Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Friday 23 February 2018

The battle against climate change must start at home

The impacts of global warming are
The impacts of global warming are "severe and pervasive"
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Climate Change – two words guaranteed to make me feel sick to my stomach. It was in the news last week due to the publication of the latest update on the state of the world's climate systems by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This basically says the impacts of global warming are "severe and pervasive" and warns that unless we change our current path, it will soon be too late to change.

I don't know when I first heard about climate change, but it has been at the back of my mind for years. When I make myself think about it, I realise the main reason for my aversion is my fear of what it means for the planet and the future of mankind. The scale of the task seems so great I feel hopeless.

Before I go any further, can I say that we should be long past the point of debating whether or not that climate change is happening.

There are always going to be deniers, many of them representing powerful vested interests, but you have to ask are they really more plausible than the thousands of scientists across the world who have accumulated so much data to prove that climate change is a reality?

Christine Lagarde, head of that most orthodox of economic bastions, the International Monetary Fund, last year described climate change as the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century – adding that future generations face being "roasted, toasted, fried and grilled".

It is already having an impact in Ireland. We will have more bad storms and flooding and there are warnings that some 250 coastal locations will be lost to rising sea levels unless they are defended and protected at the cost of billions.

Britain has adopted a system of what is called managed retreat to deal with the problem.

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We all know the primary causes of climate change: the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests combined with gas emissions from landfills and the digestive systems of grazing animals.

It was somewhat refreshing last week to hear the IFA's environment chairman Harold Kingston openly accept on radio, despite the interviewer's best efforts to create an argument, that agriculture accounts for almost 30pc of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions.

Later in the week, IFA president Eddie Downey pointed out on RTÉ Radio One's Late Debate that one of the reasons for this is because we produce so much food. He gave the example of Bavaria, which is about the same size of Ireland, but because it is so highly industrialised, only 3pc of its greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture.

In this context, it seems eminently reasonable to suggest that Irish agriculture, particularly given its ability to grow grass, is ideally placed to help feed the rapidly rising world population and, thus, should not be subjected to the same emission reduction targets as other sectors.

Therein lies the problem. Everybody thinks that it is everybody else's problem. We look to America and blame their gas guzzlers. We blame the coal-burning fuel stations of China or the destruction of rainforests in South America.

So any solution to the problem has to be across sectors and across boundaries. It is an issue for governments and industry, but every day, each one of us, in our daily lives and in our businesses, make decisions which can impact for better or worse on climate change.

Footprint

Eddie Downey pointed out that the carbon footprint per unit of food produced in Ireland is reducing. He pointed to improving technological and management practices which will continue to mean greater returns from less.

However, while further technological advances will mean that Irish farming can reduce its emissions at current production levels, how does this fit in with the vastly higher output targets of FH 2020?

And, sorry, I can't help mentioning this again but the most efficient animals in terms of energy conversion – bulls – are being driven out of the food production chain.

Behind all this is the far more fundamental issue of our planet's ability to sustain our meat and dairy-based diets – especially as global food demands grows.

Despite technological improvements, agriculture production is actually forecast to contract by 2pc per decade because of climate change at the same time that demand increases by 14pc. Join the dots and the picture that emerges is frightening.

We need leadership in this and the publication of our Government's bill on climate change is overdue. But how meaningful will it be?

Even if they and we accept the reality of the impending catastrophe, it's an entirely different challenge adapting the radical measures needed to avert the catastrophe. It's not a battle than can be fought in one day or on one front, but we can fight it if we want to badly enough.

I don't want the earth to be in terminal decline when I pass on. But am I willing to accept a windfarm in my backyard? Are you? What about GM foods? Are we willing to accept lower living standards as part of the battle against rising temperatures?

When I look to my own daily behaviour, I try to make an effort. I turn off lights, only turn on heat as needed, pull out plugs when they are not in use.

But I know there are other changes I could make. A school bus passes through the village less than a mile from our home, yet I drive our children the 10-mile round trip to school.

This routine began when the youngest started playschool. I excuse it to myself, saying that I have to drive them to meet the bus anyway ... and it's just as handy to keep going. Of course, we could walk or cycle to the village ... but it's a really busy road. So we don't.

I always try to wrap up on an upbeat note. This time, I can't. The IPCC report has already receded into the background. Meanwhile, we continue to gallop blindly and relentlessly towards the abyss.

Ann Fitzgerald can be contacted at afitzgerald@independent.ie

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