John Dolan: Us rural-dwellers may need a car to get around, but all the good we do for the environment is too often forgotten

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan should visit our village, where he will see the buses are  irregular and children cannot cycle or walk to school as the roads are so dangerous, says John Dolan
John Dolan: Us rural-dwellers may need a car to get around, but all the good we do for the environment is too often forgotten
Green Party Eamon Ryan launching a cycling initiative.Picture James Horan/Photocall Ireland 

IT was the day after the Budget that had delivered a double whammy to country folk.

Wham! The carbon tax rise will mean rural-dwellers who have no choice but to drive to work and elsewhere will have to pay more for their fuel.

Bam! Those in the countryside who rely on home heating oil to warm their winter abodes will also have to pay more, under the same tax.

Considering the rest of the dull and lifeless budget last Tuesday week could have been written on the back of a postage stamp (note to any children reading, we used to put them on things called ‘letters’ many years ago), it’s little wonder us rural types were a bit cantankerous when we got up the next day,

Woe betide those among us, then, who didn’t have to get up to milk the cows the next morning, who then switched on Virgin Media 1’s Ireland AM for some light entertainment, sprinkled with a little hard-edged news.

Because there was our newly-crowned nemesis, Eamon Ryan, whose Green Party was mainly responsible for said carbon tax hikes, and he had some bright ideas about how country folk could get around these vexing fuel increases.

“We don’t all need to own a car,” commented the party leader, who lives and works in Dublin, before going on to inform us country folk that we might want to look at other options.

A village of 300 people needs just 30 cars to operate, Mr Ryan reasoned, going on to state that he believes the Government should incentivise car-sharing, and move towards a situation where a village would have a set amount of cars and there “would always be one available” through a collection and drop-off system.

“It’s only a short walk down to pick it up. You could cycle down to the local collection point,” he added.

By now, the Green Party head honcho was well into his stride, unaware he was inserting his bicycle clip-wearing ankles firmly into his mouth.

“It’s not rocket science,” he added, a tad patronisingly. “It’s using innovation to make a change for the better so you don’t spend money on something that is sitting idle for 95% of the time.”

So, there you have it, rural-dwellers. The answer has been staring us in the face all along.

We don’t need our cars at all, at all. We can get rid of those fuel-guzzling beasts, invest in a bicycle, and toddle off to the village green on the rare occasions we do need to drive, to pick up one of the gleaming motors there.

But hang on. Three hundred people in a village and 30 cars, you say, Eamon?

That averages out at a car for each ten people — or one for every two or three households.

Has he done his sums right?

Maybe he should come down to my village on a typical Monday morning (make it a rainy one, too, to add a touch more realism to the situation).

Here, he will see the buses are so irregular as to be pointless. And he will see that children cannot cycle or walk to school as the roads are so dangerous.

He will see that at least one person in each household — but more likely two, or sometimes even more — has a job that is extremely unlikely to be within cycling or walking distance, who requires a car.

(It would take that marathon record-breaker from last weekend an hour to run from my house to Ballincollig and an hour and a half to get to Cork city.... it would take me around five weeks, if I had the wind at my back).

As you can see, Mr Ryan’s idyllic plan of a pool of 30 cars for 300 people is simply not workable in the real world.

What would actually happen is I would be setting my alarm for 4.30am each day in order to pedal like crazy to the village, in the hope of grabbing one of the cars from the pool to get me to work before they were all taken.

As I then drove smugly out of the village, I would be flicking V-signs at my less fortunate neighbours, who only set their alarms at 4.45am, and who would arrive at the car pooling site a few minutes later to find it bereft of, er, cars. “But, but,” they would stammer, “Mr Ryan promised on Ireland AM that there would ‘always be one available’ under this scheme.”

To cap off this comic vignette, I would arrive in work so early that I would have to spend four hours drumming away at my desk, drinking coffee, before my shift actually began.

After a few days of this, I imagine I, along with all my neighbours, would be buying back the cars we had just sold, in exchange for our nearly-new bicycles, and coughing up the extra carbon taxes imposed to penalise rural-dwellers in the first place...

Welcome to Green Party politics, 2019 style!

It only took a few hours before Mr Ryan was back-pedalling so furiously on his remarks, his chain was in danger of exploding.

But, even then, his remarks were curious. He said he regretted his comments, and he had faced a strong backlash — but then added: “Maybe I should shut up and never say anything, but I still do believe that the people in rural Ireland and urban Ireland might benefit from these new solutions.”

He tied himself up in more knots when he added: “I did not mean in any way to tell people what they could be doing, but I do believe in helping them play their part.”

It sounded more like he was apologising for the backlash, than for anything he actually said. Je ne regrette rien, indeed.

Combined with the carbon tax increases, which will penalise country folk far more than city people, it all added weight to the firm belief in rural Ireland that the elite, made up largely of city-dwellers, are not only out of touch with us, but don’t care for us much either and actually look down their noses at us.

The climate change debate seems to be constantly themed on the painting of city folk as saints and country-dwellers as sinners. People like Eamon Ryan often cycle to work, while we scoot about guzzling gas. City folk dine in vegan cafes, while country folk tuck into their beef and enjoy nothing better than hearing the sound of cattle farting in the fields and stoking up the atmosphere.

And that’s completely wrong, because what nobody ever looks at when they talk about carbon footprints is the benefits that country folk provide to our environment.

For instance, like many rural houses, we have an acre of gardens, with many wildflowers and shrubs and trees, which attracts bees and other pollinators. We have bats and birds, and midges by the million. Our land is an oasis of green.

Your average apartment-dwelling city bod, on the other hand, has none of that — perhaps a windowbox and a pansy or two. He may consume less from the environment, but he doesn’t give back anything like what we country people do.

Why is that never pointed out?

In other words, Mr Ryan, and those of your ilk: Your carbon footprint is bigger than my carbon footprint.

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