The EU is a great force for civilisation. Through the Erasmus Scheme, students get sent foreign, learn through another language, meet people with a real tan, eat the local food. Heck, they might fall for someone who was born in a different parish. Without the compulsions of the EU's Water Framework Directive, Irish towns would still be discharging raw sewage into the nearest water-course; and getting fresh cryptosporidium straight out of their taps. Irish people would rather not pay for Irish Water; so it is taking forever to build waste-water treatment plants to replace dumping just off-shore from the famous white sand beaches. The craven Minister of Finance refused to add a penny to the price of fossil fuel in the last budget although that is one step towards meeting our carbon emission targets [imposed by the EU]. If it cost €5 in gas to drive to the corner-shop for the Sunday newspaper, some of us would start to walk, even if it is 800m away . . . even if it's raining.
The MinFin is craven because he wants to get himself and his government re-elected the next time we exercise our democratic rights to not pay for water [I gave already; it falls from the sky] and not to take ownership of our carbon emissions. We the People, by being part of the EU have committed to reducing our carbon footprint by 80% from 1990 levels.
Q. How are we doin'?
In 2017 the carbon foot-print was 61 million tonnes - down 1% from 2016.
A. not so good!
And according to the EPA that reduction was a fortuitous result of a warmer winter requiring less fossil fuels up our domestic chimneys, rather than any change in government policy or deliberat[iv]e change in public practice. A third of the atmosphere-depleting carbon is from agriculture - mostly cow burps - and that sector was up 3% C year on year; exactly matching a 3.1% increase in the number of dairy cows making far more butter, milk and cheese than we can consume locally.
Last week John Gibbons, head of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee, suggested that schools could implement a meat-free Monday as part of the organisation's Green Schools Pack - chekkitout! Because he can do the math, he must have seen cows as the low-hanging udder in the carbon equation. No meat on Mon seems rather measured to me: no out-right ban, just a suggestion that one day a week, Ireland's children would have one meal without meat . . . to see how they liked it . . . because it might be better for the sclerotic 11 year old arteries . . . because a bowl of rice and dal is cheaper than meat-and-potatoes and mmmm good. You may keep your food of kings, give me megadarra any day. My office at The Institute has a window! which looks out onto the canteen¡ I know when it's Friday because the office smells of haddock. I often wonder what our Chinese students make of meat-and-two-veg-and-gravy lunch. Is it excitingly exotic and super-Bisto-tasty?
That humble suggestion from John Gibbons was met with a shit-storm of indignation from Joe Healy head of the Irish Farmer's Association. As if the idea that we eat a little less meat (on Mondays) was an existential threat to all Irish farmers. If you follow Gibbons on twitter you'll get ironic comments about how fighting the farmer's corner for beef and dairy is giving a poke in the eyes of Irish farmers who are struggling to make a living growing vegetables. Wait, Joe Healy is . . . a dairy farmer. Pat McCormack, president of Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) also rowed in to condemn the suggestion. Well he would, wouldn't he?
I mentioned this contretemps between Joe and John at a Research Strategy Meeting at The Institute. I suggested that we-the-environmental-scientists might help promote a Green Ireland where agriculture was less intensive; where inputs were more sustainable; where food was consumed locally. That evoked a really quite intemperate response from two of my colleagues: they liked meat, their kids liked meat, and meat they would have.
You can't get more efficient feed conversion ratios than by cutting out the middle-cow and eating corn and soya directly. Well not soya, which of all beans I find peculiarly repulsive, but you know what I mean. Let's follow Thomas Jefferson who thought of meat as a condiment to a meal mainly of vegetables . . . rather than great wet slabs of the stuff on every plate.
Colour supplement: Dan Giusti doing school dinners for $1.25/head.