Election 2016: Climate Scientists Call for a Citizens’ Convention on Climate Change

Last week a group of 29 academics, which includes climate scientists, came together to call on our political parties to back the setting up of a Citizens’ Convention for a Post-Carbon Ireland. They have also asked members of the public to give their support to the call by signing an online petition available on the website http://www.postcarbonireland.org

John sweeny

Climate scientist, Professor John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth is one of the 29 academics in Ireland calling for a ‘Citizens Convention for a Post-Carbon Ireland’

Post-Carbon Ireland is an initiative of this group of leading Irish academics to raise the critical issue of climate action during the 2016 general election campaign. In the view of the academics their proposal for a Citizens’ Convention for a Post-Carbon Ireland would involve a sustained, citizen-led, national discourse on the challenges that climate change poses to our society, and how we can and will respond.

They remind us that since pre-industrial times, our world has warmed by a global average of almost 1°C, due primarily to greenhouse gas pollution from human activities. This has already triggered serious planetary-scale climate disruption, and is having devastating humanitarian impacts on vulnerable communities in diverse geographical regions. The scientists give us hope in that they say that we are “not powerless”. They continue: “We can still act: both to limit the speed and ultimate severity of global climate impacts, and to brace our own society for the potentially drastic shocks ahead due to the climate disruptions we have already initiated. This will require urgent and radical societal transformation. That can only happen with the willing engagement and support of the people. We need a genuine, sustained process that allows every single citizen and community in Ireland to fully consider the range and nature of the changes we face, and to advance policies and actions that are commensurate with them. Only in this way can we hope to create the unity and solidarity that is essential to create a strong, resilient, and genuinely sustainable society. We need a Citizens’ Convention for a Post-Carbon Ireland.”


The group has already written to many political parties asking for their positions on their proposal in order to maximise the opportunity for effective climate action regardless of which parties form the next government.   Updates will be published on the Post-Carbon Ireland website as politicians respond.

The academics are appealing to sign the online petition on http://www.postcarbonireland.org in support of the call for the Citizens Convention. Next week they will deliver the full list of signatories from the petition. The Group’s website has a video of the recent launch of the initiative and also an open letter addressed to all parties and candidates in General Election 2016. The letter ends with a quotation from a blog ‘The Climate Psychologist’ which includes a reference to the Climate Agreement in Paris in December last.   

“By comparison with the Climate Change threat, every other national issue now pales into insignificance: post Paris, doing ‘our best’ is no longer answer enough — it is finally time to do what is necessary”

March events can be found here

The Questions to Ask Politicians on the Most Urgent Issue of our Times – Climate Change

2015 was the hottest year ever recorded, with many countries including Ireland experiencing extreme weather events on a level never seen before. Friends of the Earth and Trocaire have launched campaigns to encourage us to put questions to our politicians on their commitment to taking action on climate change and so set us on a path to a zero-carbon future.      


Activists outside Leinster House illustrate the ‘tug-of-war’ between fossil fuels and renewables for the future of Irish energy policy

“Nobody ever mentions climate change on the doorstep”. This is what Oisin Coughlan of Friends of the Earth says he regularly hears from politicians.  Given that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity, he says that when politicians are canvassing us for our votes we should ensure that we question them on what their policy is on addressing the challenge of climate change.

Oisin Coughlan says that by us mentioning flooding, fracking, or Ireland doing its fair share, on the doorstep or even just saying we’re concerned, means the TDs in the next Dáil will be that bit more likely to listen to organisations campaigning for climate action. He says that if you get into a conversation with politicians you can remind them that the recent Paris Climate Agreement and the Government’s new National Energy Policy that followed a few days later calling for a zero carbon future, means moving to a fossil-free, community-centred energy system, starting now. He goes on to suggest six questions that we could ask our constituency candidates.

Will you / your party:

  1. Ban fracking in Ireland?
  2. Put in place a payment for solar electricity so households and communities can get paid for the power they feed into the grid?
  3. Make a plan to stop burning peat for electricity by 2020 and coal well before 2025?
  4. Set up one-stop-shops in every county, like the Tipperary Energy Agency, to help households and communities to save energy and own renewable generation projects?
  5. Set up a financial support scheme, like the old SSIA’s, to help people invest in upgrading their homes to cut energy waste (Labour is promising one for first-time buyers, will you extend it to anyone retrofitting their home)?
  6. Make it the law that local communities have to be offered 20% ownership of developer-led energy projects, as happens in Denmark?

Oisin Coughlan says that a ‘yes’ to these six questions would be encouraging – and if these policies are implemented it would put us on path to a zero carbon future. Politicians will also face questions at an election husting event on Wednesday, 17 February at 5.45pm in Wynn’s Hotel. The event is being organised by Dublin Young Friends of the Earth Ireland and the Irish Environmental Network.



The Columban Ecological Institute in Dalgan Park, Navan has developed a similar set of questions for us to ask politicians, as those compiled by Friends of the Earth. Writer and theologian Fr Sean McDonagh has been at the forefront of the Institute’s work. Included in the Institute’s questions is a specific question on how politicians can reconcile our commitments, on the one hand to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on the other hand to increase the national cattle herd of 7.1 million cattle by 300,000 by 2025, as set out in the Governments ‘Food 2025’ Plan. The Institute points out that methane from cattle is even more damaging than carbon as a greenhouse gas and that agriculture already contributes one third of Ireland’s emissions.


Trocaire’s campaign slogan is ‘Vote for Justice in 2016 – Tell election candidates we need action on climate change’. The two questions they suggest that we ask politicians are: 1. Will you immediately take action to phase out polluting fossil fuels? 2. Will you commit to Ireland signing up to a Financial Transaction Tax? (To pay for urgent climate action and also to fund public services here in Ireland, at no extra cost to citizens. See http://www.robinhoodtax.ie). A humourous part of Trocaire’s campaign, but also one that highlights the serious issue of ‘short-termism’ is a spoof party political promotion video by Joseph Bloggs of the ‘Party Now’ Party. To view the video see ‘Get Involved  / Election 2016’ at http://www.trocaire.ie


Trocaire’s spoof video, featuring Joseph Bloggs of the ‘Party Now’ Party, has a powerful message
February events can be found here

Eye Opening RTE Programme on Living Longer and Healthier Lives

Last week Dr Lara Dungan presented an excellent and revealing  programme in the Eco Eye series.  She discovered that where and how we live, travel and work, the air we breathe, the food we eat, even the packaging that our food comes in, all combine to have a huge impact on our health.  She also suggested ways that we can protect ourselves and our children from everyday environmental pollution.



Environmental pollutants cause 13 million deaths worldwide each year and in Ireland it costs our health system €2 billion a year. The programme focused on the effects of these pollutants such as air pollution and man-made chemicals and also examined the environmental causes of the obesity epidemic in Ireland.

Dr Lara Dungan, Eco Eye presenter  

The one billion cars in the world are not just contributing to climate change. They spew out noxious gases and particulates. In the programme, experts from Trinity College pointed out that the air pollution from cars contributes to asthma, lung cancer and heart disease. The petrol and more especially the diesel car pollute the air for the driver, cyclists and pedestrians. The conclusion was that we need to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads, use them less and use lower emission cars and of course introduce more electric cars.

The programme also looked at another form of air pollution – one that causes over 1000 deaths per year in Ireland. This pollution is caused by burning solid fuels in our fireplaces. The worst air quality is in our smaller towns – higher than in Dublin.  People lighting solid fuel fires in the evenings pollute the air in their neighbourhood and also within their houses. While it is still legal to burn smoky coal in towns of less than 15,000,   a total countrywide ban on smoky coal is coming into effect later this year. Burning peat and wood can have similar effects on the local air as smoky coal.

If we reduce our burning by 40% – would save more than 500 hundred lives every year and help people who have asthma and similar conditions. A non-polluting option for householders that was suggested was the installation of heat pumps. Retrofitting houses to ensure higher levels of insulation and so lower the requirement for smoky fires can also help.

Exposure to man-made chemicals can have some serious adverse impacts on our health. The programme revealed that a 2014 WHO study linked endocrine or hormone disrupting chemicals to numerous diseases and disorders including breast and prostate cancer, IQ loss, genital malformation, and obesity. We are exposed to 110 of these in food packaging, household and cosmetic products. Professor Vyvyan Howard told presenter Lara Dungan that we get these chemicals in food, toothpaste, cosmetics, and household cleaning agents. He went on to point out that in the 1960ss a woman had a one in twenty chance of developing breast cancer. Now unfortunately it is a one in eight chance. He said that exposure to low doses of these chemicals in the foetal period is likely to be significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Professor Howard pointed out that chemicals in pesticides find their way into our bodies. He recommends that if we can we should eat natural and organic produce. In relation to food packaging he said that half of tin food cans have a lacquer on the inside that can leach into the food.

On the subject of cosmetics, Lara Dungan told us that when women use them, they apply up to168 chemicals to their bodies.   Not all cosmetics contain these chemicals. Exposure to chemicals in our environment we were told is costing Ireland over €5 billion a year in health costs. This excludes the human cost. The presenter emphasied  importance of tighter restrictions to protect us from these endocrine or hormone disrupting chemicals.

The programme concluded on the role of the environment in contributing to obesity. Professor Donal O’ Shea told us that fifty years ago we were the “lightest” country in Europe but we now are on course to be the “fattest” country in Europe by 2030. The environment of high fat, high salt and high sugar food, the take-aways he pointed out as the major contributors to the problem. He said it is predicted that one third of our population  will have Type 2 Diabetes by 2050 – currently 25% of our 3 year olds are overweight or obese. Prof O’Shea emphasised that we really have to make walking to school, cycling to school and active transport to work a reality as is the case in the Netherlands and Finland.

Presenter Lara Dungan’s overall conclusion was that to protect public health we need to protect the environment and that it is inot just mportant for our health,  it also makes economic sense. We look forward to other programmes in the Eco Eye series which air on RTE One on Tuesdays at 7pm. The programme is produced by Duncan Stewart and is available to watch back on RTE Player.

Click here for February events

Proposed Changes to the Wildlife Act Will Further Threaten Ireland’s Birds and Bees

Just before Christmas it was announced that Heather Humphreys, TD and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht was to introduce significant changes to the current Wildlife Act in time for the launch of the Heritage Bill 2016. Jennifer Mc Aree of Transition Monaghan believes such changes will allow further destruction of Ireland’s biodiversity.


Hedgerows in County Monaghan:  corridors and habitats for wildlife

As the law stands, under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976, the cutting of hedgerows and burning of vegetation is prohibited between 1st March and 31st August each year. The proposed changes would mean that hedgerow cutting would be allowed throughout the month of March, while upland and bogland scrub and vegetation could be burned throughout the month of August.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Wicklow Uplands Council and other lobby groups argue that the current Section 40 of the Wildlife Act is too strict as it prevents farmers from maintaining their farms and can lead to land abandonment in hilly areas. Under pressure from such organisations, Minister Humphreys decided to propose extending cutting and burning practices into March and August. Despite opposition from conservationists and the Seanad, the Bill has made it through to the Dáil. If passed, this would exacerbate Ireland’s record of violating EU wildlife legislation, with potential legal implications.

In response, Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust and the Hedgelayers Association of Ireland came together to launch the ‘No to more Slash and Burn’ campaign, encouraging people to sign an online petition asking the Minister to abandon her decision. They say that the change to the hedge-cutting dates will lead to further declines in populations of  Yellowhammer, Linnet and Greenfinch birds and reduce essential food supplies for pollinators such as bees.  A third of our pollinators are threatened with extinction. Ms. Humphreys insists that the proposed changes will be introduced on a pilot basis over two years and strictly controlled, even though the current regulations are consistently breached as they now stand.

Exceptions to Section 40 are already permitted for various public safety and agricultural purposes. Non-compliance stems from weak policing due to a lack of wildlife rangers employed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), confusion over the exact prohibited timeframe and a shortage of biodiversity officers in local authorities. Many citizens are also oblivious to the existing legislation so that any suspicious behaviour often goes unreported.

Hedgerow cutting has been carried out for generations to dissuade overgrowth and ensure public safety on roads. Hedges provide a natural barrier between lands and help to prevent soil erosion. They serve as superb habitats and green corridors for several bird species (e.g. wrens, robins, song thrushes and greenfinches) and pollinators (e.g. bees and butterflies). Food sources such as berries and insects are abundant along hedges, meaning birds can thrive when left alone. Hedge-cutting, especially with today’s robust mechanical machinery, has the potential to do much damage. Birdwatch Ireland recommends that hedges be tightly cut in February before most birds start nesting and then lightly trimmed throughout the summer months.

The burning of vegetation on uplands and boglands has been practised traditionally to maintain farmland and prevent scrub encroachment. It also ensures that a healthy mix of biodiversity can be maintained by allowing various habitats to host many species of birds, insects and small mammals. Scrubland bird species include warblers, linnets and yellow hammers. Their nesting sites and food sources can be devastated if burning occurs too soon or spreads out of control, which happens easily. The red grouse for example, has declined by 70% in the last 40 years, partially due to mismanaged burning and other farming practices.

So how can you help? Firstly, sign the online petition at my.uplift.ie/petitions/no-to-more-slash-and-burn. Report suspicious cutting or burning activity to the NPWS or the local council. You could go a step further by becoming a ‘citizen scientist’. This means you can look out for various plant and animal species, and record any sightings on the National Biodiversity Data Centre website at http://www.biodiversityireland.ie. It gives great advice on how to identify certain species and all findings will go towards recording and protecting our vulnerable wildlife. There is currently a severe lack of data on Ireland’s biodiversity. Nature is often overlooked until it is harmed – but we can all do our bit before even more damage is done.

Events on in February can be found here