In an ideal world, every political party would be “green” and consider the long term sustainability of our environment and natural resources in their policies, but that’s not reality. Despite evidence to the contrary, environmental regulations are perceived as an obstacle to economic growth and improvements to our natural environment are usually only made in times of prosperity.
The past five years provide ample evidence for a lack of green-thinking during an economic recession. With the country in an economic hole, building regulations were relaxed; charges were placed on recycling bins; National Mitigation Plans to address climate change were left to expire four years ago; and funding for climate change awareness came to a halt.
The Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015 marked a historic global turning point, finally placing fossil fuels on the wrong side of history to address climate change. While the Agreement requires Ireland to make a seismic transformation from fossil-fuel based energy and transport to a 100pc renewable energy system within the next three decades, not a whisper of climate, energy, or environment was heard in any of the leaders’ debates, proving again that environment and long-term sustainable planning is not on the radar of our major political parties.
Say what you will about the Green Party’s past performance in coalition, but most people still appreciate their voice from the side lines pushing for some consideration of our environment in government policy. The fourth biggest topic of conversation on Twitter during RTE’s seven leaders debate was the Green Party and their absence from the debate. At the doors, Green Party candidates are often told they’ll get a second or third preference vote and are considered a “transfer friendly” party. While they may not be a first choice for many, those of us who care even a tiny bit about having a green Ireland can’t imagine a world without a Green voice to advocate for it.
This election is make or break for the Green Party. Having lost all government funding in the 2011 general election, they’ve eked out an existence for the last five years, surviving on the small amount that membership fees bring in, individual donations, and an active volunteer base. The Green Party refuses corporate donations, so unlike the major parties spending upwards of EUR 50,000 per candidate in the general election, Green Party candidates typically spend only one to three thousand euros, often coming from their own bank accounts or small fundraising events.
The lack of financial and personnel supports within the Green Party makes the fact that they are running 40 candidates in every constituency in Ireland all the more remarkable. Most of these candidates know they haven’t a hope of winning a seat, but they’re standing out of loyalty to the party’s ethos and to keep the party alive.
If the Green Party receives over two percent of the first preference votes nationally, they get their government funding back and live to fight another day. For most of the Green Party candidates standing in General Election 2016, success will simply be defined as getting over that two percent threshold. That’s why a second or third preference vote is no use to them. For those trying to keep the green voice alive, only a number one vote will do.
In most parts of the country, the Green Party candidate is unlikely to secure a seat due to a lack of profile and campaign budget, so their number one will probably transfer to a second preference candidate. However, this may be a strategic use of the proportional representation system to keep a voice for the environment in the political arena.
Dr. Cara Augustenborg is a climate change lecturer at University College Dublin.