At 11am today in the Irish Academy in Dublin’s Dawson Street, Comhar, the sustainable development council formally launches its Green New Deal for Ireland. It’s a genuinely impressive document, as I’ve outlined in the Irish Times today, with much to offer.
Sources tell me the Comhar document will inform much of the ‘green’ component of the review of the Programme for Government currently underway. If so, it should prove an extremely tempting carrot for unhappy Green Party members contemplating pulling the plug on participation in this administration ahead of that party’s special conference on Saturday 10th next.
As Stephen Collins puts it this morning: “The Greens will never have a better opportunity to get so much of their core values implemented in Government, given the current precarious position of the Coalition”.
I met Frank Convery in UCD a few days ago to get his thoughts ahead of today’s launch. He told me a story of how a salesman called to his door with a clever little device that fits to a regular toilet and converts it into a ‘dual flush’ unit. While Frank bought a couple of the Mecon water savers, the salesman was downbeat, saying practically no one else in the neighbourhood wanted to know about it. Then again, why should they, when we pay nothing for high quality potable water, and then flush copious volumes of the stuff down the toilet.
We’ve all encountered the ‘free bar’ syndrome, where people will take a mouthful from a pint, or a few sips from a gin and tonic, put the drink down, wander off and three minutes later order a new one. Who cares, ain’t it free? (except the poor sod who’s picking up the overall tab, of course).
“We in academia and the media have a job to keep stating the obvious in ways that make sense to people”, said Frank. Politicians, he told me, “are just reflecting what they’re hearing”. It’s certainly easy to blame our politicians for doing a lousy job of ‘leading from the rear’ on climate and sustainability, but what support are they getting from the media, trade unions, etc? Damn all.
“You should work hard at sending a signal to people that every time you impose on the environment, it’s going to cost you, it’s a simple idea. The carbon tax (from the Commission on Taxation) is not just to impose a tax, but to label it clearly so that people know, every time they buy fuel, x per cent of this is because you’re essentially emitting carbon into an atmosphere that can’t take any more”.
He reckons the public are a lot more positive about environmental levies if you promise to recycle the funding (as occurs with the plastic bag tax) into specific environmental projects. Using carbon tax revenues to, for instance, solve the fuel poverty problem is, he suggests, a way of garnering strong support for such an initiative.
He suggests a two-strand approach: (a) using existing technology to undertake tasks that need doing, and particularly those that have a payoff in terms of job creation. Retro-fitting our housing stock, for instance. If over the next 5-10 years we undertook a massive retro-fitting project on the pre-1989 housing stock (that’s the year when the first energy regulations of any consequence were introduced) this could radically reduce the level of imported energy that is currently being lost through poor insulation.
Frank draws the analogy here with the 1950s rural electrification scheme. But who pays for this? In this case, he suggests the entire project would be at least self-financing, based on the energy savings. Therefore the idea is to make the finance available for people to borrow to get the work done at affordable rates, and effectively their repayments should not exceed the actual cash savings they enjoy in their energy bills. “The numbers stack up on this” he assures me.
He describes himself as being a huge fan of the EU’s energy performance in buildings directive, and the idea of actually labelling buildings from A+ downwards based on energy performance makes the whole idea of energy efficiency accessible and understandable to the lay person. The carbon labelling of cars is another example – accompanied in Ireland by adjustment in VRT based on carbon rather than engine size – of what Frank calls “getting the price right”.
But is Comhar’s Green New Deal likely to survive a change of government, which will most likely entail there being no Green Party involvement in the incoming administation? “I think it will; we’ve talked to different parts of the political spectrum and I don’t think anyone can argue about the logic of the smart economy – when you have pretty high labour costs and you’re stuck out on an island, the only way you can survive is by being smart; the debate is how to get there, not that we have to do it”.