Global Warming: 'Playing the Fiddle While the World Burns'

I mentioned last week that I wrote a letter to our local newspaper -The Galway City Tribune- in response to one of their columnists (Dick Byrne) rubbishing the claims of environmentalists and others over the melting of the Polar Ice Caps.
Amazingly I had to write another letter which was again published as a reply to another article (from an anonymous writer) that also took issue with the opinion that man's activities are contributing to 'Global Warming'.
So see what you think..........!

Letters to the Editor

'Playing the Fiddle While the World Burns'
The content and tone of letter in last week’s Tribune from an anonymous (why?) a.k.a. Homo Vexus reader reminds me of someone at the bar of a sinking ship wondering why other once sane passengers and crew are getting so upset and why the hell he cannot get a damn drink!
The reason, my dear Homo Vexus, that so many of your fellow homo sapiens are jumping on the Greenhouse Effect Bandwagon is that, thanks to scientific analysis and first-hand observations, we getting a clearer picture of the dramatic changes the world is rapidly going through. Modern microchip technology can now help us to record and analyse past and present rates of climatic change, extrapolate the causes and estimate the effects on the world of the future. To paraphrase the writer’s words, these conclusions are based on measured scientific “study, research, causation association and discipline”. But we don’t need this scientific know-how alone to realise that big weather changes are occurring at an accelerating rate; for we can see it with our own eyes and from our own experiences in our short life-times. In some areas of the world, it is more obvious than others. Compare photographs of tropical glaciers taken over a 40 year period and view the massive decrease in size. I lived in the northern climes of Iceland for a number of years and listened to older people talk of their fears as they told of temperatures that have suddenly warmed in recent decades. That is why an increasing amount of people from all walks of life (tour operators, insurance companies, manufacturers, multi-national retail outlets, conscientious urban planners, farmers, governments, economists, environmentalists, scientists, churches, grassroots communities, and of course Arnold Schwarzeneger...) are seeing the writing in the sky, are getting fearful and promoting individual, local and coordinated global action on the critical issue of increasing atmospheric warming. Only this week six major US energy companies demanded that President Bush introduce mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions. The recent British government-commissioned ‘Stern’ report makes abundantly clear what the consequences are if action is not taken. But while these concerned people cannot be dismissed as caricature Doomsday ‘sackcloth/ashes’ religious-type zealots, their message to mankind has similar overtones, “Repent from your sinful path of selfishness or suffer the apocalyptic consequences of your collective greed.” Of course there were global changes well before man ever came into existence as natural and cosmic forces shaped and reshaped the planet. Earth is in a constant state of alteration; deserts were once jungles, mountains were once sea-beds. Volcanoes have in the past, and will in the future, effect global temperatures. But present global change is different to all others: this one is man-induced. Therein lies the central message. We caused it: we should try to change it before it is too late. No other living species has managed to impact so quickly on the plant as much as mankind. We flatten mountains, drain lakes, obliterate forests, create deserts, wipe out thousands of other species…and change weather patterns by our activities. According to NASA, the majority of climatologists recognise human activities as the main contributor to this alarming new pace of change. The large individual chunks of Antarctic ice shelves falling off into the sea are the size of Luxembourg and can be 12,000 years old. Of course there are those such as the Bush Administration who, dancing to the tune of their oil producing carbon-belching paymasters, blindly ignore the reality of what is happening in the world today and imitate Nero as he played the fiddle while Rome burns. But thankfully there is a growing consensus worldwide that something drastic needs to be done if we are to provide a future for our children’s children. Yet we as individuals can all do our personal bit by living by the green motto of ‘Think Global, Act Local’.
Yours sincerely,

Brendan Smith

Hollywood Ignores the Brilliant 'Wind that Shakes the Barley'

It was a travesty of Justice that the winner of the 2006 Golden Global at the Cannes Film Festival was not nominated for an Oscar this week. 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' was one of the best films that I have ever watched. Of course being Irish and being republican means that I am bias in its favour anyway! But not for nothing did it receive top honours at Cannes.
Directed by the left-wing British director Ken Loach, it brillantly encapsulated the harsh realities of the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War as experienced by rural Cork.
Nor surprisingly, considering Ken's politics, it made strong associations with present day Iraq and showed vividly the similarities of terror tactics and racism that all armies of occupation employ in order to subjugate native populations. It also portrayed the contradictions and incompatiblity of the final war aims of different factions within liberation movements that often come to the surface in open warfare once the common enemy has been defeated.
See my previous article on the Wind that Shakes the Barley for a more in-depth analysis.

Famous Irish Quotations & Sayings- Part 5

"May You be in Heaven One Hour before the Devil Knows You're Dead!" -Traditional Irish drinking toast

Ignoring the Reality of the Polar Ice Meltdown

Ireland is being battered by storms, December snow is but a dim & distant memory, flowers are blooming in winter, the average yearly tempartures are rising...
Yet it is hard to believe that some people still cannot accept the reality of Global Warming even when it is staring them in their faces and when they are provided with increasing amounts of hard scientific evidence. Recently a columnist in a local Galway newspaper (Connacht Tribune) Dick Byrne condemned those warning of rising greenhouse gas emissions as scare-mongering. It is not only President Bush, the darling of the oil corporations, that ignores the obvious!
Below is my reply to him that was published in this week's edition of the newspaper:

Last week’s ‘Under my Hat’ column by Dick Byrne was full of factual inaccuracies on the issue of global warming. He belittles the idea that melting ice in the Arctic region will lead to raising sea levels on the basis that the polar ice cap already floats on water. But the fact is that glacial ice in the Arctic region also covers an enormous landmass that includes Greenland and parts of North America and northern Russia whose disintegration will definitely impact on sea levels. NASA’s photographs show conclusively that the Greenland ice sheet is retreating in some parts at the rate of one metre per month. It is estimated that its disappearance could lead to global sea levels rising by 23 feet. The satellite images also dramatically portray the massive retreat of the seaborne perennial ice caps since 1979.
Polar ice reflects back 90% of the sun’s light; its disappearance allows the oceans to heat up, thereby increasing each time the rate of melting and further accentuating global warming. Furthermore, the release of these northern freshwaters into the salty oceans is already slowing down the Gulf Stream which will have a serious impact on the climate and therefore human habitation of Britain and Ireland.
Mr Byrne then comes out with the astonishing statement that “…the Antarctic appears not to be melting, so there is no real problem from that area…” This comment flies against the majority of scientific evidence available today. The US based National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSDIC) estimates that 13,500 sq km of ice shelves in one area alone (Antarctic Peninsula) has broken off from the continent since 1974. The largest breakage was a 3,250km section of the Larsen B ice shelf which dropped off into the sea in 2002.
Rather than berate those politicians who have awakened from their slumber to discover that global warming is a terrifying reality, he should encourage them to do more in sharply curtailing greenhouse gas emissions and using the technological creativity of humankind to save rather than destroy life as we know it on Planet Earth.

Journalist Integrity and Independence undermined by the Sunday Times & the letter that it never published

The Sunday Times can be one of the best newspapers around. It comes nowwhere close to the British daily 'Independent' in terms of political and environmental commentary . But the paper is a fascinating library of specialised magazines and supplements on travel, technology, world affairs, music... Of course, there are some right-wing columnists which one would expect from a Rupert Murdoch paper. But these writers are more than offset by the often excellent perceptive articles produced by reporters such as Christina Lamb and Marie Colvin.
So I was shocked to see that the Sunday Times of two weeks past devoted most of its front page to a totally false account of the hanging of Saddam.
Of course, the former Iraqi ruler was a tyrant that orchestrated many bloody campaigns against his people and his neighbours who deserved to face justice for his crimes. Just as Blair and Bush deserve to be charged for their war crimes against the same people.
But the Sunday Times article was propaganda of a form more symptomatic of a Stalinist or Nazi regime. For the article with its blaring headline (something along the lines of 'I was there at Saddam's Hanging!') was based around the account of an Iraqi government official.
It seems now that the Sunday Times has reduced itself to the level of another Murdoch organ - the pathetic voice channel of the Bush administration, namely 'Fox News'.
So I wrote a letter to the editor condemning this undermining of an independent critical media.
The newspaper never published my letter. Considering though the subsequent publicity generated worldwide about the happenings that accompanied Saddam's execution, the editor had no choice but to print some letters that condemned the insults and chants thrown at Saddam as he went to his death. But was the Sunday Times going to publish a letter that condemned the lies its front page and its failure to uphold the standards of 'free world' journalism? Was it going to apologise for this mistake?
Sadly, the editor failed the litmus test and proved his lack of journalist integrity.

So here is my letter that was never published by the Sunday Times
"Dear Editor,
You owe a big apology to your readership for the content of the front page of last week's Sunday Times regarding Saddam Hussein's hanging.
The article was full of lies and inaccuracies regarding the manner of his execution. Your main source, Iraqi government spokesperson Mowaffak al-Rubaie, was quoted as saying, "He was respected throughout before and after the execution. We followed rigorously international and Islamic standards". No mention of the vicious verbal abuse that took place. Thank God for mobile phones and the Internet as another official line about the Iraqi war was exposed as pure propaganda. The integrity and truthfulness of media journalism was sadly once again called into question."

'Famous Irish Quotations & Sayings- Part 4' & the Catholic Church's rehabilitation of Oscar Wilde

There is a very interesting article in today's British Independent regarding the rehabilitation of Oscar Wilde by the Catholic Church.
For someone that was jailed for homosexual activities and led a bacchanalian lifestyle, this is extraordinary.
Oscar's well-publicised witticisms sometimes displayed a carefree slovenly attitude that would have greatly upset society's religious and moral guardians. For example,
"I can resist everything except temptation"
"Work is the curse of the drinking classes"
"Morality is simply an attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike"
"Some people say there is a God: others say there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere in between."

Yet I believe that these sayings were said 'tongue in cheek' and represented a witty send up of the stated values of Victorian Britain.
For there is a intrinsic sense of goodness and an inherent moral message in many of his most important writings that I have enjoyed and have even inspired me. This is particularly true of Oscar's wonderful children's stories such as 'The Nightingale & the Rose'. But it is there also in his adult writings such as 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'.

Oscar was one of the greatest writers ever to come out of Ireland, who oftentimes portrayed a perceptive and critical attitude towards the Imperial establishment of Victorian Britain that would have warmed the heart of many an Irish republican. Yes, he enjoyed the luxuries and follies of the London rich elite. But his stories and sayings more often than not portrayed a man with a strong humanitarian streak and an awareness of the injustices permeating society.
He also had a fascination with the Catholic Church which would have been judged reprenhensible by the 19th century British elite.

Christmas 2006 in Galway- Salthill under Water

December 31st 2006
Violent storms sweep Ireland.
The coastal seaside resort of Salthill in Galway City experiences severe flooding.

Isn't time that the Irish and Galway authorities wake up to the reality of climate change and place a moratorium on all building and associated development along our floodplains and seashores?
What is going on in Oranmore and is planned for Roscam sadly says otherwise.

Christmas 2006 in Galway-Mayor Brings Seasonal Goodwill to Asylum Seekers Community

Christmas is not a good time to be separated from family and loved ones. Especially if that separation is due to war, famine or poverty.
So as someone involved in working with asylum seekers on a weekly basis (through my computer Internet Outreach classes) Christmas, I and other support agencies personnel decided to help organise something really special for the residents of the Eglinton Hotel Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centre.
Through the in-house residents' support committee, we planned an exciting fun-packed party that took place the week before Christmas.
It went like clockwork thanks particularly to the hardwork of Karen Winner (a professional clown!), Maeve & Adrienne from the Health Board, my two ever-reliable Iraqi friends Adil & Huda and to the Mayor of Galway City.
There were hundreds of gift- wrapped presents for all the young people (from the newly born to the older teenagers); lashings of food and drink; colourful wall/ceiling decorations; seasonal music playing in all the public rooms; a films show; face -paintinf for the children, the performing antics of the Snow Queen (Karen Winner) and her troupe of gorgeous female fairies; a Christmas Tree at reception decorated by the younger residents; a children's choir; and a foot-stomping discotheque for all ages. Dozens of residents dressed up in exotic native costume or appeared brilliantly disguised as fairies, elves and clowns (including myself!).
But the occasion was really topped off by the arrival of the Mayor of Galway City in the guise of Santa Claus!! Mayor Niall O Brolchain arrived in his chauffeur-drive limousine in the red clothes and white beard looking every inch 'Father Christmas'. (He agreed to my request to take on the role!). He was formally received in the foyer by the Children's Choir and up to 200 happy hand-clapping residents.
He was then escorted to the playroom to take his position in a specially constructed huge grotto where he stayed for 2 hours giving out advice and toys to each and everyone of the 80 or so young residents of the Eglinton.
The event was photographed by Eglinton employee Lubomir Hrivnik for the benefit of all the families who experienced this wonderful occasion.

Christmas Day 2006 in Galway- Homelife!

One of the great things about Irish primary schools today is that teachers encourage pupils to create their own greetings cards for each of the traditional annual religious or national festivals such as Easter, St. Patrick's Day and of course Christmas.

The two samples shown were part of the wonderful Christmas card specially made by my son Daire in class for the benefit of Cepta and yours truely which he gave us in the lead up to Christmas.

I love artistic hand-made cards rather than the impersonal mass-produced or computer-designed ones. For they can oftentimes capture the personality and spiritual essence of the sender.

December 22, 2006- Last Day In School!!

Last day in school before the Christmas vacation
My young son Dáire with Helen, the school 'lollipop lady' beside the traffic lights on the Headford Road/Tirellan intersection.

The lights were only just installed as a result of a 5 year long campaign that I had initiated as part of an attempt to return the streets of the Galway to pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair and buggy users.

Christmas Eve: Preparing Santa's Food & Drink Dáire preparing the food and drink for Santa's visit.
He leaves milk for Santa and a carrot for each of his accompanying reindeers. To avoid confusion, Dáire placed the name of each individual reindeer ('Donner', 'Blitzen', 'Comet'...)above the appropiate piece of carrot!

The FireplaceProbably a bit over-decorated!

Christmas Morning- Dáire's Christmas Presents
Placed at the base of the Christmas Tree, by Santa of course!!

Christmas time in Galway- Santa Claus & Christians in Iraq

A snapshot of Galway during Christmas time would not be complete without making reference to the oldest church in the city which is dedicated to St. Nicholas or 'Santa Claus' as he is affectionally known today.
It is an imposing medieval structure that dates from 1320. Like many churches located the seaports of medieval Europe it was named after St. Nicholas, the patron saints of sailors.
According to legend, Christopher Columbus visited the church in 1477. This is not as far-fetched as it might seem as the city had a long maritime trade link with Spain.
Walking around the church, I came across this Celtic Cross memorial dedicated to Galwegians killed fighting in the British military during 1916. A wreath had recently been laid at its base.
This is not unusual as St. Nicholas was a Protestant Church of the ruling establishment and served as a garrison church of the local British Army regiment- the Connaught Rangers. Hence its interior is festooned with battle banners and memorials from the colonial wars of the British Empire.
On closer inspection, I noticed that one name in the roll of honour was that of an Edward Berry son of the local parish rector who was killed in a place called 'Bait Aiesa' in Mesopotamia. The latter is known now as Iraq with the Arabic placename of 'Bait Aiesa' meaning the 'town of Jesus' in English .
At that very moment, I conjurred up in my mind the image of St. Nicholas and the colour 'red' . But not the red of Santa's clothing; rather the colour of blood and associations with enslaved women, religious wars, intolerant fundamentalism and today's conflict in the Middle East.

Shock!-Santa was born in the hot climate of Turkey, not the frozen Arctic!
The original St. Nicholas was a Christian living in the Greco-Roman city of Myra in what is now Turkey which was, until the 12th century, the heartland of world Christianity. The Muslim Turks only settled in these lands that now bear their name after 1071 when they defeated the Eastern Roman Greek-speaking Empire known as Byzantium.
Nicholas was a kindly man who carried out many charitable acts. According to one famous story, he secretively delivered 3 bags of coin to a poor father that allowed him to provide marriage dowries for his three daughters thus saving them from a life of as prostitution in the city's brothels. Shades of today's enforced slavery of poverty-stricken women primarily from Eastern Europe in the brothels of France, Italy, Germany, Britain etc which to me is one of the greatest crimes of the 21st century and a stain on the hearts of the continent's political leaders.

St. Nicholas' Body Stolen by Christian Pirates
After his death, he was honoured as a saint and his tomb became a famous shrine with a repuation for miraculous cures. But as the Byzantine lands fell to the Turkish invaders in the late 11th century, Italian piractical sailors attacked Myra and stole the saint's bones. They brought the relics to the church in their home port of Norman-controlled Bari allowing the latter to reap the economic benefits of being an imporant centre of Christian pilgrimage. These were the same Normans whose invasion of Celtic Ireland a hundred years later was sanctioned by the Pope and who later founded the city of Galway.

The Death of Christian Communities in Iraq & in the Middle East
Interestingly it was the Turkish invasion of Byzantium that led to the birth of the Crusades when Christians from Western Europe set out on their blood-drench march to liberate Jerusalem from the 'infidel'. As with Israel and Iraq today, there was a temporary Western victory and occupation. But the arrogant Westerners never won the hearts and minds of the local inhabitatants and, within a few years, they were on the defensive. Their greatest protagonist was 'Saledin' born in what is now present-day Iraq and a historical hero of Saddam Hussein.
Unfortunately, the long term legacy from the Crusades was a dramatic reduction in the native Christians populations of the Middle and Near East who suffered increased persecutions from Muslims that associated them with the European invaders purely because of their religion. Sadly this mirrors what is happening today in Palestine and Iraq thanks to the disasterous belligerent policies of Bush and Blair. There is now, particularly in the case of Iraq, a mass exodus of Christian communities that have existed since the dawn of Christianity as they become the targets of Islamic fundamentalists. It is hard to believe that Iraq was once a vibrant centre of Christian religion from where missionaries ventured further east to spead the gospel. Today all this heritage is under threat. Bush talks much of changing the face of the Middle East. His madcap imperialist adventure may indeed do so for we are now witnessing the disappearance from the region of a religion that survived persecution for nearly two thousand years.

Christmas 2006 in Galway, - A Walk along the Monivea Bog

Cepta, my wife, surveying her bog lands which as you can see from the photographs in this article, have an intrensic natural beauty.
Our family own some small agricultural lands near the village of Monivea in east Galway as a result of an inheritance that my wife Cepta received in 2006.
Like much of rural Ireland, agriculture here is in serious decline with the small family homestead nearly a thing of the past. Young farmers are a rare phenomena. Most of the people still farming today are of the older generation. Farmers such as our neighbour Jimmy Flaherty photographed here with Cepta.
Jimmy still retains a vibrant active farm which can boast of a bull, a big herd of cows, a fine flock of sheep... (see my previous articles on this subject indluding 'Down on Jimmy's Farm' at

But Jimmy is very much the exception. For the biggest cash crop today is the selling of land for the construction of houses. Hence, there is a danger that the countryside will soon be urbanised by networks of unsustainable housing development.

It is now critical therefore that governments encourage rural Ireland to undergo a massive transformation and switch to the production of bio-fuel crops, forestry and organic foods. While fossil fuels are the main culprit in world climate change, oil anyway will soon reach its peak due to growing demands from China and India. Bio-fuels such as ethanol could provide one sustainable energy alternative. Likewise there will, over the next few decades, probably be a shift towards sourcing food locally as the cost of transport will rise significantly. With the cost of chemical fertilisers and the damage they cause to the environment also becoming unacceptable, organic foodstuffs will become more economically attractive.

Protecting Our Natural Heritage
Likewise the importance of designating large chunks of the countryside as protected natural habitats is vital. Too much of our natural forests, rivers, bogs and wetlands have been destroyed by mankind's selfish actions. Now this greed is coming back to haunt us as a result of warming temperatures, rising sea levels and deforestation.
Photo of a bog pond

Badger Sett

Photo: Entrances to a Badger sett, Monivea Bog
There should be future now for paying some farmers to metamorphise into 'guardians of the natural countryside'. Not only in order to regenerate habitats and bring back the wildlife, but to allow urban dwellers to enjoy the beauty of Nature.
The Bog at Currantarmuid (Irish = lands of the church or monastery) contains an abundance of wildlife including the fox, the pine marten and the badger, Ireland's largest wild carnivore.
Unlike some farmers, Jimmy Flaherty doesn't view the badgers as a major source of bovine TB.

Flowers in Full Bloom at Christmas time!
But the signs of warming temperatures are becoming more and more apparent.
This year once again, we had no snow but weeks of storms and constant rainfall.
The weather is now so mild that plants are budding early as the photo of this Fuchsia taken during Christmas week amply illustrates.

Christmas 2006 in Galway - St. Stephen's Day Swim in Salthill

The traditional swim on St. Stephen's Day on the Salthill promenade attracts dozens of participants and hundreds of onlookers every year.
In spite of the cold harsh weather that one would expect in December, quite a hardy number of folk go swimming. Female as well as male, old as well as young. Partipant and onlooker all are treated to the welcomed taste of hot beverages including mull wine!

I really enjoyed the event as I made loads of people that I had not seen for some time.

Christmas 2006 in Galway - Community Tree Planting in the Terryland Forest Park

The Mayor of Galway City, Councillor Niall O Brolchain with artist Lol Hardiman planting trees at the community tree planting event in the Terryland Forest Park in the week prior to Christmas. (Note: Lol, as well as being a great communicator & teacher, is one of those unique individuals that combines a great artistic talent with a deep sense of respect for Nature).
Terryland is Ireland's largest urban forest park programme that grew out of a campaign that I initiated in 1996 to secure a major recreational park and wildlife habitat for Galway. It was also to act as an ecological corridor to link the River Corrib to the rural lands on the eastern boundary of the city. For the first few years of its existence in early 2000, it captured the imagination and involvement of the people of Galway due to the foresight of the new parks manager at City Hall and a high profile pro-active multi-sectoral steering commitee. However, due to the complete failure by city council to maintain an active community participation for a few years, it has at this stage lost the strong citywide goodwill that once was its raison d'etre. Only a handful of citizens turned up at the December planting compared to the thousands in years gone by.Threatened now by development pressures, there must be a clear attempt over the next few months by all vested interests to ensure that the park once again becomes a shining example of ecologists, stage agencies, local government and the public working together to create a true urban People's Park & Wildlife Sanctuary.
It is certainly not too late to achieve this goal.