Monday 14 December 2020

Stop piffling about the climate

 . . . and DO SOMETHING! Preferably something directed, coherent and effective. No grandstanding, no empty promises, no half-measures which won't offend the Dairy Lobby. But it's better to do something, than sit on your thumbs hoping that bush-fires, hurricanes and storm surges only happen in foreign. There is an alphabet of groups who profess to have skin in the climate game: An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, Concern, Dublin FoE, Eco Congregation Ireland, Feasta. But on some level they owe allegiance to Stop Climate Chaos a SuperQuango or Metabund which organised a Meet The Legislature day long Zoom on Monday 7th Dec 2o2o. SCC must have some political clout because they persuaded 90-something TDs to commit 30 minutes of their day to meeting Climateers. Irish Times reports. Seemingly about 1,000 people registered for the event and stayed for at least part of the day. The Beloved and I registered separately and tuned in from different parts of the house - to fatten the crowd, like. 

Politics is the Art of the Possible [Bismarck: Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen] but in Ireland it is the Art of the Local. Citizens elected to the national assembly keep one-and-a-half feet back in the constituency scratching backs and attending funerals so they get re-elected next time round. Accordingly everyone registered for the Zoom was assigned to their constituency breakout-room and their TDs were paraded in front of them in a beauty pageant. Actually it was more like we-the-people were the job panel interviewing prospective candidates - which in a sense we were. But copying transparency / fairness protocols from job interviews it was decided that each of our 5 TDs were posed the same five questions. Which repetition a) makes it a bit boring for almost everyone in the room b) doesn't winkle out effective triggers for each TD. 

To be useful, these sessions have to change hearts and minds. So it helps to know if TDa has a brother in Transport while TDb is married to a dairy farmer. Pitching a tailored message to each parliamentary effective is more likely to move someone than generic same old same old. In the run up to the Repeal the Eighth referendum, out current Taoiseach performed a mid-campaign U-turn to support the repeal. I am convinced that a close relative opened his eyes about a trip to England to terminate an awkward pregnancy. You can adopt the moral high ground more easily when those affected are unknowns Others. For me one of the most powerful interjections came from a young teacher from the Barrow Valley who suddenly waxed passionate about a dismal future for the kids in her class at the Educate Together school. It was brilliant as theatre, including a break in the voice, because it went off script and to the heart of the matter. An image of children growing up to shat-upon world where no birds sing.

Climate Change is really the heart of the Green Agenda and the cliché Greenie is from the middle class 'burbs: all bicycles, lentils and canvas shopping bags. These people can be dismissed by the farming lobby because they all lack meadow cred. Our constituency has incubated Mullinavat Man, a farmer from South Kilkenny, who discovered climate only about two years ago. There is a stream that runs along the edge of his family farm where he used to fish as a nipper. I don't think he was really into fishing but it was something that he did along with scrumping apples and feeding the hens. He recently met a local chap who had taken his son down to the same river for some Dad-time fishing . . . and come up empty.  It was a what have we wrought? moment for him equivalent to J Robert Oppenheimer's "I am become death, destroyer of Worlds" after the Trinity Test on 16 July 1945 at Alamogordo. It was the first inkling that the lurry on the phosphates business model for Irish agriculture since WWII has had consequences . . . beyond the boost to barley yields. You can't say a farmer from Mullinavat doesn't understand rural life, its hardships and uncertainties.

I am sorry to echo de Valera but Ireland is still an agricultural nation. Ire Ag is punching way above its weight in contributing to our Carbon Footprint. And Ireland is, for total emissions, shamefully are the bottom end of the spectrum between Czecko and Estonia. In other Western European countries, Energy [effectively electricity production] and Agriculture [mostly methane rich cow burps] are running neck and neck at 25% to destroy the world we know and love. So anything that targets or de-incentivises farming is going to have more leverage than smaller sectors like domestic consumption and non CO2 greenhouse gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). Don't get me wrong, I love cheese but cheese from cow's milk is an ecological disaster, goats convert greens to milk with far less methane than cows. And those of you who eat beef-burgers really need to think pork instead or chicken. Or even no-meat Mondays!

And the home we choose to live in! They are a disaster: concentrating radon but dissipating heat in a broiling upward plume. Before we returned to Ireland 30 years ago, The Beloved had been working for a crew in Newcastle called Energy Action which was dealing with Fuel Poverty. I still can't get my head around Fuel Poverty enough to distinguish it from Food Poverty or, like, Poverty. But Kathleen Funchion TD, Sinn Féin mentioned it during her SCC session which elicited a great despairing wail from TB. During the last 30 years 1 million new homes have been built in the Republic with staircases, ceiling heights, and roof-tiles controlled by Building Regulations. But energy loss has been a dead loss with the barest nod towards insisting on fuel efficiency or insulation, so that, as a country, we import less oil and coal and burn less peat to keep the citizenry comfortable in their own homes. That is a mammoth wasted opportunity. Retro fitting is far more expensive than doing it right first time.

What to do? Turn the thermostat down and put on a sweater! In the 1980s in Boston I discovered that I could function well indoors at ambient 60°F but not at 59°F. Your mileage may vary slightly but for me the physiological tipping point indoors is between 15°C and 15.5°C. If you are heating empty rooms to 18 or 20°C you need to examine your thermostat and your head.

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