Unequivocally claiming climate
His frustration was palpable. Following his party’s first electoral foray, when more than 98% of the populace proved to be impervious, the Rodney candidate declared:
What we need is a decent nuclear accident, then they’ll vote Values.
Sadly, the statement was not meant facetiously, but the candidate wasn’t only delusional about the ability of an environmental catastrophe to mobilise a revolution but also about the deadweight of political inertia, which couldn’t possibly permit a tyro party to sweep to power at its first showing.
Three Mile IslandDeaths: 0 from radiation, ? from stress, ChernobylDeaths: 28 from radiation, in future, speculatively, up to 4000 and FukushimaDeaths: 0 from radiation, 34 from evacuation, 18,434 from Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami subsequently came and went, and, at their last elections, the Green parties of New Zealand and Germany polled 6.3% and 8.9% respectively. The values the New Zealand Values Party espoused in 1972 still don’t underpin any major political party. The Labour Party, with one coalition partner ex-Values and the other avowedly anti-neoliberal, could, with its uncharacteristically charismatic leader, readily rewrite the rule book. So far, though, the asininetoo kind; disingenuous more accurate, but used here too recently neoliberal notion of fiscal responsibility remains dangerously lodged, and the bodies will continue to pile up in leaky hospitals and Māori-filled prisons.
New Zealanders are inordinately proud of their nuclear-free credentials. So, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised the country its climate nuclear-free moment, there was nothing between her and meaningful climate action but her party’s preoccupation with re-election, not even public opinion. Within the five years before Winston Churchill declared war, public opinion in the United Kingdom went from adamantly pro-disarmament, to profoundly pro-defence. What had changed, with the help of Churchill’s incessant warnings, was awareness of the unambiguous signs of Nazi Germany’s intentions.
Many were famously unmoved by the same signs and warnings. Likewise today, those politicians for whom the need to act boldly to limit global warming greater than the already-locked-in 1.5° or the decidedly dangerous 2° is inconvenient, will resist the call for radical climate action even as France falls, or in today’s case, Thwaites Glacier fails—fiscal responsibility trumping the existential imperative to preserve a survivable climate.
Values such as thrift are entirely laudable, and are not at odds with climate action. But self-serving dogmatists have so effectively appropriated that value, in the neoliberal cause, that the cost of any governmental action on climate, such as raising a fossil-fuel excise, is seized on by the unprincipled as the enemy of frugality. But being apologetic in the face of such disingenuity is fatal. Humanity’s better angels must be invoked, by deploying the far more thrilling narrative that is to hand. With species extinctions running at a rate a thousand times higher even before the effects of global warming begin to bite deeply, only mutually assured nuclear destruction comes close as an anthropogenic threat, and, far from being a mere threat, it is the promise that business-as-usual guarantees.
If the Labour-led coalition was, with one voice, to speak frankly about the fecklessness of kicking the climate can down the road for a further three decades and resolve to make Aotearoa the first country to slash growth and emissions, New Zealanders could demonstrate that it can be done. And without throwing anybody on the scrapheap, and that lives were made richer and healthier, and more exciting, into the bargain. Having once been a world leader in democratic and social reform, Aotearoa has squandered the 34 years since 1984 helping lead civilisation down the, persisting, blind alley of neoliberalism. By 1964, the country had already lost its moral compass, prostituting itself as a conscription-free lackey of the United States in Vietnam, and debasing the noble term ally into the men-for-meat bargain. Neoliberalism was bereft of any supporting evidence and had the intellectual rigor of a Romney lamb. At least Robert Muldoon’s eggs-in-one-basket think-big projects were unambiguously designed to benefit the New Zealand economy, even if—with the sole exception the Palmerston North – Te Rapa rail electrification—they were an anathema to Club of Rome thinking. What followed was unabashed fire-sale asset stripping of eye-watering avariciousness.
Even before the United States finally abandoned the gold standard in 1971, the notion that every project commissioned by the New Zealand Government needed to be funded by overseas borrowing has been without merit. Just since the global economic downturn, the United States has printed itself the best part of US$4.5 trillion in quantitative easing. The tragedy, of course, is that that largess, rather than strengthen the already all-powerful whip-hand of the banks that were complicit in causing the downturn, could have built the zero-carbon infrastructure without which greenhouse gas emissions will continue to ratchet up the global thermostat. It would build China 65 times its currently installed nuclear power base, which would close all its coal-burning and other thermal power plants, and conceivably power the electrification of its entire rail and road transport network.
Green quantitative easing was urged ahead of the 21st conference of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Tragically, ‘Climate QE’ failed to take Paris by storm, and global emission rates, having briefly plateaued, are again on the rise. But this failure to act is beyond tragic, it is unconscionable, prolonged and the United Nations, and its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, can fairly be compared with the successive United States administrations that put protection of their credibility ahead of the lives of the people on the ground. Its mission, to paraphrase the Pentagon Papers, has become:
70% To avoid a humiliating UN defeat (to its reputation as the authority on anthropogenic global warming)
Annual deaths, from fossil-fuel-caused urban outdoor air pollution are comparable with the total estimated 3.1 million military and civilian, on all sides, killed during 20 years1955–1975 of the Vietnam conflict. An even greater number die annually, prematurely, from indoor air pollution, in homes where electricity for cooking and heating is unavailable, or unaffordable. In November this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will have been in existence for 30 years. Its fifth assessment report—the sixth is not due until 2022—states:
The collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, if initiated, would add no more than several tenths of a meter during the 21st century (medium confidence).
This is analogous to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara claiming in 1962:
Every quantitative measurement we have shows we’re winning this war.
It wasn’t that McNamara was wrong but that he was skilfully obfuscating. While it may appear preposterous to liken the climate panel to a war-mongering United States administration, it is not the intentions of an agency that it must be judged by, but its impact. The Kennedy and Johnson regimes were motivated by the not entirely irrational—given both recent history and Soviet rhetoric—fear of unstoppable communist expansionism. And while the reform-resistant intergovernmental climate panel doesn’t directly commission fossil-fuel enterprises, it provides United Nations member countries succour while they collectively collude in prolonging the fossil-fuel era. Local councils, for example, can endlessly cite nothing-to-see-here-folks guidelines suggesting sub-1-metre-by-2100 sea-level rise projections. Yet sea-level rise science is in its infancy, and the precautionary principle should be applied. Projections of multi-metre in 50–150-year rises should take precedence over projections based only on coarse historic observations and necessarily unsophisticated modelling—particularly when the fast-moving field of sea-level rise science is producing shock after shock. And, the current recommendations are based on research—which can be a lengthy process in itself—further delayed by the glacial pace of scientific publishing, even before the March 2013 cut-off for accepted papers that forms the basis of a report that has to be relied upon for a further four years. This can mean, between research and recommendation, a delay of 12 years. And, that is before the report has the nutrition is boiled out of it by the political process that intercedes ahead of the policy summaries, which councils and governments then use to justify inaction:
Because of the way it is created, the [Summary for Policymakers] has to be regarded as partly a political document. It contains nothing that has not been approved by the authors, but it was prevented from giving a complete picture as we see it. The deleted information is needed as a basis for making good climate policy.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could yet redeem itself, with the opportunity provided when is was charged by Paris to produce the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. While it is not due to be released until October, a draft has already been leaked suggesting that the 1.5° ship has sailed, however the working-group-1 head of communications—hardly reassuringly—warns that:
The byzantine Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change process requires officials from individual governments to sign off on each of the three working group reports, a model that the United States imposed on the intergovernmental panel’s unfettered predecessor bodies. Not content with nobbling climate scientists to that degree, United States administrations, have either flatly rejected even the timid recommendations that survive the stultifying process, that of the famously incurious President Trump, or taken the mustn’t-scare-the-horses route of President Obama.
On top of the annual 7.3 million deaths and premature deaths due to fossil-fuel and biomass combustion, fossil-fuelled global warming is already directly killing people, with ~70% of 2003 heat wave deaths in Central Paris attributed to it, in the first study to quantify the link. Multiple attempts have been made to forecast future fatalities, typically by the year 2100, under the various warming scenarios. But entirely realistically, there could be an entirely benign outcome, should humanity, collectively, chose to manifest its hardwired propensity for kindness, and refuse to allow self-interested leadership, personified by the turncoat-in-chief Trump, to play the one side off against the other.
Firstly, and most urgent, is for young people to effect an immediate voluntary moratorium on births, to buy the breathing space that could prove critical to the very survival of civilisation, but also to wrest control from the hands of the manipulators of power, whose wealth is hugely reliant upon an ever-growing population and economy. From that point on, the rules of the game are changed, and protecting the most vulnerable from the ravages of extreme climate events becomes humanity’s first and sacred duty. And only by protecting fellow man first will it be possible to collectively care for mankind’s fellow species. Animal rights extremists may revel in their Weatherman ends-justify-the-means rationalisation, but humanity cannot save a survivable planet while divided against itself. Just as the free press stood shoulder-to-shoulder to defeat Nixon’s attempt to shut down the Washington Post, humankind can do the same, to save the only habitable planet within at least 11 light-yearsor 230,000 years’ travel, at the speed of the fastest spacecraft ever launched.
Life cannot exist forever on planet earth. But in the remaining 1–1.5 billion years before the seas boil off into space, the only question humankind needs to ask itself is which is the greatest adventure: The status quo of self-interest where wealthy countries are forced to defend themselves from the increasingly desperate and low-lying, and their limitless legions of martyrs; or choosing, even at this late stage, to make this, civilisation’s finest hour.
While not quite in the league of the Wall Street Journal, the once spectacularly heroic Washington Post, gives safe harbour to its share of shameless serial global warming misinformers. In contrast, under its retiring editor, one of the few great remaining newspapers that still puts news ahead of the mainstream media’s self-imposed role as an ss Titanic puppet show, the Guardian, threw everything at raising awareness of the opportunity Paris presented. Needless to say, fellow editors failed to make a stand, nor any country stepped forth to say:
Thirty years without meaningful climate action! You can all play after-you-no-after-you, but Aotearoa won’t waste another day.
And unequivocally claim the biggest story in 5500 years of civilisation.
Carbon-free footnote Half of America’s carbon-free electricity comes from nuclear. Here’s how to save it.