We are all climate heroes

I’ve been thinking for a while now that there must be more to fighting climate change than just taking public transport and using energy-efficient lightbulbs. Even if you don’t work on policy, innovation or frontline campaigning, there are five things you can do to make a bigger difference.

I want this to be the start of some real hope in New Zealand that climate change is a challenge we can meet, and by doing our part, inspire the world.

Article originally published on Stuff.

Your planet needs you! The new Captain Marvel movie came out last week. Despite the movie being set in the 1990s, she’s a superhero for our times. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that a crucial part of her journey involves getting in touch with her emotions as the source of her strength.  

In this supposed era of fake news, there is much out there that is all too real. It has been well covered by Quick! Save The Planet that the prognosis for our climate ranges from alarming to terrifying.

During my day job I monitor mainstream and social media on climate issues, and sometimes I just want to crawl under the duvet and not come out. My colleagues and I talk about climate grief, and trade tips for keeping our spirits up in the face of the relentless news Enviro-Mark Solutions Household Emissions Calculator– a challenge that became even more complex after the tragic events in Christchurch on Friday.

This is a dilemma that many of us face. Getting sad or getting angry are common reactions, and may lead to unhelpful action, or none at all. What’s the point of buying an electric car, cutting back on overseas holidays and switching out lightbulbs when the real battle is elsewhere? If just 100 companies represent 71 per cent of emissions, then what difference can little old New Zealand make to anything?

Never underestimate the power of channelling your emotions into action. I am inspired by the students striking for climate action last week. I was 17 years old in 1992, when the Kyoto Protocol was pieced together in an attempt to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. I was concerned about the environment then, and that concern has only increased tenfold. But I couldn’t imagine overcoming my teenage ennui to do anything as uncool as protesting. Walking out of school is a powerful symbol – young people are challenging adults to step up to fix this problem amplified by our lifestyles and inaction.

Whether you’re a parent or grandparent of those children, or just a concerned bystander, you may be wondering, what can I do about all this? And I reckon there are five key things you can do to have a direct effect on our shared future. I’m not just talking about reducing your household emissions by cutting your power bill or denying yourself meat or a trip to Fiji, although the Enviro-Mark Solutions Household Emissions Calculator covered previously provides useful guidance in that area.

1. SHAKE YOUR BIGGEST ASSET

When Kiwisaver was established in 2006, few people imagined that they were gifting working New Zealanders a powerful tool for influencing climate action. But with total Kiwisaver assets equalling $48.6 billion, if even some of the 2.8 million New Zealanders in the scheme exercised their prerogative to take their business to an ethical provider who wasn’t investing in fossil fuels, that starts to send a message. Those 100 companies I mentioned above all need access to finance, and banks are starting to think about turning off the tap.

Auckland Council has already divested its $15 million investment base on behalf of Auckland ratepayers. The NZ Super Fund shifted $14 billion into low-carbon investments in 2017 and is continually reducing its exposure to carbon

So, today’s a good day to investigate options for ethical providers and start the process to switch. 350 Aotearoa have put together some good resources to get you started.

If you have a mortgage, the interest payments are significant revenue for banks. You can send a clear signal by choosing the ones who are doing the best job on green finance and investment. Quiz them on their policies and how they support environmental initiatives. Demand clear and easy-to-understand information.

2. USE YOUR CONSUMER POWER

This brings me to your next superpower. We make hundreds of purchasing decisions every year – household purchasing contributes $155 billion to New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product, over half the total. We buy groceries, clothes, books, music and movies, we go for haircuts and massages, we renovate houses and stay in hotels.

All businesses have choices to make about how they operate and their supply chain. Find the businesses who are taking action on climate change and support them. Start with members of the Climate Leaders Coalition who are committed to reducing their emissions, the Sustainable Business Council and the Sustainable Business Network, as well as companies supporting the Aotearoa Circle and Pure Advantage. That’s a lot of names, but they’re all working on a different piece of the puzzle, of how to reduce emissions at a system-wide level. And their members deserve your support.

The thing is, while we need to address climate change, business and the economy still need to continue, to generate the taxes needed to pay for action. We still live in the real world, where we need to drive our cars and occasionally fly places. By choosing Z Energy and Air New Zealand, for example, you’ll encourage them to do more of the good stuff they are working on.  

3. USE YOUR DEMOCRATIC POWER

Voting in this country needs higher turnout, especially in the 18-24 age bracket. I haven’t seen a better argument for lowering the age to 16 than the passionate, articulate organisers of the climate strike. I certainly think if we lowered the age tomorrow, politicians espousing less climate-friendly policies would be looking at electoral exile in no time.

In  the meantime, those of us with voting rights should use them. We should remind our local representatives that we care about climate change and we want a government framework to set the whole country on a path to reducing emissions, that is predictable and will ensure a just transition for those people working in affected industries. And we want it sooner rather than later.

Tell your MPs that you support climate action. Especially if your local MP is rather more blue or black in their leanings. But even the ones leading the way need to know they have the public on their side. Oxfam have a good page to get you started.

4. TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBOUR

More connected communities are safer communities. Sounds like the not quite winning slogan for NZ Police, doesn’t it. But neighbours play a key role in many aspects of people’s health and well-being. Talking to the people who live next door is the start of building resilience in your neighbourhood, which will be essential to face whatever challenges the future throws at us. Whether it’s climate change bringing sea level rise, extreme weather or other challenges like a good old china-rattler like Canterbury or Kaikoura, or a string of burglaries, knowing your neighbours can help. Find out who has skills that might come in handy. Who makes jam? Who has power tools?

And getting back to emotions, building those relationships and connections between people will make us more resilient as individuals. Neighbours Day is next week and they have some great resources you can use.

When I wrote the first draft of this piece last week, little did I think that the challenges would include the attack on our Muslim community in Christchurch. The following day, we went around Newtown for Garage Sale Day, and the smiles and greetings seemed more heartfelt, the need for community greater than ever. And in the Basin Reserve on Sunday night, the combination of so many people showing aroha and manaakitanga just underlined that each individual can make a difference, starting with being present for eachother.

5. MAKE SOMETHING

Birds may preen and build nests, but nothing beats humans for embarking on decorative but functionally useless endeavours. And that is part of what makes us human. Whether it is the satisfaction of holding a pot, a jumper or a cake you have worked on, or the feeling that you have expressed what you were trying to say in a painting, a song or a story, these are essential human values that we need to hold on to, no matter what. I knit compulsively – blankets, hats, anything. I take a photo of it and then give it away – I’m not as interested in the finished object as I am in the creation.

Making can be therapeutic, productive or just plain enjoyable, but it reminds us of all that is best about the human race and ultimately why there is hope for our future.

Professor James Renwick, recipient of the Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize, plans to apply some of the funds to collaborations between artists and scientists, as well as building links with Māori communities around climate change. These things will make us stronger as a nation to face whatever comes.

And in case you’re still wondering why New Zealand has a role to play in climate change, don’t underestimate the power of a symbol. Our nuclear-free status still resonates over 30 years later. And New Zealand has some of the highest emissions per capita in the developed world, so reducing ours can help show other countries what is possible. 

Renwick believes there is hope. The Productivity Commission thinks we can make a difference. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with their decades of experience of dealing with mammoth international organisations, thinks we can make a difference. The Prime Minister, the leader of this country, and who also grew up with the Kyoto Protocol in the background, thinks we can make a difference. They work in the realm of high-level system change and can see where the levers are and where to influence.

But as ordinary citizen New Zealanders, you too can have an impact greater than you know. You are our climate superheroes now.

Catherine Jeffcoat is a Wellington-based communications manager for the Sustainable Business Council, with experience working on environmental and social issues and an interest in values-based communication. The views expressed in this article are hers alone and not the responsibility of her employer. 

Author: Catherine Jeffcoat

Wellington-based communications manager.

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