Restoring a better future

A scene from the film 'Lord Of The Flies', 1990. Photo: United Artists/Getty Images
A scene from the film 'Lord Of The Flies', 1990. Photo: United Artists/Getty Images
Having had a practice run at addressing a crisis, we should now turn our minds to the Long Emergency, writes Scott Willis.

Scott Willis
Scott Willis
In the novel Lord of the Flies, schoolboys deserted on an island revert to the law of the jungle. Author William Golding exposes us to a very dark side of humanity, as the marooned adolescents - stressed and far from civilisation - divide into warring factions. It’s a novel filled with savagery and action.

The Robbers Cave Experiment was an attempt to look at a similar dynamic in real-life, again with two groups of youths, but at a summer camp. Competition between the two groups was encouraged through sporting activities, then the researchers tried to reduce conflict through shared meals and social events. Friction and food fights followed. Researchers then introduced both groups to a stressful situation - loss of the water supply. The Robbers Cave Experiment revealed that while simple social activity may not build a happy family, a shared stress can help develop a shared response and a sense of "we are all in this together’’.

The Covid-19 crisis has been all consuming these past months. There’s a cartoon that shows two doctors looking back at the downward Covid-19 curve with a self-satisfied look, while behind them rises the mountain of climate impacts. As momentous as the Covid-19 crisis has been, it pales into insignificance in the face of the tasks ahead as we tackle climate change. We’ve entered the Long Emergency of a changing climate, where pandemics, economic instability, and many other adverse events will occur with greater regularity. Yet if this crisis has shown us anything, it’s that we can quickly change things with the right focus and collective will.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters
We’ve been given a national stress test through the Covid-19 pandemic and an opportunity to take stock. As the manager of a place-based community organisation, I’ve had to manage my own lockdown challenges while working with colleagues all around the city, region and country who are collectively responding and planning for the future. What I’ve encountered is a real thirst not to re-establish the past, but to work together to create something better. It’s a thirst for a Covid-19 reset that protects our planet and our people.

The immediate threat of Covid-19 has enabled us to break our habits and confront our fears. We need now to look more to ourselves, rather than to the cruise ships, to provide. We have recognised that our essential workers do something essential, and together we’ve largely behaved with compassion and empathy. Earlier this month, Rod Carr, chairman of the Climate Change Commission, wrote to government ministers asking for a climate lens to be used for government spending: “We have reached the point where climate change needs to be the focus for New Zealand’s investments. What we plan for and build now is what we will have in the future."

The budget announced a first wave of economic stimulus investment. More than a billion dollars for green, nature-based jobs was announced, alongside new investment in public housing and millions for the Government’s insulation and heating programme.

For the second wave of stimulus investment we need that climate lens firmly fixed in place. Climate-safe housing for our most vulnerable will provide jobs while reducing inequality and reducing emissions. Investment in passenger rail will reduce dependence on cars and reduce emissions while providing employment. But investment is only part of the picture. What the Government did during the Covid-19 crisis was build a sense of solidarity — we’re all in this together. We need to work together more as well, through partnerships, through sharing ideas and listening well.

Recently, I heard a story about a real life Lord of the Flies adventure. In 1965, six Tongan teenagers survived for 15 months on a remote, uninhabited island in the Pacific after their stolen fishing boat was shipwrecked. Instead of descending into barbarism they not only survived on this "uninhabitable’’ island, but thrived: "the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination,’’ wrote Captain Warner, their rescuer.

The choices we make matter. The reset can put us on track towards an Aotearoa where people and planet can thrive. Let’s use a climate lens and invest our time and resources together.

 - Scott Willis is the general manager of Blueskin Energy Ltd.


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