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April 19, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

In your face, GRA

Either you’re the type of person who goes to protests or you’re the type of person who doesn’t. It shouldn’t be this way, but the common conception remains starkly separated: people who leap at any chance to pull pithy placards out from under their bed; and those who have never, ever gotten high on paint fumes as they finish off the final flourishes on protest banners at 2am.

The former is not necessarily any more virtuous than the latter. Protesting can become a habit. Everyone has something they believe strongly in—whether it’s a cause, opinion or simply a strong belief that one should use correct grammar when one text messages. Okay, maybe you’re new to it, or you don’t think it can change anything, or perhaps there’s no grammatical activist group in your hood. Never fear activist-virgins, there will be many opportunities to pop your protest cherries in the coming months.

Of course, there will always be protests that I personally think are absolutely ridiculous. Tamaki’s ‘Enough is Enough’ march, for instance. But, no matter how imbecilic, it’s incredibly important that they can protest. That I can protest. That you can protest.

In the past few weeks I’ve attended two demonstrations that tie into New Zealand’s questionable status as ‘100% Pure’. The first occasion was an anti-mining march, which gathered 500 peeps together outside parliament, telling the National Party not to mine our conservation taonga. The second was outside the inaugural Global Research Alliance (GRA) meeting on the 7th April.

“What’s this?” you say. “What is this Global Research Alliance? I’ve never heard of it.” I’m not surprised. The GRA was formed out of the disastrous Copenhagen talks last December, led by our own oh-so-environmental National government. The alliance aims to “produce more food with fewer emissions,” which sounds all very well in theory, but will surely prove to be more ominous in practice.

The reduction of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t immediately sound like enticing chit-chat, but it’s actually a fascinating and dangerous topic. The agricultural sector contributes up to 30 per cent of emissions worldwide, while in beautiful Aotearoa they equal almost half of our greenhouse gas output. Virtually all other countries with similar agricultural contributions are classed as ‘developing’, which means New Zealand is all set to lead the world in ‘efficient’ agriculture. Efficiency may sound good, but in reality we’re talkin’ intensified production and higher yields, creating more pressure on the environment and not even reducing absolute emissions.

That last point is important. If methane output is reduced per food unit then total emissions can still rise as need for food increases with growing global population. The world will almost certainly need more food in the future, but perhaps it is prudent to start with redistributing what we’ve already got. Tackling huge inequities, extreme wastefulness and over-consumption of meat and dairy would be a good place to start.

It looks like the GRA will be encouraging developing countries to use intensive agriculture instead of small-scale farming. This land-use change will most likely increase agricultural emissions, as small-scale sustainable farms have been shown to very effectively sequester carbon in the soil. GRA globalisation will threaten the livelihoods and food sovereignty of local and indigenous peoples (food sovereignty means being able to decide your own food systems rather than relying on international market forces). The GRA may also endorse genetic modification, as GM is a clear-cut way for the big guns to capitalise crisis.

There were many reasons to protest outside Te Papa on the 7th April. The outcomes of the GRA process are likely to be false solutions to climate change, ‘solutions’ which look like powerful people are trying to stop climate change, when they’re really not trying at all. In this case, as in many, it seems to me that protesting is not just a right, it’s an obligation. An obligation to those who can’t protest, whether by means of geography or a simple desire not to be beaten and/or imprisoned indefinitely.

So, I’ll see you at the next applicable protest; we can exchange witticisms about our carefully painted placards as we chant rhyming couplets. C’mon, you can wear shoes, even a suit, and still stand up for what you believe in.  


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  1. Gary says:

    Nice article :)

    Farmers Markets – Not Carbon Markets!

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