Last year was the second warmest on record, and this year could be the planet's hottest, according to a forecast from the [Australian] Bureau of Meteorology, which says uncharacteristically warm conditions are being felt across the northern hemisphere. ABC Online
Sure, it seems pretty cold right now in New Zealand, but as Britain is engulfed in a heat wave we should consider the fact that if we fail to deal with climate change, “Australian scientists have warned half the planet could "simply become too hot" for human habitation by the year 2300.”
So in three hundred years half the planet will have been written off because of humanity’s need to drive luxury 4WDs and holiday on the other side of the world and failure to invest in renewable energies and transition to a low carbon economy.
Even today Pacific Islands are being flooded by rising sea levels. The International Film Festival will feature Briar March’s documentary about the rising tide that is reclaiming the island of Takuu, a tiny low-lying atoll in the South Western Pacific, 250km northeast of Bougainville. Climate change refugees are already beginning to arrive in Bougainville from places like the Carteret Islands which will probably be uninhabitable by 2015.
Climate change so often appears in the news media as an impending catastrophe that cannot be prevented. The sheer scale of the problem and the complexity of the science is enough to make even the most dedicated activist blanch.
However climate change is really no bigger a problem than that of providing universal healthcare or education in an industrial, technologically advanced society. The cost of reducing carbon emissions to safe levels is extremely modest. Nick Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE), and author of the Stern Review on the economic effects of global warming, estimates the cost of dealing with the entire problem at just 2% of the world’s wealth.
Just 2%! Not a lot when you consider half the planet is at stake in 300 years. Not a lot when you consider that eight million people will probably be displaced in the Pacific. And it really doesn’t seem much when you consider the fact that each year the planet spends 2.7 per cent of world gross domestic product on military expenditure. Yet the cries of the environmental refugees seem not to be being heard above the hum of traffic, the din of jets landing and taking off and the buy, buy, buy soundtrack of Western consumer capitalism
As a couple of characters from cult TV show The Wire summed it up,
Bodie: He's a cold motherfucker.
Poot: It's a cold world Bodie.
Bodie: Thought you said it was getting warmer.
Poot: The world goin' one way, people another yo'.
So with the future arriving faster than many would like, what can and should be done in Aotearoa to fight climate change? As Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous President said at a conference of developing nations at the United Nations in May,
The response to global warming is global democracy for life and for the Mother Earth. Let us choose to be clean and active today for the sake all of humanity, not toxic and reactive tomorrow, against nature. Esteemed ambassadors, we have two paths: to save capitalism, or to save life and Mother Earth.
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia in April called for developed countries to cut emissions by 50% by 2020. An ambitious target but one that would give our planet a decent chance of survival. Less ambitious is Nick Smith’s admission that even with the Emissions Trading Scheme coming into force, "Quite frankly, if I only achieve a stop in the growth of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, I'll retire a happy man."
It is easily in the power of Government’s to tackle climate change yet time and again they fail to act the way the people of the Pacific, the people of the world need them to do. Instead of tax cuts for the rich, Smith and Key could have diverted the money into public transport, renewable energies or reforestation. Smith could if he wanted get the importation of rainforest products like Kwila and Palm oil banned in New Zealand. Tropical deforestation is the biggest man-made contributor to global warming, making up some 20% of emissions.
So with things heating up, the task for humanity is to get urgent action on climate change from Governments and corporations. But they won’t move without sustained pressure and activism from thousands of ordinary people. Until a groundswell of popular outrage threatens their power, little will be done, and with the Government’s popularity as high as a stoner, the chances of that happening seem to be slim.
From slim chances popular movements must be built. In New Zealand the commercial release of genetically modified organisms, the fight against the opening of the Marseden B coal fired power station, and the long struggles to save our native rainforests were waged by activists prepared to dedicate their lives and risk their freedoms in defence of the Planet. Between 1997 and 1999 on the South Island’s West Coast environmentalists waged a bitter but ultimately successful campaign against the state owned timber company logging native forests. Using direct action tactics of occupations, helicopter lock-ons and blockades in the forests combined with tireless popular education in the cities, meetings, home visits, stalls and graffiti the campaigners turned a non-issue into an election issue and won the day.
Tirelessly activists worked on the issue up and down the country. In Christchurch forty people stripped to their underwear outside a timber company. In Auckland an anti-logging banner was hung off One Tree Hill’s pine and garnered significant coverage in the press. In Wellington a five metre condom appeared outside Te Papa with the message, “Our virgin forests need protection – Timberlands must withdraw”. Pete Lusk, a long time environmentalist and coaster said of the campaign, “Where your forest is being destroyed, and very fast, you’ve got to take action and do things to speed things up beyond what they’ll normally go.”
Mass direct action and popular education can change the course of history and although the climate justice movement remains small compared to the size of the issue it faces, the history of popular environmental movements in Aotearoa is the history of small beginnings, committed individuals combining the audacity of action with the discipline of organisation. No doubt the tasks of mobilising and increasingly atomised, apathetic and disillusioned public are enormous but the choice we face is stark. Organise and fight now or wave farewell to a habitable planet.
Socialist Aotearoa fights for system change not climate change. Join our Auckland branch by emailing Joe Carolan on email@example.com or our Wellington branch by emailing Omar Hamed on firstname.lastname@example.org