We can take it from here

Members of the the Student Volunteer Army help out in Christchurch in 2011. PHOTO: CRAIG BAXTER
Members of the the Student Volunteer Army help out in Christchurch in 2011. PHOTO: CRAIG BAXTER
It will be by acting collectively that we all get to thrive.

The wild spring weather, with blossom, new buds and birds busy building nests is full of energy and life. There’s something wonderful about seeing the fresh new growth and verdant landscapes. And a wild spring it has been, with 23 degree temperatures one day and snow the next. New lambs, fragile courgette plants, delicate blossom; this unpredictable season presents challenges along with colour and birdsong.

We are used to four seasons in one day on these windy islands and we will need to continue to adapt to wilder weather as global temperatures climb further. And yet there was some positive news on emissions reduction in Aotearoa earlier this year. As James Shaw (then Climate Minister) said in April, "quarterly data from Stats NZ shows that emissions declined by 3.5% in the three months to September 2022, their lowest level in eight years".

Under the last two political terms things began to shift. However, the widening climate variability and increase in extremes affecting our physical systems has a strange parallel in our political space. We’ve just had an election, and while a new Government has not yet been formed (at the time of writing), what seems likely to emerge is an unstable coalition containing political voices who want to open up exploration for oil and gas and defund the Climate Change Commission. But nothing is inevitable, and Parliament is a place where legislation is contested and debated before it is passed.

My journey, before entering Parliament, has been one of working on climate solutions at the flax-roots in Māori and community organisations, social enterprise and national networks. One thing I know is that there is a largely untapped power in civil society. We see it emerge sporadically during crises — think the Student Volunteer Army in the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery; the GenZero advocacy and action that resulted in the Zero Carbon Act; even in the community solidarity during the early stages of Covid resulting in extremely high vaccination rates and very low mortality. We can be effective in acting collectively, sometimes in tune with Government, sometimes to ensure the Government makes positive legislative change.

For this reason I am looking forward to this year’s "Strengthening Communities Hui", hosted by Aukaha (1997) Ltd in partnership with the Otago Regional Council. The hui is presented in association with the Community Energy Network, Environment Hubs Aotearoa and the Zero Waste Network and it will be held here in Ōtepoti Dunedin over November 19-22. The theme of the hui is "Catalyst for Collective Action", and we’ll see the power of the collective in action with delegates representing organisations from all around the motu participating.

More than ever we need people to step up collectively. We’ve seen locally how an engaged community can give politicians courage, like when in Ōtepoti Dunedin a majority of city councillors adopted a zero-carbon plan in September. And the South Dunedin Future programme (a joint DCC-ORC programme engaging the community on adaptation) is modelling a process for adaptation with rich engagement and buy-in thanks to flax-roots support.

Alongside this positive news comes the news that the West Antarctic ice sheet melt is now rapid and inevitable. "Losing the floating ice shelves means the glacial ice sheets on land are freed to slide more rapidly into the ocean" and this means more rapid sea-level rise through the 21st century and beyond. Many coastal cities will have to be abandoned through time and nothing is gained by hiding from this inevitability. This is why we must talk, listen and build connections. This is why we must use our power, wherever we find ourselves, to urge bigger, bolder climate action. It may be Parliament that makes the laws that control and direct our lives, but it is us who can use our voices and our power to urge the Government to behave responsibly.

Just as spring is a season of growth, we now need to nourish the collective and allow budding climate action to bear fruit so that everyone can thrive.

Climate and energy consultant Scott Willis was elected to Parliament at the recent elections. Each week in this column one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.