COMMENT:

Many readers might not know that I made my opinion writing name by regularly, but not exclusively, criticising the dairy industry. Considering I started my column (nearly a decade ago) in Taranaki, this made me unpopular quite quickly.

My focus in particular was on dairy's role in New Zealand's ongoing water quality problems. I was earnest, factual, and doggedly dedicated to taking sometimes quite complex science/policy and making it easily digestible to the average citizen.

While time has shown that my efforts haven't changed the water crisis game markedly, I helped to raise public awareness around the issues facing our waterways at a time when virtually no other mainstream commentators were taking the issue on.

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With journalism's emphasis on neutrality and objectivity, many colleagues refused to take me seriously.

In other words, into the colosseum I strode alone. I emerged bloody, sweaty, bruised, and bone-tired. I have no regrets, and that experience taught me much about withstanding pressure and taking heat.

I think it taught the PR teams at Fonterra, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers a fair bit too, but they'd likely deny that.

Anyway, my point is that even though I've now essentially ditched my dairy emphasis, I still get calls from serious environmental activists and campaigners. They usually want advice or feedback about how to get the public engaged with whatever they are working on, or even if their latest idea for a new campaign is going to fly.

Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters briefly block a road near the Bank of England in the City of London. Photo / AP
Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters briefly block a road near the Bank of England in the City of London. Photo / AP

I received one such call over the weekend, and it dawned on me that my advice had taken a dark turn. In fact, the advisee also acted like he expected my advice to be exactly what it was.

The environmental movement, like every other movement, is changing dramatically. No longer is it a case of simply presenting the facts and the people will be suitably outraged/moved/motivated/spurred to action. Those days are gone, and have been steadily leaving for a while. Now, it's about understanding with every fibre of a determined activist's being that the usual democratic ways to make headway are too unreliable, too slow, or possibly too corrupted to bother.

Anything done the usual way and through the usual channels is seen as undeserving of their time and energy. They comprehend that the runway is getting far too short for a successful take-off, and who can blame them.

All of which helps explain why I gave up on "outing" the dairy industry.

I realised that enough environmental writers had started taking up the cudgel, I also understood that dairy was on the brink of massive change anyway. Not because they've changed their polluting ways in any meaningful sense, but because climate change is changing everything for them — and everyone else too.

New Zealand's environmental woes are just as interconnected with massive crop failure in Russia or seawater destroying homes and lives in Miami.

An Extinction Rebellion climate change protester is removed by police after refusing to stop blocking a road near the Bank of England. Photo / AP
An Extinction Rebellion climate change protester is removed by police after refusing to stop blocking a road near the Bank of England. Photo / AP

With that realisation came a deep sense of calm. Identity environmentalism — like all identity politics — is a dead-end street. It used to matter. In our fast-warming world, it is really only a symptom of how bad things truly are.

Am I saying that activism of any kind is a complete and utter waste of time? No, I'm saying that unified activism against climate change inaction is really the only way to go, but only if — and this is a big "if" — governments of all countries start treating it like the humanity-ending threat that it is. They're not.

So, ever the realist, it is entirely predictable as to what's going to happen next. Activism will change. First, let me tell you what it's not going to be like.

It's not going to be submitting to your local council, or government select committee. It's not going to be writing a letter to the editor, or signing an online petition. It's not going to be holding a few banners, wearing face paint, and chanting something about peace and love. That is soon going to look so very yesterday.

What's it going to be like then?

Well, the protests will grow but the peace will not be maintained. Humans when fearful are extraordinarily predictable, in that they become entirely unpredictable.

We like to think that squillions will occupy every country's largest city with just their bodies, and bring it to a standstill. Extinction Rebellion tried it in London recently with much success, but still saw 1100 protesters carted off and arrested.

Why? Because capitalism waits for no one. Disruption won't be tolerated. The wheels of industrial civilisation must keep turning or we'll not be able to feed our families!

I've got news for you, sunshine. The wheels are already falling off, disruption will be the new normal, and feeding one's family will be a luxury.

Next up in my future protest predictions? What happens when the tanks are deployed?