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May 13, 2013 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Right of Reply – Powershit Response

I’ve never been a team player, or one to positively radiate. I felt like the coolest first-year when I left the psychotic chanting of Civic Square to go and cry to my mum at her hotel (true story). How can I excuse finding myself in a similar square in Auckland, two years later, chanting “POWER SHIFT” in a group of 800 others? Kool-Aid? Jesus?

Crue Doil’s criticisms of the juvenile nature of Power Shift’s rhetoric are ones I wouldn’t disagree with. However, they perhaps understate the challenge of ‘youth engagement’, and the organisational age of the climate movement in New Zealand.

The protester’s wet dream of yore is over, and contemporary political activism is limited largely to a ‘like’, or a Law student’s shaky submission. Despite cries from the Sociology department of the relevance of IDENTITY POLITICS and LIQUID MODERNITY, engaging with young people is difficult, and engaging on climate even more so. Internationally, positive-psychology-inspired messages are now environmental gospel as the apocalyptic 1970s proved too much. Jonathan Franzen states the obvious, as “…one of the big problems for people who want to do something about climate change is that the welfare-of-your-grandkids argument is totally abstract. Ditto Bangladesh flooding. Who cares?” The Power Shift positivity, rife with hyperbole and clean-energy utopias, attempts to locate possibilities within the reach of young people. Lowering emissions is not the sole concern of climate activists; rather, the movement also seeks a repoliticisation of the younger generation and the growth of activist communities. The first attempt at creating this network in New Zealand may have been overzealous in its efforts, but any criticism should be accompanied by the recognition of work that has followed Power Shift. Young professionals and students alike are engaged in policy development, lobbying local and central government, and preparing for the upcoming national speaking tour. Facebook features, as always, but isn’t the primary mechanism as Crue Doil suggests.

We might take for granted as Wellingtonian students the understanding of issues and policy solutions surrounding climate. It wouldn’t be the first time in the history of environmental movements that discussion is dominated by a white, educated middle class. Power Shift offered an entry point for a young, diverse population into a conversation in which they might otherwise have been absent. Tackiness was surely not the aim of the organisers, but, when attempting to make climate a middle New Zealand matter, perhaps it’s unavoidable. I’m not sure.

The climate movement in New Zealand needs all of the cynics it can get. Less tacky flashmobs set to Animal Collective and a neater, more focus-grouped punchline might be the next incarnation. The ways in which the climate becomes a mainstream concern is entirely left up to those who wish to participate.


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