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Retrograde NZ

Written By: - Date published: 3:46 pm, May 4th, 2009 - 18 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags: , ,

I had the pleasure of meeting lauded climate activist and author Bill McKibben this morning. McKibben is in New Zealand as part of a tour encouraging action on climate change, in the lead up to the big UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

He’s a good guy tall, frank and realistic about the distinct possibility of us failing in the quest to save ourselves.

‘We are up to the edge (success is) a long shot, but we do have a very narrow window of opportunity. This is our final exam; so far we’re failing, but we don’t have to put our pencils down quite yet.’

He’s also very frank about how backwards New Zealand is on the issue.

‘New Zealand is retrograde; you’re just not getting it like other countries are. You’re kind of like the US was up until a few months ago. And you’re not like Europe, where the question is ‘how fast can we push this through?’ New Zealand needs to reboot. The conversation has to change .and quickly.’

It is such a delight when high-profile foreigners cotton on to the fact we’re luddites.

McKibben says without hesitation that the climate negotiations in December will be the most important in human history. He points out that the meeting will be too late to prevent global warming; rather what they’ll be talking about is whether we can avoid complete catastrophe.

But while acknowledging the geopolitical imperative for action, he also points out that the real negotiations are infact not between the countries of the world, but between humans and physics and chemistry ‘the problem being that physics and chemistry aren’t going to bargain.’

McKibben was one of the founding members of 350.org the significance of the name being that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the limit for humanity.

‘350 is the magic number; the red line. Any more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and it’s not compatible with life on earth.”

For the record, New Zealand’s proposed stabilisation goal is for greenhouse gasses is no more than 450ppm a level that would mean the annihilation of many low lying states, including most of our Pacific neighbours.

18 comments on “Retrograde NZ”

  1. George Darroch 1

    Head meets wall.

    I’ve been saying this for the last 7 years, and others for a lot longer than me. Guess how much we’ve been listened to by anyone with the power to make decisions? Not all that much, and by the looks of things not much more for a while to come.

    When are people going to start listening? We’ve hung off powerplants, met with MPs, protested on the streets, occupied valleys for years.

    Labour wanted to stay in a comfortable muddle-ground which didn’t actually involve doing much – the thermal ban, late in their term, was one of the few laudable actions they took.

  2. Terry 2

    George, you are right. I supported Labour and campaigned during the last election but now I’m really having my doubts. Climate change is by far the biggest and most dangerous challenge that we face. And yet when one tries to raise awareness with Labour supporters you often get this, silence.

    There have been well over 70 comments on the Mt Albert by-election. 6 comments came after this post, on Melissa Lee. And a dismal one comment on this post. A topic that eclipses the by-election, the supercity, student repayments, public service cuts altogether in importance and no one has got anything to say.

    One Labour supporter recently commented that I had defected to the Greens. I didn’t realise that I had to support one or the other. I have been supporting both but now I’m wondering if there is any point in supporting Labour at all. From the top to the bottom, Labour’s response to the climate change can only be described as weak.

    • George Darroch 2.1

      Well, during the last 6 years Labour couldn’t do what they wanted.

      After 2002 this was because they decided that the Greens were toxic, and chose Dunne instead, who vetoed effective action on climate change. After 2005 it was the same story, as a governing arrangement involving the Maori Party was “political suicide”, and Dunne and Peters had to be kept on side.

      So, you see, there was little that could be Dunne.

      • Terry 2.1.1

        I suppose leadership is more than just making policy and passing bills. Its raising awareness and trying to change things via other channels as well. I was really impressed when Grant Robertson went around New Zealand trying to raise peoples awareness of NZAID (for all the good it did unfortunately). Lianne Dalziel is going around with the issue of selling alcohol.

        I’ve been to forums on climate change organised by Victoria and Otago Universities, by secondary school groups, by Greens. Where are the Labour forums? Are Labour getting behind the 350 campaign?

        If they are going to be leaders they need to be CC literate, if they are CC literate why aren’t they trying to pass on this important information?

    • lprent 2.2

      You always would get a response from me, and I’m strongly labour because they even bother to think about it. There is widespread support for work towards climate change inside people in Labour.

      However they are also very aware that it has to be done bringing the rest of NZ at least part of the way there – otherwise it just get reversed*. To date that change of attitude hasn’t happened. Just look at what the Nats are doing after being voted in – saying that they were going to ‘review’ (ie stall) any action.

      Look at the kinds of dipshit science and comments about science that we see around here whenever the topic is raised. I always remember the thread where icebergs floating past Dunedin became conclusive proof that the world was getting colder. When in fact in a colder world there are bugger all icebergs – the stay attached to ice-sheets. This is an example of the Wishart/Hide school of earth sciences.

      There is a long way to go on educating our citizens. I’m afraid it will probably take some more atrocious weather, or a trade embargo against us. By then it will probably be too late anyway. Get used to bad weather and lots of refugees, plus many pious CCD’s saying it was all everyone else fault that they were so stupid.

      * reversed like Hide’s super-city bill passing under urgency will eventually.

  3. wibblewithoutapause 3

    rats! i didnt hear about this too until too late… Has anyone got a transcript or perhaps could point me towards some commentary of his tour in the press?
    Or are they all too busy planting fear and paranoia amongst us about the shorter term flu conditions?

  4. George Darroch 4

    I congratulate Demeter for bringing up these issues consistently on The Standard.

  5. gingercrush 5

    I see in Australia under a Labor government (why they don’t include a U is beyond me) that they have delayed their ETS till 2011, severely cut emission goals and priced carbon at $10. Of course the big factor is the recession. But why should New Zealand rush to take care of climate change? Particularly, when even if we severely cut emissions we’re so completely reliant on other countries to cut their emissions as they vastly contribute more emissions than we do.

    • George Darroch 5.1

      Why, because the ALP is in the pocket of coal. And is believing the lines of the coal and other mining industries.

    • James 5.2

      @gingercrush “Why should we rush do do anything?”

      You could say the same thing about abolishing slavery or giving women the vote … why rush and be the first to do the right thing when it could be such an inconvenience ?

  6. r0b 6

    But why should New Zealand rush to take care of climate change?

    Because it’s the right thing to do?

    • gingercrush 6.1

      Well I’m in some agreement in that we should do so before other countries economically disadvantage us. But even if we cut all our emissions. World emissions would still be so great that global warming would be a consequence. If emissions will either continue to rise or be high despite what New Zealand does. Meaning if you believe global warming, temperatures will rise and the world will be in trouble. Any cutting back of our emissions isn’t going to save the world.

      Edit: I can’t actually read. You said “Because it’s the right thing to do”, and all I did was provide some economic answer to it.

      • Terry 6.1.1

        So GC, if you realised you were speeding towards a brick wall would you hit the brakes in the last moments in order to mitigate the damage or just keep going?

        I suppose this analogy isn’t fair, it doesn’t take into account the self-interested nature of the driving and it doesn’t account for the people in poorer countries who are probably going to be affected first. Its more like a joyrider taking out a line of school kids on their way towards a brick wall, GTA styles.

        “if you believe global warming, temperatures will rise and the world will be in trouble.”

        Yep, including the tourism industry which is one of the backbones of our economy. Including our whole economy I would imagine.

        But hey, its a sweet ride so lets enjoy it now eh?

        • Tigger

          I keep seeing the current government as Nero, fiddling while we all burn…

          I was disappointed with Labour’s timidity over this issue but heck, I’ll take that over Key and Hide’s approach any day.

  7. Snook 7

    Thank you Demeter for raising this increasingly urgent topic probably for the umpteenth time. How anyone who cares about their own life, that of their children and grandchildren can vote in the promoters of environmental destruction, ie, Nact is beyond me. These guys think that the market will fix everything try that when the oceans are emptied of fish, the soil ruined, water and air fouled and people drop like flies from unbearable temperatures.

    Labour of course is not lily-white but acknowledged the need to reduce carbon emissions by buying back the rail network, at least it’s a start.

    I believe that any party in government in ten years from now will be unpopular on two fronts: one, for not having brought the issue to the attention of the public (who don’t want to hear anything that’s going to pull them out of the consensus trance that everything’s OK she’ll be right mate), and two, for having to impose severe limits on what people may do in every aspect of their lives.

    Any party that wants to have any measure of popularity in the future needs to get the message out. The Greens try but they really need to get right up in people’s minds with the kind of bleak future we can look forward to if we do nothing. I piss a lot of people off about peak oil but hopefully supplies will soon become short and thus expensive as a way to get people to get out of their cars and walking, biking and using public transport thereby mitigating some carbon emissions.

    I suspect that twenty years from now the Maldives and many of the Pacific islands will be uninhabitable and the Netherlands and Bangladesh will have started drowning.

    Dr Peter Lloyd says in his documentary that if the world had three Katrina-type events in one year it would spell the end for the insurance industry. This link is the first of seven:


    Kudos to Gareth Morgan on ‘Sunday’ for dipping into his own pocket, 500k, and sourcing the truth about our predicament re global warming.

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