Out of his depth in Deepwater thinking…

According to a tweet from John Gormley in the last couple of hours, a climate change bill will finally make its way to the Cabinet next Tuesday (16th). Much credit here is due to Labour’s Liz McManus, rapporteur on the Oireachtas Climate Change Committee and tireless campaigner for a strong climate law for years.

“As the threat of global warming grows inexorably the case for a legislative response is compelling”, McManus wrote in the Forward to the committee’s Second Report on Climate Change Law, published last month. The bill provides for aggressive emissions reductions targets, with the meeting of these targets the direct responsibility of the Taoiseach of the day.

(a PhD student from TCD takes issue with the likely effectiveness of such a route over at Irisheconomy.ie, arguing: “Setting ambitious long-term targets might sound good, but in reality this does not provide any greater certainty to businesses, investors, or consumers, simply because such targets are purely aspirational and are not credible without specific measures to achieve them”. Interesting points, shame about the source.)

For this commentator, it is unfathomable that the Greens would have chosen to stay lashed to the mast of the rapidly sinking ‘Good Ship FF’ unless they did so with the determination to deliver on their most critical commitment – a strong climate change law. Looks like this may finally be realised, though quite how much watering down has taken place remains to be seen.

Energy minister Eamon Ryan hosted US Energy Secretary (and Nobel laureate) Stephen Chu in Government buildings last week. This is the first time I’ve seen Chu in person. He is indeed an outstanding scientist, but a pretty rotten science communicator. At one point he referred to the development of green infrastructure, etc. in the US as among “the fundamental non-partisan issues”.

Clearly, if he honestly thinks this can be moved forward on non-partisan platform, he mustn’t have been paying attention to the Republican party’s ever-escalating war on reality. Take the quite mad Republican senator and prospective Energy Committee chairman, John Shimkus. This individual, clutching a thick copy of the Bible,  explained that the world will only end when God says so, i.e. no need to worry about climate change then!

Quite why highly educated, exceptionally clever folk like Chu and his boss, president Obama persist in trying to “engage on a bi-partisan basis” with a party that has been taken over by extremist Christian fundamentalists is a sorrowful mystery. You don’t “engage” with a mad dog. You back off slowly, while reaching for a sturdy club.

Back in Dublin, Ryan told the meeting that earlier that day, 30% of Ireland’s electrical power was coming from renewables, and he outlined how this could be seriously ramped up in the coming years. The main purpose of rapidly deploying renewables is two-fold: to reduce our dependence on (expensive) imported energy and to move towards ultra-low to zero emissions energy as swiftly as possible.

And who could agree with such laudable strategic energy goals? Who else indeed, other perhaps than our very own Minister for Natural Resources, Conor Lenihan. While Ryan is busily selling Ireland to the world as the next vanguard of renewable energy, Lenihan announces that Ireland, just like the Niger delta, is “open for business” – for offshore oil drilling. Seriously. And on a grand scale:

“The 2011 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round which I launched earlier this year…. this innovative round will be Ireland’s largest to date, covering an area of just over a quarter of a million square kilometres including a number of large sedimentary basins with proven petroleum prospectivity.”

And the depths involved? “The area on offer extends from about 30-380 km from shore with water depths typically ranging from 200m, or less, to over 3,000m”, says Lenihan. OK, let’s take that last figure again. 3,000 metres. That’s three kilometres – straight down.

Is it really safe to drill down that far from a deep sea platform? Let me think….well, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the well that blew last April and continued for months, largely because it occurred so deep down as to make it extremely difficult to plug the leak…that occurred at 1,500 metres. Or 1.5 km straight down. Or, if you prefer, at HALF the depth Minister Lenihan is proposing letting the same wizards muck around at just off our coastlines. Meanwhile, the rigs will be battered by the mountainous north Atlantic ocean….

It’s unfair to suggest we could end up with the Gulf of Mexico, Part II on our blackened hands. Our version would be far, far worse. Clearly, a similar disaster in 3,000 metres would effectively be irremediable, and we would probably end up destroying coastlines from Mizen head to as far south as the north west coast of Spain. Not to mention, of course, the ecological calamity and extermination of our tourism and fishing industries into the bargain.

Perhaps Conor is trying to one-up his big brother again: any disaster Brian can inflict on this benighted isle via his capitulation to the banks and bond holders, little bro’ can easily match with the mother of all oil slicks off our ruined coastline. And since Conor is luring the oilmen here “with a competitive tax regime, in which their business will flourish”, we can take it the State won’t be over-burdened with substantial royalty payments with which to help finance the clean up?

The US government may have had the muscle to force BP to pay for the Gulf of Mexico disaster, but as much oil as that is dumped into the Niger delta every year for the last two decades, and the only people paying are the ordinary Nigerians whose lands have been destroyed and lives blighted by reckless oil drilling and profiteering.

The press statement with all this joyous news about Ireland’s commitment to deep-sea oil drilling emanated from Adelaide Road in Dublin 2, home to the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources – and its Green senior minister.

You would struggle to make this stuff up.

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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12 Responses to Out of his depth in Deepwater thinking…

  1. denis says:

    I am afraid that we are all guilty of this double think—–we would all like to save the planet, but we also want to live a modern energy saturated lifestyle.
    If we do not want to change our lifestyle habits, then there is very little that the powers that be can do to make us change.
    The gov. may make hopeless misguided token efforts to be environmentally friendly, such as wind turbines, and electric cars, but unfortunately these are as dependent as we are on the continuation of fossil fuel being burnt.
    Their attitude is only a mirror image of ours.

  2. Brian O'Brien says:

    Lenihan The Younger is like a parable for everything that ails Ireland today. First, he gets into politics via nepotism (quick, get the name “Lenihan” on the posters!), then he blunders into a junior ministry despite a string of gaffes (“kebabs”, anyone?). Next, wearing his Science Minister hat, he agrees to speak at the launch of a loony tunes anti-evolution rant by one of his constituents.

    So let’s all try not to seem too surprised when said Lenihan speaks in favour of deep-water drilling for oil. This might be nuts, but at least you can’t fault him for not being consistent. He and his clown friends in FF (and their very many supporters in Irish life) have corroded the trust the public hold in politics to the extent that the current economic collapse was really just a matter of time.

    We’ve been morally, intellectually and politically bankrupt (or bankrupted?) for at least the last decade.

  3. Richard Tol says:

    Instead of “sturdy club”, would a red button not be better?

  4. John Gibbons says:

    In these times of unprecedented economic crisis, it’s inspiring, after a fashion, that an ESRI professor can break from his (taxpayer-funded) duties in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon to go perusing distant blogs and posting comments that vividly display one’s mastery of the anodyne. If you haven’t enough to do over there, shouldn’t Colm McCarthy be told?

    Still, compared to the calibre of some of your recent postings here this one is actually quite good. Do keep the silly billy stuff coming. With every posting, we get to know you just a little better. You’re an inspiration to all us non-taxpayer funded non-experts.

  5. Brian O'Brien says:

    I suspect John’s reference is an allusion to Theodore Roosevelt’s famous advice on diplomacy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. For those who haven’t spotted the allusion, Richard’s reference is to a puerile Richard Curtis video clip featuring exploding heads among climate change deniers.

    Right wingers like James Delingpole and Christopher Booker in the Telegraph are almost wetting themselves with glee at this prima faciae evidence of ‘eco fascism’. I suppose when you haven’t a shred of actual evidence (you know, the peer-reviewed stuff, Richard) to go on, you’re left to rake over innuendo and stunts with which to impugn not the evidence, but the motives of those producing the evidence. Playing the man, not the ball, as they say in sporting parlance.

    Personally, I’d be more interested in Richard explaining away the 3.3–8.8C mean average temperature increases recorded across Greenland last winter (or maybe the eco fascists/alarmists over in the NOAA made that up too?).

  6. John Gibbons says:


    now that you mention it….that probably was somewhere in the back of my mind alright. Regarding our expert friends, compare and compare the quotes below:

    a) “It is impossible to say how the Irish economy would have developed had Lehman Brothers not collapsed.”
    – R. Tol, June 1, 2010

    b) “But if not for the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which in my opinion became a catalyst [for] the Irish crisis, we would have two to three years to face the problem…”
    – B. Ahern, October 2010.

    If you happen to read the very fine ‘Requiem for a Species’, by public ethics professor, Clive Hamilton, while there are no references to Bertie, R. Tol does get his very own footnote, entitled: “right wing and insufferable”. It’s great to see ‘one of our own’ get the international attention he so clearly craves.

    I understand Tol is a disciple of the great right wing economic discounter, William Nordhaus, who, using a grotesque 4–5.5per cent “discount rate” and ideologically tinted reading of climate science (and deliberate misreading of the Stern Review of the economics of climate change) can cheerily justify letting future generations burn in favour our our present “economic happiness”.

    Here’s some classic Nordhaus lunacy: using just a 4 per cent “discount rate”, he concludes it’s worth spending precisely $39,204 to offset $100 million in damages two centuries hence. Yes, that was $100 MILLION. Combine that with a Panglossian misreading of actual climate science and there you have the spiritual father of Tolborgian economics. This “school” of economics, sponsored by our very own ESRI, brings us such gems of utter arrogant stupidity as:

    “My research shows that climate change is a problem. Epidemiologists have shown that climate change is likely to kill hunderds (sic) of thousands of people per year. Urban air pollution kills millions if not tens of millions. Climate policy is therefore important, but not a priority.”

    “Just because something is new and different does not make it wrong. Climate change will take us into uncharted territory, but so do many other things”

    “Note that impacts (of climate change) do not exceed 1.3 per cent of GDP in the 21st century”

    “Studies that have been subject to peer-review tend to be more optimistic about climate change than studies that have had no quality control”.

  7. John Gibbons says:

    p.s. Anyone interested in a good laugh, head over to Irisheconomy.ie, where R. Tol is trying to suggest that my reference in the above article about the takeover of the Republican Party by the fundamentalists (“You don’t “engage” with a mad dog. You back off slowly, while reaching for a sturdy club”) was in fact an INCITEMENT TO VIOLENCE!

    “Gibbons’ language is clear: Disengage from dialogue, use violence instead. I find that objectionable”

    The redoubtable Adrian Kelleher responded by asking: “Are you meaning to tell me you feel Gibbons was inciting Obama to go and strike Shimkus with a club? Are you familiar with the concept of an analogy? Shimkus, a young earther and creationist, is exactly as mad as Gibbons lets on, by the way”

    Poor R. Tol, desperately trolling around for some mud to throw at anyone who dares speak in defence of climate science. Exploding heads? Check. Clubbing Republicans? Check. Scientific evidence? Uh uh.

    I’m actually starting to feel just a bit sorry for R. Tol, since he’s doing me out of a job in so thoroughly sending himself up at every opportunity. For the whole sad circus, see below:

  8. Brian O'Brien says:

    Yee haw! This does indeed get better and better – or battier and battier, to be pedantic about it. Has Richard got masochistic tendencies? He seems to actually like it the more people beat up on him (or maybe it’s an unresolved potty training issue about being the centre of attention and showing off how he can ‘perform’, perhaps?). Anyhow, the circus has left town, there is serious stuff to be discussed and debated here, and I for one would be happy if Richard gave up on his persistent attempts to meddle in and derail useful discussions on this blog and confined himself to Irisheconomy.ie. Now what makes me think that’s not going to happen?

  9. Richard Tol says:

    Let’s recoup.

    You disagree with an elected politician (Shimkus). You project his position on his party (Republicans). You suggest that the government (Chu and Obama) stop talking to the opposition. That implies that you either favour gridlock (as the Republicans hold the majority in House) or an unconstitutional rule by decree.

    You seem to favour the latter given the reference to a “club”.

    I was not reminded of Roosevelt because your turn of phrase was so different, but maybe Brian is right. Roosevelt’s “stick” was a metaphor for the army and he repeatedly threatened to inflict violence on other countries.

    So, I can only interpret your remarks as “ignore the elected majority and resort to violence if needed”.

  10. Joe Caulfield says:

    Any word on the Government,s C.C. bill?
    When will it be released ?
    Does anyone have any info on it ?

  11. John Gibbons says:

    No word, it appears to have fallen down behind the settee in the mad scramble to hand over the keys of the state to our friends from the IMF/ECB

    By “let’s recoup”, assume you mean “recap”? (more Lost in Translation, I suppose). You can interpret/misinterpret/twist my remarks any way you please. Since I don’t have a semi-state sinecure to pay my personal bills, I’m going to do myself a huge favour and stop debating with ideologues. It’s a huge waste of time and effort and about as fruitful as debating with the leg of a table. No offense.

  12. John Gibbons says:

    As a p.s. to my opening comment re. Gormley’s tweet, guess we can take it that with the Greens heading for the lifeboats, that’s pretty much the kiss of death to any climate change legislation from this administration. Begs the question: was it really, really worth it? Three and a half years in office and, notwithstanding some fine work in the planning and energy areas, the failure to deliver climate legislation is classic Hamlet-sans-prince…

    Nobody seriously expects FG to be any less ecologically illiterate than their FF first cousins, the Greens will be nuked, so all therefore hangs on Eamon Gilmore and his team. That team is going to be hugely weakened by the departure of Liz McManus, and it’s difficult to see who’s going to carry the torch in her absence. Joanna Tuffy has been more miss than hit on this topic in the last three years.

    Gilmore himself is no dummy on the subject. I had an in-depth one-to-one with him around two years ago, and he certainly went well beyond the soundbites and slogans and seemed to have a clear grasp of the fundamentals. How widely shared that is within their (soon to be expanded) Parliamentary Party is another matter again…

    But if the Green Party has failed to deliver climate legislation, and destroyed itself in the process of NOT delivering on this most fundamental environmental issues, is it entirely forlorn hope to expect Labour to ride to the rescue?

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