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September 23, 2019 | by  | in News Opinion | [ssba]

Buying a Prius and solar panels for my summer bach because climate change xo


As I pondered my two-hour morning lecture on the history of genocidal violence in West Papua, I walked through the Hub, where the “Your Zero Carbon University” talk was taking place. 


There were a few points of interest that caught my attention. One, there were more photographers than students in attendance. Two, hardly anyone knew about the talk. Three, mad props to Helena Fuluifaga, the only non-white speaker on the panel (also the only student). Four, the accompanying VUW advertising banner had a picture of some zoomed-up NZ bird feathers backing some “VUW FOR SUSTAINABILITY” signage. Yeah, this really hit home the theme of multicultural inclusivity. Oh, and five, Climate Minister and Green Party MP James Shaw pronounced “mana” like it had three As. “Maaaana.”


For those who didn’t attend this event, allow me to summarise what James Shaw and Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford said about the future of the Zero Carbon Bill, and VUW’s equivalent Zero Carbon Plan. Yes, team, we can still use cars, we just need to buy hybrids. And yes! We can still have successful careers after we graduate from Vic! The economy will just switch to renewable energy and be more sustainable and live laugh love, etc. Essentially, with a flourishing of hands, our lives will be great and mostly the same—Zero Carbon means we just need to change how we charge and power our heaters. Also something about using Skype instead of airplanes?


What struck me most about these speeches was how different the “zero carbon future” that James and Grant talked about was, compared to the perspective of Helena, a representative from the Pacific Climate Warriors. Helena drew on her Sāmoan heritage, her family, her language, and memories of visiting Sāmoa. She talked about her future with ‘if’ hanging ever over it. In her narrative, the sustainability of the future in the face of climate change was more than sustainable energy sources. It literally determined whether or not the islands that formed the backdrop for her, her family, and her community would actually exist ^if the Bill didn’t succeed. None of what James or Grant said acknowledged this lived experience.


Whose future is the Zero Carbon Bill intending to preserve, then? 


James, what about people whose car choices are being pushed aside with thoughts of their sinking homelands? Who don’t have baches to visit on the weekend, who are instead trying to keep the only households they do own warm and dry in the winter? That are too busy working overtime and taking care of their families to have time to sit in the backyard that they might not even have and listen to birds whose species we apparently saved by buying KeepCups?


Grant, you’re overflowing with excitement about the sheer number of economic prospects in the post-carbon future. Sounds like the Bill is an exciting career opportunity with a growing ‘sustainable economy’ promise, but what about students who can’t even afford to get here? How does the Zero Carbon Bill build “sustainable”, “new” career opportunities for our Pacific Island/Māori/Indigenous students who have so jump many hurdles to even attain a tertiary education?


Did either of you consider that maybe the Zero Carbon Bill shouldn’t just be about changing energy sources, but changing attitudes that cater to more than just preserving the upper middle-class lifestyles and career choices within Aotearoa? Were tangata whenua even consulted in any part of this conversation?


Whose future are you actually looking to preserve?







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