Dedicated to democratic climate-action mobilisation and the Mahurangi
Glasgow’s overarching message is a doubling down on the artifice that there is a carbon budget that, provided all countries commit to staying within, will avert dangerous climate disruption. The modelling relied upon for the Glasgow carbon budgets may prove to approximate climate sensitivity. However, the modelling, so heavily relied upon, involves enormous simplifications that ignore vast gaps in present measurements and understanding of mechanisms, nor is there a close analogue from the paleoclimate record as to how this fossil-fuel-accelerated deglaciation might play out. Given just the known unknowns, Glasgow is encouraging humanity to take a gigantic gamble. In short, just how sensitive the climate is to ruinous disruption from the current 149% increase of carbon dioxide levels is highly speculative, as is whether that increased level can be safely geo-engineered downward without precipitating a more wildly disrupted climate than is already locked in. Meanwhile, reducing carbon dioxide emission doesn’t reduce its atmospheric level; it merely reduces the rate at which that level increases. Concurrent with the 149% increase of carbon dioxide, 80 times more powerful20 years after release, which, of course, is the timeframe critical to the climate emergency methane has increased 262%.
The premise that, in conveying the urgency to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the first duty is to avoid any risk of inducing feelings of hopelessness, represents a reckless misuse of behavioural psychology—akin to failing to tackle an oblivious child clear of an ev driver suffering a medical emergency, an analogy, meanwhile, put more passionately by Christiana Figueres:
If a bus were hurtling towards a child in the middle of the road, no one nearby would take merely one step to get that child out of the way. They would rush, at speeds previously unbeknownst to them, using every muscle in their body, to get that child to safety.
Having dithered for four decades, humanity has run out of time to take a mere, desultory step. Not that humanity ever had a lot of time to begin with, in which to procrastinate. By 1979, and the First World Climate Conference, civilisation had been fossil-fuel dependant for more than a century. Replacing fossil-fuel based infrastructure was always going to be an unprecedentedly gargantuan undertaking, and one that required planning.
Planning, however, had become a dirty world. The free market, supposedly, was the smart way of the future. The magic of the free market would ensure that the energy transition was achieved with the greatest efficiency and profitability. No proof required; free-market ideology prevailed. In Aotearoa, at the very time its then 106-year-old Department of Public Works—which had built a hydro-powered national grid system par excellence—needed to be repurposed to electrify everything, politicians of the day had other ideas: Exportingby way of hosting the highly electricity-hungry process of smelting alumina shipped to Aotearoa New Zealand’s hard-won zero-carbon energy, and privatisation. What little of the once-great public organisation that remained by 1996 was sold off—the Clyde Dam project, begun in 1974, its geologically challenged swan song.politicians overruling geologists on the siting of the dam, a less than auspicious start to the project, compounded by a right-wing government replacing a left-wing government’s plans for a low dam, with a high one
Aotearoa has punched above its weight at climate conferences in the past. Ten years ago, Distinguished Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, New Zealand’s first chief science advisor to the prime minister, took a play-to-NZ-strengths concept to Copenhagen and came away with the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. In Glasgow, the concept worthy of the hour would have been Lake Onslow pumped hydro storage, the inspiration of Dr Earl Bardsley, adopted for detailed site investigation by energy-and-resources minister Dr Megan Woods. But rather than that heroic proposal, Mayor Phil Goff and Auckland Transport applied acrylic greenwash with yard brooms, shamelessly styling themselves as zero-carbon-public-transit trailblazers. The dirty fact is that, of Auckland’s fleet of 1360 buses, all but a dozen are diesel. Those few that are electric, are battery-powered—an entirely unsustainable route to the prerequisite electrification of everything, albeit a quantum better use of roads than to clog them with electric cars.
As, potentially, the world’s largest pumped hydro storage scheme, Lake Onslow would transcend virtue signalling and demonstrate how the world really works, or increasingly must. Onslow—it desperately deserves a non-oxymoronic, and indigenous, alternative to NZ Battery Project—is not a blueprint that every country could adopt. But given Aotearoa has been endowed with the topographically serendipitously situated Upper Manorburn and Lake Onslow basins, it would be churlish in the existential extreme, to not deploy them to provide the key storage component in a zero-carbon national grid. Of course, not everybody agrees. The Green Party has barely had a positive word to say about the pumped hydro storage project and, aside from 75.1%-consumer-trust-owned Vector, New Zealand’s power generators and retailers are vehemently opposed. Certainly, for the $4 billion Lake Onslow pumped hydro storage system to make its greatest contribution, the component parts of New Zealand’s national grid would be required to work collaboratively, rather than in price-gouging-cartel competition.
Christiana Figueres’ child-bowling bus analogy is unfortunate in the context of the urgent need to curtail the urban contribution to global emissions. Aside from journey mitigation, buses, particularly if powered intelligently, are the hands-down heroes of the hour, not the villains—Dr Figueres, more topically, might have used self-driving car. Dual-source trolleybuses can be deployed far faster, much less disruptively, and at a fraction of the cost of alternatives such as light rail. Light-rail zealots champion the disruption caused by ripping up perfectly good roads to embed steel rails—in their eyes, anything that forces them off the road is fair in the war on car users. The kind and constructive way to achieve that is not to block, but to prioritise road use for real-world emergency, service, and transit vehicles, not least of all at traffic signalstransit signal priority.
Emergency, of course, is the key word. Despite fantastic, pre-Glasgow claims that the world has longer to act than was thought, the unforgiving reality is likely to be that a perfectly terrible trifecta of high climate sensitivity, mobilisation lag time, and baked-in, cascading warming processes will condemn billions to brutal conditions in which to live and die, or strive to escape. Even if the most sanguine of estimates as to climate sensitivity proved to be accurate, it is unconscionable to regard climate action as a nice-to-have. Regardless of how it is sliced and diced, the big picture is that the very habitability of great regions of the world is on a knife edge. Every action, for decadesprobably, indeed, for centuries to come, must equally be a climate-mobilisation action. The stakes are such that merely ticking the climate box is utterly insufficient. Every action must be prioritised to gain the greatest climate benefit, whilst carbonomicallyto coin a word: carbo- + nomical, from nemein, to manage achieving its proximate task.
The covid-19 response, and that to the global financial crisis, are lessons in how readily license is given kick the climate can down the road. Other cans too, of course, but only climate threatens the very habitability of the planet for 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 and their fellow species. Short of widespread climate inhabitability, would come increasingly authoritarian government—as it stands, a mere 8.4% of people live in full democracies.the United States, which boasts of being the world’s first full democracy (it was not), and the world’s most populous democracy, India, are both assessed in The Global State of Democracy 2021 report as backsliding democracies Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond, in a rallying piece, reflecting on the New Zealand government’s inglorious Glasgow fail, and its Delta capitulation:
With both miqmanaged isolation and quarantine and cop 26, the task of designing our collective responses has been delegated to officials working in silos with obsolete rule books, and this has to change. If ignoring science in a pandemic is life-threatening, ignoring complexity at a time of climate change and collapsing ecosystems puts human survival itself at risk.
While not the earliest response, New Zealand’s, until recently, bucked the sorry, self-defeating herd of nation’s impatience to return to the party, before winning the match, much less the cop 26 series. Dame Anne implores fellow New Zealanders: mauri tū, mauri ora; mauri noho, mauri mate—stand up, and live; sit still and die. With New Zealand’s Labour Party reaffirming its 1984 neoliberal ethos, and its Green Party missing in climate-action-mobilisation action, rather than wait until 2023, the local government elections of 2022 provide an opportunity for politicians to be put on notice that the blah, blah, blah, gag, greenwash of Glasgow will not be forgotten. The 2022 local government elections provide a far more realistic opportunity for the breakthrough of a fit-for-purpose climate-action-mobilisation party than does the general election 2023.
However, to paraphrase the misogynistic Barry Crump line, she’s a hard road finding the perfect leader for a fit-for-purpose climate-action-mobilisation party, short of persuading Greta Thunberg to sail to Aotearoa in time to be naturalised. But there is no time for incrementalism. Not only must the first Māori mayor of Tāmaki Makaurau not be a misogynist, she must also have been conceived considerably more recently than post-war. Perhaps Distinguished Professor Salmond is already mentoring a committed group of wāhinete reo Māori: women firmly grounded in the physics of building zero-carbon energy infrastructure, capable of leading a fiercely credible, climate mob. local-government election campaign.
While the contribution of Aotearoa to global greenhouse-gas emissions is a tiny 0.16%, its population is an even tinier 0.06%, meaning that New Zealanders generate two and a half times more than their ‘share’. Share, in this context of course is share of the blame for rendering regions increasingly hostile, and drowning some of the most fertile and populous places on earth—not to mention loveliest, in a farewell to beaches. The duty of Aotearoa to its smaller and acutely more vulnerable fellow Pacific motute reo Māori: island, or, as in this case, islands is clear and demands decisive climate-action-mobilisation leadership. As an example, the current New Zealand economy is driven by a property and building boom, every aspect of which further driving up its already oversized, egregious emissions contribution. Meantime, its planted forest output is mostly exported, famously as boxing, to aid and abet China to pour unprecedented oceans of concrete. The opportunity to use its precious carbon-sequestering planted-forest-grown timber to build maximumly insulated accommodation modules designed to last for centuries, to wholesomely house young and impoverished Aucklanders and vulnerable Pacific neighbours is profound.
Manufacturing carbon-sequestering accommodation modules is not an industry that will magically evolve from the marketplace, but, like all aspects of mobilising to meet an existential challenge, one that requires deliberateand deliberative planning. And, not only are such actions acutely necessary to avert devastation of diluvian proportions, they are a path to a sustainable prosperity, built on an economy unreliant on unmitigated growth and materialism.
Eversuggested short form of: Every action equal and apposite climate action!y action!
Boris Johnson jets and glides guilt-free cop 26 head-of-state host Boris Johnson confirmed the paucity of his energy understanding in the forward to his government’s net-zero strategy, released on 19 October:
In 2050 we will still be driving cars, flying planes and heating our homes, but our cars will be electric, gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission, allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap, reliable power drawn from the winds of the North Sea.
Johnson’s flippant forward was so at odds with the strategy’s assumptions that an accompanying paper referring to the need to fly less was hastily pulled. The Aviation Environment Federation was scathing:
Boris seems to think that we’ll soon be travelling by unicorn. The idea that by 2050 we’ll be flying ‘guilt free’ on zero emissions planes for long-haul flight has no basis in reality.
A net zero future needs to include less flying, more domestic holidays, and retraining for aviation workers whose jobs are precarious, and that’s the future that the Government should be working towards.
Aviation fuel is about the highest-hanging fossil-fuel fruit. Aviation kerosene is probably the last fuel that needs to be substituted, and all else is virtue-signalling greenwash. The low-hanging fruit is journey mitigation—being too guilty to fly unless family depends upon it—and, following that, deploying electric tugs to minimise airport emissions, not to mention noise and toxins.
Disclosure The author of this article is the secretary of both Mahurangi Action Incorporated and the Mahurangi Coastal Trail Trust, and has voted Māori, more than once. The article published here, however, is that of the editorially independent, independently funded Mahurangi Magazine.