30th July 2020
Dear Prime Minister,
I’m David Goldsmith, a 52 year old Christchurch father of 3. Today is my 18th day on a hunger strike in front of Parliament and the 25th day on vigil with my friend Tim Musson and other supporters. Our action here is to raise awareness about the dire ecological emergency we are in, which will have devastating impact for our children and grandchildren. Other hunger strikers are waiting to follow me when I finish.
I firstly want to tautoko you for the grace, strength and most of all kindness you have shown in your role as Prime Minister.
I deeply respect your empathic response after the mosque shootings. I remember the image of you wearing the black hijab, showing solidarity and sharing the victims’ grief and I feel my tears pricking.
I also am very grateful for your leadership and courage in listening to the science and taking unprecedented actions in response to Covid19. People are alive now as a result of you and your Government’s actions: grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters are still with us. Thank you.
I genuinely respect you and believe you are New Zealand’s best Prime Minister in my lifetime. However, I also gravely challenge you for falling woefully short in your communication and actions in response to the climate and ecological emergency that the entire world is facing. Greta Thunberg said: “I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” I add to Greta’s words: Our house is on fire and our children are inside. The flames are fueled by coal, oil and gas: unless the entire world turns off the tap, there is no hope for our children’s future. I am not hearing the truth from you or your Government about this unprecedented, catastrophic eco-crisis. I see no evidence of adequate action either, only self congratulation for actions that fall drastically short of the problem.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CRISIS:
The overwhelming, all encompassing nature of this crisis means we struggle to be both intellectually and psychologically clear about it. I identify 3 stages of response to the eco-crisis: denial, despair and “do something”! Denial is complex, not just science denial. Denial suppresses our love and caring. Then, if we begin to wake from denial, despair comes like a heavy dark blanket. Despair is rage turned inward. Rage is an appropriate response except there is a dilemma about where to correctly direct it, as we are all in this together, we are all implicated. Doing something is also problematic, because what could we possibly do that would make a difference and turn this around? I am choosing hunger striking and now writing to you. I’m also committing every Friday for the rest of my life to action on this crisis, following Greta’s example.
Humans are social animals and we are all influenced profoundly by the bubbles we occupy. The denial we individually experience becomes a herd denial that is even more difficult to step out of. Humans are a great herd heading for a cliff edge: most of us have some knowledge of the catastrophic course we are on, but collectively we are not changing direction or even slowing down. In fact, we are accelerating towards catastrophe.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM:
Any problem needs to be clearly understood before an adequate and appropriate response is possible. The sheer scale and complexity of the eco-crisis means there is the potential for a lot of smoke obscuring our clarity. Scientists are people also and not immune from complex denial or profound influence from the bubbles they occupy. The strength of science is its faithfulness to real evidence, and individual researchers following the evidence, each in their own narrow field. I see a huge deficit in a discipline of science communication, which brings together all the individual research knowledge into a clear big picture, sifting out opinions and natural human denial. I urge you to urgently invest in science communication, to inform yourself and the Government, and to inform the public. We must hear the truth and speak the truth, to urgently grow the political will to act, to give our children and grandchildren any chance of a future.
I’m not interested in ideology or beliefs but in evidence and science and I aim to be constantly open to changing my view based on the evidence and the science. The following is a brief outline of my lay understanding of the eco-crisis which has been developing for the last 30 years.
The ecological emergency is not only climate change (global heating). It is global heating and ocean acidification and mass extinction. Because of lag or inertia from decades to centuries in Earth’s climate and ecological systems, effects we see now are from emissions decades ago.
The very scary thing is, all global greenhouse emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution have doubled since 1990. I repeat: the emissions of the last 30 years equal all the emissions of the previous 200 years. The science has been clear since the 1970’s or before, it was certainly clear in 1990, and it is abundantly clear now. Yet we continue hurtling towards an utter catastrophe at an exponentially accelerating pace. Humans won’t necessarily be exempt from the mass extinction that we are consciously causing.
9 of the 15 known tipping points in the Earth’s climate system are already activated. Tipping points have the potential to cascade, like a line of dominoes, one tipping point activating the next. The consequence of tipping points cascading is abrupt and irreversible climate catastrophe.
It is quite possibly already too late, or the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. The urgency of our situation cannot be understated. The primary driver of all this is burning fossil fuel, therefore the primary solution is banning fossil fuel extraction and import globally. The problem is overwhelming and the primary solution is also overwhelming.
There is no other concern that comes close to the importance and urgency of this one. It involves all areas of Government: budgets, development planning, peace and order, national security, economic security, food and water security, wellbeing. We are facing an existential threat utterly unprecedented in scale. The first urgent solution is clearly communicating the science, so more people understand the urgency of acting now, acting now to give our children and grandchildren any hope of a future.
Secondly, we must start taking the necessary actions based on the science. The scale and urgency of this crisis does not suit our traditional government structure. The adversarial nature of our political system means the lives of our children and grandchildren become a political football while the evidence and science take a back seat. We urgently need a reform of power. For example: a two hulled citizens assembly, one hull being representative of the general population and the other hull being Tangata Whenua. This two hulled assembly then being informed by a skilled panel of science communicators. Giving this assembly real power in the decision making required to act on the science would take this matter beyond politics. In the end, we all will be suffering together regardless of our political leanings.
There are many potential solutions that respond in a limited degree to our crisis. One example is planting trees, which your government has already begun. Adding these partial solutions together could add up to a substantive response. In Aotearoa New Zealand, farming is currently a big part of the problem. For example, the emissions from use of synthetic fertilizer exceed all emissions from domestic aviation. However, through regenerative farming, farming could become a big part of the solution, sequestering carbon in the soil using natural climate solutions. Farmers need substantial support to achieve this because they will be changing the practices of generations of farming, and they will be doing this for the benefit of us all.
However, despite adding together the limited partial solutions, we cannot ignore the primary driver of global heating, ocean acidification and mass extinction. The primary driver by far is the extraction and burning of ancient carbon (fossil fuel), putting that ancient carbon into the atmosphere. There simply isn’t the land available to plant trees to remediate fossil fuel emissions. An engineered solution of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is also unproven at scale and cannot come remotely close to remediating our global emissions.
I am calling on you to comprehensively ban fossil fuels progressively, to a full ban by 2025. I’m calling for this urgent transition because the science is crystal clear and we may already be out of time. We should have started 50 years ago. By comprehensive, I mean banning all extraction and import, except for some very limited life and death reasons for essential use of fossil fuel, but these must be very strictly limited and demonstrate there are absolutely no alternatives. I know banning fossil fuel is politically impossible for you at the moment even though that is what the science is telling us is required. This is the reason we need quality science communication and a citizen’s assembly.
Banning fossil fuels will lead to economic degrowth. This is also essential and reflects how our unrelenting focus on economic growth has led to the escalating exploitation of the planet that gave birth to us. The eco-crisis of global heating, ocean acidification and mass extinction essentially comes back to over-consumption by the middle class and wealthy. It is obscene to think that we will party on with this excess, without acting to save the lives of our children and grandchildren. Everyone loves their children, it is only our dream of denial that allows us to continue behaving this way.
Economic degrowth must be fair, equitable and kind. This is a total transformation of our society and how we live. We need to do this in a way that emphasises we are all in this together and that a simpler and quieter life could actually be a much happier one.
I see two great arms of action required: one arm is ecological action focussed not on being carbon zero but on carbon drawdown. We are at a dangerous level of global warming gases now and must draw down carbon using natural solutions that also heal the Earth. The second great arm of action is social action. There is a huge task of fairness, justice, equity, and peace. This is essential for such a massive transformation to happen peacefully, and to prepare for the inevitable conflict coming (and already here in some parts of the world). The threat of nuclear war still hangs over the globe despite it falling from the common consciousness in the last few decades. The eco-crisis has high potential to also be a devastating war crisis as well.
Finally, stating the obvious, it is not only Aotearoa New Zealand that must make these immense changes, it is the entire globe. The task is overwhelming, yet we must begin or else we are just abandoning our children’s future. I believe that you Prime Minister, and Aotearoa with you, could lead the way for the rest of the world. You are very well respected globally, respect which you deserve. The eyes of the world are on us now with our success under your leadership with Covid19. This is an unprecedented opportunity to also follow the science responding to the eco-crisis and lead the world. It has to start somewhere: let it be us and challenge the world to follow.
The only response that could restore hope for our future is a global emergency war effort, not a war with each other, instead a war effort for bringing the entire globe together and acting together in response to the global existential threat.
I would dearly love to speak with you, by phone or especially in person. You can find me and supporters on Parliaments lawn 9-4 on weekdays and 10-3 on weekends. Our action phone is 0226235345. My personal phone is **********.
If you’re interested in more about our action at Parliament, you can visit our website etu4future.nz
Yours sincerely, David Goldsmith