WCC Election 2019: Winning on the Climate Change ticket

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, you’ll be aware of the burning issue, climate change. Regardless of what you believe it is an undeniable fact that we see the climate changing rapidly and that we should take better care of our environment. So, what is this election going to bring in terms of Climate Change promises and statements and how can candidates win votes?

My grandfather once said to me that there were only two things that kept humans from becoming extinct. Eight inches of topsoil and the air we breathe. As humans, we are terrible at looking after both, and it’s come back to bite us squarely in dozens of small ways.

By treating nature as a free resource, which we can squander or make a profit from, we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that our current way of life is sustainable. It isn’t. Further, we mentally remove our selves from the issue, blaming it on everyone else. It truly is an inconvenient truth.

As a city, we suck at sustainability. Let’s be honest. Which means for a clever candidate in the next election, there are not only two paths they can choose (it’s never too late to change the road you’re on), but multiple selling points around the policy.

Right now we are getting it wrong in multiple areas.

Recycling is a shambles. Some of us do, some of us don’t, and even when we do, we have a sneaking suspicion that most of it ends up in the landfill or being stacked into giant piles of stinking garbage because no one overseas wants our rubbish. So why recycle?

Congestion is driving up emissions radically. Congestion is increasing because our population is increasing, we have a love of fossil fuel powered cars, and because a lot of people got back in cars after the public transport disaster with the buses. Worse, we got rid of all the electric buses and replaced them with old diesel versions.

Air flight, one of the largest contributors to poisoning the air, is not only still being supported by the City Council it is being actively pushed to increase with the continued support of the airport extension. Putting aside the airport is going to end up underwater at some point it’s a hypocritical stance.

Every time it rains, we get sewage and rubbish washing into the sea. Parts of the south coast near the current landfill are generally no go zones even when it hasn’t rained for a while because of the leachate effect where poisons are slowly working their way to the lowest point.

Our water use continues to be prolific and wasteful.

We are facing rising sea levels and are doing absolutely nothing about coastal communities other than pushing tonnes of concrete into the sea only to see it washed away in the next big storm.

People want to vote for practical, simple, initiatives that they can get behind without too much effort. Face it; we’re lazy. We also like free stuff. On top of that, we like gamification, that is, the ability to track our progress over time and be rewarded for it.

We also like bold ideas.

So how can potential candidates exploit the current situation to secure votes?

It’s a tough ask. The real question is perhaps how you get the younger generations mobilised and voting in a local body election. Because they are the ones that care enough to get behind environmental change, and right now, they are notorious at not participating. Pretty good at complaining, doing stuff, not so much.

Remember, as a potential candidate; your ideas don’t have to be realistic, affordable, or even practical. You can promise anything that you like in the hope that you will get votes. In my experience, even the maddest or most grandiose ideas are not challenged as part of the election debates.

Candidates then wishing to exploit this area could take a bold stance. They could say they are going to cull vanity projects such as the airport extension and convention centre, creating a pool of perhaps a quarter of a billion dollars. Roughly, we don’t need to be all that accurate after all.

Then, we can start in on some promises for those of us that are not happy about the current state of environmental affairs.

First, it’s been suggested before, let’s make all public transport free while increasing the amount of money we pay the operators. As I said, it’s been suggested before locally by at least one author on Wellington Scoop, and in fact, it is being done overseas already. In Melbourne for example, all CBD trams are free to use.

This is a great policy because it takes cars off the road (so those who are bound to cars feel better), gets more people onto public transport, allows investment in the quality of public transport, is great for tourism, and is generally a winner with all voters.

While we are doing free stuff, let’s give everyone a dual compost bin. One that does both organic matter and recyclable matter that will decompose. Now voters feel happy because they don’t have as much rubbish going into the landfill, know exactly where some of their recycling is going, and have compost, which is easily disposed of in the garden. It’s a winner.

While we are on recycling, let’s get rid of bags for some stuff and those plastic containers for glass. Just have one.

We’re all about resiliency as well as the environment. So, let’s give people water tanks, for free. Let’s also enter into a subsidy agreement with a Tesla or similar to get solar panels and batteries into our house.

Green, green, green. Let’s start planting full-size trees on some of our barren concrete roads. Taranaki Street for example. We all love trees, and they help soak up that nasty exhaust from traffic.

Let’s build a couple of free or near-free carpark buildings in the CBD, with the proviso that we can have parks back on the street for cycling or other uses. This has also been done in some progressive countries. Most of the congestion in the CBD comes from people looking for car parks and so more pollution. Taking away car parks does not, and never will, reduce the amount of people looking for car parks.

Let’s expand our ferry network. Add Miramar and Petone to start. Fewer cars on the road, effective mass (sea) transit, subsidise it or make it free.

A clever candidate could make all these promises and win a lot of votes.

Here are a few things candidates want to avoid like the plague based on previous reactions.

Congestion charging. First, it doesn’t work in the long term, and second, you’re perceived as taking away something from people so they will hate you for it.

Cycling lanes for the sake of cycling lanes, or, where they are perceived as taking something away from the voter, such as on-street parking. Instead, compromise, if you give me a free car park building, then you can have that entire Featherston Street row of on-street parking for a cycle lane.

Anything that is complex. More recycling rules, more rubbish rules, more cost for both, anything that is perceived as expensive, or hard.

Focussing on electric vehicles. These are often seen as elitist due to their cost and the fact that parks are solely provided for those users at no charge is seen as unfair.

Finally, the one thing that you want to avoid as a potential candidate is being perceived as a climate change denier. That’s a death sentence these days politically.

This strategy doesn’t solve a lot of issues around the environment at all; however, it is a sure vote winner.