The fight against climate change is well and truly underway, and now the government and councils have joined in.
But how substantial are these moves and by declaring climate emergencies are we ignoring wider problems?
The new book A Careful Revolution, edited by David Hall, explores these questions.
“The real issue is that looming ahead of us we have a real disruption of some sort and the question is, how can we manage this disruption in a way that causes the least harm and suffering and inconvenience for people as possible?” says Hall.
It’s not just a social question, he says.
“France was a really salient example where people pushed back against the increase of a fuel tax and this is one of the dangers if you move forward too quickly or move forward in the wrong way, then you can create these revolts or counter revolutions even.”
Hall says the problem is we’re all locked into systems which create emissions and are powered by fossil fuels, and financial systems that lock us into higher emissions.
He argues that we need to take care of how we undertake the revolution which, he says, will be on the scale of the industrial revolution and the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago.
All policy requires careful thought because not all effects can be anticipated, he says. When there’s a number of policy changes coming through at once, like policies that impact farmers, there can be a sense of anxiety about the implications.
Does declaring a climate change emergency mean anything in the bigger picture? Hall says he treats these declarations with caution.
He says being from Christchurch, he knows some of the shortcomings of declaring a state of emergency. The way the centre of the city was fenced off and decisions made to rebuild following the Christchurch earthquakes excluded the voice of the local community, he says.
“This is a genuine risk. There’s a long history of emergencies being declared and states taking these extraordinary powers to do extraordinary things.”
He says the climate emergency declarations have the opposite problem - they’re being treated as very symbolic, toothless, and with little actions attached to them.
“For example the Auckland Council, which I know best, had a bullet point of six points and five of them started with the words continue to… only the last point had something addition, which was to include a climate change lens in the decision making.”
It seems disproportionate to declare and emergency just to get such a minor administrative win over the line, he says.
It is something the the public may be able to use for leverage in the future though, he says, if councils aren’t doing enough. But the danger is accidentally asking them to take extraordinary powers and move without consultation and democratic process, he says.
“Another real issue is around co-governance under the treaty frame work, Ti Tiriti o Waitangi, there’s a whole process here that needs to be taken into consideration and these emergency declarations imply that some of this usual process gets left by the wayside.”