Senator Annie Hoey warns: You can’t burn turf if you are underwater

I keep coming back to a fact that, on the one hand, surely cannot be true, but at the same time, is becoming more and more plausible: Irish politicians sincerely think that little old Ireland can single-handedly stave off a global climate catastrophe, don’t they?

It is objectively remarkable to have to write the following sentence, but, since nobody is willing to say it on one of our flagship current affairs programmes, it apparently needs to be said: Whether or not Ireland bans turf will have no impact whatsoever, of any kind, on sea levels. Even if you accept the prevailing interpretation of climate science in its totality.

Politics used to have a phrase – some of you might remember it – that was regularly cited when a new idea was proposed. That phrase was “cost benefit analysis”.

The idea was simple enough – that policymakers would weigh up the costs of a policy on the one hand, and the benefits of it on the other, and proceed with the policy only if there was broad agreement that the benefits significantly outweighed the costs.

In this case, the costs of the policy of banning the sale of turf are clear: The policy deprives homeowners of a cheap and reliable fuel source, forcing them to seek more expensive alternatives. It also has – as has now become readily apparent – significant political costs for the Government, pitching it, once again, in opposition to the traditions and priorities of rural Ireland.

And what are the benefits? They are, at best, opaque.

David Quinn asked a useful question on this subject, two days ago:

The claims in question are not, actually, about turf: The claim (and it is, at best, dubious) is that 1,300 Irish people die because of air pollution in the round. That would include things like the emissions from vehicle exhausts, oil-fired central heating, the ringsend incinerator in Dublin, and all the rest. How many of those deaths are due to turf is an open question, though one might imagine that the answer is very few. After all, turf burning comprised a much greater percentage of our heating and energy output 100 years ago, and yet, as its use has fallen, deaths from air pollution (or alleged deaths) have increased. That suggests turf itself is a very minor – and that’s being generous – part of the equation.

And what of the benefits to the climate? The climate of course is a global thing, and Ireland is a very small country whose net emissions (taking everything into account) account for less than 1% of the global total. Of that, turf is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percentage point. So negligible as to be functionally meaningless. We will not – this is a statement of fact – impact the climate at all by eliminating turf.

The one potential benefit from stopping turf cutting is, of course, to the boglands from which it comes, and the biodiversity on those. But here, too, the story is a nonsense one: Consider the case of the Inuit (or eskimo, for people of an older vintage) and whaling. The Inuit have been killing whales for food for hundreds of generations, without impacting whale populations. Whales were not decimated by traditional practices, but by the advent of industrial whaling. To this day, Inuit and other communities take a few whales a year for food, and it is – to use the modern buzzword – sustainable.

To the extent that man-made climate change is a problem, it is not – and never has been – caused by traditional activities that people have been partaking in for centuries. The Amazon rainforest is not threatened because the people who live there use its wood for their huts. It is threatened by massive industrial harvesting. The same is true of turfcutting in Ireland.

For a Senator then to go on television and claim – even if flippantly – that turf cutting might have to stop because Ireland is underwater is, and this is being generous, a nonsense. It does not speak well of the caliber of our politicians.

In fact, the reason the turf debate has become such a problem for Government is that it is demonstrating to ordinary people, who may not have noticed before, just how fanatical the political class in Ireland has become

Annie Hoey, by the way, is an opposition politician. One might forgive a Government politician for valiantly defending a policy that they know in their hearts is stupid. But we’re so far gone now in Ireland that even opposition politicians have to resort to this kind of thing, rather than just admitting what most ordinary people instinctively know: That the turf ban is a stupid idea, and that it won’t impact the climate in any way whatsoever.

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