I have written before on these pages that one of the biggest problems with the green movement – not just in Ireland, but globally – is that they don’t seem to much like people. Listen to them, and you hear it in every second or third sentence. In the green movement’s lexicon, mankind is cast in the role of villain at every turn, responsible for untold destruction, exploitation, and avarice at the expense of the planet and its other residents.
It is a compelling story because it is, at least in part, true. What we did to the great whales, for example, was unforgiveable. What we are presently doing to the great forests of the Amazon and Siberia is, often, just mindless and greed-driven destruction. In North America, they build cities on the natural habitats of bears, and then shoot the poor creatures when they wander into what was once their territory. If one wants to be angry at people, there are many reasons to be so.
But the Greens, though they might wish it otherwise – and might at times appear otherwise – are people too. They are not without sin. Their activism does not absolve them of the responsibilities they would confer on others.
So, when Eamon Ryan flies business class, he necessarily forfeits the right to criticize others for flying, or to demand that people fly less. You cannot make demands of people which it is – necessarily – impossible for you to meet yourself. The climate conference in Copenhagen or wherever is not, in fact, more important than the planet just because it is discussing the planet.
The Independent’s scoop yesterday will have struck some people – a minority, but some people – as petty. “Look”, they’ll say. “It’s essential that the business of Government be conducted, and there’s a difference between an official trip and someone’s third holiday of the year to Magaluf”.
The problem is, there isn’t.
The difference lies entirely in the justification, not in the impact. In practical terms, the holiday in Magaluf is probably less climate intensive than the official government trip to San Diego. If one really wants to justify a holiday, one can find a hundred reasons to do so: a jolly for one person is essential R&R for another.
In a democracy, voters are never going to permit their leaders to fly around the globe while depriving the ordinary people of the same privilege. It is never going to happen. If the Greens wish it to happen, then democracy itself will have to go: The North Korean Government manages this dichotomy pretty well, for example, but the Americans struggle with it. That is not because Joe Biden is less an environmentalist than Kim – the opposite is true – but because he has to answer to voters, and Kim does not.
The Greens in Ireland have to answer to voters, too. Voters on whom they have raised carbon taxes during a cost of living crisis. Voters paying through the nose for diesel, and hectored into retrofitting their homes, and preached at about watercress and wolves, all while Mr. Ryan flies business class. It’s not necessarily fair to him, but politics is not, and never has been, fair.