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Zero Carbon acts – this is how change happens

Written By: - Date published: 10:31 am, November 8th, 2019 - 51 comments
Categories: activism, climate change, james shaw - Tags: ,

That pretty much sums it up for me. A few other thoughts. I don’t follow the detail of current mainstream responses to the climate crisis (eg the Zero Carbon Act), because I believe there are compelling reasons for industrialised nations to Powerdown (while sharing resources with countries that don’t have the basics of life and wellbeing for their people).

So most of the public discourse that is still centred in green BAU fits into the winning slowly failure category and I see an incredibly frustrating large gap between where we are and what even the left are talking about that needs doing (not to worry deep greenies, the other mahi is being done too and we will be ready when the time comes).

But, I also believe that the problem here is not technological – we have the knowledge, experience, and physical capacity to Powerdown and still live good lives. The problem is social, and consequently political. What interests me then is how social change happens, and how much we can influence this.

The Zero Carbon Act is a big deal because of this. It shifts culture. The line just moved and I can see flow on effects spreading out in a myriad of ways. Think the next twelve months leading into the election and the potential for making it the climate change election.

I cried yesterday when I heard the news that the Bill passed nearly unanimously, because it’s a win against significant odds and because we can’t save the world without actions like this. But beyond all the debate and rationalisations for various positions, I think mostly I cried because of the relief that finally we are doing something. This too shouldn’t be underestimated, the power of hope and relief and the fact that we are emotional beings who respond intuitively to things heading in the right direction.

These shifts in the social and political culture in NZ, the mainstreaming of climate action, can now be backed up throughout society in how we do things, including in government, NGOs with government contracts, workplaces and businesses, schools, communities. This is how change happens. We need at least another 2 terms of a L/G government, and we need more Green Ministers, because they’re the ones committed to doing all the boring policy and implementation work that changes society.

The Act is not the only thing that is needed, but then what we also need right now is for people to understand that governments are following activism on climate action. The Zero Carbon Act will exist because of Generation Zero, decades of work by indigenous peoples, Green parties, climate NGOs, and more lately the School Strikers and Extinction Rebels. We did this, the people, and the Zero Carbon Act makes it easier for the next waves of activism to have more concrete results. This is how change happens.

For those doubtful that the Act is going to help, bear in mind that three years ago when I started writing about climate  change at The Standard, much of my political thinking was around how can we get the general public to take this more seriously? This is no longer the issue, that snowball is rolling. The issue now is how can we build on the gains we have achieved in ways that give us the best possible outcomes?

No doubt many of us will spend the day tossing around ideas about what is and isn’t enough, and yes National are still a bunch of very dangerous, political opportunist, climate denying fools, but let’s also celebrate this victory and remember to talk about how far we’ve come.

Finally, a shout out to James Shaw, who cops a lot of shit from the left and progressives for being a suit. I am immensely grateful for the work he did on this. I see both the weaving of life-affirming green kaupapa throughout this and the commitment to the long, deep work of building something that will last. 

51 comments on “Zero Carbon acts – this is how change happens ”

  1. Sacha 1

    the Bill passed nearly unanimously

    Because Seymour stayed away from the chamber (not for the first time), the vote was officially unanimous. He is such a waste of oxygen.

    • Robert Guyton 1.1

      And producer of CO2 (let's give him some credit!)

      • Sacha 1.1.1

        He will make a good carbon sink.. one day.

        [lprent: And one day you will walk too far over the bounds. I can see that in your future. Can’t you see that as well. ]

        • Sacha

          We are all destined to be useful in that way – for him that will make a change, is all I was noting.

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    The passing of this Bill is a huge blow for the confidence and ideology of the conservative, regressive elements; they'll be spewing, though feeling conflicted, because their team showed "weakness" in going along with the nonsense. They'll be drawing succour though, from the certain knowledge that Simon, Judith and co. will strip the Zero Carbon Bill of everything that might cost them, as soon as they are elected in 2020.

    • weka 2.1

      that is so good, hadn't even thought about that.

      • Sacha 2.1.1

        Remember the Nats have huge amounts of polling research behind decisions like this one. Being cooperative now and ruthlessly gutting the law when next in power must have played best.

        • weka

          good point too. This speaks to quite a weak position yeah? That this is their best move suggests they are losing on the climate politics. And they may be blind to just how strong the climate movement is about to become.

          Important for lefties to take this into account, as Nats go more vicious in their fear.

          • Sacha

            Nats are juggling urban liberal and rural tory interests as they have always done. And yes, the left need to be smart about what to do from here onwards.

        • Sanctuary

          Isn't that what they did to the ETS under Key?

        • Graeme

          That polling would have indicated that the consequences of not supporting the bill would have put their next public polling at a level that would have handed Labour / Green a landslide next year, like in 20's or below.

          For the same reason National won't go near it if they win next year. Simon's threat's are to hang onto that base 20 odd %. I look at a lot of their screeching in the same light, trying to hold the deep base.

          The vote show's two things,

          • Climate has become a third rail issue in New Zealand
          • National might have some conflict between holding it's deep base, and getting elected

          National don’t seem to think strategically any more, it’s all about maintaining the poll rating week by week

    • KJT 2.2

      The blow back on the National sites is comical.

      Any illusions I may have had, that National voters had any intelligence, have been shattered.

    • Bh 2.3

      So when the sun starts it's last days, expands and incinerates the earth, what are we going to do?

      My question is why bother?

      • weka 2.3.1

        That's pretty nihilistic. We can do something about impending suffering and death now, so why not?

        If humans are still around in 7.5 billion years when the earth gets nuked by the sun, I guess we'll have to deal with that. It's not like the situation we are now though.

        • Bh

          Just delaying the inevitable. Mass extinction has happened on earth at least 5 times already – all without human caused climate change. It will happen again…without human caused climate change.

          • weka

            Not sure what your point is, but you should know that I don't allow climate denialism under my posts if that's where you are going.

      • Pat 2.3.2

        4.5 to 5.5 billion years away is a wee bit different than 1 or 2 generations


  3. Booker 3

    I’ve always been impressed by James Shaw’s ability to get stuff done. It seems that some Green members would prefer a leader who takes a harder line, makes good radical sound bites and refuses to deal with the dirty opposition. I’m grateful we’ve got someone who talks to people, gets them on board and gets legislation passed.

    • weka 3.1

      Same. I don't really understand the political position of be more radical in parliament when they've got such minimal power. It's clear that Shaw wants to be more racial but can't. Will be interesting to see what happens are they gain more MPs.

  4. Robert Guyton 4

    Look to Judith Collins' behaviour yesterday, for a heads-up on National's intentions and tenor. Personally, I think they're mistaking the mood of the nation, but we'll see. They may be failing to account for what Labour, Greens etc. will be able to lever in response to their attempts to paint the Bill as too far, too fast. Jacinda set the response in motion yesterday with her, "We won't be slow followers" statement. The Nats are determined to be just that. It will be very difficult/impossible to regress, imo.

    • weka 4.1

      I think so. It would be very bad if National win next year, but if L/G get even one more term the whole ball game will have changed by 2023 and it will be hard to roll back the gains. By 2023 we'll be on to updating the Act.

      • Robert Guyton 4.1.1

        That's right. There will be no actual pain felt by the public as a result of the Zero Carbon Bill as early as 2020, so any advantage the Right might hope to gain will be from scaremongering alone. That's the route they will take, naturally, and the Left will have to counter that. With Jacinda as spokesperson, the Left have a tremendous advantage over the Right in this situation. I feel National will fail to get a rise from anyone other than their own regressive supporters. The Left will win the coming election and the Government will continue with its work.

        • Sacha

          The Nats may still plan to lure Winston First voters away and collapse them below 5%.

          • Robert Guyton

            Simon Bridges called NZ1st, "ignorant" in the House yesterday. Good luck with the luring, Is! But yes, they will try. Winston however, is wiley and will respond in kind.

            • Sacha

              You don't poach another party's voters by saying they're doing a great job. 🙂

              • Robert Guyton

                True. Winston though, is positioning himself as the Farmer's Champion. He's been lolloping pots of money in their direction and pulling on the Green handbrake as hard as he can. He'll do okay.

  5. Stuart Munro. 5

    Not to rain on the parade here, but this is a paper victory thus far. It will be the implementation that determines whether it is really a victory, or a first step on the path to one, or a self-congratulatory exercise that falls woefully short.

    There are a few 'victories' to date that lack follow through – the plastic bags springs to mind. Although the carry bags are gone, single use bags are still everywhere in evidence. There is not, in most cases, even the option of paper ones instead.

    So, let's see some confirming instances of action, so that we have actual cause to celebrate.

    • weka 5.1

      How is removal of one set of very common plastics not a win? Are you suggesting that it's a theoretical victory because other single use plastics are still in use? What about the lessening of plastics pollution as well as the social changes? We all know it's not enough, but how does framing it as not a victory help?

      Re the ZCA, the point of the post was to highlight the value in shifting society as part of system change. Yes, we need to follow that up with concrete actions. I'd be interested in analysis of what the challenges are there for NZ, including some specific examples.

      • Stuart Munro. 5.1.1

        The plastic bag change was moderate and reasonably popular, much better than the proposed plastic bag tax would have been. But that was over a year ago, and further progress ought to be apparent by now. That it is not makes the effort look rather like window dressing.

        The move from a crude extractive economy to a sophisticated light-footed one is a subject worthy of several novel-length treatises. While we remain covertly committed to neoliberal economic norms I'm skeptical that significant reform will even be floated at the political level. Which leaves us, as ever, with the option of small scale investments in the robustness and self-reliance of communities – cooperatives, allotments, shared food forests, conceivably ridesharing aps.

        A strong government intervention might be characterised by significant transport reform, including high speed rail to replace domestic air travel and purpose built efficient coastal shipping. The energy profiles of construction techniques would be reviewed and moves to reduce steel and cement – materials with significant carbon debt – introduced. Composites with long life and/or better decay or recycling routes would edge out existing plastics. But we are at present so backward the OIO is still rubberstamping agricultural land sales as if the capital inflow were somehow desirable.

    • Ad 5.2

      Agree it is all in the implementation. This government almost never does execution well.

      But Shaw's achieved goal of making it cross-Parliamwntary does put it up there with NZSuperfund for longevity.

      It’s also off the election field, which is not so good for the Greens and great for labour.

      • Pat 5.2.1

        "After negotiating with Shaw for about a year, National supported the Bill, but said it would implement the amendments it couldn’t get the Government to budge on, if elected in 2020. It will make these changes within the first 100 days of taking office
        The major change sought is for biogenic methane targets to be set by the independent commission.

        National will also change the law to specifically require the commission to consider economic impacts when providing advice on targets and emissions reductions, and ensure greenhouse gas reduction doesn't occur in a way that threatens food production.


        Off the election field?…i dont think so somehow

        • Ad

          It's off for 2020 because they voted for it.

          Farming gases are now up to farmers to deal with until 2025.

          • Pat

            There is more than that proposed by National if you read their statement….and it will be used as a point of difference for everyones campaign…its a given.

            This issue is as alive as it ever was…there is no consensus

            • Ad

              Well, no reaction from the media so far on their position, and none likely either.

              They're aware as much as anyone that 10% of the population marched.

              None of their proposed tweaks are major, and most just give stronger independence from future party meddling.

              No farmer vote will change as a result of National's support, they've protected their urban vote, and now they can't be attacked from the green side or left of it.

              • Pat

                10%?…I think you'll find more like 3.5%…and few likely potential National voters.

                And no reaction from the media?….theyve all noted the Claytons agreement…and the campaign proper hasnt begun yet…there'll be plenty of positioning to come around this issue and media attention

      • Stuart Munro. 5.2.2

        This government almost never does execution well.

        It's not all their fault – there's been a lot of capacity destruction over the last few decades.

  6. Sacha 6

    Dunedin's new Mayor is concise:

  7. Ad 7

    Are there any policy papers that show what effects this Act will have in, say, 5 years?

    Do they indicate which industrial sectors they will be targeting first, since it won't be agriculture?

  8. observer 8

    Yes, this is a major achievement. Framing the future debate is just as important as the specifics of legislation (the Right did this successfully on economic policy in the late 80s/90s, so even though individual items like CHEs or Employment Contracts Act were changed by an incoming government, that was a case of "hold the line", not undo).

    Sometimes I think some on the left are victims of their own pessimism. Will National want to roll it back? The ideologues, sure. But the pragmatists will want to win elections, and there aren't enough votes in denial.

  9. Ian 9

    I have just been watching the Sky news coverage of the devastating fires in eastern Australia.Our cows belching look like a sparrows fart in comparison to that terrible sight. Canterbury today is brilliant for grass growth and our cows are producing like never before. How will Australia be made to pay for their emissions from bush fires ?

  10. Matiri 10

    Very interesting discussion yesterday with a dairy farmer – we graze his calves and heifers. He asked our thoughts on climate change and 1080 – we said that we agree with the consensus view of scientists as they are better qualified than us to evaluate all of the evidence. He agreed!!

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