Sunday, August 3, 2008

What do the US and Ireland's EPA reports say?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 31st in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In last week’s column I began discussing some of the consequences of global warming that residents of a wetter and hotter Emerald Isle will be confronting in the coming years. Today I want to continue that discussion by focusing on the results of some climate change research conducted by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as by John Sweeney and Laura McElwain, who work at the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units (ICARUS) on the National University of Ireland’s (NUI) Maynooth campus.
Sweeney and McElwain conducted their research on behalf of Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which has since published their findings in landmark report on how climate change is affecting our island. This report is notable because its findings both preceded and in many respects mirrored those released in my own country on 17 July by the US’s much larger and better funded EPA. Both of these reports also echo warnings from other scientists as well as the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the problems we face due to the negative impacts of global warming on our climate and health.
For those out there who still doubt that global warming poses grave threats to our health and our welfare, I would like to point out that the most recent report issued by my home country’s EPA came about despite the opposition of President Bush’s political hacks, who have consistently resisted any conclusions that increasing temperatures will harm human health. This contention is supported by the fact that the US report was released just days after the same EPA, which is run by Bush appointees, declined to regulate the pollutants blamed for warming. In fact the Bush administration would have never released such a report were it not for a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in a federal lawsuit (brought to court on behalf of a group of US state governments) that instructed the Bush administration to determine whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Clearly the Bush administration is determined to do the bidding of the US automotive and fossil fuel industries for as long as it remains in office, so any US federal government action to deal with the pollutants responsible for global warming will have to wait until after a Democratic President Obama takes office on 20 January 2009. But Ireland doesn’t need to wait to take action like we have been forced to in the US. Ireland’s government ministries are currently run by TD’s drawn from the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Coalition which one would expect to be more sensitive to environmental concerns. I can therefore see no reason why both the Dáil and the Northern Assembly cannot begin to take concrete steps to reduce carbon emissions on the island in addition to becoming international advocates for a cleaner planet within both the EU and the UN.
The urgent need for government action on behalf of all residents of Ireland to deal with the threats posed by global warming is made clear by the conclusions drawn from Sweeney and McElwain’s research. Their meteorological data (which is based on rainfall and temperature measurements collected over the last century) shows that Ireland is not only wetter and hotter than it was 30 years ago, but that the temperature increases we have seen here in Ireland have been double the average increase seen globally. While the rest of Europe is also facing the same negative effects from global warming, Ireland is on the leading edge and will thus be impacted more severely than any of its EU neighbours.
Sweeney and McElwain’s research shows that both the world and Ireland have experienced two periods of global warming over the last century, between 1910 and 1945 and again between 1980 and 2004. But Ireland developed its own unique global warming weather pattern following the end of World War II. When temperatures in the rest of the world began to cool in the mid-forties it took much longer for Ireland’s temperatures to drop. Then when the second period of international global warming began in 1980, Ireland’s temperatures rose at a much faster rate than the average temperature increase for the rest of the world. This faster rate of temperature increase puts Ireland at risk in terms of more frequent and longer lasting heat waves as well as droughts such as those now being experienced in the United States, Australia and other parts of the world.
In their EPA report, Sweeney and McElwain express their concern about future Irish heat waves because they regard them as a threat to Ireland’s “human health, agriculture and water supply”. They also go on to predict that, in future years, Ireland’s heat waves will likely increase in terms of their “severity, frequency or duration”. While some of you might relish the thought of an Irish heat wave while you shiver under your umbrella in the13 C summer “heat”, you will think again once you swelter through a few days at 33 C which, when it’s coupled with Ireland’s high humidity, will feel like 36 C.
The 17 July EPA report paints a remarkably similar picture of the negative consequences US citizens face as my homeland grows warmer. Among other things the EPA report says that “it is very likely” that more people will die during our increasingly frequent heat waves or long periods of high temperatures and that those most at risk of dying will be the inner city poor and elderly people. In other words our society in the US will become one that is increasingly oriented towards the “survival of the fittest.” Is this really what the citizens and residents of Ireland want to see happen to Irish society?
Next week I will conclude my discussion of the impacts global warming is having on Ireland by discussing why a wetter Ireland will not only face more flooding but could also be facing water shortages in the very near future.