The Good Life

To stop the march of cli­mate change, we’d all need to face some un­com­fort­able changes to our stan­dard of liv­ing.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Growing - MUR­RAY GRIM­WOOD

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.”

Quite.

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.

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