This recently released Ipsos poll was heartening, New Zealanders’ Attitudes & Behaviours Towards Climate Change 2022 (PDF).
Conducted in late May, it asked questions about climate change in the context of the global situation,
Over two thirds of people globally are concerned about the impacts of climate change, both in their own countries and around the world. New Zealanders are the most concerned about the impact of climate change seen globally compared to people in other countries around the world.
There is an increased level of awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. Compared to last year, significantly more New Zealanders recognise that individuals, businesses and government need to act now.
When asked if they were concerned or not concerned about “the impacts of climate change that are already being seen in your country”, 76% of New Zealanders said they are concerned. 81% are concerned about impacts already being seen in other countries.
Rod Oram, in Newsroom talking about the New Zealand political landscape regarding climate action, said this,
Here are three measures of the passion and urgency Kiwi respondents expressed in the survey:
– 65 percent said if the government does not act now to combat climate change, it will be failing the people of New Zealand (up from 57 percent last year)
– 70 percent said if businesses do not act now, they will be failing their employees and customers (up from 60 percent in 2021)
– 73 percent said if individuals do not act now, we will be failing future generations (up from 62 percent)
I’m highlighting these because the numbers have increased since 2021, and are only going increase further as we experience more extreme weather events in New Zealand and globally and people see the need for urgent action.
And that means we are closer to a sociopolitical tipping point that might see things change fast.
Tipping points are the confluence of events that makes sudden or fast change possible. With climate action this means we could start voting for strong climate-progressive governments, or demand improvement of current public transport systems, or come together in communities and implement potent change strategies locally. We might see the kinds of protest and activist movements arising that complement the work being done in the mainstream, pushing the rate of change faster.
One example is how the pandemic has change attitudes towards tourism. We have slow but steady shifts whereby people in high tourism areas are pushing more strongly now for sustainable tourism models rather than a return to the BAU mass, industrial tourism that is anti-resilient, causes climate pollution and undermines local workers through wage suppression and poor or no work agreements.
What if that steady change increases and people start building new models, and then we have another event that limits our capacity to receive large overseas visitor numbers? A large quake would do it. Another pandemic. Another sharp increase in fuel pricing and/or unavailability. At which point local communities may just go fuck it, we need a stable economy and jobs, and do the mahi to make the transition.
The trick about tipping points is you want them to tip in the desired direction. We want rapid change towards government and business action, as well as society adopting regenerative, life affirming approaches to climate. Rather than tipping towards authoritarian governments with the need for a sense of security outweighing action and instead imposing control and retrenching narratives and actions.
The other trick is being prepared for when they happen so we have more control over which way things tip.
In New Zealand we already have a solid institutional foundation for climate action. Rod Oram again,
…we have an overarching legislative framework (the Zero Carbon Act), the first three carbon budgets for the nation (each successively smaller than its predecessor out to 2035), an independent statutory authority to advise and evaluate (the Climate Change Commission) and a so-far skeletal strategic framework for climate action by sectors (the Emissions Reduction Plan).
What we need now is people who are committed to action to be in positions of power, be that government, local government, NGOs, Marae, work places, our own families and social groups.
The potential is for New Zealand to be a world leader on regenerative societal change.
Less good are the bits in the survey about what we are willing to change personally. Low willingness to change behaviours around things like driving, flying and meat consumption isn’t a surprise. Some of this is lack of opportunity: how much does lack of good public transport lead to people saying they won’t change that in the coming year?
And how much is people still believing that change must be led by government? But I also have to wonder how much is people feeling powerless and not seeing that personal change makes a difference.
What we need now are two intertwined narratives that give people clear, proactive pathways for change that will work in their lives: stories of how we can change (all of us), and stories of how things can work out well.