As Greenhouse Gas Emissions Continue to Rise We are Hurtling Towards an Apocalypse at Increasing Speed

In 2012 the World Bank issued a report on the effects a 4 degree level of warming would have on the planet and us. Entitled Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, the report laid out in stark detail what lies ahead of us if we do not rein ourselves in. The authors hoped that the information “shocks us into action” given that the predicted “scenarios are devastating”. Although the report was written before the Paris Agreement of 2015, in which countries pledged to keep the level of global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, it pointed out that, given trends at the time, a warming of 3.5 to 4 degrees was likely.

This would result in an overall 4 to 10 degree rise in temperature over land, meaning that “the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest month at the end of the 20th century”. In the Mediterranean, for example, this would mean a 9 degree warmer month of July than the warmest July today.

Sea levels will rise with the melting of the ice caps, and the increasing acidification of the ocean will result in the mass death of corals and entire ecosystems. Agriculture would not weather the storm either. With a warming level of between 1.8 and 2.8 degrees it is expected that the yields of maize, soybeans, and wheat would all decline by between 14% and 30%; and this is not taking into account water shortages. Large areas of the Amazon will be lost as the rise in temperature results in die-back due to “drier conditions”.

Such a world will be “be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally”. Given that the World Bank is not known as being a bastion of fearmongering environmentalism, its warnings should have been heeded.

We are now seeing, much earlier than predicted, the effects of climate change due to the actions of our species. This summer (2018) temperature records were set across the world. In northern Sweden, the Arctic is literally on fire. In Greece, wildfires ravaged the country, and in Japan landslides caused by massive downpours of rain resulted in the deaths of at least 200 people. Here in Ireland, where it rains up to 225 days of the year in some parts, restrictions on water usage have had to be implemented throughout the country due to the extreme temperatures.

Aptly, during this heatwave the Climate Change Advisory Council issued its annual report on the effectiveness of Ireland’s climate change policy. In its press release for the report, the Council pulled no punches when it came to our ability, or lack thereof, to meet our targets for the next 30 years given our current trajectory. “Ireland”, the press release opens, “is completely off course to achieve its 2020 and 2030 climate change targets”.

Our “greenhouse gas emissions are rising rather than falling” the report notes, with our emissions rising at “a rate of 2 million tonnes per year”. These emissions were “evident across all sectors, with the largest increases in energy industries, up 0.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, followed by transport and agriculture both up 0.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent”. Our current level of carbon taxing is “insufficient to achieve climate targets and objectives” given the current and projected increase in emissions.

Agricultural emissions increased by “4.5% relative to 2014”, with further increases expected. An increase in the number of dairy animals used in farming is responsible for the rise in emissions, with an increase of 25.1 per cent of dairy animals since 2011. Likewise there has been a rise in the number of non-dairy cattle, with an increase of 8.9 per cent since 2011 being noted.

Electricity generation and the continued use of peat and coal, for example, also hampers our ability to meet our stated targets. However, subsidisation of the use of peat, the report notes, will cease next year, “making peat-fired electricity generation commercially unviable.” Nonetheless, it has been proposed that peat burning is continued in order to generate electricity. The authors note that such a decision “would be environmentally harmful”, therefore “resulting in substantially higher emissions of greenhouse gases at significant direct cost to the nation”. Such behaviour will keep “the carbon intensity of this sector well above the EU average”.

All in all, then, the report makes for grim reading, especially given what we know about climate change and the wider consequences of continuing with business as usual. In particular, especially when it comes to the contribution of farm animals to the increase of methane in our atmosphere, a more sustainable agricultural practice is needed; perhaps greater emphasis on meat-free and/or non-diary diets.

Nationally, this would involve dealing with the powerful farming lobby, which, as it stands, takes issue with alternatives to dairy. How farmers would react to being told that animal agriculture in general would need to be scaled back in order to reduce methane emissions is anyone’s guess, but it is not hard to imagine that the reaction would not be entirely enthusiastic. Also, our continued use of peat is important to note given the recent complaints made to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) regarding the recent broadcast of a programme on Irish television on the topic of our peat bogs.

Billed as being about “current uses of Irish bogs as well as their future potential in helping fight climate change”, the programme instead served as an advertisement for Bord na Móna. Self-described as having been “established to develop Ireland’s peat resources for the economic benefit of Ireland”, their apparent sponsorship of the programme was not revealed until a story in the Sunday Times reported as much, thereby forcing RTÉ to admit the “commercial arrangement”. The BAI pointed out that “The productions, services and trademark of the sponsor Bord na Mona were built into the narrative of the programme”.

Furthermore, the BAI argued that even though this “commercial arrangement” was portrayed as sponsorship, it was in fact “product placement”. What was broadcast on national television was not a documentary. Corporate sponsorship of apparently neutral or simply mundane television programming and articles in the media is nothing new.

In the case of Ireland this is well documented, with some stellar work having been carried out on this issue by Julien Mercille. His work focused on the role of the media in inflating the property bubble, and their reliance on estate agents and property developers for advertising income. A former editor of the Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, has gone on record stating that her paper was threatened with loss of income from the aforementioned when her paper dared to publish an article critical of the economy in general, and the property sector and its prices in particular before the economic collapse. This is a textbook example of one of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Five Filters.

Given this knowledge and the fact that Bord na Móna essentially paid for the RTÉ programme, any criticism of their methods and its contribution to the continuing rise of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions was not going to be high on the agenda of the programme makers. It was, instead, an advertisement for the very industry that is contributing to the flouting of our environmental responsibilities.

RTÉ’s reporting of climate change in general over the last month has been far from informative. Conducting a search for the word “heatwave”, at the time of writing in early August 2018, returns seven articles which were published between late June and late July.

Only one of the articles in question even mentioned climate change. This was an article specifically about climate change and even then the phrase was only mentioned twice in the piece. Another article focused on the economic impact of the heatwave while another asked “Will Ireland run out of ice cream?” The BBC fared little better. Priorities, in terms of the type of reporting about the current extreme weather, have been clearly delineated. Such reporting, or lack thereof, not only fails us, it misleads us. It treats climate change as something to be taken advantage of, made light of, or, when discussed at all, talked about in the most insipid way possible.

What we know about the effects of climate change would suggest that we need something more. The media is failing to report basic and informative news about climate change. That the effects of climate change are already here does not seem to make much of a difference when it comes to reporting. Neither does the fact that it seems we are well on our way to shooting past the 2 degree warming limit that much of the world agreed to stay under.

Going past this limit will result in nothing less than an apocalyptic outcome for much of the world as the biosphere dies off, crops fail, clean water disappears, sea levels rise, and extreme weather events pummel us. The media knows all of this yet the reporting continues to be anaemic. In the case of our national broadcaster, it is obscene that the reporting on the issue continues to be languid at best and deceitful at worst. We deserve better than this.

Business as usual, in the media and agriculture and industry, will ensure that the world becomes uninhabitable for us all while we are told that there is nothing to really worry about. Unless the truth of climate change is known - the harsh, unpleasant, and downright depressing truth - accountability and change will not be possible. Once the truth is known, we can come to accept what lies ahead and figure out what we can do to best mitigate the effects of climate change and create a more sustainable society. If this doesn’t happen, and happen now, we will have ensured our own demise.

Featured image via Pixabay – Jody Davis