March 16, 2008 / 1:22 PM / 12 years ago

Climate change could turn Ireland's green to brown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The wearin’ of the brown? Forty shades of beige? Climate change could turn Ireland’s legendary emerald landscape a dusty tan, with profound effects on its society and culture, a new study released in time for St. Patrick’s Day reported.

Entitled “Changing Shades of Green,” the report by the Irish American Climate Project twins science gleaned from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the musings of a poet, a fiddler, a fisherman, a farmer and others with deep connections to Ireland.

“The lush greens could turn to brown and the soft rains that people talk about as a blessing — ‘May the rains fall soft upon your field’ — those soft rains could turn harsh,” said Kevin Sweeney, an environmental consultant who directs the climate project.

“It really is changing the look and feel of Ireland,” Sweeney said in a telephone interview.

The report is available online at

While he acknowledged the impact of climate change on Ireland is less than that elsewhere, notably in Africa, Sweeney emphasized the difference this global change could make on a place that millions of people picture as lush and green.


Among other findings, the report said:

— Potatoes, the quintessential staple of Irish agriculture, might cease to be a commercial crop under the stress of prolonged summer droughts;

— Dried grasses in summer and autumn would change hillsides from green to brown;

— Pastures could be saturated until late spring, making it impossible for livestock to graze; instead, farmers would plant row crops to grow animal feed, a change in the look of Ireland;

— Reduced summer rains would hurt inland fisheries for salmon and sea trout;

— Bog bursts, caused when summer heat lifts peat bogs off the bedrock on hillsides and sends the bogs sliding down the slope, would be more frequent.

But the most evident change could be the difference in rainfall.

“The nickname Emerald Isle is a legacy of Ireland’s steady rainfall,” the report said. “By mid-century, winters could see an increase of more than 12 percent and summers could see a decrease of more than 12 percent. Seasonal storm intensity changes will increase the impact of these changes.”

The southeast may have elements of a Mediterranean climate, according to the report.

“If it’s pouring rain, I’ll say, ‘We’re in the climate of the music,’” Irish fiddler Martin Hayes said in the report. “ ... That softness of the rain, it’s there.”

Discussing the climate changes possible in Ireland, Hayes said, “I feel frightened and worried. I feel despair. It goes into every aspect of my life.”

Ireland is especially good as a focus because some 80 million people around the world can claim Irish heritage, compared to the 5 million or so who actually live in Ireland. Of these, Sweeney said, most associate Ireland with green pastures, rolling hills and rain. And that image could change.

“This is not Africa, where ... the rain may dry up and millions of people might have to move,” Sweeney said.

“People can raise their children, they can make a living, they can find sustenance in Ireland, but it will look and feel and be different. And that’s the subtlety we want to explain here. We don’t want to project that this is catastrophe. What it is, is it’s heartbreaking.”

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