Some Deeper Thinking

Our Climate Declaration describes the country we want to be. These notes expand a little on what it says, as we wanted to keep the document itself to a single page.

We will not accept action on climate change that further increases inequality, takes away democracy, destroys our natural ecosystems, or compromises human rights. Some scientists think they can geo-engineer the planet by blocking the sun or changing the chemistry of the oceans. That is not our vision. In fact, this kind of change will make it even more difficult to reduce emissions.

We need a change of values that puts the everyday rights and needs of people before the profits of corporations. A change that values Nature, and respects its limits. A change that truly honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by which we mean recognizing the holistic world views of tangata whenua, their perspective of being intrinsically connected to the earth, the role of mana whenua in discussions and decision making, and the importance of environmental integrity to the health and wellbeing of communities who sustain themselves from it.

 Action on climate change includes both opposing the bad things that are happening or proposed, and supporting better alternatives. Our website will contain material on how to do both.

1. Stop the bad stuff

The main cause of rising emissions is carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas. To have a reasonable chance of keeping temperature rise below the very dangerous 2 degrees, we must get rid of fossil fuels completely by 2050, and must reduce extraction now. There is no point in trying to burn less coal and oil if it is still coming out of the ground. We have to cut off supply.

That’s why we say no new coal mines, accepting that existing ones will run their course and miners gradually retire. It is stupid to explore and drill for oil in the deep ocean with serious damage to marine ecosystems and whales and dolphins, when none of that oil could ever be burned – we have more than enough already discovered to take us well beyond the safe level.

NZ is unusual in the world in that half of our emissions come from agriculture, mainly methane from animal digestion and nitrous oxide from soils overloaded with nitrogen. Farming has become very intensive. The nitrogen fertilisers needed to feed so many animals per hectare, along with their nitrogen-loaded urine form large quantities of nitrous oxide. This is much more damaging per unit than carbon dioxide, though there is much less of it. We need to cap the number of cows and sheep, as a first step.

It has been proven that fewer dairy cows on the same land, fed better on grass, can produce just as much milk with much lower emissions and more profit for the farmer. This is the second, easy step we should take.  Then we need to look at how to diversify our farming.

There are ways to manage wet soils better to reduce nitrous oxide. This is what we mean when we say in the second section, “farm sustainably...managing soils better”. This will also lead to much cleaner rivers. Fewer cattle, each producing more product, will reduce emissions. It is simply not true that there is nothing farmers can do. Some farmers are already doing it, profitably. We need to encourage more to follow.

Climate change is about economics. That is why it is hard. It is not possible to address climate change without changing our economic system. Resources and the ability to absorb pollution are limited. We cannot keep growing the economy without growing environmental damage.  Much has been written over the last 40 years about the economics of ‘enough’ rather than ‘more’ which can give us a better way of life with less damage to the climate, the water, and each other. Aiming at human wellbeing rather than industrial growth, accepting the limits of nature and natural resources and valuing things other than just money is the basis.

2. Bring on the Good

There are clean alternatives to fossil fuels for most energy uses including transport and industrial heat. For example transport could use a lot more electricity, in trains, trolley buses and cars. Fonterra could use waste wood from the forestry industry to dry its milk, instead of coal. Electricity could be from solar, wind and geothermal rather than gas and coal. All these technologies are thoroughly proven.

Forests act as a ‘sink’ for carbon which is incorporated into their wood. We have more than a million hectares of marginal land, eroding and unproductive. We need to cover it with trees – and keep it covered. But cutting down regenerating natives to plant pines is not the way to do it – our native biodiversity is a taonga we need to protect.

Local economies can reduce the transport costs of food and other products and give people the satisfaction of being involved in the processes that affect their lives. Some people advocate avoiding all animal products because of methane and nitrous oxide emissions. However methane does not have to be phased out completely – there have always been large herds of grazing animals in wild nature and swamps have always released methane naturally. Methane decays in the atmosphere much faster than carbon dioxide which stays around for thousands of years. The problem now is the scale of intensive farming.  If we use better farming methods, reduce stock intensity and cut back animal production significantly people can still make choices about their diet.

In a transition to an economy without fossil fuels many jobs will disappear. It is important that those workers and their families and communities are not expected to bear the brunt of the transition. Unions and other groups have done a lot of work on “Just Transition”, a process where new ways are found of using local skills and many new jobs are created in the new economy of renewable energy. 

3. Pressure Government

We said this is not a petition and our focus is not on governments. Nevertheless, there are some things that only governments can do – putting a proper price on carbon, negotiating and agreeing with other countries, preparing for refugees. We’ve been asking for them for many years with no result. We believe that when enough people become active in implementing this declaration it will give governments the courage to act. Eventually.

The core of this image of the future is working together. We can do little as isolated individuals. If we work through the various organisations we belong to, we become powerful. Let’s seize that power.