The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Warm (Flat) Earth
Michael Youlton • 09.12.03

Reading or watching the news these days can be frustrating. But there's really a couple of lines of reasoning that bring forth in me the urge to kick or slap somebody.

The first is when I listen to US apologists explaining away what they’re currently doing in Iraq. That feeling I suppose is shared by many in this country. The second, more esoteric perhaps, is when I hear people say: “If global warming turns out to be a problem, which I doubt, it won't be solved by making ourselves poorer through energy rationing.” And I have some friends who add: “Anyway, we have more important problems here in Ireland than to worry about global warming".

I paraphrased in the first quote above from Myron Ebell of the American Competitive Enterprise Institute – the equivalent of the Irish IBEC. Ebell, whose fondness for America's fossil fuel consumption is related directly to his paycheck, was, of course, then promptly buried under a foot of snow over last weekend. It can't be easy, insisting that the world is flat while having to shovel evidence to the contrary.

As scientists and negotiators from around the world begin their second week in a Milan, Italy in a United Nations backed conference on global climate change, one fact is eminently clear: the world is not flat. Major global climate change, triggered by rapidly increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, is an established fact. Human activity as the major cause of it is an established fact. Nobody outside corridors of power in Washington, D.C., Houston Texas and some of our own heads nearby, has questioned any of this for years. As the body of scientific evidence grows, the scope and speed of climatic changes are, if anything, proving far worse than the most alarmist scientific predictions of only a decade ago. These changes affect not just temperature -- nine of the ten warmest years in recorded human history have come in the last 14 years -- but extremes in atmospheric pressure, a resulting increase in wind speeds, drought, sea level increases, extreme cold, and extremes in precipitation -- like last weekend's unusually heavy and early East Coast snowfall in the US or the warmest and driest summer for two centuries in Europe, including the UK, this year.

As science has scrambled to track all these changes, and to track the havoc that changing climates are already beginning to wreak on what turns out to be an exquisitely balanced natural world, the phrase "global warming" turns out to be a misnomer. It is a euphemism, as a cluster of trends so catastrophic that without dramatic human counteraction will, in a matter of decades, threaten food and water supplies and much of the natural and technological infrastructure that we humans have developed to support ourselves. Warming is a symptom -- an important one, as the increased carbon dioxide levels trap more solar radiation in our lower atmosphere -- but only one of many impacts. By using a term that defines the problem as solely one of temperature, we get two levels of denial -- oil company Flat Earthers, and their mouthpieces, sneering at "junk science" (didn't Copernicus hear that, too?), or comments like those of Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin, who joked earlier this year that for his country, warming "might even be good. We'd spend less money on fur coats and other warm things."

Putin is a central figure this week in Milan. He is expected to announce -- after a much disputed electoral victory Sunday that gives him firmer control over Russia's Parliament -- whether Russia will ratify the 1997 Kyoto accord. But Russia only has this much leverage because the obstinacy of the United States leaves Russia's ratification necessary for the treaty to take force -- and Russia's decision is a question only because, after five years of publicly backing Kyoto, Putin's government has backtracked in the past year due to fierce anti-Kyoto pressure from the Bush Administration.

Bush policy on climate change has been nothing less than a crime against humanity -- and, for that matter, a crime against many of our biosphere's other inhabitants, too. But it's not just Bush that's been the problem; it's all of us humans, especially all of us in consumption-happy countries. As Bill McKibben, -- one of the earliest authors to spotlight climate change as an urgent issue with 1989's The End of Nature, noted recently, global warming is being thought of by leaders and ordinary people alike "in the way they think about 'violence on television'…let me add here in the way we think here in Ireland of ‘child molestation by priests,' or ‘the illiteracy of one in four of our people’ as a marginal concern to us, if a concern at all!

Bush's calculated efforts to torpedo Kyoto, and the ongoing campaigns by oil and energy companies and by Bush Administration officials to cast doubt on the scientific legitimacy of the issue, are reprehensible, but hardly unique. Kyoto's provisions are far short of the steps actually needed to combat the problem -- but it was American negotiators, headed by then-VP Al Gore, who worked to water down the originally proposed treaty. Afterwards, as 120 countries moved to ratify Kyoto, including Ireland and the UK, it was Bill Clinton who refused to submit it to the Senate. Enter Bush next. All the while, the clock has been ticking, the seasons turning, the temperatures rising.

Kyoto's provisions expire in 2011 -- meaning that as we approach 2004 we're at the halfway point before Kyoto expires, and it has not even taken force yet, thanks in large part to Washington. At this point, negotiators in Milan shouldn't be worrying too much about the details of Kyoto. Even if Russia ratifies it, negotiators should be more concerned about hammering out a framework for what comes after Kyoto.

By then, China will be a major industrial power. The landscape of carbon dioxide-spewing humanity has shifted significantly since the 1990 levels that provide Kyoto's benchmarks. Russia's post-Soviet industrial economy collapsed, meaning that its emissions in 2000 were down 22.8% from 1990; Germany, with its East German component and with unilateral EU measures, similarly declined by 13.6%. They will rebound. The EU as a whole increased its emissions in the decade by only 1.5% -- a vast improvement over the past, but still nowhere near the modest targets set by Kyoto.

Meanwhile, during the same period, carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., already the world's leading superpower (spewer), went up a whopping 18.1%!

To look at things nearer home, under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland is committed to limiting total emissions of the main greenhouse gases in the period 2008–2012 to 13% above 1990 levels.  Current forecasts indicate that Ireland will have to achieve a reduction of up to 13.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases.  However, the 13% limit allocated to Ireland has already been reached.

The annual review of EU greenhouse gas emissions published recently by the European Environment Agency shows Ireland has moved to the very bottom of the performance table.

Overall EU emissions had crept up to be 1% higher in 2001 than in the base year of 1990 but Irish emissions have grown 31% in the same period, more than double our commitment to restrict growth to 13% by 2008. As well as having the worst environmental record in this regard, the Republic is now facing the possibility of massive fines for non-compliance to the Kyoto commitments. The Environment Agency blames recent poor performance on increased emissions from the transport sector and the greater use of fossil fuel in electricity and heat production. Ireland has a particularly bad record in each of these areas and current Government policy is going to make matters worse.

Despite having the most lenient targets in the EU, Ireland is also the worst EU member in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide CO2 accounts for 82% of the EU greenhouse gas emissions.
Emissions in the European Union rose by 0.75% in 2001, according to new data from the German Institute for Economic Research. However, in Ireland, the rise was 5.7%, almost twice the rate of increase of the next worst EU member.

This increase of almost 6% in one year sits starkly alongside the commitment, ratified by Government, to decrease carbon dioxide emissions to 13% above 1990 levels by 2010. However, according to the German Institute, at this rate it will take little over two years to increase by 13%! This is the Tiger pay back.

It is important to note, however, that the Green Party’s website disagrees slightly: “Based on current “business as usual” forecasts, emissions will grow in excess of 25% between 1990 and 2010 (the bandwidth commitment period is 2008 - 2012) compared to the 13% limit allocated to us within the EU. This limit has already been reached in 2000 which provides a measure of the task involved”. Whether one believes the German scientists or the Irish Greens, the conclusion stares us bleakly right between the eyes.

The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) position is that only radical action to increase the use of emission-free energy will give Government any hope of redeeming the situation. However, no policies are in place and none are planned – radical or otherwise..

In the meantime, the UK has set itself a domestic objective that goes beyond the legally-binding Kyoto target - to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 % on 1990 levels by 2010. However, contrary to the wait-and-see position of Fianna Fail, the Labour Party Government in the UK has chosen a rather more punitive method of fiscal penalties in order to achieve its objectives.

Downing Street has published a draft UK climate change programme (available from Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) web-site: showing the policies that will deliver the UK's objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It intends that all sectors must play their part in reducing such emissions, and have drawn up the programme in this light. A key element of this programme is the climate change levy announced in Budget 99.

According to Rodger Lightbody of DOE in Belfast: “ Northern Ireland business must respond to a new initiative to help meet the UK targets of the Kyoto Protocol. Some businesses could soon face serious cost implications, or even closure, should they continue operations without a valid permit when the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme commences. Major operators such as electricity generators are aware of the scheme and of the need to obtain a permit. But many others are not and we are particularly concerned that companies that use boilers and combustion units with an aggregated thermal input capacity of over 20MW come forward.”

The recently formulated EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in line with targets set by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The new Directive will introduce a carbon-trading scheme next year with trading starting in January 2005. Businesses, however, who fail to apply for the required permit before April 2004, could face losing out on their initial allocation of free allowances.

There is no question that this is a vital and key issue for people who dream of a more equitable, humane and just society. It means simply that we will have to live differently, because the world is different. It is already the case that there is no going back to our climatic world of 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. Next year, there will be no going back to the world we are in today. The question now is how to slow the planet's human-caused changes, and how to manage or deflect the impact of the more catastrophic ones. These are issues that transcend borders, domestic economies, ideological niceties and the flat-earth stubbornness of one or another elected official.

This week, a few of the headlines, alongside those of Iraq and the DUP/Sinn Fein tussle will be about Kyoto. Forget Kyoto; by 2011, it will be history. What is needed, with or without Kyoto, is some sort of momentum, from scientists, governments, and us – the public, that demands both changes at work and in individual lifestyles -- especially as they relate to fossil fuel consumption -- and changes in public policy at a global level.

We must look farther ahead, beyond the scope of Kyoto. And we must not look very far at all, because a major part of the problem is in our own front or, as in some cases, back yard.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

17 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


An Autopsy on the Provos
Sandy Boyer


The PSNI Threat

Anthony McIntyre


Seize the Opportunity, Seize the Moment
Liam O Ruairc


Happy Xmas from Little England
Eamon Sweeney


Dublin Cover-up Was Government Policy
Father Sean Mc Manus


Warm (Flat) Earth
Michael Youlton


13 December 2003


The Right Road to Power
Anthony McIntyre


University Challenge

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Money Talks
Mick Hall


Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Liam O Comain


Stalemate for the GFA
Paul Mallon


The GFA and Other Fairystories
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dies IRAe
Ruth Dudley Edwards


Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill


Republican Prisoner Attacked in Hydebank YOC



Civil Rights Veterans on Prison Situation
October 5th Association




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices