Last week I attended a seminar on climate change and the prospects for the Cancun summit in December. I know that in our post-Copenhagen catatonia we all prefer not to think of climate change, but that will not solve the problem.
The seminar was comprised mainly of government officials, academics and think tank experts. There was a high-level of knowledge and acuity around the table on the subject. The Minister (Groser) came and spoke, then left. There was a general air of malaise in the air, a feeling of fin de siècle, of disempowerment. We were busy with the deck chairs – sorting where they should be arranged – maintaining the system since we only have the system.
I remained silent for nearly all of the meeting but surrendered to a comment at the end. The issue, I suggested, was not one of degree but of kind. We cannot solve climate change by more feverishly re-arranging the deck chairs.
It is a paradigm thing. We can only solve climate change by treating it for what it is – an unprecedented alteration to our human existence on Earth – both causally and consequentially. Unless we step out of one paradigm (business-as-usual but tinkering at the margin to ameliorate the problem) and into another (going onto a war-footing where everything else is subordinate), nothing will change.
The others nodded uncertainly. I understand that, after I left to return to the House, they returned to the deck chairs.
Yesterday I sought to inject a sense of paradigmatic change into the Parliament. I asked a question of Minister Groser about Cancun. He was overseas promoting free trade so Minister Nick Smith responded. We learned from Dr Smith a few things:
- The Govt. remains committed to a global legal agreement with binding cuts.
- It does not expect this to be achieved at Cancun.
- Climate change negotiations are very much the art of the possible, because they require the agreement of over 190 countries on a complex issue.
- New Zealand’s announced cut of 10%-20% off 1990 levels by 2020 is a ‘hugely challenging’ target.
The conclusion is that taming global climate change is an art – the art of what might be possible. It is not possible for New Zealand to go beyond its ’hugely challenging target’, notwithstanding that it is less than half of its required share of the global target.
We are thus authorised by Her Majesty’s loyal ministers to explain to our children, in 20 years’ time, that while we recognised the magnitude of the challenge, we only did what we thought possible at the time.
Sorry, kids, it was not possible to pass on the planet in any kind of decent shape because there were 190 of us, and we found it too damned difficult to get agreement.
As I said in the General Debate that followed, we are all suffering from cognitive dissonance. Every so often, we see the magnitude and imminence of the threat, and it is simply too frightening to accept individually and politically, so we basically return to business and government as usual. We mumble about bigger cuts later and avoid looking into our children’s eyes.
Have mercy upon us.