Category: Journalism

Today I am feeling the sort of self-righteous glow that comes with managing to go about your daily business while ticking several important boxes.

This morning I got up and caught the bus to St George’s Market in Belfast. I saved myself money and wear and tear on my car, and boosted the income of the local public transport system. At the market I bought a great value meat pack from a local butcher – saving myself money and ensuring that I will not be eating horsemeat any time soon. Included in the pack was a free range chicken and free range eggs. I then bought some stationary from my friend who runs Arbee Cards – a successful local small business run by a woman. And then I caught the bus home.

Ok, so it may not seem like much. But I have been energised into trying so much harder to make these sorts of choices after attending a terrifying presentation at Stormont by this man – . Organised by Friends of the Earth, it was a coldly (no pun intended) factual look at exactly what we are facing when it comes to global warming. And the really terrifying part? It’s already too late to limit the effects.

In case you, like me, are not up to speed on the latest developments around this, let me summarise.

Since the 1990s it has generally been agreed by the developed countries that in order to avoid dangerous climate change, the sort of global warming that would see large parts of the world becoming uninhabitable, we need to limit the warming of the earth’s temperature to no more than two degrees. However, due to developments in the science around global warming, scientists now believe a rise of two degrees would already be taking us into dangerous territory. Ideally, they believe, we should be aiming for no more than a one degree rise in temperature.

If you don’t know what the effects, the real effects, of global warming are, have a look at this site –

However, Professor Kevin Anderson says that it is too late to limit temperature rise to two degrees, due to the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere. He argues that therefore, avoiding dangerous climate in the conventional sense is no longer possible. In fact, he believes that we are on course for a temperature rise of 4°C by 2060 – and even that isn’t the worst it could get, as, once temperatures hit a certain level, and the rainforests die, and soil starts breaking down, even more carbon will be released into the atmosphere.

2060 – that’s not that long away.

And it’s not just Professor Anderson saying this. Look at this:

“This year we estimated that the required improvement in global carbon intensity to meet a 2ºC warming target has risen to 5.1% a year, from now to 2050.

We have passed a critical threshold – not once since 1950 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation in a single year, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years.

The 2011 rate of improvement in carbon intensity was 0.8%. Even doubling our rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with six degrees of warming (my emphasis). To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding two degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.

In the Emerging Markets, where the E7 now emit more than the G7, improvements in carbon intensity have largely stalled, with strong GDP growth closely coupled with rapid emissions growth.

Meanwhile the policy context for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and nuclear, critical technologies for low carbon energy generation, remains uncertain.

As negotiators convene every year to attempt to agree a global deal, carbon emissions continue to rise in most parts of the world. The urgency for a global binding and meaningful policy commitments has reached a tipping point.

Business leaders have been asking for clarity in political ambition on climate change. Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2ºC, but 4ºC and, at our current rates, 6ºC.”

That is from PricewaterhouseCooper’s Carbon Economy Index .

Now my self-righteous morning isn’t going to save us from any of this – that’s up to governments and politicians (so good luck with that).

But everyone can do something.

If every one of us here in Northern Ireland halved the number of car journeys we made, turned the central heating down by a degree, or took every electrical appliance off stand-by, it would make a difference.

Otherwise, I’d start planning to make sure you’re long gone by 2060.


A new beginning

As the excellent political analyst Alan In Belfast asks,  - does the world really need another blog? The answer to that is that it most definitely does need one like his, but it probably doesn’t need one like this quite so much!

However, that’s not going to stop me I’m afraid!

Having spent the last twenty years as a journalist, I have taken redundancy from my job with the BBC and made the mid-life-crisis like decision to return to university. But I’m not just studying any old course. Oh No. I am testing the life-long belief that all journalists have that they can write a novel, and I am studying towards an MA in Creative Writing.

This move has changed my life – and my buying habits – considerably. It’s an adventure, it’s a challenge, but it’s also something that I feel could decend very easily into cliche – a bit like my writing. However, although I am lucky enough to have chosen this, rather than to have had it thrust apon me, I suspect that the kinds of changes I am having to make will resonate with a lot of people. Whatever your circumstances I will bet that your life is not the same as it was two years ago. And increasingly I hear from people who still have the ability to make a choice, that they no longer want to live in the same way. So maybe these posts will have some relevance to others. I hope so.

But for now, let me entertain you with my experiences of being a student again! Although I am by no means the eldest in my classes, I am certainly among the oldest, and that includes the tutors. This was brought home to me forcibly when, during Freshers Week, I was handed  a free condom by a young woman advertising a night at a bar. Mutley, as my partner shall be known here, said, “Just the one? That’s not going to be much of a night…” But after I had chortled, it gave me a pang. If the university experience is about experimenting with sex, drugs and rock’n’roll – where does that leave you when you’re happily settled in a relationship, and can no longer drink more than a couple of glasses of wine??

Well, watch this space…


Today is Vesak, or Buddha’s birthday, an anniversary traditionally celebrated by Buddhists across the Asian world. And among the celebrations around the world were several events at the UN headquarters here in New York. So this evening saw me at the opening of an exhibition or Buddhist art in the foyer of the General Assembly building. I was there to record some sound effects, to help me put a package together. It was like all the other exhibition openings I’ve ever been to – started late, a flurry of activity as the main man – in this case, the permanent rep to Sri Lanka – arrived to cut the ribbon, and then polite applause. It reminded me of the opening of the book of photos I went to in Kabul, not long after I arrived in Afghanistan.

I drifted around, looking at the pictures – remembering the huge reclining Buddha statues at Dambulla in Sri Lanka – recording the murmer of different languages, and trying to record a piece to tape - and constantly seeing the pictures and not hearing the sound - until through the exhibition boards I saw a group of Buddhist monks. In their orange robes, and with their shiny shaved heads, they were the manifestation of the spiritualism of Buddhism – until I realised the biggest one had a mobile phone pressed to his ear, chatting away, just like everyone else does in New York, but it seemed very un-Buddhist….


It’s been a very strange experience watching the elections in Northern Ireland from this side of the Atlantic. First of all it’s been difficult to do so, as, for various reasons, when I’m not at work, it’s tricky to get constant access to the internet (hard to believe in NYC I know, but true). But also because the delays in the count meant the time-difference was even more marked for me. And then there’s that sense that you want to exclaim to someone here about this or that result, but of course it doesn’t really mean anything to anyone here.

The Queen of Manhattan is wading through application forms for all these consultancy jobs here, which use phrases like ‘determine the level of capacity building’ and ‘monitor the gender balance in democratic governance’, and I suddenly realised that that’s what I’ve been doing – monitoring the democratic governance in Northern Ireland! It looks, as I think we all suspected, like a fairly un-spectacular result in terms of changes to the status quo. It seems a shame that in an campaign which had so many independents, so few were elected. And that also meant some casualties among the more established MLAs – it will be a great loss to the Assembly that Dawn Purvis lost her seat. In terms of the number of women MLAs, it’s good to see some new faces, but 20 or so women out of 108 MLAs is still not ideal.

One small aside, one of my colleagues is called Gerry Adams, which still has me pricking my ears up every time someone says her name, but she is very different to the bearded President of Sinn Fein – she’s a statuesque black African-America.

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