Bruce Bisset: Plenty of hot air but no action

By Bruce Bisset

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Seems to me you'd be forgiven for thinking the sceptics had won and that climate change is not the most pressing problem facing life on Earth, given the almost complete lack of action to address it at the latest round of United Nations-led talks in Doha, Qatar.

Since hot air was all that was generated, and all that was agreed was to hold further talks to generate more, a cynic might conclude that these talkfests are in themselves a prime cause of global warming.

Not that anyone outside the meeting seemed to notice, mind you. Following the deafening silence on the subject during the United States presidential election, reports on the Doha conference have been few and as dull as ditch water in tone.

Even the alarming new facts raised during the conference received scant attention. Sure, by now everyone knows that the ice sheets are melting and sea levels and temperatures rising, but that these changes are accelerating at rates beyond the worst predictions of earlier climate change models was, surely, worthy of in-depth discussion.

Nope. Instead it was all about money: who could pay, who should pay, who was actually paying and how much.

And while the one new accord signalled "an agreement by developed nations to set up a process to compensate poorer countries for damage done by climate change" is a positive step, a bucketload of cash does a fat lot of good to a small island state that has disappeared beneath the waves. Though the bucket might be useful.

On that note, New Zealand's decision, on dubious economic grounds, to pull out of commitment to an extended Kyoto Protocol regime while a new concept is developed has been widely seen as a snub and betrayal of our threatened Pacific neighbours - the foreign policy gaffe of placing your foot in your mouth while pretending to speak authoritatively.

National's dismantling of the emissions trading scheme to the level of farce - where polluters are rewarded (by the taxpayer) rather than punished for increasing pollution - succinctly illustrates how zealously any voluntary reduction in emissions (the promised flip side) will be pursued.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines another international gathering, of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, was ostensibly trying to redress resource depletion, specifically the critically low level that tuna stocks, of all types, have now reached.

Not only bluefin and big-eye, but also yellowfin and even the ubiquitous skipjack (the species used for canning) are either at or below sustainable levels in the Pacific Ocean. Yet, in parallel with greenhouse gas emissions, overfishing of these species has increased.

As also with climate change, the most common complaint is that scientific evidence is being ignored while nations argue about how much overfishing to allow rather than how to properly manage stocks sustainably.

Indeed, one delegate's Freudism about "sustainable overfishing" probably drew the biggest laugh because it was the unpalatable truth.

Meanwhile, much closer to home, the chief spin-doctor for Pepanz, the local oil-industry body, while insisting (against all evidence) that deep-sea drilling causes no environmental impacts, was heard to complain that Greenpeace spends more in New Zealand lobbying against the oil industry than his organisation does promoting it.

Yeah, right. Even if that were true, was he counting what the companies themselves spend directly, or indirectly through the transport industry, or even more indirectly sponsoring climate deniers? Of course not.

This is the nub of the problem. That business, whether in the form of a government or a corporation or a body of supposedly sensible citizens, is a huge many-tentacled beast which will use all the power and guile of its multi-trillion-dollar empire to maintain a tenacious and rapacious grip on whatever turns a profit - come fracked aquifers or empty nets or high water - and have the gullible citizens of the world believe that extreme weather or a dying species or a polluted countryside is a hoax, a conspiracy perpetrated by a bunch of poorly funded disparate individuals and groups, activists or scientists, who have nothing to gain except in hope for a better future.

So if there's been no big news about the end of the world today, nor anyone in authority doing anything real about it, that's hardly surprising, is it?

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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