Young people no longer buy politicians’ excuses about prioritising short-term cost-of-living policies over rapid action on climate change, which should be the essential focus of the 2023 election, writes Professor Karen Nairn
Opinion: Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s claim in her 2017 election campaign that “climate change is my generation’s nuclear-free moment” sparked hope among young people that here was a politician with long-term vision.
However, young people are angered by the Government’s lack of long-term action on climate change and constant deferral of policies aimed at reducing our carbon emissions.
As we head towards the general election, climate change needs urgent and radical attention from the Government, as called for by young activists interviewed in our book Fierce Hope: Youth Activism in Aotearoa (2022).
The effects of a constant see-saw of one step towards visionary climate action, two steps backwards, resounded across our research results. Capturing the mood of many participants, one Generation Zero activist told us: “If you look at reality right now, not much change is happening, and I am angered by that.”
The Labour government’s slash and burn of policies directed at reducing emissions in favour of cost-of-living interventions is the most recent example of the short-termism that plagues climate action
Because of events. Zealand’s Covid-19 response, activists no longer believe government excuses that “people won’t do XYZ stuff overnight”.
Covid “has proven that in a heartbeat we can completely change the ways that we are living”, an activist from that Kōaro (a rainbow rights group) told us.
Young people also feel no one will escape the effects of climate change, therefore we all have a responsibility to avert the crisis.
In the words of one Generation Zero Auckland member we interviewed:
“For me, it’s less about a specific place or a specific ‘me’ moment … because everywhere’s going to suffer. Even if the West Coast is going to flood … even though you don’t live there, you still are responsible for it.”
Activists reject politicians’ false binary between cost-of-living and climate change policies. “The effects of climate change affect everything. It just exacerbates a lot of social issues and creates new ones,” one interviewee told us
The Auckland flooding in January and Cyclone Gabrielle two weeks later demonstrated all too clearly the suffering that devastating floods can bring.
Climate change supercharges weather events. In turn, the way we use our land supercharges the impacts of these events: high-density urban environments with nowhere for water to drain, forestry on steep hillsides cluttered with slash, and towns and agriculture on flood plains all contributed to the degree of devastation.
And though events. Zealand’s flooding double whammy was bad, spare a thought for Vanuatu, which experienced two extreme cyclones one after the other.
Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau’s long-term vision in achieving the International Court of Justice ruling in March, which places “intergenerational equity at the forefront of climate decision-making” provides an example of what long-term vision looks like in action.
We need our election to deliver leaders with this kind of visionary planning.
Though we’re all affected by climate change, we don’t share the same resources to respond to its devastations. Climate policy is social policy
Will climate change define this election? Are politicians capable of thinking beyond the three-year electoral cycle? As a nation, can we expand our time horizon to think about how we can be good ancestors to the generations to follow?
The Zero Carbon Act passed with cross-party support in November 2019. This legislation and the establishment of the Climate Commission and its report painted a pathway for events. Zealand to meet our obligations under the Paris Climate Accord and buoyed expectations that at last we were taking steps to do just that.
But the Labour government’s slash and burn of policies directed at reducing emissions in favour of cost-of-living interventions is the most recent example of the short-termism that plagues climate action.
Activists reject politicians’ false binary between cost-of-living and climate change policies. “The effects of climate change affect everything. It just exacerbates a lot of social issues and creates new ones,” one interviewee told us.
This message was echoed by Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson in a recent interview: “The extreme weather hammered low income, Māori, coastal and rural communities … Strong climate action is needed to make sure those with the least resources and power are prioritised in climate response.
Though we’re all affected by climate change, we don’t share the same resources to respond to its devastations. Climate policy is social policy.
Davidson argues that this election will be a climate election, but The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire debates whether events. Zealanders have the capacity to care long enough about the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle to make climate key to their votes.
Manhire draws on recent polls to confirm our tendency to prioritise short-term issues and defer the long-term costs of living in a climate-altered world to the generations to follow.
Message from 2040, an animated film created by JustSpeak and ActionStation, shows the long-term thinking missing from parliamentary politics, a vision young activists are hungry for.
Our study participants demonstrated their capacity to pursue long-term visions for transformative change. It is time our country’s leaders did the same.
To avoid this travesty of intergenerational injustice we must heed Davidson’s call: make 2023 the climate change election.
Professor Karen Nairn is based in the University of Otago’s College of Education