Extinction Rebellion protesters at Auckland Council (Rowan Quinn, Radio NZ)

The Bulletin: Climate emergency declared, now what?

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Auckland Council the latest to declare a climate emergency, money runs out on Fox River cleanup, and taking of children into state care in focus.

If you live in Auckland, you now live in a city where a ‘climate emergency’ has been declared. The motion was passed unanimously by Auckland Council yesterday, reports the NZ Herald. It follows similar declarations from Environment Canterbury, Nelson and Kāpiti Councils, and according to Radio NZ is expected to be followed by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. So what does it actually mean?

On one level, nothing. That’s not to say that it is some meaningless, feel-good move either, it’s just that in and of itself, the declaration won’t carry any legal weight. The Council isn’t going to be able to demand that the 2021 APEC meeting be held as a teleconference, rather than having delegates fly in from all over the world, for example. What it can mean in practice though is that Council decisions now have to also be looked at through the lens of climate change. That includes both reducing emissions, and also mitigating against the future effects of climate change, which for a coastal city like Auckland are likely to be dire. They’re the sorts of considerations that Vector (our partners on The Bulletin) are continually looking into, with extreme weather events caused by climate change making it much more difficult to deliver power.

But at Council level, the weighting of these decisions will still be fundamentally political. This particular declaration was spurred largely by the youthful activism that has taken place this year, and it’s a way for Council to signal that they are listening. Over on Interest, Stephen Forbes has a very good piece on the wider implications of the declaration, which campaigners say isn’t the end goal at all. The nature of Council and local body governance being what they are, there will be plenty of moments in the future when elected officials will have to balance different outcomes, and there will be other considerations to be included. For Mayor Goff’s administration, even more emphasis on public transport will be an easy one – it’s what they want to do anyway, and the rapid growth in uptake proves the value of it. But what about decisions like the stadium strategy? Would, say, the extreme carbon intensity of stadium construction be considered as a reason not to build a new one?

Perhaps this sounds overly cynical about the value of climate emergency declarations, so here’s a counterpoint. Many such declarations have been made in the UK, and environmental website DeSmog argues that they’ve been useful for focusing the minds of elected officials. It’s part of a wider Extinction Rebellion demand that governments ‘tell the truth’ about the looming threat of climate change. The change in language can bring a change in mindset – ‘change’ sounds soft and benign, as opposed to an emergency which demands action be taken. So for this to not be a tokenistic gesture, it needs to be followed up by assessments of whether the shift in mindset is actually being manifested.

On a related note (and thanks to all of you who sent feedback in on this yesterday,) it is actually true that the Environmental Protection Authority can’t consider submissions based on climate change. That’s not a decision up to individual EPA staffers either, it’s enshrined in various bits of legislation. The decision on OMV drilling in the Great South Basin is being taken under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, which specifically says that marine consent decisions ‘“must not have regard to….the effects of climate change of discharging greenhouse gasses into the air.” So there you go, the EPA is forbidden by law from protecting the environment. That to me sounds like an emergency situation.


Despite the heroic efforts of volunteers, there is still a flood of rubbish to be cleaned out of the Fox River, reports Radio NZ. Funding from government and the local council has run out, and their Givealittle page is about to close. The volunteers are hoping some other organisation will take up the cause, as the pollution is still heavy. Wildlife is dying as a result of it, and much of the plastic will end up being swept out to sea, or washing up on beaches around the region. To be frank, apart from the volunteers, the overall response to this has been totally inadequate.


Newsroom have launched a campaign around the practice of ‘uplifting’ children – in other words, kids being taken by the state. It is a practice that has caused increasing concerns on the grounds that it is mostly poor, Māori mothers who are having their babies taken off them by Oranga Tamariki – sometimes in dubious circumstances. The centrepiece of it is this video documentary which details and outlines just how it happens, and raises questions about abuses of state power.


Government ministers have been touring the provinces since the launch of the Wellbeing Budget, and this (paywalled) report from Hawke’s Bay Today is a really interesting glimpse into them. Journalist Sue Emeny went along to one held in Dannevirke, to talk about the problems faced by the Tararua District. Maintenance of the roads came up, particularly in the area around the township of Weber, and having driven them recently I can assure you they’re pretty hairy – one bit even has a message calling for repairs scrawled on it. The other major issues that were raised in the piece include mental health, internet connectivity and how to navigate the provincial growth fund application process.


Housing minister Phil Twyford is defending Kiwibuild against accusations it can be rorted by those with wealthy parents, reports Radio NZ. A few pre-approved buyers have basically been able to come up with the entire cost of a house, thanks to money from family. Mr Twyford says there’s nothing wrong with using the ‘bank of Mum and Dad,’ and that people should be able to “mobilise family resources” to buy a house. Then again, given so many of the Kiwibuild houses aren’t actually selling, it’s not likely these potential buyers will actually be blocking others.


Significant transformation is coming to George St in Dunedin, after approval from Council, reports the ODT. The multimillion dollar upgrade will make the road one way, and prioritise walking and cycling pathways instead. The design includes some beautification to make the area more attractive to visit, and will coincide with much-needed wastewater upgrades under the street.


We’re thrilled to be hosting an event on the future of Mt Albert later this month. On June 26 from 6-8, MC Jeremy Hansen will be leading a discussion at Ferndale House on how growth has affected Owairaka, and how people can get involved in the future of the suburb. Unitec lecturer Jacqueline Paul will also be giving on a keynote on building better housing and communities. If you’re keen to head along, RSVP to Kerryanne@thespinoff.co.nz.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Sam Brooks speaks to legendary actor Jennifer Ward-Lealand about her greatest roles. Former defence minister Wayne Mapp delves into why this government has been so slow to withdraw troops from Iraq after being very vocal in opposition. Caoimhe McKeogh asks writers how they make a basic living and juggle day jobs with books. I profiled cricketer Mitchell McClenaghan, and his desire to get back in the Black Caps. And Duncan Greive writes about the strange beef going on between Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere and journalist Simon Wilson.

Finally, this column from Anjum Rahman is must read. It’s about the nature of free speech, and why so often free speech is interpreted as a demand to be listened to, regardless of how that might impact on the listener. It’s very, very strong.


Today’s feature might be a bit jarring for some readers, but I reckon it’s quite thought provoking. Published on BookForum, it’s about the fetishisation of power in Washington DC, and the peculiar type of insecurity that so many seeking that sort of power out have. Fundamentally it’s a piece about whether power really is the ultimate aphrodisiac, with all of the ickiness that statement contains. Fair warning. Here’s an excerpt:

“The president presumed he was being properly discreet,” writes John F. Harris of the Lewinsky affair in The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House. “In fact, he was surrounded by a widening circle of people who had little doubt about what was transpiring.” Clinton’s staff, long accustomed to preempting opportunities for Bill to act on his worst impulses, immediately understood the purpose of a Lewinsky visit. (Secret Service agents placed bets on how quickly the president would head toward the West Wing after her weekend arrivals to the White House.) This support team validated and preserved Clinton’s misconception of his subterfuge’s success by making their own machinations invisible, as per the intuitive terms of an open secret.

The phrase “open secret” is an oxymoron, a label for information that can’t be explicitly acknowledged but is deferred to nonetheless—which, paradoxically, requires familiarity with what’s supposed to remain unknown. It’s a conspiracy of obfuscation and avoidance, an edifice of silent accommodation erected to protect someone from himself. It’s harm reduction on behalf of the fragile and the powerful.


The Football Ferns have started their World Cup campaign with an agonising loss against the Netherlands, reports Stuff. And when I say agonising, it was 1-0 with the only goal coming in stoppage time at the very end. It’s a disappointing way to start a tournament that the Ferns could actually go some way in – here’s a cheat sheet about their chances in France. The next game is against the very good Canada, and because of the tournament format grabbing at least a point from it would make a huge difference to their playoff hopes.

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And in the other football, Andrew Durante is packing up and leaving the Wellington Phoenix. The NZ Herald’s Jason Pine has a good piece which outlines why it is such a massive blow for the club, to lose such a towering figure on and off the field. It leaves the Phoenix desperately short of players, with striker David Williams also out the door. Just nine players are currently on contract, with the next season starting in October.


From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.


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