Keeping our heads above (rising) water

In these dark November days, as parts of Ireland lie submerged after a virtually stormless deluge, it’s natural to want to look for some positive news. Images of tens of thousands of people using the public sector strike on Tuesday (many of them public servants themselves) to head over the border for ‘bargains’ in Northern Ireland is a tangible reminder of how narrow self-interest and the prospect – real or imaginary – of a bargain quickly part us from our senses.

Ireland is currently spending almost €500m a week more than our national income. This is disastrously unsustainable, but rather than seeing an outbreak of the Blitz Spirit, instead our response is an atomised mé fein-ism. Those thousands of cars streaming into Newry are hastening the demise of their neighbours’ businesses.

This in turn will cost many of the ‘bargain hunters’ their own jobs and livelihoods, but the lag between cause and effect, not to mention narrow opportunism means all you get is a shrug of the shoulders as they load more cases of Budweiser into the back of their cars and prepare to head for home.

Two beacons of light amidst the gloom: first, very good news, at last, from the US, with president Obama strongly signalling a stiffening of resolve on climate change. Obama will be in Copenhagen on December 9 with an offer to curb US emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. Yes, using 2005 levels as a benchmark is pretty lame, but this is the US, so we must bite our collective lip and applaud any progress, however painful. Astonishingly, this is the first time in over a decade that ANY kind of formal offer of emissions reduction has emanated from the US.

“Those who feared that the US had abdicated its global responsibility should take hope from these actions and work towards completing a strong operational agreement next month in Copenhagen and guidelines for negotiators to complete their work next year on a comprehensive treaty”, said Al Gore in response to confirmation that Obama would attend Copenhagen in person.

Closer to home, Mary Robinson spoke last night in TCD about her frustration at the way the Copenhagen negotiations are proceeding. “It matters if a trade agreement is reached, but it is not the end of the world. If we don’t get proper leadership at Copenhagen, soon it will be end of the liveable world; it’s as serious as that,” was her blunt message. In case we need reminders, nature doesn’t negotiate, cut deals, split the difference or horse-trade. You obey its rules or you go under. Full stop.

Robinson expressed sympathy with the thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by the flooding. She tried to make it clear that we have to expect more, much more, of this kind of disruptive climatic event in the future, so the emphasis must be on mitigation. Talk of ‘once in 800 year‘ flood is not only inaccurate, it’s extremely unhelpful, yet that’s how RTÉ’s reporter concluded his piece to camera on last night’s main news bulletin. It’s taking a long time for the penny to drop that this climate change lark is not only real, it affects us too.

So, onwards towards Copenhagen. Can we dare fail?

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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13 Responses to Keeping our heads above (rising) water

  1. peter dublin says:

    if the endless bickering of international emission trading stopped,
    and a simple clear focus was given to local emission reduction by phased in CO2 limits (power station) and emission based taxation (motor vehicles), then much would be gained.

    Electricity and transport alone account for 4/5 of emissions.

    So instead of the widespread industrial and artificial carbon emission trading, as in Kyoto protocol and current EU legislation, local emission targets treat CO2 just like any other emission substance (sulphur, mercury, whatever)
    with continuous assessment that set reductions of CO2 remain
    relevant with regard to actually lowering world temperatures.

    Emission Policy Alternatives

    Introduction: The need – or not – to deal with emissions

    The Overall Picture
    Emission sources, land and ocean cycles, agriculture and deforestation

    1. Direct Industrial Emission Regulation
    Mandated reduction of CO2, monitored like other emission substances

    2. Carbon Taxation
    Fuel Tax — Emission Tax

    3. Emission Trading (Cap and Trade)
    Basic Idea — Offsets — Tree Planting — Manufacture Shift — Fair Trade — Surreal Market — Allowances: Auctions + Hand-Outs — Allowance Trading — Companies: Business Stability + Cost — In Conclusion

    4. Contracted CO2 Reduction
    Private companies compete for contracts to lower CO2 emissions.

  2. peter dublin says:

    added note:
    removal of emission trading obviously doesn’t remove the need for international cooperation in implementing local and direct electricity/transport emission reduction schemes,
    but it’s a great simplification in terms of strategy and removes the tensions and unfairness that emission trading with its allowance distribution, offsets etc brings

  3. denis says:

    That lot, who will be heading towards Copenhagen, unfortunately can do absolutely nothing, to alleviate global warming.
    On the other hand, we the people, may be able to help.
    All we have to do, is to stop using anything that has a fossil fuel content.
    Who is going to go first ?

  4. peter dublin says:


    stop using anything that has a fossil fuel content
    — I see your point that one can’t rely on politicians to act as one might wish (one’s own way is of course always being the right way!),
    but as I said in other comments I think more thought should be put into
    dealing directly with lowering emissions rather than what fuel is used (they’re of course related, but not the same).
    If it’s economical to maintain fossil fuelled power stations / cars as emission limits are phased in, at mandated levels or by taxation at various levels, while at the same time renewable/nuclear sources are phased in, then that’s the way to go.
    Politicians and environmental activists keep stressing consumer cut-down-and-save and the necessity to ban energy using products,
    which gives politicians easy photo-opportunities that they are “actually doing something”
    – instead of getting down and dealing with the supply side problem.

    Even if consumption had to be hit, it should be done by taxation.
    Light bulbs don’t give out CO2 gas, and efficiency based bans are illogical, it’s not like banning lead paint.
    The whole object is simply to reduce electricity consumption.
    So light bulbs (for example) could be taxed according energy efficiency,
    including lower sales taxes than today for the expensive efficient bulbs.
    Unlike bans, politicians get money with the reduced sales, that they in turn can use for home energy/insulation schemes, renewable projects etc
    – lowering energy use and emissions more than any remaining product use raises them, and consumers of course keep choice.
    The tax income on light bulbs alone, on what was 2 billion annual EU sales of the ordinary light bulbs, would be significant.
    Efficiency based taxation on non-emitting electrical products is still unjustified, like bans, but beeter even for ban proponents.
    About the “real” and unpublicised industrial politics behind the EU light bulb bans etc

  5. Ian says:

    Denis I agree with your idea that the solution will probably have to be citizen-led but going cold turkey (and a cold one it would be!) on anything with fossil fuel content (that is, everything) is not a plan.

    As for Al Gore, do even Americans still lap up the guff from the WAlt Disney school of political rhetoric?

  6. David Quinn says:

    I am curious to know John what you make of the recent leaked emails from the CRU which show that IPCC scientists have been involved in a conspiracy to suppress data that contradicts the AGW theory ?

  7. Ian says:

    No doubt that is the subject of the next tantalising article.

  8. neil says:

    The game is up Mr. Gibbons. As many of us have known for a long time the pseudo ‘scientists’ have been faking the evidence. You should be hanging your head in shame at pushing this agenda for so long with your mindless rants in the media.

    Give it up Mr. Gibbons, you are now irrelevant!

  9. neil says:

    I certainly hope Mr. Gibbons has the nerve to try to justify ‘Climategate’. He hasn’t a hope! This IS the biggest scandal to rock science inthe history of the planet and REAL SCIENTISTS will ensure that this does not go away and that those who have, by manipulating data used to form political policies, are held responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths these policies are responsible for in the third world. This is tantamount to GENOCIDE and these people should be charged with cirmes against humanity. I hope Mr. Gibbons has a clear conscience in this regard and would agree with these sentiments otherwise it would be very clear where he stands on the issue.

  10. John Gibbons says:

    “…As many of us have known for a long time…”. Who is “us” anonymous ‘neil’? I was going to bin your rants, but thought it more useful to actually let people see the level of “debate” emanating from the people hell-bent on accelerating irreversible system collapse on this planet, and determined to smear anyone who dares say otherwise.

    Climategate, as it’s lamely called, involves the highly selective leaking of bits and fragments, a line here, a phrase there, culled from stolen material covering over 10 years. What an honest reading of this material tells us is that, yes, shock, horror, scientists argue like hell about issues (zealots wouldn’t understand), they even rubbish one another, try to discredit one another’s work by disproving some aspect of it. This is exactly what makes the peer-review process so rigorous.

    In the case of CRU, with emails dating back over 10 years, it would have been hard to imagine badly phrased, angry, intemperate or just plain stupid emails not being among this stolen cache of correspondence. Some people will lose their jobs over this incident, and they deserve to, if the highest standards of scientific enquiry are not adhered to. Scientists would be the first to demand this.

    However, the CRU data is just a fragment of the vast global data set on anthropogenic climate change. To suggest this “disproves” global warming is tantamount to suggesting that Piltdown Man disproved the theory of Evolution (as many latterday sceptics tried to claim at the time).

    The CRU incident is regrettable and isolated. On the other side stands a vast and wealthy lobby for Big Oil, Big Coal and the other huge industries who make billions from freely spewing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and irreversibly altering the climate along the way.

    If “neil” were able to get his head out of his preconceptions long enough to look around, he might have noticed that a third of Ireland is underwater, from extreme weather the likes of which has NEVER been seen in 160 years of instrumental recording. Driven by climate change, we are now going to be battered by these kinds of weather extremes on a far more regular basis.

    That, of course, is only according to our best scientists, including the ICARUS group in NUI Maynooth. But hell, compared with a blow-hard like “neil”, what would all these boring old experts know? Neil has found Google! Neil can surf from one loony tune skeptic site to another, and within an hour or two, be a world authority able to spout such arrogant shite as: “…many of us have known for a long time…”

    The game is up “neil”. You’ve had your little rant on my blog, and I’ve had mine. To borrow a line from the current governor of California, “You’re Terminated”.

    Can I recommend instead some excellent Elvis sightings websites for you to visit, where your soaring intellect and searing insights might be better appreciated?

    p.s. I hear Mr Presley may be living in Roswell, New Mexico. With Shergar. Google it.

  11. David Quinn says:

    Hi John,
    You still haven’t addressed the issue of the peer-reviewed articles. Would you accept that your previous position re: the dearth of articles by scientists sceptical about the theory of AGW is no longer valid given that as even George Monbiot has acknowledged some of the key scientists supporting this theory have been caught trying to suppress their counterparts work.

  12. GSRL says:

    Neil is well-known Internet crank and Irish independent letter writer, Neil Foster.

    Google ‘Neil Foster Roscommon’

  13. neil says:

    Thank you for the publicity GSRL, people might just have a read of my letters and actually look at the evidence and start to think for themselves.

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