Environment news roundup

With all eyes on the euro, the budget, the Middle East, some remarkable, smaller stories emerged.

Irish roads are now among the safest in the OECD. I guess the main reason is that much traffic has shifted to the new roads.

The 2010 Drinking Water Quality Report is out. Water quality is getting better, but slowly. Biological contamination is down and trihalomethanes (which result from improper chemical treatment) are down too.

Construct Ireland reports on an unpublished SEAI study (the leak is easily identified) that shows that building standards were not enforced. This is not surprising in itself, but the scale is. Sean O’Rourke’s interview with Gerry Wardell is worth a listen, and SEAI’s response is intriguing.

The EU is putting pressure on Ireland to hurry up with water charges. Ireland is obliged to fully recover the costs of water services. This implies an average charge of 500 euro per household per year, 5 times what is expected to be announced in next week’s budget.

The carbon tax is likely to go up. Initially, the carbon tax was tied to the ETS permit price, which has gone down. The market is least distorted when permit price and carbon tax are equal. Coal and peat, the fuels that emit most carbon dioxide, are still exempt from the carbon tax and there is no sign of the commencement order.

Dublin is considering a fire call-out charge. This would be wrong. Fire is an emergency. One should never hesitate to call for help.

28 thoughts on “Environment news roundup”

  1. Wonder could your insurance company be persuaded to pick up the bill, if people stop reporting fires until its too late thats gonna hurt them badly.

    At what stage in the traumatic experience are the firemen supposed to ask you to pay the bill. Before they turn on the hose?

  2. and you could just make an anonymous call, say you saw someones house on fire – if you had the presence of mind.

  3. There seems to be widespread agreement that the idea of charging people for alerting the emergency services of a fire is not well thought out.

    Fires in built up areas spread quickly and encouraging the first threatened person to hesitate before acting because they will bear all of the costs is likely to reduce the common good.

    It is not totally unlike the idea of forcing one country to pay for the bank bailout that saves everyone else banks from being rescued. Of course sometimes burning down the whole slum might be no harm…..

  4. In many countries the fire brigade is a first responder in “not breathing”, “no pulse”, “bleeding profusely” cases. Fires are actually a small portion of the call outs. It is common to have a call out charge to deter frivolous calls. Usually discretion exists and the penniless widow Murphy does not have to pay to get her cat off the roof. We Irish continue to be the world’s leading drama queens. The charge is usually not levied on the caller but on the property owner. If the call is totally frivolous there are charges such as public nuisance than can be laid.

  5. @Mickey
    Frivolous call-outs should be fined. Some call-outs should be charged: cats in trees, flooded cellars.

    However, DCC proposes to charge if the kitchen is on fire.

  6. @Richard Tol

    Fire call-out charge is one of the most dangerous ideas to emerge from the end of year accounting mania presently driving senior mandarins in the public service. They should read Michael Lewis piece in recent Vanity Fair on California.

    Similar to the end of year accounting mania where medical card applications are being shelved to 2012; disability benefit applications are being first time rejected to gain time; expense claims in hse are being pushed to 2012 …. lifeworlds of the terminally ill, the aged, and the underclass are being sacrificed, diced, and dumped on; ignore the consequences, the context, and the people, when the bean counters wield power in a financialized world of socialized serfs – those with least power suffer most.

    Of course, no objection to a nominal charge for rescue_ing ‘fat cats’ on a hot tin roof; albeit my preferance would be to toss a few more sods of illegal turf on the fire ….

    On the positives – positive.

  7. It is a common human response to have little respect for something that is provided free – and to draw on the well for something for which the service was not designed or intended. We’ll never get a world where everyone is sufficiently moral to recognise that when they abuse a free public service they are actually stealing from every other citizen, but there are ways to minimise the damage.

    At the moment most public sevices that do not levy point-of-use charges – and even some that do – are paid out of a ‘big pot’ up in Dublin. Most people seem to feel entitled to draw on these services as they please because they have no idea of how much precisely they are contributing to this big pot.

    If local government was empowered to raise locally all of the funds required to provide these services people might become a little more concerned about how their money was being spent and elect sensible and responsible local politicians to keep close control of receipts and expenditure and to ensure effcient service provision.

    Quite understandably, most people can’t get their heads around the telephone numbers in central government’s ‘tennis club accounts’; even qualified accountants and economists really struggle most of the time. But I’m confident they would have little problem getting to grips with local expenditure and tax and relating it to local service provision. There is no better spur to democratic accountability and legitimacy than taxes and charges paid in anger.

    Does anyone think that Minister Hogan might have this in mind as he looks to ‘reform’ local government? If they do they should dream on.

  8. Forget the emotive fire charge issue, it will never happen. The SEAI report is the worst revelation.

    It would appear extraordinary that they sat on a report for so long and that it was only released via a ‘leak’.
    On the other hand it adds to the general impression that nothing could be allowed to tarnish the uncontrolled development that took place in the decade gone by.

  9. @mulledwino,

    Your link has a further link to a cleaner pdf:
    http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/ridley_rsa_millar_speech_scientific_heresy.pdf

    Came across this earlier this month, but thought that high-lighting it here would attract the usual rash of pseudonymic abuse – particularly due to his role in Northern Rock – and would generate much heat and little light. I suspect that he, inadvertently, provided excellent evidence of the confirmation bias he rightly rails against in his speech.

    Not that you’ve slipped the hare let’s wait for the witchfinders.

  10. All,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there was a Fire Brigade call out charge in Dublin in the 1980s. Reason why is that some joxer called the fire brigade to our then address in Dublin city centre one Saturday morning and I had great trouble expalining to the firemen that (a) that we’d had no fire that we’d somehow managed to extinguish ourselves before they turned up, or otherwise, and (b) that nobody had phoned them from our house requesting their assistance in the first place (no mobile phones at the time!). They told me there was a charge of £75 for the call-out, which had me fairly rocking on my heels. I can’t remember if the bill ever arrived though. Also, is this ‘cat stuck in the tree thing with batty auld wan wailing at the foot of it’ not something of an urban myth? I’ve always had cats. Very agile climbers, in my experience, and never got stuck anywhere except for the odd misadventure in a garden shed when they were inadvertently locked in.

    @ Paul Hunt,

    I’m reluctantly coming round to Richard Tol’s view in his post on the Durban conference that maybe it might be best if the politicians and the NGOs and the campaigners, whether so-called ‘alarmists’ or ‘deniers’, took a back seat and left debate on the implications of climate change and AGW cause and effects to the experts for a while. Or at least until some clarity can be achieved in an atmosphere of rational discussion and evaluation of the effect of human activity generated emissions of CO2 on long term climate trends. The WattsUp piece is highly entertaining, but then heretics and sceptics always are whilst prosyletizers are generally a humourless, surly bunch.

  11. I guess the main reason is that much traffic has shifted to the new roads.

    As opposed to knowing, what.

    @ Paul Hunt.

    Cute, particularly as “mulledwino” is unlikely to be a real name. Watts is a crank and a joke. You taking anything on his website seriously… well.

  12. @ Veronica

    left debate on the implications of climate change and AGW cause and effects to the experts for a while.

    One ‘side’ does that, the other does not, as you well know.

  13. @Veronica,

    We have many great minds applying science to forecast variables in economic systems; they claim to have quite detailed knowledge of economic behaviour and the various interactions and feedbacks, but they can’t even agree on where we are today. Given the complexity and the lower level of understanding of this complexity, how likely is it that those predicting climate change are any better?

    The global climate change lobby has become a huge industry that is creating a paradise for subsidy junkies, rent-seekers and consumer-gougers – and for those for whom it provides an easy route to political power and influence. We need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reliance on fossil fuels but there are far more effective and efficient ways of achieving this than the policies being advanced, for example, by the EU. But we also need to improve governance at the local, national and global level to enhance adaptability and to deal with other global challenges.

    @EWI,

    There is a subtle difference – which I expect escapes you – of using a pseudonym when drawing attention to something that might be interest and using one when deciding to dismiss it out of hand because you appear to have some personal animus towards the owner of the site which linked to it.

  14. @ Paul Hunt

    There is a subtle difference – which I expect escapes you – of using a pseudonym when drawing attention to something that might be interest

    It appears to escape you that Watts is a conspiracy nut and everything on his website is trash, including his ongoing campaign to slander reputable science. This what is being “drawn attention to” by your pseudonymous friend.

  15. @ Paul Hunt

    We have many great minds applying science to forecast variables in economic systems; they claim to have quite detailed knowledge of economic behaviour and the various interactions and feedbacks, but they can’t even agree on where we are today. Given the complexity and the lower level of understanding of this complexity, how likely is it that those predicting climate change are any better?

    Please. Economics is a social science that you can use to say anything that you want, but climatology is a real physical science – and if there was anything amiss with the current state, you can be sure that the enormous hydrocarbon industry would be all over it with proper research. So, where are they?

    But go ahead, tie yourself to that anchor is it makes you feel better.

  16. @Paul,

    I take your point, but there is one ineluctible fact in climate science: carbon concentration levels in the atmosphere are at 380ppm and rising, whereas pre-industrial revolution in Europe, the levels were about 240ppm.

    From my reading and understanding – limited, I must admit both by education and intellectual capacity – the difficulty for scientists lies in predicting what the impact of this rise in greenhouse gas levels will be on the climate system with any great degree of certainty. I agree with you that models of climate change are probably as much at risk of being flawed as some economic models have been shown to be; but I also think that most of the scientists involved in their construction would acknowledge that. It’s politicians and others with a specific ideological agenda who tend to pronounce that the ‘science is settled’, or that tentative predictions based on climate change models are the equivalent of the ten commandments, not the scientists.

    The history of natural science and discovery over several hundred years is littered with examples of fellows who sidelined the findings of others, engaged in plagiarism and outright skullduggery for their own personal gain and self-aggrandisement. Something to do with human nature, which doesn’t change even if the climate does. So I don’t know if one can expect the modern community of scientists to be much different when it comes to patterns of human behaviour than previous generations of their kind.

    As for predicting the future in any area; as the man said, if we could do that then there wouldn’t be any such thing as the future. Three or four years ago, for instance, I wouldn’t have ‘predicted’ what is currently happening to democracy in Europe and if anyone suggested to me that things would be as they are today I would have suspected they were trying to wind me up. Same with the economy. Same with climate science.

  17. The history of natural science and discovery over several hundred years is littered with examples of fellows who sidelined the findings of others, engaged in plagiarism and outright skullduggery for their own personal gain and self-aggrandisement. Something to do with human nature, which doesn’t change even if the climate does. So I don’t know if one can expect the modern community of scientists to be much different when it comes to patterns of human behaviour than previous generations of their kind.

    You sound like you’ve got something to get off your chest about “outright skullduggery”. Care to share?

  18. “I wouldn’t have ‘predicted’ what is currently happening to democracy in Europe and if anyone suggested to me that things would be as they are today I would have suspected they were trying to wind me up. Same with the economy. Same with climate science.”

    And by the time you make sense of it it will be too late. Climate can’t be diversified away. Neither can systemic financial risk.

  19. @ Paul Hunt

    “We have many great minds applying science to forecast variables in economic systems; they claim to have quite detailed knowledge of economic behaviour and the various interactions and feedbacks, but they can’t even agree on where we are today. ”

    For someone who spends most of his time on this board moaning about the Irish civil service you seem to have no understanding of the nature of power or of the capitalist system we live in.

  20. You can fool all the folk all the time – just needs some artful spinola and a few bits of mathy stuff, but it just might not be a good idea to attempt that on Mother Nature. That lady has one bad temper, carries a mighty big stick and will wield it with abandon if she so desires. There are no elites in Mother Nature’s house. I’d site all new structures at a min + 10 m above existing spring water high-tide mark. And that applies to all inland waters as well. A raised sea level does unusual things to river flows and levels.

    Given the proper circumstances water has the unpleasant habit of flowing upwards and backwards. Does not disprove gravity, but it does come as a disagreeable suprise to some unfortunate folk.

    How about that Vartry tunnel then? Bottled water for S-Dublin? The mind boggles. “What me worry?” Nope, I got me a real deep well! Chateau 1792 vintage. Tests show its potable, but I will boil nonetheless.

    Brian.

  21. @veronica

    Forget explanatics – the present and future is in hermeneutics; much more fun and down to earth useful. Once one has a modest handle on hermeneutics then one may attempt some very modest and perhaps even reasonably plausible explanatics. As 7_of_Nine regularly expressed it to me, in a gentle tone of patient exasperation – “You Humans – Such a backward species; incapable of even taking care of your planet, let alone yourselves!”

  22. @ David O’Donnell

    OK, I’ll bite. You think you were really talking to a character off a fictional TV show?

  23. Where’s JTO to celebrate the road statistics? A lot of lives saved and as it’s based on 2009 data I’d imagine we’ll be ever nearer the top in 2012s report. Nice to see us gaining something from our credit binge:

    http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/6/28/49105858.pdf

    Iceland -1
    Netherlands – 2
    United Kingdom – 3
    Japan – 4
    Sweden – 5
    Norway 6
    Germany – 7
    Ireland – 8
    Switzerland
    Finland
    Denmark
    Israel
    Spain
    Austria
    France

  24. @EWI

    Following the Aesthetic Turn in Irish economics, the literary device is probably more useful, in a pedagogic metaphorical sense, than abstract ideological fictions such as ‘free market’, ‘purrfect mawrket hyposthesis’, and … er .. I really love this one … ‘the “objectivism” of Ayn Ran’ which is almost, if not quite, on a par with the local ‘progressive democrats’. For the ontologically challenged, I also recommend the Flintstones as a suitable introductory course to the real world. Let me know how you get on with Thelma …

  25. @ David O’Donnell

    The only ‘Thelma’ that I’ve ever known was a Medic who was my buddy on the Pot NCOs course many years ago. Lovely woman, hope she’s well.

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