Thursday 9 December 2021

Sitting Next To Cousin Simon.

The Climate Inactivist’s Tale: “Keeping our eyes on the ‘Big Picture’ is important. The problem, of course, is trying to locate New Zealand in the overall composition. Because, if the ‘Big Picture’ of Greenhouse Gas Emissions covers 1,000 square centimetres of canvass, New Zealand’s share of the surface amounts to just 1.7 square centimetres. You’ve got to get up real close to even see our contribution to the problem.”

EVERY FAMILY HAS ONE. You must know the sort. One of the Baby Boom generation, who desperately wishes he wasn’t. He looks in the mirror and sees more and more grey hairs. His face, too, is changing. Sagging, folding, failing: his increasingly unfamiliar features all appear to have given up resisting the relentless tug of gravity – and old age. But, even as his body surrenders, this guy’s spirit goads him into ever greater feats of ideological derring-do. The man may be getting older, but the ideas he espouses grow younger with every passing year.

If you’re especially unlucky you’ll end up being seated next to this guy – let’s call him Cousin Simon – at Christmas Dinner. Some small inkling of what you’re in for comes from the weird language he speaks. He talks about all sorts of important things happening “in this space” and promises to send the “deets” to your “device”. Far from being reproached by your furrowed brow, he delights in your obvious incomprehension. The two of you may be roughly the same age, but he, at least, remains tuned to the frequency of youth.

Watching him watching the rest of the family, you just know he’s waiting for some poor sod to say something requiring his beneficent intervention. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out who it’s likely to be. Your other cousin, Murray, has been a dairy farmer all his life and has a powerful set of politically incorrect views to prove it. To make matters worse, Murray derives obvious pleasure from winding Simon up.

“You’d be disappointed with the COP26 fiasco, Simon. With the atmosphere warming up, all that hot air was probably the last thing the planet needed! But, for my money, the best story to come out of the whole conference was the news item that Royal Air Force cargo planes had to make dozens and dozens of flights between London and Glasgow to ensure that all the big-wigs had suitably flash limousines in which to travel back and forth to the conference venue. That’s quite a carbon footprint!”

Simon’s brow furrows and he lets out a long sigh.

“Those are the sort of stories climate inactivists seize upon to discredit what is actually the incredibly important work of international gatherings like COP26. It is vital, when discussing Climate Change, Murray, to keep your eyes on the Big Picture.”

Murray’s grin should have warned Simon that he was walking into an ambush.

“Ah, yes, the ‘Big Picture’, you’re so right, Simon. Keeping our eyes on the ‘Big Picture’ is important. The problem, of course, is trying to locate New Zealand in the overall composition. Because, if the ‘Big Picture’ of Greenhouse Gas Emissions covers 1,000 square centimetres of canvass, New Zealand’s share of the surface amounts to just 1.7 square centimetres. You’ve got to get up real close to even see our contribution to the problem. So, if we were to paint over all our GGE sins, it would take a pretty sharp-eyed observer to notice they’d gone.”

Simon shook his head in that infuriating ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ way he has perfected.

“But, Murray, that’s a bit like saying there was no need for New Zealand to have participated in World War II, because our contribution to the final victory over fascism was almost too small to measure. Regardless of our size, we did the best we could – we played our part. Doing our bit in the fight against Climate Change is equally important. Even the smallest of contributions counts for something.”

Murray put down his knife and fork and snorted derisively.

“No, it doesn’t, Simon. And your comparison with World War II just doesn’t hold water. How long do you think New Zealand would have persisted – voluntarily – if its participation in the war effort was rapidly destroying its economy, throwing tens-of-thousands of people out of work, and causing its social fabric to disintegrate? This country did bloody well out of the War. The Brits took everything we could load into a freighter’s hold. But, when fighting achieves nothing but the destruction of everything people hold dear, well, then they stop fighting. How long did the Norwegians hold out? The Belgians? The Dutch? The bloody French? The damage we would have to inflict upon ourselves to make the slightest impact on our emissions is just too great. New Zealanders won’t stand for it.”

Simon stared hard at Murray. The table fell silent.

“So, what are you saying, Murray? That we should just give up?”

Murray sighed.

“What I’m saying, Simon, is that the idea we can ‘do something’ is just nonsense. Our entire civilisation was built by the energy derived from the burning of fossil fuels. Take away its fossil fuel and our civilisation collapses. It’s just that simple, Simon. We simply have no choice but to go on doing what we’ve always done. You shake your head? Well, think about this. Europe is suffering from an acute fuel shortage – and winter is fast approaching. Without heating oil, without natural gas, and, yes, without that terrible stuff called ‘coal’, Europeans will freeze. Do you really think their governments are going to tell them: ‘Rug-up folks! We’re fighting global warming!’ Not a chance. They’re going to keep the lights on and the central heating working – no matter what.”

Simon, was having none of it.

“That’s just bullshit, Murray! Europe has made huge strides in bringing alternative energy sources into the mix. The technology is there – it’s being used right now!”

Murray let loose another guffaw.

“Europe? North America? Australasia? Oh sure. They can play at fighting climate change because all the industrial grunt work is being done in other parts of the planet. Take a look at what powers the machines of China, India, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa – it ain’t windmills and solar panels, Simon – that’s for sure! Don’t you get it? If these ‘workshops of the world’ stop using fossil fuels, then nothing gets made. You think we’ve got ‘supply-chain’ problems now, with Covid? Just wait until another thousand Chinese factories shut down for want of the electricity generated by coal-fired power plants! So, you tell me, Simon: when those factories are no long creating profits, how are the Chinese supposed to pay for New Zealand’s Milk Powder?”

Oh boy! This was about to get just a little too hot for Christmas Day. Thank God Murray’s wife was thinking the same thing.

“Come on everybody, that’s enough politics. Your Christmas Dinner’s getting cold. Murray, why don’t you go and get Simon another glass of chilled Chardonnay. He looks like he could use one!”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 December 2021.


Stu W said...


David George said...

Very good Chris, a text book example of stereotyping, straw manning and sneering in the one essay.

Jack Scrivano said...


Paul Dunmore said...

Cousin Murray needs to check his calculator. If global greenhouse gas emissions were a painting covering 1,000 square cm, NZ's share would be 1.7, not 17.

Put another way, if NZ's past, present and future emissions could magically vanish from the atmosphere, then on the date when sea level would otherwise have risen 1 metre, it would instead have risen only 998.3 millimetres. (My guess is that this date would be 11 May 2142, but I will accept your date if you don't like mine.) By that time, sea level must be rising by at least 10mm a year, because it has to be more than the average rate from now until then. So it will take about 1.7 tenths of a year, or roughly 2 months, to catch up the last 1.7mm and get to 1 metre anyway.

So the most that can be accomplished by NZ's emission reduction programme is to delay sea level rise from mid-May 2142 to mid-July 2142. More than that is out of our power, no matter what policies we adopt. How much damage to our standard of living should we accept in order to accomplish this result?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Paul Dunmore.

Bloody hell, Paul, you're right!

You'd think an experienced dairy farmer like Murray could calculate a simple percentage, wouldn't you?

I'll make the necessary adjustments.

Many thanks for your eagle-eye.

IDC said...

I wouldn't like to sit beside either of your cousins Chris. I am also worried that you are starting to become increasingly like the persona of your cousin Murray.

Barry said...

Too true.

the challenge of climate change has suffered from one big problem and thats the lack of intellectual grunt.

For example anyone who thinks that changing from internal combustion cars to EVs will do anything is dreaming. It may even make both the environment and climate worse. It wont reduce road use and will probably increase the need for fossil fuels - unless nuclear is used. EVs are a mirage.

I recall the TV programme called Dads Army. The Lance Corporal - Jones - who was also the village butcher had a habit - when an unexpected occurrence arrived - of running around in circles yelling "Dont Panic". The "Climate Emergency" groups are doing the same thing except that they are running around in circles saying "lets Panic" - and just like Jones' action it only makes things worse and nothing is achieved.

AB said...

Cousin Simon barely exists. Cousin Murray is everywhere. The notional Cousin Simon might be naive, but Cousin Murray is completely degenerate.

Shane McDowall said...

There is a solution to climate change, nuclear power.

The inevitable reply to this suggestion is "Chernobyl" or "Fukushima".

Greenpeace have asserted that Chernobyl claimed 93,000 lives. The actual figure is...43. Fukushima resulted in exactly one death linked to radiation exposure.The Fukushima tsunami claimed 16,000 lives.

"Safe" hydro power? In 1975 China's Banqiao hydroelectric dam failed, killing over 171,000 people and displaced 11 million others.

"Safe" wind power has claimed more than 100 deaths since the 1990s.

The great thing is our anti-nuclear legislation does not forbid nuclear power plants.

If you are wondering where I got my facts from "The Irrational Ape" by David Robert Grimes. If you have not already read it Chris, I strongly urge you and your readers to read it.

I must say Chris, your portrait of "Cousin Simon" is exactly what I suspect Guerilla Surgeon looks like.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I think that story has the opposite moral to the one you intend. Simon doesn't refute any of Murray's points.

greywarbler said...

David George - your mind seems like a concertina. Expands and contracts.
This was a think piece of the sort that could be heard in many homes this Christmas - we all have to listen to discussions from people who have been vaccinated with a gramophone needle (old Brit joke). But the best reasoning isn't going to make any difference to the broad mass. We need to be aware of the wearying qualities of arguments, which can gain density from mere repetition.

Lewis Carroll's Red Queen rules the day -
“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”\

and, this sounds very wise:
"'So you did, you know,' the Red Queen said to Alice. 'Always speak the truth—think before you speak—and write it down afterwards. '"

David George said...

Thanks Grey, guilty as charged.
Regardless, I don't think these cartoon like representations are particularly helpful, that reducing people to mere avatars of their beliefs and assigning virtue or vice accordingly is a dangerous road to go down. Our media are heavily engaged in that, it's very worrying.

Anyway here's an interesting take on that question (the essence of an essay written with regard to the Covid response but more generally applicable) from Paul Kingsnorth.

Excerpt: "This is the power of stories. A narrative about the world is always a tool - a rough map with which to navigate the complex territory of reality. But the map cannot be mistaken for the territory: if that happens you get stuck in your story, and the story - rather than the reality it points to - begins to dictate your actions".

Odysseus said...

What's this thing you have about dairy farmers Chris?

@ Shane: but climate change is "our nuclear-free moment". She Herself has declared it to be so.

sumsuch said...

Och, aye, tha nu someone cut me off before my stew. A day later consigns it to the dustbin, or maybe you're thinking about my point -- if a NZer's sympathy comes before a NZer's suspicion.

You are a little humourless for a NZer you can admire. But aren't political types terrible? Who had a sense of humour? Taking seriously politics -- these people. The only time we suppress our laughter, for the flatulent practise of politics. Wrong.

sumsuch said...

So you didn't 'edit' my comment about the lack of your positive response to climate change? I didna press 'enter' or it was presented somewhere else?

If you had many brothers like me you'd know about annoying. How it can be familial, which is to say , warm. Acceptance by conflict beneath the ultimate piety of indivisable connection.