ON THE SAME DAY as the IPCC warned us of impending doom, half the country’s lights went out. It was a sign. Like the chilling wailing of air-raid sirens that echoed across London just seconds after Neville Chamberlain told the people of the United Kingdom that their country was at war with Germany, the IPCC report and Transpower’s enforced “load reduction” signalled a shift from one state to the next. Except that no one in charge seemed to notice. Energy Minister Megan Woods huffed and puffed at Genesis Energy, but none of her Labour colleagues were in any hurry to blow the profit-driven electricity market down.
And the Greens? Astonishingly, they were in no greater hurry to call time on profit-driven energy than Labour. Proof – if further proof is needed – that the Greens’ commitment to fighting global warming is about as serious as the Exxon Valdez’s commitment to clean ice. Tragically, there isn’t one member of the current House of Representatives willing to urge the utterly obvious and desperately needed next step: moving Aotearoa-New Zealand on to a war-footing against Climate Change.
Only the assumption of full war powers will equip this, or any other, government with the legal authority necessary to reprioritise the economy and mobilise the population against the existential threat of an overheated world. But, since it is not yet possible, in this country, to point to a flesh-and-blood enemy at the gates (although, one might have thought that all those recent floods came pretty close!) obtaining the electorate’s permission for such a drastic and irrevocable decision will require a bit of fancy political footwork.
Since neither the Labour nor the Green caucus possesses a person with the requisite dancing skills, it will be necessary, from here on, to imagine a Labour-Green Government positively overflowing with politicians who know all the steps and who are willing to make all the necessary moves.
So, it’s Monday night, the PM and her colleagues have their noses deep in the IPCC report and the phone rings. It’s TVNZ’s political editor, Jessica Mutch McKay, asking for comment about the Waikato black-out. Just as soon as everyone calms down, and the Energy Minister stops heaping all manner of unprintable curses upon the heads of Transpower and the profiteering “gentailers”, the Prime Minister suggests that everybody takes a deep breath and spends a few moments considering the extraordinary opportunity which this unique confluence of events has dropped into their lap.
As understanding slowly dawns in her Cabinet’s eyes, the Prime Minister presses on. She suggests that, in the light of the “Code Red” IPCC report, and the abject market failure evident in the deliberate shutting-down of the power-grid across much of New Zealand (not to mention the fact that the Government only got to hear about the blackout from the news media) the Cabinet determine that the re-nationalisation of the entire energy sector is now an urgent necessity.
Naturally, the Labour-Green Government experiences immediate and massive pushback. The National and Act parties are the least of their worries. Most of the pressure comes from the public servants employed by Treasury, MFAT and MBIE. Nobody re-nationalises whole industries anymore, the Cabinet is informed. At least, not with any intention of holding on to them for any longer than it takes to rescue those that are “too big to fail”. Very soon, the officials are leaking like sieves to employer lobby groups, right-wing think tanks and the news media. The whole neoliberal establishment pitches in, confident that the Government will soon buckle under the weight of so much “mainstream” opposition.
The Prime Minister just smiles. This is exactly the response she anticipated, and she is ready with her counter-move. The word is passed along to Greenpeace, Action Station, School Strike 4 Climate and the CTU that the Government could use a little help on the streets. The PM’s spin doctors prepare a list of talking-points to emphasise, in what it hopes will become a popular campaign to re-nationalise the energy sector.
- Hasten the shift from fossil fuels to renewables
- Keep electricity prices under control
- Ease the transition from the internal combustion engine to electrically-powered motor vehicles and facilitate the full electrification of the railway network
- Allow for coherent long-term energy planning
- Simplify the funding and construction of new energy generation facilities
Nobody complained then about the state taking over the economy and asking everybody to play their part in securing victory. And yet, today, with the future of humanity itself hanging in the balance, the promoters of profit and private gain insist that we cannot mount a collective defence against Climate Change. They do not, even at this eleventh hour, understand that we are confronted with the moral equivalent of war – a total war for the survival of life on earth. If we cannot rely upon their co-operation, then we must insist upon their acquiescence. In the war against Climate Change we will not tolerate a fifth column of do-nothing-deniers!
With the cheers of her supporters still ringing in her ears, the Prime Minister drives through the re-nationalisation legislation under urgency. With many voters urging her government to take the next logical step and put the country on a full war-footing (as she hoped they would) the Prime Minister bolsters the already declared Climate Emergency with a comprehensive legislative package giving the Labour-Green Government powers equivalent to those wielded by Labour prime minister Peter Fraser during World War II.
In a Facebook post to her followers, the Prime Minister recalls Winston Churchill’s grim observation that he had nothing to offer the beleaguered British people but “blood, toil, tears and sweat”. Smiling, as only she can, the PM declares:
I am confident that I can spare the Team of Five Million Churchill’s blood, but toil, tears and sweat there will be in abundance. You have my solemn promise, however, that the burden of rescuing our planet will be borne equally. And when we are safe, you may rest assured that the lessons learned in the struggle for tomorrow will not be forgotten.
Now, if we could just lay our hands on 60 or 70 of these “do-something” politicians, then hoping for a cooler future might not seem such a pointless exercise.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 12 August 2021.