Sep 2008

The bloody greens

Over at Bristling Badger, Merrick has been publishing his correspondence with the UK Green Party on the question of whether hydrogen should be pursued as the vehicle fuel of the future (hint: it shouldn’t be).

Needless to say, he’s not made a great deal of headway as yet.

The problem is as simple as it is age-old… namely that the first job of any politician is to take and maintain a position of power. All else is secondary (and that goes for Greens, Reds, Blues and every other colour). No one will get elected if they admit, for example, that part of the only guaranteed solution to our current problems is the abandonment of the private car. Even if it is true. So instead they promise pipe dreams.

In a way this is made even worse when the politician in question claims to have lofty ideals… the nonsense and obfuscation they come out with in order to avoid admitting that their ideals are secondary to their search for power can be stomach-churning to watch.

What is true is that the idea of power corrupts. Power corrupts most rapidly those who believe in it, and it is they who will want it most. Obviously, our democratic system tends to give power to those who hunger for it and gives every opportunity to those who don’t want power to avoid getting it. Not a very satisfactory arrangement if power corrupts those who believe in it and want it.

Perhaps there is no such thing as unilateral power. After all, the man ‘in power’ depends on receiving information all the time from outside. He responds to that information just as much as he ’causes’ things to happen… it is an interaction, and not a lineal situation. But the myth of power is, of course, a very powerful myth, and probably most people in this world more or less believe in it. It is a myth, which, if everybody believes in it, becomes to that extent self-validating. But it is still epistemological lunacy and leads inevitably to various sorts of disaster.

– Gregory Bateson | Steps To An Ecology of Mind

Here in Ireland we have the Green Party in coalition. The rate at which they have abandoned every single one of their principles is beyond satire and has guaranteed them at least one less vote at the next election. The final nail in their coffin, however, was hammered-in over the weekend when John Gormley, party leader and Minister for the Environment, appeared on the main evening news.

Before I report what he said, let me take you back a year to the Green decision to join the coalition government. By voting for the Greens, which — much to my regret — I did, I believed that I was voting for the manifesto they campaigned on. I realise this was naive of me, but I didn’t really expect them to help prop up the incumbent Fianna Fáil government (whose economic irresponsibility has resulted in a criminal waste of resources). I believed I was helping to propel the Green Manifesto onto the opposition benches where it would be heard but not diluted.

Sure, you’d have to strain to hear it, but it would be there.

Instead the manifesto was abandoned almost wholesale as the Greens rushed into government. In exchange for two ministries and six votes, Fianna Fáil persuaded the Greens to ditch all but one of their commitments. Gormley even justified this decision by claiming that the single-most important issue facing Ireland — facing the world — is Climate Change. Therefore, the Greens would support Fianna Fáil in return for a Programme of Government that included a cast-iron commitment to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions by a minimum of 3% per year during the lifetime of the government.

That was the deal that was made. I disagreed with it at the time for a bunch of reasons, but mostly because anyone with half a brain (i.e. not someone addled by the desire for power) could tell that the Greens were being bought off with a cheque guaranteed to bounce.

And now it has done. At the end of last week, a report was leaked that demonstrated clearly that not only was this commitment not going to be met, but that Irish carbon emissions had previously been significantly understated and furthermore were actually still rising. So a year after taking power, on their one clear commitment; that single thing we were asked to judge their performance on; the Greens have unequivocably failed.

Gormley, though, appeared on the news to answer this point. His response was predictable and pathetic in almost equal measure. He passed the buck.

I’m not the minister for finance, and I’m not the minister for transport, nor am I the minister for agriculture… so I’m very much dependent on other ministers coming forward.

Amazing stuff. He sold out his manifesto for a seat in government which would enable him to push through emission cuts. It’s only now he’s woken up to the fact that he doesn’t have the power to do a sodding thing about it. I’ve seen him speak; he doesn’t strike me as a stupid man; so how could he have failed to see that one coming? Damn near everyone else did.

The Taoiseach is well-aware of my concerns, as are other ministers, says John. Well that makes it all OK then. He is concerned and everyone is aware of it. All that’s needed now is to develop the technology to convert Mr. Gormley’s concern into clean, zero-emission energy.

Even worse; Mr. Gormley admitted in April this year (in a speech entitled… wait for it… “Putting Vision Into Action”) that he believed we have a “10-year window” to address Climate Change. On the news last weekend he stated that not only would it “be premature” to speculate on the solutions to our emissions growth, but that none of the emission-reduction measures that have so far been put in place in the transport sector would have any significant effect before 2020.

While only a couple of months ago, the Deputy Leader of the Greens, Mary White, was attacking the opposition for their temerity to criticise the environmental record of the government. “Both [opposition] parties”, she insisted, “seem to have forgotten the major steps that the Government has made in tackling the causes of climate change.”

It’s difficult to forget something that never actually happened, Mary.

At the time the Greens entered government I wrote that what concerned me most was not that they’d be ineffective — which was self-evident. My biggest concern would be that they’d deal a significant blow to the environmental movement in Ireland. By allowing people the opportunity of a “fire-and-forget” option, they would severely curtail environmental activism. Those who were concerned about Climate Change could cast their vote and unburden themselves of the responsibility to take further action.

So well done to the Irish Green Party. You have joined a government that is implementing policies guaranteed to raise total emissions. But at least everyone knows how concerned you are.

Posted in: Opinion