Stranded in Rural Ireland

The severe flooding of recent weeks has wrought great hardship of those households, businesses and farms affected together with causing severe disruption to transport and communications.

However, the images in the national media of large one-off rural houses and submerged cars stranded in flood waters provides a very powerful visual metaphor for the serious issues facing Ireland and our highly dispersed land use pattern and our ability to adapt to oil price inflation.

There has been much discussion this week as to whether Climate Change is really with us or if this was just a freak weather event. Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Head of Climatology and Environmental Sciences, University Catholique de Louvain and Vice-Chair of the UN IPCC in his presentation to the EPA Climate Change Series summarised that the work of the IPPC in the Fourth Assessment Report indeed found that Ireland would witness more intense and prolonged rainfall events. As he further explained, this scientific prediction has not changed since the First Assessment in 1990. As a result, severe floods which were experienced once in one-hundred years are now likely to occur more frequently.

The President of the Irish Farmers Association was quoted in the Irish Times this week as stating that ‘do-gooders’ were objecting to drainage works along rivers due to the potential impact on wildlife. It would be interesting to know if these were the same ‘do-gooders’ who were objecting to the building large swathes of inappropriate development on flood plains during the dizzy heights of the Celtic Tiger boom. There can be no doubt that bad planning and reckless zoning decisions contributed at least in part to the severe flooding experienced by so many in areas where flooding had not been experienced before.

Regardless, it is very doubtful that planning authorities would have restricted one-off housing development in flood affected areas even if they were known to flood in the past such is the irresponsible abandonment with which planning permissions have been granted for isolated rural dwelling houses heretofore. Jim Higgins MEP pandered in 2008 that building more one-off rural dwellings was the answer to severe flooding. These most recent flood events have roundly dismissed that less than scientific election speech.

In any event, the debate as to whether or not the huge floods which inundated large parts of the country over the last few weeks was as a result of Climate Change is largely irrelevant. Climate Change is simply a symptom, albeit a very serious one, of a completely unsustainable society.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its World Energy Outlook on November 10th last predicting that crude oil will reach at least $190 per barrel in 2030 and that the current trends in energy use will have profound implications for environmental protection, energy security and economic development.

In October 2009 the Statement on Energy produced by Forfas stated:

‘Ireland has opted for a policy of land-use planning which has resulted in the sprawl of low-density housing developments. This approach, while socially popular, is not sustainable from an energy, environmental, climate change or quality-of-life perspective.’

As energy prices increase and oil supplies contract our ever increasing proliferation of dispersed and oil and car dependent one-off rural housing stock are likley to be left, quite literally, stranded.

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