Not Your Parents’ Political Obit

CowenBye CartoonAs all political careers end in failure, it is traditional to look back over them and ask where they went wrong. Supposing for a moment that a single false move really could explain everything, what was Cowen’s?

Some say that as Bertie Ahern’s anointed successor he was pretty much cursed from the start. The party’s triumph as they crowned him was so loud because it was trying to drown out a whisper. Haven’t we been here before? Wasn’t Bertie meant to be the good and true leader who would make everything right after Haughey? Wasn’t he going to clear up all the questions?

Some day it will dawn on the party membership, on the country in general, that what’s wrong with Fianna Fáil cannot be fixed by just changing the guy at the top.

But people seemed willing to give him a chance, so I don’t think it’s true that Cowen was finished before he started. The first problem of his own making was probably the Lisbon referendum fiasco. While this made him look unexpectedly weak, I could argue that it still wasn’t really Brian Cowen’s fault. The 2007 election certainly hadn’t been a rout, but the majority of us did not go to the polling station to return a Fianna Fáil government to power. And yet, thanks to the political ineptitude of the former Green Party (yes I’m calling them that already), we found one jammed into our gullet. While the reasons for the rejection of Lisbon were many, I think a major one was resentment of this unwarranted government. That was not within Cowen’s realistic control.

So then of course there was the economic collapse. Again, not exactly his fault. Well at least not Cowen the Taoiseach’s; his stewardship of the Department of Finance had doubtless contributed greatly to our mad over-dependence on the property sector, but the deeply corrupting relationship between Fianna Fáil and its contributors is, again, not the work of one man. Much of the country was complicit in it.

Then, the embarrassment of a second referendum. But we can all be pretty ashamed of that one. “Not so independent-minded now you’re broke, eh?” Less said there the better really.

So the list of mistakes is long, but no one seems really enough in itself to be labelled the turning point in Brian Cowen’s career. Is it just that, with the economy in ruins, we need to blame somebody and he’s in the firing line? No doubt that’s how it seems to him. Or was it, as is so often the case, simply the slow accumulation of many small missteps?

No. If any political career failed in one single moment, this was that one. It happened when he agreed that the people of Ireland would pay back the losses of speculating bankers. That was a mistake of such enormity, you wonder if he actually had the authority to do it. Is it constitutional to give the country away?

Without this things would still be pretty bad, but he would probably have been leading his party into an election now. One in which they would have been merely punished rather than summarily executed. But by sacrificing his people to save bankers, Brian Cowen doomed his career. Doomed a lot of our careers.

Is Climate Change, Bitches

After the breakneck pace of events yesterday, I think a change of topic is in order. Though not without noting in passing how Lenihan attempted to shift blame for the bankers’ bonuses onto Fine Gael and Labour this morning. Suddenly, taxing them is an idea he was all in favour of – but alas his hands are tied by the pesky opposition. There’s no shame in this game.

Microcos Climate CartoonGoing back to Sunday’s tirade against the Greens though: I think it’s probably necessary these days, with the rise of “climate scepticism”, to clarify that I am not on the anti-environmental fringe. I don’t know if I’d call myself an environmentalist. I try to avoid labels that end in “ist”, especially in “mentalist”. But I have friends who are Green Party members – well, until Sunday I had – and I agree with a lot of what they think.

There are extremes of environmentalism I find abhorrent; the “Humans are the worst animal ever and the planet would be better if we all died” lobby. There is a bizarre narcissism to that. How can we be worse than Nature? We’re not supernatural beings. What we are, what we do, is an expression of Nature. We do ugly things, as does Nature. The one difference: We know that they’re ugly.

But I think it is wise to try to upset the dynamics of the planet as little as we can. We should care about biological diversity and stability, we should care about the long-term effects of our activities. This seems the moral, responsible thing to do.

And so there is a movement to shirk off that responsibility. They call themselves sceptics, in much the same way that people who want to promote religion over science use the disingenuous label “intelligent design”. More normally, sceptics are people who point out how widely-held personal beliefs are not compatible with scientific knowledge. These people point out how widely-held scientific knowledge is not compatible with their personal beliefs.

The belief in this case seems to be a sort of libertarianism. To these people, climate change is a hoax perpetrated against them by lefty government, an attempt to force a collectivized tyranny onto freedom-loving individuals. The freedom they seem to particularly love is the one to use up oil like nobody’s business.

Last night the UK’s Horizon did an interesting documentary on the fact that professional science is losing the battle against amateur bollocks. The programme had its faults – it kinda forgot to mention that there might be rational grounds to reject GM crops, for one – but it made the point well that we now live in a world full of people who, when faced with the conclusions reached by thousands of dedicated professionals doing decades of gruelling, intricate research, will say “Yes but here’s what I think”.

So here’s what I think: I won’t disagree that there can be a certain irritating piety to “environmental awareness”. I won’t say that political solutions to these problems are never wrong. But the science on the issue is overwhelming. There is little debate about this in the relevant fields today because that debate has been had already. It was pretty much settled more than twenty years ago. The evidence points to human-driven climate change.

If there is any weak link in the argument, it’s where we extend it into the future and predict disaster. There are a lot of unknowns in the future. However, disaster still seems more likely than not.

So: Most people with actual expertise on the subject think it likely that if we keep behaving as we do it will profoundly change our climate, probably making it far less hospitable to humans, to other animals, and to food production.

We should do something about this perhaps.

It’s not comfortable knowledge. We could rest a lot easier if we were ignorant of the idea that the things we do on an everyday basis could be slowly but inexorably leading to extinctions and floods. Nobody wants that. I understand why some are driven to rebel, to deny that this could be true, even invent great conspiracies of people who have an interest in it being true.

But who has such an interest? If there really is such a thing as a “climate change industry”, it is microscopic when placed next to the other one – industry industry. Faking climate change would be in the interest of a few. Pretending climate change isn’t happening, that would be in the interests of a huge number of people – of very wealthy people.

I know which way I’m betting.

Sex With Satan

Well that was the Green Party. I wonder what they’ll do, now that politics is over.

I want to give them credit for bringing this government down. That can go in the ledger opposite keeping them in power for years, even when they were clearly being the worst administration we have ever known. And of course, going into government with them in the first place, when bells were clanging and red lights flashing all around Bertie Ahern.

You could have pulled the plug at any time, but you had to wait until they bankrupted the country first. All in the fond hope that Fianna Fáil were going to let you pass a package of measures that were against corporate interests. And against corporate donations. To Fianna Fáil. Really, Greens?

That can only be called culpable naïvety.

You were the party elected by the young idealistic voter. You forced them to watch while you made love to Satan. Not only have you played a supporting role in the ransacking of the public funds, you have destroyed environmentalism as a cause. In fact I feel like taking a piss in a river right now, to celebrate your demise.

Good riddance.