Nobel laureate lends voice to climate protest

Climate Activists in front of Fonterra offices in Wellington on April 28, 2023 (Fridays for Future Photo on Instagram)

Venu Menon
Wellington, April 30, 2023

“In India, the kids are telling the parents what to do [to keep carbon emissions down], and it has worked pretty well,” Professor Martin Manning of Victoria University told a gathering of climate activists at Midland Park in Central Wellington on April 28.

The New Zealand researcher, who contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with former US vice-president Al Gore in 2007, was attending an event organised by Fridays For Futures, a climate activist group.

The group is committed to immediate action on reducing greenhouse gases like methane from cows as well as putting an end to burning fossil fuels.

Professor Manning said long-term decision-making needed to be taken away from government with respect to climate change. Decisions were reversed whenever governments changed, he noted.

The Professor cited the New Zealand tradition of co-governance as a way of working together to build a collective purpose and overcome challenges.

He recalled a recent meeting with iwi in Otaki and quoted a woman as saying, “We are not going to build sea walls. We will just move back. We have plenty of land. We will retreat.”

“Here is a mindset of living with nature, not opposing it. Not setting up a barrier to it but living with it. That has to come into the mindset much more broadly,” he observed.

Professor Manning pointed to the example set by Costa Rica which “closed the army down and all the money that was going into the army was put into schools.”

Costa Rica has been “hit by cyclones that affected their economy, but they are still ahead of New Zealand in moving into totally carbon neutral energy supply.”

“Costa Rica has less GDP per capita than us, but care for their environment more,” he noted.

“Climate change is a problem caused by what we do as individuals, but we need a collective solution for it. And we are running out of time,” he warned.

Professor Manning recalled his efforts to put together the IPCC assessment report for climate change.

Professor Martin Manning speaking at the Wellington Rally held at Midland Park (INL Photo by Sarada Nair)

 

“We won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore,” he said, adding “What has happened [since then] to fix the problem? Nothing, really.”

The increase in the Earth’s temperature is running at 1.1 degrees now, and we are trying to keep the level at 1.5 degrees, Professor Manning explained, adding, “We will be there in 20 years at the rate we are going.”

The science is now looking at transition as we go into a climate that has not existed for a long, long time, long before even people arrived, the Professor elaborated.

The Western Antarctic ice sheet has already crossed the transition point for raising the sea level by three metres. “The issue now is how quickly will it happen, not whether it will,” Professor Manning said, adding as an afterthought: “It probably won’t.”

He said methane was the second most important greenhouse gas which was going up at record rates in the atmosphere. “We have never seen it going up this fast.”

“We know back in the 1980s it was fossil fuels. Now it is not. We know that very definitely. Something else is happening. Scientists are still debating what it is. But the consensus is rapidly moving [towards] nature, the wetlands.”

“It is Mother Nature now taking over, showing us that we do not know what we are doing,” Professor Manning exhorted.

He said Pakistan suffered what the UN called “an unprecedented climate disaster” last year, with eight million people having to move into relief camps. Many of them had no homes to go back to, he noted.

“Here in New Zealand, heavy rain events are starting to collapse our hillsides. Sea levels are rising at an increasing rate. The reality is [that] the sea level around New Zealand is going up by more than five millimetres every year. In a decade, which will be 50 mm. And the rate is accelerating,” Professor Manning asserted.

He said it would take many years to recover from the effects of Cyclone Gabrielle. “And the next one might come before we’ve recovered.”

Climate activist Patrick Geddes spoke of how the big “gentailers” (generators and retailers of electricity) put profit before people and the planet, ensuring fossil fuels “are always in the mix.”

Fellow climate activist Caz spoke about the need to transition to cleaner transport options (like buses, trains, walking and cycling).

Francesca, who also spoke, implored dairy giant Fonterra to explore options that are both profitable and less damaging to the environment, including plant-based milk.

Climate protest songs animated the atmosphere as the protesters moved from the park to the foyer of the building housing Fonterra’s Wellington office.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Wellington.

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