“Collapse of our civilisations” unless “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”

The climate change debate is ramping up internationally, and there are attempts to get a revolution off the ground here in New Zealand.

Rapid and far reaching changes in all aspects of society? Most people resist even moderate levels of change. And rapid change means high risks of unintended consequences.

Are we facing “the collapse of our civilisations” if we don’t accept rapid change?

Recent world headlines:

Deutsche Welle –  Germany protests call for leadership on climate action

From Berlin to Cologne, protesters have gathered to demand more from the government in the fight against climate change. Greenpeace said Germany must lead, and that means phasing out coal by 2030.

Euronews – COP24: Tens of thousands of climate change protesters march in Brussel

Tens of thousands of climate change protesters marched through Brussels on Sunday as the UN’s COP24 conference began in Poland.

The protest’s organisers estimated a record breaking 75,000 people took part, making it the biggest climate change march to have taken place in Belgium.

“We demand more ambition from our Belgian decision makers on the European and international level,” Climate Coalition Nicolas Van Nuffel said. “But this ambition also needs to be realised at the Belgian level. Since 2012, we have been waiting for a national plan for the climate which implies a strategy, in the short and long term.”

RNZ:  David Attenborough tells UN climate talks ‘time is running out’

The naturalist Sir David Attenborough has said climate change is humanity’s greatest threat in thousands of years.

The broadcaster said it could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of “much of the natural world”.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Katowice, Poland.

Sir David said: “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change.

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Once force behind this rise in activism: Extinction Rebellion

FIGHT FOR LIFE

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. The government has failed to protect us. To survive, it’s going to take everything we’ve got.

Extinction Rebellion is a campaign by the  network. We aim to promote a fundamental change of our political and economic system to one which maximises well-being and minimises harm.

Here in New Zealand last year Jacinda Ardern said that climate change was our new ‘nuclear free moment’, and also talked our climate change stance up at the United nations, but has since been criticised for not matching her words with appropriate action.

(The Spinoff) – What’s behind the surge of new energy in the climate movement?

Tired of the procrastination and timidity of government-led change, climate rage is now ripe for rebellion. Cordelia Lockett explains why. 

All mouth and no trousers. That pretty much sums up New Zealand’s response to climate change. A lot of words but little demonstrable action.

Our new government is promising large but delivering light.

However, that may all be about to change. In the last month, there’s been a sudden surge of new energy in the climate movement. In the United States, several cities (sensibly circumventing any hope of leadership at a federal level) have declared a state of climate emergency. The dynamic new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is championing a visionary Green New Deal: a mobilisation plan to rapidly reduce carbon while simultaneously addressing associated social problems.

Australian kids are skipping school to protest about the climate. And in Britain a new people’s movement has emerged – Extinction Rebellion – which is disrupting the streets and spreading like wildfire.

In early October this year, the IPCC released a special report highlighting the catastrophic consequences of allowing global temperature increase to exceed 1.5 degrees. The tone was stronger and scarier than previous reports, and the wording unequivocal.

To have any hope of getting climate change under control we need to halve emissions by about 2030 and then drive them steadily down to zero by 2050.

And to do so, it says, would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. That sounds to me like systemic change: a social, political and economic transformation, no less.

Our Prime Minister regularly mentions the issue in her speeches, even saying climate change is her generation’s nuclear-free moment. I agree. But where’s the bold programme of policy initiatives to match the strong words and size of the problem? We need leaders who act, not just talk about acting. Let’s do this.

The government needs first to acknowledge the scale and urgency of the problem by declaring a climate emergency and develop a credible plan to decarbonise the economy as quickly and as justly as possible. To do this will require a decent-sized tax on carbon and methane. Cars and cows: a scary agenda for many Kiwis, admittedly.

A massive education and social marketing campaign would help communicate the need for widespread change. This should focus on the financial and other costs of inaction, as well as the multiple benefits of a comprehensive, transition to a fossil-free, climate-protecting society.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a mass movement emerging from the long-standing UK social justice network Rising Up. It’s a response to climate inaction and incrementalism by governments, and instead advocates non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. XR’s radical campaign is sweeping through Europe and beyond. Local groups have cropped up all over the UK, and the spark has already caught fire in Canada, Germany, Sweden, the United States, Australia, Denmark, Czech Republic, France, Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland, Scotland, Spain, Norway, India, Italy, Solomon Islands.

And Aotearoa. Here, there are groups springing up in short order: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Thames, Waihi, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Nelson and Tauranga.

But why now?  Was it that latest IPCC report? Or the WWF announcing that we’ve wiped out 60% of the world’s vertebrate animals? Or the wildfires in California killing 88 people – with 200 still missing – and demolishing a whole township? Or the record-smashing Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures? Or just an idea whose time has come?

The speed of the XR pile-on shows a thirst for something big, a grand project. And collective direct action is a great vessel in which to pour one’s climate-related anger, fear and despair. It’s collegial and energising. Tired of the procrastination and timidity of government-led change and frightened by what is being called a direct existential threat, climate rage finally has a home.

It’s something of a cliche, but New Zealand really could be world-leading in its climate response. We have a vibrant indigenous culture of kaitiakitanga, practical virtues of courage and hard work, moral values of equality and harmony with the environment, and a legacy of taking radical political initiatives which have global impact. We can do it again with the climate crisis. It’s not only necessary: it may just be possible.

Are we heading towards “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”, or, as Attenboriugh claims, we face “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”