Sunday 23 October 2016

Plan it right, build it better, and watch the Green shoots thrive

Despite the ominous signs of global warming, we have the opportunity and resources to change for the better

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

'We have abundant renewable energy, water and land resources for the size of our population, so we have everything to gain by going green' Photo: Mark Graham/Bloomberg
'We have abundant renewable energy, water and land resources for the size of our population, so we have everything to gain by going green' Photo: Mark Graham/Bloomberg

Almost five years ago the Green Party lost all our seats in Dail Eireann. The world moved on and we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and got ready to try and come back at the next election in 2016. And back we are, with a team of young volunteers and Green Party candidates standing in every constituency in the upcoming general election. We are on a journey of recovery and we are responding to a growing awareness in the public at large that the world is at a crossroads, that we urgently need to engage in environmental issues on a local, national and global level, and that effective national governance needs to include strong green representation.

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For the last five years we have been doing a lot of talking to different people about how we spread this Green message of ours. We have focused on communicating the issue of climate change in particular, and come up with some home truths about what we have been getting wrong. We have been listening to people, asking for them to help rather than telling them what to do. Admitting that we don't know everything but that we will learn as we go along in this great challenge of our time.

We have abundant renewable energy, water and land resources for the size of our population, so we have everything to gain by going green. There is a lot of work to be done and it must start now.

Ireland is in a time of transition. It is a transition that will require us to build better housing which is properly connected to public transport. We need to build a new water supply system and flood protection system which involves managing our land in a whole new way. We need to build a new community-owned energy infrastructure, which is connected by fibre optic cables and smart wireless sensors to make it work with maximum efficiency.

What we build today is going to be there in 10, 50 and 100 years time. That is why we have to start thinking long-term politically and make sure that what we build now fits in with a world we know is going to change.

For the last five years, talking about climate change was only done in the political wilderness, but now it is coming back centre stage.

Average global temperatures went off the scale last year, and we are perched out in the Atlantic where some of the most dramatic changes are taking place, as meltwaters drift down from the Arctic and rain storms rush up from the Caribbean.

It is not just the recent floods that are causing us to pay attention to climate, it is also the growing realisation that the rest of the world is now starting to take it seriously. The risks can no longer be ignored. The climate migration already happening is a warning sign of what is to come if we do not act fast.

The UN sustainable development agreement signed in New York last September for the first time provides a plan for the whole world to take the management of our planet seriously. It's not just about the environment, but also about eradicating poverty and providing healthcare, education, and justice for all.

The climate deal in Paris in December was even more historic in creating a transparent measure of who is taking the issue seriously. The requirement to ramp up our ambition every five years is why this is the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era. It is just a question of time as to how quickly we make the transition to the renewable and energy-efficient alternative.

Those who lag behind are going to miss out on the next big industrial revolution. Future productivity growth is going to come from this move to clean energy, combined with the internet and transport revolutions that are already starting to take place.

As a country which is home to so many international and now also Irish technology companies, we have the opportunity to lead the way. We have everything to gain if we take that step and everything to lose if we hold back.

More than anything else we need a proper national spatial plan what works out how we can bring people back into the centre of our villages, towns and cities so we can live in a more sustainable and social way. There is no such plan at the moment, so it will be up to the next Dail to deliver. We in the Green Party are running for election because this is an issue we care deeply about. We want to play our part in drafting such a plan and then help deliver it on the ground.

We have some real stars among our new candidates. Fergal Smith in Clare is to surfing what Rory McElroy is to golf, but his focus now is in learning how to build new communities by connecting the farmer directly to local consumers.

Mancan Magan in Longford WestMeath has a similar big vision of how the whole of the midlands could be a new renaissance area.

Grace O'Sullivan gave up being a Greenpeace warrior to start teaching people on a Waterford beach about the preciousness of the nature we have here at home.

In truth I think every candidate is a star for being willing to be brave and put their head over the public parapet.

Our people are already working in their own everyday lives to help make the transition happen, as councillors, teachers, programmers, builders, doctors and parents.

Politics is not that different to those other professions, it is just the collective decision- making system for our society. It is a team game where you need colleagues checking your argument and adding to your thoughts.

Most of our former team in the Dail are still involved, even if they are not running. The fact that we have a whole new team in place shows that you cannot kill a good idea. This Green idea is coming back.

Eamon Ryan is the leader of the Green Party and a general election candidate for Dublin Bay South

Sunday Independent

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