As I have mentioned before, Jeanette Fitzsimons is one of the very few members of parliament for whom I have the utmost respect. Yesterday she gave her valedictory speech, and showed us yet again what sanity, vision and compassion looks like. The core of the speech was this powerful message:
Yet I have to say, with great sadness, that the big picture has not changed much. This place, on which we pin such hopes as the pinnacle of democracy, has proved itself incapable of responding to the crisis that threatens to overwhelm us. As an institution it is asleep; often in denial; often preoccupied with trivia. When my grandchildren Jasper and Isabella, here in the gallery today, are struggling to bring up their children in thirty years time amid the storms and instability of a changing climate, with little oil left (and that being unaffordable), what will they think of us at the turn of this Millennium? What will they think of a parliament more preoccupied with its own privileges than with the good of humanity? A parliament that spent far more passion and energy on where Bill English parks his car than on where we will get the oil to run it; or on measures to reduce our climate emissions, the pollution of our waterways, the protection of our unique ecosystems and species from extinction? What will they think of governments who had all the information presented to them, who could not claim not to know, but who chose to do nothing?
I have sat here for 13 years weeping at the tragedy of so many people wasting the precious gift of life chasing the mirage of a bigger GDP. What is stopping us, as a species and particularly as a parliament, from seeing the truth that climate change, which has now entered the public consciousness, is only a symptom of a much greater issue? The planet is full its capacity to absorb our wastes and generate our resources is already overstretched and even mining the last national park and Antarctica and damming or draining the last river will not allow us to continue using even more.
There you have it in a nutshell really. Parliament must change. People must change. Probably the best hope for adapting voluntarily begins with redefining what we mean by “success”, both personally and as societies. (A good start would be for society to abandon the flawed GDP measure for something broader such as GPI). But since voluntary change looks increasingly unlikely, my guess is that we will dither and deny until uncontrollable changes are forced on us.
Farewell Jeanette. Thirteen years in parliament turned you into a stateswoman, not a politician.