Climate change responses are up to us

By   /   November 30, 2015  /   11 Comments

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Climate change is a deeply moral issue reflecting how we share the world with human and non-human others and what we leave for tomorrow. We know our political leaders are weak and incapable of taking action that would reshape the system that keeps them there.


In ‘This Changes Everything’, a critique of capitalism and climate change, Naomi Klein quotes a scientist who asks ‘Is the world fucked?’ The answer apparently, is pretty much yes, especially if we don’t change our CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, and basically our whole economic model. What we need is system change, not climate change.

Climate change reflects all the systematically bad things we’re doing to the planet – the destruction of vast global commons with wicked consequences. We’re burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow, and at this rate there might not be. Deforestation, habitat loss, extinction of species, polar ice melt, erosion, destruction of cultures as sea levels rise and storms swamp island homes…climate change is now. We’re squandering the carbon heritage of generations past and generations to come, and despoiling the whole planet in the process.

This weekend’s climate change marches in 2000 different communities around the world including 35 centres in NZ, show the people of this planet want action and not just more hot air from our ‘leaders’ at this week’s international climate change conference in Paris.

New Zealand makes a disproportionate per capita contribution to greenhouse gases, and our high standard of living, arguably adds both responsibility and ability to New Zealand’s efforts to address at least our own contribution to climate change. But at the conference this week, our country supports only a weak and underwhelming non-binding multi-lateral agreement on carbon emissions that shows no leadership at all. Agriculture, which comprises 48% of NZ’s carbon emissions is exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme because other than decreasing the national herd size and intensity, there’s no way of reducing emissions. Addressing climate change is incompatible with the economic growth model. In fact, NZ proposes one of the weakest climate change action plans and has one of the worst pollution reduction records of all developed states attending, according to Russel Norman, new Executive Director for Greenpeace NZ.

But economic instruments like emission trading (pollution markets) won’t solve the climate change eco-apocalypse. Market systems are what got us into this problem in the first place. What we need is a whole new economic system, system change, not climate change.

After all, climate change is just the latest expression of a fatalistic commodification and abuse of the planet that is Coca-cola capitalism. It’s the model that is flawed, and we can’t use ‘green growth’ as a way out of environmental damage without creating more. We can’t continue to chop down rainforests and burn ancient peatlands releasing smoke, CO2, and destroying habitats without a kickback from nature. Capitalism is eating itself because it’s using up all the natural capital and polluting the free commons that underpinned its development in the first place. There can’t be infinite growth in a finite world. It’s estimated we’ve made 50% of species extinct in the last 40 years, a process called ‘the great acceleration’ in the effects of mankind, capitalism and industrialisation on the ecosphere. There’s only so much (so little) rainforest left, so many fish (so few), limited clean water, glaciers, biodiversity… and capitalism is reducing it to waste that’s clogging up the ocean and atmospheric commons. We can only externalise environmental effects to a limit given we live in a closed system and reports are that we have already pushed it over the brink.

Politicians have short, electoral cycle based time horizons, so it’s no coincidence that Bill English, Finance Minister, considers preparation for climate change effects “not a pressing issue”. Capitalism is too big to fail, and capital interests are too big for NZ’s ministers to get into a staring contest with. The government won’t go near its own ‘sacred cow’, dairy farming, and put measures in place to attenuate its effects. Just the same way Barak Obama refused to link clean energy with the bail out of the major car companies in the US after the Global Financial Crisis, crony capitalism is king. No wonder Parisian climate change activists have been sentenced to house arrest and protests have been banned. Leaders don’t really want their growth agenda disturbed by calls for alternative action.

But the response of the world’s public to climate change fears, is what provides hope, even if our leaders fail. We are the 99% and many environmental solutions lie in our hands. We are the power behind the ‘great transition’ to a more democratic, just system for all nature, humans included. Refusing to be part of a corrupt, ecocidal and wasteful system is within our capacity. Refusing to buy products with palm oil, not eating meat, riding a bike, picking up rubbish, planting a garden, participating in the informal and gift economy, creating and occupying new commons, forging new forms of creative resistance, these are all paths to a new economic and social model and a better environmental future.

Climate change is a deeply moral issue reflecting how we share the world with human and non-human others and what we leave for tomorrow. We know our political leaders are weak and incapable of taking action that would reshape the system that keeps them there. Let’s not give up, it’s up to us, to unFuck the World.

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  1. Kate Kate says:

    Most importantly stop breeding like rats! Also the science really needs to be learnt about climate change and how sensitive the climate really is to CO2 and how it is responsible for the mass extinction events in earths deep past including the Permian (great dying) which killed off 95% of all life on earth. Nearly all complex life, one needs to get ones head around that FACT. (Maybe a little ratty mole creature will survive this 6th mass extinction event we have knocked on and become like us in millions of years, thats exactly how we became us after the Permian mass extinction. Amazing isn’t it.
    The sad ignorance about the facts and the green washing is just prolonging this stupidity. Mass extinction includes us, and it better had as we fucken caused it. Sorry I am over this insane race, the race of greed and ignorance, baby animal killers, cow milk drinking immature , factory ‘meat’ farming, ecocide propagating, gross naked mole rat king species of stupid squanderers who don’t deserve planet earth. We will be eating each other before the end. We haven’t a clue what we have unleashed with a ‘bit’ CO2. According to Guy Mcpherson civilization is a head engine so we are going to fry the planet just with our massive population alone, let alone eat ourselves out of house and home.

    • Kate says:

      Sorry, I meant to say (Guy McPherson said civilization is a ‘Heat’ engine not head engine ha ha).

    • Cassie says:

      It is my belief that every nation should tackle this independently.

      Thus NZ’s remedial actions would be

      1)To Stop artificially pumping up the population by importing 60,000 migrants every year !!!! Close the borders!
      (eg Auckland is choked up with cars, and Wgtn is following suit, life is becoming unbearable. Who needs this????)

      2)Drastically reduce intensive dairy farming and increase market gardening /food crops instead. Local food production for local consumption.

      NZ can easily feed it’s own population with the resources we have .
      -We certainly do NOT need to be importing fruit & veg & other stuff which we can provide for ourselves.

      3) “Globalisation” has been disasterous. It is all about greedy Big Corporations & those who own them mass plundering /looting destroying the world’s resources for personal gain (trillions in their own bank accounts). Mass production on that scale is NOT needed.

      Decentralisation is the way forward. New Zealand being small can easily achieve this, but it would require a massive rethink of how our country should be run , with a brand new leadership – ONLY those with genuine merit & vision .( Plus we need our OWN monetary system & cancel those ludicrous odious faux “debts” to private foreign Bank, and UNPLUG our nation from them!)

      The alternative to the above would be that NZ just ends up paying “Carbon Taxes ” the population get fleeced even more by having further financial hardships imposed……..
      (Yeah right. It will magically fix “climate change” )

    • Blake says:

      I agree, over population is so obvious but Kate, have you heard or read about the Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and what she and many others are involved in ? Worth a look see and it gives us all a bit of hope in this darkland of chaos and environmental messes we have created.

  2. Andrewo says:

    Kate: Most importantly stop breeding like rats!

    Well said Kate! It’s about time someone pointed out the obvious.

    Climate Change and all the other hobgoblins facing humanity are just secondary issues. The root cause is the propensity of humans to breed like bacteria until they run out of resources and eventually self-destruct.

    I find it baffling that so-called Greens don’t place a stronger emphasis on contraception. Instead they clamour for the paying of welfare to poor & unemployed people, based on the number of kids they have, which in turns encourages them to produce large families.

    There’s no sense in this: Greens should focus on being green, not red.

    • weka says:

      “Average annual population growth between 2006 and 2013 was 36,800 (0.8 per cent).”

      “Fertility and natural increase of the population

      Ensure that all potential and existing parents have full and free access to family planning services so that informed decisions about the number and spacing of children can be made by the parents concerned.”

      Even if the world population stabilised today, you and I would still have to reduce GHG emissions that result from our lifestyles.

      • Andrewo says:


        Isn’t the Greens policy on population just total drivel! Just some words hurriedly thrown together to fill a gap.

        Nothing specific
        No commitment

        By the way – I’m not talking about ‘stabilising’ the population, I’m talking about reducing it, because it’s clear that from many perspectives that we’ve gone well past the Earth’s carrying capacity.

  3. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Fossil-fuel-based economics and maintaining a habitable planet for coming generations are mutually exclusive concepts.

    Abrupt climate change is underway, just as indicated would happen decades ago. Only drastic cuts to emissions (80+% worldwide immediately) could provide any possibility of the next generation having a future.

    However, we already know that politicians and bureaucrats rank persisting with fossil-fuel-based economics in the short term as far more important than maintaining a habitable planet for their own children to live on.

    Therefore, expect everything that matters to continue to be made rapidly worse by politicians and bureaucrats: it’s what they do. And they’ll keep doing it till they can’t.

    Today 401ppm CO2. Six months from now 405 or 406ppm CO2.

  4. Stephen Howard says:

    It is not only the absolute numbers of people but also the size of their footprint. For instance if we halve the worlds population but all that half increased their foot print to that of the richest inhabitants of NY or London the problem would not be diminished, it would increase.

    Yes total fertility is a problem but it is not the only one. Some of the increase in population is due to extended life spans, and while I think those of us baby boomers who do what I do and care for disabled parents will decide to end it much younger than simple extrapolation expects, life span is part of the problem

    Then there is the problem of how to reduce the total fertility. Yes statistical analysis indicates that if we ensured that only wanted children were born that would reduce the population pressure in about 30 years. But how do you force religious nutters whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim etc to accept that women and girls in their society have control over their own bodies, without resorting to violence in an already violent world. It’s not an easy solution.

    To sum up, population is a problem, a difficult one, but it is not the only one, and recognising it as a problem does not absolve us from addressing our energy use.

  5. Blake says:

    A breath of fresh air — NAOMI KLEIN and what she and many Canadians are doing about climate change. Well worth checking out.