The sound of failure/It’s dark… Is it always this dark?

Mackenzie.jpgForgive me this riff on impermanence. Last Sunday morning, my little group of middle-aged winos and winemakers (plus a professor or two) left the lodge in Martin’s Bay and crossed a serene Hollyford River on a jetboat. We walked along the edge of the bush on the spit, looking at Maori middens, layering in sand dunes, native plants and the succession from pingao to rimu, pondering the most recent ice age — which carved out the Hollyford valley — and the potential for rising seas to change this wonderful example of coastal ecology. Eventually we arrived at the site of the Mackenzie homestead – built in the 1870s by hardy settlers determined to make their lives in this wet and wild corner of what was then a new land to Europeans. All that remains is the stone fireplace, overgrown with grass, the vague outline of the walls, and some imported trees — the gums are doing very well. I pondered the lives of the settlers in the Hollyford and the scratches they left on the landscape, while New Zealand and the world grasped at bigger issues…

The Poznan conference — the halfway point between Bali and Copenhagen — a staging point on the way to the second phase of international attempts to restrain carbon emissions, came to an end. Richard Black at the BBC provides his take on the outcome:

At the […] Brussels meeting, EU leaders unveiled a package worth 200bn euros (£180bn) to ease the financial crisis. At the Poznan meeting, developed nations, with the EU to the fore, blocked proposals that could have unleashed billions of euros to help some of the world’s poorest countries launch climate adaptation projects.

In Australia, the Rudd administration has revealed its climate targets, and disappointed many, Barry Brook among them:

But in my opinion, the biggest problem is the sheer dishonesty about the science. If targets greater than 5% are impossible to implement on political grounds, then that’s the current reality. The government should be honest about this, and say:

‘This is as large a cut as we feel the community will accept, even though the science of climate change clearly show that we require much more. Accepting this current reality, our job, as government, is to now better inform you, the general public, of the seriousness of this issue, the short time frames for action, and the need for deeper cuts“.

But no. Instead we get artful political spin and greenwash, with the claim that Australia is doing something meaningful to avoid dangerous climate change and that the targets will miraculously allow us to go no higher than 450 ppm CO2.

And for this failure of nerve, NZ’s new National government has nothing but praise – Nick Smith could be heard supporting the “realism” of the Aussie approach in a Radio NZ news report. I should not be surprised, I suppose, with the last government’s climate policies being steadily undermined or repealed – the thermal generation moratorium will be gone by the end of the week, the biofuel initiative is being repealed and the ETS review increasingly looks like an unscientific mess.

Is our government really committed to 50 by 50 – a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 – as promised by PM Key last year? It’s a woefully inadequate target in the first place, made all the more poignant by the apparent lack of any policy that might get us there.

In the real world, the news is not good. Climate change is happening now, ahead of schedule, and politicians around the world lack the nerve to take the information before them and act on it in any meaningful way. They are condemning the world, human civilisation, to a struggle for existence. We might win, we might fail, but it is a struggle we might still not need to face.

In the 1870s, survival in Fiordland meant clearing forest, raising cows, keeping chickens, growing vegetables and waiting for a boat to bring in flour, tools and news. It’s almost impossible for someone living in modern society to comprehend what life must have been like – even though it was only my great grandfather’s generation that lived that way. I have no doubt that we could live that way again, but I hope it never happens. Our politicians seem to lack the imagination to “get” the depth of the problem they confront, and the will to take it seriously. Like them, I took the easy way out. We flew out of the Hollyford into Milford Sound. It was a magnificent journey. Our future does not look so good.

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6 thoughts on “The sound of failure/It’s dark… Is it always this dark?”

  1. John Key’s “balancing our environmental responsibilities with our economic opportunities” is presumably the same kind of reasoning that Rudd would produce. Indeed a few days ago Rudd said “We intend to steer a balanced course”. A wonderful refuge the balanced course. When Key speaks of economic opportunities he is presumably talking of business as usual – lifting the thermal generation ban and the biofuel requirements hardly indicate much interest in the new opportunities presented by moving to a decarbonised economy.

    Can we find comfort in what Obama is saying? “We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050. Further, we will invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private-sector efforts to build a clean energy future. We will invest in solar power, wind power and next-generation biofuels. We will tap nuclear power, while making sure it’s safe. And we will develop clean coal technologies.”

    I guess we have to wait and see whether Obama turns into a pusillanimous Rudd once in office. But in the meantime I’m willing to regard him as a possible light in the darkness.

  2. Considering that Obama can expect to be in office until 2017, that 2020 goal is pretty imminent. And of course he just appointed an Energy Secretary who will brook little bullshit on this subject.

    We will probably see the details of his green jobs program before he’s sworn in, so that will be an early indicator.

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