Adifficult and vital journey
Last November I began a presentation to Nelson City Council by endorsing Angela Fitchett’s column discouraging councillors from occupying political extremes.
Mayor Rachel Reese interrupted and, with a wry smile, observed how, in some places, extremism seemed a successful formula. Donald Trump had just been elected.
To date, Trump has fulfilled many dire predictions, not least being leaps backwards on climate change.
Thankfully there is a silver lining to that cloud: it has propelled the rest of world to redouble its efforts to address the problem, including 39 New Zealand mayors who have taken a joint stance on climate change (Rachel Reese is one; TDC’s Richard Kempthorne, reportedly in favour, wants to run it past his council).
The mayors framed this as ‘‘the ultimate intergenerational issue’’, promised greater commitment themselves, and urged central government to lift its game.
This huge step highlights not only the importance of the issue, but also the need for us to take ownership of it at all levels, and not see it as action needed somewhere else by someone else. It’s also notable as transcending political differences and regional rivalries, an attitude shift that we shouldn’t underrate. Elon Musk, visionary behind PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX, put this well. He surprised the business world by releasing patents for the stunning Tesla electric cars. When challenged why, he likened being together on a planet stricken with climate change to being together on a sinking ship:
‘‘…if we develop a great design for a bucket then, even if we’re bailing out way better than everyone else, we should probably still share the design of the bucket.’’
What a refreshing perspective. Of course that still leaves councils with the same dilemma as the rest of us: if we want to safeguard our planet and way of life, what might we do that will actually help?
Let’s look at some publications:
In ‘‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’’, editor Paul Hawken pulls together an astonishing array of 80 strategies which, in combination, could achieve the unthinkable, and actually reverse climate change.
Based on meticulous research, this global priority list is a real eyeopener: Number 1 – wait for it – is tightly controlling refrigeration systems (and, especially, their disposal), including heat pumps, supermarket chillers, and car aircons!
Numbers 3 and 4 identify eating habits. 3: Reduce food waste (big tick, Nelson Environment Centre for your food rescue operation); 4: eat a plant-rich diet (less meat, more vegetables).
‘‘Net Zero in New Zealand’’, by London’s Vivid Economics (for GLOBE-NZ, a cross-party group of MPs), explores options for achieving New Zealand’s Paris emissions reduction targets.
It analyses scenarios combining ‘‘innovative New Zealand’’ (technology-based, like electric vehicles, and low-flatulence animal vaccines) and ‘‘resourceful New Zea- recent land’’ (rebalancing current resource usage, such as expanding forestry).
Like Drawdown, it identifies opportunities and strategies with real prospects of working. But there’s an intriguing and important caveat: no strategy will reach the targets without afforestation expanding greatly as a carbon sink.
This should make us stop and think – about urban expansion as well as rural practices, and how our region might tackle that. It’s also interesting to stand it beside Drawdown’s ninth-most-promising strategy ‘‘Silvopasture’’: the rediscovery that grazing among trees can still maintain productivity.
See what I mean? It’s hard to get our head around just that bit, let alone it all. But it’s exciting, too, because we’re seeing real actions with truly promising outcomes, including some we can readily take on board as individuals.
So where does that leave councils, and NCC and TDC in particular? Like much of the world, they’ve struggled to translate mainstream thinking into good policy, and then policy into workable plans.
An important starting point is investing seriously in people and processes dedicated to catch up, and keep up, with current climate change thinking.
Then prioritise injecting that information into our planning processes. Two things stand out for our region: find transport solutions that end Nelson’s reign as global arch-villains of private car usage; and pursue the blending of forestry and pasture.
We ratepayers also have a role: we must support councils’ funding all of this, and then making the big calls. Otherwise it’s as good as saying ‘‘party on, and don’t worry about our kids and grandkids’’.
The mayors’ joint stance is also a double-prod to the government, for the mayors not only urged the government to do much better, but also endorsed the latest report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright.
The latter is significant because the government has a weak track record of heeding high-level environmental advice.
But these issues are far too important to be downgraded by political posturing.
So thank you, mayors, not only for your brave and important stance on climate change, but also for setting an example that others would do well to follow.
And please keep the rest of us posted how we can help on this great and difficult journey – we really need you to succeed.