Holy grails and silver bullets and day-and-half to vote
It’s long since time to jettison the obligatory if-we-don’t-act-on-climate-within-so-many-years exhortation.
Truth is that, since 1988, when not only Dr James Hansen but Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher“we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself” called for climate action, it has never been known with any remote certainty at what point anthropogenic global heating could be curtailed sufficiently to salvage a survivable climate. This is for two fundamental reasons:
The annual rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 60 years is about 100 times faster than previous natural increases, such as those that occurred at the end of the last ice age 11 000–17 000 years ago.
How climate feedbacks will impact in this current live experiment have never been tested. It will only be with the benefit of hindsight that it will be better estimated at what point anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions would have had to be zeroed before positivepositive, in the technical sense that it increases feedbacks, but not positive in its impact on survivability climate feedbacks became unstoppable, short of resorting to excruciatingly high-risk geoengineering interventions.
The second known unknown is how quickly civilisation could mobilise to zero emissions while sustaining life for the population anticipated at any given target date. If that date is 2050, global population is forecast to be 9.7 billion. In 2019 climate action protest has only just begun in earnest, and, at best, some governments have begun changing their rhetoric. Other major countries remain firmly mired in disinformation and denialinfamously, Australia and the United States. None is showing any signs of the at-least-World-War-II-scale mobilisation the situation suggests would be appropriately prudent. These two known unknowns, combined, call for blunt Churchillian we-will-never-surrender, regardless of how cruelly the climate emergency plays out, resolve.
Declaring climate emergency, debating the morality of flying, or of farming beef, might have been useful three decades ago. Civil emergencies are typically declared after a weather or tectonic event has struck. Or if they are declared before, in the case of the former, it is to evacuate or otherwise brace for impact. Climate action mobilisation must use every dayevery day that extreme weather permits to curtail emissions and simultaneously move the most vulnerable out of harm’s way. All this while devising the means to continue feed and shelter all of humanity.
As alluded to at the outset, climate leaders, many of who privately admit to believing the situation is beyond dire, invariably feel compelled to stress that there is just time, if the world acts with urgency. All that can be honestly claimed is that the more urgently and effectively humanity responds, the less grotesquely inhumane will be the outcome. And the single most important change, it is being increasingly acknowledged, is not fewer flights—although that is very important—it is fewer children, as heartrending as that realisation is. But while this fact is no longer seriously challenged, climate leaders consider, rightly, that the having-one-fewer-child response would be too slow to avert catastrophic climate change. What is missing in this assessment, however, is the almost immediately disruptive positive impact of a youth-led global population moratorium.
As Friday-before-last’s 170 000-strong-just-in-Aotearoa global protests demonstrated, youth has the social-media tools and techniques to mobilise. But unless these demonstrations do much more than inconvenience business-as-usual, even the world’s few full democraciesonly 4.5% of global population lives in countries indexed as full democracies will not be moved to replace endless economic growth with urgent climate-action mobilisation. Endless economic growth currently relies upon endless population growth. By pledging to largely forego breeding to save a survivable climate, the law-unto-itself international business community would be forced to respond. And respond they would, as they did at the outbreak of World War II, when governments rapidly began procuring the means to prosecute their mission to defeat authoritarianism. And as for the preoccupation with the future of work, it is hardly as if there will be nothing for the world’s workers to do, performing the unprecedented, lifting-oneself-up-by-one’s-bootstraps task of rapidly replacing fossil-fuel infrastructure globally, whilst using barely any.
Business-as-usual on-site blokes-and-utes building of houses on reinforced concrete slabs, often within metres of sea-level rise—if not sea-level rise and liquefaction—could be replaced almost overnight with sustainable-forest engineered-timber factory produced accommodation fit to be used domestically or shipped to every corner of the planet in need. This is just one constructive purpose Tiwai Point and the below-cost zero-carbon electric power it is pampered with could be put to. State-mobilised responses of this scale will not happen unless power is wrested from the current comfortable cohort that inhabits Parliament. If the youth of Aotearoa declared a global breeding moratorium today and immediately organised concerted voter registrations, a climate-action-mobilising grand-coalition government could conceivably be elected by 21 November 2020.
Even a national breeding moratorium would force New Zealand’s parliament to mobilise climate action. To prevent almost immediate financial stagnation, the government would have two choices: Attract vastly more, wealthy climate migrants, or put young New Zealanders and Pasifika climate migrants to work building sound, zero-carbon infrastructure and planting and tending a resilient, more indigenous landscape and coastline. Given the already egregious wealth inequality, unleashed in the 1980s by the arch-neoliberal Fourth Labour Government—60% of households hold 97% of the wealth—for Aotearoa to choose to subjugate itself and its downtrodden to a future as the bolthole for the rich abandoning the environmentsand particularly the climate of those environments, through their disproportionately heavy carbon lifestyles they have disproportionately helped ruin is unconscionable. Provided youth mobilise the vote, hosting hordes of the carbon obese is unlikely to be politically competitive with climate mobilisation.
If youth is to commit to largely forgoing reproduction, the state must ensure that their penultimate sacrifice is not squandered on initiatives, products and technologies marketed as zero-carbon but achieve little more than salving consciences. Range-extended trolleybuses are the mature, industrial strength solution to suburban transportation, and can require as little as 20% of the route to be strung with overhead wires. The busways are the low-hanging fruit, which Auckland Transport should long since have electrified. Electric cars—self-driving, platooning or otherwise—aside from being their own environmental nightmare, will add hideously to city congestion. Aside from the grid-electrification of public transport vehicles, at-scale trip mitigation is seriously overdue. Many are travelling to work five days a week or more when a once- or twice-weekly, or even fortnightly, face-to-face with bosses would be more than adequate. For most desk-bound, a shared office within walking distance of home would be a hugely healthier option than commuting Monday to Friday, irrespective of how the energy required is produced. In real-world terms, transport other than pedestrian carries considerable cost.
And then there is the physical work of planting trees at scale, whether as substitution for cement and steel or rendering the soon-to-be rapidly inundated 15 000-kilometre coastline more resilient by the planting of the more than one billion trees25% length of coastline x 500 metres @ 1.2 x 1.2 metre spacing = 1.004 billion, mostly pōhutukawa, needed there. While it is conceivable that civil disobedience such as periodically blocking city traffic could induce governments to display more urgency to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, massed species extinctions and human near-extinction surely demands a more imaginative and constructive response than inducing gridlock and mobilising law enforcement operatives at scale. The weakness of resorting to civil disobedience to urge climate action by the state is that the state is not the principal culprit. The state isn’t forcing people to take mid-winter escapes to tropical tourist traps. The state isn’t forcing people to drive cars in parallel to perfectly serviceable public transport. And the state isn’t forcing 70% of New Zealanders to crave to eat avocados imported from Mexico.
Governments, not least that of AotearoaGrant Robertson’s small-government Budget Responsibility Rules, continue to play the zero-sum game of putting the imperative to not scare the financial horses ahead of admitting that climate science is increasingly confirming that there is zero time left avoid substantial death and destruction, but radical decarbonisation must nevertheless be urgently undertaken to mitigate that awful impact. Likewise, the fear of nongovernmental organisations of shocking people into despair and inaction by being coy about how quickly the climate of significant regions of the planet may be rendered unsurvivable is specious, and similarly zero-sum. Meanwhile, civil disobedience stressing human extinction lacks commensurate solutions, but it is also inaccurate—short of succeeding in prematurely boiling off the oceans, Homo sapiens sapiensas opposed to Homo sapiens, to acknowledge Homo sapiens idaltu, and to avoid the more cumbersome alternative of ‘anatomically modern human being’, and for sheer cussedness, will ensure if that any species is to survive it will be its own. What will give people hope, is governmental and nongovernmental organisations urgently undertaking the convincing actions that demonstrate they comprehend just how dire the struggle will be, the deployment of nuclear power generation included.
When, by 2004, 10 years of benthic studies indicated that the Mahurangi, for the likes of cockles and horse mussels, was going to hell in a handcart due to the harbour’s elevated sediment accumulation rate, the regional council spent $3 million on a 5-year kickstart surgically focussed on riparian fencing and planting. While serious shortcomings arose from the too-narrow fixation counting kilometres of riparian fencing, such as where larger land retirements were readily available with less fencing and better stream protection outcomes, the overarching strategy was sound—albeit unaffordable at scale without more economic means of establishing indigenous species. To address the fatal flaw of unaffordable scalability, Mahurangi Action and Dr David Bergin demonstrated beside Sandspit Road, in a world first, that indigenous plants raised by forestry-nursery-style methods established as well as those raised at many times the cost by horticultural-style nurseries.
Trials begun at Sandspit Road in July 2008 were immediately followed another in the Weiti catchment, with the two trials totalling 7000 plants. Then, when word of this reached the Lake Taupō Protection Trust, a further, 10 000-plant trial was funded by it, at Waihaha 2009–2011.
Serendipitously, the nursery approached to raise the plants needed for the trials, Taupō Native Plant Nursery, was already contemplating a return to its open-ground roots to keep up with the burgeoning demand for indigenous plants. Named for the open-ground beds that forestry seedlings are typically raised in, open-ground plants are transplanted bare-rooted. This brutal, unintuitive-sounding method is ultimately kinder to the maturing tree because the plants’ root systems are free of the convolutions induced during the container-confined stages of their growth. Chosen on account of its origins as a state-owned open-ground nursery, producing plants for hydroelectric schemes, the Taupō Native Plant Nursery was selling increasingly large volumes of plants into the Auckland region. The company did purchase a property at Glenbrook and establish a nursery there, but nor was the site sufficiently large or level for open-ground production at scale. By 2018 when the company was put into receivership, the planned gearing up of open-ground production had already been abandoned in favour of smaller, container-raised plants.
Lacking a major indigenous-plant nursery to push the use of open-ground plants, coupled with the reluctance of councils to tread on the toes of established nurseries by setting criteria that would ensure that council funding was used for more cost-effective indigenous-plant establishment, the Mahurangi Harbour and Lake Taupō demonstrations have failed to influence decision makers. So, in the stampede to get One Billion Trees Programme runs on the board, just when proven, economic, at-scale methods should be rolled out, good-old let’s-motorise-the-wheel thinking predominates.
Of the species that could be an open-ground silver bullet, harakekePhormium tenax, flax in New Zealand English is the standout. Extremely forgiving to bare-rooted transplantation, relatively resistant to overtopping by exotic grasses, and the ultimate perch for seed distributing tūī, harakeke is first cab in the rank for direct, inground drilling. Being a monocotyledon, in common with grasses, harakeke is not particular fussed if several seeds germinate in close proximity. This makes it a no-brainer for no-tillage nursery bed drilling, using another World-first in Aotearoa, the Cross Slot system. One of the significant challenges when growing indigenous species by open-ground methods is that few have radiata pine’s ability to survive germination in the open. Tōtara is one tree that, like radiata pine, can readily colonise bare earth, but its much poorer direct-drilling germination rates would leave large gaps in the nursery beds. Harakeke has the same deficiency, but seeding can be doubled-up without multiple germinations at the one intersect being particularly problematic—whereas a multi-stemmed tree plant is a distinctly suboptimal outcome.
Silver bullets, where they work out, can be powerfully, positively disruptive. In contrast, the holy grail of bypassing the nursery and direct-drilling indigenous seed on the final establishment site is proving to be about as elusive as producing zero-carbon energy by nuclear fission. New Zealand’s flora evolved without the competition of exotic grasses. In the many, ongoing direct-drilling trials, where indigenous species have succeeded in germinating, their survival beyond that stage has been notably, lamentably, brief. Life in the great outdoors can be very much harsher than in a nursery, where desiccation from sun and wind can be mitigated. Wind alone will shut down photosynthesis, just when a growing plant needs all the glucose it can get.
Climate action mobilisation demands that every scrap of land not needed for food production or other essential service be planted in carbon-sequestering plants. On erosion-prone ground, along broad riparian margins, and ecological corridors, and in hard-to-harvest locations, these must be indigenous species, to begin to restore the tragic loss of biodiversity that has occurred since the belated arrival of humans in Aotearoa, particularly since the arrival of those who added steel to the arsenal. Elsewhere, however, radiata pine is the silvicultural silver bullet superbo, capable of sequestering unparalleled quantities of carbon, provided the timber harvested is not largely squandered in short-lived applications like the cardboard attached to almost every item marketed, or as paperbacks, periodicals and newspapers.
With two days to go to the closing of the polls for the local government elections, and as the triannual wailing about falling voter turnout climaxes, another opportunity is missed to institute a youth-voting curtain-raiser. Prior to the 2017 general election, the voting-in-schools participating Labour Party candidate for Rodney made polite noises, but upon her election even those trailed off. Every three years a major council spends a fortune on advertising gurus, when what they need to do is roll out the only proven programme to all year-7–15 students rather than the token, fewer-than 4.3%, currently reached. Advertising, such as Wellington City Council’s wasted $129 000 this electionprovisionally 35.29% in 2019 as compared to 45.56% in 2016, and Auckland Council’s drippy 2016 Kombi, is proven not to work, yet no council officer receives an official reprimand for failing to spend half a day researching before epically misspending revenue on concepts lacking a modicum of evidence to suggest they might work.
Meantime, those who haven’t voted because of the inhuman mission of comprehensively voting for the already doomed district health boards should ignore that part of the ballot, vote for one only, young local board candidate, vote against any misogynistic, populist mayoral candidate and return their papers at the Warkworth Library up until midday, Saturday 12 October 2019 or likewise at the Ōrewa Service Centreinformation Auckland Council’s help desk wasn’t able to provide, for all its heart-shaped ballot box frippery.
Then, vote early and often for the first Mayor of Mahurangi. Of course, only the latest vote an individual casts will count, but because somebody votes early, they shouldn’t then be penalised when some late-breaking information causes them to revise their preferences.
Turnout update At of close of play Friday, Aotea – Great Barrier continued to lead in the turnout stakes, with 51.9%, followed again by Waiheke on 43.1% and the Warkworth subdivision of the Rodney Ward still in third place with 42.5%. In 2016 the final top-three turnout order was the same, with Great Barrier on 71.5%, Waiheke 59.8%, and the Warkworth subdivision 53.4%.
Turnout turgidity Turnout in the 2019 Auckland Council election was a fraction below 46% of turnout for the 2017 general election in the regionAuckland Central 79.08%; Botany 72.17%; East Coast Bays 76.44%; Helensville 83.43%; Hunua 80.69%; Mangere 65.1%; Manukau East 62.65%; Manurewa 64.51%; Maungakiekie 75.65%; Mount Albert 81.64%; Mount Roskill 75.44%; New Lynn 75.88%; North Shore 80.17%; Northcote 77.13%; Pakuranga 76.20%; Papakura 76.20%; Tāmaki 80.47%; Te Atatū 75.63%; Rodney 83.68%. The disgrace is that the solution to this sorry contrast—experienced nationwide—has long been known to be concurrent elections. Tantalisingly, the cost savings of holding local and central government elections concurrently would pay for all the evidence-based turnout-decline interventions councils perversely avoid acknowledging, much less petitioning central government to legislate for.
Elect the first Mayor of Mahurangi