The Irish government’s Climate Action Plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 50 percent by 2030. Assuming the intention is to cause the least amount of burden for the most amount of benefit, the government would pursue the optimal solution. However, the government’s green agenda is convoluted, unwieldy, and obscure. To reveal this, let’s explore an alternative way to the attain the climate target — forests.
Science class 101. Photosynthesis is the process of plants breathing just like us. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon. Plants breathe out oxygen and breathe in carbon. This is a natural feedback loop. The more plants there are, the more carbon is absorbed by them. Thus, planting more trees is a direct way of offsetting total carbon output.
Ireland is already in a drastic forest deficit compared to the rest of Europe. The percentage of land covered by forests in Ireland is 11 percent compared to the European average of 39 percent. Ireland’s forests dropped from 80 percent thousands of years ago to about 50 percent prior to 1500 AD. The English colonization of Ireland since then accelerated the siphoning of Irish forests, bringing it almost near zero. The recent century of independence enabled it to climb to 11 percent.
There is a glaring gap in the Irish environment’s natural capacity to offset carbon emissions and its artificially reduced current status. Let’s do the math. Ireland emits 60 million tons of carbon per year. To meet the 50 percent offset by 2030, 30 million tons would need to be absorbed. A standard unit of measure for forests is a hectare which is 10,000 square meters or about 1,500 trees.
A hectare of forest offsets 12 tons of carbon. 30 million tons of carbon divided by 12 equals 2.5 million hectares needed. So, the combination of the 759,000 current hectares and the potential 2.5 million equals about 3.6 million hectares of total forest coverage. You still with me? This would be 52 percent of Ireland’s total 6.9 million hectares used for forests. This is only 13 percentage points above the European average but still lower than other countries. Sweden’s forests cover 63 percent which is 11 percentage points above our Irish figure. It is estimated that the planting a hectare of forest costs about €1,000 (NC State University, World Resources Institute). The total cost of a project to directly plant 2.5 million hectares of new forest would be €2.5 billion.
Finally, to attain the theoretical 52% forest coverage about 22% of existing farm grasslands would need be converted. Irish farmers are currently paid about €450 per acre to convert land to wind turbines. That means, after applying the same cost principle, €1.7 billion of additional cost would be incurred on top of direct planting costs. Looking at the current forest augmentation policy, the government provides €6,700 grant per hectare to Irish farmers to convert their farm land to forest. After subtracting our direct planting costs, this would result in a total of €7.9 billion. If the Irish government were to outright purchase the land, this value might total to a range of €15 billion to €25 billion. The leaning of course for all these land conversion schemes is to convert the lower quality land (the cheaper land) over the premium land (the expensive land).
So three different land utilization schemes at costs of €1.7 billion, €7.9 billion, and €15 billion which would be added to our initial figure of €2.5 billion for direct planting. Comparing to the government’s current €125 billion plan, our new totals come to 3.3%, 8.3%, and 14% of the government’s plan. These additional costs don’t appear outlandish and the activity of land conversion whether for forests or wind turbines is already and has been happening.
The Irish government is currently expecting to spend a total of €125 billion by 2030. If we just showed how the climate goal can be met through a straightforward solution that costs fractions of the government projection, why is the government pursuing such a bloated indirect plan?
Much of that money will be going to deindustrialize Ireland. The government will subsidize unfeasible green energy and the reduction of common-sense fossil fuel energy in Ireland. It will buy green energy imports from foreign countries that manufacture or extract them. That money leaves Ireland to buy foreign goods which then circulates in those foreign economies leaving Ireland out of the picture. Finally, it will circulate money within government aggrandizing insiders.
For all the bluster of the Green Party, its loftiest achievement on this front has been to tentatively commit the Irish government to spend €1.3 billion for 20 percent forest coverage by an unspecified date. This is lackluster growth from 11 percent to 20 percent whereas our previous plan sought 52 percent. Why don’t the Greens seek the maximal green goal? A person needs a few thousand calories a day to stay healthy. One shouldn’t feel they are helping a starving person by feeding them a few dozen calories per day.
This paltry gesture at reforestation is greenwashing. Marketing spin on an ineffective policy. The entire €125 billion Climate Action Plan is greenwashing. Marketing spin to get the Irish people to swallow the enabling of immense fiscal waste and graft. A real lower-case green passion to respect and cherish Ireland’s nature resembles the idea we outlined above. Under our 52 percent forest coverage plan, Irish people could reach the carbon offset target without destroying their modern way of life enabled by common-sense traditional energy. There would surely be other minor costs involved but the budget wouldn’t be abused and fiscal space could open for other urgent matters. Finally, it would restore Ireland’s natural environment artificially distorted by the legacy of imperialism.
Although, surely there is a worthwhile debate about the role of Irish agriculture and how that may be diminished. Personally, I see the over-emphasized cattle sector as a legacy of English colonization, given English overseers wanted to drain the land of Irish natives and replace them with cows to feed England. I don’t see that big an issue with simply emulating European proportionality. Ireland is 2 percent of the land and 1 percent of the population of the European Union, yet it produces 10 percent of the beef. This is obviously an artificial economic outcome even if Ireland has unique environmental advantages for the cattle sector. I also desire to see Ireland built on industry rather than farming. I desire for increased fossil fuel consumption and production from Ireland’s offshore waters to power that increased industrial sector. With all that being said, this “radical” plan still leaves Irish farm grasslands at 37% of land.
In conclusion, this was a simple mathematical exercise to point out the contradictions of the mainstream green agenda and not so much a fully realized policy proposal. It illustrated alternatives to drastically cutting fossil fuel energy and spending tremendous amounts of dubious foreign energy imports exist. Another complementary addition to the reforestation idea is to refill the bogs. Bogs are much better at carbon capture than forests. So where appropriate increasing the percentage of bogs parallel to the percentage of forests would get more efficient results. It also illustrated that the government is quite injudicious or deceptive in its dealings with climate change.
This article was amended on 02/08/2023