Leo Varadkar is worse than a climate denier. He's a climate delayer.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” - Matthew 7.5
I'm not usually in the habit of quoting scripture but the human race is heading inexorably towards truly biblical times unless immediate action is taken on climate breakdown. Last month saw the first school strike march against climate inaction, the movement started by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg. This Friday will see the second Youth Strike For Climate return in what is hoped will be one of the biggest environmental protests ever held. For politicians with a total lack of self-awareness, there was the predictable pearl-clutching over bad language and truancy - the fate of the world apparently being contingent on the politeness of schoolchildren. For those politicians that are cute enough to talk out of both sides of their mouth however, there was an opportunity for a bit of spin…
Last week in the Dáil Leo Varadkar responded to a question from Solidarity TD Paul Murphy by insisting that the climate strike was a message for “all of us to do better and to do more” as he defended the government’s push towards introducing a carbon tax, reframing a strike that was clearly targeting those in (“Fuck Theresa May”) and not a gentle nudge to yer da asking him to put his beer cans in the correct recycling box.
This a popular line among centre-right politicians who give lip service to environmental action. We know exactly what he means by this. Individual citizens should use public transport, reduce car journeys, walk and cycle to work, install solar panels on their houses, drive electric vehicles, buy organic, eat less meat, recycle more, take their vitamins and say their prayers at night (and, if things keep going the way they do, prayers may be the only hope we have left). This is all good practice and it’s a good habit to get into but as far as halting climate breakdown goes, it’s about as effective as throwing a bucket of water into the sun. With just 100 companies responsible for 71% of carbon emissions and just 12 years to avoid a catastrophic 1.5 degree rise in global temperature, it puts that one time you cycled to work into perspective.
Varadkar is one of the new breed of centrist leaders who, while claiming to believe in climate change, are unfortunately wile keen on the causes of it. Pioneered by Tony Blair and really taken on in earnest by David Cameron and Barack Obama - Varadkar and his Canadian friend Justin Trudeau have become the epitome of what apparently passes for modern political progressiveness. Hiding behind their façade of social liberalism is an inability to break free from their dependency on the fossil fuel coin. They preach their climate change credentials, insisting that ‘all of us do more’, guilting us into reducing our own personal carbon footprint while blocking legislation declaring a climate emergency.
Despite their credentials among liberals and their claims of wokeness, their actions are those of people who seem to think that The Market will sort things out and roll out schemes like carbon tax which essentially privileges the use of fossil fuels to those who can afford it - the theory being that using cost as a disincentive for using carbon. The obvious problem here is that the 100 companies who produce 71% of the world’s carbon emissions probably can afford it and will continue to do so. The second problem with relying on ‘the market’ is that it’s a reactionary force and, quite frankly, we don’t really have time to wait for the market to react.
When Varadkar says it’s up to ‘all of us’ to do more, he’s transferring the actions of those few oil-guzzling corporations onto the average citizen. The Irish government has form for this kind of vacuous grandstanding on the environment when they loudly trumpeted a forthcoming ban on single-use plastics before quietly waffling their way out of it a few weeks later. The problem with transferring the responsibility is that it’s impractical for the average citizen to buy an electric car or install solar panels or a wind turbine. It’s impractical for many in rural Ireland to use public transport. It’s all well and good throwing that guilt on the citizens of Ireland while exploration for oil and gas continues to be enabled by this government. When asked to play his own part and keep it in the ground, his response was unsurprising.
"If we have our own supply we should use it and not be dependent on Russia, the Middle East or Venezuela for our energy needs. We should use our taxpayers' money on public services rather than importing natural gas from other countries,”
Depressingly, this train of thought exists across the water in the SNP where a forecast of further fossil fuel resources was met with delight rather than utter terror. These people masquerade as out friends but are no better than the oil companies who ballyhoo their drive towards a greener future all while ramping up their carbon output.
Varadkar’s words were little more than an insidious attempt to spin a much-needed radical movement by a generation whose parents have failed them and diminish it into a twee ‘yay let’s recycle more’ flight of fancy, pointing out the sawdust in the eyes of Irish citizens while ignoring the veritable forest in his own. He’s right, it is on all of us to do more. It’s just that the ‘doing’ is telling him that we are no longer taking his spin and bullshit. We are no longer taking his hypocrisy and that proper climate action begins when big oil is confronted and told that their greenwashing is fooling no-one. The message needs to travel upwards from Varadkar to his great allies in the EU, his neoliberal brother-in-socks Trudeau and his St Patrick’s Day host Donald Trump – a man so enslaved by the fossil-fuel industry that their malignant influence is all over his cabinet.
The blasé inaction by politicians like Varadkar, Trudeau et al make it hard to take their claim to belief in climate change seriously. Climate breakdown is a terrifying prospect. Scientists who have looked at this closely and see the data and its implications have been increasingly afflicted by climate grief and depression. There is a helplessness you feel as an individual, wishing you were in a position of some influence in which you could do your bit. For someone like Varadkar to claim they believe in it and not act in it is an act of wilful neglect that, in years to come, will be regarded as utterly criminal. It’s easy to pick on cartoon climate-denying villains like Sammy Wilson or Danny Healy-Rae but the real challenge is tackling those who insist they are all about preventing climate disaster but do feck all practical about it – in itself a tacit denial and arguably more dangerous. At least Wilson and Healy-Rae don’t try to pretend that they aren’t trash.
US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez coined a new term for people who claim to believe in man-made change but don’t actually do anything about it: climate delayers. She says, “Climate delayers aren’t much better than climate deniers. With either one if they get their way, we’re toast.”
The actions of the Youth Strike For Climate have put previous radical activists to shame, bringing the issue into consciousness with the sense of immediacy that we’ve never seen until now. Best of all, they have publicly rejected the endorsement of those who talk but refuse to walk. This was summed up in a Green News Ireland interview with Saoi O’Connor, one of the leaders of the Irish climate strike movement.
“If you’re not supporting immediate radical climate action, then you can’t be supporting the students walking out”
Varadkar had the gall to try and diminish what this movement was all about. He was rightly sent to hell over it. This is climate breakdown Leo, and we can’t delay any further. The market gods will not save you.