Building a sustainable and environmentally friendly nation
We have all been passed this earth we live on and will pass it on again to each new generation, and have a moral responsibility to hand it forwards in at least as good a shape as we received it. Given today’s earth made ill with pollution, fumes and toxic biproducts we have the obligation not only to hand it on as we have received it, but to remedy the damage done to date due to recent decades of rapid industrial and commercial momentum. We are living in a time of mass species extinction, manmade global warming, and unprecedented pollution of our oceans, all of which threaten the lives, futures and cultures of people and habitats around the world. Aontú seeks to build a sustainable and environmentally friendly nation while not strangling our small enterprises and traditional skills.
Ireland’s Current Policy
Ireland is committed to a legally-binding EU target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent (on 2005 levels). The latest projections estimate that Ireland will only achieve a 1 per cent reduction by 2020 compared to the 20 per cent reduction target. This is not just environmentally reckless, it will cost the Irish state hundreds of millions of euro in fines. Current Fine Gael policy in this matter is going to bring huge financial as well as environmental costs to us all.
The Future for Ireland’s Energy
It is both possible and necessary to decouple economic growth from increased carbon emissions. This can be done in a number of ways. Ireland imports most of its energy in the form of fossil fuels, but we are well placed to produce sustainable energy locally. This would reduce imports and provide income for Irish people especially in rural areas. Energy from small scale wind, solar and Bio-digestion is potentially within the reach of tens of thousands of farmers in Ireland, many of whom have an income well below the average industrial wage.
Under the current government, Ireland is the last country in Europe to provide a feed-in tariff for the micro generation of electricity. This means that currently any excess energy produced on farms cannot be sold to the grid. As a result the growth of electricity micro generation in Ireland is seriously stunted in comparative EU terms. The north of Ireland is significantly ahead of the south in this respect.
Renewable Energy from within Communities
It is astounding that in the South of Ireland, not one solar farm is plugged into the grid. Germany, roughly on the same latitude as Ireland, produces 6.6% of its power from solar. More British electricity was produced by wind and solar sources last year than by nuclear power stations. Renewables’ share of electricity generation in Britain shot up to 29 per cent, while nuclear sources accounted for around 21 per cent.
The sustainable energy model in Europe has been based in large part on community involvement. In Ireland the government has done the opposite. Massive multinational companies have imposed industrial sized projects onto communities living in pastoral farming land. There has been little input allowed from these communities and there has been very little benefit to local communities.
Much of Ireland’s housing, residential and commercial properties are subpar with regards energy efficiency and while some work is being carried out in the insulation of these properties, it is not to the scale or the depth that is necessary.
The Transport System
Ireland’s complete lack of spatial development is having a serious adverse effect on our ability to mitigate against climate change. One third of Ireland is now a sprawling commuter belt for Dublin and commuting is over reliant on the private car given our lack of fair investment into travel infrastructure.
The Transport system is almost exclusively fossil fuelled. While there is a larger uptake of electric vehicles this year, this increase is from a tiny base. The process has been a failure to date. The recharging infrastructure and incentives are not sufficient to kick start the sector. Many of these incentives do not have to be of a significant financial scale. Time limited parking, bus lane use and toll benefits could help this process.
Dublin is the most congested city in Europe, largely because public transport is incredibly weak in both urban and rural Ireland. Public transport is the most efficient way to move people around our country, it relieves congestion and radically reduces our carbon footprint. It should, if it were run ethically, be accessible to people from different income backgrounds. Aontú will significantly increase the provision of public transport, including the most functional timetabling of services, while significantly reducing the cost to the consumer.
In most cities, towns and rural areas cyclists compete for road space with cars, vans and heavy articulated trucks. As a result, the vast majority of children no longer cycle to school. This creates traffic pinch points at schools in towns, cities and villages throughout the state, and makes arrival at those schools hazardous for children even walking from car door to gate. The lack of safe walking and cycling routes has added to the obesity epidemic that is hurting our children and adults alike. National cycling routes incorporate roads that vary dramatically in their safety and so stretches of these are unsuitable for families or groups.
Irish Native Bio-diversity
Ireland’s Bio diversity is being hammered. This is dangerous at a number of different levels. Even if you set aside our responsibility as a society to protect the diversity and richness of the flora and fauna in our natural environment, there is still a significant economic cost to the destruction of our environment. It is estimated that Ireland’s biodiversity contributes €2.6 billion each year to the Irish economy through ecosystem services.
Ireland has traded for generations on its image of being a green and natural island. We have made billions of euro from food and tourism on the basis of this image.
Inland Waterways and Fisheries
The native freshwater fish population in many of Ireland’s rivers has been decimated by netting, sewage, silting and agricultural pollutants. Half of Ireland’s rivers have had angling prohibited due to lack of fish stock, though angling in itself is not a major contributory factor due to the very low return. Many of the problems lie in coastal fish farming where disease and lice breed and spread to the wild fish stocks. Mortality of salmon stocks at sea has increased due to fish farming and fishing practices so that only a tiny fraction of salmon are now returning to our Irish rivers to spawn. This all has a negative impact on our ecosystem but also on our tourism and organic, wild caught produce.
Given that state funding favours large farmers and that small farms are generally not economically sustainable solely through farming, it follows that survival of farming has meant an industrialisation of practices and acreage in order to produce on a scale large enough to be viable. This requirement on agriculture to produce volume has had the effect of encouraging many unsustainable practices in farming, including destruction of natural habitats, redirection of water for irrigation, soil and water pollutants such as nitrates, soil degradation and bacterial pollutants in well water. On the other hand, farming has branched out to include the farming of liquid biofuels and foresty, which reduces carbon footprint. There is more work to be done in these areas to encourage farmers to reduce negative impacts whether through grant monies for land set aside for forestry or planted to encourage pollination, crop rotations and green manures to add non artificial nutrients back into the soil, or tax reductions for production of organic products.
Recycling and Waste
Housing rates in the north of Ireland cover removal of domestic bins, however in the south the equivalent of Property Tax does not cover bin removal. Bin removal is a separate paid service owned by private companies contracted by the state for that purpose. The recycling bin is treated in the same way as the rubbish bin; the owner pays a charge per lift to see the contents removed. Recycling centres also charge to accept materials, gauged and priced by weight or volume. That consumers are charged to recycle suppresses the normal inclination of the people to look after their environment, and encourages illegal dumping which then costs local council money to remove.
There are obvious and effective ways in which Ireland could quickly make a positive impact on the local environment, and in time on the global environment, saving money and reducing ecological damage over coming years. The benefits would be seen by us but also handed down by us to future generations. The positive impact of an ecologically aware government would improve our tourism economy, our agriculture, our inland fisheries, our native bio-diversity, our native traditional skills, and our health. We stand to gain hugely and lose little by making an effort in this area, and given Ireland’s natural beauty and moderate climate we could very easily become a world leader in sustainability.