“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” This line came to mind when reading a piece by Conor Gallagher in the Irish Times from Sunday 7th of May: “The Defence Forces has confirmed it monitored four Russian navy and commercial vessels as they travelled off the Irish coast last week.”
Why is this significant? Three things come to mind. Firstly, this could be a simple act of posturing and intimidation.
Secondly, there is a non-zero possibility, should tensions escalate sufficiently, that Shannon Airport is an attractive target for the Russian brass. Shannon is, lest we forget, an important military asset for the United States. According to a Clare Echo piece from the 17th of February 2022, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine:
“There has been a significant increase in number of aircraft transporting US military personnel through Shannon Airport en route to NATO countries in Eastern Europe this week. … but no formal request has been received by the Irish Government for increased activity at the International Airport. … Shannon Airport is used for the US military to refuel their aircraft with four instances occurring in a two hour period alone this week. … In 2020, a total of 65,965 US troops passed through Shannon Airport in a ten month period, more than any year between 2014 to 2017.”
Moreover, Ireland is not a member of NATO which means a military strike on our soil would not activate Article 5, the “principle of collective defence” that is “at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty.” This mutual defence agreement basically means that if a NATO country is attacked, all NATO countries must respond as one collective. Shannon Airport would, theoretically at least, therefore provide an ideal target for a Russian missile; it would disrupt American troop and logistics movements, without technically being a direct attack on a NATO country.
What leads me to believe this to be unlikely, or at least unnecessary, is the range that Russian missiles are claimed to have. The “R-29RM Shtil”, for instance, has an apparent range of 8,300km and is launched from submarines. As such, oversea Russian vessels don’t need to be lurking anywhere near Irish waters in order to for a radioactive crater to appear where Shannon Airport used to be.
(To be very clear, I am not saying that Shannon shouldn’t be facilitating US military transport. This is a very different discussion. I am merely exploring one possibility as to why Russian Navy vessels might be floating around off of our South West coast.)
Thirdly, underwater internet cables run off our coast. “Russia military ships, or ships connected to the Russia Government,” writes Gallagher in his piece for the Times, “have become frequent visitors to Irish waters in recent years prompting concern among some experts that they are mapping or interfering with subsea cables off the Irish west coast.” This possibility of underwater infrastructure being tampered with or destroyed should be concerning in light of the mysterious destruction of the Nord Steam pipeline last year. “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh has alleged US Navy divers laid bombs that destroyed the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea last September,” write Caitlin Doornbos and Samuel Chamberlain for the New York Post, “drawing a denial from the Pentagon”. “Hersh’s report”, continues the piece, “suggested Biden ordered the explosions to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from “weaponiz[ing] natural gas for his political and territorial ambitions,” as Germany — and the rest of Europe — relied heavily on Russia for natural gas.” In a Forbes piece about Europe’s perplexing dependence on Russian gas, Ariel Cohen writes: “The energy crisis unfolding in Europe has many drivers, but EU green policy hubris, and Russian hard-nosed energy poker are the key.” While reading as if written recently, Forbes published this piece in October of 2021: four months before Putin invaded Ukraine. Our dependence on Russia’s energy exports were, you see, an issue long before the war.
During a February 2023 interview on The Hill, Hersch defended the claims he made in his original article. In fairness, he may be totally wrong. But if we assume for a moment that he isn’t, and that US operators had something to do with destroying Nord Stream, why would the Russians not do something similar? Why not blow up key underwater internet cables if sufficient escalation occurred? In fact, why wouldn’t a cornered Russia do this regardless? All’s fair in love and war etc.
“Ninety-five per cent of the world’s internet traffic”, writes Alexander Downer in the Spectator, “passes through just 200 undersea fibre-optic cable systems.” In our hyper-connected age, a scenario involving serious disruptions to the internet is dreadful to imagine. Especially if this was also accompanied with missile strikes on communications satellites. “Russia has carried out a missile test,” write Paul Rincon and Jonathan Amos for the BBC News, “destroying one of its own satellites.” This piece was published in November 2021, just 3 months before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And while their piece largely focusses on the dangers of space debris, the military applications of anti-satellite weapons aren’t too hard to imagine. In another BBC piece, What would happen if all satellites stopped working?, Richard Hollingham imagines “what might happen if we suddenly encountered a day without satellites.” By 10pm, writes Hollingham:
“Communications, transport, power and computer systems had been severely disrupted. Global business had ground to a halt and governments were struggling to cope. Politicians were warned that food supply chains would soon break down. With fears of a breakdown in public order, governments introduced emergency measures.”
The less well that the internet and our communications are functioning, the easier it is to imagine global supply chains in disarray. Dysfunctional supply chains then mean that goods and services don’t, or can’t, get to where they are needed. In turn, this means that food and fuel is harder to move. As a result, people eventually go hungry in the dark and cold.
And due to efficient but fragile practices like “Just-in-time” supply chains, and agricultural methods that require imported inputs, we are sensitive to geopolitical shockwaves—such as pandemics and war—in ways previous generations were not. This is where Ireland needs to take its food and energy security more seriously.
Many supposedly “sustainable” policy approaches around food, such as the vegan-centric scapegoating of livestock, are heavily influenced by eco-imperialism and thinly veiled economic fascism. These approaches need to be binned yesterday. Any notion of decreasing the cattle herd because of burps, or destroying our fleet of fishing vessels so that other countries can fish off Irish coasts in our stead, require similar scrapping. Interestingly, as Gript and The Burkean have reported, a new organization called the Farmers Alliance has been formed in resistance to attacks on Irish food producers. Each and every policy that makes Ireland less well able to produce its own food, using its own soil and waters, not only destroys the livelihoods of our independent farmers and fishermen, but increases the chances that people will starve in the event of supply chain disruptions.
And then, starvation risk aside, farming isn’t just about the production of calories. “Whose food you eat,” said Thomas O’Connor in an interview for my podcast, “their slave you are.” O’Connor, a Kerry farmer, unpacked this statement throughout our discussion when he described how the Irish farming organization Talamh Beo, which means “Living land”, focuses on food sovereignty rather than just food security. While food security is about ensuring you have a minimum caloric value to stay alive, food sovereignty is about much more than that. Food sovereignty is about local production, nutrient-dense food, and culture, which all relate to wider ecological stewardship. And from a food security perspective, as an added bonus, a food system that is more sovereign and locally dependent because it requires less imports like nitrogen and phosphorus, is inherently more buffered from disruptions to global supply chains.
Then, from an energy perspective, naïve notions of switching to renewables anytime soon, given current technology, need to be scrapped. Innovation in renewable technology will hopefully come with time, but we cannot rush transition at the expense of sacrificing energy security. In the Forbes piece quoted above, Cohen points to the seemingly detached dreamworld that EU technocrats have been living in. A dreamworld which involved placing huge emphasis on decarbonising Europe, without actually building commensurate energy replacements:
“As the EU sought to decarbonize their energy infrastructure, Brussels failed to establish a reliable baseline capacity for electricity generation. Today, without the ample nuclear, coal, and gas power stations, Europe would be a dark and cold place indeed. Moreover, they lack sources of energy for low renewable periods like the “windless summer” of this past year in the UK. Low wind speeds and cloud cover are becoming more unpredictable as climate change progresses, and the lack of baseload generation has resulted in the current crisis.”
As part of this move toward energy security, we must acknowledge that we have peat resources of our own, despite threats from the EU not to use it. Moreover, we need to ensure that we have sufficient gas storage in case of emergency. Speaking in August of 2022, Don Moore, Chair of the Energy and Climate Action Committee at the Irish Academy of Engineering, claimed Ireland was “the worst prepared country in Europe at this point in time”, and that “we’ve got ourselves into this situation” by choosing not to have any gas storage in the bank for a rainy day. Furthermore, while “experts believe that there are billions of barrels of gas off Ireland’s coasts”, writes Niamh Ui Bhrian in a piece for Gript, “we are telling them that our green reputation matters more than our ability to ensure our people can access energy.” We also need to address our bizarrely irrational resistance to nuclear energy. Especially with advances in Small Modular Reactors, and the fact that we are building a roughly 500km long “subsea Celtic Interconnector” with France, a country which produces 68% of its electricity through nuclear power. Ireland’s relationship to nuclear power is something I have previously explored, in some depth, in Dark Age Scholastics and Nuclear Energy Theatrics.
Quite understandably, a lot of this may sound far-fetched to some readers. However, if the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine have taught us anything, it’s that things can get very messy, very quickly.
Six months before Putin’s invasion, I wrote a piece for Areo exploring areas around existential risk. Existential risks involve threats to humanity’s future potential relating to total annihilation, permanent civilizational collapse, and locked-in techno-tyranny. Leading figures in the field have painted a troubling picture. In The Precipice, Toby Ord of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute suggests that there’s somewhere between a one in six, and two in six chance, that our species will not make it out of the century without destroying our future (pg. 167-170). Martin Rees of the Cambridge Center for the Study of Existential Risk is less optimistic. He estimates that there is a 50% chance that all human civilization will collapse by the end of the century. Phil Torres writes in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that, if Rees’s estimate is correct, “the average US citizen is nearly 4,000 times more likely to encounter the ruination of modern civilization than to perish in an aviation disaster” and “almost 50 times more likely to see civilization collapse than to die in a vehicular accident.”
A silver lining to Russia’s recent exploits, one can hope, might be that it rings loud as a wake-up call for Ireland to take our food and energy situation more seriously. Perhaps it will alert us to the fact that the bureaucratic and corporatist dreamworld of climate-colonialism is actually a nightmare.
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Dorothy’s famous line, of course, is from The Wizard of Oz, which was released on August 25th 1939. A week later, to the day, Hitler invaded Poland. History isn’t over.
Ciarán O’Regan is an Irish physical culturalist and curious generalist. His Substack is Quarrelsome Life, his Twitter is @quarrelsomelife, and he co-hosts the Learning to Die Podcast with Dr Ian Dunican.