“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.”

 

NZ scientists call for faster action on climate change

Again the Government is being pressured to live up to it’s hype on climate change. Jacinda Ardern said that climate change was her generation’s ‘nuclear free moment’.

A hundred and fifty ‘academics and researchers’ are ‘demanding bold and urgent action to tackle climate change’.

In August 2017: Jacinda’s speech to Campaign Launch

There will always be those who say it’s too difficult. There will be those who say we are too small, and that pollution and climate change are the price of progress.

They are wrong.

We will take climate change seriously because my Government will be driven by principle, not expediency. And opportunity, not fear.

And there is an opportunity, that we can turn into our advantage, and shape our identity. It is a transition that can, and must, be just.

This is my generation’s nuclear free moment, and I am determined that we will tackle it head on.

Last month (October 2018):  Jacinda Ardern ‘upgrades position’ on climate change as nuclear-free moment

Jacinda Ardern says she has “upgraded my position” on her characterisation of climate change as her generation’s “nuclear-free moment”.

As part of a wide-ranging interview with the Spinoff, the prime minister said the challenge of climate change had one critical difference to the nuclear-movement. Then, “we were unified”, she said. “And yet what we’re doing on climate change – it is just that much harder, because it’s a call to action for everyone. And so I’m hoping we can get to the place of having that same unified moment that we had around nuclear free for climate change.”

It was an elaboration of a position she outlined in a speech to the One Planet Summit in New York last month. Then she identified the “stark difference between the nuclear free movement and climate change: unity”, adding: “In the past we were defined as a nation by the coming together for a cause, and now, as a globe, we need to do the same again. Not because of the benefits of unity, but because of the necessity of it.”

But ‘academics and researchers’ want action rather than words – Top academics call on government to take climate action

One hundred and fifty academics and researchers from around Aotearoa, including Dame Anne Salmond, Emeriti Professors and several Fellows of the Royal Society, have signed a strongly-worded open letter to the Government demanding bold and urgent action to tackle climate change.

I don’t know why Salmond has been highlighted – her own description: Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond, FNAS, FRSNZ, FBA, FAHNZ, DBE, CBE, Department of Māori Studies, University of Auckland.

The letter refers to the recent Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which contains its strongest message yet about the seriousness of the situation and the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5C. The report says we have about 12 years to make the dramatic reduction in global net carbon emissions necessary to get climate change under control. And, it says that to do so will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

“There’s a big gap between the severity of the warnings from the world’s most authoritative scientific body on climate change and the actions of our government. They need to be honest with us about the risks we’re facing and act accordingly” says senior lecturer Cordelia Lockett, who wrote and coordinated the letter.

“Cordelia Lockett, Senior Lecturer, Bridging Education, Unitec”

“Clearly, academics and researchers around the country are deeply concerned about climate breakdown and want the government to act swiftly and decisively.

“But it’s the wider New Zealand public as well. A survey from earlier this year showed that 79 percent of people believed climate action needs to start immediately. A large majority also said we need to meet or exceed our international commitments, and that we should act even if other countries don’t. The message is clear.”

Climate scientist Professor James Renwick:

“This government has shown a commitment to addressing climate change, including the Zero Carbon Bill and steps to limit fossil fuel prospecting, but it needs to ensure that its policies actually produce the deep and lasting emissions reductions required, especially in the transport, industry and agriculture sectors” .

An open letter to the NZ Government urging immediate action on climate change:

We the undersigned, representing diverse academic disciplines, call on the government to take robust and emergency action in response to the deepening ecological crisis. The science is clear, the facts are indisputable, and it is unacceptable to us that future generations in Aotearoa and globally should have to bear the terrifying consequences of climate breakdown.

Infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources is not viable. And yet successive governments have promoted free-market principles which demand rampant consumerism and endless economic growth, thus allowing greenhouse gas emissions to rise. If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is disastrous.

The recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is unequivocal. The world’s leading climate scientists warn that we have only 12 years to halve global emissions and get on track to avoid warming of more than 1.5C and catastrophic environmental breakdown. They have advocated urgent and unprecedented global action. As Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC working group says: “this is the moment and we must act now”. The message could not be clearer.

New Zealand has a history of taking courageous political initiatives which have had global influence. We can, and must, do it again with bold and urgent action on climate. New Zealand could lead the world by immediately developing a data-informed plan for rapid decarbonisation of the economy. We demand that the government meets its duty to protect its citizens from harm and to secure the future for generations to come.

Letter with 150 signatories (.docx)

They describe themselves as ‘top academics’ – I am not able to judge that – but their areas of speciality are diverse, including (words in their descriptions):

  • 1 with ‘climate’
  • 22 with ‘environment’
  • 5 with ‘psychology’
  • 2 with ‘creative arts’
  • 3 with ‘philosophy’
  • 5 with ‘sport’ or ‘physical education’
  • 8 with ‘architecture’
  • 4 with ‘community development’
  • 2 with ‘nursing’
  • 22 with ‘health’

Some have general descriptions that don’t rule out climate expertise.

Diversity of expertise could be a good thing but not all of the academics appear to be ‘top’ in climate science.

Also yesterday: Joint Statement by His Excellency Sebastián Piñera, President of the Republic of Chile, and the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern

The Leaders shared their concerns on climate change, noting the need to take urgent action.  They undertook to work together during the upcoming COP24 in December in Poland, in order to achieve an ambitious outcome that includes clear rules and procedures for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Chile and New Zealand share a common interest in collaborating to develop better climate policies, including carbon pricing mechanisms and developing national legal frameworks that address the specific needs of each country.

Note “noting the need to take urgent action”.

What urgent action is New Zealand taking?