Punishing Greens puts climate crisis on back burner

Thu, Jun 11, 2009, 01:00

Electorate may regret voting out the only party that has made real progress on tackling climate change, writes JOHN GIBBONS

THE HOLY trinity of corruption, cronyism and nepotism seems to be about all we have to show for a decade and more of Fianna Fáil-led governments. Admittedly, the electorate did deliver them a stinging rebuff, at least in the local elections. Their junior partners, on the other hand, have been eviscerated.

Most coverage this week has focused on how the Greens were punished by the voters for their sin of propping up a deeply unpopular Fianna Fáil administration. This analysis is unconvincing.

Rather like the roguish Captain Renault in Casablancawe are now shocked, shocked to find that the party we knowingly voted in not once, not twice, but three times in a row turns out to be self-serving incompetents who puffed and preened while their builder, banker and developer friends looted the country, pauperised a generation and took us to the edge of ruin. And now, as Capt Renault would say, it’s time to round up the usual suspects. Someone must pay for the electorate’s grievous error in again returning Bertie Ahern’s low standards to high places in 2007, while pinching our collective nose to block the bad smell then emanating from the Mahon tribunal. The enigma remains: if the Irish electorate is suddenly repulsed by sleveenism, why eliminate from local government the very councillors with an unblemished track record in opposing planning corruption? Worried about jobs? Why then nuke the party whose initiatives may deliver tens of thousands of new jobs in the rapidly evolving renewable energy sector? (I’m non-party and will support anyone, be it Liz McManus, Simon Coveney or Ming the Merciless, as long as they are serious about tackling the ecological crisis).

Worried about climate change and a global sustainability collapse? Apparently not. Last week, the Greens secured a paltry 2.3 per cent of the vote in the local elections, down over 50 per cent since 2004. Translated, this means that with less than six months to go to probably the most important international convention since the second World War – the Copenhagen climate conference – fewer than one in 40 of the Irish electorate is concerned enough about the looming global warming crash to bother voting for a Green candidate.

This is not exactly new. Last June, a refractory Irish electorate engaged in a similar hissy fit when we voted down the Lisbon Treaty against the strong advice of the very leaders – Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore – who are this week being feted for their electoral success. The true cost of that particular act will emerge in due course.

With Lisbon, we may at least get another bite at the cherry. However, climate change doesn’t do second chances. You can’t renegotiate with physics. Despite the deep gloom among environmentalists, real progress has been made. Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan recently committed to enacting climate legislation before the end of this year.

This is critical: only when climate change policy is on a firm legal footing and a carbon tax is in place can we start to make any serious headway against this generation-defining challenge.

Yesterday, Ryan found himself in Bertie’s backyard when he opened a three-day meeting in All Hallows College in Drumcondra. Entitled The New Emergency Conference, its theme harks back to the State’s Emergency Powers Act of September 1939. Its purpose was “to make provision for the maintenance of public order and for the provision and control of supplies and services essential to the life of the community”.

The wartime analogy is apposite. We are in the early stages of the deepest recession since the 1930s. Ominously, humanity is rapidly approaching the end of the age of plenty. Food production, oil and fresh water supplies are contracting as population, pollution and climate change apply inexorable pressure on to strained ecosystems.

We will need great fortune in the coming decade if one or several of these pressures has not by then triggered a global collapse. The conference explores a vision of an Ireland cut off from almost all imports, including energy. As industry and transport grinds to a halt, how do we maintain civil order or operate hospitals and schools? How will we feed ourselves without fertiliser or tractor diesel?

These are among the sobering themes of the conference, organised by Feasta. We are at the end of the era of growth and on the cusp of the era of what author Dmitry Orlov calls “permanent crisis”.

The future is almost certain to be more like the past than the present. Our grandparents would scarcely recognise the Ireland of 2009, yet 70 years ago they learned how to get by when cut off from the outside world. It wasn’t easy, but nobody starved to death.

There is no quick fix, no wonder technology or renewable project that can roll back the problems. Planning and preparation is key to mitigate the worst effects. For many, the toughest step is to admit that we face a crisis in the first place. The alternative is to shuffle like sheep unthinkingly towards our fate.

The best antidote to anxiety is action. A mass demonstration takes place this Saturday on Dublin’s Sandymount strand from noon. Otherwise, to borrow once more from Casablanca, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, but soon and for the rest of your life.