The coalition against carbon changes goes beyond the pale

Extinction Rebellion protestors lying down inside the Natural History Museum in London.

On the issue of climate change, the Extinction Rebellion exposes much of the Irish left, usually first up on the barricades, as a vanguard for counter-revolution.

Sinn Féin, Solidarity and People Before Profit, are an unlikely coalition. Their shared interest is a determination not to be left standing in the game of musical chairs, which is electoral responsibility for any unpopular action on climate change.

The only iceberg they don’t want to melt is their own electoral support. On climate change they are a neo-con stronghold of unfettered liberalism. Personal behaviour and preferences will not be challenged, let alone curbed. Responsibility is for big companies and governments only. The difference now, from water charges before, is that the issue is not a tactical political call. Climate change is strategic and, above all, about survival.

First, however, to declare a vested interest. Aged 54 I may have a better than even chance of leaving what remains of the planet intact and likely to die of natural causes.

Après moi, however, le deluge.

It may be up to 30 years before the really catastrophic impacts emerge. Existing populations will not be able to support themselves, patterns of production and trade will collapse and, even if you are lucky enough to cling on to a piece of earth above the rising tide, nothing will be the same.

The future is irreversible misery. While it may not be my problem, it could be yours. It will certainly be our shared legacy.

Drive a car? Heat your home? Fly about in aeroplanes? Create piles of waste to pamper your lifestyle preferences? Profit from a livelihood that requires poisoning the planet? Well, we are living like aristocrats on the eve of the French Revolution. It is unsustainable, there is an increasing sense of unease, but reform is foiled.

Then for those still unlucky to be alive, the tumbril will become the only exit. Climate change is the final, ultimate collapse of the social contract. What we are in the closing stages of now, is stupefying selfishness unmatched in history. Nothing else remotely compares. To say you care for your children, but won’t radically change your lifestyle, means those words are ashes in your mouth.

There is something of the Children’s Crusade about the current protest movement.

In 1212 a young shepherd called Nicholas of Cologne in Germany and a 12-year-old boy called Stephen of Cloyes in France led thousands of children across the Alps, towards the Holy Land.

A vision told Nicholas that the Mediterranean Sea would part, and they would walk across on dry land. Reaching Genoa, his band waited. The sea has yet to part. Today a Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg has emerged as a remarkable young leader. She relies on science, not beatific vision, and the science is truly horrifying.

The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with 2015-2018 making up the top four. If this trend continues, temperatures may rise by 3-5C by 2100. Last year was the hottest on record in many places around the world.

Globally, the USA and China account for 40% of carbon emissions. Ireland is of tiny consequence, but we are delinquent laggards in terms of our commitments as a member of the European Union.

The excuse-making continues here on an industrial scale. So last year we were the worst in the EU on climate change for the second year in a row.

It is easy to be cynical and easier still to be patronising about the secondary school students’ strike here last month. From a distance I thought I got something of the perfume of the middle class about it.

I wondered if they might have come from homes objecting to losing small slices of garden to make way for better bus corridors or, worse, was it possible children arrived outside Leinster House on the LUAS from Ranelagh, their parents having successfully ensured that its replacement by metro, carrying far more people more efficiently, wouldn’t cross their leafy suburb?

The fact is that the morass we are sinking into is founded on the lifestyle and the voting preferences of their own parents than it is on political delinquency in Leinster House. All the responsibility for creating change ultimately accrues politically of course, thence the responsibility-avoidance of the Irish left.

Their coalition against carbon changes, the levers that would influence change in personal behaviours and drive demand for alternative technologies and solutions which big companies will follow for profit, is counter-revolutionary on an epic scale. If some of them have been on the wrong side of history since the Russian Revolution, this doubling down now is appalling cynicism and short-termism. They could have held the feet of the “establishment” parties to the fire and tested their watery commitments to radical action. They would have had them on the back foot soon enough.

To oppose key recommendations of the Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action recommendation to increase carbon tax from €20 to at €80 per tonne by 2030, is akin to selling snake oil. Upping carbons taxes is politically painful, but only the bottom rung of the ladder of what is required.

To do this and simultaneously seek to legislatively ban further exploration for fossil fuels here, before a transition to a low carbon economy is mapped out, let alone arrived at, is almost callous in its disregard for fact. But I suppose if you have the habit for the counter-factual, it gets easier every time. We must remove fossil fuels from our economy but we require fossil fuel in some quantity for years to come.

If we have a supply ourselves, we have a measure of security here, in a very uncertain world. The decision of Donald Trump, the ideological stablemate of our Irish left on carbon charges, to extend his embargo on Iranian oil underlines that hard fact.

Climate change will be an issue in the local and European elections, which take place one month from today. There is a tradition of those on the left being intensely sectarian amongst one another, but their voters are more ecumenical in their transfer patterns. On climate change, Sinn Féin, Solidarity and People Before Profit have put themselves beyond the pale.

Voters who care about the issue need to closely interrogate prominent independents, including Clare Daly in Dublin, Mick Wallace in Ireland South, Luke Ming Flanagan and Peter Casey in the Midlands-North-West.

They need to take, with as many grains of salt as taste requires, the apparent support of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour. Words are a long way off from action, and time is pressing hard.

The Extinction Rebellion may, like the crusading children at Genoa, wait forlornly for the sea to part.

But they are not the point. What is, is that their parents poisoned the planet. If you doubt your culpability look into your fridge, your kitchen cupboard or your bathroom press, and then look into your heart.

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