Members of the Youth Assembly on Climate inside the Dáil Chamber listening to Eric Ehigie, Longford giving his address Picture: Maxwell Photography
We are in the midst of an environmental breakdown; our environment has been, and is being chronologically damaged, and if adequate action is not taken immediately we will leave an irreplaceable dent on the planet that we will not be able to erase.
The climate crisis, as all sociological crises have, has given birth to a new age of activism; the era of environmentalism. It started with efforts from people like Alexander von Humboldt; a revered scientist, who spoke of the power that humans have to detrimentally impact the environment.
In recent times, we have seen movements emerge, such as the fight for the preservation and protection of the Ogoniland ecosystem in Nigeria, and more recently, the Friday For Futures school strike initiated by environmental activist Greta Thunburg. These movements have come into being as a result of global warming, and the potential it has to hurt our planet.
In history we have seen other momentous movements arise, such as the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement and the Labour movement which allowed us as people to transcend racial, political, and economical lines and instil a sense of symbiotic cohesiveness in the global society.
The climate crisis is undoubtedly the most prominent issue that the human race has ever confronted. Although, the crisis, at the moment, disproportionally affects people based on their race, economic status and geographical positioning, in the end, it will lead to the same outcome for us all, unless drastic contingencies are implemented immediately.
Based on the menacing prospects and complexities of the climate crisis, one would expect, like with other social movements, humans to unite and cooperate to tackle this existential threat - to voyage beyond divisive social borders and to do whatever is necessary to ensure that our environment is healthy and intact.
But what if I told you that we are doing the exact opposite? What if I told you that instead of bringing the international society together, we are polarising people based on their political beliefs, and attributing opinions on the climate crisis to those beliefs?
Unfortunately, that is the reality that we are facing. We are pushing people into political boxes, in which they are obliged to hold a certain view on climate change. And this is incredibly dangerous!
We see this in many different locations across the world, most notably the United States of America. In 2006, a major figurehead in the Democratic Party and the former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, released a documentary called ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.
In this documentary, Gore aimed to educate people about climate change - which, of course, is a good thing. But subsequently, Gore’s documentary received strong political backlash and many Republicans argued against the message of the documentary - not for scientific reasons, as that would be impossible, but for partisan reasons. This documentary marked the very moment when the climate crisis was politicised in America.
Nowadays; there is a stereotypical idea in the USA and beyond; that those whose beliefs lay on the right side of the political aisle must argue that climate change is some mythological hoax, a deceitful lie; created by the snowflakes on the left who just love to engage in fear mongering politics. That Greta Thunberg is a delusional little girl who needs to go back to class, and leave politics to older folk.
The same applies to those on the left. They are expected to be dangerous, radical protestors, who force their opinion on climate change upon others and do not spend any time listening to what those “hateful right wingers” have to say. This politically stereotypical distinction is toxic, and will only serve to stunt our efforts to defeat climate change.
There are many people who blame capitalism for climate change, and believe that the human endeavour for capital has at times, been at the expense of the environment.
Although this is very true, and there are many case studies and examples that one can use to support this claim, it is not wholly conclusive. Yes; Big Oil companies have damaged many natural ecosystems in places such as Africa, by selfishly drilling for oil in many regions across the continent.
And yes; the last thing that the Big Fossil Fuel lobby wants to see is environmentally friendly policies being introduced as it would affect their pockets, but first and foremost, climate change is being influenced by human activity, not by any social concept.
Communist China was the second largest emitter of gases in 1974; which goes to show that we cannot simply blame an ideology for the degradation of our environment, but instead we must rest the culpability upon our choices.
Attaching climate change to an ideological concept and not to human behaviour shifts the blame onto people because of what they believe in, not because of what they are doing. This aligns people’s thoughts on climate change to their thoughts on politics, and can only serve to further divide us; there is no time for division- it is time for cooperative action!
There are many climate-related political debates which are currently taking place; Carbon Tax or no Carbon Tax, Left versus Right, Capitalism versus Socialism, the list goes on and on.
But this simply should not be the case! Climate change is not a political issue, it is an existential one, and we need to start taking steps towards putting a halt to our environmentally corrosive actions, not simply to engage in philosophical debates.
People should not be deemed a believer or a non-believer of an inevitable outcome, because of the political flag they wave.
This is not a contest, there is no specific winner or loser here - if we don’t act as a unit, we will all lose, and there will be no “play again” button to tap once this game is over.
What I would like to see from our political leaders is real action; not bluster and pandering for votes. It is evident that when the people speak, politicians listen, and we, the youth, have been crying out for action on climate change for a long time now.
Although the previous government composed a Climate Action Plan; and each party included climate-related policies in their most recent manifesto; the political promises made about climate change must be genuine, and most importantly; must be acted on.
There is already somewhat of a disconnect between the leaders of our nation, and the layman-and-woman in society.
Those on the ground, at times, feel as if they cannot trust politicians, and find it difficult to believe what political leaders say.
And this is why we need the political stakeholders in this country to be honestly committed to tackling climate change, because if they are not, this could lead to people refusing to be part of the new green wave, not by choice, but because they cannot accept whatever is told to them by our politicians.
Politicians must understand; climate change is not a political issue that they can utilise to obtain votes in the next election, but a REAL issue, that is affecting REAL lives, and requires REAL action.
The politicisation of climate change is happening right now. The dangers of which will become prevalent very soon unless we abruptly put a stop to the process.
We need to see climate change for what it is; a threat to humanity, and to the wellbeing of our planet. Once we look at this threat through the appropriate lens, and not a political one, we will be able to cooperatively work together as one, to eradicate it.
As I stated in my speech at the Youth Assembly on Climate initiative in Dail Eireann, last November; we, as a people, have overcome the most excruciating social odds - internationally, but also nationally; we united in the struggle for independence in the early 20th Century, we united to ensure equal marriage for all, we united to fight for reproductive rights for women, and we united to instil peace on this island after the troubles; there is no reason why we cannot unite to eliminate the biggest issue facing us yet; Climate Change.
The former United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it best by saying; “We are the first generation to be able to end poverty and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities”.
It is time for us to take responsibility, and to do what is right; to put political interests aside and to save our planet.
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