Opinion: Beyond fossil fuels 100% Possible

By Paul Young

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

A Power Shift is 100% Possible

It won't make any difference. We're insignificant. We can't afford it. No-one else is doing it. Let's be realistic here. It's just not possible.

Lately we've grown pretty used to hearing statements like this from our leaders when it comes to tackling climate change. Apparently we all need to accept that building an economy fit for the future is just not practical right now. Sorry folks. Never mind the consequences.

But the 750 young people from throughout New Zealand and the Pacific who came together this weekend in Auckland for Power Shift - the biggest youth climate summit our country has seen - clearly didn't get the memo.

They must not have heard our Prime Minister telling us the 100% Pure NZ brand is just a marketing campaign, rather than something we might want to try to live up to.

They must not have heard the reports from the latest UN climate change summit, where New Zealand was singled out as one of the countries doing the most to obstruct progress in negotiations.

They must not have seen our Government last month hammering one last nail in the coffin of the Emissions Trading Scheme - supposedly New Zealand's primary mechanism to reduce our carbon emissions.

If they had heard and seen all of that, surely they wouldn't be wasting three days of their summer discussing the urgency of climate change, the opportunities for New Zealand in meeting this challenge, and what they will do to shift our country off its current trajectory. Anyway, aren't today's youth meant to be apathetic and disengaged?

Well I was one of those 750, and I can tell you that we did hear and see all of that. We know about all the arguments for delay and inaction. We just refuse to accept them.

We refuse to accept that New Zealand is too small to make a difference. Ever spent a night in a tent with a mosquito?

We refuse to accept that our actions are insignificant. Climate Change Minister Tim Groser likes to emphasise that we only produce 0.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. I wonder, does Mr Groser recycle? Why, when he is only 0.00002% of New Zealand's population?

We refuse to accept the false dichotomy between economy and environment. We know that for true prosperity we need to recognise the two as inextricably intertwined, rather than the ostrich economics of sticking our head in the sand about big trends shaping our future.

We refuse to accept that it's only hippies and greenies who believe this. Those well-known tree-huggers like the World Bank, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the International Energy Agency tell us "delay is a false economy". Closer to home, business leaders group Pure Advantage say we can't afford not to act.

And if there's one thing that motivates these 750 young people I've just shared the weekend with, it's this: the future we want - a progressive New Zealand moving beyond fossil fuels towards a clean energy future - really is possible. It's 100% Possible.

Our homes, businesses and industries powered by 100% renewable energy; smart transport powered by clean homegrown fuels; an economy powered by innovation and truly green growth opportunities. All of this is in our reach with a clear vision and responsible, decisive leadership.

Around the world, countries aren't waiting - they're rolling up their sleeves. Denmark has political consensus on getting off fossil fuels by 2050, a plan which maps out achievable steps over decades, and policies and dollars committed out to 2020. They calculate they will actually recoup almost all of the modest near-term investments through cost savings down the track. Factoring in the many benefits, they'll be better off for it.

I could list many more examples, from Mexico, to Norway, to the UK. These are countries less fortunate than us with our abundance of renewable energy resources. But despite all our opportunities, New Zealand is inexplicably falling behind and quickly becoming a serious laggard.

What we're seeing from our leaders today, this isn't the New Zealand we know and love and are proud to be a part of. This isn't the New Zealand represented in the stories we like to tell that bind us as a country. The New Zealand that loves to rise to a challenge. The New Zealand that is courageous, determined and clever. The New Zealand that stands strong for fairness and justice.

These are values we hold dear, and it's up to us to reassert and reclaim them.

The 750 young people who gathered at Power Shift this weekend have a simple message for our fellow Kiwis: moving beyond fossil fuels is 100% Possible. More than that, it's the fair, responsible and smart path forward. It's time for New Zealand to step up, and in 2013 we aim to make it happen.

Paul Young is the policy coordinator for Generation Zero. 100% Possible is a collaborative campaign being run by Generation Zero, 350 Aotearoa and WWF-NZ. www.100percentpossible.org.nz

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