‘Over-alarmist’ stance on climate change?

Responding to Prof. Ray Bates on Climate Change and Irish Agriculture

This a fully referenced version of a letter submitted to the Editor of the Irish Times on 14th May 2014, and published on 15th May 2014.

Barry McMullin, DCU.

Sir —

I read with considerable interest the recent opinion piece by UCD Adjunct Professor (of meteorology) Ray Bates (“Warning of ‘over-alarmist’ stance on climate risk”, 13th May). I very much appreciate any efforts by the Irish Times to afford a platform for public debate on Irish policy response to the unprecedented challenge of human-made climate change: it is a debate which is long overdue. Of course, I must respectfully demur from Prof. Bates' idiosyncratic — not to say bizarre — downplaying of the stark warnings contained in recent reports from the highly respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Contrary to Prof. Bates I would say the thing that is most obviously absent from current Irish policy debates is the appropriate level of absolutely rational “alarm”.

Nonetheless, on one specific point, Prof. Bates does raise a very legitimate policy concern, having particular resonance for Ireland: that is, if we constrain Irish agricultural production — in order to meet our overall emissions reduction commitments — is there not a real danger that other, less emission-efficient, producers will simply take over this production, leading in fact to increased total emissions, on a global basis? This problem of so-called emissions-reduction “leakage” (which is not at all unique to the agricultural sector) is a genuine one. As is well known, such problems can only be fully addressed through effective international agreements, and I take it therefore that Prof. Bates is (tacitly?) advocating for strong Irish diplomatic effort in pursuing such agreements (for example, by offering the “bold pledges” requested of Heads of Government by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in advance of the special UN climate summit next September in New York). I would very much welcome that. But we should be clear on the consequences: prioritising, as we must, those agricultural practices having maximum nutritional output relative to greenhouse gas emissions will necessarily favour a major shift in global dietary mix away from beef and dairy toward increased cereal and vegetable consumption. This will obviously have profound implications for the strategic future development of Irish agriculture.

Prof. Bates is to be commended for raising this crucial issue!

Yours etc.,

— Prof. Barry McMullin.

Professor Barry McMullin,
Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Computing
Dublin City University
  phone: +353-1-700-5432
  web: http://www.eeng.dcu.ie/~mcmullin/
  skype: barrymcmullin-dcu.ie
  room: L116

Disclaimer Text Required by my Employer:

"This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential
and are intended solely for use by the addressee. Any
unauthorised dissemination, distribution or copying of this
message and any attachments is strictly prohibited. If you have
received this email in error please notify the sender and delete
the message. Any views or opinions presented in this email may
solely be the views of the author and cannot be relied upon as
being those of Dublin City University. E-mail communications such
as this cannot be guaranteed to be virus free, timely, secure or
error free and Dublin City University do not accept liability for
any such matters or their consequences. Please consider the
environment before printing this Email."