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Climate Change- Are We That Apathetic?

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

Do we really care…about anything?
Not the type of caring that indicates you are highly concerned as to whether the Top Model with the lesbian tendency, the one that talks like she’s about to hyperventilate or the one that’s actually has boy bits goes home this week.
Or whether there’ll ever be a KidsCan Boxing Match between Michael Laws and the Sunrise presenters. (Or one between Paul Henry and Oliver Driver, for that matter. I’d pay. I really would.)
No. I’m talking about the kind of caring that gets us off our couches, into the street, with Actual Signage to indicate precisely what we care about.
I’m thinking this may be a type of activism largely left to my parents’ generation. I, for one, have never taken to the streets, waving my fist, yelling madly for The Cause.
(This has been known to happen on Queen St, Auckland on a Friday night, although The Cause is usually better known as The Quest For More Alcohol and Beers.)
I have never been so passionate about something that I’ve written letters, made phone calls, organised rallies, baked a cake (possibly a good thing considering my cakes), been visibly angry or upset on a television news cast, or voted beyond the criteria “probably won’t screw it up.”
I’m a complete disappointment to the Signpost Holding Division of the world.
Here are some examples of the signs that people hold up in Washington in the U.S. on a daily basis:
More World/ Less Bank
Peace is Patriotic
Corporations Are Killing The World
Visualize Fuel-Efficient Vehicles
Shame on Dual Loyalists
Get Out Of The Middle East
I Used To Be A White American But I Gave It Up In The Interest Of Humanity
Republicans For Peace and Justice For All
Starbucks Sucks

Obviously there are some people there missing more than half their screws, but at least they can say there was something out there that meant so much to them they were willing to fight for it.
I don’t have a war that directly influences me; the whole nuclear-free waters thing has been achieved, there aren’t any rugby tours I’m particularly opposed to, and while I wish my pay was a little more even and some wolf whistles a little more infrequent, I’m not about to start burning my bras.
Other people have already fought for me on these issues.
The issue of my generation, and affecting every other generation, is climate change.
There is a meeting happening in Copenhagen, December 7-18 2009. The rules that get set here will pretty much seal our fate. (Not to get dramatic or anything.)
This meeting is called the United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as the This Is It, Folks Consortium.
Obama will likely be there. Key will, too.
Oxfam NZ are running a campaign to get John Key to agree to, among other things, “cut our emissions first, fastest and furthest so that global emissions peak by 2015 and fall at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.”
They also have a few fun facts about climate change:

    * The upper range of sea level rise sea level rise will likely be in the range of 50cm – 1 m, or possibly more by 2100, affecting one in ten people on the planet.
    * A one metre rise in sea level would wipe out a third of the world’s croplands.
    * More than half the world’s population now lives within 60 km from the sea.
    * The total number of natural disasters has quadrupled in the last two decades – most of them floods, cyclones and storms.
    * Climate models foresee the malaria zone encompassing 60 per cent of the world’s people by the end of this century.

The Global Humanitarian Forum has the appropriately-titled, (and the first comprehensive report of its kind) Human Impact Report available for download under this quote. "Climate change is still considered a solely environmental problem. It is seen as a distant threat that might affect our future. A viewpoint reinforced by pictures of glaciers and polar bears — not human beings" -Kofi Annan

 If you want to take the “It’s All About Me” standpoint, (I did, hence the next link), you can go to the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment’s regional guide, which basically says that if you live in Auckland, it’ll be warmer with the same amount of rainfall, which is the good news.
The bad news is that “Climate scientists estimate that Auckland's temperature could be up to 3°C warmer over the next 70-100 years. This compares to a temperature increase in New Zealand during last century of about 0.7°C. To put this in perspective, the 1997/98 summer, which many New Zealanders remember as particularly long, hot and dry, was only about 0.9°C above New Zealand's average for the 1990s.
Flooding could become up to four times as frequent by 2070. At the same time, long drier summer spells will put pressure on the water supply system.
The effects of climate change may bring significant costs to the community.”
I bring all of this up solely because the LATE's are back, first Thursday of every month, at the Auckland Museum.
The guest speakers this month were economics commentator Rod Oram, who among other credits has thirty years' experience as a financial journalist, and environmental campaigner Dr John Merson, Director of the Australian Institute of Environmental Studies ( among other credits).
The discussion was on economic and environmental impacts of migration in this age.
The discussion was fantastic, and museum staff did make the effort this time to warn us we were not allowed to get inebriated next to the artefacts. Finlay MacDonald did a fine job as mediator despite not actually being able to move due to a defective mike.
 However my favourite bit was when Mr Oram got a little over-excited during a part of the discussion on how much of an impact we, the people have on global decisions regarding climate change, and basically said why are we so apathetic and to please get off our butts and make something happen.
(I say ‘basically’ because he is a very smart man and if so inclined could probably sue me three ways from Sunday.)
The thing with protesting about anything, be it global warming, politics, war, or the fact your new heater has died after its second use, is that, really, it’s kind of an effort.
It’s not that we don’t have the strength of our beliefs or the courage of our convictions, it’s more that we have to get up early the next day or, actually, the last episode of such-and-such is on and may contain important plot points.
Also, it’s hard to break down what we agree with in principle and agree with in practice. I mean, I don’t really mind if refugees from another country want to stick around; obviously their country sucks, we have the room, why not?
However, in ten or twenty years when there are parts of countries under water and foreign governments start pressuring us to take in their homeless, I may be a bit iffy about having to share my bathroom with six refugees and a goat.
We attach value to what we cherish and make every effort to acquire, retain and protect it. Markets realise this and move to emphasise their product as decided by us, the consumers. We attach importance to our country being clean, green and “100% pure”. It’s not a coincidence so many of the products we buy promote these qualities.
Due to media focus on (and therefore our interest in, and vice versa) global warming, everything from our cleaning products to our clothing to our cars now profess to clean our stoves, keep us warm and dry and transport us places, all while saving the world.
This is perhaps not only motivated by a fervent desire to save us all from imminent disaster, but also to motivate and encourage us to buy their product because it represents the most value to us.
New World is an good example of this. By sponsoring Keep New Zealand Beautiful's Clean Up Week, they have been on the frontlines picking up rubbish, doing their part, which is commendable. Their staff have also been wearing bright red “Keep New Zealand Beautiful” shirts. Brand association, aisle three?
By putting pressure on markets and governments, by saying we aren’t going to buy their product if they don’t start saving the world instead of pretending to, we can make change happen. Cadbury took palm oil out of its products. GE Motors started producing (more) fuel efficient cars. The National Party changed the way New Zealand voted.
Watch V for Vendetta- “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
The point is, okay. We don’t really protest, and we don’t really do a lot of campaigning for things. We’re apathetic.
But what happens when our foreshore is no longer our foreshore due to rising sea levels and we need to start hacking at native trees so we can have a coast line again? What happens when you can’t go down to the beach (or the bach) anymore because you just might find a few desperate, hungry families illegally entering the country. How many bands of vigilantes will form with our 40,000 black market guns, to start policing where our police force is too over-stretched and under-staffed to look?
Will we protest as our culture, our beliefs, our way of life, all the things we are told we value and the things we find we value most, change or diminish, or disappear?
These are questions that will need to be answered or ignored as each of us see fit.
But will we say, in thirty years time, when our children ask for the history of their world, that yes, I was there, and I saw it happen.
From the sidelines.

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