What will change first: Climate or our politicians’ slow reaction to it?

Members of the Schools Climate Action Network in Dublin last week calling on the Government to take action on the growing climate crisis.

If it's a climate emergency for slow learners then Leo is the slowest in the class. Whiteboards all over the world are covered have bullet points written across them in block capitals which say “The planet is burning” in different languages.

The Citizens’ Assembly which reported in April of last year made the recommendation, supported by 100% of the delegates, that the Government should take a “leadership role” in addressing climate change, and 80% said they would pay more taxes if that’s what it took.

Since last September the “Fridays for Future” movement has seen up to 1.6m school students across the world walking out of school to strike regularly until there is action against climate change, following the call of Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg. All over Ireland school students have heard her call with 5,000 students striking at City Hall in Cork in March and 11,000 students outside the Dáil where Taoiseach Varadkar works.

In October the UN International Panel on Climate Change said we had approximately 12 years left to take action before global warming of more than 1.5 degrees occurs, causing catastrophic climate change.

Then last month another UN panel reported that a biodiversity crisis is upon us, with a quarter of the world’s animal and plant species under threat of extinction, a rate of extinction which is already “tens to hundreds” of times faster than the average over the last 10m years. Well I know it’s hard to keep up with the news all the time.

But when the parliament of the country of which you are Taoiseach has declared a climate emergency, as our parliament did earlier this month, isn’t it time to turn on the telly in your office? It seems it isn’t.

Instead you go into European and local authority elections as if nothing unusual were happening. Your results are slightly underwhelming. You still take a quarter of the vote in the local elections and nearly 30% of the European vote but to your evident astonishment a party about as big as a greenfly in the context of the Fine Gael garden got some votes.

Let’s take out our magnifying glass and have a look at this little greenfly. Heaven help us, it’s the Green Party! What’s this their message is? We should take urgent action against climate change! Now you tell us! Urgent action on climate change coming up!

“The public have sent us a message,” Leo announced at the week-end, “that they want to accelerate action on climate. It will require changes at individual, community and national level. It won’t be easy and it won’t always be popular but the public support is there for it now… We’ve got that message.”

Well, that’s a relief, because surely Marconi didn’t have as much trouble getting a signal across the Atlantic as the Irish people have had getting a signal to Leo.

They even had to resort to voting for a different party when they were really voting for Fine Gael, according to Minister Regina Doherty who said that seats lost “weren’t really losses at all if they went to the Green Party”. Greenflies are still God’s creatures, after all. They have their part of play in the, ahem, ecosystem of Fine Gael. The blue rose might look green with greenfly now but a good dose of insecticide and you’ll see it was really a green rose all along.

Minister Richard Bruton is promising a radical “whole of government” climate action plan any day now. That’s good because under EU rules they’ll have to have a national energy and climate action plan by the end of this year.

And instead of taking the kind of urgent action you would take in a self-declared “climate emergency”, it’s business as usual for the Government of the worst-performing State in the EU on greenhouse gas emissions.

Last Monday, the same day that the so-called all of government plan on climate change was presented to the Cabinet, the same Government granted permission to CNOOC Petroleum Europe and Exxon Mobil for an exploratory oil and gas well off in the Porcupine Basin off the Kerry coast.

It is not surprising, then, that the Government has used every trick in the book to hold up People Before Profit, Brid Smith’s Climate Emergency Measures Bill which is supported by all the main opposition parties and is finally due before the Dail on June 11.

The argument the Government uses is the same as the one they use when it comes to agriculture: if we don’t do it, someone else will.

With enough fossil fuel left in the ground to blow the global temperature up by 4 degrees, do you really think this is an argument that Europe’s official climate laggard should still be using?

As Greta Thunberg tweeted when we declared our “climate emergency”, “Climate Emergency means leaving fossil fuels in the ground.” But they’re still intent on burning the most polluting fossil fuels to make electricity. Our emissions went down last year because our coal-burning electricity station at Moneypoint stopped operating for about three months and we survived without it. So they put it out of business? Heavens no, it’s burning away again now in Co Clare and the plan is to keep it belching out its gas for another six years.

They’re planning to keep ripping turf out of the ground and burn it to make electricity for the guts of a decade. They have 52 national roads or motorways at planning or construction and no public transport infrastructure at the same stage.

In anticipation for all those cars which will be used for the extra million people who will live in our country by 2050, they’re widening all the approach roads to Dublin and planning and instead of pulling the cars off the roads to make way for buses, they’re pulling out trees.

With the Citizens’ Assembly and the ERSI and now even IBEC calling for a gradual increase in the carbon tax from €20 per tonne to €80 per tonne by 2030, Minister Doherty said at the weekend that they didn’t increase the tax in this year’s budget because “You can’t take money out of people’s pockets without having a conversation.” I would have thought we had had a conversation.

I would have thought it was over. I would have thought it was time for action. But no, our Government decided to wait until a tiny party managed to scrape itself off the floor enough to send a few hopefuls around the doors looking for votes and managed to get a few from scrubbed-up people you might mistake for Fine Gael voters.

Only when they perceived it was costing them votes did they say they’d take action on climate change, writing their policy on the future of the world’s people to fit the news agenda of the day.

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