John Dolan: Politicians can fix climate change, not activists: we need more of the former (and a lot less of the latter)

If we are to address climate change it’s our politicians who will do this, at the behest of us: The voters, so says John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: Politicians can fix climate change, not activists: we need more of the former (and a lot less of the latter)

PLAYING ‘FOLLOW THE LEADERS’: Climate activists from the Glasgow Actions Team wear Squid Game costumes and world leader masks during a protest at the Cop26 summit in the Scottish city this week

MEGAPHONE diplomacy is defined as “the practice of making strong or threatening statements in order to make another country do what you want”.

It’s widely frowned upon when we see elected politicians in countries like the UK and France do it in a row over fishing rights.

Yet when unelected people who label themselves ‘activists’ and ‘protesters’ literally use a megaphone to shout threats at elected politicians, suddenly the practice is deemed necessary - cool even.

Is it any wonder we have so few politicians taking the brave decision to stand for election and answer to the people these days, while the number of self-appointed ‘activists’ and ‘protesters’ who don’t have to persuade anyone of their policies seems to be mushrooming by the hour?

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, currently taking place in Glasgow, is serving to underline this trend.

As the world leaders gather for a summit on how to tackle climate change, they are met by a chorus of cynicism from the public and media, while the protesters, who seem to have nothing better to do with their time than play games of follow the leader, are lionised and held up as standard-bearers for a dying world.

My point is, if we are to address rising global temperatures; if we are to stop the destruction of the rainforests; if we are to put a halt to dwindling biodiversity; it’s our politicians who will do this, at the behest of us: The voters.

People shouting into megaphones, gluing their faces to motorways, and waving placards in front of photographers, demanding the world be saved NOW... well, it might make them feel good, and impress their followers on social media, but it’s not a solution, is it?

Let’s take this argument a step further. If our elected politicians aren’t running the world, and the protesters are, then we don’t have a democracy at all: rather a mob rule which may end up ignoring the will of the majority.

You may not like Boris Johnson’s propensity to play roulette with the truth; you may think Joe Biden is past it; you may find Emmanuel Macron arrogant; and you may think Micheál Martin has failed to address our housing crisis.

But they are the only options we have at this point in time to address climate change, and they are (or should be) far more aware of what the voters want, than someone who writes a pithy slogan on a piece of cardboard.

Before COP26 began, I thought I was tired of the world’s leaders meeting up seemingly two or three times a year to talk the talk and not walk the walk on climate change.

But I wasn’t, what I was tired of was the rent-a-mob activists who trail in their wake, bellowing threats and bile, while never having to stand for election and answer to any voter.

If these people really want to change the world, there are well-used and recognised channels through which they can do so. Join a political party (the Greens may be a good bet), stand as a councillor, pay into and support the party, nourish it, contribute to its policies.

Of course, some people do exactly that. But far too many seem to me to be burnishing their credentials purely for the attention, and social media likes and numbers.

When these activists are shouting and stomping their feet in Glasgow for photographers’ —and followers’ — clicks, they are doing no harm, I guess, while achieving none of their aims. But when, as in the UK in recent weeks, groups like Extinction Rebellion deliberately hold up traffic on roads at rush-hour, they are affecting lives adversely — while still doing nothing to address or reverse climate change.

According to its website, Extinction Rebellion is a global environmental movement “with the stated aim of using non-violent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse”.

That’s all very high and dandy, but couldn’t you just call yourselves a political party and do it the democratic way instead? What are you afraid of?

Of course, dipping your toe into politics is a lot harder than being a ‘movement’. You may have to face voters who disagree with you, many of whom will hurl insults at you. You will need to produce policies that are coherent, costed, make sense, and still win support.

Oh, democracy is such a bummer sometimes.

Politics these days is not for the faint-hearted, and too many good people are leaving it, or failing to enter it in the first place. Sure, the pay and pensions are good, if you are elected, but who wants to run the risk of death threats to themselves and even their family on social media, or ‘activists’ — yes, them again — camping and chanting outside your door?

It’s not as though the leaders in Glasgow are unaware of the importance of climate change among voters. A CSO poll in Ireland this week revealed the issues that are deemed ‘very important’ by Irish people: 69% said climate change, 72% said air pollution, and 74% said plastic waste.

Micheál Martin knows this, and is well aware of the electoral rewards of making headway on those concerns, and the electoral drawbacks of not acting (I’m sure he is also personally invested in the issues too, but let’s just talk politically here).

But, interestingly, that survey showed only 29% of respondents think urban traffic restrictions are a ‘very important’ environmental concern. This underlines the fact Ireland simply is nowhere near ready to implement some policies on climate change, and voters have made politicians aware of this.

These are the nuances that activists can simply ignore, but politicians do so at their peril.

I would love to see the passion some of these protesters show being funnelled into areas where they can actually effect change, rather than always taking the easy option.

So, join me as I politely but firmly send a message to the activists of the world, who talk the talk and march the march, and think their voice is therefore more important than the vast silent majority.

What we do want? Fewer activists and more politicians. When do we want it? Now would be nice, please.

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