Climate change passion rides a bike
By publisher ADELIA HALLETT | Yesterday, a young woman told an audience that included Speaker Trevor Mallard, climate minister James Shaw and justice minister Andrew Little that she was suffering from depression because of climate change. She and four others had just cycled from Auckland to Wellington, a 12-day trip that took them to council chambers and marae, schools and community halls to talk about their vision of a carbon-neutral world.
At lunchtime yesterday, they and their orange-clad supporters wheeled into Parliament’s grounds.
The young woman, whose name is Lenka Craft, said the lack of urgency and action on climate change had left her disillusioned and depressed.
She has a point. The more you know about climate change, the more you realise how urgent it is that we take action.
Not “look we’ve called for a report and might do something in 10 years’ time” action, but real action that fundamentally changes everything, because it is just about everything about the way we’re living that is causing the problem.
And, so, to see the very people who should be taking action failing to do it is depressing.
It’s not as if the science is new – the first calculation of how the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans would warm the world was done in 1896.
And it’s not as if the scientists are wrong, Just about every prediction they have made has turned out to not only be right, but to also underestimate the scale and speed of change.
In the past few days alone we’ve learnt that
70 per cent of the king penguin population will probably be gone by the end of the century because the ice they live on is disappearing;
When the planet has warmed in the past, the Southern Ocean has released vast amounts of carbon dioxide (so will probably do it again);
Critically endangered animals like saiga antelope are dropping dead in mass mortality events that are probably caused by climate change;
Mangrove forests that store carbon, reduce ocean acidification and buffer the coast against rising sea levels and storms are being destroyed to make way for fish farms (in New Zealand we want to pull out mangroves to improve views);
The world is locked into sea-level rises between 0.7m and 1.2m even if we stop all emissions today; and
Cape Town is moving ever closer to what’s being called Day Zero, when the city runs out of water.
Hearing things like this is probably doubly depressing when you are young and can see that the solutions are, fundamentally, simple: if greenhouse gas emissions are causing the problem, stop emitting greenhouse gases.
Gen Zero riders arrive at Parliament yesterday
Craft is a member of Generation Zero, a group of young people who don’t let the fact that just about everyone else says that dealing with climate change is too hard get in their way.
Two years ago, realising that New Zealand needed some sort of law to get it to net-zero emissions, they set out to write one. And they did.
Yes, they had help from others, including experienced lawyers and environmental campaigners, but it was GenZero’s drive, vision and sheer guts that got the job done.
They did it so well that in last year’s general election they managed to get every political party except National on board – and even then, they got National’s youth wing, the Young Nats, to publicly support it.
Lenka and her fellow cyclists left Auckland on February 18 carrying a copy of their Zero Carbon Act, which they presented to Shaw outside Parliament yesterday.
Shaw, who became climate minister in October, has already promised, at international climate talks in Bonn last year, to make New Zealand carbon neutral by 2050, and says he will have the Zero Carbon Bill before Parliament by September.
It’s not surprising that if any politician is going to commit to carbon neutrality it will be Shaw; he is the leader of the Green Party after all.
Yesterday, though, he paid tribute to Gen Zero for turning thoughts into actions.
“There’s been a movement building for more ambitious action across a number of organisations and communities, but it wasn’t until Gen Zero came out with that piece of language that said, ‘You know what we need, we need a zero carbon act’ that just crystalised what this is all about,” he said.
“I want to thank you for everything that you have done to get the country to this point of being able to introduce this act into Parliament. It’s a huge privilege for me to be able to do that on your behalf.
“Thank you very much for everything you have done, thank you very much for coming here to Parliament today.”
Craft perhaps spoke for many of the young people there yesterday when she said there came a point when she realised that action was better than depression.
“Recently I’ve realised there’s kind of no point in just staying negative about the whole thing,” she said.
“That was a big part of taking on this challenge and saying, ‘Hey, we need some policy in this country, individual action is great but we really need to get on board, come together as a country and say we want some legislation, we want some changes and we want everyone in New Zealand to come together’.”
Doing it was a huge mental and physical challenge, she said, but “I made it here, so …”
The question is, though, whether the rest of us are up to the challenge.
*first published in Carbon News