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Irish rainfall, and the Changing face of Climate Change

In response to the latest IPCC Report, the Green Party issued a statement on 9th August 2021 saying that, “Time is running out, and we must take action now”. If it seems like the Green Party has been using consistent language about IPCC Reports for many years, that’s because the Green Party has been using consistent language about IPCC Reports for many years. On 6th April 2007, Ciarán Cuffe issued a statement on behalf of the Green Party about that year’s IPCC Report, in which he boomed, “The time for talking is over; it’s now time to act. We have the science, we know the impacts; it is time for action”. However, while today’s language is consistent with that from 2007, the predicted impacts of climate change seem less consistent. Whatever the Green Party then believed about science, it’s not clear that they ever knew much at all about the impacts of climate change.

Ciarán Cuffe’s 2007 statement went on to explain that, “Here in Ireland the effects of climate change can be summed up as ‘more floods and less spuds’. Extreme weather events such as flooding will become more common, and staple crops such as potatoes will become less viable. Changes in rainfall will leave water supplies vulnerable to weather extremes such as winter flooding and summer droughts.”

That’s pretty clear. In April 2007, we were told that the impacts of climate change here would include “summer droughts”, which would threaten our ability to grow potatoes in Ireland. As I subsequently wrote to The Irish Times, the summer of 2007 was then “the wettest Irish summer in 10 years with Leinster experiencing more summer rainfall than had been observed in the previous 50 years. In 2008, summer rainfall in Ireland was above normal everywhere and more than twice the normal level in the east and southeast. For summer 2009, Met Éireann confirmed that for the third successive year, every station in Ireland reported above normal rainfall, and Valentia saw the wettest summer since records began in 1866.”

Ciarán Cuffe responded in the paper of record to offer evidence for his claim. He reported that “the Environmental Protection Agency report Climate Change – Refining the Impacts for Ireland states, ‘winter rainfall in Ireland by the 2050s is projected to increase by approximately 10 per cent while reductions in summer of 12–17 per cent are projected by the same time’.”

The prediction was then even more clear after Ciarán Cuffe had doubled down. A schedule was outlined, and the days of the Irish potato were numbered. Time will have run out for our Taytos by the 2050s. In fact, since Ciarán Cuffe made his “less spuds” prophesy in 2007, we are now almost half way to champ-ageddon. Presumably then, the forecasted “summer droughts” should now be coming into view?

The most recent IPCC Report is a tome of almost 4,000 pages, but it does come with a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document to help interpret the Report. FAQ 8.3 on page 229 includes the diagram below and states that, “Drought is expected to get worse in the regions highlighted in brown …”

Specifically, the IPCC forecasts for the impacts of climate change, suggest that large changes in precipitation are not expected in central and northern Europe. We can also look at data from Met Éireann to search for some hints of the forthcoming Great Tuber Tribulation. While data is only charted up to 2014, evidence for “summer droughts” remains elusive. In fact, the 30-year averages show that summer rainfall has been increasing in Ireland, which tends to support the IPCC contention that a reduction in rainfall is not anticipated for central and northern Europe.

Of course, this information could still be consistent with the Ciarán Cuffe prediction. It’s possible that summer rainfall was trending upward in the years following the 2007 Green Party statement, while by the 2050s that trend will be reversed by climate change such that summer droughts will then threaten the Irish spud. It is also possible to accept that anthropogenic climate change is real and that it demands a policy response, while still asking if the planned mitigation measures are consistent with the likely impacts.

The Green Party is currently in government and in control of the Department of the Environment and Climate. They have a prominent role in the formation of climate policies that will involve substantial costs to implement, and even greater costs if they are aimed at mitigating climate impacts that never transpire. Perhaps the Green Party might update us then as to which specific impacts they are anticipating? In 2007 they said, “We have the science, we know the impacts”, and their understanding of the science promised that the impacts would include “summer droughts”. However, most people understand the term ‘science’ to refer to experiments and measurements. In contrast, computer models that attempt to forecast the future are certainly useful, but models are not measurements.

The models being used by the IPCC today are not making the same predictions as those relied upon by the Green Party in 2007. So do the Green Party still “know the impacts” and are they still planning for the potato-apocalypse?

The Author, John Hamill, is a writer and campaigner based in Monaghan. More of his work can be found at his website.

 

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