Coast clear for Labour as the climate action party
Aotearoa’s major political parties share a broadly similar stance on anthropogenic global warming.
In contrast, climate action in Australia and the United States is a deeply partisan business. The ‘invisible substance’ reference of Liberal Party leader and prime ministerial frontrunner, Tony Abbot, comes straight from the climate fundamentalist’s handbook. The full statement is genius in its disingenuity:
It’s a market, a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.
Few understand the complexities of emissions trading schemes. The 1400-page Waxman-Markey bill finally died in the United States Senate four years ago, but even had it passed, it is unlikely to have curtailed fossil fuel use, given that many of its pages were devoted to gifting the biggest polluters a colossal windfall of carbon property rights—Abbot was right to ridicule the market approach, but not, of course, for spurious reason that carbon dioxide is colourless. When the Environmental Protection Agency used a pollutant-trading scheme to tackle sulphur dioxide, emissions fell 43.1%, by the end of 2007. However, over the same period, the European Union achieved a 71% decrease, by the straightforward use of regulation. But it gets worse: The reduction in the United States was not as a result of trading, but of the worst of the emitters—those power utilities that were burning high-sulphur coal—switching to low-sulphur supplies.
The unwitting great-grandfather of pollution trading is iconoclastic economics professor Ronald Coase, whose current mission, at age 102, is the establishment of a definitive economics journal with the refreshingly pre-politically correct title Man and the Economy, dedicated to real world economics—as opposed to the debunked but persisting received ‘science’ of the discipline. Emission-trading’s similarly unwitting grandfathers, Thomas Crocker, John Dales and David Montgomery, meantime, have each denounced its application to the global issue of carbon dioxide, these economists preferring (or preferred, in the case of Dales who died in 2007) a straightforward carbon tax. The hijacking of climate action by neoliberal economists by positing emissions trading as the only game in town is a tragic application of the adage:
Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.
Six years after Aotearoa ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and 10 weeks prior to the end of a nine-year reign, the Labour Party passed an emissions trading scheme. The incoming National Party-led government promptly enacted an election promise to postpone the scheme’s application to agricultural greenhouse gases—rural opposition to ‘the fart tax’ was near universal, never mind that the methane at issue is belched by ruminants, and that is about to be rendered almost inconsequential by permafrost loss, thanks to soaring Arctic temperatures. Be that as it may, National, by its pivotal role in the establishment of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases has done far more than Labour, or the Green Party, to practically address global warming. That its mine, drill and build motorways strategy is simultaneously undoing the careful work of the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, based in Palmerston North, reflects the wider party’s pervading indifference to the global existential crisis.
The third, albeit smaller and younger, major party, the Green Party, is extremely coy about global warming, not mentioning the subject at all in its 2011 election pamphlet, except to suggest:
Transitioning to a low-carbon sustainable economy presents a new opportunity for New Zealanders.
With its ‘For a richer New Zealand’ election campaign, the Green Party comprehensively nailed its neoliberal colours to the mast. This leaves the coast clear for Labour to champion direct climate action and respond to the plight of the most climate-vulnerable, starting at home in the Pacific. As well as heavily taxing the rich, Labour should directly tax carbon and invest in low-carbon infrastructure. With its already high proportion of renewably generated electricity, 77%, Aotearoa could become 100% renewable, and Fonterra would not need to be sullying the 100% brand with its coal mining, nor would Indonesian coal need to be burnt on the banks of the mighty Waikato River.
Provided Labour’s caucus fails to thwart the will of party members, and David Cunliffe is elected party leader, Aotearoa is perfectly positioned to lead the world away from aimless neoliberalism and into decisive climate action. There is much wringing of hands over Labour’s new, almost democratic, means of electing a leader, with many old hands appalled that caucus members no longer hold all the power. Labour Party members of parliament should have no more power than other members, as they already enjoy considerable influence. Be that as it may, the 40% power they wield collectively will probably be insufficient for the anybody-but-Cunliffe faction to prevail. And fortunately for democracy, architects of the new system provided for preference voting, so Shane Jones’ nomination will not act as a spoiler between beltway favourite Grant Robertson and Cunliffe, as it would otherwise have been in this three-way contest. There are, of course, means other than the single transferable vote to determine voter preferences where there are three or more candidates, including runoffs. However, holding rounds of runoffs can be time-consuming and expensive, which is why first-past-the-post was tolerated for so long. And such acceptance of first-past-the-post, despite it often electing the second- or even third-most-preferred candidate, inured practitioners of democracy to patently undemocratic outcomes. It is even a feature of the mixed member system, which should deliver the purest proportional result in respect to party representation. With the addition of preference voting to mixed member proportional, even the issue of party-imposed lists could be addressed, and Aotearoa could boast the world’s best electoral system.
Aotearoa has nothing to lose and everything to play for by becoming the climate action exemplar to the world. With its 100% pure brand severely tarnished and facing an ambient food-mile headwind, becoming a climate action showcase, while simultaneously rebuilding its green credentials, would allow Aotearoa to set its own and the global agenda. While the world has been reluctant to face global warming, this existential threat can only be ignored for a few more years before it becomes an all-pervading issue. It would be now if it were not for the studied indifference of politicians and mainstream media, bought and paid for by fossil fuel interests. But while the fossil-fuel oligarchy feigns unconcern for warming, it is artfully and brazenly insinuating itself as the climate-engineering saviour of a habitable planet.
That David Cunliffe’s nomination speech fails to mention the moral and existential issue of the millennium is unsurprising, if disappointing, considering the considerable focus on it in his Dolphin and the Dole Queue address, which also bravely connects the dots to population:
We are approaching a point where the number of people on the planet will be greater than the earth’s ecosystem can sustain. It’s impossible to know exactly where that point is—some say we have already passed it and are living in deficit; others say it is soon; far too many say they don’t believe it, or just don’t care. But when I look at my two sons, I fear that our generation has failed them. They will inherit a world far more difficult and more treacherous than our own. So, if we care about our kids and grandkids, we must act with moral courage now to give them the best possible chance of navigating this uncertain future.
Regardless of who the Labour membership chooses as leader, and whether caucus chooses to spit in its face, the party will be desperate to lead the next government. In that increasingly likely eventuality, the nation will be a more wholesome place than in the hands of the current unsavoury cadre of ideologues and corporate stooges.