Climate change and the election

Where do Galway West candidates stand on halting climate change?

For as long as Insider can remember, early January was the time for our one major storm in Galway, but since November we have had nine such storms. Met Éireann has even begun devising names for future storms. It is a sign of the times to come.

In the past, floods were a regular feature in south Galway – did not Liam Mellows exploit the floods to make his escape in 1916? But during the recent deluges you could easily have mistaken Gort for a coastal town due to the mass flooding to its west.

Climate change is no longer something happening in faraway countries that we can view on the TV from the comfort of our settees. It is here and it is going to get worse. So, Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s “business as usual” comment after his return from the much-hyped, but disappointing, COP 21 UN Climate Summit in Paris, was, at best, ignorant.

As NASA’s James Hansen, the world’s most famous climatologist, has stated: “Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization in imminent peril.... The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens...the survival of humanity itself - and the timetable is shorter than we thought.”

Bypass will not solve traffic snarl-ups

With a General Election looming in a week’s time, where do the candidates in Galway West stand on halting climate change? Insider has been scouring the election literature of the aspiring TDs to see does the climate get any mention. Only two candidates recognise its importance, the Green’s Seamus Sheridan and Independent city councillor Catherine Connolly.

If the motto “Think Global - Act Local” is applicable to any Galway politician then it is Catherine Connolly. Over the past 16 years, she has consistently opposed a Galway outer by-pass on the basis that there are more environmentally friendly, efficient, and cheaper solutions. More friendly to the environment means burning less petrol (fossil fuels ) by providing better, quicker, more regular and cheaper public transport to replace the need for Galwegians to use private cars.

The meeting on the N6 by-pass in the Westwood Hotel on February 3 saw engineer Peter Butler make a presentation that was a real eye-opener. He showed how a major motorway around the city would not solve the traffic snarl-ups during peak times. It would only reduce the number of vehicles by three per cent. We would still have the 35,000 school-goers and students being ferried by car. Cllr Connolly did the maths, 16.5 kilometres of road at €500 million is €13 million per kilometre. That €0.5 billion would go a long way to solve other major social needs rather than build a white elephant.

If Cllr Connolly has found herself “demonised and ostracised” over her stance on the by-pass, she must have felt a sudden chill in the Westwood Hotel that evening as nearly all the General Election candidates hastily donned her political clothes. It is quite remarkable how the proximity of an election can bring politicians to their senses. Unfortunately, they normally re-convert to their old views post the election.

The Green's Seamus Sheridan is genuinely opposed to the by-pass, but can his party leader, Eamon Ryan, really be trusted? Someone needs to tell the Green Party that its leader is a serious liability. We all remember he sat at the cabinet table and agreed to burden the Irish people with the billions and billions of private banking debt. We remember the broken promises to the Rossport people in relation to Shell and Corrib gas, plus its commitment to remove the US military from Shannon Airport.

Besides, the Greens just do not seem to grasp certain fundamental issues. The party advocates water metering and apparently fails to understand that the metering of domestic water has nothing to do with conservation, it has to do with privatisation. It has to do with big companies making bigger profits from a basic human right. Water metering is part of the EU’s neo-liberal capitalist agenda to privatise all public utilities.

The Green's opposition to the ancient Irish tradition of domestic turf cutting is also mindboggling. If one wants to preserve bogs then preserve those in the possession of industrialised semi-state bodies such as Bord na Mona. There is no need to criminalise and penalise the domestic turf cutters.

'Business as usual' is the path to disaster

Insider Climate Change

However, elections are not the be-all and end-all of political activity. Indeed, you do not need elections to prevent bad developments. This was clear from the successful campaign in opposition to the gigantic fish farm set for Galway Bay. Alas, such a success is literally only a drop in the ocean. Five years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, radioactive water continues to be discharged into the ocean poisoning the Pacific.

And right on our seashore we have the Irish Sea, which is one of the most radioactively contaminated seas thanks to Sellafield. Irish governments have lacked the “bottle” to challenge the British over this environmental scandal. But a fearless, knowledgeable, and principled voice inside the Dáil on environmental issues would be an important asset – Catherine Connolly could be that person.

However, as another woman, writer Naomi Klein, points out in her latest book, which focuses on climate change, This Changes Everything: unless we avoid the global average temperature rising by 2° C we will no longer be able to control where the thermometer stops in the end. It is reckoned we will reach the edge of the abyss in 2039. That’s just 23 years away.

A 4° C increase is the point where disruption to life on the planet will be so great that civilisation will no longer be possible. Klein argues that the rich countries need to start reducing carbon emissions by eight to 10 per cent per year before we go over the climate cliff. However, as Klein recognises, the fundamental logic of capitalism drives towards growth and the accumulation of profits irrespective of the consequences. This is why the subtitle to This Changes Everything is Capitalism vs. the Climate.

As we saw at COP 21 UN Climate Summit in Paris, the leaders of the rich capitalist countries refused to accept any radical solutions. All they offered were hollow promises and we know too well how useless they are. Insider strongly agrees with many environmentalists, who have concluded that continuing “business as usual” is the path to global disaster.


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