On the eve of destruction

This column was published in the Waikato Times on 1 September

Chamerlain In September 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a conference at which Britain and France had agreed to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. He spoke to a crowd outside Downing Street: “I believe it is peace for our time…And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.”

Appeasement was an early attempt to cope with the threat of Nazi Germany.  It’s not my purpose here to make any judgment on its wisdom. The point is that it didn’t remove the threat. Within one year of Chamberlain’s reassurance war had been declared. Within two years the Londoners recommended to sleep quietly in their beds were being blitzed by German bombers and sleeping in air raid shelters.

Why raise this in a column on the Eco-issues page?  Because, prompted by observations in British MP Colin Challen’s recent book Too Little, Too Late, I see the appeasement stage of dealing with Nazism as analagous to what our government is currently offering in the face of climate change. Yes, there is a belated recognition that global warming poses a threat to the future.  But there is also a vain hope that  something less than full engagement with that threat will make it go away.  10 to 20% emissions reduction by 2020, 50% by 2050.  We can all sleep quietly in our beds.

Unfortunately we can’t. There is no safety in emissions reduction at a lower level than the science says is necessary.  At least 40% by 2020 and 90% by 2050 is more like the figure required. The target figures currently being offered by the government simply won’t work. They don’t address the threat seriously enough.

I realise that what New Zealand comes up with on its own won’t make significant difference to the global picture; however seeking to opt out for that reason is not only ethically shameful but also an exemption that we won’t be granted.  Even as a small player our response needs to be in line with what is required of the world at large.

So far it’s not. The reason? The Prime Minister claims the reduction targets the government proposes are as much as we can offer without seriously compromising our economic growth.  I think the economics on which he bases this claim are badly flawed and that he underestimates the resilience and adaptability of the economy.  But even if he were right his claim would be irrelevant.  The threat is the all-important factor and it must be averted even if it did affect our economic growth rate as much as he insists.

What on earth would be the point of delivering our grandchildren in 2050 an economy which had doubled or trebled in value, if with it we delivered them a world set on the path of runaway climate change? A world beset by drought, famine, flood, sea level rise, armed conflict and more.

I have not heard the Prime Minister or the Climate Change Minister Nick Smith say that the targets they propose are adequate to counter the threat.  All I hear is that the targets are as much as we can afford to offer. They talk of balancing competing needs. That’s the wrong way in which to approach the issue.  The threat is immense. The economy must be re-ordered to meet it. And to be effective the first stages have to be under way very soon.  That’s what we should be hearing from the government.  Appeasement won’t work against the reality of climate change.  Don’t tell us to sleep soundly. Mobilise us to the necessary level of change.

24 thoughts on “On the eve of destruction”

  1. The first job of a politician in our system is to get re-elected. Re-ordering the economy is no way a vote winner – don’t expect anything from the government (mainstream parties) any time soon. The current political set up is inadequate for the task.

  2. What a load of dribble, I can’t believe the Waikato times actually printed this.

    “The Prime Minister claims the reduction targets the government proposes are as much as we can offer without seriously compromising our economic growth.”

    Has any nation actually sacrificed a noticeable amount of economic growth in order to reduce emissions? I think the only one would probably be Spain.

    Yet you think NZ should lead the world, with 3rd lowest incomes in Annex-1 (ahead of Ukraine and Russia, EU counted as 1) and 0.2% of global emissions, our prime minister is wrong to not want to follow rather than lead.

    No other nation has taken the kind of measures NZ will have to take to reduce emissions too 1990 let alone below.

    Brian, what is the most drastic action that another nation has taken?

    “I see the appeasement stage of dealing with Nazism as analagous to what our government is currently offering in the face of climate change”

    Thats like saying, “if only Liechtenstein had acted earlier, Hitler may not have been allowed to cause WW2!”

    1. You just don’t get it, do you R2?

      The world has to reduce emissions, or else there will be no economy, global or local.

      You are saying we should not take any action that would pose the slightest threat to the NZ economy.

      But taking no action on climate change poses a 100% threat to the NZ economy, because it will not exist once the global economic system collapses.

      Even if we do nothing, hoping that the rest of the world will solve the problem, do you think they will let us get away with doing nothing just because we are small?

      You may not care if NZ doesn’t have a future, but I do.

  3. R2D2

    I admit to getting on in years, but not as yet to the dribbling stage.

    I don’t know whether you noticed what you were doing, but instead of addressing the reality of the threat of climate change you have diverted to a discussion about whether NZ should do more than anyone else. I’m not interested in that discussion. My focus is on what countries like New Zealand will need to do if the world is to have any hope of averting climate collapse and the disasters which will accompany it. It is craven to evade that by whining about how small we are or how others mightn’t be doing as much as we would be if we were to do anything. In fact there are a number of countries which are showing more resolution than we are, but even that’s beside the point. We need political leadership with a readiness to face up to the reality of what is happening to the climate and the backbone to summon us to appropriate action. Sadly our present leadership seems to be fitting nowombat’s (#1) description. And you align yourself with them.

    1. More than that, though Bryan. It is already clear that Copenhagen will not do enough to avert the worst consequences of warming, thanks to the inactivism of the howling cranks. In a few years time, as the effects of warming really begin to take hold, and nobody can deny what is happening, Copenhagen will likely be re-written, this time with binding commitments handed out to countries, rather than countries just offering to do something. When this happens, the countries that put forward the weakest solutions at Copenhagen will be in the worst position. John Key is actually putting the NZ economy at risk by not doing more now.

      1. Yes that too CTG. I don’t disagree. And we’ll deserve all that we get if we balk at this first hurdle. But I’d still like to think we could produce a leadership that would summon us because of what threatens the human future, not reluctantly because we’ll be punished if we don’t join up. However the latter motivation may well have to serve if the former is too much to ask.

        1. We are also well placed in NZ to be one of the first to make a complete transformation away from the carbon economy, given our already high use of renewable energy. If we were to make a strong push now, we would be able to sell the technology and expertise we gain from that experience overseas. Another plus side that Key et al conveniently forgot to include in the figures.

    2. “I don’t know whether you noticed what you were doing, but instead of addressing the reality of the threat of climate change you have diverted to a discussion about whether NZ should do more than anyone else.”

      Earlier: “I see the appeasement stage of dealing with Nazism as analagous to what our government is currently offering in the face of climate change. ”

      Hmmm, the thread is saying NZ is not doing enough, I am saying we shouldn’t be expected to do any more than anyone else. Dispite comparisons of agregate emissions compared to 1990, no other nation (other than Spain) has taken major cuts to GDP for emissions reductions. Why should we? (please do not say – “to set an example”/”to influence others”/”to convince others to” – there is no good evidence these other nations will follow NZ anywhere)

      1. Yes I know you’re saying we shouldn’t be expected to do more than anyone else. I observed that in my comment. It’s irrelevant to what I was saying in the column, and repeating it doesn’t make it relevant.

      2. “no other nation (other than Spain) has taken major cuts to GDP for emissions reductions”

        Why would cutting GDP reduce emissions?

        Why would reducing emissions necessarily involve reducing GDP?

        1. I’m going no where but one more try.

          Brain, the whole article is an attack on our government for not doing enough, ie “I see the appeasement stage of dealing with Nazism as analagous to what our government is currently offering in the face of climate change. ”

          CTG, your an idiot. If it didnt cost welfare to reduce emissions there would be no problem – we wouldn’t need ETS’s and the UNFCCC.

          1. “the whole article is an attack on our government for not doing enough”

            Yes, R2. For not doing enough in face of the fearful threat of global warming, not by (inaccurate) comparison with others. If you want to talk about the latter I suggest you make your comment in relation to Rod Oram’s Sunday Star Times article which Gareth has drawn attention to in his 10:10 trumps 50:50 post this morning. This isn’t the place.

          2. Even the NZIER report, which grossly overestimates costs, and underestimates benefits, doesn’t say that we need to cut GDP from today’s levels. It talks about an impact on future GDP, i.e. GDP that we don’t yet have, which is a very different thing to “cuts to GDP” which is what you said.

            Please show me some evidence that we would need to cut GDP in order to reduce emissions.

  4. Thanks Bryan for a thoroughly excellent post! Your analogy is perfectly apt! If the world does not engage with tackling the problem of anthropological Global Warming in the same manner it took with tackling the problem of Nazism; Humankind is under threat, and the Civilization we enjoy in the Western World will but a distant memory. The one hope we have is that the politicians and their representatives at Bonn will have enough courage and fortitude to firstly act in a UNITED way, and secondly take ALL the measures that are vital if we are to have any hope to averting the crisis that lies before us.
    Placing the world on a “war” footing means that Capitalism is not going to be the answer. The nationalization of industry and energy was necessary in WWII to build weapons of war. Today a similar approach is going to be needed to ensure, for a start, that firstly energy is delivered not to those who can most afford it, but to those who most need it. Secondly, that it it used as efficiently as possible. And thirdly, that every alternative is investigated.
    Unless the people on earth act together there will be no human “winners” as in a world war. We, our children, and our children’s children will all be losers.

    1. Talk about cancer for the cure, nationalisation of private industry?

      You say capitalism is not the answer – so what is the alternative? A centrally planned economy? Command and control?

      A have a suspicion that a lot of so called ‘greens’ are very red on the inside. Maybe they should try living in one of the few communist countries left in the world for a little while.



      1. And there we have it: anyone who wants the planet to have a future must be a communist, is that it, R2?

        Whereas you just want to see the end of all civilization, so that makes you the good guy, does it?

      2. I for one am all for markets – where they work. But where the necessary pre-conditions to a functioning market are not to be found – for instance, a large burden for carrying out business is placed on those not participating in it, or where cartels or monopolies form – you must be prepared to do something about it or else submit to the despotism of corporate rule. Nationalization is one (extreme) option, regulation is another.

      3. Yes I know what “Capitalism” means R2 – I suspect you don’t though. Capitalism for a start is based on 17th Century science and on the incorrect assumption that there are limitless resources. Furthermore the concept of “private property” upon which Capitalism is based on the fallible ethics of John Locke, which he developed for the express purpose of conferring “title” on land in the new country of America. Locke’s ethics never took into account the fact that land was a finite quantity and took no account of indigenous rights.
        Now the fundamental building block of the capitalist system is the private company – the purpose of which, is to maximize profit. In most cases that would entail the company selling as much of its product for the least cost. (Are you with me R2?) The next fundamental plank is to grow that profit. You normally do that by increasing your sales.
        Now suppose your product is energy. What is the role of the Energy Company, R2? Yes that’s right – it’s to sell as much of it as it can!
        Unfortunately – what Capitalism doesn’t take into account is the the waste product. The objective is to sell the product for the least cost and if a Company can get away with pollution – that is precisely what it will do.
        Nor is a Company interested in rationing its product, it wants to sell as much of it, as it can produce, and the more forward orders it has the better. Indeed it will advertise its product intensely – offer discounts – fly buys etc etc so that people will choose to buy even more!
        So if a country wants to REDUCE its energy consumption. (And reducing GGE implies in many instances reducing energy consumption). A market approach doesn’t seem a very sensible way to go about it! It’s a bit like getting the fox to watch the hen house. It just isn’t going to work.
        A regulatory body with the power to direct resources to where they are needed – such as that most conservative of PM s Churchill established in WW2 under the leadership of that eminent businessman Lord Beaverbrook is what is going to be needed. Or else we are stuffed!

        1. A couple of points:

          1) Reducing emissions does not necessarily involve reducing energy consumption. It probably will involve reducing centrally-generated energy, by means of things like solar water heaters, co-generation and the like. These things are great for consumers, but not so great for shareholders of electricity generators.

          2) The whole point of an (effective) ETS is to externalise the costs of carbon pollution. If carbon-producing companies are made to pay the true costs of producing carbon, they will quickly switch to methods of production that don’t involve producing carbon. If, on the other hand, the government introduces an ETS that a) sets a cap on the price of carbon, and b) doesn’t set a cap on carbon emissions, then the carbon-producing companies will go on merrily producing carbon until the end of time – which is about another 50 years at the present rate.

          1. I agree entirely with the points you have raised CTG. But consider the average consumer. Suppose they drive their car 20000km per year? Is the petrol company wanting them to drive 18000km per year next year? I think not. How are they to be encouraged to use less? The price of petrol goes up – the ones who can afford to pay simply drive as before – those who can’t – stop driving. Maybe the target of 10% reduction is met, but the result is increasing inequity.

  5. A have a suspicion that a lot of so called ‘greens’ are very red on the inside.

    Some openly are. Some could be. Some people would like to think they all are. Some really really aren’t, unless you’re a hardcore libertarian. Make sure you make the distinction 😉

  6. The climate doesn’t give a toss whether you’re green, red, blue, black yellow, beige or ecru. It’s time to find common ground – what works is what matters. Pragmatism over philosophy – it’s time to get over ourselves and all muck in.

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