200 days

Short retrospective of the time since May 2019, when climate strikes began to regularly appear on the lawn of parliament. In September 2020, we counted 200 of them.

The man is standing over Ollie, the leash slipped on his anger. You’re scaring children, you’ve bought into this crap, you want to destroy the economy and stop progress. You’re wasting everyone’s time. There is no space to reply, and the camera keeps rolling. 200 more species will be extinct by noon, while up in the Beehive we’ve become an ornament. This is the discussion we get today. He’s still talking as he walks into the distance.

Later I make a submission to the Environmental Select Committee for Zero Carbon Act. One of it’s members has been posting climate conspiracy stuff on FaceBook. In the hearings, one challenges a submission by asking if they knew the CO2 levels during the Cretaceous period. I use my turn to talk about grief. There were no questions; it’s like I was speaking another language. I suppose I was.

I learn that the warming effect of atmospheric carbon was discovered by a woman, but her findings were not credited by John Tyndall, whose work three years later meant that atmospheric institutes would later bear his name.

That was 164 years ago. In 2019 you could buy the equipment to perform a high tech version of this experiment, complete with digital readouts and excel graphs, for $20 on TradeMe.

Earth Scientists call it the Anthropocene: this layer of cement, radioactive material, and burnt fuel combined with the energy of the Hiroshima bomb, firing up the ocean, 432 thousand times every day.

And biologists call it the Sixth Great Extinction. Both liken the time we live in to change only a little slower than being hit with a very large rock from space.

People who can see the problem start to pin their hopes on Extinction Rebellion, a grassroots, civil disobedience group that started in the United Kingdom. They do little to engage existing groups, suggesting that where they have failed, XR will succeed. In nations where the per capita price of extraction has always been a function of skin color, schisms start to appear. As 40,000 climate strikers march up Lambton Quay, handouts for XR’s week of action are left in the street. So many new people, to a battle that is so very old.

In Sweden, a schoolgirl with Aspergers is suddenly made famous due to her ability to not get distracted and say what she is really thinking. After reading one too many Guardian articles about the climate crisis, a middle-aged Englishman makes a wooden sign and stands on the lawn of parliament, vowing not to leave until an emergency is declared. Around the country councils add the declaration to official documents then most carry on as usual. And what did we expect: they’ve been adding bits about Te Tiriti for years.

He lasts 100 days. During the 70th a camera crew comes to celebrate the new protest length record on morning television. He surprises them by talking about carbon. Back in the studio the subject is quickly changed.

Supporters continue to assemble on Fridays, sometimes in large numbers and sometimes in small. The quickfire meetings and conversations with strangers are replaced with a schedule of speakers and a bit of Spotify. Summer ends, a pandemic arrives, and when the lockdown is over, it’s back to single digits.

Then come the Hunger Strikers. What if we got thousands of people here, they wonder. Surely that’s all it would take. When they arrive, the statue of Richard Seddon is colonised with banners, water bottles, and a deck chair to starve in. When the plandemic protests arrive in large and angry numbers King Dick also gets a Covid QR poster, just to avoid confusion. ‘Listen to scientists’: that’s all we’ve been saying.

Sixty days later I have become the Ricardo Montalban of ‘Starvation Island’, welcoming newcomers to the deckchair and their public hero’s journey. This call to adventure sees them navigating discussions about religion and tree planting and hoaxes and the cost of the playground. They begin believing their sense of despair can be transmitted, but the airwaves here are thick with other things. The stories around this place, no matter how banal or evil, generally last about a week. Eventually the striker moves on, and we make a roster for the next one.

And still the election. Facebook tells us all bets are off, and the Greens remind us we are in the brightest timeline. Still, there’s no price signal for the biggest emitters: drying milk into powder releases as much CO2 as a million cars, most of Taranaki is open to exploration and the jackals are tearing up any hope for an efficient and just energy infrastructure behind closed doors. It’s been three years. Of course, emissions are still rising.

Arable land is loading up on heavy metals, gas plants are increasing; hell, even coal is on the rise. Everyone is stuck in traffic, listening to talk radio. If you’re trapped in a car, the only way to get to the future at all is by using a road, so the promises make sense. They’ll buy something higher next time. Maybe get a view of some grass.

This Friday, we’ll have passed two hundred days of climate striking outside parliament. Not that it matters, we gave up counting the way grownups forget about birthdays. But it works in the media. So we’ll make a few calls.

One comment

  1. Preparing for another hearing with an EPA Decision Making Committee on another application for discharge of trace amounts of harmful substances, the only publicly notified part of another exploratory drilling campaign for oil and gas, this time in Canterbury Basin off Dunedin, aspects of your article reminded me of a couple of quotes:

    “We are living through a tragedy whose measure exceeds our comprehension and most of us are implicated in this tragedy. We were born into this situation and there is no simple way to free ourselves from it. The grand summits, the uplifting rhetoric of leaders, the protests at the summit gates: none of this will make it go away. The changes we make to our lifestyles, the meat we don’t eat, the flights we don’t take: none of this will be enough. We will not make this way of living sustainable, nor anything like this way of living – and yet, I’ve always felt able to add, this need not be the end of the story. There will almost certainly be creatures like us around for a good while to come, and though they will live with the consequences of the way we lived – though their lives may be hard, as a result, in ways we do not like to think about – they will not simply live in our shadow: the way of life of those who come after us will be, just like our own, the only lifestyle they have known and the one that they love. ….” Dougal Hine ‘After we stop pretending. Dark Mountain Project’

    “Now she sees a forest, spreading across these mountains since before humans left Africa, giving way to second homes. She sees in one great glimpse of flashing gold; trees and humans, at war over land and water and atmosphere. And she can hear, louder than the quaking leaves, which side will lose by winning.” Richard Powers ‘The Overstory’.

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