The President, correctly or incorrectly, is widely considered by his legion of devoted supporters inside and outside the Irish media, one of the world’s great statesmen and philosopher poets.
If you are so minded as to suffer through it, then a review of the coverage of his presidency in the Irish media tends to confirm that perception: We are constantly reminded that we are “lucky to have” such a man in the Aras, and that he has brought, as was remarked by one commentator a “depth of intellect absent in many of his peer world leaders”. On the very rare occasions when criticism is permitted, it is in the “more in sorrow than in anger” tone, with universal acceptance that Michael D “meant well”, even when he is transparently and blatantly exceeding the bounds of his office. Forget all that, we are generally told with a hand wave – are we not lucky to have a man of such stature at our head?
It behoves us then, like it or lump it, to take his various pronouncements about the future of our world seriously. And his latest is a humdinger, though it received barely any even half serious analysis over the weekend:
We have to think about borders and states again,” he says. “The nature of the climate effect is such that it isn’t viable to be talking about borders and migratory measures in the way we did before. Everything has changed.”
Does he mean getting rid of borders? “I think it will have to be, in a way.” Higgins spoke twice at the Dakar 2 Summit on food sovereignty and resilience in Africa.
The basic thesis should be instantly recognisable to anybody who has suffered through any of RTE’s coverage of climate change: Over the next fifty years (apparently regardless of Irish efforts to mitigate it) large parts of the world will become uninhabitable. Scores of millions of people will see their countryside flooded by the oceans, or parched by the sun. In the unbearable heat, they will flee north, to cooler, less affected climates. None of this can be stopped, no matter how much carbon tax you pay. It is a certainty, and we must prepare for it.
In this context, the President says, we must consider whether it remains viable to be talking about borders. When they come, we should consider simply throwing down all fences, and letting everybody in.
There are a few things that might have been asked of the President, had he had an interviewer more interested in questioning him than in producing yet another hagiography of Galway’s oldest John Lennon impersonator:
First, isn’t his prediction de facto an admission that Irish Climate measures are a complete waste of time? And more than a waste of time – actively irresponsible?
If we believe that regardless of Irish efforts in this field, millions are certain to come to our doors seeking housing and shelter, then rather than spending hundreds of millions insulating existing homes against the cold, and objecting to new roads and infrastructure, shouldn’t our policy be a great national effort to prepare? We will need possibly hundreds of thousands of new homes, schools, hospitals, and (dare I say it) prisons to accommodate our new equatorial guests. Rather than holding back growth in the name of combatting climate change, surely we should be pursuing unlimited growth to prepare for the influx? Why are we cutting the national herd, when more food will be needed? Why are we closing down fossil powered power plants, when more electricity will be needed? If Ireland is to be, as the President suggests, an unbounded haven for the world, then it makes no sense to be downscaling our production in the name of absolutely marginal carbon gains, surely?
Second, how does a world without borders work, exactly?
The reason Governments conduct a census is not, actually, so that our descendants can read our funny little messages a century from now. It is so that Government has some idea of how many people will need various services over the next decade, until the next census. If the data shows a large number of newborns in a town, it might be an idea to build an extra school, and so on.
In other words, state planning is almost entirely dependent on borders. We know roughly how many people live here, and therefore we know how much of everything we need. Take down borders, and allow absolute global free movement, and it is likely – if the President is correct in his doomsday prediction – that Irish services and infrastructure will be so overburdened with new arrivals that they are no longer able to bear the load.
This is not, by the way, complicated stuff. We all know it to be true instinctively. Only the intellectual in the Aras, it seems, can see beyond logic.
The President, of course, has the luxury of blabbering without responsibility. His pronouncements carry no policy weight of any kind, these days. What they do carry though is social weight – he utters some mindless drivel, and because of his carefully cultivated and nurtured image as a great thinker, countless people nod and stroke their chins in thoughtful appreciation of what they believe to be great wisdom.
But it’s worth questioning whether he is, in fact, doing the state any service by going to troubled lands and announcing, for all intents and purposes, that he is the President of a Country that will soon have no borders, and is eager to welcome the world’s huddled masses. Who gave him a mandate for this?