- 28 May 19
As everyone digests the results of EU-wide elections to the European Parliament– and with the rise of far right parties and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the UK – it's hard to miss another important development: the rise in support for Green candidates, and the general greening of many mainstream parties, especially on the left. In addition to their wretched impact on equality issues, and on the living conditions of millions, free market libertarians have driven the planet to the edge of unsustainability. It has been a theme in this column for many years now, but the sad reality is that if we don’t act now, there won’t be a future worth living.
Global climate change is increasingly seen as one of three closely linked processes that pose an existential threat to life on earth. The other two are: (a) the collapse in biodiversity; and (b) the growth in air and marine pollution.
Things really are bad. A million species are at risk of extinction, according to the UN’s Global Assessment Report; natural ecosystems have lost half their area; and a mere 3% of the world’s oceans are free from human pressure. It’s a global catastrophe-in-the-making.
There has been a huge decline in insect numbers, which is causing particular alarm, given their centrality to so many ecosystems – and to pollination in particular. Humans have doubled their population over the last 40 years, but the number of insects has been reduced by almost half. Frogs and amphibians, often seen as the “canaries in the coalmine”, have suffered a 40% decline.
As for pollution, human rubbish has been found on the ocean floor, in the deepest-ever submarine dive. Coal particles are found at the North Pole. Microplastics are in every kind of marine life. And air pollution, as well as fucking your lungs, has now been shown to cause dementia and to inhibit the cognition of children.
Environmental scientists are now demanding “transformative change”. In response, our Government has declared a climate emergency. That’s all very well, but devoid of action it means nothing. Which brings it back to our attitudes, separately and together, to the necessary measures.
Look at the carbon tax. The Government’s advisory body, the Climate Change Advisory Council, strongly recommended Ireland incrementally increase the tax to €80 per tonne by 2030 in order to encourage consumers away from fossil fuels, thus reducing our carbon footprint. In March, the Special Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action agreed. But while the Taoiseach committed to increasing the carbon tax in last year’s budget, the Government was pressured into reneging, increasing VAT instead.
Cue righteous outrage. But critics forgot that this Government is a weak minority administration. Its freedom of action is utterly compromised – so when key political groups lined up against the carbon tax it was goosed. Fianna Fáil don’t like it and a range of populists and independents from left, right and centre also let it be known that – as with water charges – they’d kill the initiative. So did farmers, construction firms and hauliers. The government were on a hiding to nothing.
Time For A New Approach
If we can’t even agree to push forward on this miserable basic effort, what hope is there? Shouldn’t protesting children and Extinction Rebellion activists be blockading the offices of our recalcitrant opposition politicians (of whatever stripe)? And those of lobby groups? They’re the ones who stopped the carbon tax increase.
Shouldn’t parents and teachers be talking to the protesting kids about walking or cycling to school? Eliminating the ‘school run’ would save time, be healthier and reduce traffic, should councils not provide better and safer facilities to get kids to school safely?
And shouldn’t we all accept that many of the things we like – avocados, blueberries, palm oil, high street fashions – may be cheap but impose a very high cost on the earth?
Nobody’s going to return to living in caves and mud huts. So here’s the core question: what do we have to change, in order to stay much the same as we are? And how quickly can we do it?
Answering this question involves bringing climate change deniers around. They are all in some way associated with fossil fuels, construction, the global trade in hardwoods, industrial farming, cheap food, plastics. They also include weapons manufacturers and warmongers.
A high proportion are out to be as rich as possible and don’t give a shit about rising seas inundating lands inhabited by poor people far away. Many are people of fundamentalist faith who believe that whatever happens is all part of their God’s plan. Why should they try to stop that?
But if we don’t persuade these interests, then we’re doomed to fail. If lecturing and hectoring worked we’d have had change by now Instead of grandstanding and preaching, we need to find avenues, forms and modes of communication that work. As with Operation Libero that we described here recently, it’s time for a new approach.
Pressure to divest will be part of this and should be used as widely as possible. Also investment in the right solutions. Europe and Asia should be allies. But likewise technological and engineered solutions must be part of the mix. In Iceland, for example, they are pumping rocks full of carbon and fixing it there permanently. (By contrast, the Irish routinely oppose the construction of wind and solar farms.)
And we need a sense of proportion. The Chinese city of Shanghai is currently home to almost 25 million people. It’s projected to grow to between 35 and 45 million by 2050. By 2025, a mere six years away, a billion people will live in Chinese cities and that vast country will have 23 cities with a population of over five million. Eight will have more than 10 million. The scale is mind-boggling.
We must do what we can at home. But life on earth as we know it will be saved in the east. That’s where the key partnerships must form, before we all go the way of the dodo.