News of heatwaves that killed 700 people, but the inconvenient truth is that Cork needs more roads?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS / LONG READ: Climate change made North America’s deadly heatwave 150 times more likely, Nature reported on Thursday. The headline in The Irish Times on Wednesday went further: North America’s heatwave ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change.

In the Canadian province of British Columbia there has been 500 excess deaths linked to the heat wave and around 200 in the US Pacific north-west. In the Canadian village of Lytton recorded temperature reached 49.6C (121.3F) before the village was burnt down and now resembles the aftermath of an area bombed out in a warzone.

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Meanwhile, “It takes a lot to shock New Yorkers, but scenes of subway riders wading through murky, waist-deep water in stations took many aback,” the UK Independent reported yesterday. This follows yet more new record breaking temperatures north of the Arctic Circle in recent weeks.

So, it’s a great time for John Dolan, Assistant Editor and Features Editor at The Echo newspaper, to write this that it’s an “inconvenient truth” (a play on a climate change documentary) that we need more roads, and taking pot shots at people campaigning to make cycling a safe and attractive option for trips where it makes sense.

Dolan has a record about writing on climate which is worse than a climate change denier. Note: I’m not saying he’s a climate change denier, I’m saying he’s worse than one.

I come from and am back living in the west of Ireland, so, I feel freer to say that Dolan’s ranting on Dublin VS the rest of Ireland is clearly  rural populism which poorly serves rural Ireland, It’s the nonsense type of arguments that has left too many people with the impression that rural Ireland gets nothing and Dublin gets everything. A quick look at a few of his articles and you’ll find that this is a theme of his.

The “inconvenient truth” for people who follow this rural populism is that Co Dublin amount to a massive 30% of the population of the Republic; add in Kildare, Wicklow and Meath it reaches 40% of the population of the country; and the tax take for Dublin has hovered around 50% or more. You can argue things should be different, but the current situation is a real “inconvenient truth” for rural populism.

Ireland’s urban population is estimated at 64% in 2020 and growing — this estimate is an underestimate as it does not include large pockets of housing right outside what is counted as urban areas but most people would see as suburban, not rural. Another “inconvenient truth” for rural populism.

But maybe the worst thing about the rural populism narrative is that “Dublin gets everything” mindset. The reality is that despite Dublin and its commuter belt taking in a huge share of the tax take, the Dublin area also lacks in its infrastructure.

There’s a popular narrative is that Dublin has ample public transport, but the lack of investment in rail is a key sign of the city lagging behind comparably sized EU cities. Dublin’s water infrastructure is at breaking point, schools in many places are crammed, and some areas, especially in commuter belts, have fewer services available than people living near towns further away from cities.

Dublin Bay South isn’t representative of Dublin or its commuter belt. But Dolan even gets facts on the leafy areas wrong.

Dolan wrote: “In leafy Dublin Bay, they have been spoilt for decades on the transport front, with the Luas, Metrolink rail lines, bus corridors, cycle lanes, and whatever you’re having yourself.”

Metrolink is the new name for Dublin’s metro rail project which has been proposed since the last century but keeps getting put off and is still at the planning stage. And there are very few continuously segregated cycle route in Dublin.

It’s a nonsense line from Dolan on transport in Dublin, a line which doesn’t care for the truth or facts. A quick Google or even following national newspaper headlines alone would tell you has yet to be built in Dublin. Another “inconvenient truth” for rural populism.

Why are these inconvenient truths are being ignored by rural populists like Dolan?

It’s because it’s the problem with populism: It is so self-focused and no real sense of reality. I say that as somebody who can see the problems in Dublin and rural Ireland and see that we need solutions for both. Solutions will differ for different people. Do we need to preface all sustainable transport discussions warning middle-aged men that this song isn’t about you? It seems that way…

There’s also a void with some people focused so much on their own area they don’t see that there’s wider issues. People often say that people down south don’t follow what’s going on in the North. The same can be said for those in Dublin not following Cork news and Cork people not following Dublin news. This is understandable for the average person, but newspaper columnists should be expected to do a little more research.

My fellow Mayoman, Enda Kenny, used to stand up in the Dail and tell stories how he met such a man last Friday somewhere like Main Street in Castlebar and how the man told him this or that. He was famed for this kind of storytelling where he’d use conversations which apparently never happened to bring issues to parliament and the media.

Dolan takes this to an all new level:

“‘I mean, can’t you mid-Cork people cycle to Killarney? And walk to Macroom, instead of bringing your dirty, polluting car?’ (Which is not even electric, the hoi polloi add with a sniff).”

Does Dolan expect readers to accept this unbelievable nonsense that anybody seriously told him he should be cycling around 40km to Killarney? Or that anybody is implying such? Or should we just take this as more populist guff?

It gets worse:

“I live five miles from Macroom on a road that is popular among cyclists… on days of the year when it is not lashing at least. There are, of course, no cycle lanes or footpaths, and I would describe the journey to Macroom by bike or foot as not for the faint-hearted. The thought of doing the weekly shop in the town and walking or cycling five miles home while lugging five bags is, of course, laughable.”

Where is the evidence that anybody who is even half serious is seriously expecting him to make such trips by walking or cycling?

Dolan then complains about the lack of good public transport options for people wanting to commute into cities etc, and then he complains about the idea of shifting transport funding from roads to public transport. He complains that Welsh government has paused its road building programme — I was nearly expecting him to call it defunding roads or something, but he rightly writes that its a review. The Welsh government has not said that it will never build new roads.

In previous articles on climate Dolan berates young people for lack of optimism but in the linchpin of his latest article he lacks any optimism at all, he states:

“Call me a cynic, but it sounds utterly unworkable here. The amount of infrastructure that is required to wean people off the cars that have formed the basis of Irish transport policy since the railways were recklessly and foolishly destroyed in the early 20th century is just too great. It will take decades to install new public transport infrastructure in our cities that will persuade people to dump their cars, so how long it will take for backwaters like Cork North West to have similar options is off the scale.”

It’s more populist guff and this gets to my point near the start of this article that people like Dolan are worse than climate change deniers. Transport emissions are “just too great” to tackle — ie he’s climate action denier.

He then argues that transport accounts for “less than 20% of Irish greenhouse gases, compared to 30% in the US, so there are other areas we can work on to reduce our numbers”. In the US is 29% of emissions are from transport, 30% is usual fine for rounding up, but is he comparing like-with-like? Ireland’s domestic transport emissions are around 20% (this excludes international flights and shipping, but overall transport emissions in Ireland are closer to 27% and growing:

So, there are other areas we can work on to reduce our numbers? Only one sector surpasses transport and that’s agriculture. So, Dolan must mean we should focus on agriculture, right? Right?

No. It seems not. He thinks both private cars and farming emissions are “a stick with which vociferous, snobby, pious city elites beat their country neighbours with”.

He calls climates action “idealism”. He gives no solutions. Just populism and deflection. It’s like when he previously attacked Greta Thunberg and younger people for fighting for climate action. Back in 2019 “striking school children are not heroes” read text on front page of the Echo newspaper promoting a column from Dolan berating younger people for the world they find themselves in while trying to wash his and older generations for their poor policies and actions which have got us here.

It does not sound like it from reading Dolan’s article, but electric cars are still the main transport solution to decarbonation of transport  being offered by most governments. There needs to be more of a mix of solutions. As the effects of climate inaction becomes clearer and clearer, rural populism will not serve rural Ireland well. The longer we wait for action, the harder action will be. In the area of transport, delayed action will most likely affect rural people.

Nobody is denying cars will likely be around for some time. But it’s long past time that our roads and streets both urban and rural reflected a republic rather than a kingdom of cars.

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