In these dark November days, as parts of Ireland lie submerged after a virtually stormless deluge, it’s natural to want to look for some positive news. Images of tens of thousands of people using the public sector strike on Tuesday (many of them public servants themselves) to head over the border for ‘bargains’ in Northern Ireland is a tangible reminder of how narrow self-interest and the prospect – real or imaginary – of a bargain quickly part us from our senses.
Ireland is currently spending almost €500m a week more than our national income. This is disastrously unsustainable, but rather than seeing an outbreak of the Blitz Spirit, instead our response is an atomised mé fein-ism. Those thousands of cars streaming into Newry are hastening the demise of their neighbours’ businesses.
This in turn will cost many of the ‘bargain hunters’ their own jobs and livelihoods, but the lag between cause and effect, not to mention narrow opportunism means all you get is a shrug of the shoulders as they load more cases of Budweiser into the back of their cars and prepare to head for home.
Two beacons of light amidst the gloom: first, very good news, at last, from the US, with president Obama strongly signalling a stiffening of resolve on climate change. Obama will be in Copenhagen on December 9 with an offer to curb US emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. Yes, using 2005 levels as a benchmark is pretty lame, but this is the US, so we must bite our collective lip and applaud any progress, however painful. Astonishingly, this is the first time in over a decade that ANY kind of formal offer of emissions reduction has emanated from the US.
“Those who feared that the US had abdicated its global responsibility should take hope from these actions and work towards completing a strong operational agreement next month in Copenhagen and guidelines for negotiators to complete their work next year on a comprehensive treaty”, said Al Gore in response to confirmation that Obama would attend Copenhagen in person.
Closer to home, Mary Robinson spoke last night in TCD about her frustration at the way the Copenhagen negotiations are proceeding. “It matters if a trade agreement is reached, but it is not the end of the world. If we don’t get proper leadership at Copenhagen, soon it will be end of the liveable world; it’s as serious as that,” was her blunt message. In case we need reminders, nature doesn’t negotiate, cut deals, split the difference or horse-trade. You obey its rules or you go under. Full stop.
Robinson expressed sympathy with the thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by the flooding. She tried to make it clear that we have to expect more, much more, of this kind of disruptive climatic event in the future, so the emphasis must be on mitigation. Talk of ‘once in 800 year‘ flood is not only inaccurate, it’s extremely unhelpful, yet that’s how RTÉ’s reporter concluded his piece to camera on last night’s main news bulletin. It’s taking a long time for the penny to drop that this climate change lark is not only real, it affects us too.
So, onwards towards Copenhagen. Can we dare fail?