Monday, September 30, 2019

Climate Change: Missing in action

On Friday, I joined 170,000 other New Zealanders and struck for the climate. Palmerston North's protest was an uplifting experience, with lots of adults turning out to support the kids. There's no headcount, but the back of the packed column was still coming round the corner while the front was waiting at the Fitzherbert lights, and its certainly the largest protest I've seen in Palmerston North.

On a national scale, the strikes were the largest protest in a generation, and one of the largest ever. In Wellington, 40,000 marched on Parliament - the only comparable protest I can think of is the foreshore and seabed hikoi. In Auckland, 80,000 marched. And that is simply enormous.

So what has been the response? Climate Change Minister James Shaw was crystal clear: we hear you and we need to do more (the Green Party was even clearer in accepting the strike's demands). Senior Labour MPs Grant Robertson and Andrew Little took a similar line (the Prime Minister was overseas at the time, so gets a pass on this one). As for the opposition? Simon Bridges? Nothing until today, when he's retweeting opposition to the strike. Climate change spokesperson Scott Simpson? Nothing. "Blue-green" Paula Bennett? Nothing. The closest I've seen to a response is agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller complaining about what the strikers were saying about farming. Instead, its wall-to-wall with their petty dispute with the Speaker over misleading use of Parliamentary footage. The biggest protest in a generation, and the opposition has basicly thrown a dead cat on the table to try and distract from the fact that they have nothing useful to say.

But a protest this large - 3.5% of the country - is not something politicians can ignore for long, at least not if they want to gain or retain power. Because for every person who marched, there were many more who agreed but stayed home. National is facing an energised voting bloc who will vote for the climate, and that bloc is only likely to grow. Either they need to accept the need for change, and credibly promise real policy (starting by supporting the Zero Carbon Bill and demanding tougher targets), or they'll end up not just on the wrong side of history, but the wrong side of the electorate.