Summer School Talks
Report by Peter Deeny, HAI
Eamonn McCann, MLA, was our orator in the oratory. He illustrated concern for the environment with examples from local campaigns including Prehen Woods, an illegal dump near the river Faughan and gold mining in the Gortin Glen. His main point was that economics tended to trump all other considerations, including the law and the environment. He pointed out that the schools and sports groups in the Gortin area refused to take the bribes offered by the mining company, preferring to stand together with their community in defence of the beauty around them. Free market capitalism has been stopped before. During World War II, the US government took direct control of the steel and car industries. In the face of an existential threat necessity forces action.
Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth focused on climate change and the fact that while the more prosperous people in the world have caused it, the less prosperous are facing the most serious effects. In Ireland we produce a great deal of our greenhouse gasses from agriculture, and it’s not that we are feeding the hungry. We are providing burgers and milkshakes to people who can afford them. Ireland is not blameless, we produce more CO2 than the average for the EU. Globally we need to leave about 2/3 of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. These assets are stranded and cannot be used. Some solutions in an Irish context can be seen in http://dconnolly.net/greenplanireland/
Caitriona Ruane, MLA, placed the context of climate change within the political and educational processes. In line with all our speakers she underlined the point that convincing people to take action is our most difficult task. She supported the idea that this was best done within political parties as it is they who form governments which can make changes. She pointed out the unfortunate fact that on the doorsteps during elections there is little popular concern for climate change.
Kevin Kerr of South West College, a former Humani Chair, explained that renewable energy was a viable option for individual homes. He encouraged us to insulate first to reduce energy consumption and to use the free energy which is available. The technology for solar, wind, heat pumps and heat transferred ventilation is all tested and working now.
Duncan Stewart, Architect and TV producer, passionately explained the size of the problem facing us. This is as big a threat as a World War and requires a similar-sized response. The mean global temperature during the last ice age was 4 degrees centigrade below the mean global temperature before the industrial revolution. We are heading towards a 4 degree increase by the end of this century. The changes will be immense, and it is we who are relatively wealthy who are causing the problem. We have to insulate homes to passive house standards, use pumped storage to allow renewables to operate properly and use the existing proven solutions.
John Barry of Queen’s University, Belfast, placed the problem of climate change within the consumer culture of constant carbon based consumption. He explained some of the difficulties experienced in the political arena when bringing green issues forward. There are two undeniable ways to convince people: first there is no peer reviewed scientific study denying climate change, second the insurance companies who are capitalists par excellence, are taking climate change into their calculations. He also said that Ireland is in an excellent position to take advantage of renewable energy. We have both the wind and the engineering expertise to lead the world in turbine design, we have tidal energy which hasn’t even been measured, and we have even got enough sunshine.
A common theme of the summer school was that there was no doubt whatsoever that climate change is happening and that we are the cause. It is the absence of political will that prevents solutions being implemented: all the science and technology is tried and tested. The development of the political will is therefore the major task. We can change society by acting together in our own best interests and not in the best interests of existing power structures and businesses. In addition, addressing climate change will lead to many opportunities and will bring many useful by-products. It will increase manufacturing opportunities and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. It will defuse tension when resources like water become more stressed and will reduce the power and money being sent to troubled parts of the world such as the Middle East.
Read John Barry’s Presentation on 28th August on Climate Justice
Climate Justice, Divestment and energy transitions – J Barry