Every global thing to gain by taking coalition initiative
Messiah complex is a label few would wish have bestowed. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would likely rather run a Walker mileOlympian Sir John George Walker was the first person to run the mile in under 3:50 minutes than be portrayed as the one who sought to lead the world through the 2020– Pandemic, and through the increasingly unavoidable climate emergency that will make covid-19 look like child’s play. Ardern’s ‘team of five million’, however, is in the unique position of being able to do just that.
Even before abruptly coming up against a re-energised opposition, every instinct of the New Zealand Labour Party will have been to concentrate its efforts on the proximate challenge of being re-elected, come 19 September. Now, the cardinal directive will be to avoid any distraction, grandiose or mundane, that might needlessly expose Ardern to being knocked from her adroitly attained international pedestal. Short term, the countries that first get the wheels back on their economies will be seen as the covid-19 winners. Longer term, however, the champions will be those countries that are demonstrably better prepared for the next, potentially much more deadly, pandemic, and are convincingly on the road to becoming zero-carbon—for example, the wheels are grid-electricity powered.
The new leader of the New Zealand National Party has stated he’s not interested in opposition for opposition’s sake. If he, Todd Muller, substantively makes good on that promise, it would be the first time that a leader of a major New Zealand political party put the last vestiges of first-past-the-post firmly in the past. In 1992, New Zealanders resoundingly voted to replace two-party politicsby a more than 69 percentage-point referendum margin, and embraced proportional representation:
…it being the only example of elite–mass interaction within an established democracy to achieve a more proportional electoral system. Forlornly, however, the two major parties continued to practice an only slightly adapted form of neoliberal-Tweedledum and Tweedledee, two-party politics—a triumph of tribalism over the consensus behaviour non-politicians find as natural as breathing. Having already rejected a coalition response to covid-19, Labour is likely to be loath to add to the new National leader’s traction by offering to collaborate now, but this is exactly what so many of New Zealand’s five million deserve, as they embark upon the long road to rebuild lives and livelihoods.
It is probably unsurprising that New Zealand’s embrace of the most scrupulously proportional form of representation has not seen an end to adversarial politics, given the inherently competitive nature of representative democracy. It is particularly instructive that minor parties of governing coalitions, since the second New Zealand mmp election onward, have fared poorly in the subsequent election. To the Mahurangi Magazine, the solution appears obvious: provide voters with the power not just to determine the party makeup of Parliament, but also to determine which parties should form the governing coalition. In that way, parties seen to be contributing constructively, and refraining from acts of politician ransom, would be mandated to do their best work. At the following election—and with online elections, these should be as frequently as annual—the parties seen to be working constructive would prosper.
The behaviour that is principally responsible for the less-than-universal enthusiasm for its mixed-member proportional system is that of Winston Peters’ tail-wagging-the-dog party, New Zealand First. From the first mmpmixed-member proportional government, eight elections back, Peters’ party has been almost invariably permitted to extract dis proportional concessions from whichever party led the governing coalition. But while the system has been blamed for this rogue-party behaviour, the principal fault lies with the studied determination of the two largest, centrist, parties to refuse to govern togetheralthough the New Zealand National Party is on record offering to co-govern, even when being able to comfortably govern without Labour rather than be dictated to, by a party currently polling less than 3%. Not that the crude and arbitrary 5% threshold can be defended, particularly when it can so readily and elegantly be addressed. Regardless of such reforms, and particularly to formalise the democratisation of coalition dynamics, the currently elected representatives, and those in power after 19 September, with goodwill, could govern Aotearoa collegially in this crisis, and demonstrate that party politics doesn’t forever need to carry the stench of self-interest.
Globally, unarguably, the existential imperative is to go zero-carbon, at scale, at unprecedented speed, whilst embedding the least amount of carbon practicable in the process. If covid-19 has demonstrated anything, going early and going hard is the most pragmatic approach. In the example of the first wave of this pandemic, countries mostly took 10 weeks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 6 January travel watch alert, to lock down. AotearoaNew Zealand took 11 weeks 3 days to lock down, after 60 other countries had already done so. Italy took just 9 weeks, but, tragically, the disease had already taken terrible hold in that country. The 10 weeks of delay to act decisively on covid-19 is probably closely analogous of the 1666 weeks and counting since Dr James Hansen’s congressional testimony, given the wickedly deceptive biospheric latency in responding to greenhouse-gas emissions. What is unquestionably analogous is that the full enormity of anthropogenic global heating, just as with this pandemic and its aftermath, lies ahead of humanity.
Just as the full magnitude of the 2020– Pandemic will only be known in hindsight, including how many waves that might entail, so too is it impossible to know how horrendously hot and wild the climate will become before it peaks. The consequences of downplaying covid-19—downplaying, through to downright, a-little-flu denial—are grotesquely playing out. But as horrendous as pandemics can be, they do play out. Turning up the heat on Planet Earth and then snapping off the control knob, is a whole different kettle of boiled fish. By the time climate returns to its pre-Industrial Revolution state, centuries later, civilisation might be barely recognisable. This real-time experimentation with earth’s climate sensitivity must be curtailed as just quickly and humanely as human intellect and resourcefulness can mobilise. Every additional week of delay not only makes the task more difficult, it risks rendering it wholly unachievable. Any world leader not regularly waking up in a cold sweat, is insufficiently apprised of the real possibility that the climate disruption already locked in will render regions unliveable for billions, on their watch.
Global pandemics were apparently not possible much before the mid-1800s, but of the 16 since then, covid-19 is the sixth this century. The combination of overpopulation and overuse of air travel that has made pandemics the new normal can no longer be ignored. Except that it likely will be; human instinct invariably is to paper over the immediate problem and get back to normal as quickly as possible. Peter Fraser, Labour’s World War II prime minister, attempted to build a United Nations that would create a new world order, only to be vetoed by the major powers, with their insistence on holding onto the main levers of international power:
It is my deep fear that if this fleeting moment is not captured the world will again relapse into a period of disillusionment, despair and doom.
Given that New Zealand’s prime minister is internationally seen as the most effective leader on the planet, Jacinda Ardern could conceivably lead the covid-19–zero-carbon mobilisation. With a groundswell of international support for the strategy, Aotearoa could quickly become a country-scale showcase for a successful zero-carbon economy. The country has a per-capita-carbon-footprint more or less half of either of its covid-19 competitors, Australia and South Korea. But to become the global covid–climate exemplar would require Aotearoa to chart a radically different route than she is currently on. The $50 billion budget just revealed locks young New Zealanders further into a high-carbon, high-debt future. The predictable, deeply reactionary budget will have many climate-concerned seriously questioning whether the Green Party could be a more worthy recipient of their votes, come September. Budget Day images of grinning Labour Party ministers, appallingly unmindful of many lives and livelihoods lost or hanging by a thread, presumably adding to that reappraisal.
New Zealanders are a nation of famously early adopters, most proudly through the quarter-century struggle to become the world’s first full democracy, sparked by Mary Ann Müller:
The change is coming, but why is New Zealand only to follow? Why not take the initiative? She has but to inaugurate this new position, all will applaud. ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.’
If plans for a convincingly pragmatic pathway to a genuinely low-carbon country were to be pulled together, broad support such as that which Peter Fraser’s 1940–45 bipartisan war cabinet enjoyed, could potentially be generated. But it behoves tribalists to put the planet before their non-scientifically supportable proclivities. Renewable-energy religion, for example, mustn’t be permitted to trump zero-carbon-energy pragmatism. Many Green and Labour voters will be praying for Muller to misfire, but he may well succeed in moving the National Party dial to a setting that is kinder to people and planet. An Aotearoa whose leaders universally appeal to the better angels of its people is far more likely to lead the world out of covid-19 and into the mobilisation to meet and mitigate the impacts of an increasingly hostile climate.
In this pandemic and climate emergency, it behoves New Zealand’s two, dominant political parties to earnestly explore the possibility of coalition government. Approval for the Ardern-led government’s response to covid-19 was recently clocked at a well-deserved 84%, which will have most Labour apparatchiks determined to bury National once and for all. But when the fever of covid subsides, it could all too predictably be back to the business-as-usual, race to the party-political bottom, and, to existential-threat runaway greenhouse.
The change is coming; Aotearoa can take the initiative.
Perverted photovoltaic picture Photovoltaic power is unbeatable in some deployments—spectacularly, on the International Space Station where there are no rational alternatives and money is no object. Down to Earth, Costa Rica can go close to a year producing 100% renewable electricity. But rather than that example be an object lesson in the limitations of photovoltaic energy that, with biomass, makes up just 1% of that country’s renewable electricity mix, the Independent illustrates its article on Costa Rica’s achievement with a Getty image of a bank of solar panels. Be that as it may, powering bulldozers, buses, trucks and trains is job for geothermal, hydro, or nuclear, or wind at a pinch.
Letting the inadequate get in the way of the grandiose Putting up with blatantly self-serving party-political behaviour is as unnecessary as it is unconscionable. Radical reform of bought-and-paid-for democracy is demonstrably, dangerously overdue. Aotearoa has everything to gain, globally, by replacing its terminally corrupted campaign finance practices, and by being World-beating by democratising coalition government. In the meantime, there is nothing stopping more of its politicians from behaving with a modicum of grace:
In general, they should avoid being needlessly adversarial while retaining the competitiveness their supporters demand. This means less name-calling. It also means seeking agreement rather than party advantage where possible, and, importantly, showing good grace about it.
Achilles’ Heel of current strategies The following are the two concluding paragraphs of Asymptomatic Transmission, the Achilles’ Heel of Current Strategies to Control Covid-19, published 28 May 2020:
Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the Achilles’ heel of Covid-19 pandemic control through the public health strategies we have currently deployed. Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of Covid-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities such as the one described by Arons et al. strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate. This recommendation for SARS-CoV-2 testing of asymptomatic persons in skilled nursing facilities should most likely be expanded to other congregate living situations, such as prisons and jails (where outbreaks in the United States, whose incarceration rate is much higher than rates in other countries, are increasing), enclosed mental health facilities, and homeless shelters, and to hospitalized inpatients. Current U.S. testing capability must increase immediately for this strategy to be implemented.
Ultimately, the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the United States and the globe, the clear evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic personsArons MM, Hatfield KM, Reddy SC, et al. Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and transmission in a skilled nursing facility. N Engl J Med. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2008457, and the eventual need to relax current social distancing practices argue for broadened SARS-CoV-2 testing to include asymptomatic persons in prioritized settings. These factors also support the case for the general public to use face masks when in crowded outdoor or indoor spaces. This unprecedented pandemic calls for unprecedented measures to achieve its ultimate defeat.