by Frank Schnittger
Mon May 24th, 2021 at 12:01:46 AM EST
The Irish government has issued a call for expert evidence in preparation for the Climate Action Plan 2021 that it committed to as part of the programme for Government negotiated by the three parties in the coalition government: Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party.
I had not intended to write a submission, as I do not consider myself to be a climate science expert. However I came across a submission written by the climate change sceptic Irish Climate Science Forum and decided that it required a response. Their submission is not yet published on-line, and I will link to it when it is. However in summary, they contend that:
- There is no scientific basis for declaring a climate change emergency
- The government has not seriously considered the real implications of the proposed 2030 climate mitigation targets
- Ireland cannot afford the likely costs of meeting those targets.
I also refer, briefly, to separate submissions by two independent experts:
Fintan Ryan ME, MIEI, Eur Ing, FRAeS, Chartered Engineer, Aviation Consultant, and Retired Aer Lingus Senior Captain, who argues that there is no evidence that climate change has resulted in an increase in extreme weather events in Ireland and that any climate changes that have been observed to date are within the normal parameters of global climate variability.
Astronomer, CJ Butler MBE, Fellow Royal Astronomical Society; Fellow Royal Meteorological Society, Member International Union, and Member Irish Meteorological Society argues that computer models of future climate changes are inherently unreliable and that the government should therefore be cautious about proceeding with any disproportionate climate mitigation measures that might lead to a serious breakdown of the Irish economic or social structure.
The text of my submission is as follows:
I refer to submissions made the ICSF, and by independent experts Fintan Ryan, and C.J. Butler to your consultation on Climate Action Plan 2021 and would like to make the following observations:
There is quite a lot of climate science scepticism in Ireland, particularly among engineers and other non-climate science specialists. Many point towards the natural variability in global climate observable in ice-cores and the geological record, the degree of uncertainty in global climate models, and the insignificance, in global terms, of any mitigation strategies Ireland might implement.
All three points have validity but do not necessarily invalidate the case for Ireland to pursue the GHG emissions targets it has committed to. I am only surprised that no reference has been made to an alleged need for Ireland to implement nuclear power solutions which often accompanies such polemics. The authors probably appreciate any such call would be politically unacceptable in Ireland and would only serve to marginalise their contribution to the debate altogether.
In relation to the specific questions raised in their submission I would make the following observations:
Q1. On what scientific basis was a climate emergency declared?
It is certainly true that uncertainties persist in global climate change models but the international consensus appears to indicate that, if anything, the median expectations for climate change predicted by earlier models are being exceeded. The problem from a policy point of view is that, were we to wait until absolute certainty can be achieved, as implied by CJ Butler's submission, it will be far too late for any kind of mitigation to be achieved. The precautionary principle would appear to mandate mitigation be implemented now while it can still be effective.
It must also be noted that climate change is being accompanied by two related crises:
We do not wish to follow the fate of the dinosaurs in the last extinction event of similar magnitude. While the late Holocene climate has been extremely benign, even natural variation in climate (e.g. due to sunspot activity) could result in a human mass extinction event by rendering many parts of the globe uninhabitable or at least economically unviable. Already many human conflicts, wars and migrations are being caused by droughts and famines caused by over-population, resource depletion or local climate change. Whether such local climate effects are natural or anthropomorphic is academic as far as those effected are concerned!
- A mass extinction event very rare in the geological record leading to a loss of biodiversity and
- A rapid growth in the human population.
The local Irish historical temperature measurements included in Fintan Ryan's submission are almost certainly academic as most climate models actually predict a reduction in temperatures in Ireland as the effect of melting polar icecaps is to reduce the thermohaline circulation of the Gulf stream and north Atlantic drift and render our climate more normal for our latitude, and somewhat more continental in character. Somewhere north of Newfoundland might be our climatic destiny if the trend continues.
Q2. Have the real implications of the proposed 2030 mitigation target been considered?
It is certainly true that cost estimates of reaching Ireland's targets have to date been rudimentary and many sectors have yet to fully take on board the degree of change to existing processes that will be required to achieve them. Significant increases in renewable electricity generation capacity and network and load balancing capacity upgrades will be required but the political and technical issues with inter-connectors are overstated. Indeed, rather than seeing this as an exclusively Irish problem to the resolved within Ireland, it should be tackled at a European level with the creation of a European super-grid possibly linked to massive Saharan solar farms and polar wind farms to mitigate variability in both consumption and supply.
Improvements in the cost and efficiency of solar panels and the development of electricity generating windows and roofing materials create an opportunity for every new build to become a net contributor to the grid. Irish dairy production is currently massively over-expanded, relying on imported feedstuffs and subject to periodic winter feed-stuff crises. The CAP policies which incentivise this must be recalibrated to support sustainable agriculture and reduced emissions, possibly by the inclusion of seaweed in feedstuffs. Artificial meat may increasingly replace natural meat with a huge saving in energy consumption and GHG emission. Urban planning guidelines which currently require access to a car must be changed to ensure all major new housing developments have all regularly required services - routine retail, education, and where possible, employment within walking or at least cycling distance.
Q3. Can Ireland actually afford the proposed 2030 mitigation ambition?
This is the weakest section of the ICSF submission, and it is clear that the ICSF lack economic or political expertise. To state "We wonder how climate legislation can be constitutionally implemented without adequate cost/benefit analysis" is to demonstrate ignorance of both Ireland's constitution (which makes no mention of cost benefit analysis) or the realities of Ireland's political economy. There is no basis given for the ICSF estimate that Ireland's climate mitigation measures will cost over €100 Billion over the next 10 years, and even if it does, that is less than 2.5% of projected GDP over the period. The current pandemic is costing far more, per annum, than that, and shows no sign of exhausting Ireland's financial capacity.
What is critical to any economic analysis is not only the gross costs, but the benefits in terms of quality of life and economic growth and subsequent government revenue over the long term. Many of the measures proposed in Ireland's climate action plan could improve our quality of life and economic productivity and we must never under-estimate the capacity for human ingenuity to find new solutions to old problems.
It is true that some solutions - deep-retrofitting and carbon capture for example - are of dubious cost benefit in any short-term analysis and must be eschewed, as far as possible, unless they also deliver other tangible benefits. But there is no reason why new builds should not be net positive energy, or very close to it. Battery technology is evolving rapidly and may become much less dependent on rare earth materials. Instead of demonstrating their conservative political and economic tendencies, the members of the ICSF would be better employed using their scientific ingenuity to come up with better solutions to known problems rather than trying to hold back the tide of progress.