Corrib Gas – A final moment of truth

October 19, 2015 at 10:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It appears that the Corrib gas development is close to completion. What it requires is Ministerial approval for production to begin. The final moment of truth for this project has arrived.

In its long and disturbing history many aspects of this project have given cause for concern. These include:

  • The inadequacies of the planning system
  • The fragmented nature of the consents and approvals regime covering projects of this scale
  • The failure to integrate the principle of community consent into the criteria for developing large-scale infrastructural projects
  • The difficulty in expressing dissent from dominant versions of what constitutes ‘development’

There are undoubtedly many other issues as well which people on different sides of the Corrib gas debate would identify. But one crucial issue has remained largely invisible. Should Ireland be exploiting any fossil fuel reserves whatever in the current context of ecological emergency and climate change peril?

That this is not a live question is testimony to the weakness of environmental politics in Ireland and the extent of the real-world denial characterising our governing and media establishments.

A number of brief points can be raised in support of the view that we should step away from any development of indigenous fossil fuels. Let me note a few.

First, we do not need to do so. The world is awash with sufficient reserves. No further developments are required unless the global ‘community’ wishes to plunge into a catastrophic climate change event.

Second, the one rationale for exploiting ‘natural’ gas is as a transition fuel away from coal to renewable sources of energy. This is not the case in Ireland.

Third, our energy policy (indeed our policy in pretty much everything) needs to be framed within the reality of a world undergoing rapid, anthropogenic climate change. How far climate change will go we do not know. Whether it will progressively continue or shift suddenly into new climatic states we do not know either. But the reality of rapid climate change is not a matter of belief. It is fact. We must recognise it and live within it and act to at least mitigate its worst effects. In part, this means a radical, concerted reduction in fossil fuel use. This is not simply an economic or political issue. It is a profoundly ethical one.

Finally, it can be helpful to recognise that we are now living within a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. This is one in which human activity is significantly altering the conditions of life on the planet. We are the single greatest agent of planetary change. With this recognition should come the acknowledgement that we are now responsible for the vitality of the Earth. Policies and modes of life appropriate for the preceding Holocene are no longer so for our time. Human welfare and flourishing is now utterly entangled with the welfare of the wider planet.

Given all of this, what should we as a small island State do? What is our moral duty? Does our notion of responsibility extend outwards from us to include all of those, human and non-human, who share this planet and all of those yet to be born? We are faced in this time with the choice to burn off our fossil fuel reserves or to leave them in the ground as an act of ecological investment in the future. What shall we do?

What we know is that if the world is to contain global warming to no greater than 2 degrees Celsius (itself an uncertain safe boundary) we need to leave at least two thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground and not exploit them (Nature January 2015). Within this broader requirement, at least half of all known ‘natural’ gas reserves need to be left un-used. No further discoveries can be exploited whatever.

That is pretty stark but brutally clear. The question is how seriously we wish to take our global responsibility. Will we attend the upcoming Paris Climate talks with firm decisions that signal the abandonment of our carbon fixation? Or will it be business as usual, the fantasy politics that we can go on fundamentally altering the environment about us and nothing of consequence will happen?

Whatever we do, Minister White should recognise the enormity of the decision he is making and how that decision will be another contribution to the slow but steady loss of our shared Earth. The development of Corrib gas is no triumph for anyone. It is a further defeat for everyone.




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