I’ve decided if I’m going to waste a Sunday preparing for the latest showdown, I might as well turn it into a blog… Maybe it will help another scientist some day in preparing for their own media appearance. God knows no one ever trains us to do this, and media communication is so different to the communication style we’re trained to follow in academia. In science, you must acknowledge uncertainty in everything, but in media and politics uncertainty is an excuse for inaction. I’ve got to try to get the balance right and that takes preparation. I plan to post that preparation and evidence base later as a resource to others.
Way less than our 'fair share'
Ireland is one of only two EU countries that will not meet its 2020 emission reduction targets, in large part because our last National Climate Change Strategy expired in 2012 and the last Fine Gael led government rolled back the timelines of the 2015 Climate Change Bill to ensure that no new strategy would be formulated during their tenure. We’re still waiting for a National Climate Change Strategy so it’s not much of a surprise that we can’t meet targets without a plan.
Rumour has it the failure to meet our 2020 targets was devised intentionally to make a case that we needed lower 2030 targets. Surprise, surprise – In July, we found out that the Irish government managed to get a ten percent leeway in 2030 EU reduction targets compared to other EU countries. Unfortunately, even the previous EU emission reduction targets were not enough in combination with other UN parties to keep the Earth below 2C of warming and now, thanks in part to Ireland’s lobbying to get out of doing their fair share, climate change is more likely to get worse instead of better.
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA reported last May that transport emissions will increase 13%-19% on current levels by 2020. Agricultural emissions will increase by 2% in that time, and we’re only half-way towards reaching our 2020 renewable energy production target. We’re the tenth most prosperous country in the world with some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita. We’re most definitely not doing ‘our fair share’ on climate action and no one is being held accountable for that.
Enda Kenny or someone in Fine Gael need to explain to citizens why they have done nothing positive on climate as long as they’ve been in power. I urged the show's producer to bring someone from Fine Gael on or a relevant Minister to explain, but evidently they couldn't find anyone who would agree.
Through much of the “debate”, I felt like planting my face in my hand as McGuirk used tactics like trying to discredit former NASA director Dr. James Hansen by claiming he made outrageous predictions of New York being underwater by 2008. Such claims are difficult to combat directly because McGuirk doesn’t cite his source and of course I’ve never heard Dr. Hansen speak in such definitive terms (because a scientist never would). The accusation goes undefended and McGuirk achieves the intended effect of crowding the space with so much noise that the real issues don’t get heard. After the show, I discover McGuirk’s claim about Hansen is regularly used by climate deniers and has been totally misrepresented and taken out of context. Quelle Surprise.
Of all the efforts McGuirk made to discredit both climate scientists and the panellists, there was one I immediately recognised as a gross misrepresentation when he quoted a vision statement fellow panellist John Gibbons had written for a book called ‘Visions 2100’ and tried to use it as evidence Gibbons was not credible. Having written such a statement myself and knowing that they are intentionally imaginative and creative, I was incensed and called McGuirk out on such a low tactic. I pitied the audience at home who had to listen to this pointless mud-slinging. Now I understand why some of the most esteemed climate scientists I know refuse to participate in these kind of debates.
Long live the status quo
I left the show feeling sad for Ireland. If media continue to frame the climate issue as a “belief” and prioritise contrarian panellists with no relevant qualifications or professional expertise on the subject, we will never ever achieve the kind of transition to address climate change. Media is the essential vehicle to inspire the scale of action we need. If every television show in the world behaves like so many Irish programmes have in recent years, we are certainly heading for an uninhabitable planet.