So, the planet has blown the whistle and it’s game on. We either pull ourselves together and get points on the board or we find ourselves at the bottom of the table, supplanted on the podium and replaced in a Darwinian pecking order, possibly by cockroaches.
It’s been an agonising wait as decades of climate summits dissolved into farce and governments played us false. Until quite recently, you couldn’t sell houses on Waiheke’s sea-level beachfronts for the obvious reason that even the least alarming predictions of sea-level rise were always going to impact their properties, yet the city council has kept to the orthodox line of denial, as if disappearing beaches and wholesale loss of the CBD was an act of God and no responsibility of theirs.
In the meantime, the Fox Glacier has quietly disappeared, raging weather patterns have wheeled out of the Southern Ocean and inundated (or drought-stricken) towns across the country seem like part of the nightly news cycle.
Even when Covid-19 showed us a quiet earth and a kinder world without planes, cars, multinational commerce and the endless churn of our lives, the brief window of gratitude dissolved into acrimony.
In recent months California burned, Australia burned, ancient and sleepy European hamlets were swept away by their own picturesque rivers, Greece and now wilderness in Canada’s temperate Pacific Northwest are infernos. Island nations are at extreme risk and global weather maps alone can give one nightmares.
My mother spent her war years as a very young Wren officer in North Africa and landed in Naples, to be swept up Italy with the advancing allies. Like most of her generation, she seldom spoke of it, but once said her most vivid memory was of walking home from school in the years of government appeasement, prevarication and rumours of fifth columns as World War II brewed across The Channel. “You wanted it to start; anything seemed better than the waiting,” she said.
This week, finally, the extraordinary collective illusion afflicting those in high places that the climate emergency rolling down on us is some sort of inconvenient mirage has been abandoned.
Although tied to a worrying story of the crew’s Covid status – the abiding news image of the week could be the Rio de la Plata’s decks stacked to the skies with containers bringing us … stuff.
Internationally, oil companies are facing meaningful litigation and what one can only hope are crippling penalties for concealing and denying data from their own scientists and knowingly holding the world and its governments to a ruinous path. For a century.
The Commerce Commission draft report on anticompetitive practices in our supermarket duopoly showed that we have some of the lowest wages and highest food bills in the western world, as well as the worst housing costs. It’s fertile ground for effective personal activism.
Our Countdown supermarket caught fire some years ago and we shopped very well at the Saturday market and locally owned shops – and not a cent of the profit left the country. Choosing meat from the butcher and discussing recipes for interesting cuts was an exercise in creativity and connectedness.
In this new game of resilience, designing a food forest for the garden is urgent. I’ve read Ruth Ozeke’s My Year of Meats and hope chopping back my meat consumption will come with a reciprocal rise in centeredness and harmony. A rug and hot water bottle in the evenings can knock a few degrees off the heat pump setting.
I’m balancing my fossil fuel consumption with the hazards of an electric bicycle and have got to grips with the bus timetables, although I’d secretly prefer for someone to come up with an electric conversion kit for my ubiquitous Rav 4.
All of which is commendable – we want to be able to look ourselves in the eye – but we’re also part of the collective that made us great over the past 10,000 years: the ability to combine and collaborate; to take right action for the good of the whole and in harmony with natural law in whatever niche we found to inhabit.
To rebalance ourselves and the planet at this new tipping point, we need to be playing to a fairer game plan and there are many places to look. Dumas coined “one for all and all for one” for his 19th century French musketeers and I am offering it provisionally.
In his witness statement and vision for the future, A Life on Our Planet, David Attenborough acknowledges that our predicament is “beyond alarming” but “it is possible to achieve so much more working with others than any one of us can achieve alone”.
The extent to which brilliant minds are at work solving the problems we face is heart-warming, he said. • Liz Waters