Climate Change is Reversable, But “WE” need to take responsibility. Otherwise governments and vested interests will prevaricate with inevitable consequences.

The IPCC report affirmed there are no factors beyond human control that prevent us from limiting the temperature rise. We know what to do and we know we can do it. Why aren’t we doing it? Because “we” is a lie. It conflates individuals with fossil fuel companies.
“We” echoes the logic of “personal carbon footprint”, a term British Petroleum (BP) invented in 2004. The company launched an individual emissions calculator as a marketing device to distract from the need for industry-level change. I’m not saying individuals share no responsibility for the climate crisis; companies don’t burn carbon for the hell of it, but to satisfy demand.

Naoise Dolan, Irish Independent, 14th August 2021


We have become accustomed to blaming others for all our problems! But we are consumers and voters. Individually we have little power. But collectively we might just turn this super tanker around.


The fossil fuel companies are only able to prevaricate because we consumers continue to behave as normal. I include in this the entire fossil fuel supply chain from coal and oil producers to energy, transport, plastic and fertiliser providers. Similarly governments will prevaricate because they depend on tax revenues from the same industries, that of course also have the ear of governments. And governments are formed by politicians who instinctively operate on a short term basis relevant to their electoral cycle. They are not qualified for this type of crisis which demands longer term thinking. We cannot expect them to lead.


That means starting with ourselves.


The message on the wire is our lives are going to change dramatically. If we don’t do it ourselves, climate related catastrophes will do it for us. And it’s already happening in Madagascar, Alaska, Australia, The Alps, and very recently in Germany, Belgium, North America, Greece, Turkey etc. If this means moving house, changing job, getting new skills, becoming an activist, getting involved in local climate actions, then surely it’s better to take the initiative rather than be on the receiving end. Of course there are big ticket items we as individuals can’t influence, but if populations en masse take actions the results are going to be significant. Remember, we are all consumers; if we vote with our feet big business is going to listen.

  1. Consider if you really need a car. Or two or more? Whether other modes of transport are feasible? If you need a car switch to an EV. They are going to save you money. Don’t listen to the negatives, the fossil fuel and car manufacturing industries are deliberately spreading negativity to slow adoption. EVs work; it’s just they work slightly differently. But they do SAVE YOU MONEY! Transport is 16% of all emissions and an area we can all make an impact with right now!
  2. Consider where you need to live long term. Now! Lots of people are already doing it, but it’s something EVERYBODY needs to consider. Can you cut your emissions and transport costs by moving to reduce travel, cut your costs, move to a location with a lower disaster risk. Don’t automatically go back into the office and the commute. If working for home is difficult, build a home office or use a local hub, or negotiate a hybrid contract.
  3. Closely related, consider your skills, job or profession. Are your skills going to be in demand in 10 years’ time? Consider that demand for skills in new areas is going to escalate dramatically. How about renewable energy supply chain including tidal, wind and solar, building modernisation and insulation, distributed home energy systems, home rain water harvesting systems, disaster management and recovery, flood management, ecology, online learning, climate action group project management, and so on.
  4. Reinvent how you holiday and travel. Cut air travel to the bare minimum. Use trains, buses, ships, EVs, bikes but not planes except in extremis.
  5. Work out your own carbon footprint. Know the sources of emissions and pollution and cut them in whatever way you can, switching suppliers, changing technology. Don’t expect to make major reductions immediately because most of your emissions are locked into energy suppliers. But look forward and have a plan for how you individually will get down to 1.5 tons CO2e (CO2 equivalent). Bear in mind the real emerging target is going to be 1.0 ton per person. Make a plan to reinvent your home energy consumption. Maximise use of government grants.
  6. Grow (at least) some of your own food. Preferably organically.
  7. Involve young people. The next generations will be those most impacted; they have been protesting but sadly heard, but not listened to! If we are not careful young people will switch off. We need to motivate and energize them in a way that is really meaningful. For example, guide gap year students to get involved in local climate action or ecology projects. Encourage students to demand their schools and universities fossil fuel free, now. And themselves to ensure their travel to schools and colleges is also as fossil fuel free as possible. Beyond that, why don’t governments or local councils establish schemes to support young people in travelling to developing countries to get involved in climate projects. But most of all, guide young people to acquire skills that are relevant to the new areas of work outlined above in point 3.
  8. Prepare for disaster. Look at trees, undergrowth, rivers, drains and powerlines, and assess risk from very high wind storms and or possibility of intense rainfall, or fire. Also consider carefully how independent of shared services you will be in times of crisis. Remember fossil fuelled generators should be banned! But standalone batteries could become life savers. Similarly gravity fed home rainwater harvesting could be essential in a crisis. No panic, just sensible preparatory thinking. Of course some may decide to move home on the basis of the assessment.
  9. Become a climate activist in any and all ways you can. There are local climate action groups forming [see example below], with government assistance here in Ireland. I expect same worldwide. Be prepared to name and shame corporations and politicians that are compromising our shared future. Work to ensure fake news and conspiracy theories are squashed. Believe me, this is going to be the next battle. We must expect dark forces to attempt to slow progress to protect their interests.

    Inevitably as major changes happen to our way of life there will be winners and losers and the levels of protest, lobbying, fake news and conspiracy and blame will become deafening. Further, there will be invidious yet direct comparisons between countries. Some countries will do better than others, many will fall behind and may lose heart. But this isn’t a competition, or race, rather we’re all frogs in the same pot of boiling water. To save the planet we have to bring everybody with us!
    Clearly as individuals we have limited leverage. But as consumers, if we work en masse, we do have power. I don’t pretend this list is exhaustive. Please let me know your thoughts on how this could be developed further.

Corca Dhuibhne 2030: a sustainable future for the Dingle Peninsula by 2030

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, climate Change Models, Electric Vehicles, EV, Skills Development, Technology and Society | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Don’t Panic Mr. Mannering!

UK government’s set to approve new North Sea oilfield off coast of Shetland Islands
The Daily Mail, June 23rd 2021
British Ministers are set to approve a new North Sea oilfield off the coast of the Shetland Islands months before Britain hosts a global climate change summit, reports say. Those behind the Cambo oilfield plan to extract 150 million barrels of oil under proposals handed to Downing Street by Siccar Point Energy, the Times reported. The oilfield, which will emit more than three million tonnes of carbon during its lifespan, could operate until 2050 – by which time Britain has vowed to be net carbon neutral. But the Cambo development will not be included in Boris Johnson‘s ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’, which will decide whether new projects are ‘compatible with the UK’s climate change objectives.’ Environmental activists have already called on the Government to block the proposal, which comes just months before the UN’s Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow.


UK Government leads by example in saving the world
The Guardian, 8th August 2021
Allegra Stratton is the UK Government’s No 10 press secretary, a highly influential person and a chief fixer at upcoming COP26. ‘I don’t fancy it just yet,” said Allegra Stratton, the No 10 press secretary turned prime minister’s climate spokesperson, when she was asked about getting an electric car. She preferred her old diesel, thank you.


Irish Government greenlights new agri-food strategy despite criticism
Irish Times, Aug 3rd 2021
A new strategy for Ireland’s food and drinks sector over the next decade, which sets a path for continued expansion while embracing sustainable production, has been approved by the Government. The Food Vision 2030 report, published on Tuesday, sets out a roadmap with exports rising from €14 billion to €21 billion by 2030, “further enhancing Ireland’s position as global leader in safe, sustainable agri-food exports”. It envisages Ireland becoming “a world leader in sustainable food systems over the next decade, delivering benefits for the sector, for Irish society and the environment”. It was developed by a cross-sectoral committee of 30 agri-food stakeholders.
Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said the strategy was “not aligned with our international obligations on climate pollution, biodiversity and water quality”.
Author’s note: In Ireland, agriculture represents 33 per cent of total emissions and is the single largest contributor to overall emissions. In the rest of Europe, agriculture represents on average 10 per cent of total emissions.


The Exodus of Expertise Under Trump
New York Times August 4th
Hundreds of scientists and policy analysts left the government during the last administration. That’s a problem for President Biden’s climate agenda. Former President Donald J. Trump’s contempt for climate science continues to reverberate, six months into the Biden administration. Mr. Trump’s political appointees undermined federal studies, fired scientists and drove many experts to quit or retire. Now, as a result, hundreds of jobs in climate and environmental science across the federal government remain vacant as President Biden attempts to push through ambitious climate action. Scientists and policy experts who quit have not returned. Recruitment is suffering, according to federal employees, because government science jobs are no longer viewed as insulated from politics. And money from Congress to replenish the ranks could be years away.
“The attacks on science have a much longer lifetime than just the lifetime of the Trump administration,” said John Holdren, a professor of environmental science and policy at Harvard.


Australian government to appeal ruling that it must protect children from climate harm
The Guardian 9th July 2021
The (Australian) environment minister, Sussan Ley, will appeal yesterday’s federal court declaration she has a duty of care to protect Australian children from climate harm that would be caused by the expansion of a coalmining project. Some of the eight schoolchildren that brought the case to the federal court have reacted with dismay to the appeal, with one saying the government was now fighting for the right to cause them harm. The historic judgment by Justice Mordecai Bromberg placed into law the minister’s responsibility after a case against the Vickery coalmine expansion was brought by the eight schoolchildren and a nun.
The children had tried to force an injunction, stopping Ley from approving the expansion plans for Whitehaven Coal’s project near Boggabri, New South Wales. The minister has still to make a decision on the plans.


Despite Pledges to Cut Emissions, China Goes on a Coal Spree
Yale Environment 360 March 24 2021
China is building large numbers of coal-fired power plants to drive its post-pandemic economy. The government has promised a CO2 emissions peak by 2030, but the new coal binge jeopardizes both China’s decarbonization plans and global efforts to tackle climate change.
Coal remains at the heart of China’s flourishing economy. In 2019, 58 percent of the country’s total energy consumption came from coal, which helps explain why China accounts for 28 percent of all global CO2 emissions. And China continues to build coal-fired power plants at a rate that outpaces the rest of the world combined. In 2020, China brought 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired power into operation, more than three times what was brought on line everywhere else.
A total of 247 gigawatts of coal power is now in planning or development, nearly six times Germany’s entire coal-fired capacity. China has also proposed additional new coal plants that, if built, would generate 73.5 gigawatts of power, more than five times the 13.9 gigawatts proposed in the rest of the world combined. Last year, Chinese provinces granted construction approval to 47 gigawatts of coal power projects, more than three times the capacity permitted in 2019.
China has pledged that its emissions will peak around 2030, but that high-water mark would still mean that the country is generating huge quantities CO2 — 12.9 billion to 14.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually for the next decade, or as much as 15 percent per year above 2015 levels, according to a Climate Action Tracker analysis.


Amazon rainforest now appears to be contributing to climate change
National Geographic 12 Mar 2021
The Amazon rainforest is most likely now a net contributor to warming of the planet, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis from more than 30 scientists.
For years, researchers have expressed concern that rising temperatures, drought, and deforestation are reducing the capacity of the world’s largest rainforest to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to draw down the amount that lives there as a result of human activities. Recent studies have even suggested that some portions of the tropical landscape already may release more carbon than they store.
The research, supported by the National Geographic Society and published today in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, estimates that atmospheric warming from all of these sources combined now appears to swamp the forest’s natural cooling effect. “Cutting the forest is interfering with its carbon uptake; that’s a problem,” says lead author Kristofer Covey, a professor of environmental studies at New York’s Skidmore College. “But when you start to look at these other factors alongside CO2, it gets really hard to see how the net effect isn’t that the Amazon as a whole is really warming global climate.”


At least 1m people facing starvation as Madagascar’s drought worsens
The Guardian, 10th May 2021
Madagascar’s worst drought in 40 years has left more than a million people facing a year of desperate food shortages. The south of the island will produce less than half its usual harvest in the coming months because of low rains, prolonging a hunger crisis already affecting half the Grand Sud area’s population, the UN estimates. The south saw 50% of its usual rains during the October planting season, in a fourth year of drought.
Julie Reversé, emergency coordinator in Madagascar for Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “Without rain, they will not be able to return to the fields and feed their families. And some do not hesitate to say that it is death that awaits them if the situation does not change, and the rain does not fall.” According to the Famine Early Warning System Network, most poor families have to rely on foraging for wild foods and leaves that are difficult to eat and can be dangerous for children and pregnant women. Aid agencies have reported people eating termites and mixing clay with tamarind.


Greece is experiencing an “unprecedented” ecological crisis due to fires
August 5th 2021 The News24
The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, affirmed this Thursday that the country is facing “an unprecedented ecological crisis” due to the strong fires, after a week under an unusual heat wave and after registering more than 80 forest fires in the last 24 hours. «The country faces a unprecedented ecological crisis, with numerous fires of great proportions in different regions, “said the Greek prime minister after visiting the historic center to the city of Olympia, which on Wednesday had to be evacuated due to the unbridled advance of the flames. The fire has rekindled on the outskirts of Athens, after a slight truce in recent hours, and have forced the evacuation of more towns throughout southern Greece, after the heat wave and strong winds have made the situation even worse despite the efforts of firefighters and emergency crews.
Fires in the Mediterranean arc: WWF has warned of the increase in fires in the Mediterranean arc, given the large fires that ravage Turkey and Greece, and remember that what is happening in these countries could happen in Spain since, as the NGO warns, the Spanish forests and the territory as a whole are “ready to burn.”


Fires and floods: can science link extreme weather to climate change?
August 5th 2021 FT
When floods swept through parts of China’s Henan province last month, killing at least 302 people, a group of scientists who specialise in analysing the drivers of extreme weather events found themselves unable to help. Their work involves two core questions: did climate change make this disaster more likely? And did it make it worse? But by the time the storms hit China, the scientists were already fully engaged trying to untangle why the floods in Germany and Belgium earlier in July had been so devastating.
Two weeks before the German floods, the same questions were being asked about a freak heatwave in North America. This week, fires sparked by record temperatures are blazing across Turkey, Greece and Italy. . . . establishing a direct causal link between an individual case of flood, fire or storm and the broader climate is an evolving science — and something that is still desperately hard to do in practice. A litany of factors can influence a natural disaster, including local weather conditions — which may be changing — the shape of the landscape, human choices and natural variability. Even without climate change, extremes such as heatwaves would occur.
Scientists are making some headway. In July, the WWA (World Weather Attribution) made the striking pronouncement that the North American heatwave that sent temperatures in the Canadian village of Lytton soaring to 49.6C would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change”. The group reached a similar verdict about a heatwave last year in Siberia, concluding that the 38C recorded in Verkhoyansk would have been “almost impossible without climate change”.


Blogger’s Note: I have made the point many times that it will be almost impossible to link individual events to global climate. Hard evidence is almost impossible to acquire until large numbers of events and lots of data are available. By then it will be obvious to all. But given this conundrum we must expect a deluge of climate denial. In the last 18 months we have seen a huge amount of fake news and conspiracy theories surrounding Covid19. Given the extremely difficult and urgent decisions that will now need to be made around climate, we can expect a battle royal.
PS I am reading Michael Mann’s new book – The New Climate War on exactly this topic. I will comment on this in detail over the coming days.

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Net Zero is a Con Trick?

Most of us will remember the Paris 2015 UN conference on climate change. After countless meetings over nearly thirty years the delegates had reached agreement on how to limit global warming. Against all expectations, after decades of failures, the international community had finally reached consensus on what needed to be done. The agreement was to keep warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Of course the agreements are not binding, but the parties come together every five years to report.


Whilst the 2015 meeting was hailed as a success, the reality is different. First few believe that the goal of 1.5o C will be achieved. Such an imprecise target just leaves considerable room for manoeuvre. Of course, the probable failure does not rest with the Paris talks, rather to the entire multi-decade process which has been undermined by governments that were unable to explain the cost/benefit to their electorates combined with massive lobbying on behalf of the fossil fuel lobby.


So notwithstanding the so-called success of the 2015 meeting, we are now facing into COP26 which is again being billed as the real deadline, the moment that all countries have to commit to long term goals, to finish the work of COP25 setting out the rules for a carbon market between countries and agreements around implementing the 2015 agreement.


But things are not all as they seem. Enter the term “net-zero”. The IPCC says that ‘net zero’ is a state in which “human activities result in no net effect on the climate system”. This is VERY different to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As we know the threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So the question gets asked, what’s easier, to change existing processes that emit carbon or to use capture devices that remove carbon from the atmosphere?

Initially there was huge interest in trees, they are the ultimate capture devices. They even look good! But there aren’t enough trees in the world to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be enough. There isn’t enough physical space. So the race is on to develop carbon capture. Incredibly we are facing into an existential threat and placing critical dependency on technology that doesn’t yet exist! But hang on, Norway is reported to be planning massive carbon capture devices [see reference below]. They plan to use the vast network of oil wells and pipelines in the North Sea to pump CO2 into and store for the long term. But it seems an unexpected benefit of this model is that the process of storage will actually be able to pressurize more oil out of the currently declining or exhausted wells! So, assuming they can make it work, it’s highly likely that they will continue producing oil, and probably avoid the commercial disaster of unwanted oil companies, that they have been trying to avoid for years.


So all the efforts of society to change their habits are deprioritized. “Don’t worry, we will do it all for you!” Keep driving your diesel cars and heating your homes with oil etc.
We must equate Net Zero with a reckless “burn now, pay later” approach which will see carbon emissions continue to soar. At the same time pollution will continue at the current or greater levels and priorities for emission reduction in other sectors will be deprioritized.


In principle carbon dioxide removal proposals are reasonable. Leading edge science and engineering come to the rescue. There will be many forms of carbon removal from all sectors and it could become a major industry in very short order. Sectors under pressure to reduce emissions could easily see removal as a lifeboat for current business models. The problem is that if successful it could be use on a vast scale. This serves as a blank cheque for the continued burning of fossil fuels and the acceleration of habitat destruction.

Carbon reduction technologies should be seen as a solution of last resort that could save humanity from rapid and catastrophic environmental change. Just like an ejector seat in a jet aircraft. However, governments and businesses seem to be serious about deploying unproven technologies as a way to avoid doing the hard graft. And of course it will be the new kid on the block for making unimaginably large amounts of money!


Later this year we will see the great and the good meeting in Scotland for COP 26, billed as the last chance saloon. And astonishingly the meeting, being in the UK, will have the clown chancer Boris Johnson as host. As someone who has now proven to us all that he has no respect whatsoever for international agreements, we can imagine that short cuts, magical ideas and chimeras will be the order of the day. God help us all!


North Sea oil firms will help UK hit net zero

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26 | Tagged , | 4 Comments

So How Will Climate Change Impact Me?

As discussed in my last post, after the recent fires and floods we should need no reminding of the path we are on to climate disaster. But the question we all want to answer is, what will the impact be for me and my family and friends? As I mentioned in that post it’s nigh on impossible to “forecast” the weather beyond the 3 – 10 day window. However it is possible to predict “climate”.


In this post, I’ll talk about the Irish case, but the raw data and general approach is likely to be applicable for all countries as the basic approach is based on work completed by the IPCC. Here in Ireland climate scientists have been developing climate models using the national supercomputer based in Waterford. The models divide the country into 4km square blocks allowing more detailed extrapolations than previously possible. The models are being used by various stakeholders allowing a much greater granularity of analysis in context with, for example flooding potential and energy demands. Significant conclusions have been drawn on widely varying subjects including wind speeds and wind turbine height, biodiversity impacts on inspect populations, farming practices etc.


Clearly there are huge unknowns that will have major impact on the models (and reality), so the IPCC have defined a number of pathways spanning low impact up to worst case as shown below. The models allow us to analyse “plausible values”.

The Irish analysis chose just two pathways – intermediate (RCP4.5) and worst case (RCP8.5) for mid-century impacts. There are numerous conclusions, but I’ll just highlight a few, (see links below for more detail):
• temperatures are projected to increase by 1–1.6°C compared with the reference period (1981–2000), with an east-west gradient and with the largest increases in the east;
• the number of frost and ice days will decrease by approximately 50%;
• summer heatwave events are expected to occur more frequently;
• precipitation is expected to become more variable, with substantial projected increases in the occurrence of both dry periods and heavy precipitation events;
• mean 10-m wind speeds are projected to decrease for all seasons;
• an overall reduction of ~10% in the numbers of storms affecting Ireland, with an eastward extension of the more severe wind storms over Ireland and the UK;
• an increase in the length of the growing season of between 12% and 16%;

The first image below shows mean temperature change across three time periods, 2021-2050, 2041-2070 and 2071-2100. This shows the regional variation mid-century. As ever, temperature changes appear trivial, but we must remember that this is a foundational dataset, which allows us to extrapolate other variables. And in this context I am more interested in the second image below which examines precipitation.

The next image looks at precipitation by season for (a) the Intermediate (2050) RCP and (b) the worst case (2100). Immediately we see some really significant shifts in precipitation. Note the somewhat wetter winters, but in particular then much dryer spring, summer and autumn!

So what I did (below) was to take the 2041-2060 precipitation prediction and map this to our current Long Term Average for Cork Airport (my local weather station). Bear in mind these are “mean” numbers, and if you need reminding, take a look at my recent analysis of mean average deviations which reminds us that rainfall is increasingly volatile, and that as the atmosphere warms, the incidence of intense rain and hence flooding becomes increasingly probable. Note the overall shift in precip is not great. In both intermediate and worst cases the total precip mm is reducing, but not by a lot. However observe how the winters get wetter and the Spring to Autumn periods are significantly drier. We already have anecdotal evidence that climate change for Ireland will probably mean summer droughts. Here is further weight to that prediction.

Long Term Average (LTA)2041- 2060
RCP4.5 (Mid case) %
DeltaProjection2041-2060
RCP8.5 (worst case)%
DeltaProjection
WinterJan131.33.54.6135.91114.4145.7
WinterFeb97.83.53.4101.21110.8108.6
SpringMar97.6-5.2-5.192.5-6.7-6.591.1
SpringApr76.5-5.2-4.072.5-6.7-5.171.4
SpringMay82.3-5.2-4.378.0-6.7-5.576.8
SummerJun80.9-11.1-9.071.9-17.2-13.967.0
SummerJul78.8-11.1-8.770.1-17.2-13.665.2
SummerAug96.8-11.1-10.786.1-17.2-16.680.2
AutumnSep94.6-11-10.484.2-7.2-6.887.8
AutumnOct138.2-11-15.2123.0-7.2-10.0128.2
AutumnNov120-11-13.2106.8-7.2-8.6111.4
WinterDec133.13.54.7137.84.66.1139.2
Annual1228-67.91160.0-55.41172.5
NOTE: You can shift this table left and right . . .

This isn’t purely academic! From a practical point of view this will be helpful to me and my colleagues on the local allotments; we are looking seriously at rainwater harvesting, and this gives us hard data on which to understand what collection and storage capacity we need and crucially at what times of year.

I imagine many businesses and organizations will use this data to consider how they will respond. I hope many of my readers will consider doing similar analyses and consider the impacts for themselves. Do let me know I will be very interested to report on same.

Climate Change Becomes Real for Many

May The Circle Remain Unbroken

New Climate Projections 2020 – Met Éireann – The Irish Meteorological Service

Climate predictions for Ireland by 2050 come with unprecedented detail (irishtimes.com)

Nolan, P., O’Sullivan, J., & McGrath, R. (2017). Impacts of climate change on mid‐twenty‐first‐century rainfall in Ireland: a high‐resolution regional climate model ensemble approach. Int. Jour. of Clim.

Posted in Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26, Technology and Society | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Climate Change Becomes Real for Many

Over the past month we have watched with concern as the North American West has endured extreme high temperatures resulting in many heat related deaths. This week we learnt that in the 2030s we must expect significant flooding caused by extremely high tides triggered by changes in the moon’s orbit referred to as moon wobbles. Then in the last couple of days we watch with concern as Germany, one of the more organized countries struggles to respond to extreme rainfall, with over three times the normal monthly precipitation in just two days, again with significant loss of life.


Each of these events are extreme. By now we should need no reminding of the path we are on to climate disaster. But the fact is, despite 25 COP meetings, the Paris agreement and 18 months of pandemic, our efforts to reduce emissions are reading negative.
This weeks’ events are therefore, sadly a huge wakeup call. But will we listen? We might expect Germany will see some significant shift to the Greens in the upcoming election. But in North America or all of the world’s coastal cities such as London, New York, Singapore, just name a few? Or will we carry on regardless until a climate related catastrophe lands in our own back yard?


I read this week that weather forecasters are focusing on how the increasingly volatile weather systems are making it harder to deliver accurate forecasts. We can all sympathize with this. At the climate gets hotter intense rain showers happen without warning. Prevailing winds that have been stable for decades are no longer reliable. Farmers have been telling me for years they have increasing difficulty in planting and moving livestock because of the unpredictable weather. The forecasters are evidently arguing that they need more sophisticated modeling systems. In essence getting more accuracy of prediction needs many, more frequent data points and this requires huge compute power which comes at significant cost. I would argue attempting to get more accuracy in the 3 – 10 day forecast is a fool’s errand. If any of the impacted populations of North America or Germany had been presented with a dire forecast, would the outcome have been any different? Would it have been believed? Given the (fully understandable) unreliability of conventional weather forecasting it’s unlikely there would be sufficient confidence to implement disaster management actions in preparation for and before the event manifested itself.


Whilst we all understand that weather prediction is inherently imprecise, the same is not true for climate prediction. Future climate is generally going to be more predictable than future weather. And specifically we can model the relationship between future climate and carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Our confidence in predictions of future climate prediction comes from our knowledge of the past – of glacial and interglacial events over the past millions of years. Analysis of Antarctic ice cores show a correlation between global temperature, carbon dioxide and methane levels. So we can have confidence in modeling the climate with sufficient accuracy for us to plan and implement the necessary infrastructural changes.


Here in Ireland, like many countries, we have sophisticated planning processes and systems that are designed to evolve the major infrastructural systems including transport, water, power etc, and all the local authorities have published their plans and are clearly taking on board the long term needs as major influencing factors in today’s planning systems. In fact, I would have some confidence that in 10 years time, we and similarly advanced countries would be better prepared for extreme events that we have observed this month. Where I really worry is in the developing world. Whether it’s climate, or pandemic, or health, or education, many developing countries are not even at the starting blocks. We all know what this means for the pandemic, and we must expect that nasty variants will continue to emerge from developing nations for some years to some because we haven’t prioritized helping with their vaccination programmes.

But climate disasters are already happening in developing nations and mostly we ignore them.
We need to take on board that climate change is more than just sudden events such as hurricanes, floods, wild fires; it’s gradually changing weather patterns and rising sea levels that are slowly but inexorably causing food shortages, water shortages, pollution and therefore further water shortages and health crises and poverty. These are the immediate effects and they are happening right now. But the second order effects are mass migration, civil and inter country wars. We can already see that many first world countries are embracing right wing governments because of immigration concerns, but this is only the start.


In 2019 I went to a talk by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Climate campaigner. She explained how she had been a latecomer to the climate change issue. But in her UN Human Rights commissioner role she had repeatedly come across climate change as a major problem. And nowhere was worse than Africa.

In her book she highlights climate change impacts already happening. In Mary’s words:
“Farmers in Africa described the erratic nature of their harvests, how they failed to arrive when expected, and how long months of drought would be followed by flash floods that swept away farms and villages. Across the Americas and Asia, people told stories of hurricanes that destroyed homes and hospitals and took out government services, schools and businesses. In the past I had seen images of stranded polar bears and the disappearance of ancient glaciers, but these anecdotal stories from the front lines of climate change suddenly began to match the scientific findings I was reading with increasing concern. . . . While industrial nations continued to build their economies in the backs of fossil fuels, the most disadvantaged across the world were suffering most from the effects of climate change.” Mary Robinson, 2018


In my blog, Happy XMAS (War is Over?),I reviewed Kim Stanley’s masterpiece The Ministry of the Future which described fictional events that caused the world to stop and take notice. The first is a catastrophic heat wave in India, in which the daytime temperature is at least 38 degrees and 65 per cent humidity. People are dying in their thousands. Boiled, poached or roasted, some 20 million die. India is of course very traumatized and there are harsh words spoken about the first worlds’ carbon footprint being responsible for third world disasters. Of course, the whole world is shocked by this event, but as with so many climate events, return to normal happens very swiftly thereafter.


After this there is an event that becomes known as Crash Day. Some sixty passenger jets are downed by drone attacks. Thousands of passengers from all over the world die. Several terrorist groups claim responsibility for the attacks, but in the end no clear responsibility is attributed. Again, the world is very shocked, but very quickly gets over the event and continues to fly just as before. Then just a few months later Crash Day is repeated. And then the message is very clear – do not fly. After this most countries recognize the need to reduce their carbon footprint.


The question we have to ask ourselves is, have the terrible events of this month done sufficient to cause the world to stop, look and listen and then act differently. I would have to say, probably not. But let’s hope there’s sufficient momentum from the newish US administration and the EU to embrace the problem in a meaningful manner. But my last word is about the third world. They are already suffering from the pandemic, and climate is already causing them major grief, but no one cares. And when they have similar climate related disasters the (so called) first world will shed a tear and move on. And when there is mass migration from sub Saharan countries or India/Pakistan, we can expect borders to be firmly shut, if indeed they are not already.

Climate Justice, Mary Robinson, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018

Happy XMAS (War is Over?),

Posted in Africa, Climate Change, COP26, Survival of the Human Race, Technology and Society | 1 Comment

Societal Breakdown – A Very Disturbing Trend

We should take note of a disturbing trend in society that is accelerating. We all know that America is sharply divided between red and blue or Republican and Democrat if you prefer. Friends from the USA mentioned the other day that this trend is accelerating, and they are hearing that people are moving from red to blue state or vice versa, in order to be in a society or environment they feel comfortable with.


I read the other day that the Texas governor has signed into law a total ban on abortion in everything but name. This bill is one of several across the country banning abortion at the 6 week stage, at which point many women may not even know that they are pregnant. But what’s most insidious about this bill is that it turns the legal system inside out. Whereas normally such laws would be effected in practice by government officials, in this case the bill privatizes the enforcement of the law. It grants the right to private individuals including those outside the state, to sue people in Texas who are in any way involved in assisting an abortion or an abortion patient. And further, the litigant is encouraged by a clause that allows the a payout of at least $10,000 if they win. So this bill will be a threat to anyone involved in a clinic or its supply chain. We might imagine that this bill might enable any misogynist or anti-choice person to impose their intolerance on Texas residents through harassing lawsuits.


Given the strongly conservative nature of the US Supreme court we might expect that regardless of appeal actions, this bill is likely to become law and copied in many other red states. Whatever your views on abortion, and I fully respect those, I am most concerned that this upending of the legal system might be cloned for various other purposes. The outcome of this might be compared to Germany in the pre-war years, and East Germany during the cold war years where neighbours, colleagues etc were threatened or blackmailed by forces of law to report on the status or activities of others that were regarded as undesirable.


As we all know, there is a similar societal separation occurring in the UK. This is less to do with political party affiliation than with opinion on Brexit. We can see that cities and or areas in the UK are becoming clearly identified with Remain or Leave. Cities with significant Remain majorities include London, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Notable cities with Leave majorities include Boston, Great Yarmouth, Hartlepool, Stoke-on-Trent, Doncaster, Basildon, Harlow and Burnley. And again I hear anecdotal evidence that people are voting with their feet and choosing places to live that reflect their strongly held opinions.


So this suggests that Red and Blue, Leave and Remain are similar patterns that merit analysis. In both cases we can see that conventional political affiliations have been thrown to one side. In the USA blue collar workers might have been conventionally more inclined to the left wing politics and hence the Democrats. However Trump collected a huge swathe of blue collars. Similarly, in the UK the Conservatives are said to have broken down the red wall and collected huge swathes of traditionally left wing Labour voters, because Brexit was sold as overthrowing the conventional forces of the EU, and it must be said, stopping immigration. But beyond change of political affiliation, we might wonder if there is something deeper happening. The cases made for Red and Brexit voters respectively were ridden with illogicality and falsehoods mixed with calls for patriotism. Both Red and Brexit choices were sold by populist leaders Trump and (initially) Farage succeeded by Johnson, who lied through their teeth and knew they were making promises that could never be delivered.


Whilst it might be highly contentious, I would assert that Blue and Remain supporters are likely to be more logical, less likely to be swayed by populist rhetoric and able to make their own analyses. In contrast Red and Brexit supporters are more credulous, able to absorb and believe contradictory statements and to develop a form of religious like belief and adherence to an individual and or a proposition.


Democracies are always compromises. In Europe many of us consciously support the EU precisely because it provides an enduring system of laws that to some extent stops constantly changing national parliaments making irresponsible, tactical changes. I would assert that many countries, the USA and the UK and many others could well benefit from a similar high level legal system. Yet populist leaders have been able to persuade majorities that good sense is actually bad.


What we can see is that populist political parties become disconnected from their policy and strategy origins. UK Conservatives have embraced much left wing thinking. Republicans have become obsessed with protecting their political future by engineering minority winning strategies at state level. Inevitably populist parties will become cult like, allowing personalities to dominate rather than policies.

I include a couple of references which I recommend:

EU Parliament Delivering Govern EU Parliament Delivering Government for Grownups
https://davidsprott.blog/2018/07/09/eu-parliament-delivering-government-for-grownups-by-grownups/

Truth will ultimately prevail . . . !

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Democracy, Policy Making, Politics, Trump, Trust | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Saving Eden: Natural Ecosystems v Unrestrained Capitalism

Many people living in Cork will be familiar with the Gearagh – a flooded forest just outside Macroom, some 40Kms west of Cork city. Over the years I have brought numerous walking parties there – it’s easy walking beside beautiful pools and waterways, underneath broadleaf trees and old hedgerows. But what visitors notice most are the countless black stumps of trees in the water, which are a permanent reminder that this used to be an ancient river forest that was largely destroyed when the River Lea was dammed some sixty-five years ago.


Last month, ecologist and author Kevin Corcoran published a seminal book on the Gearagh, [Saving Eden, The Gearagh and Irish Nature, ref below]. This book tells the history of European forests since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, and how they have been progressively and systematically destroyed particularly over the last 1000 years, and how the Gearagh represents one of the very, very few examples anywhere of forests that have an unbroken genetic history over that period.


This story of the Gearagh is interesting and important in its own right telling how, unlike most other European forests, one ancient forest survived right through until the 20th Century when our supposedly modern society in just a very few years caused this irreplaceable resource to be almost completely destroyed. However the story, on many levels, is a metaphor for much that is going on around us every day. Even while we talk a lot about climate change, sustainability and saving the planet, the reality is that our planet and society is hurtling at high speed towards disaster. And we can only stop that Gadarene Swine like rush over the cliff edge if we understand what’s happening all around us.


The story begins 10,000 years ago as the ice retreated after the last ice-age, and vast rain-forests naturally emerged all across Europe and the world. Around 6000 years ago when the weather improved broadleaved oak, elm, ash and yew trees became dominant species, and grew to enormous sizes. These trees provided the optimum environment for the development of rich ecosystems of flora and fauna. Over the next 6000 years forests were of course plundered by successive societies for obvious reasons. Neolithic and Bronze Age farmers cleared forests for farming cattle, wheat and oats. Iron Age farmers with iron axes and ploughs made considerable impact on the forests clearing land for agriculture and timber fuel. But in the Medieval times and Middle Ages demand for timber increased dramatically for housing, shipbuilding etc. reducing most forests to nothing.


The Gearagh was and is unusual because it was a river forest straddling the River Lee for some 30 kilometres from its source in the Shehy Mountains to the small town of Macroom. As a river forest it was a complex maze of streams, rivers and islands, with constantly shifting water courses that made the area almost impenetrable and highly dangerous for anyone without a knowledgeable guide. And so the forest largely survived untouched through the centuries until the 20th Century. Further there was a local forest dwelling population that lived in and around the forest who made their living from among other things salmon fishing, hunting and illegal alcohol distillation. While through the 19th and 20th Centuries there had been some pressures on the forest way of life, by the 1940s the original forest ecosystem was largely intact.


However, in the 1940’s plans were laid to dam the River Lee with a primary aim of generating electricity. By 1949 a scheme was approved by the Irish Minister of Industry and Commerce to establish two dams, one at Iniscarra with a height of 42 metres, and a second higher up the river valley at Carrigadroid with a height of 22 metres. By 1956 the two dams were completed and the forest had been clear-felled and many homes compulsorily purchased and demolished to allow flooding of the river valley. In October 1956 the flooding commenced with the river backing up and flooding the entirety of the Gearagh forest including the dwellings.


Prior to the flooding, the River Lee valley was a hugely prolific ecosystem of Flora and fauna. This included huge numbers of Atlantic salmon, trout, eel, pike, large populations of otter, freshwater mussels and sponges and birdlife including mallard, widgeon, teal, pochard, waterhen, kingfisher, heron, dipper and wagtails. Today it is well known that when a valley is flooded the nature of the reservoir behind the dam changes dramatically, as the water is much, much deeper than the natural river. The artificial reservoir becomes a deep, sterile environment, in which the bottom gets no light and cannot support a natural plant-based food chain with its own natural ecosystem.


As a direct result of the flooding, the birdlife contracted dramatically both in numbers and diversity. Salmon that travel every one or two years from the Arctic to the head of the river to hatch eggs and then return to the sea, have their journey obstructed by the giant dams. Efforts were made by the dam builders to allow salmon to pass the dams; they constructed fish lifts referred to as Borland Fish Passes, that were intended to provide unimpeded movement of salmon both up and down the river. These lifts have been a complete failure and the dam managers have admitted that they have been a complete disaster. Before the river was dammed, there would have been 15,000 salmon running the river to spawn every year, and there was a huge salmon fishing tourist industry on the upper river. After the dams were installed, there were perhaps 500 salmon running. The tourist industry has of course collapsed.


Thirty years after the damming it was observed that a new and very different tidal ecosystem had evolved. The birdlife has been restored to a significant extent, and the whole area has been declared a Special Protection Area and National Nature Reserve. But the tidal character was profoundly different to the original. The fish were primarily coarse, and the large numbers of salmon will never return. In his book, Corcoran reports that the thousands of over wintering wildfowl are all but disappeared. Evidently, notwithstanding the Special Protection status, hunting is still allowed and that thousands of birds have been slaughtered beyond recovery. I myself have noticed that the huge flocks of winter birds have disappeared. But Corcoran goes on to suggest that without any initial cost or long term investment or even human intervention some aspects of the original primeval river forest could be restored – “simply by reducing the average water levels of the upper reservoir by 1.5m and maintaining the water levels of the reservoir in a more environmentally sensitive way at the correct time of the year, the effect would be beyond measure”. Of course this action wouldn’t bring the salmon back, but it would surely help the original flora to re-establish!

This story is an object lesson in how not to manage sustainability. Of course, we know that back in the 1950s concern for the environment or indeed individuals’ rights was not on anyone’s agenda. But today things should be different. Today the two dams have combined capacity of 27MW which by modern standards is very small. Compare that with just one offshore windfarm, the Emerald project located off Cork, which will generate 1.3GW which is some 50 times the combined capacity of the River Lee dams. So today the bigger concerns should be flood management and control and sustainability, which of course should already be a major consideration given Cork’s lack of elevation above sea level and of course sustainability of the River Lee!


We shouldn’t kid ourselves that achieving sustainability is easy, or that we know what the future holds. But at the same time we need decisions that balance commercial and environmental concerns. In business I was accustomed to developing “fully loaded outcome models – that reflect all of the downstream impacts of a decision. Here in Ireland and Europe we are still making manifestly one sided decisions. Yes Ireland and Europe are edging uneasily towards better policy making, but right now it’s obvious that commercial decisions have been and remain dominant. A recent high court case demonstrated that proposals for a new food production factory that would directly lead to Ireland missing its emissions targets was legal and proper, because it would create jobs, be commercially successful etc. because there was no legally based policy in place that required compliance with both commercial and environmental outcomes. Our challenge is to educate our legislators about how to form well balanced policy.


The Gearagh is an excellent example of “what not to do”. Sadly, we will never see the Gearagh return to its former glory, certainly not in our lifetimes. However, it’s worth a visit because even in its failed state it’s still magnificent. There’s enough there to help you imagine what it once was.

References:

Saving Eden – The Gearagh and Irish Nature

Damning film lifts lid on River Lee ‘tragedy’

River Runner

Posted in Climate Change, Eco-tourism, Economic Model, Policy Making, Sustainability, Travel | 2 Comments

A Walk on the Wild Side

Last week Marie and I travelled out of county for the first time since 2019! Yes, travel restrictions are lifting and we booked an AirBNB in Birr, Co. Offaly. You might well ask why Offaly? Surely that’s pretty boring compared with the many amazing sights in Ireland. Actually we had several reasons for the choice of location – it’s Marie’s home place, and while she has no close relatives there, we have graves to visit. And there’s lots of EV charging points! And it’s out of county.


We booked a self-contained apartment in a large, historic building on a the Ballincard farm close to Birr, which offered on farm walking. When we arrived and met the owners it became clear this was no ordinary farm, it is in fact a 120 acre private nature reserve. Dave and Irene, the owners explained they have been converting the farm to natural forestry practices for some two decades. Whilst not formally organic certified, it is clearly a naturalists haven. The mature plantations include huge old oaks, plus common and copper beech. The younger areas include birch, beech, oak, mountain ash and Scots pine. The trees are under a dense canopy which encourages straight growth, and thinning is carried out periodically to facilitate growth. But these plantations are never going to be clear-felled, hopefully they are forever. There are numerous wetland areas as well as channels providing natural irrigation. In the mature areas we are delighted to see large boxes and learn there are numerous owls, barn and long-eared, that make their home there. Dave explains a rich ecosystem of wildlife has developed over the years including many small mammals such as shrews, voles, field mice, red squirrels, frogs and many more that provide the owls with rich pickings. In addition there are badgers, we saw the droppings, plus foxes and recently a pine marten.

Until recently Dave has complemented the forestry activity with woodworking, producing a wide range of wood products for sale at markets around the country. However he is now focusing more on eco-tourism to complement his core forestry activity. This isn’t restricted to AirBNB, he also has numerous outdoor and indoor spaces suitable for larger groups. We were enthralled with the experience of being on the property and free to roam around and explore. As you can imagine the birdlife is a delight – both prolific and noisy.


One of the reasons Offaly would not be regarded as an obvious tourist destination is that the county is well known for its peat bogs, which until recently have been the location of a huge industrial effort to feed local power stations. For decades large areas of the county have been turned into brown moonscapes as vast quantities of peat were scraped up using purpose designed machines. The good news is, this has all come to an end, and there is now a big effort to reclaim the bogs and create carbon sinks, which coincidentally become vast parklands with trails and other visitor attractions. So while in Offaly we were keen to observe the results of these efforts and we visited one of the largest bogland areas – Lough Boora, for a day.

The park is huge and has been really beautifully restored. There are many trails of all lengths. We chose a 10Km trail that included passing by a Mesolithic site. The trails are well engineered, and take us into an amazing variety of landscapes. In addition to tree and other plantings, the park developers have commissioned many sculptures, exhibits, often using materials recovered from the bog, including bog oak and rocks.

The trail also went out to a large conservation area set aside for managing Grey Partridges. The Grey Partridge, one of Ireland’s most iconic native game birds was on the verge of extinction in the late 1990’s when its population fell to just twenty birds nationwide.

Nesting, brood rearing and over winter habitats are sown. Captive wild pairs are allowed to breed in captivity and then released into the wild with their chicks. Under management the grey partridge population has grown from approximately 50 birds in 2000 to over 900 today. We were walking for some three and a half hours and were captivated. Such a huge variety of flora and fauna replacing what would have been an almost endless brown mess.


Let’s put this in context. Lough Boora is vast – about 5000 acres. The park today encompasses only 20% of the 25,000 acres that were drained, stripped and mined for peat in Offaly. And that is just 20% of the area in Ireland once covered in peatlands, a wetland category that includes raised bogs, blanket bogs, and fens. And we might anticipate that much of this area will be restored to provide a significant contribution to Irelands CO2 emission mitigation efforts. Just in Offaly there are numerous boglands with trails in place, including Clara, Mongan, Raheenmore, and large parts of the Slieve Bloom Mountains Nature Reserve which are mountain blanket bog. Lots to explore.


So Offaly is a place to visit! We certainly will be back. We will definitely return to Ballincard and will be highly motivated to explore many of the restored boglands. In many ways we hope this won’t become a major tourist attraction because large numbers of tourists would destroy it. However, as I’ve said, this is one huge area with a lot of space. And eco-tourism will hopefully become very popular.

Ballincard House

Lough Boora

Posted in Climate Change, Eco-tourism, Sustainability, Travel, Walking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind

It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere and there’s a feeling we have the pandemic licked. Maybe, let’s hope so! But climate change hasn’t gone away, rather we are another year down the road with little to show that we are even starting to turn our metaphorical super tanker away from its current catastrophic course.


Here in Ireland the Green Party are a junior member of the coalition government and they have been active in getting a Climate Change Bill published. It’s not a bad effort, much improved over prior attempts of earlier governments, essentially putting into law the requirement to achieve 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
However, when I reviewed the bill in January my primary criticism was that there is nothing in the proposed legislation that defines responsibility or enables enforcement. Basically ministers are required to make budgets that are compliant with the overall target. But there’s no penalty for not doing that other than peer pressure. Good luck with that. Which brings me straight to a pretty sorry tale that shows without responsibility and enforcement, we will NEVER achieve our climate targets. And by the way, this isn’t just applicable to Ireland, most countries are in this boat.


Last month it came to light that Glanbia, a large Irish agriculture and food business is seeking planning permission for a large cheese making facility in County Kilkenny in partnership with a Dutch dairy processor Royal A-Ware. Now here in Ireland there has been a major expansion of the dairy business over the past decade with an increase of 25% increase in the national dairy herd. The proposed facility would add require additional growth in herd size. Environmental watchdog An Taisce formally objected to the planning process advising that “ . . this plant would lead to the production of an additional 450 million litres of milk to be used in cheese production. The impact of this additional milk production is an expected 2.5 percent increase in overall national ammonia pollution, an agricultural byproduct which, when released into the air, can impact human breathing. Increased milk production will also lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions from the expansion of ruminant agriculture.” In addition there are also water supply concerns.


Now the proposed facility is intended to produce Gouda cheese. It doesn’t take a lot to realise that Irish people typically consume almost no Gouda. The proposed facility is actually providing an Irish home for a Netherlands requirement, hence the involvement of the Dutch dairy processor. And surprise, there are strict environmental regulations that would be problematic for the Dutch processor in its home country, and so it is exporting the pollution to Ireland to bypass it’s local regulations!


Since An Taisce made its objections there has been a veritable storm of protest from the Irish agriculture industry. And it’s no surprise that as the most powerful lobby in the state, that politicians of all stripes have been coming out to protest against An Taisce’s objections, including our Taoiseach, (Prime Minister) Michael Martin.


It’s fair to say that the agriculture industry has been at logger heads with the environmentalists for years, but recently this tension has spilled into the open. Agriculture emissions account for over one third of total Irish emissions and are planned to increase over the next decade in direct conflict with the country’s target of 50%reduction in emissions by 2030. Note this is in context with the agriculture sector accounting for just 12% of GDP. This would mean that other sectors would have to massively over achieve or general taxation will have to bear the cost of EU fines for not achieving climate targets.


So to return to my criticisms of the proposed Irish Climate Change Bill. Without any legal enforcement measures the hugely influential agriculture lobby will cause the Irish Climate Change efforts to fail.


The basic dilemma we have, and I know this is true of most countries, is that our basic commercial and country economic models are based on ever increasing growth. And there has to be financial, not legal motivations to incentivise and persuade challenged sectors such as agriculture to move out of their comfort zone. The way to do this is to set carbon tax for larger enterprises (which have revenue over some threshold) that drive the sector. In the case of agriculture this would be the food processors, such as Glanbia, who create the market demand and encourage concomitant behaviours from upstream suppliers – the farmers. Naturally there will be dramatic change; growth markets always encourage investment, whereas declining markets need government support, (often referred to as just transition), and this clearly needs planning.


Carbon taxes will also be applicable to other sectors. For example, fossil fuel creation and using enterprises over a certain revenue threshold would have significant incentives to accelerate their conversion to sustainable products. Employers that insist on their employees commuting to central offices should be taxed on the emissions incurred. Similarly data centres that are still consuming very large amounts of fossil fuel based energy.


Whilst we can all see mistakes have been made in our response to the pandemic, we should reflect that our societies have mostly demonstrated an incredible collective effort to defeat the virus. The problem is that we are clearly very good at responding to an immediate crisis, but we are very poor at preparing for future crises regardless of how serious they are. We all know that climate change impacts will be an order of magnitude greater than the pandemic, and our challenge now is to maintain the crisis management attitude, to energise our societies to find opportunities in making change that benefit society and individuals.


One of the really important lessons we have learnt from the pandemic is that we don’t need to travel as much as we have in the past. The online world has been given huge forward momentum. Online everything, meetings, retail, government etc are all now normal. Remote working hubs have become common place. Individuals are choosing to live remotely from their business premises and optimise their quality of life. As the agriculture industry comes under pressure to reduce emissions, we can expect many more small, part time farmers to enter the market for organic products and act as suppliers to their locality. If we look forward to mid-century, it’s very likely that there will be a rebalancing between cities and countryside, and the opportunity to distribute more budgetary discretion and decision making to local bodies.


There is strong evidence that local responsibility is generally more effective at serving the needs of citizens than more remote central parliaments. Modern business practices embrace Agile methods that deliberately reduce planning and prioritize gaining practical experience based feedback. Many central parliaments have become ineffective because they are not capable of operating in this modern mode, and have become remote from their electorate because their cycle time is based on 20th Century best practice. Climate change efforts should be a wakeup call for governments and businesses everywhere that they need to urgently address a wide range of transformative actions to protect societies from future threats.

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

References:

Spotlight on Climate Bill (Ireland)
https://davidsprott.blog/2021/01/09/spotlight-on-climate-bill-ireland/


Hard cheese for environment as Big Ag juggernaut steamrolls NGOs
http://www.thinkorswim.ie/hard-cheese-for-environment-as-big-ag-juggernaut-steamrolls-ngos/

Posted in Technology and Society | 2 Comments

May The Circle Remain Unbroken

May is usually the start of summer with rising temperatures and softer rain. Here in Ireland, and across Northern Europe this month of May has been terrible weather. There has been a lot of rain much of it incredibly intense. At the same time the temperature has remained low – in the first days of May there was early morning frost. As a vegetable grower it’s normal to plant out pretty much everything in May and get good growth as the temperature rises. But we all noticed that there was little of no growth. Instinctively this seems very unusual. So what’s going on?


A report in the Irish Times earlier this year suggested that the Gulf Stream is at its weakest in more than a millennium. “ . . researchers from Ireland, Britain and Germany have compiled data taken mainly from natural archives in the form of ocean sediment or ice cores – going back hundreds of years – to reconstruct the flow history of the Gulf Stream. They found consistent evidence its slowdown during the 20th century is unprecedented in the past millennium and is “likely linked to human-caused climate change”. The giant ocean circulation has an impact on the climate of northwestern Europe.”


Most of us will be aware that the Gulf Stream acts like a huge conveyor belt carrying warmer water from the Equator North East across the Atlantic before then sending cooler, deeper water back down South. Similarly it’s well known that the Arctic is melting and sending vast volumes of cooler water down into the Atlantic. Similarly there have been predictions that, as a result Northern Europe will actually become cooler with less precipitation.


So I looked at the data. And to make the job a little less daunting, and perhaps more topical, I just looked at the month of May. I brought down actual rainfall and mean temperatures for the last 50 years. Note the May 2021 numbers are (naturally) incomplete and I will adjust in due course. But you will see below the results are very interesting.

The first thing you notice is that the rainfall numbers are all over the place. The 50 year May mean is 82mm. But very high rainfall numbers are common. The eleven years 2015, 2011, 2006, 2002, 1994, 1993, 1988, 1986, 1981, 1979, 1976, are all over 100mm. Conversely 15 years are under 50mm. So the mean average deviation is huge.


Now looking at the mean temperatures, 2021 is very obviously in line with expectation. We will probably end up with over 140mm precipitation and the mean temperature is currently 9.1. This may alter in the last 9 days, but I guess not sufficient to change that dramatic downwards curve! Comparing the mean temperature with rainfall is less clear.


Above the mean temperature line I have added indicators of La Nina years and indicated the relative strength of the phenomenon for the April, May, June period in the size of the arrows. The La Nina effect is in the year following the El Nino years and is usually expected to cause lower temperatures. Certainly true for this year, but less clear for 1999, 1989 etc.


So can we draw any conclusions from this exercise? As I write the heavens open again and there is a heavy downpour. This must be the tenth or eleventh torrential shower so far today. This pattern of frequent, intense showers is certainly a change in the normal May weather. Unfortunately Met Eireann don’t record these effects in their data.


The researchers believe the finger of blame for the disruption points to global warming caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Yet even as other places warm up because of global warming, our part of the world would probably cool down.


But there are dissenting voices. For example, Richard Seager Lamont-Doherty of Earth Observatory of Columbia University has commented that A few times a year the media goes into a tizzy of panic that there is a possibility that the Gulf Stream will slow down in coming years or even stop. He says, “We now know this is a myth, the climatological equivalent of an urban legend. In a detailed study published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society in 2002, we demonstrated the limited role that ocean heat transport plays in determining regional climates around the Atlantic Ocean.”


However, myself and indeed other friends who watch the climate, are convinced that the ocean is in fact a huge energy store, and plays a massive role in weather formation. Just think of how hurricanes are formed over warm water.


In conclusion, we have hugely complex weather patterns here in Ireland and Northern Europe. There are clearly changes in our patterns, particularly the levels of intensity of rainfall, but given the data I am minded to say prediction is a mugs game.

References:

Irish Times: Gulf Stream lifeline at its weakest in more than a millennium

Posted in Climate Change | Tagged | 1 Comment