Michael Clifford: Only 'unpalatable truths' set out by Greens can ensure a bright future

Michael Clifford: Only 'unpalatable truths' set out by Greens can ensure a bright future
05/05/2020 Green Party leader Eamon Ryan TD at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

The Green Party is going to be the death of us all.

Rural Ireland will be off down the Swanee from day-one of a green-tinged government.

Once the party gets its hands on the levers of power, its hippie-dippy TDs will demand a halt to all farming. There will not be a culling of the national herd, but instead cows will be set free to roam across green pastures and commune with the butterflies which will once more reproduce and multiply, saved from the brink of extinction.

The motor car will be no more. Get on your bike, or plug in your electric vehicle.

There will be a Hug-A-Tree holiday, when the populace will be urged to give some tender, loving, care to nature in all its wonders and sing Kumbaya.

After that the sandal-wearing, pulse-munching…oh sorry, this is 2020. I thought we were back in the 1980s there.

In recent days, as the possibility of the Greens entering government materialises from over the horizon, some of the old shibboleths have resurfaced. The treehuggers are intent, some would have it, on destruction of a way of life. This particular school of thought brackets them with the US army captain in Vietnam who explained that he had to destroy a village in order to save it.

Listen to what Simon Coveney told the Irish Examiner’s Danny McConnell 10 days ago about the Greens’ wish to ensure that any government sticks to our international commitment to reduce carbon emissions: “Well, if it decimates rural Ireland, we’re not doing it. Let’s be clear on that. You know we are not going to sign up to a programme for government that decimates rural Ireland. That’ll never happen.”

Picture the Green party’s negotiators in the room with the civil war parties’ counterparts, the Greenies togged out in recycled military gear, unfurling a map. Commandant Ryan thunders: “Rural Ireland must be wiped out, decimated. Not a milking parlour left standing.”

Some Fianna Fáilers know exactly how the Blueshirts feel. A group of Donegal councillors have written to Micheál Martin warning him of marching straight into the arms of destruction.

“Any moves to include the Green party and their urban-based and climate-centred agenda would further exacerbate the urban-rural divide and create further devastation to rural counties like Donegal,” they said.

One might posit the theory that the civil war parties have done their damnedest to destroy rural Ireland all by themselves.

Look, for example, at the destructive impact of one-off housing, which, contrary to long-standing planning guidelines, has proliferated at the behest of the big parties in the last four decades.

Would rural Ireland be better equipped to face inevitable decline today if it was managed in defined settlements instead of homes scattered like confetti? In terms of health, welfare, security, education, commerce and transport, the answer has to be yes.

But sure, it’s a bit late for that. And while the country can live with the fall-out from that political cowardice, the fall-out from climate change is potentially catastrophic.

By the way, none of this is to suggest that the third big party in the current configuration is any different. Sinn Fein has its own long-term project which supersedes all others. Saving the planet is fine and dandy, but what use is a planet if the fourth green field remains unclaimed by its rightful owner?

The attitude that prevails in the mainstream parties, to a large extent, reflects the thinking of their voters. Nobody this side of Donald Trump disputes the science. The planet is bearing unpalatable truths. But the problem is that addressing the issue is, for many, equally unpalatable. Most people like the notion of going green and are willing to make small changes in their lives to feel they’ve done their bit. The big stuff, the really discommoding stuff, is a different ballgame altogether.

Faced with a choice of action now to prevent destruction in the coming decades, or delay now and hope for the best, the majority plump for the latter. In reflecting that sentiment, politicians deploy platitudes, pledges, and often soaring rhetoric, to camouflage the inaction.

The current furore over achieving a 7% annual reduction in carbon emissions speaks volumes. This is being sold as a Green party demand. Yet last December the UN Environmental Programme pointed out that a 7.6% annual reduction would be required to meet the targets in the Paris Accord, to which the Irish government signed up.

So the Greens’ “demand” is actually asking the other parties to do as the previous government said it would do. Have we got to the point where fulfilling political pledges is considered some form of wild and illogical behaviour?

Last June, the Government actually published a climate action plan in order to demonstrate how serious it takes the science. The plan was full of vague pledges about reducing emissions. There was nothing in there that could be pounced on by opposition or interest groups as impacting negatively on the current way of life.

During the week, the Irish Times published extracts of a letter written by the secretary general of the Department of Public Finance, Robert Watt, about the plan in the month before its launch.

Key parts of it were “not credible”, Watt wrote. The plan made no provision for cutting the national herd, despite agriculture accounting for a major component of emissions.

Watt said that it would be more cost effective to cut the herd by “a negligible 5%” while increasing farm incomes.

“Ignoring agriculture increases the costs for other sectors and for the economy as a whole,” Watt wrote.

Yes, but agriculture is a major vested interest in the political system.

Discommoding farmers, irrespective of compensating them for financial loss, would constitute wild and illogical behaviour in tackling climate change.

The thoughts of the senior civil servant were notable because they both reflect hard reality and are anathema to the current political culture. The three main parties all maintain there should not be any cut to the national herd. (Sinn Féin also pledges that, if in power, the party would not increase carbon taxes).

Instead, the thrust of measures pledged by the mainstream parties consists of vague pledges sometime in the future that may impact negatively on Mars or Jupiter, but won’t discommode any voters here.

Who exactly is crazy? Who is peddling airy fairy notions far removed form the real world, relying on some Flash Gordon figure appearing through the clouds to save the planet a minute before midnight?

Is it the Greens with their unpalatable truths? Or the main thrust of the body politic, for whom climate climate is a problem that requires scary leadership, and is unlikely to deliver any first preferences at the next election?

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