There are very few mainstream politicians in Ireland who question the reality of man-made climate change or its disastrous consequences for the global environment. Aside from some troglodytes in the Democratic Unionist Party, when one thinks of elected “climate change deniers” in this country the person who most readily springs to mind is Danny Healy-Rae, the opinionated publican-turned-TD from Kerry. His 2016 observation that, “God above is in charge of the weather and we here can’t do anything about it” has given him a prominent place in a list of names normally reserved for more conservative members of the Republican Party in the United States of America.
However the maverick deputy is not alone in his science-scepticism. Michael Fitzmaurice, a founding TD with the Independent Alliance, has previously dismissed the issue of climate change and related matters as a “Houdini act“. So it is somewhat dismaying to see the Journal.ie giving the Roscommon–South Leitrim deputy a platform to launch a contentious attack on public investment in green energy sources, including wind farms. Especially when the online news website fails to point out that Fitzmaurice runs an agricultural and turf contracting business and is the chair of the controversial Turf Cutters and Contractors Association. As John Gibbons wrote for the Irish Times in 2009:
Ireland doesn’t have any significant coal deposits to burn. What we have instead are some of the world’s most important bogs. Peatlands comprise almost a fifth of Ireland’s land cover, and lock away a massive 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon. They are also home to around half our endangered bird species and around a quarter of endangered plant species. Peat bogs are amazingly efficient carbon sponges. A healthy bog typically stores 10 times more carbon per hectare than any other system, including forests. Peatland protection, according to the UN Environment Programme is “among the most cost-effective options for mitigating climate change”. Damage to peat bogs is now producing the equivalent of over a tenth of total global fossil-fuel emissions
Since then a small but influential coterie of individuals and businesses have repeatedly lobbied for the right to profit from the destruction of our island nation’s almost unique ecological heritage.
What makes Michael Fitzmaurice’s article even more tendentious is his reported presence at a secretive June 1st meeting of the Irish Climate Science Forum, a pseudo-scientific sceptic group formed last May. The gathering in Dublin was addressed by William Happer, a retired atomic physicist with close ties to various conspiracy theorist groupings in the United States, including “chemtrail” obsessives and HIV-deniers. An article by DeSomg UK states that:
Happer delivered his behind-closed-door presentation in an upmarket Dublin hotel to a hand-picked audience, numbering around 40-50, which included a number of senior staff from Met Éireann, Ireland’s national meteorological service.
His presentation, which DeSmog has seen, was titled: ‘Irish Agriculture – A New Look at the Influences of Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Carbon Dioxide’.
One audience member attending Happer’s talk was rural TD (member of parliament), industrial turf cutter and noted climate denier, Michael Fitzmaurice. In a surreal moment, he asked Happer for advice on how to defeat the arguments of people “who claim that climate change is real”.
Group organiser, Jim O’Brien, an engineer, refused to answer any questions from DeSmog UK and barred our reporter from attending. DeSmog UK also contacted Happer directly by email with a series of questions, but at time of going to press, he had not responded.
The inaugural meeting of the fringe group in May witnessed a lecture by Richard Lindzen, a retired American professor associated with the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a British climate denial group, and the Koch-founded Cato Institute, a right-libertarian think tank in the US.
While Michael Fitzmaurice is perfectly entitled to question the allocation of public monies to green technologies and the benefits to be derived from it, indeed that is his job as a Teachta Dála, his minority opinions on the broader subject of global warming and environmental protection should also be known. It is one thing to hold a point of view on any given matter, quite another to deride settled science.