Don’t rely on politicians to wake the moderate middle

Don’t rely on politicians to wake the moderate middle
Sen. Markey and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez held a news conference to unveil their Green New Deal resolution. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Don't be fooled by this so-called Green Wave. And climate change deniers and delayers needn’t busy themselves ridiculing those Vega-wearing, Tesla-driving vegans just yet.

Of the 949 seats in our local councils, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael still reign supreme; we gave them 279 and 255 seats respectively. It was Sinn Féin next, who we delivered 81 seats to and then Labour came in fourth, with 57 chairs at local council level.

And next, in fifth place, was the Green Party, who we gifted 49 seats to. A 5.6% representation for the Greens isn’t exactly a wave, despite media headlines warning you to hide the Range Rover and batch-cook those beef burgers.

At European level, even though we are recounting in Ireland South, so far we only gave one of our possible 13 seats to the Green Party. Fine Gael got four and Fianna Fáil got two. We get who we vote for, and just like people who fall off swings, voters, too, must take responsibility for their actions.

This week, amid wall-to-wall coverage of swing falls and green waves and pinks waves, new Green Ireland missed a trick. Legislation to ban the exploration of fossil fuels in Ireland was due to pass through the Houses of the Oireachtas in the next few weeks. However, on Tuesday it was discovered that the Climate Emergency Measures Bill, put forward by opposition TDs, was being put on ice. Why?

Sean Canney, minister of state for natural resources, told opposition TDs that a “money message” was needed before the bill could advance. A money message is a recommendation signed by the Taoiseach of the day, approving legislation that would cost the State money.

Basically, there could be financial implications to the implementation of such a bill, so we are holding our horses. There are now fears, from organisations such as Friends of the Earth, that this entire bill could be killed.

Now, that runs slightly contrary to the remarks from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last weekend.

“The public have sent us a message which is that they want us to accelerate action on climate,” he said.

“It’s going to require a lot of changes at individual level, community level and also at Government level in terms of policy, but the statement from the public is they are up for that and want us to do it. We are acting on climate but they want us to act faster. We’ve got that message.”

A week is a long time in politics, as they say, but long enough to go the full 180 on a position?

Asked about the stalling of the fossil fuel ban bill, Mr Varadkar played the “sensible” line. He said he wanted to take “serious climate action that works but also sensible climate action”.

“It should be climate action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but not climate action that makes us poorer, costs jobs, or threatens our security,” said Mr Varadkar.

I am sorry to say, but if the climate scientists at the United Nations know what they’re talking about, we have 11 years to take serious action before our planet’s entire sense of security is seriously and irrevocably threatened.

US presidential candidate Joe Biden ran into trouble when he played that sensible, moderate line in relation to climate action. He called for a “middle ground” policy when it came to saving the planet. His rhetoric was not well received. Political analyst Naomi Klein wrote Joe the riot act.

“No Joe, there is no ‘middle ground’ on climate breakdown — there is bold, transformative action or there is sinking ground, burning ground and churning ground,” she said.

US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, considered a “radical” States-side, but who’d be middle of the road here, called Mr Biden’s plan a “dealbreaker”.

“We’re not going to solve the climate crisis with this lack of leadership. Our kids’ lives are at stake,” said Ms Ocasio-Cortez.

Moderate positions have always got in the way of change. And it is hard to know if it’s politicians seeking to keep their jobs that push for the moderate position, so as to appeal to the masses, or if it’s the masses that vote for and cling to this moderate position. I can’t tell the cart from the horse in this case.

Martin Luther King called it out first, in a letter from Birmingham Jail dated 1963, that the moderate person is more devoted to order than justice.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion,” King wrote, “that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is … the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season’.”

In 11 years’ time, there will be no more time for a “more convenient season” when it comes to climate justice.

Dear leaders, the time for moderate action was 30, 40, and 50 years ago when research around climate change emerged, but which we, corporations, politicians, and voters chose to ignore.

This week another US presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson, was quite astute in her observations about who brings about change and how it is never the political establishment, but the people themselves.

“The political establishment didn’t wake up one day and decide to abolish slavery; the Abolitionist movement began when the people stepped in,” said Ms Williamson.

“The political establishment didn’t wake up one day and decide to dismantle segregation; the Civil Rights movement began when the people stepped in.”

“The change will only happen when we ourselves have had enough — and the people step in.”

Like all change, what we need is a movement led by an energised base to mobilise a moderate middle. That’s the only thing the political establishment has ever listened to.

More on this topic

Fresh fears for backstop as Varadkar hints at ‘flexibility’Fresh fears for backstop as Varadkar hints at ‘flexibility’

Green Party Special Report: Ready to take advantage of rising tide of concern on climate crisisGreen Party Special Report: Ready to take advantage of rising tide of concern on climate crisis

Independents Special Report: From the sidelines to main stageIndependents Special Report: From the sidelines to main stage

Greens in conference: A green lightGreens in conference: A green light

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