WCC Elections: Grandstanding on Climate Change rather than actionable adaptation plans, do candidates get it?

Steel Jungle – Don Ramage

My grandfather, Don Ramage, survived World War II to continue life as an artist who also had a great passion for rugby. His world view, expressed through his art, was very concerned with the environment and what we were (and are) doing to it.

He, along with others, instilled in me great respect for the environment in which we live. That was coupled with the other side of the family that were teachers and engineers essentially, lending me my analytical fascination with the world and interest in true systems.

I get my temper from my great-grandfather, Fred Bognuda, who was Italian. Fred didn’t much care for the environment; he was instrumental in building Wellington airport and sections of the motorway.

I spent a lot of time in and around the Kawekas growing up as well as working on a farm there. You learn very quickly in that environment that the environment not only keeps you alive if you mess with it, but it also kills you quickly especially when you are halfway up a mountain with a blizzard pouring over a ridgeline out of nowhere.

We’re hearing a lot about Climate Change right now, and it won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s confusing, and untangling policy that candidates have put up is hard. Because again, it is all a muchness; everyone knows it’s important, everyone knows it’s important for their election chances, but no one can translate (effectively) what it means.

There are two aspects in mind to looking after the environment. The first is to stop hurting it. The second is to get ready for it to turnaround and bite us, and it’s turning around fast. We need to adapt right now, or we are going to get savaged.

Generally, most of the candidates have got the “stop hurting” the environment correct, and the smarter ones link that with transport, which for the city is the largest provocateur of our environment. There is a plethora of policy on what we need to stop doing and again, it deals with pieces of the system and not the whole.

While we are being carefully shamed into doing the right thing, let’s face it, there aren’t incentives to be kind to the planet, my feeling is that we are missing the adaptation piece.

Conor Hill has been perhaps the boldest in changing the way that we live stakes, suggesting that we sell our stake in the airport. We, the city, own a third of it and it certainly contributes to Climate Change significantly.

I want us to see us sell our 34% stake in the airport. What is our city doing owning the city’s biggest source of carbon emissions? We should look to sell our airport stake and ring fence the money raised for the provision of new social homes or green transport initiatives.

Conor Hill

Tamatha Paul, a Lambton Candidate, also picked up on the idea.

My third of the airport would be sold in favour of better public transport within the Wellington region. Why push forth with international transport when our own homegrown transport is not serving it’s purpose.

Response to WCC’s Climate Emergency Declaration

I like the idea of unlocking that capital to invest in other initiatives. An area that has been completely skipped this election is that of the very light-impact industries that produce a high return for the city. Those being the technology sector and perhaps the movie industry.

The movie industry has a lot of investment flowing already and produces benefits for the city. Technology companies, who can work anywhere, with a small resource, are missing from the equation and we know that they can produce excellent return, Xero being the often-heralded example. More push in that direction could reduce emissions, lift average incomes, provide career pathways, and boost the city economy.

We must think more innovatively.

Adaptation has been mentioned by few candidates, Jenny Condie in a one-line statement and Andy Foster slightly more. Both are interested in preparing for sea-level change.

We need to adapt now because the plan changes that are required over the next few years are going to be slow. The reality is that we are going to see the central CBD, the southern coasts, Seatoun, Miramar, and the Eastern coastline under significant threat.

We are also going to see more slips, more damaging storms, more disruption to critical infrastructure such as power, and overwhelming pressure on stormwater and sewage.

Take Miramar, for example. Already in a king-tide, with rain, and a decent low-pressure system sewage systems are backing up toilets on the flat. The water table is low, and we must remember that at one stage it was a swamp.

That, I might add, my great-grandfather helped drain, killing off a unique eco-system. Eventually, we’ll need levees to keep the swamp from returning and flooding hundreds and hundreds of homes.

Adaptation is a practical response to a changing situation over which we have no control. Yes, we need to be kind to the environment; however we must also recognise that we have a situation that is changing fast and the best models require us to prepare.

We’re going to have to change planning rules, putting more pressure on the ability to build houses, and potentially having to rehome entire coastal communities. While we argue about the airport extension and Moa Point, the sea creeps ever closer, and we should be talking about how we ensure that a critical port to Wellington, and an essential coastal community, can be provided protection.

But we’re not. Candidate policy is generally following the idea that we can stop this all somehow when the reality is that on a global level unless everyone acts, Climate Change is going to happen. Of course, we should protect our local environment, what we can control, but we also need to get ready.

Many a city in New Zealand has been bought low, financially, by the aged infrastructure under the ground and the maintenance it requires. Years of neglect, pushing the debt bulldozer into outlying financial years, have finally come home to roost and rates have skyrocketed.

Adaptation is not only far from sexy in an election, but it’s also hard to sell. It’s not a shiny transport policy, nor a social policy that will increase the happiness quotient of the city, it’s nuts and bolts and nasty. The cost of moving entire communities and rendering some of the most expensive real-estate null and void is a bitter political pill of epic proportions.

Despite a “Climate Emergency” being declared, no action has since taken place, and holding current Councillors to account for that lack of movement is important. We’ve heard nothing more, and as days go by, we can assume this was perhaps a cynical ploy to garner votes for the incumbents.

Around the world, other cities have adaptation plans and policies that are strong. Wellington, not so much. It’s disappointing to see so many jump on a weak bandwagon in an election year, rather than living it all year round and coming up with a defence strategy.

And it’s a bandwagon. Because at the heart of it the current Councillors, generally, are not that interested.

Several weeks ago, I asked them ten questions around the climate among other things. Some of the incumbents moaned to the Mayor about this, told me they were too busy and refused to respond. Very, very few responded, while the new candidates did. A very poor showing when they are all running around now claiming to have the Climate as their top priority, very poor indeed.

All the bicycles, electric vehicles, public transport, and the banning of fossil fuels will not change the fact that we have critical infrastructure at risk along with thousands of resident’s homes and no one wants to table that fact.

My grandfather said that the only two things that keep us alive, and the rest of the ecosystem, are eight inches of topsoil and the air we breathe. We need to keep that soil unpolluted, safe from being washed or blown away, and stop filling the air we inhale with poisons.

It’s not that hard, but it is.