Auckland, New Zealand - better late than after the climate changes

April 19, 2018

I completed my final half marathon along the Auckland waterfront just before Christmas. Turning up to 40 of my closest friends and family at the start line and having three quarters of them run, bike or skate alongside [1] me meant that I didn’t want it all to end. Awkwardly, it didn’t. Due to an unfortunate miscalculation on my part (in that 19 half marathons equates to only 399 and not 400 km), I had to run one additional kilometre while everyone else [2] feasted on my scientifically proven, organic, clean-eating recovery diet of Chia and jelly snakes.

 

[1] Aside from my younger brother who was always slightly in front - I have never beaten him in a half marathon, and he was going to ensure that this charity fun run would be no exception. [2] Everyone does not include David Slack who begrudgingly joined me for km 22. 

 And would you believe it. We were not plagued by insects carrying tropical diseases; the ground underfoot was not flooded, sinking or burnt; and as far as I am aware, no one was displaced (aside from possibly Paul, who disappeared at around the 7km mark and then mysteriously reappeared with 5km to go). As far as climate change goes, the effects in Auckland on that fine December day were few and far between. It was therefore pretty hard to put into words exactly what I had experienced for the last month. Whenever people asked me about the trip, I would divulge ground-breaking revelations such as “the experience was amazing” or that “it was so good to see all my friends”. Generic, sincere and situationally appropriate. No-one wants to bear the brunt of my inherent environmental rage over inadequate rations of natural gummy lollies and mango Chia.

 

Don’t get me wrong; it was amazing. The places I visited, the people I met and the friends that facilitated the whole trip made it one that I will never forget. But amongst the amazing experiences was also the 90-year-old woman from Alaska.  Her family couldn’t hunt for food in the usual way last winter, as for the first time in her lifetime, the sea didn’t freeze over. There were the hectares of black charred forest that I ran through in Portugal due to unprecedented forest fires. There were the villagers of Vunidogoloa that relocated their entire community to new lands; leaving the remains of houses, schools and memories washed up on a forgotten beach. There were the Australian divers who told of how 25% of the Great Barrier Reef disappeared in 2016 alone due to coral bleaching, that in the past 40 years 50% of all marine life has died and that in 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. There was Josue Sanabria from the indigenous Coca tribe who explained to me that the contamination and loss of waters in Lake Chapala was like loss of part of himself.

 

 
And finally, there were the people of Kiribati. People that are already struggling as seawater intrudes into their drinking wells, tidal surges smash through the doors and windows of hospitals and inadequate sanitation poisons their fish. People who, due to these more immediate concerns, appeared rather nonplussed as to whether the country followed the path laid down by the previous president, who purchased thousands of acres of land on Fiji in order for his people to be able to migrate with dignity, or the road of the new president, Taneti Maamau. Maamau has said “I don’t believe that Kiribati will sink like the Titanic ship. Our country, our beautiful lands, are created by the hands of God” and has boasted an ambitious 20-year plan that would see the focus directed towards developing a resilient and updated capacity on Kiribati, including the construction of 5-star eco-friendly resorts. A 20-year plan seems like a relatively ill-conceived policy tool in a country that scientists say could be uninhabitable in a matter of decades.

 

So in retrospect, although the trip was amazing and it was great to see my friends, those answers probably didn’t adequately sum up the experience. I just couldn’t put into words my disgust at how the global community has let the environmental situation get so bad. I couldn’t voice my disappointment that we are extremely unlikely to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement or my shock that, even if we did, the future consequences could still be catastrophic. I couldn’t draft a blog, cloaked in positivity, suggesting that if we all do our best to reduce our own personal carbon footprint, it will be okay. Because this will not be enough. So I just didn’t write anything. 

 

It wasn’t until people stopped asking me about what I had done (not a lot in the scheme of things) and started telling me what they had done, that I realised how many people were determined to contribute to positive change. Scotty and Taz were cutting down their meat consumption to twice a week. Kirsten and Jared had started using Onzo bikes instead of driving everywhere, Hannah had started an outdoor vege and herb garden and Missy was heading along to Council-initiated composting workshops. Joho informed me of the willingness of the dairy industry to find some way to tackle climate change and Claire had put herself forward to help shape her workplace climate action strategy. John had developed an awesome website called The Global Change Collective; aiming to connect environmental leaders and influencers from all sectors of society, and Casey was doing the groundwork for creating an educational app that schoolkids could use to measure how sustainable their classroom was.

 

 Ray Quisenberry, who works with climate justice movement 350.org, got in touch to say that he had been following The Climate Run and would use the idea to coordinate a larger scale run event in Salem, Oregon, USA in August. And finally, Paul, Jamie, Lisa, Victor and the team at Generation Zero had been working non-stop for the last few years to create a blueprint for a Zero Carbon Act. Seeing some of Gen Zero’s recommendations in relation to an independent climate commission and a UK-style Zero Carbon Act almost copy pasted into a recent report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, highlighted to me the impact that group of people can have if they care enough about a cause.

 

So to the question of whether we can cure climate change - I don’t know. Maybe not. But we at least have to try, in the hope that future generations will finish the job. I don’t have the answers, but in the interests of saving me from running another 400km to promote solutions, here is my five cents on how you can at least start to make a change:

 

  • Stop being so VBI.[3] 85% of the time we fail to make sustainable choices is due to a hectic lifestyle devoid of adequate organisation or appropriate time management.[4] We forget our reusable bags, don’t wash our keep-cup or leave our Lilly Bee wrap on our desk after yesterday’s lunch. The grocery store that doesn’t wrap all its vegetables in plastic is not directly on the way home and composting takes up valuable time that could be spent reading very important documents. We can’t bike to work tomorrow because we have an important meeting with all the HOTBDs[5] and an unspoiled blow-wave is imperative for effective networking. New is far more impressive than second-hand and cutting down on meat consumption just makes for awkward conversation at our constant stream of social engagements. It is time that we de-busy our lives and realise that we are actually not that important in the scheme of things.  Aside from Jacinda, who is very important and has understandably got a bit on. [3] Very Busy and Important. [4] This is a completely made-up statistic. I doubt there are any studies dedicated to answering this question, however I cannot say with any certainty as I am too VBI to look into it. [5] Heads of The Big Dogs.

Work with what you’ve got. Although reducing our individual carbon footprint is the logical first step, it is not going to be enough. Summarised perfectly by Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: “Do we have a chance in the face of the odds? If we do, it won’t be because we learned how to be ethical shoppers. Rather, it will be because we found things to do other than shopping. Like building social and political movements that change the rules of the game.” You may not have the skills to champion a new biofuel or be in the position to influence those who do. However, you may be a project manager or developer able to ensure that the “nice to have” sustainability elements of a development are not the first to go when budgets are exceeded. You may work in insurance and suggest that your company individualise pricing by offering discounts to customers who invest in self-protection. You may be a lawyer able to assist with the overhaul of New Zealand’s climate laws or a student that takes the government to court for not complying with the ones we have got. A financial advisor that promotes divestment, an HR manager who organises a corporate clean-up event or a teacher that weaves sustainable teachings into everyday lessons. You might pilot a waste minimisation program in your workplace or ask your manager about the possibility of setting up a sustainability committee. Your aunt might be Paula Bennett and you may be able to have some stern words to her about the importance of cross-party support for the Zero Carbon Act over a panini and a bowl latte. No-one can change everything, however it is highly likely you will be able to use your individual skillset to change something.

 

  • Keep searching for a miracle. You just have to look to any large company’s yearly sustainability report to see that most of the tidy pie graphs boasting a carefully designed path to meeting a 2030 or 2050 carbon reduction target contains an awfully large grey area, dedicated to the development of new technologies. Aka a miracle. “We are completely on track to meet our 2050 target provided we turn our lights out, electrify our vehicle fleet and a miracle happens”. I don’t have the miracle. Neither does the health and safety officer, Tony, currently sitting next to me, or Glen, the motocross lover from facilities management. However, Glen’s son’s, girlfriend’s, uncle might work for the Canadian company General Fusion that is aiming to be the first in the world to create a commercially viable nuclear-fusion-energy power plant. Glen might have heard on MaiFM (the only station that his car will play) that researchers at the University of Surrey have discovered new materials offering an alternative to battery power, a technology that is believed to fully recharge an electric car in the time it takes to fill a regular car with petrol. Glen’s motorcross buddy, who Glen wouldn’t be friends with if it was not for their common interest in 4-stroke exhausts and top of the line silencers, may have spouted facts to Glen about the company Beyond Meat while they were conducting some vital chain and sprocket maintenance. Glen may have learnt that this company has created the world’s first entirely plant-based meat burger that is made mostly from vegetable protein found in peas. Glen might be pissed that the IMCF[6] is using a portion of his annual fee to invest in a Canadian start up called Carbon Engineering, a company that has developed the technology to take CO2 directly from the atmosphere and then use it to produce fuel.  Or Glen might have overheard that the owner of one of the facilities that he is managing has invested in research at Aarhus University centered around changing the DNA in grass to reduce methane emissions from cows. I may not have found out about these potential miracles, and been able to invest myself or pass this information on to friends, without talking to Glen. Tony might still offer no chat aside from advice on health and safety in the workplace, but you are going to have to endure some bad chat in order to save the world. [6] International Motocross Foundation (not a real thing).

 

The final and best tip comes from the words of Lord Devon, who when asked how he gets people to listen in relation to climate change, stated “You just go on and on and on and on and on and on about it”

Thank you

 

Thank you so much to everyone who volunteered (or was forced) to be involved with this. Firstly, to Erin Morriss, Sarah Kuper and Matt Gale who fed me, housed me and proof-read blogs. To Rosa, who nurtured this idea from its inception and just ran with it, taking care of all the admin along the way. And to Gen Zero for skyping me, organising Facebook events, promoting the run and making the final trip up to Auckland.

 

To Run Dem Crew for keeping me running during the cold winter months. To Georgie and Lachie, Estee, Kat, Haz, Genevieve, Scotty and Tara for all going above and beyond to make sure this went smoothly and to Jake who got onto the IT when it didn't  To every single person who donated and all those who read the blogs and messaged me to say they had learnt something, your generosity and interest made this whole thing worthwhile.

 

Finally to Michael Kensington, Kate Waller, Penny Down, Sarah Madill, Kevin Hogg, Annabel Linterman, Maddy Wright, Jonny Edwards, Flossie Van Dyke, Melissa Hammer, Sam Ballam, Alex Mcgregor, Laurie O’Connor, Art Green, David Slack, Kirsten and Jared Wooff, Ellie Connor, Tom Lawson, Jess Lawson, Claire Riach, Josh Lord, Anna Mearns, James Stevenson, Jo Bisset, Paul Young, Jamie Young-Drew, Victor Komarovsky, Oliver Hailes and Emma Gattey who completed the final run with me, chatting the whole way – you guys are all amazing. And to everyone else who came down, met me at the start line or cheered me on, it meant a lot.

 

xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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