It is often said that the environment suffers in Ireland, and indeed on the planet, because of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In order to be able to concentrate on things outside of keeping us alive, we need to feel well fed, healthy, and have a roof over our heads.
Arguably those were the concerns of voters in the election just gone. People were struggling to find a home, to see a doctor, and to be able to afford to put food on the table. So was the environment and climate change totally absent from voters concerns?
Not really. The actual data shows that in the local elections last year, when discussion on climate was at an all time high, the Green Party received 5.55 per cent of the vote. In Election 2020, where there was next to no conversation about climate in the media, the party poled seven per cent in the General Election, which is significantly higher, and polled a total of six per cent in Galway. In total, the party returned 12 TDs and would have returned more except for the Sinn Féin surge - another fascinating story, which Insider will delve in to another day no doubt; and which would includes a whole chapter on pension worries, the Royal Irish Constabulary, and anger over mismanagement of public money.
Back to the climate and the 7.1 per cent vote for the Greens. Insider now wonders if the climate has slipped in the hierarchy of needs? Maybe we now feel that the destruction of the environment is impacting our ability to feed ourselves, keep ourselves healthy, or keep a roof over our head (or stop ourselves from being flooded out of our homes )? Maybe the destruction of the environment has tipped into actually feeling like an existential threat?
So who voted Green? Last year saw climate strikes in Ireland attended by 20,000 young people. Those children still cannot vote. They are not the Sinn Féin voters, they are future generations of voters. The people voting this time, however, were influenced by those children, in many cases they were their parents, their grandparents, and their teachers.
Is the electorate giving the Government the go-ahead to act on climate?
A number of factors make it hard to assess how much the current electorate want politicians to act on climate. On the one hand, seven per cent of the vote is not large and the Green Party is actually a party with a whole set of policies on housing, health, and social issues, so maybe there are other reasons for its vote. On the other hand, other parties also have some environmental policies which the electorate may have voted for. So we cannot really say with any accuracy how much the electorate wants politicians to act.
This is the point at which politics gets hairy. After an election, the needs of minority interests, and of majority interests, that perhaps the public do not identify yet as important, still have to be legislated for. Also, other living species share our country, have no vote at all, but need their interests cared for.
Insider thinks back to the slogans of the climate strikers, the non-voters who took to the street, and asks: If there is no planet B, then is it not incumbent on everyone, in every role in the State, to act?
There is a diversity of policies within the parties in relation to climate. They were assessed by One Planet and the policies of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and even some of the smaller parties, were assessed as well below 50 per cent. There is, therefore, significant work in negotiation to be carried out.
How will the parties manage to agree on carbon taxation? Some parties such as Fine Gael believe in a straight tax, others like the Greens believe in a carbon tax of the fossil fuel companies and a cash return to individuals, and other parties such as Sinn Féin believe in no tax at all. One of these models will be chosen by the minority Government. Which one?
Roads are another big problem. The Greens believe in prioritising public transport and upgrading existing roads, but all three large parties are pushing for additional roads, such as the Galway Bypass. Insider would find it all very entertaining if it was not for the seriousness of the destruction of living species. The UN is saying that we have a maximum of 10 years to make substantial changes. In Stockholm this year it only snowed once, and that was November. Moscow had to use fake snow for its Christmas celebrations. While politicians play, the planet burns.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
As an eternal optimist, Insider believes there is cause for hope. These weeks and months after a general election should be used for educating the politicians. Truly sitting down with all of the figures, the civil service, and other scientists and economists can be very informative.
The newly elected, enthusiastic politicians, have time to be convinced that a reform of the common agricultural policy, retrofitting, public housing, a revolutionary approach to cycling and public transport, community energy schemes, and, yes, some element of carbon pricing, can improve our ability to heat, feed, house, and keep ourselves healthy.
The life of this government and the following two Governments will be crucial in addressing climate change, and Insider will be watching the climate strike generation grow into voters and cast judgement in the form of a vote at the next election.
That is the thing about governments, it is not the voters who elected them, but the voters who get to decide whether they keep their jobs next time round, that the government will be watching.