Banning election posters without a plan is an own goal

By Eric Nolan

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Climate change is real. Bar the odd eccentric T.D. this fact is widely accepted. The vast majority of holdouts were surely turned when the kids went on strike. We should be ashamed of ourselves. The children had to lead the way. We ‘grown ups’ are supposed to look out for them. We are supposed to have their best interests at heart. It is beyond time that we tackle climate change head on.

Real action won’t be painless. We have gotten far too used to convenience without considering the real cost. This is why we haven’t done nearly enough. We all like to think that we are doing our best. Re-usable coffee cups are a good example. They are undoubtedly positive but how many do you have? Possessing ten or more re-usable cups doesn’t achieve the desired goal.

Bio degradable bags in the fruit aisle of supermarkets are another example. I have no doubt that versions will be developed that allows them to replace regular plastic bags. At present many only degrade in industrial scale composting plants and cannot be recycled with ordinary plastic as they will contaminate the waste stream. Given that we don’t recycle soft plastics in Ireland it is likely most will end up in landfills. It is questionable as to whether the cost of changing over wholesale will reap significant benefits yet. There is evidence that some of these bags disintegrate into small particles rather than disappear in our oceans, some don’t degrade at all in water and therefor cause the same problems regular plastic bags do. But we feel like we are doing good with little effort when we use them. They satisfy the public’s desire to take action without addressing the real issue.

The reality is that as a group, we will usually take the easy option, the short-term win, regardless of the long-term cost. The opposite is also sometimes true. When we decide as a group to take immediate action we can barrel straight in without considering the bigger picture. Or our politicians do at our behest.

Our system of governance rewards popularity. In fairness there is no better system available. Alternatives have been tried. The problem with rewarding popularity is that a politician purely motivated by popularity will not always do the right thing. Or even what they believe to be the right thing. When public outcry demands immediate action, immediate action will be taken. The goal of this is to satisfy the masses, not to deal with the underlying problem. Sometimes it will deal with the underlying problem, but not always.

There are currently growing calls to ban election posters. Speaking as a second time local election candidate I can tell you that I would love not to have to put them up. They are expensive. It is back breaking work and those of us without large teams of helpers will be at it for at least a week. It is also true that they are bad for the environment.  I have decided to reuse my posters from five years ago. As a second time candidate I have this option. (I looked a bit better then too). I get to feel good about not damaging the environment. At least not with new election posters.

Not everyone will have this option. New candidates will either have to purchase new posters or use none at all. It is very difficult for new candidates to raise their profile sufficiently to be elected. I’ve been that soldier. Posters at least let everyone know that you are running. A minimum requirement. They also alert people to the fact that there is an election coming up. Hard to believe I know, but not everyone follows local and national politics closely. Posters are more important for new candidates than incumbents.

At a time when the public is crying out for change, for new voices and real action on issues like climate change, disadvantaging new candidates is not a good idea. And yet much efforts are being made to do just that. Don’t get me wrong, those that are leading the anti-poster campaign have the absolute best motivation. I agree wholeheartedly with them that election posters should be a thing of the past.

I’m sure they would equally agree with my desire to see far more climate literate and conscious candidates elected in future elections. These local elections will set some on a road to national or even European politics, where real action can be taken. Disadvantaging the most climate aware and literate candidates now is an own goal. While it will lead to slightly less election posters being made, I believe it will lead to less climate friendly political action. Short term win, long term lose.

Individuals towns or areas engaging in election poster bans has the same effect. New candidates will suffer. Sitting Councillor or T.D.’s with already large profiles will gain. The status quo will remain at a time when we need Climate action. Towns that institute such a ban close to an election don’t even achieve their goal, candidates will already have ordered posters to cover the area. Some won’t even get used at all.

If elected I will advocate for a ban on election posters along with the provision of government managed eco friendly public displays with equal space for all candidates. Even designated spots with a set allowance of posters would be a step forward. This approach would undoubtedly benefit the environment. It would also have a very positive spin off. It would level the playing field somewhat. We are not yet at U.S. levels of wealth buying elections, but it is true that wealthier candidates can currently put up as many posters as they like. Some can even afford to pay people to put them up for them. This gives an unfair advantage. New candidates are often younger and less financially well off. Elections should be about ideas and ability, not wealth.

We should get rid of election posters. We just need to make sure we don’t do more harm than good. Let’s make sure we don’t get rid of climate aware prospective politicians with them.

 Eric Nolan is the Labour Party Local Election Candidate for Midleton/ Cork East. He is a father of three and works at Cork Airport’s Police and Fire Service. You can learn more on Facebook @EricNolanLabour or Twitter @ericnolanlab.

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