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Challenge to capture voters’ true intent

by | 25 Dec 2011 | MMP | 0 comments

Measuring Arctic methane

If 2010 Was Bad: ‘Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. [2011] is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1000 metres in diameter.’ photographer Dr Igor Semiletov

But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood

It’s the Christmas present the planet doesn’t need.

A signature of runaway global warming is the sudden release of methane from the ice-like clathrate compounds buried in ocean sediments. Such a methane release may have jump-started the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum 56‍ ‍million years ago—the interval is characterised by a mass extinction of marine species. It is the last thing an already appreciably hotter Earth needs and will likely swamp international efforts to limit warming to 2°.

The ‘breakthrough’ at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban 2011 comes as Russian oceanographer Dr Igor Semiletov reports:

Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1000 metres in diameter.

Arctic methane map

Not Just the Arctic: Although methane clathrates are not restricted to the Arctic, that is where ocean temperatures are rising fastest, and where much of the methane clathrate venting presently appears to be occurring. Incredibly, as with ice-sheet melt, science is begrudged the budget necessary to measure global warming comprehensively. Graphic Independant

It’s amazing; I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.

As a greenhouse gas, methane is about 72‍ ‍times more powerful than carbon dioxide, over a 20-year timeframe. And even before the methane release kicked in, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were increasing 10‍ ‍times faster than during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum.

Over the four decades during which global warming warnings have become unequivocal, the studied reluctance of individual nation states to forgo their ‘share’ of the finite fossil-fuel pie has condemned current and future generations to suffering on an unprecedented scale. There is little doubt that were people internationally franchised, they would swiftly vote for the immediate controls on fossil fuel use. But left to individual states, industry lobbies are far too powerful for all-too-corruptible political parties. In Aotearoa, the two largest parties are pro‍–‍ deep sea drilling, and pro‍–‍ coal mining. Even the third, Green, party is intimidated by the all-pervading culture of fossil fuel exploitation, to the extent that it purged its 2011 campaign message of any direct acknowledgement of anthropogenic global warming.

Global Warming's Six Americas chart

Where Were the 27%: Assuming that New Zealanders are as at least as ‘Concerned’ as Americans, and also assuming the ‘Alarmed’ voted for the Green Party, 27% of those who voted failed to do so in a manner that recorded their concern about global warming. Graphic Global Warming’s Six Americas in May 2011

Fortunately for the planet, support for decisive climate action is considerably greater than is indicated by the 11% of the 2011 vote that went to the Green Party—Aotearoa remains mired in two-party adversarial politics, as are most democracies. The election of David Shearer as leader of the roundly defeated Labour Party could help ease New Zealanders, particularly their politicians, out of their habitual goodies and baddies mindset. The former United Nations humanitarian worker called for the committee on poverty, established at the Māori Party’s behest, to be extended across Parliament. But even this newbie politician appears to be rooted to two-party thinking. Rather than accuse John Key of playing politics, he should have bitten the prime minister’s hand off when the latter responded:

Votes at 16 logo

Scotland’s Ready: Some Scottish local councils have already had the courage to enfranchise their 16-year-olds. Otherwise, with Scotland’s four-year electoral cycle, some are nearly 22 before they get to vote for the first time. image Votes at 16 Coalition

I’m more than happy for David Shearer to be a part of the ministerial committee, if he’s happy to give the government confidence and supply.

For all the pretty talk of coalition government, Aotearoa is still governed, as it has been except during the war years, as an elective dictatorship. The hardship, suffering and death that global warming is beginning to unleash will, during this century, dwarf that of the twin great and myriad small wars of the last—there was never a time when the need for grand coalition government was more imperative. First order of business for the 50th Parliament should be to prohibit any new fossil-fuel extraction ventures, followed closely by the ditching of the ill-conceived and now hopelessly emasculated emissions trading scheme, replacing it with a transparent tax on fossil fuels. Perhaps tax is the wrong word. Recent and present generations have happily helped themselves to an inheritance that has to last the habitable life of the planet. Rather than a tax, it should be seen as a payment for minerals extracted that is owed to the future generations whose share is being appropriated. And the legitimate use of that income is to limit damage to the ecosphere that those generations will inherit. Not that a carbon tax is a panacea; for example, world hunger is already exacerbated by the misuse of arable land for biofuel production. It is delusional at best to claim, as neoclassical economists are wont to do, that the climate war can be waged at arm’s length by governments sending price signals to the free market.

Robyn Malcolm

Malcolm X-Factor: Robyn Malcolm, despite precipitating the expected personal slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by opening the 2011 Green Party election campaign, has the necessary charisma to wage the intensity of battle necessary to drive social change and cause a shift in politics. image Stuff

For Parliament to perform democratically in the interests of Aotearoa and the planet, it will need the participation and goodwill of the people. While an impressively diligent 93.74% of eligible New Zealanders were enrolled, only 73.51% voted in the 2011 election, and the percentage of 18–24-year-olds voting would have been considerably less—a mere 62%, in 2002. Given that some young people are approaching their 21st birthday before they are permitted to vote, the voting age could well be lowered to 16, as advocated by the Mana Party and the massive British Votes at 16 movement—some Scottish local councils already allow their 16-year-olds to vote. This would increase the rate of enrolment, thanks to school peer persuasion, and would probably disproportionately improve participation rates. Half of young people surveyed say they would prefer to vote online—no further reason is needed by Aotearoa to catch up with Estonia.

Every practicable ploy should be used to encourage participation in the polls, even the provision for voters unwilling to vote for any of the parties or candidates listed to register an abstention. It is easy to categorise non-voters as apathetic, but there are often strongly held convictions behind decisions taken to not endorse those on offer. Accordingly, provision for write-in candidates and parties should also be made, in order to tease out the reasons behind at least some of what might otherwise be non-votes. For example, a rash of write-ins for Robyn Malcolm and Climate Action might have the Green Party reassessing both its failure to recruit charismatic candidates and its reticence to campaign on climate.

A entirely basic improvement would be to impress potential voters that it was the sacred duty of the electoral process to accurately capture voters’ true intent. The detail of the Waitakere Electorate recount, if it had been incisively covered in the mainstream media, could have done much to educate voters, potential voters, and polling staff. There is no greater waste of vote than those rejected through small-minded pedanticism, contrasted by Judge J G Adams’ thoughtful and generous interpretation of what constituted an unequivocal vote:

Raymond Huo

Recounting His Luck: Third Chinese New Zealander to enter Parliament, in 2008, Raymond Huo on election night was conditionally re-elected, as the lowest-ranked Labour Party list member. But Mr Huo was bumped by fellow Labour candidate Carmel Sepuloni winning the Waitekere Electorate on the special votes, only to live again when the judicial recount lost Labour the electorate seat, thus adding back a 12th list seat. image supplied

In most cases the voter clearly indicates their intention, even those who do not tick. Many adopt a cross; some colour in the appropriate circle; some mark it with a decisive dash, horizontal or vertical; a few place a form dot in the circle. Some merely circled or highlighted the party logo relating to a candidate and, in most cases, I regarded that as sufficiently clear.

Folk who design forms commonly fail to appreciate that most who use them will focus on the task for just a few seconds. Rather than rile about the stupidity of voters who place a cross in the circle beside their preferred candidate or party, instead of the stipulated tick, use the television advertising time to inform and entertain voters and electoral officers alike—an obdurate voter listens dutifully, then proceeds to use other than the prescribed mark! Better yet, allow voters to rank their candidate and party preferences.

The war to avert the worst impacts of global warming will be long and hard; a hundred years or more. To date, the forces of denialism and fossil-fuel-industry self-interest have thwarted the will of democracy. But while the installation of unelected technocrats and the suspension of democratic processes has superficial appeal, that option is not conducive to long-term collective action.

The challenge to capture the true intent of the people must be met.

Evidence-based voter-turnout-decline interventions

Ordered by urgency of deployment 
  1. Year-7–15 voting as curtain-raiser
  2. Universal year-7–15 voting in schools—extended Kids Voting
  3. Election Day enrol-and-vote
  4. Concurrent elections, which will quickly recoup the costs of 1–3, and pay for 4–11
  5. Lifetime licence to vote
  6. Pre-enfranchisement voting
  7. Pre-enfranchisement enrolment
  8. Lowering the age of enfranchisement—currently some turn 21 before being allowed to vote
  9. Fixed, holidayised, Mondayised, and festivalised Election Day
  10. Online voting
  11. Anytime voting*

*If not strictly evidence-based, then at least, strongly evidence-suggested.


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