OUR politicians, because good ones know us better than we know ourselves, understand that there is little to be gained by sharing challenging, bad news with us — and still less by insisting that we make fundamental changes to unsustainable lifestyles or expectations.
We elect politicians to give us good news, to tell us that everything in the garden is, and will remain, rosy. We elect them to tell us that that the budget after next will eliminate the loathed, but necessary, universal social charge, and to tell us that they will eliminate hospital queues and over-crowded classrooms, too.
This is not a peculiarly Irish problem, but our cultural optimism, our devil-may-care belief that it’ll be all right on the night, means that we sometimes, too often really, have a dangerous indifference to reality and a hard-wired reluctance to focus on unavoidable, pressing issues. Like Charles Dickens’ Mr Micawber, we cling to the idea that “something will turn up” and that a long-dreaded day of reckoning can be put off just one more time.
This evasion is most active in our attitude to climate change. This issue, which has been described by some who haved looked at it deeply and unflinchingly as the “great challenge of our time”, is one we turn to only after election dates and our annual a-penny-here-t’uppence-there budgets are finalised. Our willingness to confront the problem is a direct inverse of the urgent necessity to face the looming crisis.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, 2015, which was published last January — three years behind schedule — is a perfect example of this. Introduced to the Dáil by Environment Minister Alan Kelly, it was, however, the child of his predecessor, Phil Hogan, hardly a politician who has shown an understanding of the urgency of the issues, much less a commitment to confronting them. It is a fudge and hints we can have our cake and eat it. It is as if a Mr Micawber drafted it, but it is hard to think that even the most delusional Mr Micawber would, in 2015, publish a bill designed to confront climate change without including any specific targets for emissions reductions.
That bill is a domestic manifestation of the problem, but the Volkswagen emissions scandal is an international one. It still beggars belief that a corporation from an advanced society would sidestep initiatives designed to curb climate change, just to add to their bottom line. Europe’s refugee crisis, though primarily a consequence of war, is partially driven by economic refugees fleeing countries where climate change has made millions of once-productive acres sterile.
Next month, Paris will host the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference. This will be the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), and the 11th session of the meeting of the parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Some time after that, we will have an election, but don’t expect any politician to tell us how very precarious our world is becoming — even if it might save the future, it might cost a vote. Our denial remains the deadliest delusion of all.
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