Lucy Lawless: Time to put heat on our politicians

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Parties need to look beyond election day and tell us what their plan for climate change is - if they have one

The ferocity of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effect it had on the people of New Orleans opened people's eyes to the impact of climate change. Photo / AP
The ferocity of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effect it had on the people of New Orleans opened people's eyes to the impact of climate change. Photo / AP

Last month I attended the launch of Climate Voter, a new alliance between non-government organisations to put climate action on the slate this election. WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Generation Zero, Forest & Bird and 350 Aotearoa are spearheading a non-partisan push to make all politicians come to the party.

National and Labour are both fully aware that climate change is the most serious issue of our time but are refusing to articulate a long-term vision for future-proofing our economy, ecology or sovereignty.

Do they not have one? Does their temporal horizon only extend as far as September 20, 2014?

The first climate refugees from Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tokelau are now landing on our shores. The atoll nations will come first as the sea infiltrates their freshwater, making traditional agriculture impossible. A king-tide already swamps villages.

Farcically a New Zealand judge told them to "drink bottled water", as if that was a cure for their ills.

In advance of an expected tsunami hitting Samoa, the nearby Marshall Islanders were told by radio to "go to higher ground".

It is a cruel trick to play when there is no higher ground.

Is this the type of callousness we New Zealanders are tacitly consenting to? By not giving our elected officials a clear mandate to make new laws in accordance with decency and climate justice, are we effectively pro-catastrophe?

Or am I oversensitive?

A colleague and I evacuated New Orleans on the morning of Hurricane Katrina's landfall. There followed 11 hours of terror as half a million people tried to leave town.

The city was in gridlock. Plans made to ride out the hurricane as they had in the past meant that no one had takeaway water, food nor a full tank of gas. Cars were groaning under the weight of too many passengers, and even kids on the roofs.

The heat was unbearable and due to low barometric pressure, our fingers, feet and even heads were swelling. The worst thing of all was that there was no information - no radio, no cell service. They had been requisitioned for the emergency services which never came.

The rumour was that if we had not passed a certain bridge by midday, we would be turned back to the hell that was New Orleans. What followed Katrina was anarchy. Stories of heroism and grace were drowned out by the shrieks of societal breakdown. Toilets overflowed and the lights went out in the Superdome where thousands of people vainly awaited rescue. People prostituted themselves for something to eat. Unable to cope with the stress, one poor soul committed suicide.

In the hotel where my friend was holed up, criminals stole police uniforms from drycleaners and went door-to-door raping and pillaging. This is what happens when extreme stressors are placed on the human animal. We go feral. Nine years later, New Orleans is still trying to recover.

This experience made me realise how seriously we ought to be taking the threat of more frequent and intense natural disasters.

The New Zealand Government talks about the importance of science but ignores the most critical threat to life on earth since the advent of nuclear arms.

Instead, the Prime Minister lulls the thinking Kiwi mind to sleep as he makes anodyne pronouncements on all the things we New Zealanders don't care about. I often wonder if he isn't right. What do we actively care about any more?

If every schoolkid got a vote in terms of what they'd like their future to look like, you can bet your bottom dollar that species extinction wouldn't be on the wish list. The Christchurch earthquakes have taught us that the insurance industry is no match for natural disaster. Now homeowners all over New Zealand are having to redefine the value of rebuilding our homes. Insurance companies worldwide have seen the writing on the wall where climate change is concerned. Honest risk assessment is in their industry's best interest. It's time that government followed suit.

In the future every elected official will be required to state where they personally stand on the issue. Political parties will be defined not by "if" but by how far they are prepared to go in defence of our children's inheritance.

Climate Voter demands that our political leaders accept climate preparedness as a matter of urgent action. No one forced them to be elected. They wanted the gig and now they have to step up to the challenge of achieving what the climate scientists say is our true temporal horizon - a carbon zero 2050.

- NZ Herald

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