This article concerns a lecture given in Trinity by former President Mary Robinson on the topic of climate change, and the political observations from analysing it and its attendees.

I wasn’t exactly planning on going to any talks this week. I had way too much on my plate to just simply put off. I couldn’t afford to procrastinate. But, like many irresponsible college students, I procrastinated anyway.

As it happened, former president Mary Robinson was in Trinity to give a talk about Environmental Justice, and who would want to miss that? Well it certainly beat writing about Bertrand Russell’s concepts of language for hours on end. So with that in mind, I went and procrastinated the entire morning away.

And I am very glad I did.

Robinson’s talk was one of the most enlightening political events I’ve ever been to, though admittedly for all the wrong reasons. Near the beginning, Robinson quoted her friend and colleague Archbishop Desmond Tutu in saying that when it comes to climate change, she was a ‘Prisoner of hope.’

Robinson tried to make this description out to be a good thing. But being a prisoner of any idea, even a good one, can result in illogical thinking and lead to the wrong conclusions. So while the description may be apt for Robinson and many of her compatriots, it’s far from a good thing.

Ireland makes up .2% of global emissions at a time when they apparently need to be cut by 45%. This might not be a problem if there was global appetite to tackle the issue, but there isn’t.

With this being the case, it is clear that Ireland cannot make a difference in the grander scheme of things, and would be much better off spending her resources elsewhere or preparing for the inevitable rather than trying to prevent the impossible.

However, as Robinson said, she and many Irish students are ‘prisoners of hope,’ and make no mistake, this hope has made slaves out of them in regards how they view the issue of climate change and the other social justice issues. They repeated the same boring talking points. Climate change is bad. Feminism is good. Inequality is bad. Social Justice is good. Etcetera.

However, nowhere in the talk was it brought up how little an effect Ireland has on the rest of the world in relation to carbon emissions, something that vastly limits what we can do on the issue. Not only that, but the audience was actively discouraged from thinking about facts like that. We were told that those numbers were daunting and would lower enthusiasm.

Their enthusiasm doesn’t matter though. No matter how much work ‘hope’ forces them to do, the data suggests they will never be able to stop climate change. Quite simply because hope holds no power over statistics. It is better to embrace numbers, not ideology, on issues as serious as this one.

While this level of wishful ignorance is most certainly worrying among a 3rd level body, another issue was the demographics attending the talk. In a decent sized lecture theatre large enough to hold at least one hundred people, in which only standing room was available, there were significantly less than twenty men in the entire room. The count includes the various cameramen, along with the SU President.

This uneven demography is in almost total contrast with the audience that attended the talk held last year which starred former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the audience of which consisted almost entirely of men.

Of course the politically active population need not necessarily reflect that of the general one. However, what appears to be a major political divide between the two sexes should worry people. It seems completely apparent that the genders have split down political lines. The Left has become the home of many educated women looking to help all those in need, whether it is feasible to do so or not, while Ireland’s emerging Right-wing has attracted almost exclusively men.

Considering how the animosity between the two political wings of the modern world is damn near sectarian, what initially appears to be just a worrying demographic imbalance turns into a societal threat.

If male-female relationships begin to be influenced along political lines, it may make the forming of relationships difficult or impossible to begin with because of diverging political beliefs, and how radically we tend to interpret them these days.

Helping people is an admirable goal and I want to stop climate change as much as the next guy, but the emotionally driven way the issue is being tackled is insane. It could never have worked and it will never work. Tackling anything emotionally rarely works.

If political imbalances in genders and between ‘hope’ and hard facts are to be taken as representative of the political divide in this country, then politically active people will be drawn into tighter and smaller circles of people they agree with. How can we hope to tackle any issues if that happens?

Peter Caddle

Posted by Peter Caddle

Peter is the Burkean's resident expert on all things popular and cultural.


  1. Indeed. It is indeed worrying that the sexes (or at least the politically active ones) appear so divided. However, most people are more nuanced in their beliefs or inclinations. They may be right wing on one issue and left on the other. Coming from a “right wing” perspective, it is important that we present our argument, robustly yes, but in a way that doesn’t appeal to men only.


  2. Owen Martin 21/02/2019 at 7:02 pm

    Climate change in Ireland is influenced by the very natural cycle in the Atlantic called Atlantic multidecadal oscillation


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