Letter: Play fair over global warming

Emissions rose by 2.7pc in agriculture, driven primarily by higher numbers of dairy cows
Emissions rose by 2.7pc in agriculture, driven primarily by higher numbers of dairy cows

Sir - The global warming debate lumbers on with frequent flyer and former President Mary Robinson joining the bandwagon, blaming it all on the humble cow and lamb. A UK barrister called for a ban on eating meat, because world agriculture produces 24pc of global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

No mention of the 76pc produced by industry, aviation (with tax-free fuel), shipping, heating, electricity, etc. Much of this 76pc is produced by industries satisfying the rich nations' desire for excessive consumerism like cars, holidays, luxury goods, etc.

If we are to make progress in this matter, responsible reporting and accurate action are vital. Deflecting attention from the big polluters like industry, transport, electricity, aviation by scapegoating agriculture is not the road to progress.

The UN figures for GHGs are:

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industry, transport, shipping, building, aviation - 41pc;

electricity, heating - 35pc;

agriculture - 24pc.

Of the eight sectors mentioned above that produce GHGs, only agriculture sequesters GHGs. The others pollute only.

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This brings me to our own farm in Limerick. We milk 130 cows and keep another 120 cattle. The land consists of 240 acres of permanent pasture (sequesters a lot of GHGs); 6km of hedges (sequesters a lot of GHGs); 550 mature trees (sequesters a lot of GHGs); 104 acres of forestry (sequesters a huge amount of GHGs).

Wishing to know where we stood in all of this debate, I hired an expert to analyse the matter for me. His first statement amazed me. He told me that it was no problem to tell me what I was producing, but there was very little interest in what I am sequestering - and the maths and the science in this matter are in their infancy.

Anyway, after investigating our farming practices, and much deliberation, he informed me that we were a net carbon sink!

Brilliant, I can now sell my milk and beef as, not just carbon neutral, but as a carbon sink!

No, he tells me, not so simple. While we're responsible for the GHGs we produce, what we sequester belongs to the nation. It's there to be shared with Ryanair, CIE, Moneypoint, etc.

So, here's the problem, we don't want to share! We planted those hedges, we planted those trees, we are entitled to benefit from them.

Imagine if Ryanair sequestered even a tiny amount of the GHGs it produces - we would never hear the end of it.

Remember global agriculture feeds 7.7bn people 365 days a year, with Irish farmers playing their part - and unless we are acknowledged for what we are already doing, and rewarded and regarded for what we can do, then there will be very little co-operation forthcoming from rural Ireland on the global warming issue.

We can make progress by co-operation, and identifying the real problem areas - not by scapegoating those who feed the world. So, keep on eating our wonderful, lamb, beef and dairy.

If you really want to do something worthwhile for the planet, try a "Wineless Wednesday" or a "Flightless Friday".

John Hourigan,

Murroe, Co Limerick

Sunday Independent

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