SOME STORIES stretch our credulity. Surely, we object, someone is pulling our legs? Nobody could be that dumb. The sort of stories for which my friend, the war correspondent, Jon Stephenson, habitually reserves his pithy quip: “You just couldn’t make this shit up!”
Like the story that came out earlier this week from the Ministry of the Environment. In preparation for the Labour Government’s long-awaited announcements on Climate Change mitigation, some poor soul had drafted a new addition to the Ministry’s webpage headed: “Here are some the actions currently being taken by New Zealand to mitigate against climate change.”
Alongside the bullet points, inserted in anticipation of the Government’s initiatives, this same poor soul had written “Blah Blah Blah”. I say “poor soul” because my assumption is that when he or she inserted “Blah Blah Blah” it was an act of naïve innocence.
The alternative explanation is that the person responsible for this extraordinary blooper was only too aware that “Blah Blah Blah” was the scornful riposte delivered to the assembled representatives of the world’s nation states by the young Swedish founder of School Strike For Climate, Greta Thunberg.
Her point was that the fine sounding phrases of these well-meaning people changed nothing. The promises made, the targets set – and then re-set – were all too familiar to the younger generations she had encouraged to pay attention. They had heard it all before. Accordingly, she angrily disdained to respond in detail to the carefully-crafted speeches of the politicians. As far as she, and the millions she spoke for, and to, were concerned, it was all just – “Blah Blah Blah.”
Meaning that if the Ministry of the Environment employee responsible for this priceless story was aware of Greta’s rhetorical trope, then he or she is in possession of a satirical talent that would, almost certainly, be better appreciated elsewhere. (Unless, of course, the Ministry itself has become as frustrated as Greta – and who could blame it!)
Whatever led to the error (long since expunged from the Ministry’s website) it anticipated to perfection the reaction of most environmentalists to the Government’s “Emissions Reduction Plan” – abbreviated to the rather dyspeptic-sounding “ERP”.
Certainly, its incremental steps and irresponsibly optimistic expectations, left those scientists aware of the urgency now required of not just this government, but all governments, to avoid runaway global warming, fighting off feelings of anger and disappointment. Like the inimitable chanteuse, Peggy Lee, they were left asking, plaintively: “Is That All There Is?”
Is That All There Is? - The inimitable Peggy Lee.
And, sadly, the answer is “Yes.” Because, how could it be anything else? Ours is a democratically elected government, all-too-aware that those who endorsed it so emphatically in 2020 are now ill-disposed to repeat the favour in eighteen months’ time.
Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, knows how to interpret an opinion poll and read a focus-group report. If you ask the voters if they want effective action on Climate Change, they will answer “Yes!” But ask them if they are willing to support the drastic actions required to make a serious difference, and their answer will be an equally emphatic “No!”
Ditto, his colleague. Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s Budget, delivered yesterday afternoon, reflected a very similar reliance on incrementalism, hopeful expectation, and strategic forbearance. Certainly, there was little of sufficient muscularity to grapple with the multiple challenges currently besetting the New Zealand economy. Lifting the burden of debt repayment from the shoulders of the most vulnerable by overseeing a fiercely redistributive reformation of this country’s tax system, may be the most obvious and the most ethical response to the nation’s fiscal crisis, but it is also a response that will collapse what’s left of the Government’s electoral support.
The public’s attitude to death, taxes and Climate Change is remarkably consistent. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die, pay more, or give up their SUV.
The trick of successful democratic government in times of global warming, pestilence, war – and rampant inflation – is to convey the impression of doing something while actually doing very little at all. The job of the politician, when you boil it right down, is to keep the lights on and the ATMs working. If not forever, then until well past the next election.
So, yes, “Blah Blah Blah” is pretty much all that there is. Pretty much all that there’s ever been.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 May 2022.