The prolific US author, Upton Sinclair was a shrewd observer of human nature, as evidenced in his classic retort to vested interests: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” He could have been directly addressing Danny McCoy and Neil Walker of IBEC or IFA president, John Bryan. All three have distinguished themselves with their rhetorical zeal in setting out doom-laden scenarios for the economy and agriculture if, perish the thought, Ireland were to legislate to fulfil its emissions reduction obligations as an EU member state (FoE has a useful summary of what the Bill is actually about here).
Hell no! It’s not a good time. Manana, manana. Let somebody else do it. It’s not out fault. Blame the Brazilians. Or was it the Chinese? Besides, everyone knows that dear old Ireland is too small/poor/rich/flat/green/religious/vegetarian/cold/wet etc. to be expected to shoulder any legal or moral responsibility for our actions. To recap: Ireland accounts for 68 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually – that’s 17.5 tonnes per man, woman or child, or the equivalent of nearly 200 times our own weight produced by way of climate-altering emissions.
But wait! If we try to cut emissions, won’t we be poor and have to murder our livestock and live in caves eating nettles, as John Bryan seems to believe? The IFA has a selective understanding of science. When researching an Irish Times column in August 2008, I discovered that the IFA website completely ignored the reams of government, EU and IPCC publications on this critical issue. Instead, it quoted a solitary sceptic scientist from the University of Alabama who “questions the validity of future global warming trends and climate changes”. This entry has since disappeared.
Bryan believes climate regulations threaten agriculture. The reality is that climate change is the greatest threat now facing agriculture. Russia’s grain output in 2010 was down 30% because of their summer heatwave. Flooding has devastated Pakistan, the Phillipines and now much of Australia. In a similar vein, Seán Fitzpatrick used to bleat endlessly about how regulations were hindering what he used to call ‘wealth creators’ from creating even bigger piles of wealth. A lack of regulatory oversight destroyed the banking sector and much of the Irish economy with it. Globally, the lack of climate regulation is leading to the sure and certain destruction of the shared environmental resources upon which we all depend.
Bryan’s moral defence is one of ignorance – albeit wilful. With breathtaking irony, he even invoked his own children’s future in an interview on Today FM yesterday evening. Danny McCoy certainly can’t deploy Bryan’s self-interested ignorance as a defence. Having served as research associate at the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) in London, we can state with confidence that McCoy’s position is one of cynicism, not ignorance. His stint in the right-leaning ESRI as a senior economist clearly hasn’t taught him even a modicum of humility, given that organisation’s abysmal performance in what should be its key competency – economic forecasting.
Consider Sweden. Cold country, physically isolated from the European mainland yet a thriving, prosperous and enlightened social democracy decades ahead of the church-ridden gombeenist refractory political culture that still dominates our own benighted isle. The average Swede accounts for seven tonnes of CO2 emissions, an astonishing 10.5 tonnes lower than his Irish counterpart. Could it be that a low emissions trajectory is actually entirely compatible with a successful, modern economy and society? Absolutely.
By their unprincipled actions, deep cynicism and “moral reservations”, IBEC and the IFA join Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church in our national Hall of Shame. When the real cost of inaction in the face of devastating climate change hits the fan, doubtless these same individuals will cite the oldest defence of all: “I was only doing my job/following orders”.
Meanwhile, Gavin Harte of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition penned what he describes as some musings on the current situation. They are worth reflecting on:
“Since its publication before Christmas the Climate Change Response bill 2010 has stirred up quite a considerable amount of resistance from three significant lobbies. IBEC the IFA and the ICMSA are now all cranking up their opposition to the bill.
We all find change difficult. Elisabeth Kubler Ross a Swiss born psychiatrist defined five stages in the process of change. Denial, Anger, Fear, Bargaining, Acceptance.
As I listen to the concerns raised by IBEC, the IFA and the ICMSA their collective denial, anger, fear and bargaining over the legislation is obvious. It is clear all three groups are not yet ready for change in a world where our atmosphere is changing faster than they want to admit.
They are in denial. Not once do they point to the rapid warming our planet is experiencing. Not once do they reference the overwhelming scientific evidence and the challenges humanity faces as they carry on business as usual. All three organisations present a veiled indifference centred on self-interest towards the issue. Climate change is somewhat of an inconvenience, an annoying secondary concern that the three organisations just don’t want to deal with.
They are angry. They criticise the government for an “ill timed and badly thought out” piece of legislation. They attack the bill as “lunacy” and brand those that promote it (us) as “people who don’t care or don’t know about its full impacts”
They are fearful. They say that tackling climate change will wreck the economy, lose jobs and cost €4 billion. Trying to instil fear.
They are bargaining. They suggest that in negotiating our EU position, “Ireland may not necessarily have to meet a 20% reduction target”. And what’s the point in doing anything anyway because Brazil will just continue to produce high carbon beef.
But where is the acceptance? The science of climate change is now unequivocal. If we continue as we are, business as usual, we have the potential to destroy ourselves our economy and our society over the next 100 years!
It is understandable that people and organisations are fearful, angry, bargaining and in denial when it comes to dealing with climate change. But real change only happens when we accept.
Business, agriculture, government – all of us need to change and a robust climate change bill offers a first step to help us in that journey.”