On June 11th, 2008, the day before what we now call Lisbon 1, my Irish Times piece was headed: “If you care about climate change, vote Yes to Lisbon”. There are those who’d say I got my answer. I’m not so sure. If there had been a third option on the ballot, called ‘Don’t know/haven’t a clue’, it would have won by a landslide.
Declan Ganley and his cohorts ran a slick negative campaign that clearly tore the limp ‘Yes’ effort to shreds, successfully converting the Don’t Knows to No Thanks. This time round, there seems to be a far broader coalition out batting for Yes. This week it was joined by, among others, Brian O’Driscoll, Dennis Hickey and Kilkenny wonder-coach Brian Cody.
Little has been said about Lisbon and climate change, even though the topic itself is red hot at the moment (lead story for two consecutive days in the Irish Times must be a record of sorts). Yes, the Greens have stuck up a few posters saying ‘We can’t fight climate change alone’, but that’s been about it, as best I can observe.
The fact remains that the EU has been the only show in town on climate for practically the last eight years. Without its efforts, the Copenhagen climate conference in December would be a non-event (which it may yet prove, if Obama doesn’t get the finger out and ram his climate change bill through the Senate in the next few weeks). The fact remains that Europe has led aggressively and from the front, moving at the pace of its most dynamic member states, and dragging the laggards – like Ireland – along with them.
A press conference called ‘Environmentalists for Europe’ is being held in Dublin tomorrow morning. It’s being hosted by the Green Party, but features a number of people active in this area who are not party-political, including broadcaster, Duncan Stewart, Ian Lumley of An Taisce and myself, described in their press announcement as a “climate change campaigner” (OK, strictly speaking, I’m actually campaigning against climate change, but it’s close enough). Environment minister John Gormley and senator Deirdre deBurca are also involved.
Writing a weekly column on environmental issues does already put my head on the chopping block. Why get involved directly in this campaign? Aren’t commentators/columnists supposed to stay off the pitch? My answer to this is that climate change and sustainability are not spectator sports. We’re all in it, like it or not.
I’m not even sure what being an “environmentalist” is supposed to mean. I worry a lot about my kids, their future, I worry about energy security and the possibility of the lights going out one of these days. I worry about an environmental crash that flattens the world economy permanently and creates chaos. As my day job, I manage a business I co-founded 18 years ago, something I’m immensely proud of. We have around 25 staff, all highly skilled, dedicated people.
I’d like our business to have a future too. None of this is possible if we simply sleepwalk into a sustainability crash. When you label someone an “environmentalist”, immediately images are conjured up of well-meaning but vague wolly jumper-wearing vegetarian hippie anti-everything do-gooders (at least that’s a whistle-stop tour of the prevailing media stereotype).
My background in business makes me a late addition to the field; this has disadvantages, of course, but also some real positives . Principally, I believe this offers me a greater degree of objectivity, even scepticism and I hope a good deal less ideology (example: Is nuclear power ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Neither. It’s what we do with it and how urgently we need options to replace fossil fuel burning).
Anyhow, tomorrow morning’s press conference and photo op is the first time I’ve pulled on the jersey, so to speak, and got into the game. Perhaps by lunchtime tomorrow I’ll be hankering once more for the shelter of the press box up in the Hogan Stand!
It was a relief to see that even many among the Irish working class voted in favour of Lisbon this time around. The previous polarisation of the classes worried me.