Thursday 29 November 2018

Where Is The Mass Movement Against Climate Change?

The Way We Were: I was seated in the Auckland Town Hall when Jacinda promised to make climate change her generation’s nuclear-free moment. Like everybody else I roared my approval. But where is the nationwide movement demanding change that matches the extraordinary activism and reach of the Nuclear-Free New Zealand phenomenon.

WHEN JACINDA ANNOUNCED she was having a baby, I was thrilled. What better guarantee could we have of serious government action on the big issues than a prime minister with a tiny and vulnerable child’s future to protect? Well, Neve arrived safely, but the urgent action required to secure her future seems as far away as ever.

I was seated in the Auckland Town Hall when Jacinda promised to make climate change her generation’s nuclear-free moment. Like everybody else I roared my approval. But where is the nationwide movement demanding change that matches the extraordinary activism and reach of the Nuclear-Free New Zealand phenomenon. The latter had a lively presence not only in every major city, but also in every sizable town. The evidence was there for everyone to see as, one after the other, the councils of those towns and cities defiantly declared themselves nuclear-free. Many of those councilors were members of, or strongly supported, the Labour Party.

Just how embedded the nuclear-free movement was in the Labour Party is evidenced by the Fourth Labour Government’s unwillingness to stand in its way. No amount of internal resistance to Rogernomics was able to turn the Lange-Douglas Government from its course. But those same politicians were more willing to face the wrath of Ronald Reagan’s America than the New Zealand peace movement. All Labour’s President, Margaret Wilson, had to do was threaten to convene a Special Conference of the Party to reaffirm Labour’s “No Nukes” policy and the Cabinet rolled over.

But, on the calamitous issue of Climate Change, an issue with as much potential to lay waste human civilisation as an all-out nuclear war, there isn’t the slightest sign of a broad mass movement with the will and the power to force the Coalition Government’s hand. Nor is there the slightest evidence of a well-organised group within the Labour Party itself. No one’s willing to advance the cause of fighting Climate Change from either the stage or the floor of Labour’s annual conferences. In 2018, the members look to the top for inspiration and guidance. On Climate Change, however, they look in vain.

The other thing that’s missing is the sort of grass-roots anti-nuclear education effort that both complimented and drove forward the anti-nuclear movement. New Zealanders researched nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy both individually and in groups. Local libraries ordered in specialist literature. Activists organised public seminars. Voters learned about the futility of civil defence measures and shuddered at the threat of “nuclear winter”. The “experts” thrust forward by the government to justify the status-quo were answered by the peace movement’s own. Against an informed and active citizenry both the National and Labour parties found themselves politically helpless.

If Jacinda is truly determined to make Climate Change her generation’s nuclear-free moment there is plenty she could be doing. For a start, she could use the “bully pulpit” of the prime minister’s office to summon her generation to action. She could fund a nationwide series of “Climate Change Forums” preliminary to the establishment of locally-organised Climate Change action-groups. A “Day of Action” could be announced and every young New Zealander invited to add their body to a nationwide demonstration of their generation’s vital interest in fighting Climate Change.

Within the Labour Party itself the rank-and-file membership could be given official encouragement to debate the best means of addressing Climate Change legislatively. What sort of laws does New Zealand need and in what order should they be introduced? A Special Conference could be called to assess the results and the news media invited to attend every session. The relevant ministers could be required to make themselves available for Q+A sessions. The whole event could be broadcast live on the Internet.

A prime minister determined to make Climate Change her generation’s nuclear-free moment could be doing all of this – and more. By the same token, however, a nation determined to “do something” about Climate Change has no need for guidance from above. The threat of an all-out nuclear exchange between the USA and the Soviet Union, a catastrophe from which no human-being on Earth would emerge unscathed, was all it had taken for hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders to commit themselves to making their country nuclear-free. Why, then, hasn’t the threat of the planet becoming uninhabitable by human-beings been enough to mobilise New Zealand citizens in the same way?

Does the answer lie in a simple lack of faith in the ability of any one person – any single generation – to make any kind of difference? When a left-wing populist government declines to keep its promise to oppose the TPPA. When a Green Party Minister of Conservation refuses to protect her country’s pristine water resources. What realistic hope is there then that people’s voices, people’s votes, can make anything like the difference made by the nuclear-free movement of the early 1980s? Have we entered an age when words and gestures are as plentiful as sparrows, and deeds as rare as Hector’s Dolphins?

When, on some unbearably hot day in the future, Neve asks her mother what she had to say about Climate Change, Jacinda will be able to answer: “Heaps!”. But, when her daughter follows-up her first question with a second; when Neve says: “That’s good, Mum, because everyone loved the way you talked. But what I need to know now is – what did you do?” How will Jacinda respond?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 22 November 2018.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I think to some extent climate change is too big for the human mind, and always seems somewhere out there in the future. And of course human beings do tend to procrastinate. I don't think that anything will be done until the results are so obvious that no one can miss them, and are hitting ordinary people.
It doesn't help that a lot of wealthy people pooh-pooh the idea. Which is interesting considering that many of them are buying bolt holes in countries like New Zealand. I think there are a few idiots who don't believe in it, and a lot of people who play it down for financial reasons while making sure they have a spare house somewhere well above sea level, and in a country that's stable enough to survive without mass disruption.

greywarbler said...

They may have to fence themselves off and live like the groups do in these zombie movies. Maybe we will be like Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, living in trees and preying on the passing, using bushcraft to survive. We have never got over our wild west approach to life I think.

I often wonder how much the offerings on view for tv echo the hidden thoughts and motivations of the public. Crazed zombies driven to throw themselves at the people with resources,; the reality programs trying to reduce their populations by discarding people who don't fit and choosing who is going to be their leader. If you can devise a sufficiently interesting modus operandi you can end up as wealthy as Scientology.

That is what we need for climate change. The sort of approach that led people to give up everything for Jim Jones, or Waco David - they can attract followers, and if appealing to the reasonable part of people's brains doesn't work then perhaps what is needed is to go beyond that, to the regressive child brain longing for parental leadership and comfort.

David Stone said...

We were in Paris last weekend when the Yellow Coats protests at Macron's fuel tax legislation were going on. Two French news channels ran coverage continuously. Pity I didn't pay more attention inFrench classes so long ago. But the relevance is that dealing with climate change is going to hurt. It's going to hurt everyone, and deep inside everyone knows it is going to hurt. Not just other people in other countries, but themselves, in their own everyday lives. By contrast going nuclear free didn't hurt people in New Zealand. We didn't need nuclear power, we had heaps of clean hydro power.
The necessary changes to society , to cities , travel , the economy to reduce fossil fuel consumption are not politically feasible under our economic and political systems, or probably with the world population as it is. It isn't going to happen. Climate change is going to happen.

sumsuch said...

This noodling along Labour Govt. Governed by the advice of Clarkists. Not ready for government, philosophically or practically. Since they keep Douglas in the back cupboard, for example. They bow their heads to neo-liberalism's cap. When the reality our ancestors knew in their marrow says: disproved.

Paul Deacon said...

Chris - the "War on Climate Change" is code for "Tax the Poor".

Why is it, do you think, that taxes imposed in the name of Climate Change are always regressive, hitting the poor hardest? The poorer the household, the higher the proportion of income that is spent on power and petrol.

The "gilets jaunes" protests in France are a response to new taxes imposed (explicitly) in the name of Climate Change.

In Germany, 330,000 households have their electricity cut off each year because they cannot afford to pay the bills. These are the poorest households. Germany's high power prices are imposed explicitly in the name of Climate Change (to subsidise "renewables").

Obama was no different ("Under my plan, energy prices will necessarily skyrocket"). In other words: "Tax the poor until the pips squeak".

Anonymous said...

The climate change issue has always seemed a rare issue, where the sceptics, the Tony Abbott conservatives and Thatcherite successors are right. Whether the scientists are right or wrong, about the likely extent and progress of climate change, the lefts proposed solution are quite inadequate and insufficient to achieve significant carbon reduction. The extent of change required is not democratically possible and the main serious ideas if moving freight again by rail and nuclear power are really failed steam age technology. War, disease and pestilence might provide an interim solution. The real answers lay in a sort of Brave New World and a total population control. Here
in New Zealand and our most similar cousin, the UK we are arguing about ideas and proposals of reintroducing trams and electric trains everywhere and even more unpopular and an expensive cycleway obstacle to the unfetted rights of motorists, Joe blogs and Mrs Bruce trying to cross the cycleway road and its difficult to spot high speed cyclists or skateboarders.New trams and trains had a chance with the public from about 1980-2010 but the window of opportunity has past, this is a much more ordinary country, the age of the babyboomers and their political elite inheritors has passed and the real change makers often post war immigrants from the UK and SA have with their offsprings returned to the Northern hemisphere

James Broadbent said...

Protesting against nuclear weapons, was a gesture only. Although the baby boomers love to past pat themselves on the back about their efforts, they didn't change the world by declaring their suburb nuclear free. Nuclear proliferation has continued since then and we're arguably closer to an exchange than ever. Those will publicised protests had little cost (and little effect). Obviously changing your entire lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint is of greater personal cost. Without personal action any mass street protest would be an empty gesture, and I think everyone realizes it. So no parallel between those two issues really. It's a new generation. Facebook will have more reach than a protest banner.