The problem at the heart of Extinction Rebellion is that we are rebelling against ourselves.
As I stood with the rebels outside Government Buildings on Tuesday, it dawned on me that every one of us was embedded in the carbon-emitting economy.
From their trainers to their dreadlocks, every Extinction Rebel was, like I am, a product of an economic system that is destroying life on Earth.
The enemy is inside ourselves and we have a government that represents that enemy.
We voted for that government, which was presenting its budget inside the House, while the protesters staged a sit-down at the gates.
There is no simple ‘them’ and ‘us’ in a representative democracy.
Student protester Lucy Holmes read her poem outside the Dáil, accusing those inside: “You’re killing your children/You cut down the trees/You’re poisoning people/You’re burning the bees/The ground you stand on is falling from beneath your own feet/Those brown paper envelopes are far from discreet.”
The poem turned politicians into those “others” who have brought down climate change on innocent people.
This is disingenuous. We live in a democracy that has constantly returned, in large numbers, politicians for whom climate change was low or non-existent on the agenda.
Until very recently, people simply liked things the way they were. It’s hard to blame them. So did most of us. The problem is anyone who is not a master of self-deception realises the game is up. The climate is already changing. Radical action is necessary, if climate calamity is not to be visited on us.
No-one could call the €6 increase in the carbon tax radical action.
It is probably just enough to sow seeds of anger, but it is too small to change anyone’s behaviour.
The Tax Strategy Group had advised a €10 increase in this budget, arguing that “front-loading” the changes that are needed to get to a charge of €80 per tonne by 2030 was more likely to modify behaviour.
There is not even a firm legal commitment to future increases on the budget figure, so the post-election government will have to take the flak for doing so. And that’s before admitting that many experts say the carbon price should be at least €150 per tonne.
TD for Longford and Westmeath, Kevin Boxer Moran, was crowing on the radio on Tuesday about the more modest increase, which was, I suppose, to be expected.
What’s far more galling is the determination of Sinn Féin and the so-called hard-Left — People Before Profit, Solidarity, Rise — to oppose any increase in the carbon tax, because it will impact on (in the words of Sinn Féin) “ordinary working people and families,” who are framed as powerless victims of their carbon-emitting overlords.
These parties also say the carbon tax will not change behaviour. It will. The ERSI recently reckoned that a carbon tax of €30 per tonne will cause a nearly 4% cut in emissions, while an increase of €80 per tonne will cause a more than 10% cut in emissions.
Their ‘Special Report’ this year agrees that the tax is regressive, because poorer families spend a greater proportion of their income on fossil fuels.
They argue back, however, that returning the revenue to poorer households, via the existing welfare system, could make it progressive.
As things stand now, there is too little revenue and, despite the €2 increase in the fuel allowance, many of the schemes funded by the tax — retrofitting and EV purchase — are available only to those with capital.
What about those in the most vulnerable section of the housing market, the private renters, who will face higher fuel bills that they have no power to change?
Recycling the carbon tax revenue was a big idea, but you need a big idea if you’re making a definite policy shift like putting the tax on a firm trajectory to at least €80 per tonne.
In the year we declared a ‘climate emergency,’ we did none of this.
If not this year, when? There has never been an easier time, politically, to act on climate.
Like many Extinction Rebels, I’ve been campaigning against climate change for over a decade, without getting anywhere.
But in the last year, there has been a massive change in people’s awareness of this urgent problem.
Two years ago, I was on an RTÉ current affairs show straplined, ‘Who dares to question climate change?’ and now climate change is rarely out of the news.
The difference was made by last year’s IPCC report, which gave us 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe and then, of course, came Greta Thunberg.
The children who have taken to the streets worldwide with their ‘climate strikes’ have brought concern for the planet right into the mainstream. When you express doubt or indifference now about the climate, you’re hurting our children.
The children have what the Extinction Rebels don’t and that’s genuine innocence in the face of this problem.
The children can’t vote. They didn’t put those guys and gals into the Dáil. We adults did, even if you didn’t vote, which is the biggest abdication of all.
A large part of what gives Fridays for Climate their power is that, for once, the protesters can claim they did not cause the problem and can blame it on others: the them-and-us narrative is legitimate in this case.
The Extinction Rebel with the microphone outside the Dáil on Tuesday talked about “putting all these taxes on people,” instead of on “the polluters.” I don’t buy that at all. There is no ‘them and us’ on climate. It’s all us, including the speaker whose megaphone was powered by a polluting battery.
The ‘them and us’ narrative only feeds groups like Yellow Vest Ireland, who were also protesting outside the Dáil, but could not be more different to Extinction Rebellion in their political persuasions.
I am seriously worried that the rebellion’s campaign of civil disobedience will lose the ground on climate that the climate strikes have won.
Among the people that a traffic blockage in Dublin city centre might delay are the elderly and the disabled, as well as their carers.
The Extinction Rebels I have met are passionate, mannerly, and respectful. The creativity displayed in their protests, from music to their stunning endangered animal masks, is superb.
I would advise them to stick to their inspired protests and dump the disruption. For me, the concept of rebellion is flawed, because apart from those who live in teepees and eat dandelions, we all have to change.
We will only achieve this by building acceptance of our collective responsibility and our collective need to change across Irish society, so that a measure like a carbon tax has no value as a weapon for a rebel of any hue.