ROD CARR reminds me of God. Seriously, that beard. From a distance, in poor light, the God of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling could easily be mistaken for the Chair of the Climate Change Commission (CCC). More to the point, Carr seems to believe he possesses at least some of the powers of the Almighty. How else to explain the “transformational” plans he has developed to meet the, frankly, unachievable goals this government has set itself vis-à-vis greenhouse gas emissions? Contrariwise, maybe that’s exactly the message Carr is trying to send: “From here on in, folks, only divine intervention can save us!”
That the CCC and the Government have got this far without encountering very much in the way of pushback from the public (farmers don’t count as the public) is because New Zealanders have no idea how much their day-to-day lives will be affected if Carr’s masterplan becomes Government policy. Everybody pays lip service to fighting global warming, but beyond occasionally catching a bus, or walking – instead of driving – to the chippie, it’s business as usual. Hardly anyone is prepared for the radical change of lifestyle which Carr’s recommendations would require. So, when the climate change penny finally drops, all hell is going to break loose.
In a country currently engaged in a such a passionate love affair with the SUV, does the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, truly believe New Zealanders are going to embrace electric motor vehicles without a backward glance? Do they seriously expect their political opponents to rise selflessly above all the opportunities for inflicting mortal injuries upon them by telling the voters that although they may not wanna – they hafta?
Four words: Not. Going. To. Happen.
Act’s David Seymour has already indicated the Right’s general direction of travel. He has called for Carr’s report to be thrown into the rubbish bin. Picking apart his response, it’s not difficult to predict the core content of the emerging right-wing narrative.
Carr’s plans are typically elitist in their lofty disregard for the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. Indeed, the burden of this plan of his will fall most heavily upon those Kiwis least able to bear it. Is the cleaner living in South Auckland, who travels miles each day by car to reach her workplace, seriously being asked to buy an electric vehicle? And even if the government finances her into one, how is she supposed to power it up?
When the whole global warming schtick is about not being able to take for granted all the weather events that make it possible to rely on hydro-electric energy and those godawful windmill thingies, what makes Carr and his minions so sure there will be enough electrical energy to keep a vehicle fleet of millions powered up? What if the snows don’t come? What if there’s a prolonged drought? What if the winds fall away to nothing for weeks at a time? I mean, presumably, the scientists call it “climate change” for a reason!
Seymour is also pointing the way, right-wing wise, when he counsels against New Zealand attempting to lead the world in its response to climate change. Why would we want to do that, he asks? What’s wrong with being a “fast follower”? Let others invest the billions in research. Let others develop the technological fix. Why shouldn’t we just do the best we can and await developments?
The Taxpayers’ Union is running a very similar line. This is what Jordan Williams had to say in response to Carr’s recommendations:
You might read in the media that the Commission has softened the hard edges of some of its targets (like electric vehicles and renewable energy). But working through the detail I’m sad to report that the plan doubles down on its most egregious and costly elements. Let me be very clear: this plan will not improve our ability to fight climate change. It deliberately shuns the ‘least cost’ approach and the Emissions Trading Scheme in favour of a ‘transformation’ of the New Zealand economy. This isn’t me saying this. The Commission’s own experts say that the ETS would actually get us to our emissions targets without radical interventions.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? This is going straight to the Right’s happy place, where calm and reasonable folk can say: “Look, we don’t have to change our lives in the way the CCC and the Ardern Government are suggesting. There’s a perfectly sensible scheme already in place. What’s wrong with telling people that if they want to consume a more-than-sensible amount of fossil fuel, then they’ll have to pay for the privilege? What’s wrong with letting the market decide?”
Oh, sure, the likes of Shaw, Marama Davidson and Julie-Anne Genter will wax eloquent about Aotearoa’s responsibility to do all it can to meet its Paris (and, in a few months, Glasgow) targets. They will insist that we have a moral duty to save the planet for our mokopuna. But by then, nobody will be listening. Why? Because the Right will be beating on the deplorable drum.
The deplorable drum? WTF is the deplorable drum? Well, that’s the drum that beats out the message that undermines everything God – I mean Rod – Carr and the Labour Government are trying to do.
And what message is that? The Right’s deplorable – but irrefutable – message is this. Read it and weep.
“Don’t listen to all these greenie idiots. Don’t let all this nonsense about New Zealanders having to step up to the challenge of climate change fool you. To hear people like Carr and Shaw and Ardern tell it, if we sacrifice our way of life, if we pull on the hair shirt of social and economic decline, then somehow we’ll be saved. Somehow, all over these blessed islands of ours, the climate will return to the norms of the Holocene. All BS, of course, because Climate Change is a planetary problem. And do you know how much this country contributes to the emissions that are threatening Mother Earth? No? Well, let me tell you. In 2014, our contribution was just 0.17 percent. That’s right. If we stopped using fossil fuels altogether. If we took ourselves back to the stone age in the name of saving the planet – no one would even notice. The only people who can save the planet are China and the United States. Will they? Well, that’s the only question that really matters, isn’t it? And we can’t answer it.”
A bitter truth? Oh, yes. But prepare to hear it spoken more and more forcefully in the years ahead. As the sun goes down on humanity’s hopes, and not even Rod Carr’s godlike self-confidence can disperse the encroaching darkness, I can’t help recalling the words of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower:
“No reason to get excited”,
The thief he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
The hour is getting late.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 11 June 2021.