The Good Life
To stop the march of climate change, we’d all need to face some uncomfortable changes to our standard of living.
Can we make big changes for our climate?
Two events have occurred recently, one which made me feel proud, the other hopeful.
In terms of climate change, I haven’t been proud or hopeful for a long, long time, so it was a welcome change.
What we’re doing
Event One was a Dunedin meeting called at short notice by the Ministry for the Environment. They were asking us what we thought was the right response for the Minister to take to the next climate talks in Paris. Essentially they were asking: should we limit our fiscal exposure, and by how much?
To me, that isn’t the right question. The right question is: can we limit it? And if so, how can we even keep below the proposed 2°C increase, which itself is no guarantee that we’ll avoid severe/ prolonged weather events?
This meeting was given limited exposure and was originally planned for a small (hotel) venue. But after 250-odd folk attended a locally-organised, pre-meeting meeting, the organisers felt the pressure and changed to the larger Glenroy Auditorium.
Just as well. There were 350 people present (I counted them). At about the same time the ‘Choose a New Flag’ circus rolled into town - a meeting that was well- heralded - and attracted 25 people.
A good proportion of the 350 attendees were young people, the inheritors of the Earth, who were understandably concerned as they’ll have to live through the ramifications of what earlier generations have done/are doing.
They joined older speakers in contributing to an eloquent, respectful, reasoned debate. Outside of an occasional question session after a thought-
provoking lecture, I’ve never witnessed anything quite like this discussion-filled evening, and never on this scale. Someone recorded the whole thing and transcribed it, 12 pages that should be preserved for p posterity.y
This is the first time I’ve heard others talking about integrated problems, of which climate change is only one. At least three speakers touched on the fact that anything we did in this regard was related to the questions of population, resources and sustainability. The usually-solid applause reduced noticeably when those particular speakers suggested that the middle class might have to lower its sights, my takeaway impression of the night. Here’s one of those comments:
“The other side to this is there are a lot of people here that are very middle class. To be clear, for this radical stepchange you have to give up everything… your pension funds gone, your idea of buying houses to get funding for material wealth gone… that’s all market economy-dependent. It’s all gone. Are you going to make that change? You can’t just leave it up to these (Ministry) guys. Some of you have to really think about it. You don’t have Kiwisaver. You do something sensible. Don’t put it all on these guys.”
What the world is doing
Event Two was a short while later when the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the USA) met in Germany. It was hosted by Angela Merkel, whose 1998 essay (see page 51) proves she has long understood our compounding problems. You could discern that she was the driving force behind the resulting communique, which in turn suggests that the message is getting through.
The G7 pledged to abandon fossil fuels by the end of the century, to strive for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050, and backed the ‘below 2°C increase’ target.
But I have to wonder whether they realise that the last target renders the first two obsolete. To keep below a 2°C increase in temperature, we’d have to be off fossil fuels by 2050 and start reducing meaningfully from right now.
Quibbles aside, their targets - and ours - have to be the challenge of all time.
To create our new renewable, sustainable infrastructure we will have to use the old one as it’s all we’ve got. The trouble is, we are already using the old energy sources, old farming techniques, old disposal methods, at full capacity. It’s going to be interesting to see what we drop to create the leeway.
Third World countries have less to ‘drop’ as they tend to have less in the ‘discretionary’ category, but that puts even more of the load on us First-worlders. Logic tells us that we can create some wiggle room by not maintaining the stuff we’re going to replace with renewable or sustainable stuff. Market forces won’t do that though - it will need top-down orchestration of the kind only seen in wartime.
I’m a great admirer of Angela Merkel, but the moves she’s talking about require voter support; even enlightened leaders can only push a minority line for so long. NZ’S nuclear-free stance, our support for Nelson Mandela, started with minority protestors who were sometimes harshly treated, and ended with poll-watching leaders adopting them. That’s how it goes.
What can we do?
Nobody wants to be the first to sacrifice standard-of-living. That reluctance can be individual, local or national, but given the fact that nobody will end up with much of a standard of living if we all continue as we are, this seems a short-sighted reason, whereas I suspect that leading by example would be the valid strategy.
Given that we are over-carbonemitting, over-consuming, over-depleting and over-polluting, it’s logical that we need to de-carbonise, de-consume, dedeplete and de-pollute. In the process of
The Dunedin meeting on climate
change attracted a big crowd.
There were 350 people present, as counted by Murray.
Jennie having her say.