Tag Archives: #Ireland

Divestment Transparency

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Lotus (ca. 1930), vintage gelatin silver print. All images are x-rays of single flowers taken by Dr. Dain L. Tasker, radiologist. Photo: Dr. Dain L. Tasker via oseph Bellows Gallery

Lotus (ca. 1930), vintage gelatin silver print. All images are x-rays of single flowers taken by Dr. Dain L. Tasker, radiologist.
Photo: Dr. Dain L. Tasker via Joseph Bellows Gallery

We like to think we can see the true nature of the world around us, or at least, that we have a chance of understanding it. In February, the Irish government took a big step towards revealing how the fossil fuel infrastructure really works. How? By halting all public investment in fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas from the €8 billion (US$8.6 billion) Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

When it comes to the environment and protecting it for our own health as well as that of the planet, it helps to try and see through the obvious arguments about why we are still using so much fossil fuel, even though we know the damage it does to the climate. After all, Shell Oil made a film about that damage to the climate by fossil fuel use back in 1991, so none of this is new.

So after decades of discussions, why aren’t we further down the road to renewable energy use?

Fuchsia (1938), vintage gelatin silver print. Photo: Dr. Dain L. Tasker via oseph Bellows Gallery

Fuchsia (1938), vintage gelatin silver print.
Photo: Dr. Dain L. Tasker via Joseph Bellows Gallery

One key reason is because some of the largest modern governments are so profoundly intertwined with the fossil fuel industry. Massive subsidies go towards supporting supply security, but also fund environmental protection by reducing emissions. A 2016 report published in World Development estimated that direct fossil fuel subsidies averaged 6.5% of the global GDP in the years 2013-2015, with over half the subsidies going to coal (China is the largest subsidizing country by far).

Subsidies of renewable energies are a small fraction of this amount, particularly if one folds in the indirect subsidies of maintaining fossil-fuel infrastructures, and the lack of holding fossil fuel companies all along the production chain financially accountable for damage done – for example, clean-ups of damaged water systems or land polluted in oil spills, or ecosystem rebuilding following mining activities.

These subsidies are public funds that are paid to support what is already one of the most profitable industries on the planet.

By becoming the first country in the world to fully divest from fossil fuel subsidies, Ireland shines a light on how the system really works. Knowing how much any given government is paying to support fossil fuel use instead of more sustainable energies can provide real insight into policy decisions – and if that country is a representative democracy, that knowledge can guide voters’ choices.

This divestment gets down to the hidden structures that keep a dangerous addiction both strong and intact.

Untitled, (lily)  (1932), vintage gelatin silver print. Photo: Dr. Dain L. Tasker via oseph Bellows Gallery

Untitled, (lily) (1932), vintage gelatin silver print.
Photo: Dr. Dain L. Tasker via Joseph Bellows Gallery

 

The Green Spot (2)

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We were in western Ireland last week, and I was out on a run when I passed this beautiful piece of re-purposed farm machinery. A geared wheel as a fence.IMG_0348The fence in question was to a large pasture near Cong, on Lough Corrib.IMG_0349

The sheep are marked here, as they are across Ireland, with big splotches of color.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

These particular sheep were Green Spots, appropriately enough for me, since the Irish whiskey I liked best (from the three that I tried) was, indeed, Green Spot. The whiskey name comes from the same origin – the different ageing barrels used to be marked with color splotches, just like the sheep.

Only a few of the lambs were marked with their own fresh green spot. Not sure that bodes well for the unmarked lambs…but they were very friendly.IMG_0346

The Green Spot

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Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Not knowing much about Irish whiskies, I took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring during our trip to Ireland last week. The first dram recommended to me by the friendly bartender at the Porterhouse Temple Bar in Dublin turned out to be my favourite.

For all its mild aroma of soft grain and vanilla, Green Spot Single Pot Still was strong – it had a note of mint and oak, and managed to remain smooth and warm. An excellent introduction to the world of Irish whiskey. green-spot-single-pot-still-whiskey

Irish whiskey is unique in that it is almost always triple-distilled, as opposed to the usual double-distillation process of most single malt Scotch whiskies and bourbons. Another distinctive trait is the Irish use of unmalted barley in addition to the malted barley used in single malt Scotch. Unmalted barley contains less sugar, thus adding less sweetness to the final product.

The ‘Single Pot Still‘ style of whiskey, which originates from a single distillery, is defined by these two elements of triple distillation and the barley mix. Whiskey makers began cutting malted barley with green barley in response to high taxes placed on malt during the 18th century, and the practice held over into the 20th century, even as Irish whiskey’s popularity was overshadowed by blended Scotch whiskies.

Because spirits like single malt Scotch, Irish whiskey and American bourbon are so closely with their place of origin,  I’m always interested in where distillers source their grains and just how ‘local’ the overall production really is.

Cistercian Dunbrody Abbey (1182) beyond Barley Field, County Wexford, Ireland Photo: Artflakes

Cistercian Dunbrody Abbey (1182) beyond Barley Field, County Wexford, Ireland
Photo: Artflakes

In the case of Irish whiskey, at least according to Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 90% of the malting barley used in the country is locally produced through a local division of Boortmalt, a large European malting company that is a subsidiary of French agricultural cooperative Axereal.

These days, the tasting experience of a local product that feels entirely bound to a specific place – in my case, the delicious Green Spot I had on a warm spring evening, to the sounds of excellent live local music in a Dublin pub – is often the result of a larger network of industry that extends far beyond national borders.

Green Spot is produced for Mitchell & Son of Dublin, by Irish Distillers at the Midleton DistilleryCorkIreland. As far as I can tell, almost all Irish whiskey is produced in three main distilleries: Midleton, Bushmills and Cooley‘s. However, there are plans to open (or re-open) up to sixteen new distilleries in Ireland over the next few years – Irish whiskey is on the rise.

There’s a nice little video on how Green Spot got made here. My favorite quote? Green Spot “isn’t just a whiskey that you throw around and drink at midday…” Indeed.

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Fields near Lough Corrib, Ireland
Photo: PK Read

 

Maps and Being There

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We spent the week on the shores of Lough Corrib near Cong, Ireland. Lough Corrib has an estimated 1200 islands and extends up through the Conemara mountains, and down to Galway on the western coast. Renowned for good fishing and its varied wildlife, it’s the second-largest lake in Ireland. The birdsong at dawn is a varied symphony.

What it looked like on a map drawn in 1600 can be seen here.

Where we stayed was all green pastures, lush forests and breathtaking views. The other end of the lake still has breathtaking views, but of a different sort: Wide, windswept bog and crests of mountains that rise up from the plains like sudden ocean swells.

What it looked like on a more detailed map from 1846 can be seen here.

Loch Coirib with Irish place names. Source: Everything Angling

Loch Coirib with Irish place names.
Source: Everything Angling

Still, knowing where a place is on a map and knowing it has historical and environmental significance aren’t the same as knowing what it’s like to be there.

What it looked like through the lens of my phone camera while on a run can be seen below.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Stone walls divide the countryside, sometimes enclosing herds of sheep, sometimes cattle, and sometimes, the stone walls enclose what used to be a meadow, but is now a thicket that hides a long-abandoned farmhouse. The walls themselves tumbled so long ago that they seem a part of the forest.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

This is why most of my ‘runs’ around this area turned into sprints, peppered with walks and pauses.