Other than the belief, prevalent in certain Washington think tanks, that the USA could wage a nuclear war against Russia and emerge victorious, the greatest threat to humanity and to the multiple other species with which we share the planet, is the dramatic climate change, which is rapidly gathering pace.
Shortly, Pope Francis’s encyclical on the subject is about to break onto the consciousness of the world’s largest religious grouping: 1.2 billion Catholic Christians. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/27/pope-francis-edict-climate-change-us-rightwing Already audible, are the first salvoes of the counter-attack against his views, to be mounted by some of the richest people on the planet, who are doing very well, thank you, out of their investment in our species’ future destruction. https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/the-pope-vs-climate-deniers
There are no ifs and buts. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/05/06/its-official-global-carbon-levels-surpassed-400-ppm-entire-month The climate change deniers are either Judases, willing to betray future generations for fistfuls of silver, or desperate optimists, (many eager environmentalists among them) unable to face the reality of the evidence placed before them by over 97% of the concerned global scientific community. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_global_warming (And for an extreme scenario https://www.natgeotv.com/ca/six_degrees/about ) It begs the question: are the gains to be had from the competitive pursuit of an ever increasing rise in GDP, as currently indulged in by all nations of the world, worth the ever increasing risk?
Fifteen years ago, I embarked on the re-vegetation of a small section of Marlborough hillside, which had been burnt out in a bush fire. Already the writing was on the wall. I planted mainly Australian species on the grounds that they would be better able to withstand the coming warming. Sure enough, this past summer, when we received only 50mm of rain over three months, my Australian trees survived and nearly all the native totaras I planted, endemic to the region since the last ice age, died. Evidence of change is already visible. The worst case scenario is an estimated 10% chance of global warming by six degrees in the next hundred years which, like a full-scale nuclear war, will leave the Earth uninhabitable – except possibly, by cockroaches and algae. Given the pathetic attempts to date by the sum of multiple national governments to control their contributions to climate change, it is not impossible that this scenario will be realised.
This past week, I attended a local branch meeting of the NZ Green Party. The four candidates, for the position of male-joint leader of the party, each in turn, made their pitches to be the one chosen by the party grass-roots to replace the outgoing leader, Russel Norman. One of the four candidates, the only one not to already be a sitting MP, made a pitch along the lines of my early blog on the subject. This had followed an argument in the NZ Herald presented by Kennedy Graham, the consistently sensible Green spokesperson on international affairs. https://khakispecs.com/?p=13
The NZ MMP electoral system allows each voter two votes – one for a constituency MP and the other for a political party, which, provided it receives at least 5% of the party votes cast, may then, according to the total number of party votes received, select its own appointees from its ranked list of candidates. It is a great and democratic system in which nearly every member of the electorate knows that at least one of their votes has helped place an MP in parliament and that they are therefore guaranteed some form of representation. (It is a pleasant contrast to the UK’s first-past-the-post system in which I voted four times and never once had my vote represented in the House of Commons.)
The core Green policy, uttered with increasing urgency, is that of the need to protect our earthly habitat from the depredations of a burgeoning global economy. There are two points of view as to how this should best be done within the New Zealand context. The first, as presented by the odd-man-out candidate mentioned above, is that a rapidly increasing number of New Zealanders, from all colours of the political spectrum, (even libertarian ACT members have grand-children) are concerned about environmental matters. While giving their Constituency vote to whichever party most effectively pushed their self-interest buttons, they would give their Party votes to an environmental protection party – provided that it was just that – a single cause environmental party. However, as soon as the Green Party starts taking on other policies, which conflict with the policies of other parties for which constituency votes might be cast, those potential party votes are jeopardised.
The three sitting candidates pitching to the meeting, all followed the alternative argument. This is that in order to enter a coalition government and thereby be able to exercise ‘real’ power, the Green Party has also to embrace a set of policies unrelated to the environment. Given that the majority of its members are far more concerned with conservationism than with conservatism, the Green Party as if by instinct, tends to support the social justice causes of the left. The NZ electorate is overwhelmingly middle-of-the-road and has elected a centre-right government on the past three elections. Probably not by coincidence, the New Zealand Green Party has no constituency members and remains stuck with a party vote of between 10-15%.
On a personal note and moving in self-interested business circles, I have met multiple potential Green Party voters who would have given their party vote to the Greens had it not been for the encumbrance of other publicly espoused Green policies with which they couldn’t sympathise and which they didn’t see as coinciding with their own best interests. My take is that, given the ever heightening awareness of the threat posed by rapid climate change, while previous attempts might have failed, such a single cause Green Party, free of any expressed party positioning on other political issues, could, within one or two elections, look to receive more than 50% of the Party vote.
Such a mandate would allow coalition with any mainstream party wishing to form a government. A deal could be done whereby, in return for that party’s cooperation on matters of the environment and climate change, the Green MPs would guarantee not to oppose agreed items on the main party’s manifesto, while being allowed conscience votes on all other issues. Such a well-positioned and supported parliamentary party could avoid alienating large sections of the electorate while being able to oblige whichever government it was partnered with to actually DO something about rapid climate change. But what should such a government do?
In a previous blog I wrote about the principle of subsidiarity; the principle that political decisions should be taken at the level most appropriate to the matter in hand. There are matters best decided by the local residents’ association, decisions that should be taken by a local town council and other policies that can only be determined at a national level. https://khakispecs.com/?p=8
The problem with climate change is that the destruction wrought by one government’s moves to better its economy, spreads across national boundaries to damage the rest of the global community, who remain powerless to prevent the spread of the damage. Given the doctrine of inviolable national sovereignty, under which the globalised economy functions without oversight of a corresponding global polity, a feeling of hopelessness ensues. Under such circumstances why should a national government risk losing votes by restricting its economic exploitation of the planet’s resources, when by doing so it loses competitiveness with other nations, whose governments find themselves in a similar position? It is the tragedy of the commons writ large. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons Four men charging a lion simultaneously may slay the lion and survive. If they try it one after the other, all will be gobbled up.
Application of the Principle of Subsidiarity would require a global government with at least the power to override the wishes of national governments in this specific area of policy. There is an international movement formed to address this problem, whereby each nation dare only take certain political steps if it knows that its competitors will take the same step simultaneously.
https://www.simpol.org/index.php?id=8 Simpol, short for Simultaneous Policy, works better in first- past- the-post systems than elsewhere. Though the movement has enjoyed moderate electoral success in some countries, given their past rate of progress, the over-heated future will be upon us long before Simpol’s national branches have positioned themselves to deflect it. There are many other movements for initiating democratic global governance by international consent, but none of them are likely to achieve their goals in the limited time-frame humanity is now faced with.
Applying the Principle of Subsidiarity, the appropriate level for climate change decision making is at the United Nations Organisation. But the United Nations is not a world government. It cannot raise taxes on its own accord. It has no enforcement agency or powers other than those granted it on an ad hoc basis with the consent of the veto holders on the Security Council.
The General Assembly, in which all humanity is represented, is almost powerless when faced with that oligarchy of powerful nations sitting on the Security Council, five of which have the power to veto any proposal put before them and several of which, are wealthy enough and have the economic and military power to strong-arm weaker nations to conform with their selfish agendas. https://www.globalpolicy.org/un-reform/un-reform-topics/reform-of-the-general-assembly.html
As in the Westminster constitutional model, the United Nations Organisation has two chambers, but it is as if an undemocratically appointed House of Lords has five permanently sitting, hereditary members, any one of which can veto any proposals put forward either by their colleagues, or by the democratically elected House of Commons. Until this archaic UN constitution is drastically modified and the relative powers of the two chambers reversed, the UN will remain powerless in the face of climate change (and other pressing matters such as the potential for nuclear war.) In short, until reformed, the UN has no utility beyond that of being a possible mediator faced with the impossible task of mediating between powers in increasingly hostile competition for the rapidly diminishing supply of the earth’s treasures.
The most important of all the possible modifications to the UN’s original charter would be the abolition of the right to veto. This right was awarded to themselves by the victorious powers in WWII – the USA, Russia, Great Britain, France and China. It is an anachronism that could doom humanity to extinction. If the veto holders refuse to surrender their rights of veto, at least in matters regarding climate, then the only alternative is to by-pass the Security Council, as it currently stands, and for the General Assembly to set up an alternative, but subordinate leadership committee, with decision making powers limited to and specifically dealing only with matters of climate change and the raising of funds (perhaps through a mechanism such as a Tobin tax https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobin_tax ) to enable it to take independent executive actions in that field. It would be advantageous were such an executive council to be more reflective of the current status among nations as opposed to that which existed seventy years ago – nations such as India, Germany, Japan and Brazil deserve their place in the sun.
So we return to the question: what should a New Zealand Green Party do if it were in government? Any moves made within the tiny NZ economy to limit the speed of climate change, have almost no effect on the global phenomenon. Whatever the Green Party might achieve in influence on domestic policy along the lines of more insulation in dwelling houses, greater subsidies to encourage the uptake of solar power, the building of cycle tracks and the recycling of waste, their achievements will have no discernible impact on global climate. Such incremental changes will achieve little, other than the setting of a worthy example and thereby adding credibility to New Zealand’s voice in the council of nations.
What the Green Party has to use its power for, when in government, is to persuade the government to raise its voice against the veto powers of Security Council members and, in much closer coordination with other national Green Parties than currently exists, to lobby other nations to do likewise. No doubt such courageous action will severely strain New Zealand’s relations with the veto-holding powers. However, though risking such unpopularity now, might well achieve nothing, not taking that risk can only increase the likelihood that there will only be another two, three or four generations of New Zealanders able to inhabit these islands.
With this goal in mind, let the Green Party go out and take the party votes of that vast majority of New Zealanders, who wish their children and their children’s’ children to lead lives of comparable ease and comfort to their own. Likewise, let the average New Zealander, cease wallowing in the apathy induced by a feeling of powerlessness. Beyond doing their individual best at good planetary housekeeping, let them became active in driving the politicians they elect to take urgent and courageous action in the cause of planetary survival.
Next week a seventy year old Marlborough man is taking such action. Frustrated by his inability to persuade the local branch of the Fairfax Media conglomerate (largely owned by a billionaire Australian mining magnate, with interests heavily invested in climate change denial) to publish the following letter to the editor, he and one of his sons are embarking on a seven-day fast in the centre of the local town square.
Letter sent to the Marlborough Express 26 March 2015 and not published:
“Central Blenheim under 20 metres of water and the water lapping at the Wither Road-Redwood Street intersection, Villa Maria winery, Woodbourne, the meeting of Jacksons Road and Rapaura Road?
That was the sea level when the earth’s temperature last rose 2C above pre-global warming temperatures. We are now up 1C as a result of human activity. Halfway there. In fact more than halfway there because once we get to the tipping point ice melt and sea temperatures will be so advanced we will not be able to stop it.
Who else will study the science with me and act now?”
147 Redwood St, Blenheim Ph 035786667 Mob 0277108229 E: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also on Facebook.
Would that all the people of the planet show such public courage and so too, the Green Parties they elect! Not much time is left in which much needs to be done.
Before posting this blog, I asked a good friend, with an academic background and extensive knowledge of the workings of the UN, for his opinions on its content. Here is the earful I received in return!:
“This guy is talking bollocks. Cow’s poo.
He is a closet reactionary, as can be seen when he says that what we need is a true blue green party unencumbered by other (pinko) policies that discomfort the bourgeois greenies, who are many, and who do not want their party to be hijacked by socialists, as at present.
Neither the UNSC nor the UNGA is empowered to require anyone to make any payments of any kind, including even annual membership dues for the UN! They are based on a scale of assessment, and many governments either do not pay at all or pay late or withhold payments because they don’t like the colour of the UNSG’s underpants.
He assumes that, because there are two decision-making bodies they are based on the bicameral Westminster system. Nothing could be further from the truth. The functions of the UNGA and the UNSC are absolutely dissimilar to those of the Houses of Commons and Lords.
He claims that “all humanity” is represented in the UNGA. Bollocks. All world governments are represented in the UNGA, by ministers and diplomatic prostitutes who will sell their own grandmothers to the highest bidder. Humanity is utterly absent from the UN. it does not qualify for a security pass, let alone a voice in the UNGA.
It is not just the UNSC that is undemocratic, it is also the UNGA.
NZ is officially for abolishing the UNSC and has been for some time. But we push it so gently that the P5, esp. the US, will never really take us seriously. The push for UNSC reform is as old as the hills. They will crumble from erosion before the UNSC is reformed.
As you may have gathered by now, I think that this guy is an utter wanker.”
To which I replied:
“Actually, I wrote the blog myself and I disagree with your arguments, which seem simply to reiterate the obvious. My argument is:
1. That a globalised economy will remain dysfunctional until it is matched with a globalised polity.
2. Given rapid climate change, this dysfunctionality may well result in human extinction – (the only other threat of equivalent gravity being the current inability of a global polity to bring nuclear weapons under a unitary control.)
3. The UN, as presently constituted, cannot fill a global governance role and will remain unable to do so until, at the very least, it frees itself of the veto and has the power to levy its own taxes and thus ensure its financial independence.
4. I don’t think you can have carefully read what I wrote about the Westminster analogy – I stated quite clearly that the Westminster model, in which the majority ‘democratic’ body controls the minority appointed one, is the reverse of that existing at the UN, in which individual members of the minority, hereditary chamber have total power to overrule the majority ‘democratic’ body.
5. Everyone know that the UNGA is not democratic – but it is a damn sight more representative of the whole of humanity’s interests than is the UNSG! There is huge room for reform and much debate among Global Citizenship circles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_citizenship as to what form such reform should take. However rather than waiting until ice melts and thaw-water starts to boil, we need to get on with solving the immediate problem with the tools to hand.
Criticism is easy – but have you found anywhere else any reasonable, or even remotely likely to succeed, action plan for bringing climate change under control? I haven’t. Sitting back and doing nothing, other than buying more pink bats, does not seem to offer a satisfactory displacement activity.
To my mind, rather than trying to create a wheel from a plank of wood, we do already have to hand two rudimentary rollers in the shape of the UN and the global Green parties. The UN, given enough (i.e. overwhelming) public pressure, could be adapted to purpose. Likewise, worldwide, the Green parties could be adapted to become the vehicle for that overwhelming pressure.
It’s a long shot, but is there any workable alternative? I would be more than delighted to hear of any other options that might stand a better chance of success in the limited time available.
If an action plan with a chance of success exists, it should at least be put on the table for those with the concern and the energy to take it up, should the spirit move them.”
As a post script, I would like to add that today’s blog, triggered by Bill McEwan’s heroic example, has clearly been written with activism in mind. When I set out to become a blogger, it had not been my intention to do anything other than to inform and pass on information on international affairs not readily available in the Main Stream Media. In contrast to Bill McEwan, activism is something I would prefer to leave to the younger generations, who have more energy and longer to suffer under the consequences of their inaction.My future blogs will revert to the original intention.