The Grumpy Old Man

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....An Irish Approach to Climate Change....
Note:this grump was originally published in May 2017, and updated in November 2018

A discussion of the merits of paying "carbon taxes" for ones pollution, rather than tackling the real problem - the pollution

I found an article written by a Research Fellow from the Environmental Research Institute in Cork University. This was published in the Irish Sunday Independent and although it acknowledges some very basic facts, the final conclusion drawn is absolutely appalling. Should this view and approach be widespread, it bodes ill for the future of our delicate planet.

The article admits Ireland currently has one of the worst carbon footprints (per person) in the whole of Europe.

It admits the Irish taxpayer is paying 100 million to subsidise peat fired power stations emitting 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.

It states the Irish taxpayer spends 200 million a year subsidising people's fuel bills because the country's housing stock is so thermally inefficient, generally acknowledged as being one of the worst in Europe. Even with this subsidy, it is estimated that some twenty percent of households suffer fuel poverty solely due to the poor housing stock.

Air pollution is responsible for a significant impact on the Irish Health Service and is a major contributor in the deaths of an estimated 1200 Irish citizens per annum.

Agriculture is acknowledged to be responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland. (In simple terms, yes, the Irish countryside is full of farting bovines). This is bad enough, but when one considers that the majority of Irish beef farming is unprofitable, inefficient and heavily dependent on (taxpayer funded) subsidies.

What is horrifying about the article is that it acknowledges that addressing these factors over the next thirty years could reduce the environmental impact (per person carbon footprint) by eighty percent at a cost of just one percent of gross domestic product.

The article even touches on the well-known fact that Ireland has one of the best timber growing climates in the whole of Western Europe and yet enjoys one of the least "forestry" covered landmass.

It even accepts that grassland could be beneficially utilised as part of the carbon neutral cycle.

So far so good, the article is stuffed with useful information. However, the conclusion drawn by the author shows a complete lack of common sense and any definable logic. As a result of these excessive carbon emissions, Ireland will be paying vast sums of money in "fines" (some euphemistically call these "charges") in the carbon trading market. For heaven's sake, this is totally and utterly unnecessary and illogical. Clearly the Irish taxpayer subsidises mucky peat burning power stations and then pays a second time (in fines) for generating said pollution! That doesn't make any sense to Grumpy at all.

Ireland seems unable to grasp the fact that the majority of its' agriculture is not "farming". Much of it is little better than "smallholding". In an effort to be "profitable", it draws on huge subsidies from the EU (who get their money from the taxpayer). Then, huge amounts of greenhouse gas are produced for which the taxpayer is required to dip his hand in his pocket again for more fines! Grumpy struggles to make any sense of that.

The author of the article seems to think this situation is acceptable! I quote "paying to fight climate change is not only the right thing to do-it also makes economic sense". Gordon Bennett, in Grumpy's view the poor bloke wants his bumps felt. The bottom line is, he is not paying to fight climate change, he is claiming the privilege to ride roughshod over the Paris protocol guidelines on the basis that he is paying to do so. Surely as an "academic" he can get his brain around the basic fact that in this scenario the "employment" he is enjoying today (using this as an excuse to dodge his climate change responsibilities) is at the expense, not only of employment tomorrow, but the overall well-being of our delicate planet.

It is high time that politicians stop arguing about things that are of little importance and addressing what their inactivity is allowing to happen to our beautiful delicate planet. The longer it is left, the bigger will be the mountain that eventually has to be climbed to resolve the problem.

On a much wider front it is extremely disconcerting to see the selective manner in which some people's "logic" seems to work. I have heard a George Bush, as head of a state which, judged by size alone, must be a major greenhouse gas polluter, say "I'm not signing up to climate change protocols as it will affect jobs at home". Again, Grumpy would observe maybe yes to jobs today, and if appropriate steps are taken there could still be jobs tomorrow. A similar statement, this time made by a Donald Trump, of the same country, was that he doesn't believe "this climate change rubbish". Grumpy would observe that the fool is cherry picking. He flaunts himself around in a fancy aircraft which depends totally on scientific and engineering genius and expertise to stay in the air, yet when the scientists tell him the planet is in danger, he chooses to ignore them. You can bet your bottom dollar (excuse the pun) that climate change will one day bite him in the goolies!

Paying for it will never make it acceptable. An example of a good start would be for the Irish to use some of the ridiculous amounts of money they waste keeping the peat fired power stations going, in improving the housing stock or to produce green energy. At the end of the day we must all, large or small, do whatever we can, stop ducking the issue and start tackling the problem.

Note:this grump was originally published in May 2017, and updated in November 2018

What is very concerning is even politicians seem to believe this approach is acceptable, even when scientists are telling them that "time is (or perhaps has already) running out" and "drastic and significant action" needs to be taken "now, not tomorrow".

I make this observation after hearing a comment made by one of the few people in the political arena who I hold in high esteem, namely, an ex-president of the Irish Republic. This politician stated that Ireland was a shining example to the rest of the world in the fight against global warming, citing, as an exaample, the level of plastic recycling in Ireland. (.....go to eco-12 update....., for why this is becoming a joke). Also quoted was the amount of wind power installed in Ireland over the last few years. Grumpy accepts, in this latter matter, huge inroads have been made.

What is appalling is that neither these are major factors in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions spectrum. Nothing has been said, done, proposed or even thought about that which scientists claim is one of, if not the major, greenhouse gas producer in Ireland, in simple terms, flatulent bovines, or in more polite parlance, Irish agriculture. It is a basic fact underwritten by government statistical offices that Ireland's greenhouse gases rose for the 2nd year in a row, putting Ireland in the "less than a handful of states" within the EU where greenhouse gas emissions have increased.

Over the last 4 years, the number of dairy cows in Ireland has increased by 22%, while greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture has risen by 8%. This has resulted in Ireland paying significant "carbon tax fines". The Irish Farmers Association shrug this payment off as the result of a "bad deal" negotiated by the Irish agriculture ministry. I find it appalling with basic facts, easily accessible to the general public and the press, that a high profile dignatory, looked up to by many in Ireland, should be so ill informed as to make such crass statements. I suppose in some ways it really is yet another symptom of burying one's head in the sand and thinking "someone else will pay". See money 4, for more on this attitude.

It is high time politicians and the general public take notice of the fact that the planet is warming, it is the activities of mankind that is causing this warming. Like all these things, there is a tipping point beyond which recovery will not be possible , we have already wasted three quarters of that leeway and quite frankly, as Dylan Thomas would say "Llareggub has been done to address the situation". Scientists have warned, although there is time to do something, there is precious little of that invaluable commodoty left.

Time has come when we should all wake up and accept that we can all do something no matter how small. Gordon Bennett, what in the world will it take for someone to act, if nothing is done then I fear for the sort of lives we are leaving our children and grandchildren to lead.

Having said all of that, there is something positive that can be done. It does however depend on a major cultural shift and a shedload of lateral thinking. Credit where credit is due, Grumpy has actually given a potential solution in this grump and elsewhere in the website. Climatically, Grumpy has pointed out (in this grump!) that Ireland is accepted as having one of the best European climates suited to growing trees. In addition to this, Coillte (the Irish "forestry commission") have schemes available to encourage farmers to grow trees. In short, for members of these schemes, Grumpy understands that "ideal" trees for their particular location are selected and planted. The owner of the land is paid an annual income, and, of course, at the end of the growth period for the particular tree selected, the timber is harvested for which the landowner is paid an additional lump sum.

It is clear with such a scheme there are many advantages both from an ecological point of view and to the farmer himself. From ecological point of view, the farmer will change the use of his land from say dairy/beef to the growth of trees. This will reduce the headcount of cattle in the country and consequently the amount of greenhouse gases the cows produce. From the farmer's point of view, bearing in mind that many small-scale farmers in Ireland have a second part time job in order to make ends meet, it would give them the opportunity of spending less time farming and more on their full-time job yet also deriving income on both an annual and long-term capital basis from the timber being produced.

From a national point of view one would see a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the major culprit, the cows, and a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gas in the air resulting from the absorption of these gases by the additional trees that have been planted together with an improvement in the national trading figures caused by a reduction in the amount of imported timber that is currently necessary.

This isn't rocket science it is basic fundamental logic, the only problem is, to implement it needs to make a total break in the inertia of government, and probably what is more difficult, a cultural change in the attitude of farmers. Such a scheme could reduce the number of small farms, with consequential efficiency improvements in addition to the benefits mentioned above. Grumpy certainly believes that if the government are looking for something on which to launch a "working party" then this is a potential scheme that would certainly improve the National eco-credentials, to the benefit rather than detriment of the country.