Climate in focus at speakeatsy event
What would rural Ireland look like with less livestock? This is a question this columnist and UCD environmental scientist Dr Cara Augustenborg will be grappling with on Saturday, at the speakeatsy event in Cloughjordan. Speakeatsy is an evening time event, which brings together poetry, live music, a local food meal with a story to tell, and a conversation with a noted expert in a particular area. With world soil day being celebrated, the IPCC’S most stark report yet, giving 12 years for climate action, as well as the COP24 meeting in Poland, the timing was right for a “soil and climate action” discussion topic.
Also relevant are: EU changes which allow for trees to offset livestock’s carbon footprint. Ongoing economic difficulties suckler farmers have. Rise in plant-based diets.
Emergence of militant climate change action via the new extinction rebellion movement. Stronger soundings about the need for action coming from RTE’S George Lee and, more importantly, the new Minister with responsibility for Climate Action Richard Bruton. There is some disagreement over the contribution of livestock to climate change, especially as regards regenerative practices, soil and carbon sequestration. And there is much to be concerned about with a narrow climate change only focus in a world of sustainability needs. Nevertheless, one of the strongest arguments for land use change put forward to try to achieve a rapid carbon transition has been rewilding, as proposed by George Monbiot and others. This suggests replacing ‘inefficient’ meat with abundant nature. By this logic, as sheep in the hills have the worst-of-all emissions score, we should replace this livestock with nature-based economies. These nature-based economies would in part stem from the reintroduction of broadleaf, mixed forestry and the selective re-introduction of bigger mammals, such as otters, beavers, and, more controversially, lynx and other land-based carnivores. Rural economies would rely increasingly on emerging areas like ecotourism, as well as timber-related and other forest industries. Payments would also be possible from a public goods perspective, from carbon sinks to cleaner water, as happens under CAP currently. In purely economic terms this is unlikely to be enough to replace dairy in the agrieconomic honeyspots. But is a nature-based economy enough to replace the suckler herds of the BMW (boarder midlands west) region? Would this chime well with the Wild Atlantic Way? And what other unintended consequences would emerge? For example, with Ireland’s low population, would reducing livestock numbers in the BMW region increase the numbers of people flying onto our small island for an ecotourism holiday? And what will they want to eat? What fruit-of-the-forest could ever challenge Connemara mountain lamb?
Its noteworthy that whale meat consumption increased with tourism in Iceland – locals had mostly stopped eating it. There has been much opposition to the coniferisation of parts of rural Ireland, as seen most acutely in Leitrim. The Department’s Midterm Review of the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 saw grants and premiums for agroforestry increased and broadened — an increase of c€1,700 in the grant rate and €385 in the premium rate. Minimum broadleaf requirement is now 15% per site. Broadleaf and diverse conifer grants and schemes have increased.
In 2017 broadleaved species accounted for 28.7% of the stocked forest area. Broadleaf planting is also up 4% in 2018. (Department figures supplied upon request). Despite agroforestry supports, planting rates remain very low. And yet, silviopastural agroforestry - cattle with trees – was the highest performing land-based practice as measured by ‘Project Drawdown’ — a coalition of over 2,300 experts attempting to model the best climate change solutions. Could more agroforestry be a less jarring adjustment for rural Ireland, while also integrating into both nature based and farming economies? speakeatsy takes place next Saturday at 7pm in Cloughjordan, Tipperary. See: www.cultivate.ie