Reply to Young Friends of the Earth Ireland: Politics for People not Profit

Stop banks & big business taking over our Democracy Campaign 

Dear Meadhbh,

In order to respond clearly and honestly to your enquiry I need to preface my answers to your specific questions with some general remarks.
I want to begin by saying that for many years now it has been clear that humanly-generated climate change constituted a ever growing threat to the future, not of the planet (which will be fine), but of humanity and numerous other species. Over the last couple of years not only has the scientific evidence for this accumulated and become more certain, as stated in the recent IPCC report, but increasingly extreme weather events, which are made more and more likely by climate change, have become a visible feature of people’s everyday lives. These range from the heat wave in Alaska in June 2013, to the combination of exceptional heat and drought in some parts of North America with exceptional cold in others, to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, to temperatures over 50 C  in Australia, to dreadful flooding in the West of Ireland and the West of England.

Yet, despite this existence of scientific knowledge well known to governments and the already apparent adverse effects on people on the ground, the so-called international community ie the world’s major governments, are failing to take any effective action. What needs to be done is well established – there needs to be a huge and global shift from dependence on fossil fuels (essentially oil, gas and coal) to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and wave power. In the end only one thing really counts and that is the international reduction of carbon emissions but that is precisely what is not happening. On the contrary, despite all the talk and all the targets carbon emissions are rising year on year and the problem is getting worse.

If we are going to save humanity from the terrible catastrophe of runaway climate change we have to ask ourselves why this is the case. The answer I believe is that an economy based on production for private profit, as the global capitalist economy now is, in which a huge proportion of the largest corporations within that economy have a direct vested interest in fossil fuels (ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Sinopec, Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Conoco phillips, Total and many others) is inherently incapable of making the changes necessary. For this reason I am convinced that a real strategy to combat climate change must be part and parcel of a challenge to the priority of profit, and thus to neo-liberalism and the rule of ‘the markets’.

The urgency and seriousness of the climate change is one of the most compelling reasons for making such a challenge and should be highlighted at every opportunity, as I did on the RTE Drivetime programme last week. If am elected to the European Parliament I will use it as a platform to make this case as strongly as possible.

At the same time it is necessary to recognize that the EU is not a very democratic institution but is heavily dominated by the unelected bureaucrats and technocrats of the EU Commission and is heavily biased towards neo-liberal pro-market policies (as has been clearly demonstrated in the austerity it has imposed over the last 6 years). Moreover if I am elected it will be as part of the radical left who will clearly be a minority. Consequently my ability to ensure that change takes place will be very limited. This will in no way inhibit my advocacy of, and support for such change on every occasion, but needs to be understood and honestly stated so as not to make glib or false promises. In the end it will take much more than the election of progressive MEPs to bring the changes necessary, it will need a mass popular movement from below which, of course, I will work to help bring about.

Reply to specific questions.
1. Emissions commitment. The EU commitment to reducing emissions by 40% by 2030 is completely inadequate. As indicated above much more drastic reductions, at least 60% according to the scince, are needed. But in fact little or no progress is being towards even this inadequate target. As an MEP I will consistently point this out while supporting every progressive move towards real change. In particular I want to support the idea of ‘climate jobs’, ie. new jobs created to take people out of unemployment and help stop chaotic climate change eg insulating peoples houses or installing solar panels.

2. Renewable energy feed-in tariff. I will oppose the phasing out of REFIT which, as you say, has assisted community renewable energy projects such as the Community Wind Farm at Templederry. However, as I have argued above, I do not think it is basically a question of ‘ensuring market conditions support the development of community renewable energy developments’. I think it is essential not to rely on market mechanisms but decisively to move beyond them to collective social measures and solutions. This is what I shall campaign for as an MEP.

3.Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership and ISDS. I am opposed to the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement Systems in the current EU-US trade deal and will quite likely be opposed to the deal as a whole. Rather than saying that this threatens ‘to place corporate profit ahead of private interests’ I would say that it guarantees it. Obviously my ability as an MEP to ensure that these negotiations ‘do not sacrifice Ireland’s environment.. health’ etc will be very limited but I will certainly try to do this. What I would like to see is the revival of the kind of mass protests that developed over the WTO at Seattle in 1999 and at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001. I also want to stress my opposition to fracking and would call for an EU ban on fracking.

Finally I want to say that I know from my experience as a campaigner and councillor in Ballyfermot that it is working class communities and the poor who are worst affected by pollution, dumping and other environmental devastation. This will also be the case with climate change. For this reason I see campaigning over environmental issues as an integral part of the fight for social justice and putting people before profit.

I have signed the pledge and I am looking forward to joining the discussion at DCU.

Best regards

Bríd Smith
Candidate for Dublin MEP
People Before Profit Alliance.