of the current handful of Green TDs will be in the next Dáil? One, perhaps, two if they are very, very lucky. Following the old Irish maxim the electorate will let no good deed go unpunished; the Greens are going to get whipped as the scapegoats for the electorate’s guilt at having returned FF for a third time in 2007.

    “Upbeat and totally pessimistic”. That about sums me up! If I wasn’t upbeat and positive, I wouldn’t be still writing, still banging on on this blog and still making a general nuisance of myself. My pessimism echoes what Monbiot writes about today. We’re in a hole, yet we can’t stop digging. The hole is getting deeper, so our solution is to dig harder, faster. If there’s a way out, I just can’t see it.

    He calls our (non)response to climate change as “the greatest political failure the world has ever seen”. Kyoto is a dead letter, Copenhagen is stone dead and Cancun will be stillborn. That lot is the best politics has managed in over two decades of grappling with this crisis. To be both informed and optimistic in these circumstances requires a fair degree of delusional thinking, and I am guilty on that front, as I’m not yet prepared to embrace the alternative route of simply throwing in the towel.

  63. denis says:

    Even if we did put the production of wind turbines and solar panels on a war footing production line, it would do us little good with regard to replacing the energy coming from fossil fuel.
    Electricity supply would be unreliable—- intermittent and highly variable, unless we kept all our existing power stations running on constant stand by. Liquid fuels such as hydrogen which could be produced from the electrolysis of water, would require a gigantic and extensive completely new infrstructure which would have to be built using you guessed it—- massive amounts of fossil fuel for it`s manufacture and deployment.
    The plain facts of the matter are that so called alternative energy is virtually usless, and the sooner we realise this the better it will be for us.
    We don`t really have any practical alternative to nuclear power, and so we should put all our remaining resources into perfecting this technology.
    Even this will not give us the impossible lifestyle that some of us enjoy today, but it could mean that we may all enjoy a still comfortable and productive way of life that would be sustainable until we are able to find another future source of practical energy production.

  64. John Gibbons says:

    For anyone interested in the future of energy, and therefore the future of industrialised civilisation, there’s an interesting evening with Vinay Gupta in Cultivate next Monday (20th), kicking off at 7.30pm.

    I’ll be chairing the Q&A session after Gupta’s talk, and we’ll also be joined by Feasta’s David Korowicz, author of the recent ‘Tipping Point’ report, and Dougald Hine, a co-founder of the Dark Mountain project. For more, see the link below

  65. John Gibbons says:


    Getting back to your posting on the 20th re. P. Kenny and B. Lomborg. Briefly, I accept that Kenny generally does a decent job as an interviewer. He’s clever, articulate and reasonably well read. However, he HATES greenies, all 40 shades of them, and the loathing positively oozes from his pores. This triggers him to disable his critical faculties and instead give open mic. to nutters and quacks like Ian Plimer, Patrick Holford, David Bellamy (used to be a respected botanist; in his dotage, has become a caricature of science), etc.

    Simultaneously, he flails anyone at all who dares suggest that global warming, the sustainability crisis, etc. is real. I’ve seen him in action, up close and personal, and it ain’t pretty. I would even go as far as describing his loathing of environmental messages (and the bearers thereof) as bordering on pathological. His basic grasp of climate science is almost non-existent (he and I had this out, off-air, during the course of a 35-minute “chat”, and at the end of it, I realised his antipathy to environmentalism appears to have prevented him from even doing the most rudimentary Journalism 101 to find out if there is anything to all this “scientific consensus” nonsense that he poo poos).

    P. Kenny is a wealthy man, and like many in that category, he may feel viscerally threatened by talk of belt-tightening, living more modestly, and so forth, perhaps he sees it as a veiled criticism of his lifestyle? But on this topic generally, he keeps his otherwise fine brain in a pickle jar beside his bed.

    B. Lomborg is a snake of a different hue. His latest skin-shedding is as unconvincing as either of his two anti-science books, both of which grotesquely overstate his personal expertise in fields he clearly barely understands and has never published in, while simultaneously dissing the stacks of hard science contained in the vast peer-reviewed literature in this area.

    Rather than my re-hashing the 1001 ways in which Lomborg plays fast and loose with the science, and limbo dances from one contradictory position to the next, let me hand you over to the excellent DeSmogBlog for the coup de grace:’s-climate-confusionist-spin-never-ending

  66. Barthololmew says:

    I have read both ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ and ‘Cool It’ and still struggling to come up with good specific examples where Lomborg is being anti-scientific. I have just checked your latest link you posted to Denis.

    One of the problems you have with Lomborg is that he is not a scientist and he has never had anything peer-reviewed. But either have you and that site you posted is run by Jim Hoggan. His background isn’t science either – it’s law!

    The points Lomborg is making in ‘Cool It’, aren’t meant to be scientific they are economic. Economics is very important in climate change if we want to think in terms of smart solutions.

    As for the book you reference, ‘The Lomborg Deception’ I have asked you for one good example in this book which seriously refutes Lomborg’s theisis. I am still waiting for it.

    Interesting points ref: Pat Kenny. But I’d be interested if you could an example of where he was anti science in his role in the media. Do you have a link to any of his radio shows for example?

  67. toby says:

    Joe Romm gives the case against Lomborg here:

    The fact is that Lomborg gave ammunition to the denialist case using specious logic (e.g. that there was a “choice” between eliminating malaria and mitigating climate change). He made a lot of money on the Koch Brothers-Exxon circuit.

    Now he has a Pauline conversion, and no doubt will make more money as an “honest broker”. No doubt he will formulate a pleasing message for some wealthy backers. At the moment, he seems equally despised by hardline denialists, to whom he was never sufficiently enthusiastic for the free market. On the other hand, he is a goood media handler and publicist in the mould of the charlatan Lord Monckton.

    I read an account of the appearance of Lomborg at the Hay-on-the -Wye Literary Festival, coincidentally on a panel that included James Hansen. Lomborg chided Hansen for sending out a “negative” message. It seems he has problems with scientists who tell the truth directly to the public. His opinion is that Hansen should have shaped his message via George Bush and his Big Oil backers, which would have been good for Hansen.

    There can be do doubt that the person whose interests are being best served at the moment are those of Bjorn Lomborg.

  68. John Gibbons says:


    welcome back to the conversation. You’re right. I’m not a scientist; nor do I pretend to know more about the physical sciences or to have special “insights” that the experienced professionals, their various academies and peer-reviewed journals and conferences have all somehow overlooked or misunderstood – that is, until I set them straight.

    That kind of delusional pomposity is the MO of the denialist movement. As a journalist, I see my job as translating complex issues and making them understandable to a wider, non-technical audience. To do this, first, I have to figure out to the best of my ability the science from the PR spin and hogwash. Journalists do that every day of the week, or at least, they should be doing this.

    As a journalist, I check the sources of facts and opinions, not to see which I like the most, but to see which are the most credible. In science, the peer-review process is and remains the gold standard. I’m wary of experts in one field popping up with opinions in another, quite unrelated field. They may of course be right, but if I want my teeth fixed, I go to a dentist, not a cardiologist. He may well be a leading expert, he may even be frequently called on in the media to give his views, but that doesn’t mean he knows much beyond an undergraduate level about teeth.

    Thanks to Toby above for skewering Lomborg’s Pauline conversions to whatever way the wind is blowing this week. Bartholomew, if you have read both of Lomborg’s works of pseudo-science, you really do owe it to yourself to read ‘The Lomborg Deception’. You can start with his systematic misrepresentation of the data on polar bear numbers.

    Real, live scientists who measure these things systematically and write up their findings in peer-reviewed journals tell us that, unsurprisingly, polar bear populations are in sharp decline. Why? Because the Arctic ice pack, their home, is disappearing. Since 1979, an area the size of Alaska and Texas combined has melted. Only an idiot could argue that the destruction of its habitat is somehow a boon for polar bear populations. Lomborg is that idiot, albeit a cunning idiot who routinely twists and tortures data to make it tell all kinds of absurdities.

    Of course, the big lie he’s pedalled for 10 years is that it’s not “worth” fixing spiralling CO2 emissions, as it’s “better value” to do other things. If your house is on fire, do you: (a) dial 999, grab an extinguisher and try and contain the blaze; or (b) watch the fire spread from room to room, while wondering would it be ‘more efficient’ to redecorate the bathroom or maybe put up some shelves in the kitchen.

    That’s Tolborg logic. Let the world burn down, it costs too much – according to their dodgy, ideologically loaded ‘discounting’ models to save it. If you subscribe to that world-view, fair enough. I don’t.

  69. Barthololmew says:

    Lomborg’s work is neither science nor pseudo – science. It’s not claiming to be science. Lomborg’s work is economic. What’s the problem with this?

    Also, he is not saying that it’s not worth fixing CO2 problem he is saying the current approaches are a complete waste of money. Which is correct.

    He is also saying that if the goals really is to save lives, than other humanitarian problems have to looked at. To ignore them is completly one eyed.

    As for your analogy about the house burning. It’s not a very logical way of framing an argument. It would be the equivalent of me saying to you,
    if your house is on fire and you have time to save people in one room only and if there are 5 people in one room and one in the other. Which do you choose to save the 5 or the 1? You save 5. This is what Lomborg is saying. You save the 5. But, the question really is, is his argument an accurate representation of the facts? Are more people dieing from diarreah, HIV, malaria, malnutrition or are more people going to die from climate change? The second question which is equally important is what is the best way to deal with climate change?

    To answer these questions in earnest we have to put away the analogies and look at the data. This data isn’t just scientific, it is also economic because it involves us having to pay for solutions.

  70. Barthololmew says:

    John or Toby can you give one specific argument in ‘Cool It’ where you think you can rebutt it clearly?

    I’ll pick one to get us going…

    Friel says:
    “The documentation system in Cool It is even more challenging, as
    Lomborg eliminated numbered citations in the text, thus challenging the
    reader to muster an additional level of resolve by having to identify
    which sentences or assertions in the text were sourced in the first place.”

    To which Lomborg says:

    “While I stand by the documentation system in both CIUS and TSE, I find it
    curious that, given his concerns, Friel chose to focus on the abridged U.S. edition of Cool
    It, ignoring the fact that there is a more scholarly, longer version of the book available.
    This is stated in the Acknowledgements of CIUS:

    This is a short book on a complex issue. But if we are to make our
    democracies count, finding the best generational mission, it is important
    that the information gets spread far and wide. If you feel you need more
    information, I’m also publishing a longer version of Cool It, with plenty
    of graphs and more explanation, with Cyan in the United Kingdom. [p.

    Had he consulted the longer edition, Friel would have found about 50% more
    information, straight endnotes, 59 charts, and many more tables.”

    Do we agree on this specific point it’s clearly 1 – 0 Lomborg?

    Or can you refute Lomborg on this specific point?

  71. John Gibbons says:

    Lomborg “economics” is ideologically charged voodoo economics. Lord bless your innocence if you don’t understand that. You can dance around the Maypole with him all you like, but he’s a profoundly dishonest practitioner (he’s not an economist either, by the way; game theory is, appropriately enough, his specialty).

    Toby, if you’re out there, our friend Bart is all yours. He hasn’t read the Lomborg Deception, or indeed presumably any of the mountain of other testimony from genuine experts about Lomborg’s phony-baloney output, and therefore can’t tell the difference between an arch liar on an intellectual par with Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and purveyors of evidence-based science.

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