Grandparents, we must leave a habitable planet

Dear fellow grandparents and other seniors,

On Friday, March 15 many of our grandchildren will refuse to go to school. They will join thousands of teenagers in a global demonstration of their fear that the planet we are leaving them will become uninhabitable.

Their universal cry is that governments everywhere have failed them. As Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg so eloquently told the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

The actions we have to take urgently are drastic. We know what they are, we’ve known for 30 years, some of us for much longer. We grandparents are a privileged generation, we grew up in a time of plenty. That time is over, as each new scientific report makes clear. 

The latest, from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gives us until 2030. That date implies that after 2030 we won’t be able to prevent our house from burning down whereas if we work hard until then we can reduce the damage. Limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees will give people and ecosystems more time to adapt.

Our grandchildren’s protests on March 15 are part of a huge groundswell of public concern. Individuals, organisations and communities are committed to making changes, small or substantial, in the ways they live.

We, with a life time of political experience, need to use our voices to back up those of our children. We need to urge the government to follow this groundswell with structural changes to the way the country is run. There is no shortage of information and recommendations to draw on, including reports from government’s own experts - the Productivity Commission and the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Last year’s refusal to issue new permits for oil and gas exploration was a start. It means that we will have to think carefully about how we use what fossil fuel we have left and urgently increase research into alternative energy sources. 

It’s crucial that the Zero Carbon Act is passed this year – as promised at election time. Zero carbon means that we will reduce our emissions to such an extent that we achieve a zero balance by offsetting or compensating for the gases we continue to emit. 

Let’s give our undivided support for our grandchildren to take this Friday off and go into the streets with their banners and placards. They have understood the full implications of this climate crisis.

The Act will set out targets, timeframes and strategies for achieving this goal. Planting trees is only one part of the process. Originally 2050 seemed a reasonable target date but we now know that we must get there by 2030. The Arctic ice, the glaciers, the West Antarctic ice shelf are all melting too fast.

Our most difficult task will be accommodating the changes to our farming communities and adjusting the basis of our economy. Animals and the way we now farm them are responsible for some of the most damaging gases that contribute to global warming. A pulse of methane is 120 times stronger than the equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2) but shorter lived – a mere 12 years. That short life is meaningless if we are consistently producing it, especially when it’s reckoned at 43 percent of our gross emissions.

Nitrous oxide, from cows’ urine and the residue of nitrogenous fertilisers, is the worse culprit. It’s 310 times stronger than CO2, remains in the atmosphere for 114 years and as it breaks down it destroys the ozone layer.

Medical research assures us that a diet containing no, or minimal animal products can keep us perfectly healthy. We can change such basic habits as what we eat but we need to do so fast and with support for those whose livelihoods will be altered.

Let’s not be overwhelmed by this problem. Changes are beginning. Here are some examples in New Zealand. 

The Sustainable Business Network is one of several organisation established to inspire and connect businesses whose aim is to reduce their emissions. Strategies include eliminating waste, using energy efficiently, replacing coal or gas with renewable electricity in industrial boilers and sending freight by rail instead of road. Conferences are being held by video rather than flying participants in and facilities for employees to bike to work or vouchers for public transport are replacing free parking.

The Climate Leaders Coalition was launched in July 2018. Its membership includes the CEOs of 79 enterprises. Its goal is “to help New Zealand transition to a low emissions economy and, in doing so, create a positive future….”

Local government leaders have a similar organisation which invites mayors to sign the Mayoral Declaration on Climate Change. So far fifty-six councils have signed the document which commits councils to promoting walking, cycling and public transport, to improving energy efficiency and supporting renewable electricity and electric cars. Auckland Council runs a programme called Live Lightly which supports communities concerned to measure and reduce the emissions their lifestyles produce.

Coastal communities are aware of their increasing vulnerability to sea level rise.

The lives of we seniors will likely end before the worst effects of global warming and resource depletion kick in. We can’t be held responsible but knowing what we know now we have an obligation to do what we can. If we can’t ride bikes or walk very far we can write letters and emails and we can talk.

Politicians, who do lots of talking, need talking to because passing the Zero Carbon Act will require compromise and collaboration. Maybe if they all went to Kiribati, as Winston Peters did recently, and saw the effects of sea level rise on people there, they would understand that houses are not only burning but disappearing beneath the ocean.

Let’s give our undivided support for our grandchildren to take this Friday off and go into the streets with their banners and placards. They have understood the full implications of this climate crisis.

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