Friday 23 August 2019

Jason O'Mahony: 'Our 'but what about' attitudes won't cut it over climate change'

Green wave: Founder of GreenKayak Tobias Weber (right) and Dublin City Council climate action regional office member David Dodd picking up rubbish from the river Liffey as the Danish based NGO, in partnership with Dublin City Kayaking, launched the Dublin GreenKayak Initiative. Photo: PA
Green wave: Founder of GreenKayak Tobias Weber (right) and Dublin City Council climate action regional office member David Dodd picking up rubbish from the river Liffey as the Danish based NGO, in partnership with Dublin City Kayaking, launched the Dublin GreenKayak Initiative. Photo: PA

Jason O'Mahony

To be fair, you can't really blame the IFA for kicking off about concessions made on South American beef. If zombies were pulling themselves out of the ground and chewing on the flesh of the living the IFA would be concerned about the effect on mart prices. That's its job.

We may lose out on beef, but we'll probably gain on the vast amounts of pharmaceuticals and chemicals we manufacture, which then allows us (through income tax) to fund the Common Agricultural Policy, and overall it is not unreasonable to assume the EU-Mercosur deal agreed this week will be of more good than harm to an exporting nation like us.

But that's not why I bring it up today. I bring up farmer anger because it gives us a snapshot into an area we will have to confront in the near future, that of climate change.

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In the recent European and local elections there were many who interpreted the so-called "Green wave" as a mandate for radical political action on climate change.

In reality, the Greens got a relatively modest 5.5pc in the local elections. They actually ended up with fewer votes than Labour got, and Labour was regarded as having gotten a result as disappointing as a spaghetti lockpick.

The Greens did do better in the European elections, in fairness (11.4pc of the vote), but even that was as much to do with Labour competing for the same soft-left "More avocado?" vote by running less than exciting candidates who seemed to have a key message of taking up physical mass on the surface of the planet and converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.

Nevertheless, there were plenty who claimed the Green result was a turning point for Ireland.

That the Irish people were demanding that their Government take radical and decisive action on climate change.


Well consider this. The Mercosur deal could hurt some beef farmers but help other sectors, and look at the reaction it got.

Now consider telling those same farmers (and their politicians) not that they'll be competing against other farmers but that they are, quite simply, out of the farming business.

That one of the things we will have to do as part of climate change action programmes is reduce and possibly eliminate beef intake.

Sell it? We may not even be permitted to eat it.

How will that go down in a political system that regards "the CAP cheque is in the post" as a reasonable national policy? To save the sky?

We know exactly how this will play out in Ireland.

With the deployment of the national 'but what about' machine.

'But what about the Chinese? The Americans? The Indians and their coal power stations? The Russians? George Clooney and his executive jet? Indeed anybody with an executive jet? Why should we get rid of a living we've eeked from the soil with our bare hands and our fathers before us (cue bodhrán) and on the ghost of Richard Harris we swear ye won't get us to give up our cattle!'

There's always the other fellow who will have to give up what he's doing before it reaches us, sure aren't we only a tiny little island? A mere sliver of rock peeking out of the north Atlantic?

And then, supposing you do get global agreement and the Chinese agree to put half their population on fixed bicycles wired into the national grid, and Matt Damon agrees to fly Ryanair or cross the Atlantic by Zeppelin, then what?

Then Paddy will kick off with: "That's great, they've already solved the problem, sure we don't need to do anything after all? Now: who's for a cheeseburger? Do you want organic onions with that?"

Here's the awkward truth Irish politicians won't tell you about climate change. The really big sacrifices won't start to happen until the Chinese and the Americans start to feel the pain.

Until Chinese and American consumers find that the consequences of climate change are worse than getting a 98-inch telly or a new iPhone that can interface directly into the back of your skull, the climate situation will worsen.

But once the one and a half billion people of ChiMerica get all antsy about it, then it's game on.

When Mar-a-Lago is regularly flooded, when Hong Kong and Shanghai ocean view apartments (owned by the families of the Central Committee) start to plummet in price, then you'll see the giants move, and when they move, we'll all move.

When the US and China decide that the world needs to act on climate change, we won't be asked.

We'll be told.

Whether it's trade embargoes crippling the exports of countries that don't co-operate, or Chinese warships in Dublin Bay, when they decide action is necessary, the IFA and the Healy-Raes and everything else will be swept aside.

Of course, all that is assuming that at some stage in the future the US returns to the White House a president who is a functioning adult.

That's not something we should all take for granted: this guy might not be an aberration. He might be the new normal.

Presidents who read stuff could now be the weirdos.

If that's the case, we're in even bigger trouble because the Chinese government, which actually does believe in science, may decide that a rogue US is no longer in the interests of the Chinese people.

If they decide to do something about it, then I suggest worrying about how flatulent our cows are might well be the least of our problems.

Irish Independent

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