More bad news

The Northland Age - - Opinion -

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!

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"We need a to­tal re­set around our eco­nomic think­ing that puts hu­man and planetary wel­fare at its crux."

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