Getting on with the job

Carbon Neutral by 2020: How New Zealanders Can Respond to Climate Change

Carbon Neutral by 2020: How New Zealanders Can Respond to Climate Change is in many ways a cheering book though its title, which was right on the mark when the book was published in 2007, has an aura of faded hope to it now. That fading is largely due to the many New Zealand business and farming leaders who continue to oppose any government move which might be effective in addressing climate change, and a new government which still doesn’t seem to know whether it’s going to take the issue seriously or not.  But the depressing backtracks of government and success of negative lobbying don’t obscure the fact that this book is a sensible publication which accepts the reality and looks at how we can get on with responding to it positively.

The editors are Niki Harrė and Quentin D. Atkinson, both psychologists.  They recognise that climate change is a tough call for the human psyche.  It can seem too big an issue for individuals to affect.  But they want us to own the problem and to find a sense of purpose and belonging in doing so.

They have gathered contributions from a wide range of experts covering many aspects of New Zealand life. The sustainable school programme has large potential for change in community attitudes now and in the future adult population. Housing and home renovation are key elements in reducing energy consumption. The shopping mall of the future offers many opportunities for carbon emission reduction. Computing can contribute on many fronts. The book follows the vision of a carbon neutral New Zealand by 2020 into these and several other segments of our national life – transport, organics, design, ethics, ethical investment, sustainable business, law and political action

What that vision might mean for each segment is pursued in detail, along with the strategies we would need to follow to get us there. In the section on sustainable design, for example, the vision is for a use of resources that does not jeopardise the needs of others on the planet or those of future generations. The strategies include new ways of designing which move us away from the landfill destination to objects designed so that every component can be separated and used again indefinitely.  Interestingly, the writer stresses that design can’t be considered in isolation from our governing and finance systems which militate against such a responsible approach to resources.

This theme of appropriate political and economic settings is never far away.  A central aim of the book is to let individual readers see what they can do in the organisation of their own lives and communities and businesses to contribute towards carbon neutrality. But the various writers are also often fully aware of the wider societal changes that are needed and how we might influence their direction. The chapter on transport, for example, includes steps individuals can take in reducing car use but is largely concerned with the government policy measures needed to change the transport systems so that we have much less need to rely on cars.

It is heartening to read authors in such a wide variety of sectors who are concerned about climate change and have a vision of how it can be addressed in their area of expertise. We need a sense of common concern and common effort in an overwhelmingly important issue. Books such as this reveal a more widespread readiness to confront the crisis than we might credit and encourage us to share in it.

But it remains seriously disappointing that our politicians haven’t come together as they should to communicate solidarity in tackling the questions.  It is hard to see the sort of goals presented in the book achieving realisation without strong governmental support.  So long as government remains tepid there is little chance of the general populace realising that we face a crisis which must be addressed, and little chance of the redirection of the economy which is central to change.  The final chapter of the book is on political activism, which seems to me to continue to be essential for success on the scale required.

This is not the sort of book one should expect to read in one swoop. It has many authors and each section needs separate attention. It could be considered a handbook for readers who want to find ways of engaging with the challenge confronting global society.  The editors have brought together an impressively varied selection of useful material. Publisher Craig Potton have played their part too, not only bringing to the public a book which engages with important issues but also treating it as an opportunity to practise emissions minimisation themselves, as explained in their publisher’s note.

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