climate change

A NZ Climate Change Activist on Whether There's Hope of Saving This Planet

Or are we all just gonna burn?

by Kahu Kutia
25 July 2018, 11:08pm

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Humans are the greatest pest on this planet. It’s undeniable that if this planet becomes an uninhabitable husk of desert or ice, the blame will rest with us.

But in the face of increasingly depressing rates of environmental decline Lisa McLaren is holding a torch for optimism.

“I’m a giant climate nerd and I’ve accepted that! I’m okay with that! But I’ve realised that’s not the norm,” she says.

Lisa is currently convening the national Zero Carbon Act Campaign, led by Generation Zero group of young New Zealanders trying to reduce the impact of climate change by making our government accountable for reducing carbon emissions. Lisa has been to climate talks in Warsaw and Paris. She’s worked in local government. She has her Masters in Environmental Science and Climate Change Education. She’s now on to her PhD. I sat down and asked Lisa to paint a picture of the climate change struggle. Can we still make it? Or are we past the turning point?

VICE: Hi Lisa. It seems like you’ve been quite involved in climate change activism for quite a few years now. Do you ever feel like you are making some wins? Or is it just consistently disheartening?
Lisa McLaren: I kind of go really up and down with this stuff. Sometimes I can be like yes, there are amazing wins happening all around the world. People are coming up with really cool, really innovative solutions in the social enterprise sector. There is a lot of work happening that is really great. Paris was a big win. But at the same time, the problem is so huge and so far-reaching and impacts all different parts of society. The way we live and what that’s going to look like in the future. That gets really depressing. You can get really really bogged down and lost in all the quite daunting and frightening issues that come along with climate change.

What are some of those issues?
The problem is that because humans are causing this, we are just as involved in the problem as we are in the solutions. So in that way, it’s called a ‘super wicked problem’. We are trying to solve it at the same time as causing it. So things like what we eat, how we drive, what we wear, how we use electricity. All those different things that make up our daily life negatively impact the planet in a way that’s gonna cause like, increased droughts, severe floods. Coastal erosion, impacting places of indigenous significance and importance, both here and overseas. These sites, you can’t get them back.

I read somewhere that it is human nature. We can see the problem, and know we are acting unsustainably. But I still drive my car.
It’s so daunting right! I have a car, and I am leading a zero carbon campaign. It is that problem of knowing just how your individual impacts are affecting this massive global warming problem. It is easy to just think, one car trip, that’s not going to affect anything, and we are just gonna keep going in the same direction. Which is why things like legislation are so important, because that helps direct that change at a societal level.

Lay out the Zero Carbon Act for me. What are we trying to achieve here?
We are essentially asking for legislation that will set a long-term goal for New Zealand to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are wanting to reach net zero by 2050. That’s our long-term goal, and we would put that in law.
The final point is two plans: one for mitigation, so reducing greenhouse gases here, and then one for adaptation. Because we know we are already going to face many impacts from climate change, whether we do stuff now or not. Changes in weather patterns, changes in drought, storm frequencies, sea level rise. We are already seeing that coastal communities are being impacted and eroded which means that the infrastructure is damaged which means more piping costs, more roading costs. All of these things are a burden on ratepayers, so as a country, how are we going to adapt?

Where is our government at now? Do you think this could be successful?
Yes. We are very lucky, we had support from all the youth political parties. We had other massive allies get on board: Forest and Bird, WWS, Oxfam, World Vision. We have just finished a 6-week consultation period for the proposed New Zealand Carbon Bill. That will go through the drafting stage in the next few months, and then get tabled in Parliament in hopefully October. It will pop out the other end hopefully as a law in about April next year.

That is really cool! We are really proud, and it’s taken so many hours of volunteers all up and down the country. A whole bunch of young people being like, the government’s not doing, we will do it. The government’s been like “huh, this is really cool we will take it up and we will do it.”
From now until it’s passed, we need to be putting pressure on all the political parties to make sure it gets put through as a cross-party agreement. It’s just having discussions with MPs and being like, you’re not going to alienate people if you support this. You might be alienating a lot of people if you don’t support this. We need to make sure that it has really strong principles around Te Tiriti, and also around just transition. So things like job losses from changing industries, make sure that those communities are supported.

What aspirations do you have for New Zealand as a whole when you reach old age?
It is really hard to think what exactly it will look like, or what the world will look like. We don’t really have a choice but to make these changes, because the thing that scares me is the world if we don’t.
I hope we look back and think ‘that was a really awful 30 years, I’m glad that that was a thing in evolution we had to get past, and I’m glad we’ve done it quickly.’ Five or ten years ago, having better lightbulbs was the thing, now straws are the thing. We find all these small really tangible solutions for people. Because not everyone cares about this stuff. I have to find ways to have these conversations with people in a way that they can actually connect with, rather than just being like ‘oh my gosh, isn’t this just terrifying and amazing all at the same time!”. Those are conversations I don’t think we have got right yet.

Lisa McClaren is speaking at Festival For the Future in Wellington, July 27-29.