Climate Injustice

The problem with earth’s temperature heating more than 2 degrees Celsius 

Written by Neil McCabe

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)  held in Rio de Janeiro 1992, set about making goals to stabilise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate. Anthropogenic is essentially the influence of human beings on nature. In the context of climate change, it means the influence of human beings on the earth’s climate system. Since the 1992 convention held in Rio de Janeiro, world emissions and growth rates have actually been increasing year on year, with no control on emissions. There have been so many technological developments and advancements that deliver a cleaner environment, use less energy and improve air quality, but the demand for these technologies has outweighed the initial emission and energy savings. 

When we are talking about a 2 degree Celsius global temperature increase, it’s not easy is to imagine the air over our towns and villages or cities heating up. That’s because 2 degree Celsius does not seem like that big a deal.  It’s equally not easy to notice the temperature over the sea increasing too, especially because we don’t see this occurring. That difference from today to the ice age is only 5ºC, and warming from the ice age took 10,000 years.  Now such a massive change in temperature could occur in only 200 years if, emissions are not stopped quickly. 

The sea acts similar to a giant heat sponge absorbing all the extra heat above it. Just like a real sponge as soon as it’s squeezed the water leaks out, the sea is no different. Warmer waters mean more rain and major changes in local temperatures always follow. If there are no more emissions released from anywhere in the world by next week, the earth’s temperature will still rise by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2050. Existing emissions are currently sitting in the atmosphere, some of them with lifecycles of over 100 years and their effect on our climate over the next many decades guarantees a temperature increase. We have to look for long term action-based plans over the next set of decades rather than short-term, short-sighted plans.  This shift in average climate heat increases shows catastrophic results, society will inevitably breakdown and the new temperature increases will cause new feedbacks. 

We know that it’s important for earth’s temperature to not exceed a 2 degrees Celsius warming yet we make plans as if we didn’t know this valuable information. Thankfully some scientists are arguing that we should be genuinely making a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase as our target – not 2 degrees, but this is probably unachievable even with drastic global effort. It’s a bit like having access to a bank account where we fail to deposit any money, constantly making withdrawals and it’s only when get near to the overdraft stage that we contemplate taking actions. Of course by that time it’s far too late. It seems like anytime we are informed that we are going to have to do something about the state of the account, the universal response is: we have another new plan that we intend to start sometime in the future. The target year of 2050 has given us the illusion that everything will be alright until then. Cutting emissions by 50% by 2050 sounds fantastic but most of today’s emissions will have a lifecycle of between 2 and 150 years spent hovering in the atmosphere. In fact most of the effects of CO2 last for many hundreds of years. Politicians tell us that they will “meet the needs of this generation without compromising the needs of the next.” 

The biggest threat to world climate emissions is actually India. India has been sneaking up behind China and has already reached an emission growth rate of 7.5% every year since 2000. They are currently responsible for 7% of world emissions (while always overshadowed by China’s GDP rates and emissions.) Economists have mislead the public and private sectors with talk of China being unable to maintain its growth rates and year on year China literally proved them wrong, outperforming the market. It’s happening in India as well. It is guesstimated that the industrialised nations (Annex I countries) will have their emissions peaking between 2015 and 2020. However, China’s and India’s emissions will both peak at the same time – 2030. By then India will be producing over 7 gigatonnes of emissions each year, the same volume as China. In other words by 2030 China and India will both separately produce more emissions than all of the rest of the world put together – at the same time. 

The emissions in the troposphere and atmosphere today are already higher than the world can sustain without heating more than 2 degrees Celsius. Leaders simply have to make major long term plans for life on earth after temperatures increase. There is no point in developed world countries making emissions plans, strategies and cuts, while developing world countries are (thanks to their growth rates and improved lifestyles) pumping out more emissions than any other time before. It is hard to comprehend that it’s not the fault of the developing world countries that the developed world countries have already used up our climate budget. They did not make this mess. Our traditional European growth rates are not resilient and we can either receive EU aid packages or depend on manufacturing from the developing world countries. 

This is often referenced as climate injustice, a scenario that gets worse. If the industrialised world does not continue to grow then the developing world cannot grow. Transboundary air pollution cannot be stopped even if somehow our emissions drop. Every city is a potential particulate matter (fine air particles) harvesting hub. Earth is the total system and it cannot eat itself. Similarly we cannot live on earth after 2100 without climate conflict, if we cannot prevent the temperature from increasing more than 2 – 3 degrees higher than the time of the industrial revolution.

Elements of Climate Change- Part Three

Ocean heat and storms, ozone, and particulate matter.

Written by Neil McCabe


Ocean heat and storms

The oceans are giant water storage tanks for water of different temperatures. Carbon and other gases left in the atmosphere can stay there for decades and centuries. These gases and water vapour trap the heat below them in the atmosphere and the heat affects the surface temperature of the oceans. Due to their very high thermal mass, oceans actually absorb more than 90% of the excess energy produced by greenhouse gases in the last 50 years. This heat causes the sea level to rise. Higher temperatures from ocean water surfaces mixed with the excess heat and gases in the atmosphere directly result in more powerful storms surges. In other words- more heat = more storms. 

Ozone at ground level and high in the sky

Ozone (O3) is a very strong oxidising agent and a significant greenhouse gas. Ozone is not actually released into the air directly by humans as a pollutant, but rather it occurs as a chemical reaction between various gases in the atmosphere. These gases are called “precursor emissions” and are made up mainly from carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOX). Chemically, carbon dioxide (CO2) and the precursor gases mix in the presence of solar radiation and form ozone. 

Regrettably, it is human actions that create the precursors that cause ground level ozone or, “tropospheric ozone” to form. This results from the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and VOCs. These CFCs and VOCs are produced from exhaust gases in transportation, the burning of fuel for energy in power plants, the production of consumables and, surprisingly, vegetation. 

Trees and vegetation emit VOCs usually as part of the pollination process when the tree wards off insects and animals. However, trees actually give off VOCs at times of stress as well. Isoprene is a natural VOC released from trees and vegetation at these times. Growing in excess heat, taking in too much fertiliser, not enough water, soil acidification and being surrounded by traffic congestion and its pollution qualities are root causes of Isoprene release. Ozone is a photochemical that only forms during the day in certain conditions. A hot sunny dry day in a large city during a traffic jam would produce higher concentrations of ozone as compared with the rural environment. 

The ozone layer

Ozone in the atmosphere is named “stratospheric ozone” better known as the “ozone layer” and consists of 90% ozone. This ozone absorbs the harmful ultraviolet rays travelling from the sun and stabilises the earth’s temperature and literally protects life on earth. Damage to the ozone layer is responsible for climate change and many of its attributed problems. Ozone depletes the earth’s atmosphere over time. 

The hole in the Ozone layer was first discovered in 1985. By 1987, 130 Countries had signed the “Montreal Protocol.” They acknowledged and agreed that CFCs were the main source of ozone depletion in the stratosphere causing the famous “hole”. The international response was to agree to phase out the offending CFCs by banning their use and to introduce new HydroChloroFlouroCarbons (HCFCs). 

HCFCs effects are less offensive and cause less damage than CFCs because they break down naturally and faster in the atmosphere than CFCs. CFCs and HCFCs are greenhouse gases and cause a lot more damage than CO2. Scientists have found four man made ozone depleting substances (ODSs) that were previously unknown. It is not yet known what causes these new substances or how they were created. These new ODSs are: CFC – 112, CFC – 112a, CFC 113a and HCFC – 133a. These substances did not exist before the 1960s. Monitoring between 1960 and 2012 has yielded staggering results. 

Two of the ODSs have increased in volume by 48% but they are actually exempt from the Montreal Protocol because they are used in the pre-production (intermediate stage) of substances such as pesticides, before they are fully produced as new other substances. If the ODS growth rate figures are anything to go by this needs urgent redress at top level internationally. Luckily scientists also say that there is only 74,000 tonnes of ODS in the atmosphere at present. 

Particulate matter

Particulate matter (PM) is a form of pollution sometimes called particle pollution. It comes from a combination of different sized solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. PM is usually thought of as dust and organic components, while actually mostly a mixture of liquid droplets and small particles made from nitrates and sulphates, organic chemicals, metals, smoke, soot and soil or dust particles. These fine particles can be found coming from roadways and gases created in industry and energy plants worldwide. 

We inhale PM into our respiratory system and it is absorbed into our bloodstream. PM also travels in the atmosphere over long distances and is proven to have long term effects on our health. The scale and seriousness of this pollution is not generally understood but needs to be. PM is not just something to be associated with transport, it’s everywhere and mostly caused by human activity especially heating our homes. Shifting to diesel fuel vehicles over petrol fuel cars is proven to produce less carbon emissions. In large cities and areas of congestion this is especially effective. Air quality tracking and monitoring probes have been able to demonstrate this. But diesel vehicles still poor out sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide and these are the same PM that are causing the poor air quality. 

Elements of Climate Change- Part Two

Feedback, Water Vapour, Rising Sea Levels, and Melting Ice

Written by Neil McCabe


What is feedback?

Adding additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere forces changes and responses in the climate system.  A response known as feedback can either amplify the warming effect (positive feedback) or cause cooling, dampening the forcing effect (negative feedback). Plants and trees take CO2 out of the atmosphere and pump out O2, but these areas are massive water vapour creators. Forests act as “carbon sinks” and when we lose trees to deforestation, the atmosphere gets hotter creating more water vapour and a larger greenhouse effect. 

The sun’s radiant heat is still getting through and the earth is getting hotter- therefore giving back out more heat as infrared quicker than the norm. The natural reaction is always the same- earth produces more water vapours. The greenhouse effect is now its own feedback, producing its own earth warming cycle. 

The problem with ice caps melting is that the land beneath them becomes exposed and this brown newly exposed earth absorbs radiant heat from the sun, in turn this causes even more melting. This is a self-reinforcing cycle known as the Ice - Albedo feedback. People need to know about the plight of humans, due to ice feedbacks rather than the plight of polar bears and penguins. If ordinary people could relate flooding and the destruction of the home they live in to higher sea levels from earth's overheating due to manmade emissions – things would be different.

Water Vapour H2O

Due to increased energy consumption and pollution, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increase earth’s temperature.  Water vapour is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is responsible for between 36% and 72% of the global greenhouse effect. But increasing water vapour occurs as a feedback to warming from the forcing of greenhouse gases such as CO2 into the atmosphere.  

The warming allows the atmosphere to hold more water vapour and because of its abundance this causes more increases in temperature, amplifying the effects of the other greenhouse gases. Unlike CO2, water vapour spends a relatively short time spent in the atmosphere before it is converted to rain or sleet or snow and returns back to the land or sea.

The problem is that we are directly responsible for pumping an excessive amount of CO2 into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels from the industrial revolution right up to today. The water vapour in the clouds does shield off solar radiation and that is a good thing but it also traps the heat from the earth’s surface (long wave radiation) causing a positive feedback loop. Again this has been happening for millions of years, but the greenhouse effect is being amplified by our interference in the gases entering the atmosphere. 

Rising sea levels and Melting ice

In the early 1800’s the sea level noticeably started to rise. Prior to that earth had had a relatively steady period with little change in sea level. So from about 2000 years ago until the 19th century there was no real change. This was based on the period of melting ice exposing land, this feeds back to more ice melting faster. The ice has to go somewhere when it turns to water. Thermal expansion of the oceans is when warm water expands in the ocean and causes an increase in sea level. This expansion due to ocean warming is the dominant cause of sea level rise over the past 200 years.  

An increasing contribution to sea level rise is ice sheet melt (Greenland and Antarctica) and most glaciers are retreating and getting smaller. Global warming is having serious dramatic effects on sea ice in the Arctic but sea ice melt has very little effect on sea level. There may have been some small growth in only a few locations but in general since 1980 it is well documented that there is a decrease in snow and ice on earth. Since 1966 the snow cover in spring in the northern hemisphere has reduced by 10%. That is a trend of 2% per decade. In the last 20 years sea level rise has averaged nearly 3mm per year, double the average rate of rise of the 20th Century. 

I’ll be talking about ocean heat and storms, and ozone in the next blog. 

Learn more:

Elements of Climate Change- Part One

Radiation, Aerosols and Gases

Written by Neil McCabe

Scientists are in agreement on the essential science of climate change. It is clear that it is time to take action to halt the pace of Earth’s overheating. Climate models have demonstrated this, showing that the more greenhouse gases we throw up into the atmosphere the more Earth’s surface temperature increases. Climate models are predictions based on the physics of air and water on our planet as it rotates and its distance from the sun. The climate models have largely matched the actual observations from data collected. Using historic temperature records over the last 150 years, scientists have been able to show hikes in average global temperature, especially over the last 50 years. It is difficult to break down the different scientific aspects of climate change but I will attempt to do so in parts over the next few blog posts.


Every day Earth’s surface absorbs 67% of the sun’s “short wave” radiation. This radiation comes in direct form and travels through our atmosphere. It heats Earth’s surface, making it a warmer place to live. Earth emits 33% of its heat back out as “long wave” infra-red. Clouds and gases in the troposphere can actually capture and resist the heat being emitted and send that heat back down towards the area it came from. Thus, the natural greenhouse effect occurs. But without this abundant direct radiant heat, Earth would be -18˚C and not an easy place to live.

Higher temps come from many sources but the biggest problem we are faced with now is the threat of increased carbon dioxide (CO2) and its equivalents (CO2e) resting and mixing in Earth’s atmosphere. These gas emissions are manmade and they sit like a blanket over land and trap the heat being released from Earth as surface radiation / outgoing longwave radiation. This is the non natural greenhouse effect.

In other words, the sun heats the Earth. Earth warms up and sends some of that heat back up to the atmosphere, where the heat gets trapped by the clouds and gases. A lot of these gases are not meant to be there and have only been there for the last 200 years. The trapped heat is sent back down to Earth. This is not good for us over the next several decades.

Aerosols and Gases - good and bad

Gradually more heat is staying in the atmosphere and the same amount of solar radiation is entering the atmosphere, both at the same time, so that there is an energy balance at the top of the atmosphere. The gases reflecting the heat also hold aerosols that we are responsible for creating. Aerosols are tiny particles, dust-like in composition. Without human interference they were traditionally not that bad. They break up and fall back to Earth after only a few days assisted by precipitation, and actually help reflect incoming solar radiation. However, mining, fracking, gas production and deforestation are pumping out aerosols at an alarming rate.

Our problem is that we are pumping out greenhouse gases on a major scale. Burning fossil fuel to provide energy, coupled with the effects of major transportation and deforestation causes a rapid increase in global temperatures. The two main gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are Oxygen (O2) and Nitrogen (NO2). These gases have almost no effect on the greenhouse effect because they don’t absorb the solar energy reflected as long wave radiation from the Earth. Water Vapour (H20) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are the important natural greenhouse gases though they are less common than Oxygen (O2) and Nitrogen (NO2). Without them Earth’s average surface temperature would be a very cold -18˚C, so they are very important to life on Earth.  However, the sudden addition of extra human-caused CO2 and other greenhouse gases is trapping more heat and causing rapid warming.

I’ll be talking about feedbacks, the direction Earth’s heat travels in, rising sea levels and melting ice in the next blog.

Useful Links:

The Confusion Over Climate Change

Changing Perceptions

Written by Neil McCabe

Without a doubt, perception is the fundamental problem with mitigating climate change. People can’t digest the figures, are dismayed by info-graphs and ultimately can’t separate global warming and climate change. I find that my own research and the conversations I have had with people about climate change over the last nine years, has yielded the following comments:

- Isn’t there always someone going on about global warming? I have no idea what they are talking about!

- It’s going to happen anyway – sure what could we do to stop it.

- I won’t be around and my kids won’t either – someone will have sorted something out by then.

- It’s all a spin, those tree huggers, it’s always something with them.

- If it’s true, there is nothing we can do – those oil companies have the world in their hands.

- What’s the point, America will just do what it wants anyway.

- Isn’t there a new power plant in China every day?

It is easy for people to want to believe these myths and comments. I really hope that in some way I can explain that this thought process is normal. We are talking about a new subject as if we are supposed to know about it already. Our leaders have let us down. When we are talking about climate change we are not talking about the weather on any given day or for the next few days as with a forecast. We are talking about the average weather predicted for and actually over a long period of time. Climate and weather are definitely linked but are not the same thing.

The Earth’s atmosphere is ever changing and that’s why a forecast is only achievable for a few days where as climate change is a long-term projection of future average weather based on known physical behaviour of air and water on our spinning planet with its arrangement of oceans and land. Physical models of the climate have proven to be skillful in matching past observations from recent temperature records and even in showing the changes in Earth’s orbit that led to the pattern of past ice ages. The Earth’s climate system includes all the combining effects on average, of the different factors we have on earth such as humans, snow, ice, volcanoes, atmosphere, and  our oceans. This is why there has been so much skepticism and misunderstanding about global warming. Climate means “average weather” over 30 years or more.

It’s really simple, the more waste greenhouse gases we throw up into the atmosphere, the more warming will occur as a result of the additional solar energy trapped by them over a longer period of time. That same prediction has offered an insight into the potential for serious global health risks and cultural tension from the impacts of climate change due to global warming.

From my own studies I regularly notice that a major snag in understanding climate change at ordinary citizen level is the idea that Earth will overheat anyway and we will all become fossils waiting to be discovered in 75 million years from now. I have often heard that ‘the climate has always changed because of natural orbital changes leading to changes in the amount of solar energy Earth received. This idea comes from climate change deniers that need to protect their interests (and assets). However, when climate change deniers say this they want to divert us from the fact that today’s global warming is very different as it is caused by human activities that emit greenhouse gases or increase the amount of them in the atmosphere. It’s always easier to scaremonger than to take the time to educate people that yes, Earth had has cycles of natural climate change but the burning of fossil fuels has changed / tilted the playing field.

It is now recognised that CO 2 can be tracked as rising and falling in keeping with the Earth’s temperature but, CO 2 and methane levels have always changed in the atmosphere responding to Earth’s orbital changes during all of the last ice ages. Today though, humans have changed the natural balance, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by over 40% since industrialization started about 250 years ago. After the last ice age it took over ten thousand years to warm the Earth’s surface about four degrees. In only a century, human activity has caused a warming of one degree and unless serious action is taken very quickly, the current course will add another three degrees this century – a rate of warming fifty times faster than after the ice age.

How to engage ordinary people at ordinary levels in thinking that we have to maintain less polluted air by producing cleaner energy, has not been handled effectively yet. So it is that climate change deniers have the largest stage to speak from because continuing to use fossil fuels seems a cheap and easy option. Explaining that the average weather is getting warmer due to emissions from fossil fuels and food is the best place to start. There is no harm in the development of our nations, improving the quality of our lives at present and in the future. It is vital to our futures, economies and world stability. During the industrial revolution there was a lust for development and progress. It is fair to say that although many new forms of pollution and the world divide increased more than any time before, the fact is that this exciting period in our history was one of pioneering the unknown and dealing with the endless positive possibilities and outcomes. It just seems odd that traditionally each generation learns from the generation before it, yet for the time being at least, this is not the case. We have opportunities to not follow the mistakes made during the industrial revolution and we can reduce the gases being sent needlessly into the atmosphere right now. This shift in thinking is a positive step forward as it increases economic standing, creates long term employment, and improves health. However, the take up is far too slow.

This is a bigger story than ice melting in the arctic; it affects all of us. Before all the previous ice ages there were less greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere than there are now, worse still is that mankind has put those additional gases there! Earth is a delicate system and only a small heating up can stimulate major changes. But climate change is not just about air in the atmosphere that we can’t see and power plants, there is so much more to it. Land use, agriculture, over farming, soil erosion, water pollution, deforestation, growth of cities, transport, toxins and all forms of manufacturing are all key players in this saga. 

My Oblique Approach

A Behavioural Change

Written by Neil McCabe

After two years of research, my grass roots project was an attempt at trying to improve the Fire Station’s fabric as a morale lifter. I had wanted to create a physically better working environment for the crew. If I could reduce the running costs of the Station and re-invest the savings with the crew buying into the project, motivation levels would improve. The crew started to participate in the project because they wanted to. Their participation had a new effect on the running costs of the Fire Station and they could see that the more they took part – the more the Station improved. I had always wanted to lessen our carbon emission production but if I had looked only to achieve emission reductions in the beginning, I don’t think anyone would have been interested.

The behavioural change had to happen first. Thanks to the exemplar actual actions, (over 300 completed projects,) Kilbarrack Fire Station is now a hub of sustainability to the surrounding community and proof of how real leadership can be demonstrated as better use of public money. Dublin Fire Brigade has now gone on to roll out The GreenPlan across its estate. Last year the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) teamed up with Dublin Fire Brigade as part of the Better Energy in the Community scheme (BEC) and invested almost €500,000 in The GreenPlan. The work being carried out was on two more Fire Stations simultaneously, located in Finglas and Blanchardstown. This year Rathfarnham Fire Station is the next Station to be retrofit and refurbished using The GreenPlan system. Kilbarrack has always been a flagship, test bed and visual to help the public physically see and learn from the ideas and technologies installed. I have Thermodynamic Solar Collectors facing east and flanked on both sides by large sycamore trees. Yet they produce 68℃ hot water for the Fire Station’s showers and kitchen. The heat comes from wind and rain, abundant in Ireland, and the solar heat is a bonus. Below the collectors is a 1000 litre, heavily insulated, hot water storage cylinder. 

Some people ask me, what was I thinking? Are the panels facing the wrong way? I get the chance to educate them on the many benefits to thinking outside the box, embracing new technology and changing their behaviour. In fact after some months, I had to introduce a blending valve to lower the temperature of the water. Before there were fancy phrases like “crowd funding” I had asked the Firefighters to sponsor the purchase of the Thermo Panels with their own money. It involved setting up a bank account and credit union account. At that stage the crew had bought into the concept of becoming stakeholders of their Fire Station. I couldn’t give them a financial return on their investment but I could show that the Fire Station would be a better place to work. Our government has set the target of 33% energy reduction in all public services by 2020. Dublin Fire Brigade has already hit 44% energy usage and carbon reduction since the baseline 2008 figures. 

But The GreenPlan is a methodology that is not exclusive to Fire Stations and Fire Brigades. Since writing The GreenPlan back in 2008, I have gone on to write The GreenPlan for communities, swimming pools, leisure centres, libraries and heritage projects such as the Mansion House in Dublin where the Lord Mayor resides. The GreenPlan is being used as a step by step based accreditation built on Actual Actions to develop measured behavioural change that affects an impact on climate change. In essence when I took on building The GreenPlan with no experience or third level education, I never thought I would end up building an advocacy for climate change and being asked to speak in many countries around the world. What started off in a Dublin Fire Station by accident to improve morale is now recognized as a world’s best practice. Large companies, corporates, SMEs need to take a serious look inside their organisations and look to change their culture. Sustainability Reports are not supposed to be a PR stunt or a version of advertisement using a pretend Corporate Social Responsibility ethos. 

These values have to be embedded into the culture of the organisation first and the only way to do that is to start thinking in a disruptive manner using behavioural change as the driver. Why? Because it is the right thing to do rather than “being seen to be green.” It will have positive impacts on future generations. Not doing so means that the next generation will look back and remember you did nothing when you needed to show leadership. Communities too are becoming resilient and if we look at the speed information is passed on social media, it is only an inkling of what is to come. This is brand damage and regardless of the type or size of the brand, consumers will become more and more educated; they will make educated, informed decisions on their purchases and loyalty.

Origins of the GreenPlan

Where it all started

Written by Neil McCabe

When I started writing The GreenPlan, I was employed by Dublin Fire Brigade as a full-time Fireman in 2008. I spent a lot of time explaining the many benefits of Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) and Dublin City Council (DCC) manipulating the economic downturn to our moral and financial reward. We could use actual actions that reduce carbon to spur the local economy and if managed correctly, renewable technology and its application could be a game changer. If I had suggested a DFB GreenPlan research and development project in the height of the Celtic Tiger era, would Senior Management listen to my suggestions and take heed? Most probably a gesture of some funding or other would have been approved, with no real account or genuine commitment for our environmental actions.

It is amazing to think that my whole story started with the collection of used batteries! Morale was low in Kilbarrack Fire Station because, we had lost 50% of our crew in only a one week period. They had relocated to a new modern “sexy” Fire Station in North Co. Dublin. They took over 20 years’ experience per person with them and motivation among the remaining Fire Crew diminished.  I didn’t like seeing how this affected my colleagues and the working environment. Being a “doer”, I had to do something about it. So I placed an empty cardboard box on a table and wrote “used batteries here” on the side of the box.

Within one month the box was overflowing with used batteries and the Crew taking part were the same Crew that didn’t like coming to work because motivation was low. This was when I first noticed the power of behavioural change and realised I could instigate a morale improvement project that would benefit the environment at the same time. The only problem I had was that there was nowhere to bring the batteries for recycling. I soon became the go-to person and before long I was giving out jobs and tasks to the Fire Crews. Each new project saved the running costs of the Fire Station and lessened our impact on the environment.

There was also no cost to Fire Brigade management because these behavioural projects were carried out under the banner of “Shared Responsibility” on the fire crews personal time as a belief that they were becoming Stakeholders in the future of the Fire Station. The Crew even separated domestic waste into piles of recycling and brought the waste to bring centres for recycling, in their own vehicles, on their own time – after finishing working the night shift. This caused an immediate drop in the volume of waste sent to landfill and because we only paid for the waste collected we saved money too. By this stage I had condensed my approach and realised The GreenPlan (as it was now being called) was a step-by-step vehicle for transparent change.  I honestly wasn’t fully sure that my approach would cause such positive environmental impacts as by-products of the behavioural change. When I did notice this I started to plan for scaling The GreenPlan and so started the evolution of The GreenPlan’s Seven Themes and Two Core Principles.

Management embraced the idea of change but were worried when I announced that I wanted Kilbarrack Fire Station to become the world’s first Carbon Neutral Fire Station. It’s not that they thought I was over-ambitious, it’s that no one, including me, really knew what Carbon Neutral meant. The phrase Carbon Neutral wasn’t a buzzword back then the way it is today. Sustainability was a word only used in business terms. I was given full support and permission to run trials and experiments on Kilbarrack Fire Station as the flagship for Dublin Fire Brigade.

In 2010 The GreenPlan© for Kilbarrack Fire Station, now the World’s First Carbon Neutral Fire Station was launched by the City Manager of Dublin City Council and the Lord Mayor of Dublin. The City Manager Mr. John Tierney named Kilbarrack Fire Station as a hub of sustainability for the community around the Fire Station and said that he believed that every Fire Station in Dublin would follow suit. The Lord Mayor of Dublin Mr. Gerry Breen said he could see how “The GreenPlan is a template that all City Council and County Council Departments can follow and indeed the other Public Services in Ireland too”. Now in Jan 2014 The GreenPlan is part of Dublin Fire Brigades Business Plan and Four Fire Stations have been fully transformed with a further four more prepared for this year. When I was battling with the creation of The GreenPlan back in 2008, I had no idea I would end up delivering such social and environmental impacts.

Radical Mitigation for Climate Change- An Introduction

The Problem

Written by Neil McCabe

The biggest failure by this generation is not that we need to tackle climate change and that we don’t know how; it’s that we have failed to recognise for too long that climate change is real and is happening now. Every day that we delay, makes it harder to play catch up. It’s a missed opportunity to create business, and change lives. Decision makers and policy makers talk about what they “wish to do / intend to do/ have a vision for” but no actions occur. If this continues, it will soon be too late.  

Only 50 years ago people had meters for their energy in their homes. They understood their demand and appreciated the cost and effect that energy had on their lives. I remember putting coins in the meter in my Nana’s house or there was simply no gas. Now for most of us everything is “Supply Easy.” We have become accustomed to this, but along the way – we have forgotten our way. The reason is that we are on a journey of greater demand and greater want, as an everyday thing. Perhaps one of the most unjust realities of climate change is that its effects are not equally distributed. The developing and third world countries have the most to lose the quickest.

Capitalism and economy are drivers for growth but growth seems to be the only factor to measure how steady economies are. The problem here is that we can’t actually eat money! Denialism is a proven loser and burying our heads in the sand won’t make climate change go away. It’s widely thought that there is a magic wand that “someone” is going to wave to fix Earth’s temperature. “They” will solve the problem. It’s a political climate with no leadership.

We all need food but the land for growing food is running out due to deforestation and poor soil from over farming including the need for more and more fertiliser, nitrogen and phosphorus. This is all contributing to more and more greenhouse gases, trapping the sun’s energy, resulting in higher average temperatures. An increase in higher “Average” temperature multiplies and adds to the frequency and intensity of severe droughts, heat events, large storms and intense rainfall, and putting great stress on societies around the world. Disease and epidemics such as malaria follow and inevitably this is leading to war. This cost is financially carried by the taxpayer, that’s €31 Billion per year in Europe alone.

Ireland will be home to an extra 2 million people by 2030. There is to be an estimated 9 Billion world population by 2050. This ferocious expansion is travelling without resilience and without planning for limited resources and a 2 degree average surface warming. We will need a further Seven Planets the size of Earth to keep growing the way we are today. Perhaps the most sobering of thoughts; Earth -The Total System- will survive, we won’t!