Friday, 18 September 2009

John Minto: Politicians fiddle while climate collapses

From Stuff 15/09/2009 National and the the Maori Party traded their way closer to environmental catastrophe yesterday with a deal agreed to amend the Emissions Trading Scheme passed in the last term of the Labour government. It’s a deal with no winners and the environment, which in the end means all of us, the big loser. The previous Labour proposals had too little regard for the environment but this one has even less. Politicians are by the nature of their employment short-term thinkers. The three-year electoral cycle dominates decision-making. For National it’s simply delivering the review of the ETS which Act demanded as part of its election agreement, while future generations will regard the Maori Party role as simply trading opportunities for future generations for temporary baubles as in some of the land transactions of the past. There is simply no mechanism for climate change to be prevented under capitalism. For its very survival capitalism depends on growth. It’s like a pyramid selling scheme where confidence in the system relies on the belief we can always move forward with more and more consumers into an infinite future. Each individual is encouraged to believe we need a bigger cake rather than sharing the cake more evenly. Growth is the mantra of the marketeers while the environment is crying out -- enough! Many would say, and I include myself here, that capitalism has been going head to head with humanity for the past 300 years. Now climate change is where capitalism goes head to head with the life-support systems of the planet itself. I read recently a quote to the effect that asking capitalism to voluntarily stop growing is like asking a person to voluntarily stop breathing. The capitalist response to climate change has predictably been to create a market for carbon -- a so-called “cap and trade” arrangement whereby the levels of carbon would be capped and permits to pollute traded in a market. It’s one of those schemes which sounds plausible on paper but which will be quite impossible to work globally. It would set in concrete the injustices faced by developing countries that have seen their resources exploited to drive up living standards elsewhere in the world while delivering so little local benefit. It allows the worst polluters to purchase the right to keep polluting. There's an old proverb among the indigenous Indian population of North America which says a tribe would look seven generations into the past and seven into the future before major decisions related to the environment were made. Those people were in tune with their world. Maori in New Zealand were not here long enough to reach such a profoundly sustainable view of this land and its resources and Pakeha arriving here saw only resources to exploit. The combined efforts of National and the Maori Party have created an agreement with less than a generation in foresight. New Zealand is taking to Copenhagen the equivalent of a damp piece of paper to fight a bushfire.

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