When nature is the enemy, whose side are you really on?

The iron grip of agri PLCs and the farm lobbyists who work on their behalf on the EU’s agriculture policy was seen yet again in the outright rejection of modest proposals to give nature restoration a chance amid an ever-deepening biodiversity crisis, as I discussed in the Irish Examiner in late May.

WHILE EFFORTS at EU level to push through a Nature Restoration Law are being stymied at every turn, is it instead our dysfunctional political process that’s in need of restoration?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this week that aspects of the proposed law “go too far”. They say that in politics, timing is everything. Just as Varadkar mounted his stout defence of the do-nothing status quo, a study from the University of Exeter confirmed that business-as-usual would leave around 2bn people exposed to potentially deadly heat later this century and involving what scientists describe as “phenomenal” human suffering.

A separate study released this month confirmed that the global collapse in wildlife populations is more acute than previously understood, with almost half the species on Earth undergoing rapid declines.

This accelerating extinction pulse — the most severe since the mass die-off event following an asteroid strike around 66m years ago — is ripping apart the web of life. Amphibian populations have been devastated globally, with insect, bird, and mammal populations also in sharp decline.

However, according to the Taoiseach — who heads a government whose own Climate Action Plan commits Ireland to stronger nature restoration actions than being mooted at EU level — doing our bit to arrest this devastating crisis is just too much, too soon.

After all, he explained, it doesn’t “fully recognise how we use land in Ireland in particular”. His position was echoed by the entire group of Fine Gael MEPs, all of whom on the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture voted for a flat rejection of the nature restoration law.

The only senior Fine Gael figure to show any backbone on this issue has been EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness, who pointed out these proposals would help, not harm, farmers.

“Without the actions set out in our proposal for nature restoration and the sustainable use of pesticides, farmers’ livelihoods and, indeed, food security will be put at risk,” McGuinness said. “This is what the science is telling us.”

As a former agricultural journalist, McGuinness knows well this is not a popular position with the big-money lobbyists, but it remains the truth nonetheless.

Some Fianna Fáil MEPs have similarly rejected the proposed law, while Sinn Féin has adopted its now customary sphinx-like position, with electoral advantage rather than environmental protection in mind, and ever wary of drawing the ire of agri activists.

Predictably, the very rural TDs who claim to represent the “custodians of the landscape” are invariably the most shrill in shooting down any reforms, however modest, that might in any way discommode the agri-industrial lobby whose talking points they echo.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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