Low Carbon Pathways in Auckland?

It’s hard to believe that “low carbon pathways” actually exist in traffic-congested Auckland where 800 cars are unloaded at the wharves each week and 4000 more houses are urgently needed to accommodate population expansion. But a seminar one recent Saturday afternoon in Auckland’s Central Library provided glimpses of their existence – if you look in the right places.

Port_of_Auckland_car_import_wharf_http://www.brianscantlebury.com/Titled Climate Protection: Low Carbon Pathways and organised by the Climate Action group of the North Shore branch of Forest and Bird on October 14, it attracted about 50 people. Rod Oram, now an old familiar on such occasions, facilitated and introduced speakers. It wasn’t all about Auckland.

We were warmed up with a 20 minute Ted talk by Al Gore who asked three simple questions. Do we have to change? Can we change? Will we change? While the answers might seem self-evident the real question, he pointed out, is how long it will take to respond adequately to this moral issue.

Niamh O’Flynn from 350.org followed with a heartening account of the successes of the divestment campaign. The decision of Medical Assurance Society to divest was highly significant, she said, since they are a major insurance company. Gen Zero member Rhys Williams urged us all to sign the petition for parliament to pass a zero carbon act, based on the one enacted in the UK in 2008 – with opposition from only three MPs.

Yes, we are behind, here, in terms of parliamentary action but not all are laggards. Kennedy Graham gave the background to his work with GLOBE-NZ and described the follow-up to the cross-party collaborative efforts that produced the report by Vivid Economics called Net Zero in New Zealand.

The low carbon scene in Auckland? Former deputy mayor Penny Hulse chairs Auckland Council’s Environment committee. She also chairs the waste programme and it’s this that has made Auckland a finalist in the C40 Cities Awards 2017 for their plans to have zero waste by 2040.

The effects of climate change are already too apparent, Councillor Hulse says, with the proliferation of weeds, pests and plant diseases. But council’s budget reflects no such awareness. The Environment committee’s allocation is the equivalent of the cost of building two roundabouts.

Still, the council has divested and along with other local government leaders has signed the international Low Carbon Declaration. And the current major traffic-disrupting project in Auckland – the tunnelling that’s at last going to bring an underground electric railway system – appears to be in line with such aims. Councillor Hulse assured us that new construction methods enable the project to be carbon-zero. Believe it or not, with all that machinery and equipment….

A more accessible set of low carbon pathways were outlined by Sophie Hudson, an enthusiastic youthful council employee who works on a programme called Live Lightly. Soon to be officially launched, it outlines ten ways people can adapt their daily living habits to reduce their carbon footprint – echoes here of our aims in the Declaration. Their website has a carbon calculator for home use. Ignorance is no excuse.

Chris Bailey of Enviro-mark assured us that businesses are not waiting for government legislation to impose change. It’s in their interests to be pro-active because mechanisms to reduce carbon usually also reduce costs. His admiration for efforts by Fonterra towards carbon neutrality were nicely offset by Coal Action’s Jill Whitmore who pointed out that Fonterra is the country’s second largest user of coal.

Frances Palmer, the Forest and Bird member whose inspiration the seminar was, closed with a salutary reminder that government has allocated $20 billion for upgrades to military hardware.

We can’t let such alarming priorities deter us. The pathways are few but they exist.

Pat Baskett