Over the last few years I’ve documented the current NZ government’s lackadaisical attitude to climate change policy. They’ve gutted the emissions trading scheme and dismantled sensible initiatives, ensuring that NZ emissions are on course to grow steeply. Last night, TV3 News asked three senior cabinet ministers whether they believed in the reality of climate change, and two of the three couldn’t quite find it in their hearts to endorse simple reality. Here’s my transcription of their responses:
Gerry Brownlee (minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Transport, Leader of the House, #3 in the hierarchy):
Well, I think climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say, look, it’s man-made, is an interesting prospect.
Bill English (deputy PM, finance minister, #2 in the hierarchy):
There’s some impact…  we should uncritically follow the Green’s extreme views about these things, well, many of us don’t.
By way of contrast, climate change minister Tim Groser was unequivocal:
Absolutely, the evidence is overwhelming — you’d have to be denying reality…
Given that I’ve been critical of Groser’s stance on NZ climate policy, it’s refreshing that he feels free to be so blunt in his acceptance of the reality of the problem. He is, after all, a skilled diplomat, and knows that if he were to tell the world that climate change was “an interesting prospect”, his peers in the international community would consider him to be a complete tit. It’s perhaps a good job that English and Brownlee don’t have to front up to the world on climate matters, or their self-esteem might suffer.
Here’s a simple explanation of the issue that even a woodwork teacher could understand. The fact of climate change, the reality of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet’s climate system, is not political. Acknowledging that the evidence supporting that position is overwhelming is not a political act. It’s called living in the real world.
The politics is in what you do about it. That’s where the debate is, where international negotiations are proceeding (or not).
The only argument worth having that has any basis in science is how bad it will get, and how soon. There are legitimate differences of opinion about that amongst the people with the most expertise — the earth scientists who study the issue.
But you are not let off the hook of having to devise and implement effective emissions reductions and adaptive strategies by assuming that climate change is somehow not going to be too bad. That would be appalling risk management — akin to underinsuring your house and then lighting a bonfire on the back deck. We need policy that prepares for the worst that climate change can throw at us, while at the same time aiming for emissions reductions that minimise the long term damage.
To do that, we need a government that really understands the gravity of the problem the world confronts. There’s no shortage of evidence, but around the cabinet table there appears to be a considerable lack of willingness to take it seriously. That’s bad management, bad politics and bad government.