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) %
RCP8.5 (worst case)%
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 (

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

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.


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


Spotlight on Climate Bill (Ireland)

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.


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

Posted in Climate Change | Tagged | 1 Comment

Cyber-Attackers Focus on Organizations That Have Failed to Invest in Modern Security Systems. Is this YOU?

Last week’s victim of cyber-attack was Colonial Pipeline in the USA. Today we hear that the Irish Health Service (HSE) is the latest target of cyber-attack. Hospitals are cancelling appointments and reverting to paper based systems. Our first reaction is disgust at the attackers, making easy money from important and critical institutions.

But, wait a minute, we need to know that very often the organizations themselves must bear responsibility. There are lots of things that can be done to prevent cyber-attack, but the number one priority is to have up to date, modern security systems that prevent all but the most sophisticated attacks. The fact is, the attackers focus on organizations that are well known for not investing properly in information technology security. I’m not familiar with Colonial Pipeline, but the Irish HSE is a serial offender in this area. For example:

Wednesday, 9 Dec 2020. RTE News: Thousands of HSE computers rely on out-of-date software The Health Service Executive’s information technology system is relying on thousands of out-of-date computers because a plan to replace them has not been completed. Last year, the HSE said it had “a programme to migrate” Windows 7 computers to Windows 10 by the end of 2020. At that time 46,000 of its 58,000 computers remained on Windows 7. The HSE has since replaced 9,000 of the 46,000 computers leaving 37,000 depending on the old software – 12,000 of those cannot be replaced because they are needed to run radiology and other systems that cannot run on newer software. The scaling down of Windows 7 was known widely from 2014 and the HSE started its migration programme in 2017.

Feb 18th 2021, HSE boss told NPHET member he was at ‘wits end’ over post-Christmas Covid computer glitch. The HEALTH SURVEILLANCE STAFF were urged to slow down the number of Covid-19 cases they were inputting into the HPSC’s data-reporting system after a computer glitch slowed the official reporting of cases after Christmas, newly released emails show.

January 09 2020 Irish Independent: ‘The cost is approximately €1.1m’ – HSE give details of Microsoft bill The HSE will spend €1.1m in premium extended IT support fees to Microsoft this year, the health service has said, with a smaller level of fees due in 2021. The HSE was responding after revealed that the body faces a hefty bill for not having its PCs and laptops upgraded to a safe and secure version of Windows in time for a deadline next week. Microsoft’s obsolete Windows 7 operating system will be cut off from security support worldwide next week, a deadline that has been flagged for five years. The company offers an ‘extended support’ service to allow those who haven’t upgraded to avail of critical security patches. In a detailed response, the HSE said that it has 46,000 Windows 7 computers still operating on its network, out of a total of 58,000 computers. However, HSE chief information officer Fran Thompson told the Irish Independent that the size and complexity of the HSE meant that it was “never” going to be able to meet the January 2020 deadline, even with several years’ notice. . . . 12,000 of the 46,000 machines “cannot be replaced” until radiology information systems are upgraded in 2021.

So the HSE is widely known as a lagger in its use of IT. This is a huge red flag waving for all cyber attackers to see. This morning’s news was clearly inevitable.

One wonders how many of the HSE staff have been and are continuing to work from home during the pandemic, further increasing the risk of cyber attack?


What to expect when you’ve been hit with Conti ransomware

This is essential basic briefing – Imagine the scene: you’re an IT admin and you turn up for work on a Monday morning to find your IT systems are down and no-one can access or run anything. On your computer screen there is a message telling you that your systems and data have been encrypted with Conti ransomware and you need to pay a ransom for the attackers to decrypt compromised files and delete stolen information.

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Cyber Attack – The No 1 Emerging Threat?

Every modern company or individual is on some level at risk of cyber-attack. And every company and individual, bar none, is critically dependent upon their computer systems. It has become in vogue for commentators to portray cyber-attacks as representing real threats to the “internet of things”, with bad actors taking control of nuclear power stations or similar core infrastructure. However, while the reality is generally less dramatic, it has huge potential to destabilize society.

2012 Iranians attack Aramco

In August 2012 the Iranians launched a devastating attack against Saudi Arabia’s giant state oil company – Aramco. The attack was Iran’s first serious cyber-attack. Sometime in in 2012 an Aramco employee opened an email on an Internet connected computer and clicked on a malicious link which unknown to the employee gave Iranian actors access to the company network. From this single entry the attackers code was distributed throughout the company network, spreading malicious code to many other computers and network nodes. From this silent, unnoticed entry the attackers deployed malicious code throughout the network to carry out two operations, 1) to wipe files from the company’s system and 2) to report back progress to the attackers. Once the wiping component was activated it deleted the relevant disk drivers (which manage reading and writing on the system) and replaced them with their own copy. The copy looked and operated entirely legitimately and raised no flags. However, the wiping code then overwrote the contents of important files. This is actually much more difficult to recover from than simple deletion. The malicious code then wiped the master boot record (basically the master directory) rendering the attacked computers unable to operate at all.

The attack was initiated on August 15th and swiftly spread throughout the company’s environment rendering some thirty-five thousand computers inoperable – the majority of Aramco’s administrative and operational computing capability. Some computer screens displayed a burning US flag. There was no doubt a major attack was in progress.

The attack happened during Ramadan when about half of the IT staff were on vacation. While the attack did not (attempt) to target physical operations, it caused major disruption to company operations that cost many millions of dollars and caused huge disruption on all levels of the company’s operations. We might assume that the motive of this attack was simply to disrupt the commercial heart of a nation state.

2021 Colonial Pipeline

On May 8th this year Colonial Pipeline, an American fuel distribution company said that it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack forcing the company to shut down its 5500 mile pipeline which transports gas, diesel and aviation fuel from the Gulf Coast to the USA East Coast. Following the initial company announcement it was widely assumed, not surprisingly, that the physical pipeline infrastructure systems may have been compromised. Over the weekend the US government declared a state of emergency and the Department of Transportation temporarily relaxed regulations across much of the country governing how long truckers could drive, to provide flexibility in the supply chain. Gas prices jumped 6 cents over the past week and is expected to keep rising until supply returns to normal. Supply shortages, minimal at present are expected to increase across the country.

Colonial said it’s likely to restore service on the majority of its pipeline by Friday (14th May).

Richard Joswick, head of global oil analytics at S&P Global Platts said, “There’s no imminent shortfall, and thus no need to panic buy gasoline. If the pipeline is restored by Friday, there won’t be much of an issue.” He went on, “If it does drag on for two weeks, it’s a problem, you’d wind up with price spikes and probably some service stations getting low on supply. And panic buying just makes it worse.”

Apparently Colonial admitted that the threat was a ransomware attack by gang of criminal hackers that calls itself DarkSide, and had halted all pipeline operations over the weekend, forcing what the company called a precautionary shutdown. However, U.S. officials said Monday that the “ransomware” malware used in the attack didn’t spread to the critical systems that control the pipeline’s operation. But the fact that it could have done so alarmed outside security experts.

The hackers are reported to be of Russian origin from an organization called the DarkSide, one of many ransomware gangs that specialize in extortion. The criminals typically steal an organization’s data and  encrypt it, making ongoing business impossible or extremely difficult. They then frequently threaten to publish the data if the targeted organization doesn’t pay up, creating a second disincentive to trying to recover without paying. Ransomware gangs are usually only motivated by profit. Colonial has not disclosed any details of the form of threat, or indeed the impact, other that it has been forced to halt pipeline operations.

It’s useful to think of corporate computer systems in three categories – administrative, operational and control. Administrative systems cover functions such as contract management, billing, debtors, asset management, accounting and marketing. Operational systems manage business dynamics including resource planning, scheduling and management, production and logistics. Control systems manage the physical operations including instrumenting, monitoring and controlling the actual operations. The link between operational and control systems are Remote Terminal Units (RTUs). The RTU provides data consolidation and translation between the two technology worlds.

The RTU clearly represents a big focus of cyber-attacks. And hackers often find older RTUs poorly defended with unsecured communication, so they become the path of least resistance into the network.

In this case it appears from Colonial’s comments that the control systems were not compromised. Unlike the Aramco case the target was almost certainly for the attackers to make money by threatening a) to publish commercially confidential data, or b) to massively disrupt commercial operations. We may never know the outcome. Specialists in this field always advise on the highest level of secrecy over how cyber-attacks were resolved.

For Colonial, there are a number of really big questions. First the extent to which their systems may have been compromised? Like the Iranian attack on Aramco, it could be that the attackers have left sleepers in the Colonial network. Second, whether the interface between the operational and the control systems have been breached? Most control systems these days will be protected by virtual private networks, but if the attackers have gained access to the operational systems layer, they may well be able to gain access to the private network.

So what do Colonial do? Should they, like Aramco, effectively reinstall their entire system software layer? But how do they know what systems software is legitimate? And what might be hiding malicious code? This might be a powerful argument for paying the ransom. But can cyber attackers be trusted to reset the systems if the ransom is paid? Or will they reset sufficient to allow operations to restart. But thereafter will they come back for more? For Colonial, and any company faced with the same threat, this is a real nightmare.

What’s happening is that the entire world is critically dependent upon computer systems. This creates a compelling opportunity for any number of bad actors who have various motivations including making money, destabilizing nation states, economies or organizations. The key lesson we need to learn is that prevention is easier than cure. But we need to be aware that this trend is only just getting started. There’s too much money to be made.

Recommended reading:

The Hacker and the State, Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics,

Harvard University Press 2020


Just as I publish this I noted from the Guardian:

Russian-speaking cyber gang threatens release of Washington police data

A Russian-speaking ransomware syndicate that stole data from police department in Washington DC says negotiations over payment have broken down and it will release sensitive information that could put lives at risk if more money is not offered. The extortion threat comes amid a separate ransomware attack on a major pipeline that’s affected part of the US’s fuel supply, highlighting the power of internet-savvy criminal gangs to sow mayhem from a half a world away with impunity. The Babuk group said on its website late on Monday that it would release “all the data” it stole from the Washington police department if it did not “raise the price”.

“The negotiations reached a dead end, the amount we were offered does not suit us,” the group said. The department did not immediately return a request for comment, and has not said whether it has negotiated any possible payment. If true, it is an example how complex the ransomware problem is when even police find themselves forced to consider making payments to criminal gangs.

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National Concert Hall Crashes and Byrnes

Thursday 29th April 2021

Hi David , just a reminder that you’ll get access to the stream at least 30 minutes before the event starts – both on your ticket in-app and via email.
7:31 pmNCH: David , your event is about to begin
7:33 pmCommence setting up download.

Entry page asks for telephone number and presets +44 indicating I’m supposed to be in the United Kingdom! Change to +353 and enter telephone number and event code.

Blank Tab with message: Video Unavailable

Try again, same result

Fetch more modern device and repeat. Same result.

Move onto iPhone, download app. I really don’t want to watch the event on a telephone, but it’s another datapoint.
Same result: Video Unavailable
7:45 pmJoined by my wife who is undoubtedly spooked by me in problem resolution mode, fingers flashing over the keys and (probably) cursing under my breath.

Move to iPad and repeat, Same result.
7:55 pmThere is a Help Centre link; I follow that and find it’s email. There’s no way email support is going to be of help to get this fixed by 8pm.
8.00 pmDecide we’re not getting in.
8:07 pmMe: I am unable to access the event either in the app or on another device.
The link to another device takes me to Youtube and I am told video unavailable.

The alternative device (windows 10) is my preference. But the app on my iPhone isn’t giving me access either – same error message.

Please 1. Refund me my ticket 2. Tell me if I will be able to view Christy Moore on Saturday evening. Already paid for.

8:08 pmNCH: Hello, Thanks for getting in touch with DICE. Please note, that we aim to reply to you within 24 hours. If you’re messaging about an event that’s taking place today, we’ll endeavour to reply a little quicker.

We also ask that you have a read of our Help Centre in case you find a quicker solution to your question.
Thanks, Team DICE
8:09 pmNCH: Hey there, There is currently an issue with this stream but we’ve reached out to the organizers and are actively working on a fix. Please sit tight and thank you for your patience.

8:32 pmNCH: Hi there, Thanks so much for your patience here. The stream is now working, please enter your phone number and 5 character code at to enjoy it.

If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to let us know!
8:55 pmMe: Thanks for alerting me. I will wait to hear from you on how you will recompense me for this extraordinary error.
8:57 pmNCH: The stream was up and working 15 minutes after it was set to air, and you can rewind anything you missed.


When we eventually gained access we watched the latter part of the performance in real time and then rewound to the beginning.

Celine Byrne was singing opera and Irish airs accompanied by piano, cello and violin. We hadn’t seen Celine Byrne previously. She has a very powerful voice and outstanding quality of tone. Yet the performance was sadly lacking. Inevitably we would compare Celine with our sadly missed local heroine Cara O’Sullivan, who’s voice was probably even more powerful, but whose personality and presence was immeasurably greater.

The format of the performance was really very dull. Everything was (musically) technically excellent but it was without any spark. The organisers and Celine had simply replicated what they would do for a concert format. They might have added a compere such as Liz Nolan, or incorporated other singers to duet, or acted the opera parts, or . . .. well I could go on. It brings to mind that online meetings and events cannot just replicate what we used to do face to face. We have to rethink events and figure out how to enliven the experience in ways that engage the participants.

My review would be:

Music Technical Excellence: 4.8

Live Stream Technical Excellence: 1.5

Overall  Experience: 2.5

CODA: I have no idea how many viewers were impacted like myself. I would assume many. I don’t think this was a bandwidth issue because I hit the problem immediately well before the start.

Posted in Personal Technology, Technology and Society, Technology Platforms | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment