Setting the agenda

Jeanette launched the year with her Picnic for the Planet on Waiheke Island in the sun yesterday afternoon. You can read her speech here and listen to the interview with Morning Report here.

Much has been made of the focus on energy and in particular, peak oil. I have quoted the relevant bits from Jeanette's speech below (apologies for the length but this not an issue that can be covered in a sound bite)

Our civilisation is the first to be truly global. It is the first to reach out to other planets, and to develop technologies to manipulate nature at the sub-atomic and sub-genetic level. And it is the first to develop a level of personal comfort that creates the illusion and the expectation that, thanks to our civilisation and our technology, we can forever conquer cold, hunger, pain, illness and eventually death itself.

We have done this thanks to the use of one substance: oil.

Ours is the only civilisation ever to be based on oil and it is the only one there ever will be. Oil has enabled us to use unprecedented amounts of other natural resources, mining huge quantities of minerals, vacuuming the oceans of fish thousands of miles away, farming intensively till the soil is just stuff you add chemicals to in order to grow mass-production food, felling vast forests, and transporting all this stuff, and ourselves, around the planet.

It is oil that has enabled the global population and the ecological footprint of our civilisation to grow so large that it threatens the physical limits of the planet itself: its soils, forests, and fish, its beautiful and unique living creatures, and the chemical and physical cycles on which our lives depend. It is oil, along with coal and gas, that has raised the carbon dioxide content of the whole planet’s atmosphere by more than a third since the start of the industrial revolution – a blink in time in the history of the planet. It is oil, and other fossil fuels, that is causing glaciers to melt worldwide; and that appears to be associated with a marked increase in freak climatic events such as storms and floods and heatwaves. It is oil and coal that risks raising the sea level into your seaside homes; allowing tropical pests and diseases like malaria into New Zealand; and extinguishing our threatened plants and animals because they have nowhere else to go.

Our oil consumption has been so extravagant that we have used up, in just one century, around half of what the planet has to offer. When that half-way point –known as “peak oil” – is reached, it becomes physically impossible to increase production no matter how hard you pump it.

When we reach that peak, demand will continue to rise, not just from Western societies that have used most of the oil so far, but also from countries, such as China and India, trying to catch up with our level of motorisation and industrialisation. There is no technology on the horizon that can replace our present consumption of oil, though there are many that can make a contribution. We cannot afford to turn to coal without causing run-away climate change. The only answer is to learn to use energy much more effectively.

The point at which demand outstrips the capacity of the wells to supply is the point at which oil prices rise inexorably and countries at the end of the supply line with little military power are likely to miss out. At first, it will cost you three dollars a litre instead of one to fill up your car. Later, there will be absolute shortages, no matter what you are prepared to pay. The cost of farming, fishing, manufacturing and international trade will skyrocket, and our international markets will no longer be able to afford our butter.

No-one can say for sure when this peak will be reached. The Government has picked 2037 as its best guess, based on what oil companies, the US Government and the International Energy Agency are saying. To be frank, this is day-dreaming. Discoveries of oil peaked in the 1960s. For many years, we have been burning four times as much as we have been finding. When you look beyond the oil companies to independent, experienced petroleum geologists, you find a consensus that we may well have less than ten years before we reach this terrible tipping point. The end of cheap oil is coming towards us with the force of a tsunami and New Zealand is not ready. Only the Greens are planning for how to cope.

If it is oil that has caused the growth of a consumer society that threatens the physical limits of the planet, it is peak oil that is causing an unprecedented attack on the human values that we have, until now, associated with civilisation. History tells us that when civilisations are threatened, empires get nasty. It should come as no surprise, then, that the United States – an empire dependent on oil – is doing everything in its power to secure the world’s fast dwindling oil reserves, even though that means trampling on the very freedoms it purports to uphold.

Peak oil is the reason for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Peak oil is the reason for the war on terrorism, designed to make us so afraid of being bombed by Islamic fundamentalists that we co-operate in the destruction of our own freedoms. And peak oil is the reason our government, in acquiescing to US fear-mongering over 9/11, has pursued legislation under which you may be imprisoned without charge or fair trial, you may have your assets seized without proof of guilt, and you may be denied information on what you are even accused of, and denied a passport in your own country.

This speech has generated an interesting discussion in the blogosphere.

NRT rightly points out that the Greens are determined to see three years with a left wing government. In terms of the environmental issues the Greens care about a left wing government will give us more stability than a right wing government, especially a Don Brash-led one. I can see the headlines now "Brash: the RMA will be gone by tomorrow…"

David Young quite successfully points out why people get worried by the Green message. I mean, it must suck having to hear messages that threaten your nice, comfortable suburban existence. I take issue with his comment that:

When we get richer, we can afford to care more about the environment. On the other hand, if we are poor and hungry, living in squalor, we will think only about the next meal.

This is a line that's given to the Greens all the time. The idea that one can only have an environmental consciousness if you have money is rubbish. Environmental consciousness transcends class (as does environmental unconsciousness!). Some of the poorest parts of our world have a greater environmental consciousness than the rest of us. Usually becuase they actually live with the environmental effects of capitalist countries extravagance. (As an aside, one of the first political parties formed in Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein was the Green Party).

Sure, I acknowledge that if you looked at the GP membership, you would find that most of our members aren't poor. But I would argue that it is more a function of the types of people who are more likely to join political parties in general. I work with a number of Green supporters and activists who are not actual paid up members but committed to the future of this planet just the same. The main reasons that they don't actually join the party is because of a) money b) unwillingness to get involved in internal party structures and c) they are not able to be politically aligned for whatever reason.

But the main issue I have with this line is the assumption that poor people 'don't have time' to think about the world around them. This is an incredibly classist assumption. I think Mr Young might want to go spend some time in some of these communities and he might discover groups of people with much stronger communities than you'll find in this country ie people who talk to each other, cooperate, discuss the world around them etc. Something that is quite difficult to find in middle class suburban Aotearoa (and ironically there's usually someone set out to destroy what great examples of living communities we do have). The other point to be aware of is that in my experience, and I'm sure it's not an uncommon one, people who are 'rich' also lead busy lives. I mean, it's not a part time job making lots of money so one could say "If we are rich and greedy, living in luxury, we will think only about the next wine-tasting."

I digress.

One other point I will make in response to David however, is his line that "What is needed is more growth, not less." This is an incredibly simplistic statement to make and is made without an ecological, socially-just analysis of growth. Growth for the sake of growth does not automatically make happy, prosperous communities. If one was to use the garden analogy, you can say that a garden is successful because all of the plants are growing really fast, the fact that they are all weeds is not relevant. Or you could say that a garden is successful because there are a wide variety of plants that are specifically planted to nurture each other, not deplete the soil of the nutrients required to maintain future growth, and provide food for the communities that depend on the garden.

DPF has finally managed to astound me with his lack of analysis. I mean for someone who is an ovowed capitalist, surely he would recognise the fact that what political decisions are made because it is economically important to do so at the time and all major economic decisions are about resources. In the case of war, the issue is always access to these resources. Sure, there will be some kind of noun attached to it (terrorism was a particularly good one IMHO), but there is always a resource incentive, otherwise what's the point? Honestly, I would think this was accounting 101.

Mr Farrar also proves his sketchy grasp on economics with this line "The war in Iraq is costing hundreds of billions of dollars." Exactly! It's costing billions, ie HEAPS more money moving around therefore more growth! Yay happy war fun for everyone. Except of course for the innocent civilans caught in the middle. I suggest you read this book David. Written by about the best MP National has ever had.

Some people out there have been claiming that the Greens are scaremongering. Yip, that's one way of describing it and it's one the biggest messaging problems we have. We are trying to communicate bad stuff, stuff you don't want to think about. But someone has to. And quite often you will hear Greens saying stuff that seems a bit far fetched but that would be because it's stuff that will happen in the future. We get ridiculed for it (as Greens did in the 70s for pointing out that massive increases in energy consumption will lead to energy shortages in the future…) and we are often stuck in 'told you so' situations we didn't want to be stuckin. But hey, it aint easy being Green…

If any of you understand these issues, genuinely care and would like to do something about it, check out the Green Party Energy campaign page.

And for those of you that think Jeanette doesn't know her shit, please educate yourself on her background. Jeanette knows more about energy policy than all of the other MPs in Parliament combined.

Thanks Jeanette, reprazent sista!


3 responses to “Setting the agenda

  1. So what were the economic decisions behind the Afghanistan war?

    I say it had nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with removing the Taliban as protectors of Osama bin Ladin who had just killed 3,500 people.

  2. Osama Bin Laden and most of his supporters were Saudi. There was no evidence prior to the invasion that invading Afghanistan was an effective way of dealing with Osama Bin Laden and indeed it has proven to be ineffective as a means of capturing him. The invasion has had some benefits for human rights, though not for the thousands killed; it has also restored Afghanistan’s role as a premier heroin producer.

    The invasion did however provide a way of securing oil pipeline rights across Afghanistan, something America had been seeking through negotiations with the Taliban for some time previously. As an aside, the death toll in New York from September 11 was about three weeks road toll in the United States so securing oil supplies may indirectly cause more deaths than Osama Bin Laden ever did.

  3. If Dubya was consistent in his war on terror, he would’ve bombed England and Germany, where many of the 9-11 planners and participants were based immediately prior to the attacks.

    I did support the coalition miltary overthrow of the Taliban in principle, however, but not because of the 9-11 attacks. The Taliban were an exceptionally brutal regime, which committed untold atrocities. Probably the worst was the masscre of some 8000 Shiites in the north when they defeated the Northern Alliance there in about 1998. But such massacres didn’t take up several pages of our newspapers after they happened, nor did TV1 cancel a week’s worth of programmes to devote full coverage to these atrocities, as they did for the US attacks.

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