March 2018 eZine

2nd April 2018
In this edition we look for volunteers to help us out in Tailors' Hall and look for people to join our various committees. We have 4 pieces written by the President of An Taisce - Fr. Sean MacDonagh. And we have one about the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins.

Duncan Stewart - Think Global - Act Local - Talk & Discussion

Local Association Event
Monday, April 9, 2018
Station House Hotel, Letterkenny

Start time 8 p.m. We are pleased to welcome Duncan - one of Ireland’s best known and most committed champions of protecting our world for our mental, physical and spiritual health. An entertaining and thought provoking session. Everyone Welcome. Suitable for all age groups. Free. - No need to book

Cost An Taisce Members: 
free
Cost Non Members: 
free

Learn 8 Bird Songs

Local Association Event
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Donegal Town – Meet at the Methodist Hall

Start time is 7.30 p.m.

We start indoors in the Methodist Hall, Donegal Town for a one hour presentation on garden birds, their behaviour through the seasons and listen to recordings of their songs. This is followed by a walk along the Bank Walk where we identify bird song “in the wild”. Increase your enjoyment of wildlife in your garden and neighbourhood. Our guide is Aengus Kennedy, Nature NorthWest – a frequent guest on Highland Radio. Everyone is welcome, admission is free, no need to book. Suitable for all age groups

Cost An Taisce Members: 
free
Cost Non Members: 
free

The Fitzwilliams of Merrion

Local Association Event
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
The Goat, Goatstown @ 8:00 pm

Illustrated talk by Des Smyth, Chair of Mount Merrion Historical Society

Cost An Taisce Members: 
€4
Cost Non Members: 
€5

Bat Walk and Talk, Town Park Letterkenny

Local Association Event
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Meet at The Vestry,St Conal's

Start time 8 p.m. Find out all about bats at the guided nature walk and talk on Tuesday May 8th. We meet in the Vestry at St. Conal’s at 8 p.m. for a talk on bats. We then go for a twilight walk in the Bernard McGlinchey Town Park and the grounds of St Conal’s. Sonic Bat Detectors will be used to identify different species of bats as they hunt on the wing. Bats are the world’s only flying mammals, fascinating creatures. Our guide is Aengus Kennedy of Nature Northwest, a frequent guest on Highland Radio and an expert nature guide.

Everyone Welcome. Suitable for all age groups. It is free. No need to book

Cost An Taisce Members: 
free
Cost Non Members: 
free

Climate Change

Local Association Event
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
The Goat, Goatstown @ 8:00 pm

Talk by Fr. Sean McDonagh, well known environmentalist and President of An Taisce.

Cost An Taisce Members: 
€4
Cost Non Members: 
€5

Food for Thought

Independent Event
Friday, May 18, 2018
GMIT Castlebar, Westport Road, Castlebar

Food for Thought/Lón Intinne: Conversations on Cultural Resilience

by Feasta, Afri, Cultivate, Food Sovereignty Ireland and Teacht Aniar

Date and Time: Fri 18 May 2018 10:30 – 16:30 IST

Location: GMIT Castlebar, Westport Road, Castlebar

Description

Twenty years have passed since Richard Douthwaite and a small group of like-minded thinkers founded Feasta - the Foundation for the economics of Sustainability. Against the backdrop of Afri’s Famine Walk on Saturday 19th, this innovative event is intended to explore today’s challenges both in Ireland and globally, in conversation and through culture using the Great Hunger and Richard’s legacy as backdrops, including solidarity with the global social justice movement, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, climate action and food sovereignty.

A strand in Irish exploring ecological parallels in culture and language will be facilitated by Teacht Aniar - (Beidh fáilte ar leith roimh chainteoirí na teanga agus leagan Gaeilge le fáil ó planxty@eircom.net).

The event will be followed by a "Celebration of Cultural Resilience", at Blousers (Walshes) in Westport, with conversation, music and the spoken word, from 20.00 to 23.00.

Please note:

Participation at the events are free of charge, however, participants must pay for their own catering.

Registration for Conversations on Cultural Resilience in GMIT is essential.

The events take place on the eve of the annual Afri Famine Walk Sat. 19th May 2018.

Organised by Feasta in association with Afri, Cultivate, Food Soverignty Ireland and Teacht Aniar.

Cost An Taisce Members: 
€0
Cost Non Members: 
€0

President Michael D Higgins 'gets' the crisis

2nd April 2018
Report

I can report that Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins truly gets the challenges facing us all.
Charles Stanley-Smith

Last Monday, The President, Michael D Higgins invited a number of Environmentalists and those working in the Social Inclusion and Development arenas to a Reception on “Desertification - Ireland's Role in this Global Challenge” - at Áras an Uachtaráin. Full details here: http://www.president.ie/en/diary/details/president-hosts-a-reception-desertification-irelands-role-in-this-global-ch

However, the introduction of the President’s speech is one of the most succinct in describing where we are and where we need to go:

Dear Friends,

It is both a great pleasure and a great honour for me to welcome such distinguished guests to Áras an Uachtaráin this evening what is a most critical juncture in the history of our planet.

Ever since our ancestors, Homo habilis, emerged over 2 million years ago our species - characterised as we are by our capacity for co-operation, creation, and imagination – has sought to bend the world around us to fashion for ourselves the material basis for our distinct and diverse cultures. In doing so, many of the foundational and fundamental bases of our social lives have been transformed, and these transformations in turn have had ever greater effects on the Earth. The commencement of the current geological epoch, the Holocene, brought an end to long period of repeated glaciations that we often call the Ice Age.

These new conditions facilitated a radically different human culture, one based on the domestication of animals, the cultivation of the soil, and sometimes densely population urban centres. This Neolithic Revolution wrought a new relationship between humans and nature: the vast forests of the ancient world were gradually cleared to make way for agricultural production, altering landscapes, habitats and ecologies; men and women became workers of the land and tillers of the soil while others lived in urban centres created by agricultural surplus; and hierarchical social relations were forged to co-ordinate production and consumption in these societies.

These civilisations were powered by the muscle and sinew of humans and their domesticated animals, and for all the sophistication of ancient Mesopotamia, medieval Ethiopia or early modern Italy, they were constrained by nature, reliant ultimately for energy on plant life and the process of photosynthesis. The discovery of the ability to convert the energy released by the combustion of carbon into mechanical energy broke that constraint, and in doing so gave rise to a new relationship between economy, ecology and ethics, one that rested upon a narrow and distorted vision of political economy, and upon an imperialist ideology.

That ideology, creation of a philosophical thought that saw nature as something to be subdued, available for insatiable extraction and exploitation has brought a 4.5 billion year old planet to a point of extreme vulnerability. This has been achieved by a distortion of the contribution of science and technology. The promise of reason gave way under imperialism and colonisation to the destruction of the natural world. An accommodating and widespread scholarship uncritically supported a view of endless growth, often indeed calling it ‘development’.

The social and economic critiques produced during the Industrial Revolution are well known: indeed, they remain foundational for many social, economic and political movements today. Yet, perhaps less well-known outside the United States is the 1864 book Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, authored by the American diplomat George Perkins Marsh. Dismayed by the changes to the landscapes of his native New England that he had witnessed during his lifetime and informed by his studies of the ancient cultures of Southern Europe, Marsh wrote that nature was not an inexhaustible resource but that environmental degradation, soil erosion and deforestation could bring an end to modern civilisation much as it had to the civilisations of the ancient Mediterranean.

Man and Nature was published 150 years ago: there is now a far greater popular and scientific understanding of the influence that human civilisation, through its actions, exerts upon the planetary biosphere and ecosystem, and upon the potential for this influence to cause environmental calamities no less ruinous than those that befell previous human cultures.

The Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, has argued that we should recognise the age in which we now live as a new epoch in world history – the Anthropocene - such is the qualitative change in the relationship between a single species – our own - and the global environment. The term was first proposed by the Italian geologist and priest, Father Antonio Stoppani, in 1873.

We know all too well the catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change and the massive disruptions to the carbon cycle produced by the emission of greenhouse gases, and their growing accumulation in the atmosphere. Human activity has also significantly altered the nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur cycles, which are so important to life on this planet.

The terrestrial water cycle, so vital to agriculture – particularly in areas of rainfed agriculture such as the Sahel – has been modified by deforestation and disruptions to river systems. Many scientists argue that we are now in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction such is the sudden loss in biodiversity that may occur in this century.

Dear friends,

The challenges of living in this age of the Anthropocene cannot be met by our continuing in the grip of old and tired orthodoxies, or by our being constrained by an economic philosophy which would separate our engagement and activity in economic life from our culture and society or from the natural world. We shall need new ideas, and we must advocate and fight for them intellectually and practically, invoking the enduring human values of compassion, solidarity and friendship, that are capable of addressing those inequalities of wealth, power and income which so often lie at the heart of the dysfunctional relationship between economic activity and the ecosystem.

Would you like to get more involved?

2nd April 2018
Report

Dear Member,

Would you like to get more involved?

The AGM is not until 8th September but we are already beginning our preparations, booking a speaker, etc. It is at the AGM that some Council members are elected. Some come as delegates from our local associations but an equal number (minus one) are nominated.

Do you know anyone who might be interested in coming onto our Council? We are looking for people, young or older, who would get involved in one of our committees and volunteer to do some of the work that needs to be done.

The climate committee is already very active but we have other committees too. There is the natural environment committee that works with our Natural Environment Officer Elaine McGoff and assists and advises when necessary and where possible helps prepare policy. The built environment committee is not currently functioning but needs resuscitating. We need professional expertise, possibly planners or academics but also informed members to pick up issues where they arise and maybe also helps with policy such as the Energy Policy or Rural Housing Policy that this committee worked on with Ian Lumley and Doireann ni Cheallaigh in recent years.

We also have a Properties Committee that needs more professional or committed people to help coordinate the management of our properties. Now chaired by Trish O’Connell MA. We also urgently need to re-establish the Tailors’ Hall Committee specifically to help look after our magnificent HQ which takes up a lot of precious staff time. This will more likely, but not necessarily, come from a Dublin member – some of the work will be practical maintenance or helping at events though there are also policy matters to discuss.

Finally, and this is only for people with proven experience, we have an audit and risk committee. Currently most this work falls on the shoulders of our treasurer but help is needed.

If you know of anyone who might fit this bill please contact Judy Osborne vicechair@antaisce.org

Looking for Volunteers - Do you live anywhere near Tailors' Hall

2nd April 2018
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Do you live in Dublin anywhere near The Tailors’ Hall?

We urgently need voluntary help to assist when we have events on in The Tailors Hall. (including for our AGM) It might be make tea and coffee, it might be to help set up and cover the registration desk, it might simply be to be available to answer queries and to ensure security and fire safety precautions are observed.

Most of the events are extremely interesting: conferences and seminars usually on planning or the environment amongst others.

If you would like to help please contact Judy Osborne vicechair@antaisce.org

Transboundary Environmental Public Consultation - Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Plant, UK

12th March 2018
Report

Transboundary Environmental Public Consultation - Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Plant, UK

Deadline: Close of business on Tuesday 17 April 2018.

Under the terms of EU Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (the EIA Directive) and the 1991 United Nations Convention on environmental impact in a transboundary context (the Espoo Convention), Member States are required to engage in transboundary public consultation in respect of projects likely to have significant effects on the environment of neighbouring States as part of the environmental impact assessment of a proposed development. For this purpose, the Member State in whose territory the project is intended to be carried out shall send to the affected State, no later than when informing its own public, a description of the project and any available information on its possible transboundary impact.

Details of how to submit your consultation on Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government website http://www.housing.gov.ie/planning/other/transboundary-environmental-public-consultation-hinkley-point-c-nuclear-power-plant

An Taisce suggests some considerations the public could make in their submission:

  • The discounted economic loss to Ireland of an accident in a plant like Hinkley Point C being ‘conservatively’ estimated by the ESRI in a 2016 report [Note 1] as €161 billion ( scenario 4) ;
  • The serious deficits in the climatic modelling which the UK used in the UK’s assessment of the potential transboundary impacts in the event of an accident; [See John Sweeney below]
  • The lack of emergency response planning in Ireland to deal with such an incident to protect the public; The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, (RPII) in its 2013 report [Note 2] on the Radiological impacts of the proposed UK plants in Ireland, produced after the UK granted permission assumed the impacts to Irish people can be mitigated against by sheltering indoors, but fail to address basic considerations and practicalities of the feasibility of such mitigation given issues like the contamination of our largely uncovered water supply.
  • The effect on Ireland’s agriculture could be devastating. If an event was to occur in April for example when all the winter fodder is exhausted, new silage can’t be made, and animals would need to be kept inside without food or water. The extent of Insurance coverage in place in the event of an accident is also controversial. The estimates for compensation seem entirely unrealistic in the context of the costs incurred in Fukishima, and even then there is a significant shortfall to be met by a UK Government who will be struggling in the aftermath of a serious Nuclear event.
  • There are additional risks now consequent on Brexit. Currently we can rely on the controls associated with a number of EU Directives, and key EU principles regarding the polluter pays and the precautionary principal which underpin these directives set out in the EU treaties. Amendments are being drafted for the House of Lords debate on the Great Withdrawl Bill may or may not serve to adequately address these principals in the post-Brexit UK legislative codes. The extent of parliamentary oversight to changes in UK legislation post Brexit has already been acknowledged to be a hugely controversial issue, given the extent of powers being granted to amend legislation by regulation in the bill.
  • Also as part of Brexit the UK proposes to withdraw from the EURATOM treaty, which is concerned with a number of matters including Nuclear Waste and safety. The implications of this are entirely unclear.
  • Serious technical issues have become apparent with the design for the reactor pressure vessel proposed for use in Hinkley which have become apparent in Flamanville in France.

Professor John Sweeney assessed the assessment and reports the UK prepared under Article 37 of the EURATOM treaty and which the UK relied up on in determining its view on the potential for transboundary impacts from HInkley Point C in the event of an accident. Below he has provided a brief summary of his technical report, with a very stark and strong conclusion regarding the confidence on the competence of key elements of the Article 37 submission.

“Summary of Hinkley Concerns

  1. The risk of extreme meteorological events coinciding with an accident occurring at Hinkley are calculated on an unsound basis. The weather database used to estimate e.g. an event which might occur e.g. once in 10,000 years cannot be calculated with any confidence from the short run of data used by the Hinkley proposers. The statistical basis for this is further undermined by the fact that climate changes are currently underway in both the UK and Ireland which render reliance on a short historical climate database unsound.
  2. Similar concerns arise when calculating water levels at this coastal site. Existing tide gauges indicate sea level is rising all along the south coast of England. Current estimates are that sea level will continue to rise into the 22nd Century at least, with ultimate rises of several metres likely. The effect of this requires to be incorporated in any extreme water level calculation and certainly making estimates for the 1:10,000 year event is not statistically valid.
  3. Uncertainty exist as regards future storm surge changes. Combined with sea level rise this poses additional risks which are not handled using the precautionary principle by the Hinkley proposers. Water level considerations are crucial since spent fuel is to be stored for over a century at this coastal site.
  4. The dispersion model used dates from 1981 and several caveats to its use have been made by its original author. These caveats are particularly relevant to the site and situation of Hinkley Point and do not appear to have been considered adequately in the report.
  5. Any dispersion model based on progressive dilution downwind does not adequately consider meteorological conditions conducive to long range transport of a pollution plume in an undispersed state. Chernobyl exemplified this, resulting in serious implications for Irish upland farming. The worst case outcomes for Ireland are therefore not adequately considered in the dispersion modelling used.
  6. Ireland, unlike France and the Channel Islands, was excluded from any accident impact assessment. The Irish coast and the Channel Islands are equidistant from Hinkley and only slightly further than the nearest point on the French Coast. This raises issues of confidence about the extent to which the report can be considered competent. “

Notes:
[1] ESRI in a 2016 report - https://www.esri.ie/pubs/BKMNEXT313.pdf#page=5

[2] RPII 2013 Report - http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/radiation/RPII_Proposed_Nuc_Power_Plants_UK_13.pdf

Have diesel cars a future? Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

2nd April 2018
Report

On February 27th 2018, Germany’s top administrative court in Leipzig upheld a ruling that German cities had a right to ban diesel cars. Earlier a lower court in the cities of Stuttgart and Dusseldorf ruled that they could be banned because the small particles and nitrogen dioxide emitted by diesel cars are linked to cancer. Medical experts estimate that 12,000 people die each year in Germany from such pollution. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report which stated that diesel fumes do cause cancer. The day before then judgment was made in Leipzig, air pollution measurements had reached twice the level permitted by European standards [1]. Seventy cities in Germany have worse air quality than the daily limit of 40 microgrammes of nitrogen oxide per cubic metre allowed by the law[2].

Despite the bad news on diesel cars, many people did not listen to the warning of environmentalists and medics. For example, in 1990, diesel cars only made up 13 percent of the European car market. By 2012, diesel cars dominated over half the European car market. There were two reasons for this: Firstly, with the development of turbocharged direct-injection engines in the 1990s, diesel cars could deliver better performance at different speeds and, of course, diesel was cheaper than petrol. Secondly, after the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, European governments threw their weight behind the diesel cars because they mitted much less carbon dioxide than petrol powered cars. Furthermore, European governments subsidised diesel cars by reducing registration costs and taxes on diesel cars. Given the importance of reducing greenhouse gases in order to curb climate change, many of my friends changed their petrol cars for diesel cars as one of their ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But then in 2015, the diesel-gate scandal broke in the United States. The German carmaker Volkswagen was charged with installing fraudulent software which reduced pollution measurements in diesel cars when they were being tested, even though the cars continued to exceed pollution levels on road tests. This did enormous reputational damage to Volkswagen, which until then was considered to be an honourable and decent company. But it didn’t stop there: Volkswagen was forced to pay more than €26 billion in fines and plead guilty of federal fraud and conspiracy charges in the United States Many groups of people who suffer from respiratory problems intend to take class actions against Volkswagen. This could be very expensive and possibly bankrupt the company

The diesel-gate scandal had a major impact on the sale of diesel cars in both the United States and in Europe. In 2017, diesel car sales fell by 17 percent in the United Kingdom. In France, the share of new diesels cars dropped below 50 percent, the first time this had happened in 17 years. In Germany, the impact following year in 2017, it made up only 38.8 percent of the market[3].

Building cars is a huge and very profitable industry in Germany. More than 150,000 people work for Daimler and 60,000 of them drive Mercedes and are paid excellent wages. Germany generates billions of dollars from the sale of diesel cars. In 2015, sales generated €400 billion in revenue[4]. This is why politicians from every party om Germany are sensitive to any attack on diesel cars. Angela Merkel has lobbied in Brussels to soften emissions targets. In September 2017, she told Parliament that “we will do all is our power to prevent such bans.” [5]

Carmakers could still attempt to avert the ban on diesel cars in cities, by agreeing to upgrade the exhaust cleaning system of older diesel cars. This will be very costly since out of the 15 million diesel cars in Germany, only a mere 2.7 million diesel cars have achieved the Euro-6 standards technology. They would mean that 11.3 million diesel cars could be banned from many German cities. The authorities in Berlin see the introduction of a blue badge as a way to ensure that Germany does not end up as a country with “a patchwork of different and often conflicting regulations.” [6]

In Ireland, Steve Tormey is the manager of Toyota, Ireland. He is worried that Ireland will become a “dumping ground” for diesel cars as the United Kingdom and the world shifts to cleaner cars[7]. He maintains that these imported cars should be tested in Ireland for emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide. But, his broader aims is to drive diesel cars out of Ireland and replace them with hybrids. According to him, diesel is technology of the past and it has no place in the future.

[1] Karin Bennholder, “In Germany’s Car Capital, the Unthinkable: The Right to Ban Cars,” The New York Times, February 27th 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/27/world/europe/diesel-driving-ban-germany-stuttgart.html?&hpw&rref=automobiles&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well
[2] Patrick McGee, Tobias Buck and Guy Chazan, “Meerkel eyes badges for clearer diesel cars,” The Financial ‘Times, March 1st 2018, page 6.
[3] Jill Petzinger, “Europe’s intoxicating love affair with diesel is dying out,” The Guardian, January 22, 2018, https://qz.com/1183779/europes-intoxicating-love-affair-with-diesel-is-dying-out/
[4] “German cities cleared to ban diesel cars,” The Irish Times, February 27th 2018, page 3
[5] Katrin Bennhold, op.cit.
[6] Partick op.cit
[7] Gavin Daly, “I want to drive diesel out of Ireland,” The Sunday Times, February 18th 2018, Business page 6.

Plastics in the Oceans Fr. Sean McDonagh, SSC

2nd April 2018
Report

February 2018 saw the publication of an important study in the journal Frontiers of Marine Science. It described the important research carried out by marine scientists of the National University of Ireland (Galway) on the amount of plastic in fish in the northwest Atlantic. The scientists travelled on board the Irish Marine Institute’s research vessel the Celtic Explorer. What they found did not make pleasant reading. During the course of their research in the Northwest Atlantic, the scientists took fish from mid-water trawls from the ocean thousands of miles from land and 600m deep in the ocean.

The species which were taken from the oceans would not be known to the majority of fishermen. Among them were three types of Lanternfish, Rakery Beaconlamp, Stout Sawpalate and Scaly Dragonfish. The fish ranged in size form 3.5cm to 59cm. Later, the scientists studied the fish in the laboratory in NUIG and checked for micro-plastics in the stomach of the fish. One small Lanternfish, just 4.5 centimetres long, had 13 micro-plastics in its stomach. The scientists were quite amazed to find that more than 73per cent of the fish contained plastic. This is a greater frequency of micro-plastics in fish found anywhere in the world. Naturally it should be seeing as a global call to protect our oceans from pollution before it is too late.

Micro-plastics are small plastic fragments which originate from the breakdown of larger plastic items entering the sea. Micro-plastics are the result of breakdown of larger plastic items in the ocean, or from wastewater, containing plastic clothing fibres or micro-beads from shampoos and other personal care products. Dr Tom Doyle co-author of the study says that it is “worrying to think that our daily activities, such as washing our synthetic clothes in our washing machines, results in billions of micro-plastics entering our oceans through our waste water stream that may eventually end up in these deep-sea fishes." [1]

Previous studies have shown that micro-plastics can be ingested by many marine animals from plankton to worms to fish. Ingesting plastics causes physical damage in marine life and also inflammation of the intestines. Many varieties of plastics are extremely toxic because of additives added to the plastics during its manufacture. The danger, therefore, is not only confined to the creature that eats the plastic but can also transfer up the food chain as they are preyed upon by other species, including human beings.

The scientists asked themselves the question, why is it the fish which live far from land and inhabit the deep ocean have so much plastic in their intestines? Alina Wieczorek, the author of the study in the Frontiers in Marine Science explains that “Deep-water fish migrate to the surface at night to feed on plankton and this is likely when they are exposed to micro-plastics.” [2]

Dr Tom Doyle, a co-author of the study from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said: "While there is clearly a concern that the ingestion of micro-plastics with associated toxins may have harmful effects on these fishes, or even the fishes that feed on them, our study highlights that these seemingly remote fishes located thousands of kilometres from land and 600m down in the ocean are not isolated from pollution.”[3] The marine scientists acknowledge that the sample of fish may have come from a particularly polluted area of the ocean where plastics accumulate due to certain tides and currents. Ms Wieczorek explained that NUIG will continue to investigate the impact of micro-plastics on organism in the open ocean. The NUIG research was carried out within the PLASTOX project, a European collaborative effort to investigate impacts of micro-plastics in the marine environment under the JPI Oceans framework and supported by the iCRAG (Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geoscience) project, funded by Science Foundation Ireland.

At present, the Labour Party and the Green Party have a number of bills before the Dail (the Irish Parliament) proposing a ban on micro-plastics. Unbelievably the Government has cited technical issues around definitions and the requirement to seek derogations from EU market rules for not legislating to date. This is another example which shows that the current Irish government’s record on ecology is lukewarm.

[1] Niall Murray NUI Galway finds micro-plastics in 73% of deep-water fish,” The Irish Examiner, February 18th 2018. https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/nui-galway-study-finds-microplastics-in-73-of-deep-water-fish-828730.html
[2] Kevin O’Sullivan, “Over 70% of fish had ingested plastics, NUIG research finds,” The Irish Times, February 19th 2018, page 1.
[3] Niall Murray NUI Galway finds micro-plastics in 73% of deep-water fish,” The Irish Examiner, February 18th 2018. https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/nui-galway-study-finds-microplastics-in-73-of-deep-water-fish-828730.html

What has happened to our forests? Fr. Seán McDonagh

2nd April 2018
Report

One of the major changes on planet earth that we seldom reflect on is that we have only half the trees that we had 40 years ago. According to Phil Hogan, the European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, only 3 trillion trees exist on the planet today, whereas 40 years ago there were 6 billion trees[1]. Because of this flora and fauna are disappearing at an estimated rate that is one thousand times higher than the normal rate.

In 2015, scientists undertook comprehensive research on the global tree populations of the planet. They used both satellite imagery and ground-based tree density estimates from more than 400,000 locations worldwide. The main cause of the destruction of the global forests is people.

It is estimated that the number of trees worldwide has fallen by about 46 percent since the start of human civilization[2]. According to ecologist, Thomas Crowther, there are currently fewer trees on the earth today than at any point since the start of human civilization and this number is still falling at an alarming rate. If anything, the scale of these numbers just highlights the need to step up our efforts to replant trees across the globe.
In many places, human activities deplete forested land. Historically conversion of land for agriculture has had the biggest impact on forests but industrial and urban development also have had huge effects. The Yale researcher, Henry Glick, is fearful that, as the global human population grows, the net loss of trees worldwide also will increase[3].

Trees are some of the most prominent and important organisms on the planet. They provide a wide range of important ecosystem services for humans and other creatures on the planet. They store water and nutrients, stabilize the soil, provide habitats for plants and animals, offset the impacts of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and they generate the oxygen that we need to breath[4].

The study found that while the highest tree densities are in the sub-Arctic regions of Russia, Scandinavia and North America, the largest forested areas are in the tropics, home to about 43 percent of the global tree total. This does not surprise me at all as I spent over 10 years working with the T’boli people in the tropical forests of South Cotabato in the southern Philippines.

According to a new government report, Ireland needs to plant more trees. The Forestry Programme report says that the country’s tree-planting targets for 2015, 2016, and 2017 have been missed[5].

We know that forests play an important role in helping fight climate change – Ireland’s forests removed 4.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2015. The Irish government believes more tree-planting will also go some way to help Ireland meet its 2030 emissions reduction target, which it is on course to miss.

According to the report, broadleaf planting in Ireland has flatlined since 2015. The planting of conifers was increasing up to 2017, at which point planting fell 22% short of its overall target. Up to 2017, landowners chose to plant conifers over broadleaf trees. This is because economically conifers are more profitable, even though in terms of biodiversity they are a disaster.

Total afforestation figures for the years 2015 – 2017 show that overall planting is 7% less than the target for these years. The Irish government has offered farmers and other landowners payment for planting trees to be planted on their land. And in a bid to encourage people to plant more trees, the government has increased the rates it will pay for broadleaves to be planted.

The government said it will now pay premium rates to make the planting of certain species of trees more “attractive to farmers”. Andrew Doyle, the Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, said the increase in grants will promote greater species and habitat diversity, adding that it will allow the government to reach its broadleaf planting target of 30%.

The most significant improvements in grant and premium rates are aimed at those planting categories that may prove most attractive to farmers – such as agroforestry and forestry for fibre.

Agro-forestry will allow farmers to plant trees while continuing to graze their animals on the same land. This land use system would be suitable for producing woodfuel or, where appropriate, high quality hardwood timber. Now matter how you look at it, globally and nationally we need to plant more trees[6].

[1] Ray Ryan, “Alarm bells ring as global tree numbers halved in 40 years,” The Irish Examiner, March 5th 2018, page 19.
[2] Will Hunham, “Earth has 3 billion trees but they’re falling at an alarming rate,” Reuter, September 2, 2015
[3] ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] The planting of broadleaf trees has ‘flatlined’ since 2015. The Journal.ie, Feb 22nd 2018, http://www.thejournal.ie/ireland-tree-planting-3862740-Feb2018/
[6] ibid

Pope Francis Concerned about Global Warming Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

2nd April 2018
Report

The fact that Laudato Si’ appeared six months before the crucial COP 21 meeting in Paris was very helpful. Memories of the abortive Copenhagen Conference in 2009 haunted those preparing for the Paris COP. Another failure would have done enormous damage to the United Nations efforts to get a global treaty in place. According to Prof John Sweeney, NUI Maynooth, Ireland, the detailed choreography involving the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (JPIC) the Vatican, and the tireless efforts of the French diplomatic system. This paid off and, despite some last-minute hitches, the first legally binding global agreement on climate change – requiring action by both developing and developed countries – was adopted and will enter in to force in 2020[1]. It is important to remember that there was no mention of climate change in the Caritas in Veritate Social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI which appeared six months before the Copenhagen Conference in 2009.. The Vatican threw all its diplomatic energy in order to get a positive outcome at Paris 2015.

Pope Francis congratulated the world leaders present at the COP-23 event and invited them to maintain a high level of cooperation. He renewed his urgent call for renewed dialogue on how we are building the future of the planet. "We need an exchange that unites us all," he said, "because the environmental challenges we are experiencing, and its human roots affects us all.” The Pope warned participants not to fall into four perverse attitudes regarding the future of the planet: "denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions. Finally, Pope Francis hoped that the COP-23 would be "inspired by the same collaborative and prophetic spirit manifested during the COP-21"the event at which the historic Paris agreement was signed[2].

Some island leaders from the Pacific Ocean area took time out from the COP 23 to pay a visit to Pope Francis in the Vatican. The president of the tiny island of Nauru, Baron Waqa told the pope “we are on the frontline of climate change. The devastating impact of cyclones has caused enormous losses for our fragile economies and matters have not ended there.”[3] Highlighting the moral authority of Pope Francis on ecological issues, the Pacific leaders noted that the significance of the encyclical, Laudao Si’ which they said had re-dynamised the discussion on the recognition above all, of the vulnerable, in the face of climate change[4]

In October 2017, Pope Francis implicitly criticized the United States for pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change. The United States is the only country out of 195 signatories to have withdrawn from the accord, which aims to cut emissions, blamed for the rise in global temperatures. U.S. President, Donald Trump announced the decision in June shortly after visiting the pope, a strong supporter of the Paris deal. At the time a Vatican official said the move was a slap in the face for the pope and the Vatican[5].

In this address to the Diplomatic Corps on January 8th 2018, Pope Francis called on humans to care for the earth. He is particularly concerned with the devastating impact of climate changes. According to him “there is a need to take up, in a united effort, the responsibility of leaving to coming generations a more beautiful and liveable world, and to work, in the light of the commitments agreed upon in Paris in 2015. The spirit that must guide individuals and nations in this effort can be compared to that of the builders of the medieval cathedrals that dot the landscape of Europe, who knew that they would not see the completion of their work. Yet they worked diligently, in the knowledge that they were part of a project that would be left to their children to enjoy[6].

Recent studies have shown us another aspect of climate change. Climate change could choke entire marine ecosystems by cutting oxygen levels in the ocean[7]. Oxygen-poor waters have always existed in the sea, but in the last 50 years these “oxygen minimum zone” have grown because of climate change. Warm sea water can dissolves less oxygen than cold water. A fall of a few degrees is enough to put enormous stress on some marine ecosystems.

[1] Prof. John Sweeney, “Walking the Road from Paris,” in Laudato Si’: An Irish Response, 2017, pages 137 and 138.,
[2] Pope Francis sends letter to COP23 climate conference in Bonn, Vatican Radio, http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/11/16/pope_francis_sends_letter_to_cop23_climate_conference_in_bon/1349337
[3] “Threatened islands appeal to Pope,” Sunday Examiner, November 26th 2017, page 4.
[4] ibid
[5] Philip Pullella,, “Pope implicitly criticizes U.S. for leaving Paris climate accord,” October 15th 2017. https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/10/16/pope-implicitly-criticizes-us-for-leaving-paris-climate-accord/23244500/
[6] Andre Tornielli, “defending the right to life, freedom and physical integrity of every human person,” Pope Francis speaks to the Diplomatic Corps on January 8th 2018, Vatican Cty.
[7] Chris Baraniuk, “Our oceans are set to suffocate,”NewScientist, 11 November 2017, page 8.

Air Pollution - Is Ireland's Public Health Protection fit for purpose

30th March 2018
Press Release

Air pollution in Ireland is deteriorating at an alarming rate, according to new EPA data for 2016 [1]. Emissions of all five key air pollutants increased that year. Of these, three, namely ammonia, nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds were, for the first time, above normal EU emissions levels in 2016 [2].

Some 99% of ammonia emissions in Ireland are as a result of the application of fertilisers, both animal manures and artificial nitrates. Ireland agricultural lobbyists recently secured yet another derogation from the EU Nitrates Directive, which aims to protect air and water quality from excessive nitrogen usage.

The EPA confirmed that “Ammonia limits have been breached due to the rapid expansion of dairy and beef production in Ireland in recent years”. An Taisce now asks Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed if he will take personal responsibility for reversing this upsurge in ammonia pollution his department has specifically lobbied in favour of? How can this be done, when the EPA report states “Limiting and reducing NH3 emissions into the future could be problematic given the strong performance of the agriculture sector in line with the ambitious targets of Food Wise 2025”. As the EPA further points out, this will “cause damage to air quality and health and make future compliance with EU limits more challenging.”

Nitrogen oxides, another extremely dangerous class of air pollutants, also exceeded EU safe limits in 2016. Transport (41%) and agriculture (29.6%) were the largest Irish sources. Health impacts of nitrogen oxides include diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Also, this EPA report does not address the adequacy of current monitoring of pollution blackspots in urban areas, especially those with high levels of particulate matter pollution.

“Ireland’s abject failure to pursue a clean, low-carbon pathway is often portrayed as being abstract and remote from the lives of ordinary people. What the EPA’s data shows clearly is the very real human costs of letting agriculture and transport special interests dominate our politics and endanger the health and well-being of thousands of Irish citizens, as well as adding billions to our healthcare costs”, according to An Taisce.

Ends

For further information, contact:
Ian Lumley, An Taisce Advocacy Officer: +353 1 454 1786
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.org

Notes

  1. Link to full EPA ‘Air Pollutant Emissions’ 2016 report http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/air/airemissions/Irelands%20Air%20Pollutant%20Emissions%202016.pdf
  2. A new allowance mechanism ratified in 2017 means the NOx and NMVOC levels can be reduced and as a result the Irish values drop below the EU level. From the report "Ireland ’s submission includes adjusted national emission inventories for NOx and NMVOC, as allowed under Article 5(1) of Directive 2016/2284 in accordance with Part 4 of Annex IV, as Ireland is non-compliant with national emission reduction commitments as a result of applying improved emission inventory methods updated in accordance with scientific knowledge. Essentially this flexibility mechanism allows Member States to subtract emissions from new sources which have been included in the national inventory since the reduction commitments or ceilings were established or where the emission factors used to estimate emissions have changed significantly based on new science. Ireland’s adjustments were approved following review under Article 10(3) of Directive 2016/2284 in June 2017."
  3. An Taisce’s Submission on the Public Consultation to Inform the Development of a National Clean Air Strategy (2017). http://www.antaisce.org/articles/an-taisce%E2%80%99s-submission-on-the-public-consultation-to-inform-the-development-of-a-national

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.

Naughten 'Powering Past Coal’ a welcome start - Peat & unsustainable Biomass must go too

14th March 2018
Press Release

An Taisce welcomes Climate Action Minister, Denis Naughen’s renewed commitment to ‘Power Past Coal’ by ending all coal burning at the Moneypoint power station by 2025 [1]

However, what Minister Naughten also needs to urgently commit to is to ‘Power Past Peat’ and put an end to the three inefficient, highly polluting and ecologically disastrous peat-fired power plants operated by Bord Na Mona and the ESB.

Mr Naughten’s statement in Canada this week that Ireland is joining the ‘Powering Past Coal Alliance’ also leaves the question hanging in the air: what does Ireland intend to replace the large coal-burning Moneypoint facility with? His Canadian counterpart, Catherine McKenna correctly says that stopping coal-burning “reduces carbon pollution and provides huge human health benefits”.

However, both the carbon and human health benefits will be quickly lost if, for instance, Moneypoint is converted to biomass, leading to the import of millions of tons of newly felled trees from forests in the south eastern US states (as the giant Drax facility in the UK does today).

Similarly, Bord Na Mona’s longer term plans to ‘transition’ towards biomass co-burning with peat need to be treated with extreme scepticism.

To have any chance of achieving Paris targets and keeping below a 1.5°C temperature rise we must get out of fossil fuels altogether.

Let’s hope that this is the Minister’s first step towards “Powering Past Fossil Fuels”.

ENDS

For further information, contact:
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.org

Notes
[1] Minister Denis Naughten announces Ireland to join Powering Past Coal Alliance https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/news-and-media/press-releases/Pages/-Minister-Denis-Naughten-announces-Ireland-to-join-Powering-Past-Coal-Alliance.aspx

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.

Are electric vehicles cleaner? The evidence points firmly in one direction

2nd April 2018
Report

From our Colleagues in Transport & Environment

Diesel sales slump and those of electric vehicles pass one million. As a result, the environmental benefits of EVs are under intense scrutiny. Do they really emit less CO2 than diesel and petrol cars? Or do they just shift the problem elsewhere?

See here: https://www.transportenvironment.org/newsroom/blog/are-electric-vehicles-cleaner-evidence-points-firmly-one-direction?utm_source=T%26E+alert+emails&utm_campaign=8fb070b5cd-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_03_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_48950a8d32-8fb070b5cd-108383617