Serendipity brought me to Glasgow last weekend, not in my capacity as eco-warrior and general life guru, but en route to Islay for fresh air, a break from things, and some single malt whisky.
Passing through Glasgow, it was apparent that everyone had jumped on the COP26 bandwagon; whether it was wind power, solar or just hot air wasn’t clear. Billboards, posters, everywhere seemed eager to make some climate-related point.
The wallpaper effect is in full view, everyone trying to say something and ultimately communicating nothing. The virtue signalling was all around. It’s been a long time since I was in Glasgow, and the immediate impression on my return was the traffic – there were cars everywhere. Of course, the first thing needs to go are cars, but that won’t happen.
There is no doubt that trying to unravel the diverse contributors to and causes of Carbon emissions is complex, intractable and tied up in many vested interests. Nevertheless, you have to admire the innocence of teenage mutant ninja eco-warriors reusing their shopping bags, switching on their gloomy energy-saving lightbulbs and staring mournfully at the empty fire grate with four jumpers on to stay warm, berating politicians and other carbon wasters through chattering teeth.
Until the mega polluters of the world change their ways, the situation is unlikely to change. Chinese manufacturing will continue so long as the rest of the world wants to buy the things they make, likewise in the US and Russia where oil = big bucks and influence.
In Ireland, which contributes less than 1% of carbon emissions, 80% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 is the target. But, despite Ireland’s progressive role in adopting wind farms, is it realistic?
Leading the charge is the Green Party led by Eamon Ryan, who cycles from the front. Someone who has a career interest in bicycles that the Third Policeman would be envious of is determined to recycle the entire country. He recently declared the end of fossil fuels, and all new cars will be electronic by 2030, he says. Fair enough. This is the same person that wanted to reintroduce the wolf to the Irish countryside, almost 250 years after the species became extinct in Ireland. Mr Ryan said he believed that wolves should have a place in Ireland’s environment and would contribute positively to the ecosystem and the State’s national habitat. He also annoyed more than the Healy Raes of this planet when he suggested that a village of 300 people could operate on 30 cars. Car sharing, cycling down to your pick up point would be straightforward; indeed you might get there quicker if one of the wolves decided to give chase.
Ireland’s island status, clinging to the west of Europe makes it ideal for wind farms. And indeed harnessing wave power if it can be made viable. Last year despite the growth of the windfarm estate approximately 11% of energy was lost because of problems with the national grid. In other words one in ten windmills is a waste of time. There are diverse views on windmills.
Ireland’s Birnam Wood
sCommunities point to their size, scale, closeness to property, visual pollution as negatives. They use large amounts of concrete and their end of life disposal plans aren’t clear. Alarmingly also the construction of wind farms has caused MacBeth-esque slippage of forest and bogland. Most recently tonnes of peat slipped downhill near Meenbog Wind Farm, close to Ballybofey and the Co Tyrone border,
The wind farm is owned by Invis Energy who said helpfully: “There is no risk to public health.” The Environmental disaster caused the pollution of the internationally important salmon spawning Mourne Beg river. But hey, who cares about the death of a few thousand fish and their contribution to biodiversity, fishing and tourism.
It’s happened before. In Galway in 2003, during the construction of a 70 turbine wind farm in on the Slieve Aughty mountains at Derrybrien. The landslide sent tonnes of peatland, trees and debris down the mountainside, killing tens of thousands of fish and disrupting natural ecosystems. Repeated attempts to stop the slide by erecting earthworks were effortlessly swept aside by the moving landmass.
In 2019, the Irish State was fined €5 million in relation to the site, with further penalties of €15,000 per day, until the government assesses the impact of the development. To date, the Irish state has accrued over €15 million worth of fines in relation to the wind farm. That continues, so add that to your energy bill. These bogs are also huge carbon sinks and movement or disruption causes the release of carbon, defeating the entire purpose of the exercise. If you want to cycle up and take a look, or take your wolf for a walk, be my guest.
Military Precision Emissions
There’s more. Not many people know that Military figures are not included in a country’s carbon emissions tallies. This is quite unbelievable when you consider that the US military is estimated to emit more hothouse gas than 148 countries out of 195 in the world. Shame on them you may say, but consider for a moment Russia, China, North Korea and India about whose emissions we know nothing.
To give an idea of the scale of the problem, while the eco children of woke Northern Europe are tootling about in their electric cars and bikes berating politicians, Norway invested in a squadron of F-35 fighter jets. These yokes burn 5,600 litres of fossil fuels for every hour they spend in flight. The average car can travel 61,500 km for that amount of fossil fuel, in other words, a car would take three years to throw out an hour’s worth of fighter pollution.
In 2017, the US military bought c270,000 barrels of oil a day and emitted more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide by burning those fuels. The US Air Force purchased US$4.9 billion worth of fuel, and the navy US$2.8 billion, followed by the army at US$947m and the Marines at US$36m. In comparison, the carbon footprint of EU military expenditure in 2019 was estimated to be approximately 24.8 million tCO2e. This is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of about 14 million average cars. It is also considered a conservative estimate.
Taking the Climate Emergency Seriously
It’s no wonder that one of the first things the Northern Ireland Assembly did after their three years off due to the RHI and subsequent huffing debacle, was to declare a Climate Emergency. There is no doubt that if someone lights a turf fire on the Malone Road or desperate housewife fires up the Aga in North Down that there will be repercussions worldwide.
Some countries take the whole situation more seriously than others. Spare a thought for the Zimbabwe delegation to COP 26, that comprised 100 people. Sixty of them have no expertise in climate issues. To get his team there the Zimbabwe PM hired a private jet from Azerbaijan at a cost of $1million. The lads on the trip were clearly pleased to get the gig and entered into the spirit as social media images emerged of delegates pushing groaning shopping trolleys laden with Glenfiddich, Jamesons and various other treats including Irn Bru. The climate briefing obviously covered the need for a hangover cure on a cold Glasgow morning.
It hasn’t been reported whether or not any tiresome teen eco warriors joined the Zimbabweans jollies, it may be that it would all be just too much fun for these eco eager beavers. And anyway as far as they’re concerned you can shove the whole thing up your arse.
What’s the answer? Some folk reckon that it’s hard to establish any actual starting baseline from which to measure progress because there are so many variables world-wide. While the west pursues the ‘fossil fuels bad, renewables good’ maxim, there are other subtle and nuanced views. We could do with some demilitarisation for a start. Make peace not fighter jets. Avoid virtue signalling and empty words and pathetic suggestions. Bicycles may be a solution for an urban woke elite but they won’t cut it elsewhere. Government ministers lecturing us all whilst complicit in eco disasters in their own back garden aren’t acceptable. Likewise the teen ninja eco-warriors. All the hot air and headlines without any accountability.
Developing World Differing Perspectives
Some chastening words on COP26 from NJ Ayuk JD, MBA, Executive Chairman at African Energy Chamber
“I respect China and Russia who aren’t attending #COP26. They’ve no intention of playing games and will drive up their energy industry while the West impoverishes their citizens through radical action. Ironically not attending is better for the planet than the hypocrites arriving by private jets and burning a few million litres of rocket fuel through the atmosphere every 5 minutes to show off to their friends and lecturing Africans to go green immediately with failed promises around energy poverty. China and Russia are laughing at you.
“The 400 private jets used by world ‘leaders’ to get to #COP26 pumped out 13,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, yet they want you to stop eating meat, to stop going on holiday, to buy a new electric car when we don’t even have electricity to charge a Tesla (600 million Africans have no lights), and to spend thousands of dollars on new boilers.”
Jocelyne Machevo, from Mozambique, Energy Industry Expert
“Mozambique is a resourceful country, besides many things we have discovered a huge amount of gas that placed us amongst the most prospective regions in the world. As one can certainly understand, the gas industry also acts as a catalyst for further developments and industrialization, so we (Mozambicans) see in these discoveries an opportunity to boost our socio-economic development.
In Mozambique, less than 50% of its population has access to modern and reliable electricity. So we also see in these discoveries an opportunity to leverage on our own resources, using this gas, which happens to be relatively cleaner, to improve access to energy to the Mozambican households and serve as the base load required to boost industrialization. In simple terms, this is our plan as Mozambicans.
“Data has shown that Africa’s CO2 contribution is minimal while the developed world was busy maximizing the benefits of their own resources and focused on their own development, which is nothing but fair and understandable. It is now our turn to do the same, to exercise our fairness right.
We have decided to not romanticize and entertain solutions that will not solve our core problems. Renewables at this moment, cannot solve our energy poverty issues, we do not have yet the money, matured technology, infrastructure, policies, just to mention a few.”
I suspect I’m not the only one, and that other people are fed up with the likes of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mary Robinson, Elon Musk, Eamon Ryan and worst of all Boris Johnson telling us what to do. With their cavalcades, their executive jet, their space rockets, hot air, self-interest, cycle schemes, wind farms, and huge military expenditure the answer is straightforward. Turn up, tune in, and COP out.