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Out with melting ice, in with living a balanced life

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Out with melting ice, in with living a balanced life

Dublin Climate Gathering dropped global-warming scare tactics in favour of a new green narrative

Melting ice: Dublin Climate Gathering looked for ways to become a low-carbon society. Photograph: Reuters

Melting ice: Dublin Climate Gathering looked for ways to become a low-carbon society. Photograph: Reuters

Sat, Jun 22, 2013, 01:00

First published:Sat, Jun 22, 2013, 01:00


There were very few facts and figures about the speed of the Arctic ice cap melting, freak flooding, hurricanes and extreme heat waves at this week’s Dublin Climate Gathering. Instead, a group of about 80 people – academics, technology experts, politicians, entrepreneurs, students, business leaders, artists, homemakers and environmental campaigners – mapped out their vision for a low-carbon society.

“We’ve realised that if we are to stop people going in an unsustainable way from A to B, then we have to offer them a better alternative C. It’s about eating better, wasting less, travelling lighter and being energy clever,” said Green Party leader Eamon Ryanat the opening event in Tailor’s Hall.

Over the following two days in the Mansion House and the CHQ building in Dublin’s Docklands, smaller groups discussed everything from redesigning capitalism and transforming the education system to drawing on the wisdom of the elders and the energy of youth to create sustainable homes, communities and cities. Climate scaremongering was out and in its place was how to live happier, more balanced lives. Participants responded well to the new narrative.

John Ashton, director of Third Generation Environmentalism and a former advisor to the British Government on Climate Change, said, “The system pulled us over a cliff in 2008 and business as usual is over. If we want to flourish, we have to build something that’s different and put people back at the centre of it. We can do better and design a future we want to live in.”

Linking technology with sustainability was a key feature of the event, which was attended by representatives from the major technology companies based in Ireland, the European Commission and international experts in renewable energy.

Martin Curley, vice-president of Intel Corporation and director of Intel Labs Europe, spoke about how technology industries must work with academia, government and citizens to create more connected cities.

The idea that Ireland could be a test-bed for electric cars resurfaced at the gathering, along with the idea that smart technologies can allow householders in communities to develop targets for energy use and conservation. But there were others who advocated the need for privacy policies around “open data” and that smart cities had to be people-centred.

Colette Maloney, head of the Smart Cities and Sustainability unit in the European Commission, said, “I think there is huge momentum in Dublin to move forward on sustainability, with technology playing a role. But, we must remember that digital technology has its own energy consumption and it’s worth stepping back and really thinking, if we want technology to contribute positively, we need to measure what they save and what they cost us. There are well-developed international standards on carbon accounting of companies, services and cities. If it’s not measured, investments in technology might add more to the environmental problems in the long run.”

Lobbying for a new legal entity that allows companies to annually monitor their social and environmental impact as well as their economic return was an idea developed by the “redefining capitalism” group. Such benefit corporations already exist in the US. But, external auditing of the environmental and social impacts would be required to prevent the practice of “green-washing”.

Although undoubtedly a seedbed for renewal of the Green agenda, a networking opportunity for technology and renewable energy experts and a rallying call for volunteers to be involved in creating a low-carbon society, the Dublin Climate Gathering also had three distinct channels to feed into. These are the forthcoming Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change; the European Union Science/Culture Horizons 2020 project and the Terenure 2030 project. The latter has been chosen as a template for change – using Terenure College Rugby Club as an example of a project which has already energised a diverse range of local intergenerational initiatives.

“Consume less, produce more” was the rallying call of American farmer Shannon Hayes at a public meeting towards the end of the Dublin Climate Gathering. Founder of Radical Homemakers, Hayes promotes lifestyles that embrace “ecological sustainability, social justice, family and community” and believes that each family member can be responsible for producing something – food, clothing, education, healthcare and even entertainment.

“This event has offered people a fresh spirit to connect with. But the real decision for society is to change to a climate-friendly world,” said Green MEP Rebecca Harms at the closing event.

“We need to build on what works as well as fix what’s broken” said Eamon Ryan, who organised the event. “This new economy will be both collaborative and competitive but we must start by listening rather than telling people what to do.”

Further proof of global warming – Irish Times.

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Don’t be fooled by the spring snows, they are further proof of global warming

Action must be taken now to have any hope of limiting the damage

Farmer Donald O'Reilly rescues a sheep trapped in a snow drift in the Aughafatten area of Co Antrim last week. Photograph:  Cathal McNaughton/Reuters Farmer Donald O’Reilly rescues a sheep trapped in a snow drift in the Aughafatten area of Co Antrim last week. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

David Robert Grimes

First published:Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 06:00   

What a difference a year makes; a year ago Europe was basking in some of the warmest spring temperatures recorded. Last week all that seemed a very distant memory as we shivered through a prolonged freeze, with snow encroaching into what was once the height of spring.The reason for this worrying; Arctic ice melted at record rates last year, releasing heat energy. This altered the fast-flowing air currents above our planet, known as the Jet stream, allowing cold Arctic air to travel much further south than usual.While it may seem paradoxical that Arctic warming can freeze us so much, it is exactly what climate scientists have long predicted. And it will get worse. Prof Jennifer Francisof the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University in the US notes soberingly that “sea ice is… 80 per cent less than it was just 30 years ago… This is a symptom of global warming.”

The scientific consensus is unequivocal: climate change is happening right now, at a rate unprecedented in Earth’s history.

Earth’s climate is sensitive to change, and temperature swings are only the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg. Despite the gravity of this threat, reaction has been somewhat muted, hovering somewhere between apathy and denial.

Understandably, climate science can be confusing, perhaps explaining some of our inertia; “global warming” refers to the increase in average global temperature. Counter-intuitively, this can lead to regions of cooling. The mechanism behind this is the greenhouse effect, which arises because certain gases have the ability to absorb thermal radiation from the Earth’s surface.

These gases then re-radiate it in all directions, including back towards Earth and essentially act as a heat trap, warming up the planet. This is long since understood — it was hypothesised by Joseph Fourier in 1824 and experimentally verified by Irish physicist John Tyndall in 1859. The fact that humans can thus affect climate is no surprise, what is surprising is just how fast we’re doing it.

Some question whether this effect is anthropogenic; perhaps this is all just a natural cycle? Sadly, no — ancient ice cores yield a record of temperature and atmosphere over hundreds of millennia, and shows our current rate of warming is hundreds of times beyond anything that has gone before, coinciding with the dawn of industrialisation.

More alarming is that while at no point during any previous glacial or interglacial period has the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration level reached as high as 300 ppm (parts per million), current levels are 390 ppm and rising, with predictions of up to 600 ppm in coming decades. This is most distinctly not natural variation.

Nor can we evade responsibly by postulating that this level is unrelated to human activities — CO2 released from fossil fuels has a distinct chemical signature, and points to our guilt as readily as fingerprints at a crime scene. This leaves only the inescapable conclusion that we are driving the destruction of our own environment.

The discussion is no longer about avoidance, but limitation. The most optimistic prediction is that in order to have a chance of limiting temperature rises to “only” 2 degree Celsius, we would need a global “carbon budget” of less than 886 gigatons between 2000 and 2050. By only 2006, we had already produced 234 gigatons. Coal is without a doubt the worst offender, both in terms of CO2 output and health, killing 1.3 million annually. Yet despite this, 2011 saw an ominous 5 per cent global rise in consumption of coal.

Since 1992, global CO2 emissions have risen 48 per cent, with power generation making up the bulk of this. To mitigate this, low carbon energy is imperative. Renewables are part of the solution, but they simply do not have the required yield or reliability.

Nuclear energy does, but still provokes an emotional rather than a rational reaction, and is all too frequently ignored for the sake of political expediency. Two years on, it bears repeating that the Fukushima accident of 2011 has killed nobody and likely never will. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, by contrast, killed more than 18,000. If nothing substantial is done, such disasters will increase in both frequency and intensity

It is also vital we reduce our personal energy expenditure. Home insulatation and reducing car usage can substantially reduce one’s carbon foot print. Perhaps the most powerful thing we can do collectively is insist our elected leaders take action, imposing carbon levies, rewarding energy efficiency, and most crucially, moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable and nuclear energy.

Climate change is not someone else’s problem — it affects all of us. To have any hope of limiting the damage we have already wrought, action must be taken now. The writing has been on the wall for some time. Whether we heed it remains to be seen.

Dr David Robert Grimes is a physicist and cancer researcher at Oxford @drg1985