More bad news
This week’s news that the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere has reached 415ppm is disturbing for a number of reasons.
The last time this happened was millions of years ago, well before humans or civilisation, when temperatures were much higher, as was the sea level, at around 30 metres higher. What is more disturbing is the rate of increase. It is not linear, it is accelerating.
Maybe it was this that prompted Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese to move that her council declare that climate change is an emergency and should be treated as such in their planning. This move echoes that of the British Labour Party and the intensifying urging of climate scientists.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in New Zealand this week, told a meeting of Ma¯ori and Pasifika youth climate leaders that “nature does not negotiate,” and governments need to adopt four key measures to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 if we want to keep global temperature rises within 1.5C.
His first and perhaps most interesting argument was that we should tax carbon, not wages. This would let market forces drive decarbonisation. We need to stop building coal-fired electricity plants by 2020, and stop using taxpayers’ money to subsidise the fossil fuel industry.
His last point was that we need to move from a ‘grey’ economy to a green one. This makes a lot of sense now that it is cheaper to produce electricity from solar than coal. The Netherlands will end coal power generation and ban all fossil-fuelled cars by 2030.
While all this is good, I am extremely worried that we have not addressed the key fundamental — growth. Firstly, it is impossible to have infinite growth in a finite system (Earth). Secondly, growth and increasing our carbon output are intrinsically linked. We are energy-hungry creatures, and New Zealanders are amongst the world’s worst. We need a total reset around our economic thinking that puts human and planetary welfare at its crux.
Can we thrive without endless growth? Kate Raworth, the author of Donut Economics, says we need to overcome our “global obsession with endless growth in order to save the planet.” In Taranaki this week to address the Just Transitions conference, she said using GDP as a measure of economic success limits our thinking.
While I hold some hope that the upcoming ‘Wellbeing’ Budget will start to address decarbonising our economy, I feel this government has lost some momentum. The Carbon Zero Bill, whose author, Climate Minister James Shaw, admits was “watered down,” got a 0/10 rating from Greenpeace NZ. The Prime Minister seems to have reset her “Climate change is our nuclear-free moment,” as she doesn’t see the same consensus as there was around banning nukes.
While I understand there are people who deny anthropogenic climate change, I know that very few of the younger generation argue with it. Isn’t it ironic that the people who have the most to lose have the least say? Let’s change this!
"We need a total reset around our economic thinking that puts human and planetary welfare at its crux."