“There are no prizes just for showing up,” international human rights lawyer Kavita Naidu, a Pacific delegate to the COP26 conference, said on the eve of the ritual gathering of world leaders in Glasgow this week.
He was aiming squarely at Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who richly deserved the swerve after weeks of refusing to say whether he would lug Australia’s still-woeful climate record to Glasgow or stay home and bask in the approval of his country’s powerful open-cast coalmining lobby.
With the UN’s Conference of the Parties summit in mind and fiendish Australian wildfires raging, I recently picked up veteran investigative journalist Marian Wilkinson’s The Carbon Club.
In brilliant detail and with extraordinary access to key players on all sides, Wilkinson tracks the club’s loose confederation of Australia’s influential climate-science sceptics, politicians and business leaders who shared a fear that dealing with climate change would undermine the nation’s wealth, jobs and competitive advantage – and their own power.
Under its sustained fire over two decades, the more climate science was questioned, the more the country’s politicians lost the imperative to act.
There’s little doubt that democracy is in poor shape on the planet at the moment and former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull probably had the right of it in a recent Guardian article in which he said the same “truth deficit” that enabled Donald Trump is still at work in Australia.
The riot and attempted US coup, promoted and encouraged by the president and media allies like Murdoch and his Fox News, had probably done more damage to US democracy than any other individual, he said.
“Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaigns have sought to exacerbate divisions in western democracies and undermine popular trust in their institutions. By creating and exploiting a market for crazy conspiracy theories untethered from the facts, let alone science, Murdoch has done Putin’s work – better than any Russian intelligence agency could ever imagine possible,” he said.
“[The Murdock media] does not operate like a conventional news organisation but rather like a political party, pushing its own agendas, running vendettas against its critics and covering up for its friends.” Meanwhile its Fox News was “a megaphone for conspiracies and falsehoods”, he said.
“This relentless diet of lies has done enormous damage to liberal democracies, and none more so than the US itself.”
To this day, quarter of all Americans and 56% of Republicans still believe Trump is the true president and even at this Southern Hemisphere remove, we see Facebook putting a megaphone to that media anarchy.
Early this month, British Guardian columnist George Monbiot noted an alarming rise of far-right ideas penetrating into left wing countercultures with many on the left inexplicably spouting far-right conspiracies, a phenomenon reinforced by Facebook algorithms that direct vaccine hesitant people towards far-right conspiracy groups.
He also blamed an underlying despondency, confusion and betrayal.
“After left-ish political parties fell into line with corporate power, the right seized the language they had abandoned.
“Bannon and Dominic Cummings brilliantly repurposed the left-wing themes of resisting elite power and regaining control of our lives, while those on the right talk of liberation and revolt.” All mixed up with Covid’s big pharma suspicion, coercive political lockdowns and climate breakdown.
“Now there has been an almost perfect language swap,“ he said.
Well-meaning but powerless is not a comfortable place to live, and on Waiheke we have often found fairly fertile soil to aim for the bigger things. ‘No nukes in the Pacific’, or, more recently, ‘No Petrobras oil exploration’ were both influential, even global.
With a little thought, most of us can do something to further the cause of generating a sustainable future for civilisation and for fossil fuel reduction.
Small or large, our role in democracy is to empower – embolden – our politicians (of either stripe) to make wholesome decisions for the common good.
We are at the ‘use it or lose it’ stage.
Monbiot again: “There’s a sound hippy principle: balance. I don’t mean the compromised, submissive doctrine of centrism. I mean the balance between competing values in which true radicalism is to be found: reason and warmth , empiricism and empathy, liberty and consideration.
“It is this balance that defends us from both co-option and extremism.
“While we might seek simplicity, we need also to recognise that the human body, human society and the natural world are phenomenally complex.
“Life is messy. Bodily and spiritual sovereignty are illusions. Enlightenment of any kind is possible only through long and determined engagement with other people’s ideas.
Self-realisation requires self-questioning. True freedom emerges from respect for other people,” he concluded. • Liz Waters