Blog No. 55. (Photo by Robyn Carter of Blenheim.)
On the 1st September I posted a blog about a new, local initiative in response to rapid climate change https://khakispecs.com/?p=1093
Since then, the May week of fasting, conducted by Blenheim resident Bill McEwan and his son Robbie, is starting to bear interesting fruit. Their fast was to draw attention to both local and national governments’ seeming inaction in face of the fast growing threat of climate change. I spoke in my blog of a group of local residents, inspired by Bill and Robbie’s example, coming together to form an active climate campaign group. That has happened and there have now been two meetings of ‘Climate Karanga Marlborough’ (CKM).
Not aligned to any political party, CKM will be in a position to be listened to by all New Zealand’s elected representatives, no matter which political party they represent. It plans to bring to their attention the rapid changes taking place in global weather patterns and the negative effects these will have on Marlborough and the rest of New Zealand. More importantly, CKM plans to lobby vigorously for the political actions required to address the threat.
Most importantly, as the effectiveness of its strategy is entirely dependent on its success in this, CKM will be working on its own account and cooperating with other climate activists groups, to build public awareness of the impending climate induced crises and to persuade individual members of the public into at least a minimal action. As a group of climate change activists, CKM will be one of many. Through its educational initiatives in local schools, street theatre events, organising local rallies and the exercise of all the other standard tools in the political activists’ repertoire, it will work to raise public awareness of climate change. Pressure on Marlborough District Council and upwards to national government level, for more proactive responses to climate change will increase in tandem with growing public awareness of the threat.
There is one unique aspect to CKM’s campaign, which should draw to it the attention of all New Zealanders concerned about climate change. This is an aspect of the campaign that is tailored expressly to the idiosyncrasy of the New Zealand electoral system. Climate activists in other countries, with different electoral systems, might well consider whether or not it might be possible to adapt this concept to the electoral systems of their own countries. In some cases it probably will be and in others, almost certainly not. Click: MMP
In New Zealand, MMP, standing for ‘Mixed Member Proportional’ representation, replaced a Westminster-like, first-past-the-post system after a referendum held in 1993. Under MMP, voters each have two votes. One vote is for a Member of Parliament to represent the constituency in which they live and the second vote is for a political party. Currently of the 121 MPs, 64 represent constituencies and 50 are appointed by political parties in direct proportion to the number of ‘party’ votes cast for them in the ballot. (The remaining seven votes unaccounted for, are ‘Maori seats’ – another peculiarity of the NZ system.)
Speaking as an immigrant from England, I find this system wonderfully democratic. In my forties by the time I moved to New Zealand, I had voted in every general election since aged twenty-one. Not once had I had a representative in the House of Commons, whom I had voted for. My constituency was in a firmly Conservative farming community, which, throughout the period, was represented by a dim-witted master-of-hounds, who saw himself as the solid guardian of a status quo, which in his view, had remained unchanged since the premiership of Lord Balfour. Under MMP even if the constituency candidate you vote for doesn’t get in, at least your party vote will contribute to the number of MPs entering parliament from the list of candidates drawn up by your party of choice. Unless you give your party vote to a party that is so fringe that it gains less than 5% of the total party votes cast nationwide, your vote will always be reflected in the make-up of the parliament.
Under this system, it is not unusual for voters to give their constituency vote to a candidate, who represents a different party to the one to which they choose to give their party vote. For example, I have always given my party vote to the Green Party as being the party most concerned about climate change, but as I know that their candidate has no chance of winning the constituency seat from the incumbent member of the National Party, the party least concerned about climate change, I give my constituency vote to the candidate who looks like the runner-up and who might just squeeze in ahead, when the votes are counted.
CKM works on the principle that 99% of the community, irrespective of where their political opinions might rest, are capable of empathetic feelings and therefore care about the fate of future generations. As CKM wishes to be able to appeal to all New Zealanders, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum, it will remain unaffiliated to any political party and not involve itself in any divisive political struggles – except over climate change.
Taking advantage of there being these two, quite distinct routes into parliament, CKM have launched a website www.karangaplege.org.nz which invites voters to make a pledge:
“I pledge to give my Party Vote at the next General Election to that party, which, in my personal judgement, will do most towards the limitation and/or alleviation of rapid climate change – no matter what its other policy proposals.”
A very wealthy voter who wishes to keep as much as possible of their income out of the talons of the tax department can still vote for the constituency candidate, who will best serve his or her purpose, as too, can the beneficiary seeking free medical care. However, if each is convinced that climate change is the most urgent long-term problem facing their community and threatening the lives of their grandchildren, they can each spare one of their votes towards helping ensure their elected leaders address the issue.
The intention is to gain sufficient pledges on the site to reach a critical mass. This tipping point will be reached when all political parties realise that they need to develop and promote effective climate change policies sufficient to have a chance of gaining pledge-takers’ votes and that failure to do so will cost them seats in both local and national elections. In Marlborough, for instance, a total of 36,669 party votes were cast at the last election. Of these, only 3,366 were cast for the Green Party, which is where anyone who had a primary concern about climate change would have cast their vote. As soon as CKM acquires pledges from more than that number, it will be cannibalising votes from other parties and will start putting pressure on them to improve their public offering of climate change policy.
For those who are too busy, or too weary, rearing children and paying off mortgages to find time for any form of political activism, the Karanga Pledge gives them a chance to make their voice heard with a minimal effort. It is anticipated that in this way a grass-roots movement will develop, starting in Marlborough, but then spreading province by province throughout the country.
Initially, take up of the pledge will probably be very slow but, as the next few decades see significant rises in sea-levels and recurrences of extreme weather, a tipping point will be reached, where those who haven’t taken the pledge will be seen as exceptions to the public norm.
For Marlborough, climate change, as it gathers pace (and long before the extremes of massive famines and population movements is reached) will mean more frequent and more prolonged droughts, depleted aquifers and coastal regions (including its provincial capital, Blenheim, which is so low-lying that early settlers called it ‘Beaver Town’) vulnerable to rising sea levels. The community will need to actively plan ahead in preparation for the changed conditions. Everyone needs to adjust current patterns of behaviour in order to reduce the risk of the, now inevitable, changes reaching the tipping point from which Earth’s climate will be unable to recover.
A truth spoken in jest at the last CKM meeting was that action has to be taken now and before coastal residential planning permissions will not only have to be earthquake-proofed, but will also require certificates of seaworthiness! Karanga is a call to action.