ON Earth Day recently I watched a documentary which set out the history of the political attempts over the past 20 years to deal with our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. That these attempts have been singularly unsuccessful is hardly a surprise. But the forces which interfered with those attempts were graphically demonstrated in the film.
I was left with two strong impressions from the film. The first was how Ministers for Climate Change, from the mid-1980s until 2008, strenuously attempted to confront the issue. From National's Simon Upton's first efforts to set a price on carbon, followed by Labour's Pete Hodgson and David Parker's work to set up an Emissions Trading Scheme, our politicians haven't exactly avoided the issue.
However, those watching the film were left in no doubt about why these efforts have been so unsuccessful.
The second impression was of the power of the corporate lobby to cast doubt on the science of climate change and to advance its economic agenda.
The strongest opposition, unsurprisingly, has come from the energy sector. Combined with other business leaders, the opposition of the oil and coal industries was consistently framed in economic terms, e.g. any attempt to put a price on carbon will "cost New Zealanders too much, destroy jobs, increase petrol costs, give our competitors an unfair advantage".
Politicians of most parties have been powerfully affected by these arguments - and continue to be. Successive governments have mostly cleared the way for rapid deforestation and dairy conversions and subsidies to the energy sector. Naturally, these moves make complete sense if the economic imperative is seen as the most important.
It is the same the world over. All of the international climate change conferences of the last 25 years have foundered on the efforts of governments to protect their respective country's economic interests. They have used exactly the same arguments as our business leaders have put forward here.
Why would we be surprised? It's simply a perpetuation of the belief that economic growth and technological development are what we need most, irrespective of their effects on the environment we live in. Our value as human beings is reduced to that of "consumers". Everything is given a price rather than a value. And the effects? ...
Essentially what happens as a result of this economic emphasis is that we lose connection with all the other ways in which we experience our humanness - and fundamentally with the natural world of which we are an integral part.
This leads to alienation from each other as we treat other as objects, and the Earth itself as something to be used and exploited. So what needs to happen, not just to reconnect with each other, but to deal with the growing effects of this alienation, including climate change? The Cambodian Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh has put it this way:..
"There's a revolution that needs to happen, and it starts from inside each one of us.
"We need to wake up and fall in love with the Earth.
"Our love and admiration for the Earth has the power to unite us and remove all boundaries, separation and discrimination.
"We need to re-establish true communication - true communion - with ourselves, with the Earth, and with one another as children of the same mother."
This pale blue dot, in a remote corner of the universe, is our only home. Let's love it, and all who live on it.
Philip McConkey has worked in the helping field most of his life. He is the father of three and grandfather of five, and is active in the Green Party because of what it offers for their future.