Cheap gas for Norway to be Irish election issue? April 17, 2007Posted by franklittle in Energy consumption, Environment, Irish Election 2007.
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According to a piece in the business section of the Sunday Tribune emailed around Shell to Sea campaign activists and forwarded on to me, Statoil is to commence searching for gas, with the intent of putting in a well next year, in an area off the coast of Mayo four times the size of the Corrib gas field in an area where oil and gas deposits were found in 2003.
As it stands, this means another generous cash windfall to pay for new schools, hospitals, public services and anti-poverty measures in Norway who, as with the Corrib field, will benefit immeasurably more than Irish citizens from the exploitation of our natural resources.
With the release of the Rossport Five and what seems to be low-key and somewhat confused blockades down in Bellanaboy, where the proposed Corrib refinery is to be located, the campaign has slipped off the media and political radar. There was a time when the road to Rossport was choked with Green, Labour, Independent and Sinn Féin politicians running down to express solidarity.
But with an election coming, does this mean a re-examination of Ireland’s almost unheard of generosity in the licensing terms available for off-shore oil and gas drilling? Well in January, Minister Noel Dempsey said that he is expecting a review he has had carried out of the existing licensing terms to be received shortly from the consultants. Over three months later and one can only conclude our definition of ‘shortly’ and the Minister’s are far apart.
The analysis of the existing terms, and their political background, were outlined clearly in a report published by the Centre for Public Inquiry in November of 2005. It was, some will remember, the last such report as the Minister for Justice launched a smear campaign on the Centre’s chief Frank Connolly, leaking unsubstantiated Garda intelligence to a pet journalist in what would have been a resigning offence in any other country, but in Ireland, and because McDowell was sticking it to the Provos, it’s a wonder he didn’t win some sort of award.
With the election coming, the parties who huffed and puffed on Rossport and the Corrib field, have the opportunity to outline what they would do differently, the alternative licensing terms they would present to the likes of Shell and Statoil, and what they would do specifically with the Corrib contract. Should such proposals appear, they should make for interesting reading.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the Greenest of them all? September 22, 2006Posted by WorldbyStorm in climate change, Energy consumption, Environment, Environmentalism, Global Warming, Greens, Uncategorized.
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There is an interesting debate rumbling through certain portions of the environmental movement.
A piece in the New Statesman by John Gray this week under the heading ‘Clear and Present Danger’ reviewed George Monbiot’s latest work Heat. The book is about global warming, and has been serialised in the Guardian this week. It’s good stuff, but extremely depressing. Monbiot is convinced of the necessity to implement sweeping changes in the society.
Yesterday Monbiot criticises the report from the Tyndall Centre, which we’ve noted here previously, but I’ll look at that in a moment.
Let’s start with John Gray the interesting, if mildly misanthropic, philosopher who has made a career from taking contrarian positions on a range of issues.
The essence of the debate, actually let’s call it a three way debate because of course Friends of the Earth and the Tyndall Centre are also involved, hinges on this. The Tyndall Centre has proposed a report which calls for specific cuts in emissions in selected areas. Monbiot considers that the Tyndall Centre figures are too little and are ‘two decades too late”. John Gray considers that Monbiot might well be right, but that global warming is, as James Lovelock has proposed, now all but inevitable and it’s now a matter for battening down the hatches and preparing for it’s impact.
So who is right? Well, essentially all three are right but perhaps some are more right than others.
The Tyndall Centre proposals are probably overly cautious. Something needs to be done, but attempting to implement that in a democratic society is going to be incredibly difficult (note the way in which Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian admitted last week that it was only An Inconvenient Truth which finally brought home to him the reality of global warming – if he found it difficult to get you can bet 90% of the population is in some form of denial). That’s why Tyndall have pitched towards the political centre and acceptability. Tyndall seeks to rein in temperature rises to only two degrees above preindustrial levels, something they believe can be accomplished by a 90% decrease in emissions by 2050. Monbiot disagrees since he believes Tyndall have got the figures wrong and that even a 90% decrease is too little unless achieved by 2030.
Monbiot characterises this in the following terms in the Guardian piece:
“In other words, Friends of the Earth [who initiated the Tyndall Centre Report] had already set the target before it asked its researchers to find out what the target should be. I suspect that it chose the wrong number because it believed a 90% cut by 2030 would not be politically acceptable.
This echoes the refusal of Sir David King, the government’s chief scientist, to call for a target of less than 550 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, on the grounds that it would be “politically unrealistic”. The message seems to be that the science can go to hell – we will tell people what we think they can bear.”
He’s right. But he’s also wrong. Unfortunately it is politically unrealistic and unacceptable. The nature of the changes Monbiot believes are necessary are such that it’s hard to see anything short of a very authoritarian government being able to push them through. Perhaps that’s what we’ll have by 2030.
John Gray points to a further problem with Monbiot’s thesis and implicitly that of the Tyndall Centre which I’ve already noted. The developing world is simply not going to alter it’s energy consumption in such a way as to alter global warming even if the UK does follow the Tyndall Centre/Monbiot path.
“However sensible it may be in parts, there is a profound unreality surrounding the programme of action Monbiot proposes. “Curtailing climate change must be the project we put before all others,” he writes. But who are “we”, exactly? Humanity at large is ridden with intractable conflicts, and delusional bigots rule its most powerful state. An American air attack on Iran would produce an oil shock greater than any that has yet occurred, triggering the search for other sources of energy – many of them dirtier than oil. Moreover, continuing growth in human numbers (a crucial factor in the worsening en vironmental situation that Monbiot mentions only once in the book, giving it less than a single complete sentence) is increasing resource scarcity around the world. It is always claimed that the human environmental impact is a matter of per capita resource rather than sheer numbers, but there is an upper limit. By conservative estimates, there will be some two billion more human beings on the planet 50 years from now. Coming decades are far more likely to bring intensifying resource wars than concerted action against climate change.”
More pointedly Gray comments that:
ˇThere is, in fact, not the remotest prospect of the world adopting anything like Monbiot’s programme, but once again this may not matter. As he recognises, it may already be too late: “Because the carbon released now stays in the atmosphere for some 200 years and causes climate change many years into the future, there is perhaps a 30 per cent chance that we have already blown it.” It is a sobering admission, from which Monbiot immediately retreats. “I am writing this book in a spirit of optimism,” he declares, “so I refuse to believe it.”"
I don’t think that’s to Monbiot’s discredit, but I would tend to think along with Gray that the pass may already have been sold, that global warming is now on an unstoppable path and we’re going to have to adjust to it. This adjustment is going to be painful in the extreme, whether as painful or more so than that proposed by Monbiot is an important point to consider.
Let’s think about it a bit further. If global warming is unstoppable what we can expect are radical, but not unheard of, shifts in the nature of the planetary environment. Sea level rises, increased temperatures, the destruction of certain species, indeed of whole ecologies. All this is survivable, for much of the human population of the planet, but the point isn’t really survivability but how much of what there is now we should seek to preserve.
And that’s where Monbiot is absolutely correct . If global warming can be halted or at least softened in impact, it makes sense to plan our society in terms of much smarter energy consumption. If Gray is correct, and it can’t, then exactly the same holds true – if not more so. Frankly I’m not a huge fan of narrow energy sustainability, and am particularly suspicious of those who would see us retreat from technology. I would hope that we can find new sources which will leap-frog us beyond such constraints – but I’m realist enough to recognise that the world we live in is one where energy sources are decreasing and therefore in the short to medium term we must utilise them wisely.
Gray concludes by saying that:
“There are some useful things that can be done. In Britain, we can increase flood defences against rising sea levels, secure our electricity supplies by commissioning replacements for existing nuclear power stations, develop new technologies for cleaner coal and create wildlife corridors to help other species adapt. But first we have to accept that we cannot control the process of climate change we have set in motion. Unfortunately this requires an insight into the limits of human power that is beyond most environmentalists. Like the rest of humankind, they cannot bear very much reality.”
I think Gray is being unnecessarily harsh. Monbiot in particular has paid greater attention to this topic than many before him. One cannot fault him for retaining a sense of optimism in the face of catastrophic change. Environmentalism has been aware of these dangers for a considerable period of time – and now it shapes much of the debate, note the way in which capital (even if only in the form of Richard Branson) is finally waking up to the issue. Whether, though, the changes they seek to implement can realistically alter the dynamic of global warming is a different question, but at least some of the range of measures proposed will be worthwhile particularly if integrated into new technologies…
Perhaps that sounds like a new, somewhat greener, spin on techno utopianism. If so I plead guilty, but I genuinely see this as an opportunity for progressive technologies to be allied with environmentalism in the face of a fundamental change in global climate. If eventually we can’t ameliorate it perhaps we can be sure we won’t exacerbate it further.
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A great, illuminating article in the Guardian yesterday about a report from the UK based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research which for once actually maps out a clear strategy to carbon cuts in order to reduce greenhouse gases to a level that would actually make an impact. Granted these are for the UK, but they have a clear application on this island, North and South. You can find the details at the Tyndall Centre and the article here, but for your reading convenience the details are as follows.
A sustainable effect i.e. one that would prevent a 20C increase in temperature necessitates a 60% cut in emissions by 2050. That’s a huge figure but one that Tyndall Centre believes is realistic. They propose concentration on specific sectors but as Kevin Anderson, research director at the centre notes: “Our research demonstrates that the UK can move to a low carbon economy…but the journey will become much more demanding the longer the government leaves it to act.”
So what are the areas. Train transport: with the introduction and extension of the network, double decker trains and their use as a substitute for short haul flights (great, just as I get over my fear of flying the damned things are grounded).
Energy consumption: with a shift towards renewables – in fact a jump from 5% to 36% by 2030. Energy saving in industrial processes will be necessary with the introduction of smart technologies.
Car Transport: or goodbye the car. Well no, not quite. Simply by shifting from oil to alternatives would cut emissions. But it will also necessitate a reduction in car numbers, some 13% by 2030.
Buildings: A new emphasis on energy saving houses. Insulation, energy saving devices and bulbs and domestic energy generation alone would make a significant dent in the overall figure. Now they step into PARECON territory by suggesting we would all as individuals trade emissions. Interesting to see if that might work, but the possibility is there with greater integration of domestic electronic controls which various companies have been releasing into the market over the past decade or so, allied with the internet. Utopian? Perhaps not.
Aviation: A significant player, but not quite as significant as one might expect. Lighter aircraft, slower aircraft, updated turbo props for short haul flights and such like should be sufficient to negate the negative effects of aviation. And trains will take up some of the slack.
So, in a way it’s not about forgoing present societal standards, but making them ‘smart’.
Why do I like it? Well firstly because global warming is the single most pressing issue that we face, bar none. Secondly because this report doesn’t run around screaming with hands in the air pretending that technological society can suddenly shift into reverse gear, but instead approaches the topic in a measured fashion that places technological progress at the heart of social progress and – to my mind the security of our societies. The report accepts that air travel and car transportation will remain features of our civilisation but that they must be improved to be sustainable. Thirdly because it gives clear, attainable goals for action that don’t require herculean efforts on our part, merely a logical approach to the issue. Fourthly because weaning ourselves away from fossil fuels ensures, or at least improves, the security of our societies. Any criticisms? Well this isn’t a criticism but it doesn’t see a place for nuclear power, which is fair enough, my internal jury is still out on that one. Implicitly for it to be successful it would require a similar response from the rest of the world, a tricky job persuading those industrial behemoths India and China to sign up to this sort of regimen. It also is predicated on some new technologies and some fairly significant improvements in others. Perhaps they’ll work, we’ll see. But all in all a good days work.