Citizens’ self-help

Blog No. 76.

In recent blogs on climate change I have been arguing the necessity that a significant proportion of the population should become active in the cause of defending society and the environment from the effects of climate change. In the absence of such grass-roots pressure, our western, neo-liberal style governments, with their hard-wired obsession to prioritise economic growth above all else, can be relied on to do little – or nothing. Left to their own devices, the lip-service that they will pay towards their responsibilities regarding climate, will not suffice.

I am relieved to see that I am not alone in this opinion. A couple of weeks ago, I had confirmation that someone, who should know, Christiana Figueres, Executive Director of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) was also of the opinion that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were essential to the desired outcome. (It was Christiana, who did the heavy lifting for the organisation of the recent Paris climate summit.)

UNFCC Executive Secretary Figueres addresses a news conference in Bonn
Christiana Figueres

I followed the progress of the summit through the reports of Kennedy Graham, the Green Party spokesman on Climate change. Kennedy, a former UN official and a very well-versed observer of international climate politics, was present throughout the summit.

Recently I received his final report on the conference: Kennedy Graham
This is an extract from that report. The words in italics are Christiana’s “…Paris sets a new standard for dealing with complex global problems. “Climate change is a very, very good example of how we are moving to a completely new social contract from the last century”. The social contract that is going to underpin the 21st century has “very different ways of dealing with challenges and very different ways of delivering solutions”.

The essential difference is that the Paris negotiations involved governments, business leaders and campaign groups. It is the “new model for diplomacy” and “it is the way we are going to operate increasingly in the 21st century,” she says.

The essential difference is that the Agreement abandoned the idea of a traditional international treaty with clear rules and fixed obligations.”

Kennedy ends his report as follows: “Global governance in the 21st century is going to require some gentle shock treatment. And if it does not come from governments, in the name of Paris, and within the next five years, not fifteen, then it will require the peoples of the world to revolutionise their governments – in the name of Paris.”

planet earth
Climate campaign in action: Paris December 2015

In Paris, out of the international political chaos that currently prevails, there emerged a consensus (a rather weak consensus, based on no legal obligations) that is the product of interaction between ‘governments, business leaders and campaign groups.’ The three groups have a common interest, in that they all wish the world to continue into the foreseeable future.

However, we can be assured that they do not all wish it to continue unchanged. As any captain of industry knows, change represents opportunity and with the impending climate change, at least in the shorter term, nations and businesses will have both winners and losers. The present anarchic international governance system ensures that there will already be those making calculations of economic advantage to be had should they manage to maximise the delay between their own, and their commercial rivals, taking the economically costly action called for.

Despite Figueres’ overly optimistic enthusiasm that this model might serve to solve all the 21st Century’s international problems and despite its inbuilt tensions, Christiana Figueres’ triumvirate of governments, business leaders and campaign groups is currently our best (our only) realistic hope of tackling rapid climate change. In this particular instance, it might indeed, serve as a workable stop-gap measure, as the three parties’ approach the common existential threat posed by climate change.

It would be a model less likely to offer a permanent solution to other global governance problems, such as, for instance, nuclear disarmament or currency wars, in which each national government, or corporation, believes it can score an advantage and survive at the expense of, rather than in cooperation with, its rivals.

UN soldiers: loyal to their individual nations.

(The only foreseeable solution to intractable international problems, such as the two above, is a United Nations organisation with significant sections of national sovereignty ceded to it, with no veto rights held by members and with its own independent authority to raise taxes and impose sanctions on rule breakers. Just how severe and universal, would a global crisis have to be, before that ever came about?!)

If we take the recent signing of the TPPA in Auckland, we have a perfect microcosm of the current workings of the global community. We can see that the signatory governments’ main interest is in pleasing business leaders and that business leaders’ main interest, other than exerting control over legislation, is in growing the profitability of the corporations they command. Buying politicians

Key TPPAThat leaves ‘campaign groups,’ as the only member of the triumvirate unreservedly committed to the solution of the problem of climate change. Only the campaign groups, with their ability to exert influence over both voters and consumers, have the potential to ensure that the other two parties keep to the obligations towards which they have so far, offered little more than ‘green-wash’ and fine words. To function effectively, the campaigners have to be adequately supported by the communities they spring from. Only then, as their effectiveness increases, will they have the strength to withstand the pressures that will come from government and/or corporates, to buy into and self-interestedly influence their advocacy.

Those who care about climate change, and who wish to contribute their drop to the bucket, should, on election days, (just one day in every thousand, or so) cast their votes for minority political parties featuring climate change high on their policy priorities. On all other days, as probably the most effective step they can take, they should be adding their voice and contribution to an active climate campaign.

Because of recent terrorist attacks, marching was forbidden during the Paris summit. This campaign group effectively outflanked their government’s ruling.

Simultaneously, they should be striving to reduce their personal greenhouse emission footprint by consciously cutting down on personal consumption of dairy products and farmed meat and of commercially farmed or captured fish and/or taking steps to reduce usage of fossil fuels.

Having put their personal house in order, climate active citizens should then multiply the effectiveness of their contribution by standing up to be counted and telling others what they are doing. Gradually the concerned actions of individual citizens, and those of increasing numbers like them, will become socially unremarkable. Then they will become the norm. Thereafter, personal inaction on climate change will become socially unacceptable. Only then, will governments and businesses conform to the needs of society. offers a platform on which New Zealanders can demonstrate their commitment. A Google search will reveal several other such campaigning organisations, active in New Zealand and concerned, to a greater or lesser extent, with influencing climate change policy.

Ultimately, every New Zealander has the choice of squatting, possum-like, in the headlights, or of accepting responsibility for the fate of family and friends and becoming active in this epic campaign to decide the fate of life on planet Earth.

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