I virtually attended most of the UCC climate conference yesterday. It’s was a useful experience, not really because of the content which was highly variable, rather because it allowed me to think about where we are at. Here are my thoughts:
Dr Clare Watson is a climate change giant, a genuine pioneer and ground breaker. She explained how she is leading a research team supporting the Dingle Peninsula 2030 project – a community based effort to create a sustainable future for a defined area. Many readers of my blog will be familiar with the Dingle Peninsula – the most northerly part of County Kerry, home to some 12,500 people and many holiday homes with the famous Blasket Islands just off the far western point. It’s a well-defined area, perhaps ideal for an experimental or pilot project which involves not just numerous agencies and support organizations, but crucially the people themselves. Their goal, nothing less than “to transition our beautiful peninsula into a low-carbon society.” I loved the idea of climate mentors, local people who have trained in specific aspects of climate change relevant to their occupations, who work with and guide local residents, farms and businesses in making change in the most practical, on the ground manner. I asked Clare whether the project can be seen as a template for other areas, and what she thought might be guidelines for other projects. She replied that, yes of course there are loads of lessons to learn, but each project would be unique. She did however comment that their project has benefitted greatly from the support from a retired civil servant who has been invaluable in creating links, opening doors and cutting red tape! Also the key to their project is collaboration on many different dimensions without competition between groups. See links below, this is a genuinely inspirational project worth watching.
There was a panel discussion session labelled as “Youth Climate Activists”. To be honest I wasn’t very impressed because the discussion was very academic. I wondered whether the activists would be better off finding, engaging with and or starting local projects such as the Dingle Project, in which they could get involved in delivering real world benefits.
I wondered why there wasn’t anything on the agenda about agriculture. This was an Irish Climate Conference and given that the agriculture sector is the sector with the highest emissions at over 30%, it would have been an obvious topic to include. Instead I noted there were a couple of side comments and references to this. One speaker with reference to the energy sector made a comment that that sector might have to over achieve in order to compensate for under achievement in the ag sector! Wow!
The other speaker that I found thought provoking was Dr Stephen Onekuse. He spoke passionately about big business – the biggest inhibitor to making progress on climate change. These big businesses are totally focused on GDP growth at the expense of the environment, and making mega profits without bearing any of the environmental cost. In the process we are destroying our environment. He discussed the current pandemic as an environmental cost, which we all now understand is going to be huge. I asked the question, “whether we can put an environment tax on big businesses, separate to tax on profitability?” Stephen responded that firstly, many large enterprises, particularly in Ireland pay little or no tax, and have all the resources to engage the necessary specialists to ensure this would continue, regardless of the structure of the taxation. Secondly, that these same companies act as powerful lobbyists of government(s) and have such power than any measures would probably never happen. Thirdly, he commented that the biggest issue is that even if there was a tax related to environmental costs, that the money raised would only be spent by governments that are short term driven and of course also strongly influenced by lobbyists!
I didn’t get the opportunity to dialog with Stephen, but I would have liked to get his opinion on a) possible strategies for the Irish agriculture industry, which has exports of $14.5 billion, yet still don’t allow farmers to earn a living wage. And b) options for monetary systems, such as that advocated by Kim Stanley Robinson (see reference below).
In summary for me the conference was useful for alerting me to the Dingle project plus the questions it raised for me.
Dingle Peninsula 2030
Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson ISBN 978-0-356-50885—6
To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need To Take On Capitalism