Dem bones disconnected in policy
OPINION: It was while sitting for two days at a High Court hearing that a song from the distant past began to play in my mental jukebox.
The hearing was the judicial review sought by climate activists of the 10-year transport plan, signed off by Auckland Transport, the components of which are forecast to boost carbon emissions by 6%.
The song was the 1947 version of Dem Dry Bones by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians.
The connection – if you’ll pardon the soon-to-be apparent pun – seemed obvious.
The lyrics go: ‘‘Well, your toe bone connected to your foot bone, your foot bone connected to your heel bone’’ and so on up to the head.
Auckland Transport was arguing before the court that its Regional Land Transport Plan was lawful.
Not because it reduced emissions, which it doesn’t, but because it properly connects to all the other statutes, plans and policies that make up the world of transport funding and planning.
In Dem Dry Bones style: ‘‘Your RLTP connected to your LTMA, your LTMA connected to your GPS,’’ and so on.
At a superficial level, somewhere in my mind, the legal argument and the song had fused, as both were connecting bits of something that may be a skeleton, and not a living thing.
Auckland Transport’s lawyer told the judge the agency did not dispute that climate change – global warming – was the most significant issue facing the world, that urgent measures were needed, and transport emissions were a priority.
But, AT argued, that was not the prime focus of the RLTP. Reducing Auckland’s still-rising transport emissions by 64% from 2016 levels, was the job of something else.
Not here, not now, has become a familiar cry as Auckland struggles to get a meaningful programme of climate change under way, as the 2030 deadline for halving emissions edges ever closer.
In 2019, Auckland Council declared a climate emergency. A year later it signed off its Climate Action Plan. But the mayor, Phil Goff, said dedicated funding was something for the following year.
By 2021’s 10-year budget, Covid-19 had arrived and the council’s finances were no longer looking flash, and the idea of a dedicated climate targeted rate, got put off for another year. This year. If it passes.
To my surprise, when I researched Dem Dry Bones, I found it was really a song of hope. I had never known what it was actually about, but it turns out the lyrics have a biblical connection.
The bones were in the Valley of Dry Bones, visited by the prophet Ezekiel, who prophesies their eventual resurrection. A new beginning.
Maybe Auckland’s climate change action new beginning will be the imminent arrival of yet another plan.
The council’s Transport Emissions Reduction Plan will itemise what specific action will be needed to meet the emission reductions committed to. Political courage, and funding permitting.
A High Court judge will rule whether the RLTP was lawful. Either way, the case has highlighted that a plan is just a plan, good or bad.
As it always has been, the answer will be in political leadership and the ability to sell to Aucklanders the story about why the transport status quo is no longer an option.