Sunny spells. Scattered showers. Changing climate
Met Éireann made a rare prounouncement on climate change this week. As the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its Fifth Assessment Report, can Ireland’s living-room scientists rekindle interest in a major global issue?
Worked up: Met Éireann’s head of forecasting, Gerald Fleming, and the warming planet. Montage: Dearbhla Kelly/The Irish Times. Photographs: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times and Rob Atkins/Getty
Gerald Fleming is no placard-wielding radical. Met Éireann’s head of forecasting, who was famous for signing off his evening TV broadcasts with a wink and “goodnight”, exudes laidback, homespun unpretentiousness. But he’s worked up about climate change.
“The science is very strong, and has been strong in every successive IPCC report, right up to this latest, fifth one,” he says in his soft Wexford brogue, referring to the work of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “But there are many, many vested interests in society who say we should pay no attention to this. There is also the natural conservatism of people, who are saying: ‘I have grown up in this climate, I’ve seen all sorts of things happen, my grandfather has also seen things happen.’ ”
Fleming is speaking at the National Botanic Gardens, where Met Éireann published a study on Ireland’s future climate on Thursday, on the eve of the long-awaited release of the UN IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. For the first time, Met Éireann has had an input in the IPCC process, by contributing to a global modelling project.
As important, perhaps, is the signal Met Éireann is sending to the Irish public. It’s using its reputation to reach Middle Ireland and change minds.
“We’re doing two things,” says Fleming. “First of all, acting as a nucleus for the Irish scientific community, bringing the disparate strands together to focus on the problem that affects us here in Ireland. But also, because people know us and see us every night, hopefully we have some credibility in this game, and from our point of view inside Met Éireann when we do the research and look at the scientific results there is no doubt as to what we are seeing.”
Environmental activists have welcomed the initiative. A new narrative is needed, they say, to counter both “message fatigue” and the tactics of climate-change deniers. “Met Éireann and its weather forecasters have potentially a really significant role to play,” says Oisin Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth Ireland. “They have high trustworthiness – notwithstanding that we often complain about the accuracy of weather forecasts – and they have high recognition.”
Although there is little chance of Jean Byrne doing an Al Gore routine after the Six One news, references to climate change may become more frequent. Evelyn Cusack has already engaged in radio debates on the subject. Some might regard this as “mission creep” but it’s an understandable response from a scientific community that is seeing public opinion move farther from the facts.
Despite winning a Nobel Peace Prize for its 2007 report, the IPCC has suffered reputational damage from the “Climategate” rumpus over leaked emails acknowledging qualifiers in the research. Climate-change sceptics have also latched on to the discovery that temperature increases have slowed since 1998, a factor that meteorologists put down to natural fluctuation.