High school student Jamie Margolin speaks in support of the climate change lawsuit in Seattle.
Rachel Stewart: "..there's a small window of time to alter our trajectory."
New Zealand Herald columnist Rachel Stewart has been writing about climate change throughout this year and with an increasing despondency. While she doesn’t entirely dismiss the prospect of the massive transformation required to defeat climate change, she also says its unlikely. Is she right?

 THOSE OF YOU who are regular readers of Rachel Stewart's column in the NZ Herald will know that she had devoted many of her columns in 2018 to climate change. Since it is the most important issue confronting us as a country and as a planet, Rachel's preoccupation with the crisis in understandable. When we face the very real prospect of destroying the planet for future generations, the idea of actually writing about something as inconsequential as the Jame Lee Ross affair seems ludicrous. The fires will be engulfing the forests, the icecaps will be melting, the seas will be rising and unimaginable storms will be raging in many parts of the world long after the corporate media have forgotten about Jame Lee Ross. He will be filed right next to 'Tuku Morgan's $89 pair of underpants'.

But as Rachel has continued to write about the environmental crisis this year her tone has become increasingly despairing. The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly shook her, as it did many of us. Although there have been other equally authoritative reports that have warned of the existential dangers that we face, the IPCC report was especially devastating. The report doesn't pull its punches. There is no further time left for political obfuscation says the report, there is no time left to kick the problem down the road for another government to grapple with, there is no further time to play politics, we have twelve years to significantly tackle climate change or we will really be fried.

Writing in the NZ Herald Rachel observes: "The report says there's a small window of time to alter our trajectory. Which is, of course, a last-ditch attempt to get politicians and the public to start acting like it's World War III. Because that's what it would take to turn this overloaded, burning, sinking mess of a global ship around."

But the second element to Rachel's despair is not the environmental crisis itself but the obvious and criminal lack of political will among our so-called political representatives to do anything substantial about it. When climate change threatens to demolish the house, our politicians seem only prepared to give the doomed house a new lick of paint.

She writes : "The report makes it clear it would take a Herculean global effort to solve the climate crisis. Countries, and their governments, would need to be in such a place of pure planetary alignment they could eliminate world hunger, racism, and inequality on their afternoons off.

I mean, the idea all these countries will see the science and act swiftly, decisively and in perfect unison is about as realistic as Donald Trump announcing he's a feminist. It won't happen.'

I know exactly how Rachel feels because I've been to the same dark place she's been and on more than one occasion. When the IPPC report tells us in no uncertain terms that we need radical and fundamental change, the response of both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Climate Change Minister James Shaw has made me want to holler, as Marvin Gaye might say.

Doing his best impersonation of a dairy cow grazing contently on green pasture, James Shaw's reaction to the impending environmental apocalypse has been to dribble about how the Government was on track to be carbon neutral by 2030. So there's nothing to worry about, right?

Meanwhile Jacinda Ardern wants us to know that there are business opportunities to be had in the destruction of the planet. But guess what? When I criticised Ardern's insanity on Twitter I was messaged by various people wanting to know why  I was being so nasty to lovely Jacinda and what was wrong with me anyway? And that's the polite version, by the way.

But what Rachel is feeling is also what millions of other people are feeling around the world. The American Psychological Association, the preeminent organisation of American mental health professionals, suggests the environmental crisis is eroding mental health on a mass scale. It says that “unrelenting day-by-day despair” of a prolonged drought, or more insidious changes like food shortages, rising sea levels, and the gradual loss of natural environments, will “cause some of the most resounding chronic psychological consequences.”

Rachel's response  is to retreat into her own private life, although I suspect she might object to it being characterised as 'a retreat'. She concludes her column: "We should embrace what Buddhists have said for millennia and live in the moment. Instead of staring at screens we should engage with those we love, be grateful for what we have, and do what brings joy. That’s not fatalism. That’s acceptance.”

But is this really 'acceptance' or merely looking away from the problem? Does climate change simply become the bogeyman of our childhoods which we can eliminate just by throwing the bed blankets over our heads? In her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate, Naomi Klein writes:

"All we have to do is not react as if this is a full-blown crisis. All we have to do is keep on denying how frightened we actually are. And then, bit by bit, we will have arrived at the place we most fear, the thing from which we have been averting our eyes. No additional effort required."

But Rachel hasn't entirely given up - because, in the end, she can't - and she writes that '. . . a massive transformation could take place. And that’s possible, but unlikely”.

She will be hoping that she is proved wrong. Maybe it is a case, as Antonio Gramsci wrote, that we must adopt a pessimism of intellect but an optimism of will. By that I mean we must confront the environment as it is but still believing that we can win this world from the forces bent on its destruction. That optimism must also involve a realisation that our political 'leaders' have, and still are, comprehensively failing us.

Perhaps that pessimism of intellect and optimism of will is evident in the group of young Americans who in 2015 filed a legal suit in Seattle arguing that the failure of government leaders to combat climate change violated their constitutional right to a clean environment. Last week the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Trump administration that sought to stop the legal suit from going to trial. I'm cheered by the determination of these kids to keep on battling.

In the end, any hope of the real change required lies with us, our communities, with a mass movement for change. The change we seek will not come from the top from those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, it will come from below. The stakes could not be higher. We have a world to win.


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