Snakes and ladders

The Climate Change Commission’s report hit the streets this week with yet another path to achieving lifesaving atmospheric KPIs. As important as the report’s subject matter might be, the potential pathways left at the country’s disposal to effect an acceptable resolution – ones with as little pain as possible – are rapidly reducing and the options remaining are becoming exponentially more difficult to navigate. The increasing difficulty is not simply a lack of time. It’s also thanks to Covid-19’s appalling timing and to intergenerational behaviour that blissfully trundles on.

The report claims that we won’t meet our 2050 Paris targets on our current trajectory. No surprises there, but it’s fascinating because the old are getting older and youth of a decade or more back are taking up the economic baton. Yet, for all the blame they billow on prior generations, the malls are still full on a Sunday, and they’re as busy and consumptive as we ever were, and way more so than our grandparents. As I’ve said before, the power is entirely in their hands, and the answers they seek are probably in the rest homes of the world, but we traded time-honoured wisdom for a fast buck and an app years ago. The sad part for humanity is that by the time each generation understands the problem and the solution, they find themselves among the ignored.

It’s interesting that some of the chickens belonging to past decisions made under the banner of ‘efficiency’ are now coming home to roost, and here I’m talking coastal shipping for one. New Zealand had an effective coastal shipping industry until it was deregulated. Now there’s only one truly coastal ship/boat left.

I chuckled at the age-old chant of increasing the freight component on rail. Again, if the government wants rail freight increased to the point where it’s not mopping up the margin of error in the annual freight tonnage moved, it will probably need to reintroduce transport regulation, either directly or via an additional tax on freight moved by road. I’d wager a road-freight tax may have been a potential possibility but for one thing – borrowings. As a nation, we’ve borrowed our way out of a catastrophic economic collapse. As individuals, we’ve sunk our dosh into dirt and huts as a means of both protection against ill winds, or more likely, for personal accumulation.

As busy as some parts of the economy are, it’s currently a bit like being at a boozy party on the edge of a cliff. Introducing revolutionary climate strategies now has to be done with as little inflationary effect as possible on either money, or the essentials of modern existence – jet skis and the like – in case too many of the drunken attendees go the way of the abyss. Covid-19’s timing in history was bloody appalling, it eliminated any buffers available in the big challenge.

While it may not always seem so, I do have some sympathy with those in power for the complexities being added to the gargantuan task facing humankind. If we prevail on climate, the textbooks will need to be rewritten, because we will have subverted the most fundamental rules on the natural lifecycle of a population.

Currently, the commission’s report is going through a consultation process. With the mandate the government was given at the recent election that essentially means gabble among yourselves for a bit and then brace for impact. The issue is that history teaches us that forcibly trying to alter a free society’s behaviour from the top down is a risky manoeuvre, more challenging when that society is a privileged one. At least having given up on our old big brother in the West, it’s good that our new big brother in the East is likely to have good manuals on how to spank the plebs into shape when there’s dissension in the camp.

All the best

Dave McCoid