There will be one moment of mismanagement by Bill English this election that will be studied and debated in the future. That moment is neither Todd Barclay’s alleged workplace bullying nor the leaks of Winston Peters’ superannuation over-payment. That moment was captured in his Radio New Zealand interview on 28 August 2017; when he was challenged on his past dismissal of climate change as policy for the ‘elite,’ he doubled down, asserting that:
“well, as a day to day concern, I don’t think people are getting out of bed in the morning saying, look, the most important thing that happens today is that the climate changes…”
This moment will be studied as a recorded example of Bill English misunderstanding climate change; he sees it as a political issue, rather than a survival issue.
I wonder what Bill does think about when he wakes up? What radio station plays to start his day? I didn’t pick him for the Rock. I’d be surprised if its not Radio New Zealand, the AM Show and/or Breakfast before he goes for his walk run. If it’s any of those three, I wonder how he cannot think of climate change.
On the very day that Bill English was interviewed, even our mainstream media was covering the unfolding humanitarian and environmental disaster in Texas and America’s fourth largest city, Houston from Hurricane Harvey. As of today, that state has had 15 trillion litres of rain; you can fill all of the NFL and college stadiums in Texas to the brim one hundred times over. The numbers of dead are climbing, and the displaced from Houston are now displacing the displaced from Corpus Christi who are looking for refuge centres further afield. In addition to the rain, as the enormous petro-chemical factories are having to shut down, chemical spills are adding to the misery. People in fenceline communities (living in industrial zones) are being told to stay confined to their houses due to the risk of being gassed to death. As of today, another foot of rain is expected. Unconstrained development without urban planning or flood or climate resilience built in has exacerbated the problems. All of this was largely predicted by climate scientists who repeatedly told Texas planners and government officials in the last two decades that a warming climate warms the oceans which would lead to stronger winds, stronger storm surges and more rain from increased moisture.
On the very day that Bill English was interviewed, one third of the entire country of Bangladesh is underwater. At least 1,200 have died from flooding in Nepal, Bangladesh and India. Seventeen million people have been affected by the flooding in India, with thousands of villages cut off from food and clean water. Ninety thousand homes have been washed away in Nepal. In all three countries, most of this year’s crops have been destroyed, signalling disease, starvation and malnutrition to come. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that “Climate change, altered weather cycles, and transformations in the environment, are also having a big negative impact.” Monsoon rains are part of the natural cycle in South Asia, but have become increasingly ferocious. Each year the rain tops records, bringing death rather than life. Again, climate change is changing the face of our planet, with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calling the South Asian floods one of the worst regional humanitarian crises in years.
I sat with my five year old this morning after breakfast. He wanted to know if he would get black hairs on his legs and grow sideburns like me. He told me he is going to join the Police. He wondered why when I was a little boy I got smacked with a wooden spoon, because he says he learnt at kura that it’s a crime. He wondered if Nana would go to prison (hopefully not). Wonderful precious moments of love that I’ve done nothing to deserve but get stored away as jewels in my memory. As I sat there watching him and listening to him, I long for his little dreams to come true, but I am aware that they are fragile.
Runaway climate change could mean that his future is one of New Zealand maintaining a draconian, even militarised security regime to keep out climate refugees, could mean limited access to clean water, poorly maintained and regularly overwhelmed infrastructure, the poor of our country being punitively managed and tracked, acidified seas that we can’t swim in, unbearable droughts in the summer here in the east of the country and uncontrolled wildfires. I wonder what kind of Police my son will join and what it will do to his soul to have to maintain order with violence in a broken world.
Bill English may not wake up thinking about climate change. But that is not a virtue nor indicative of a sober, realistic mindset. It is the statement of a deluded, self-serving man who is no leader for New Zealand. All he has confirmed is that he and his colleagues are a danger to the future of our country. Never trust the ones who say “peace, peace,” when all about us is evidence of war and danger. Change is upon us.