The current row regarding the restricting of turf sales has received much commentary, and I would suggest has succeeded in generating more heat than light.
In particular, a lot of the commentary in national media has despaired at the small/local politics involved and has been totally dismissive of any opposition to the attempts to curtail peat usage on the basis that every sensible well-educated person knows that a) it’s bad for the planet and b) there are plenty of alternative energy sources.
There is an awful lot of very superior moral arrogance in this approach; a lot of ‘woke’ mischaracterisation of resistance to change also.
In regard to this issue, and mirroring the debate about Irish agriculture and its climate action challenges, there is a very large dosage of ‘volunteering’ what other people must do.
The key challenge to getting active buy-in to climate action across the economy has always been, not just the acceptance of the impact human activity and fossil fuel consumption has on global climates, but also the need to get buy-in, initially from political bodies and commentators, but essentially from citizens, as to how consumption patterns can be changed to reduce emissions.
I think we have to respect that there was a learning curve to be absorbed over the last 20 years, but particularly in the last two, that took climate action away from being a news item / global discussion problem, into a requirement for personal action and alternative consumption choices.
If we reflect then on the narrative surrounding the climate change debate in Ireland, I would suggest that while there have been some well intentioned ‘educational’ programmes, there have been all too many strident, almost hysterical campaigns that characterise any questioning of specific actions as being climate change denial.
Additionally, there has been a misuse of climate action challenges to drive home personal choice bandwagons such as vegan/vegetarianism, animal welfare issues and an environmental lobby political belief that all food should be produced locally and that food exports are bad.
Unfortunately, the preachy small-island approach to climate action has not just distorted the debate around turf and indeed the sale of turf, but has been even more distortive and damaging in the case of Irish agriculture and its climate action challenges.
Leading this distorted view of Irish agriculture are a number of sets of ‘accounting statements’ which, in the way they are generally misused in terms of the removal of context, seek only to increase an anti-agri prejudice.
So the bandwagon will regularly state that agriculture accounts for 35% or more of Irish total emissions.
However, it neglects to qualify this by explaining that Irish agriculture is one of the most carbon efficient in the world and that Irish livestock emissions, while accounting for 6% of EU production, account for less than 4% of EU livestock emissions.
It also fails to indicate that agriculture, at 35%, mainly represents the fact that Ireland did not have an industrial revolution based on coal mining steel and other heavy industry, and the closing down of these industries as a carbon credit like our friends and neighbours in the UK and Europe.
Moreover, attempts to suppress and constrain production from Ireland’s low-carbon-emitting livestock sector, in effect, means that global increases in demand for dairy and meat products will be met from higher emitting, non-regulated countries.
The other misused set of accounts are based on the Irish gross domestic product (GDP) myth, which not only includes multinational profits in Ireland’s GDP figures, but also hugely diminishes the contribution of the agri sector in the Irish economy.
It’s an inflated measure and does not mention, that despite constituting only 2% of the false GDP figure, Irish agriculture accounts for one job in eight in the broader Irish economy.
Change the narrative
Perhaps last week’s announcement of €5 million funding for TV and other media to produce new information and communication messages to promote climate action awareness presents a chance to reset and to learn from the mistakes of the anti-agri, anti-rural-Ireland approach of the last two years.
One suggestion I would volunteer as a guidance to all of the communication messages addressing climate challenges from now on, not just in agriculture but across the Irish economy, would be that a key requirement is that they are based on an adult-to-adult sense test.
With that approach, there is likely to be a far greater possibility of real adoption and buy-in from Irish citizens.