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Sunday 13 November 2016

Climate Change: The LGBT Stake

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 5th December 2015

During the Paris climate change conference, there were massive international protests in support of greater coordinated national and international government action against the impending disaster. But what is our stake in all this?

People's Climate March Dunedin. Photo: Jinty MacTavish
I marched, as did my partner and our daughter in Dunedin. We did so because the issue is comparable to that of nuclear war in the eighties, which led me to become involved in the peace movement of that period of our history and support the establishment of New Zealand as a nuclear-free zone. Due to citizens movements within both the East and West, the Cold War ended and the Warsaw Pact and USSR both subsequently collapsed. Today, there has been considerable retrenchment of nuclear weapons, although we are not yet free from the dangers of escalating large-scale conventional conflicts that might eventually go nuclear- such as the intermittent hostilities between India and Pakistan, both of which have nuclear arsenals. Many lesbians were involved in feminist peace groups and many takatapui supported a nuclear-free and independent Pacific.

I last wrote about this in 2009, and unfortunately, insofar as the Key administration is concerned, far too little has been done. Unlike the extremist Abbott administration, at least it recognises the reality of climate change, but it seems to believe that as most of our carbon emissions are from dairy cattle instead of industrial pollutants, and as the question of climate change is a cumulative long-term one, it is "justified" in neglecting it due to the short-term expendiency timeframes of neoliberalism and New Zealand's three year electoral cycle. Not unreasonably, Labour and the Greens object to this bias and complacency, and so do many other New Zealanders.

At present, the global average temperature is estimated to rise at least two degrees. As I did in 2009, I will describe the practical and geopolitical implications for New Zealand and the world.

If the world's average temperature rises by a single degree, then the consequences will be dramatic. Much of the midwestern United States will turn into a dustbowl and South America, Andean glacier disappearance will cause grave water shortages in Peru. In Australia, warming seas will destroy the Great Barrier Reef. And remember, we have already passed that threshold, so these events are now highly probable within the next twenty to thirty years.

Given that the world's average temperature is estimated to rise by two degrees instead as a result of inadequately restrained carbon emissions, however, we face the following scenario instead. The Arctic Ocean will become ice-free in summer, and northern polar species like polar bears, ringed seals and walruses will become extinct. In California, the exhaustion of Sierra Nevada glacier ice will send California into drought and adversely affect its agricultural capabilities. Greenland's ice cap will melt altogether, contributing to rising sea levels. In the Southern Hemisphere, South Africa will also be adversely affected as the Kalahari Desert expands. Now, New Zealand might derive some trade benefits from events in Peru, South Africa and the United States as their agricultural infrastructures collapse, but we will face our own burdens as Southwestern Pacific refugees abandon their islands to the rising seas and evacuate to New Zealand or Australia. Fortunately, our large Pasifika population will offset any growth of anti-immigrant racist political parties, but that will not last. At the moment, current absence of agreed international and national carbon restriction and emission reduction will result in that scenario, or something like it.

But what happens if things go beyond that stage and there is no meaningful reduction in international greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on short-term electoral expediency at the cost of coordinated national and international action? In that case, the scenarios described below will become increasingly probable and their progress may accelerate.

If lack of international effort leads to a three degree rise in average global temperatures, the Amazon rainforest will dry out and if a forest fire ignites it, it will catch aflame, causing massive smoke and debris to enter the atmosphere. Heatwaves and droughts will scorch Malaysia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Chile and Argentina. Australia's agricultural infrastructure will collapse. Ironically, given Australia's own draconian policies against "illegal" refugees and asylum seekers, the New Zealand government implements a controversial "triage" policy of its own, which is widely condemned for favouring skilled Australian migrants at the cost of the unskilled. Even worse, as Australia's economic and industrial infrastructure disintegrates, piracy and refugee boats proliferate. There is considerable debate within New Zealand, with a populist and anti-immigrant "Preservationist Party" attracting support which pitches it across the five percent threshold. At this point, New Zealand's democratic institutions start to come under increasing strain as the Preservationist Party makes explicitly racist and transphobic appeals and tries to tap into fundamentalist Christian gullibility and paranoia about "Muslim jihadists." If New Zealand doesn't have a written constitution by this point, things could deteriorate further, particularly as Canterbury and Wairarapa may be succumbing to desertification in our own national context.

If the average global temperature rises by four degrees, then the consequences will become drastic. Siberian permafrost and Himalayan mountain glaciers will then melt, contributing to rapid rises in sea level but also drought, famine and severe economic and social dislocation in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Burma. Bangladesh may disappear altogether, at a cost of one hundred and ten million lives. The Preservationist Party storms to power within New Zealand and institutes a state of national emergency, prohibiting all further immigration into New Zealand and ordering New Zealand naval vessels to open fire on marine refugees and asylum seekers. Shamefully, some pakeha lesbians and gay men succumb to anti-Muslim propaganda and assist the new regime. Others participate in underground railroads to smuggle in refugees and asylum seekers and provide them with food and falsified official identification material. New Zealand experiences severe temperature fluctuations as temperatures top 45 degrees in summer and in winter, severe storms batter the country.

At five degrees, New Zealand is directly affected as the massive Western Antarctic ice sheet collapses into the sea. Tsunamis are triggered and there is considerable loss of life in low-lying coastal communities as well as Dunedin. Auckland and Wellington are protected by seawalls, but Christchurch is also destroyed, as are the world's other low-lying coastal nations, such as the Netherlands in Western Europe. Eastern India and Burma now face torrential monsoons and severe storm activity rages across most of the world. The Preservationist Party tries to seize power in a coup d'etat but dissident online media disclose that it has neofascist elements. New Zealand plunges into civil war, as do many Western European nations as analogous neofascist political parties try to seize power and are actively resisted. Desert growth, agricultural failure, drought and monsoon weather conditions engulf most of the planet. Civilisation collapses.

At six degrees, sub-oceanic methane reserves desublimate, causing increasingly acidic oceans and the collapse of marine ecosystems. The ozone layer is ravaged by acidic clouds of hydrogen sulphide, causing more ultraviolet sunlight in and raising global temperatures even further. New Zealand has now been abandoned and the survivors of humanity cluster around the poles. Massive species extinctions have resulted. Whether humanity ultimately survives or succumbs to extinction itself is a moot point.

LGBT communities tend to do well in diverse, multicultural and strong democratic societies. Unfortunately for us, unrestricted climate change is a long-term threat to global and national civil peace, human rights, civil liberties and social diversity. As a community, we cannot let the state of affairs described above emerge. We need to play our part in calling for climate safety and security.


Johann Hari: "Emergency on Planet Earth"Attitude185 (November 2009):65-67

Craig Young - 5th December 2015

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