The impacts of climate change on New Zealand


This article is from the new issue of FIGHTBACK magazine, “Climate Change/ Just Transition”. To order a print copy for $NZ10 + postage, or to subscribe in electronic or print format, see here. Note: production of the print version has been delayed due to the shutdown of all non-essential economic activity in Aotearoa New Zealand, but the electronic version has been mailed out to subscribers.

School climate strike demonstration, Wellington, September 2019

AUTHOR’S NOTE 20 March: Since this article was first drafted in early February, the coronavirus outbreak has been declared a world-wide pandemic, and is turning into a major economic and social crisis. Yesterday Australia and New Zealand both closed their borders. How its aftermath is handled may give us a clearer view of the likelihood of each of the three scenarios described in this article.

Some would consider this crisis unrelated to climate change, but evidence is building that our despoilation of the environment (driven by the need for growth, and cheap fossil fuel energy) may be linked to these outbreaks, as non-human life is stressed and adapts to the rapid changes we are causing (see for example“‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for COVID-19”, by John Vidal, for The Guardian).

Whether it is directly linked or not, it is one of those crises which increase the pressure on us as societies to change rapidly and transformatively. If our primary medium term response is “Phew, that’s over, now we’d better rebuild the economy and get back on track”, we will be heading down the “business as usual” path to environmental apocalypse.  If our response is “Phew, we got through that one, people have responded well to it, maybe we do have the political capital for a massive re-direction of resources to mitigate and adapt to the warming planet”, we may get closer to the “great turning” which is needed to build a better and more sustainable society.  And if our response is simply “So what lessons can we learn to help us prepare better for the next pandemic?”, we are on the “muddling through” path, making incremental changes in reaction to crises rather than working on the big picture.

Place your bets, please.  Or, better still, work out how you can best help influence our societal response so we move towards the necessary transformation.

Climate change is the “canary in the coal mine”

We are in a world-wide environmental, economic, and social crisis. The land and water are being poisoned by the expansion of industrial food production, and misused in the increasing production of “luxury” food such as meat, dairy (and almonds in California!). We will run out of fertile land in 55 years or so, on our current trajectory[1]. We are also poisoning the water and the air, heating the air and the oceans, and decreasing the species diversity which underpins the flourishing of life, through our expansion of industrial activity and distribution fuelled by coal, oil and gas.

Our dominant economic system is based on perpetual growth, which on a finite planet is clearly unsustainable, and on increasing concentration of ownership and wealth in fewer and fewer hands, through the exploitation of both people and nature. The social impacts of all this are steadily growing, with increases in the number and scale of local environmental disasters, instances of local food and water scarcity, and population unrest and dislocation. And the people least responsible for this crisis – such as our Pacific neighbours, living in low-lying atolls and islands, and contributing far less to emissions than Australia and New Zealand – are likely to face the greatest consequences. 

While the roots of this have been with us since the European “Enlightenment”, and particularly the Industrial Revolution, the major immediate cause is the unleashing of globalist capitalism over the last fifty years, and the spectacular increase in consumption this has enabled in the affluent world.

All of this is having increasing impacts on New Zealand. However, the rest of this article will take a relatively narrow view of climate change and its impacts. It will confine itself to impacts directly related to the increased warming of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This will understate and even in some cases ignore the potential effects of the various elements and their inter-relationships on our current crisis. On the other hand, climate change is both a leading indicator of the crisis, and also can only be addressed effectively through addressing most if not all elements of the crisis. So we can treat it as the canary in the coal mine. Or the rather large flock of dying canaries.

There is no room for denialism, or minimisation, here

I’m not going to waste much space making a case that climate change is real. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that anthropogenic climate change, primarily through increased carbon release, is heating the atmosphere and oceans. The effects of this are now becoming obvious even to the casual observer, with increases in the severity of weather events causing droughts, floods, and extreme temperatures.

Carbon levels in the atmosphere are going up by 2-3 parts per million each year and are currently at about 415ppm, compared with the pre-industrial level of 280. When they were last at this level, some millions of years ago, temperatures were significantly higher, and sea-levels were 20-30 metres above what they are now. But it takes many decades for the full effects of increased carbon levels to be felt – that’s why we’re not currently swimming for our lives.

The Planetary Boundaries framework developed by the Stockholm Resilience Institute[2] sets a “red-zone” boundary of 450ppm after which all bets will be off, and climate conditions and weather events will become so extreme and unpredictable as to probably make much of the Earth uninhabitable in the medium term. On our current trajectory, we will pass this boundary in 15-30 years (although it will some decades longer before all the extreme effects are felt).

Unfortunately, the science of all this tends to lag behind actual events, and things are likely to happen faster than science predicts. Each of the IPCC’s five yearly reports has been more pessimistic than the last, and their most recent reports are about as shrill as good scientists can get, for example: “We have till 2030 to cut our carbon emissions by 45% if we are to have any chance of keeping temperature increases below 1.5 degrees”[3].

Moreover, interconnections between changes may lead to tipping events (such as rapid deterioration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice-sheets, or increased methane release in Siberia, or collapse of large chunks of the Amazon rainforest into savannah) which disrupt the linear projections currently be made.

So we as a species are likely to continue to be surprised by the increasing speed of change, and “caught short” in any preparation we do.

New Zealand as a lifeboat

New Zealand’s position (isolated in the middle of the Southern Ocean), geology (a volcanic spine on top of intersecting Continental plates), and political and social stability (few recent wars or major uprisings), give it certain advantages relative to many other places in the world as we face our climate crisis.

The ocean has a moderating effect on temperatures, severity of weather events, and unsolicited arrivals; we have enough moderately fertile soil to feed ourselves and then some; the high proportion of uplands means that retreat from the rising oceans is feasible; and as long as we don’t succumb to the extreme sorts of political behaviour currently infecting parts of the Northern Hemisphere, we might be able to manage all of this in a more or less orderly manner.

These are the reasons why an increasing number of wealthy people are starting to bunker down here, paying more or less attention to how they integrate themselves into New Zealand depending on their natures. Apparently Alaska and New Zealand are highly favoured locations for “weathering the storm” (or at least surviving the early parts of it).

We are a lifeboat. But, to extend the metaphor, let us not pretend that the seas we are in will be calm.

The impacts of climate change are pretty much locked in for the next decade

World-wide (and New Zealand) average temperatures are currently just over 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, and will continue to rise towards about 1.5 degrees over the next few decades. This “average” conceals wide regional variations in averages – for example, the Arctic has been averaging as much as 6 degrees above – and, more obviously, extremes – for example, the recent record highs in Australia and New Zealand (and pretty much everywhere else). Increasing temperatures in the oceans will combine with this to add more moisture – and more energy – to the atmosphere, increasing the number and severity of extreme weather events.

There are also regional influences which dampen or accentuate the general trends, in particular the El Nino-Southern Oscillation in the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean Dipole, either separately or reinforcing each other.

In New Zealand, average and extreme temperatures will continue to rise more or less in line with the world-wide trends – with the extremes rising more quickly than the averages, and becoming more frequent, and drought/flooding conditions becoming more severe.

Overall, the North and the East Coast will get hotter and drier (but still subject to torrential downpours), while the South and the West will heat more slowly, and get wetter in general[4]. The biggest impacts in the next decade will be from extreme weather events. Bigger droughts, storms, floods, fires and, close to my home, bigger wind runs. Wellington has over the last few years been experiencing relatively benign wind conditions, but this spring and summer the higher winds have begun to return – and we probably ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes to severe gales in the Cook Strait area during the next decade.

This will all put increasing strain on local communities and physical infrastructure. Some will be more or less unaffected and some will be moderately or severely damaged. Water supply will become a major issue in many communities; emergency and support services will come under more severe pressure, with less time to recover and re-plan between events; insurance will become harder or impossible to obtain for low lying areas and fruit and vegetable production; the calls for local financial relief will have an increasing effect on government budgets and spending; and some coastal communities will have to start looking at relocation (from greater storm surges rather than average sea-level rise).

How we as a national community respond to all this is one key to our future. In many cases, local communities will be unable to recover without outside help. So how those who are less affected respond, as the calls for help increase in number and severity, will be very important. They will HAVE to share some of their own time, wealth and support if we are to maintain New Zealand-wide social stability, which will become increasingly important as the century wears on.

And, even in the next decade, this may all be thrown into more turmoil if the state and civil society fail to adequately respond to increasing numbers of refugees caused by the greater deterioration of conditions elsewhere. More housing, more services, more investment in infrastructure will all be necessary. But external impacts such as these are likely to be more severe over the middle decades of the century rather than in the 2020s.

Our politics[5], current and future, determines impacts beyond the next decade

What happens beyond 2030 is a function of political decisions and actions we in New Zealand, and in the rest of the world, make over the next 10 to 30 years:

  • If political action continues as now, marginal changes will continue to be made within the capitalist perpetual growth model, and climate change will move into uncharted and extremely violent territory later in the century. We will be at about a 4-degree temperature increase no later than the early 2100s, a level which, when put to groups of scientists as a possibility, causes them to put their heads in their hands and despair. This is in line with Joanna Macy’s “business as usual” and “great unravelling” scenarios[6].
  • If enough of us manage to “bite the bullet” over the next few years, to look and act beyond capitalism, forming a renewed partnership with nature and building societies based on social justice and economic thrift, we have the capability to transform ourselves, and to mitigate, and eventually reverse, the more severe impacts of climate change. This is in line with Macy’s “great turning” scenario.
  • It seems most likely to me that we will end up somewhere between these two extremes, being forced by crises to take more radical actions than currently contemplated in mainstream politics, but never developing or acting out a coherent strategy based on real understanding and acceptance of the causes of, and effective responses to, the overall crisis. This is the “muddling through” scenario (my name for it), and its eventual outcomes are wildly uncertain compared to the other two scenarios.

The rest of this essay briefly explores the possible impacts on New Zealand of each of these three scenarios over the next generation (to 2050) and century (to 2120).

The climate-related impacts on New Zealand of the “business as usual” scenario

In the next generation (to the year 2050), we will see the extremes of the 2020s as described above continue to accelerate. In addition, crop failures will increase, and food security will reduce. As immigration increases, mostly driven by the impacts of the climate crisis elsewhere, there is considerable risk that populists will scapegoat the newcomers for the crisis, and that the state will respond by repression of various groups rather than concentrating on provision of adequate infrastructure for a growing population.

Health related issues will really start to bite, with pests, viruses, and the risks of epidemics, much more frequent. There will still be parts of New Zealand only indirectly affected by most of this, but the overall economic effects and sense of crisis will mean they are no longer able to pretend that they can distance themselves from the issues.

By 2120, weather extremes will be apocalyptic, and a subsistence existence will be the best most of us can hope for. A connected society as we currently know it will have largely ceased to exist, and international travel will be done only by the foolhardiest of sailors. There will undoubtedly be survivor communities in various parts of New Zealand, probably mostly on the west coasts, but many of the trappings of affluent society will be gone. Sea level rise will have caused retreat from areas of some cities (notably Christchurch), but the bigger issues will be collapses of infrastructure and failure of emergency and support services, making severe social breakdown probable, but not certain (we may still manage to struggle to survive together, but that’s all we’ll be doing).

The climate-related impacts on New Zealand of the “great turning” scenario

The next generation will be one of social turmoil, as we construct a useful common narrative to underpin the transformation. The current moves towards renewable energy, based on carbon-intensive manufacturing and electric vehicles, will be rapidly overtaken by low-energy realism, and a broadly local community-based “food, water and energy self-sufficiency” movement.

The air and oceans will continue to heat up for some time, and events will continue to get more extreme. But, as forest plantings increase, industrial dairying and large animal farming are abandoned, and other sensible techniques are used to begin drawing down atmospheric carbon, this trend will slow – and even potentially start reversing – by 2050.

This will be a hard period, both economically and socially. Costs will be high, both to mitigate the ongoing effects of global warming and also to bring the low carbon technologies that will form the basis of our more sustainable future up to scale. And the pressures from multiple sources will make negotiation and non-violent conflict resolution critical skill sets for many of us.

On the more positive side, a social narrative and economic system based on recognising the best of our impulses and behaviours, and not the worst, will steadily gain supporters. The efforts at community-rebuilding that are currently run as fringe activities by many groups will become more mainstream, as the cult of individual celebrity and personal consumption is replaced by one of mutual recognition and respect. In particular, tangata tiriti and tangata whenua will learn from and support each other in honouring the Treaty of Waitangi, and in protecting the land and water. We will also honour obligations to our Pacific neighbours, whether by investing in prevention and mitigation to ensure they are not forced to leave their homes, or by recognising theirright to sanctuary.

By 2120, the new narrative and lifestyles will be much stronger. Regional communities will be larger and more respected, as people-intensive multi-cropping agriculture has become the norm. Global warming and climate impacts will have been reversed, although how far this will go back toward or beyond where it is today is uncertain. International trade and travel will be largely confined to essentials. In New Zealand and other affluent countries, the material wealth of the rich will be substantially reduced, but there will be material improvements for the poor. Life will be slower, but emotionally and socially richer.

The climate-related impacts on New Zealand of the “muddling through” scenario

Place your bets everyone. There are potentially some very bad, and some quite good, impacts in this scenario. The climate will continue to deteriorate, but at a slower rate than in the “business as usual” scenario. Life will get harsher, and international trade and travel will drop considerably. But in terms of social impacts, there will be one of two broad trends, one towards authoritarianism, the other one towards democracy.

Over the next generation, the “constant crisis” mode of reacting to major events will be accentuated. This could lead towards either greater centralisation of power or greater decentralisation, as progress is made towards local resilience. There will be winners and losers from the piecemeal approach to climate solutions – this applies both to people and to places. Some places will become ghost towns, others will thrive. And none of this will be very predictable, as the complexities of the mix of status quo and radical changes will make their impacts very uncertain.

By 2120, the climate situation may have stabilised, at a hotter, wetter/drier, normal, or may still be on the path to complete collapse, albeit at a slower pace than in the “business as usual” scenario.

In social terms, any type of political system, from fascism through feudalism to democratic socialism, is possible. In economic terms, we can presume that the use of sequestered carbon (ie oil and coal) will be largely confined to high yield, long term products, but there will almost certainly still be high-end, luxury travel and transport available for privileged people and goods. And the gaps between rich and poor might be worse or better than now – if we go down the fascist route (probably via populism while still democratic in name at least), they will be worse; if a more democratic route, better.


If you wish to independently find out more about the potential impacts of climate change on New Zealand, the Ministry for the Environment has published national and regional climate change projections out to 2090, including some material on impacts. These are based on the IPCC’s models and projections, and so are quite conservative. Parts of this essay have used some of the Ministry’s projections, which are referenced in Endnote iv.

[1] See

[2] See

[3] See

[4] See

[5] Here I define politics as Colin Hay’s wide and perceptive a community’s use of its “capacity for agency and deliberation in situations of genuine collective or social choice”. Thanks to Ani White for pointing me to this.

[6] See for example, referring into “Active Hope: How To Face The Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy”, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, 2012

Climate change as political murder

Morrison Trump

Australian PM Scott Morrison with Trump (AP: John Minchillo).

This piece by Derek Johnson was originally delivered on the Where’s My Jetpack podcast:

This piece will be printed in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Climate Change and Ecosocialism. To subscribe with PayPal or credit card, click here.

A study by the United Nations has found climate change could drive 122 million more people into extreme poverty in the next 15 years, in part due to the impact it is already having on small-scale farmers. We now know that for decades, beginning in 1977, Exxon concealed its own findings that fossil fuels cause global warming, alter the climate and melt Arctic ice.

Hindsight is 20/20, but if not for Exxon’s cover up NASA and others could have brought proof and the importance of climate change to our governments to do something in the late 1970’s.

Talking about climate change can be nihilistically depressing because for the first time in our planet’s history, we are a species aware of its impending extinction. We are living through the sixth extinction. I’m going to get to the brass tacks and the suicidally depressing roots and propose an optimistic solution.

The U.S. presidential race is off the rails again. Politicians and the media are in panic mode, because of progressive candidates who might improve lives, not because Trump is a fascist who needs to be removed immediately and cannot serve a second term. As much as I like to see them all lose control, they are turning the screws on us.

Trump must go, but beyond that, I don’t care who the next president is and I don’t want anybody to be president. We need to stop having presidents. They don’t know what to do anymore and the schisms are showing. The economy is about to tank again like 2008 and the government and capitalists and their political class are flipping out in panic. This election scam is a symptom of systemic problems with Really Existing Capitalist Democracy or REC’D as Chomsky calls it.

The most pressing issue of our time—our own fucking possible extinction – is only mentioned because of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at least, but overall the political class and MSM are ignoring the fire outside as California literally burns down. They all know deep down that capitalism has killed the habitability of this world.

They fucked up and killed us all. We all have to get used to struggle. We are in the struggle of our fucking lives now. It looks like things are going south quicker than we will ever have a revolution to overthrow this shit and save our species, but I hope not. The planet is going to survive, but it’s going to be uninhabitable for human life. This is beyond unacceptable.

Going slow about changing our economy and using oil is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, while us radicals warn about the iceberg.  We have to get used to endless struggle. Even something like a Green New Deal is being violently resisted.

Demagogues right and left are going to try and convince people that its a Malthusian overpopulation problem. Malthusianism has long been debunked and technically we already live in a post-scarcity civilization, but scarcity is enforced by markets and the state.

The problems of “overpopulation” – habitat destruction, famine, drought – are the direct result of our economic system which needs false scarcity and planned obsolescence to function.

We have enough food, shelter, and medicine for every person on the planet, but resource/”wealth” distribution is dictated by a system with no ability for long term planning.

We live under a system that allows for-profit medicine/healthcare and – based on the statistic I can’t stop pointing out—America has not only enough money to feed the hungry and house every homeless person, but there are enough empty homes that every homeless person would get 6 houses each.

I agree that we need to stop focusing on neoliberalism as a new strain of capitalism, but see that it has actually given way to the return to a more raw and predatory capitalism – as it used to be and always was. I think, now, we are entering a new era of naked capitalism. We often have to ask ourselves when confronted by rulers who see the threat and choose to do nothing and hasten it.

Global warming is in progress and now irreversible. I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories, but it is a reasonable hypothesis that past a certain point, the ruling elite intentionally planned to do nothing, knowing it would get locked in and all the people would die.

This is looking to be by design. Not that the rich created climate change to kill us all, but rather they are adapting to it and exploiting it rather than doing something about it. Perhaps what we’re witnessing in global warming is an improvised planned genocide of many global south nations that will make prior genocides seem quite small in comparison.

Global warming denialists are Holocaust deniers in their own right and should be treated as such. I’m afraid that, rather than combat climate change the powers that be can enforce walling in countries, closing immigration/migration and starve out and kill people with the elements and act like they didn’t do it on purpose. It really looks like rather than doing anything, they are planning to just build walled- in cities and let the poor die.

They can cull the populations like never before. Under this unleashed raw capitalism, they get to wipe out the so-called “developing world” and surplus labor here and there. The weakest and poorest are intentionally being left to bear the worst brunt.

This may technically be genocide by proxy through economic policy if you will, but intentional inaction is ethically no different than intentional planning/action. It really looks like rather than doing anything, they are planning to just build walled in cities and let the poor die. This is essentially genocide.  This is no different than what Stalin did to Ukraine except on scale.

The proper term is democide.

This term was revived and redefined by the political scientist R. J. Rummel as “the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder”. For example, government-sponsored killings for political reasons would be considered democide under Rummel’s hypothesis.

Democide can also include deaths arising from “intentionally or knowingly reckless and depraved disregard for life”; this brings into account many deaths arising through various neglects and abuses, such as forced mass starvation.

Rummel explicitly excludes battle deaths in his definition. Capital punishment, actions taken against armed civilians during mob action or riot, and the deaths of non-combatants killed during attacks on military targets so long as the primary target is military, are not considered democide.

According to Rummel, democide surpassed war as the leading cause of non-natural death in the 20th century. Rummel estimated that there have been 262 million victims of democide in the last century. According to his figures, six times as many people have died from the actions of people working for governments than have died in battle.

This destroys Stephen Pinker’s thesis that less people are dying from war, conflict and violence because of strong states, thus justifying states and ultimately capitalism. His calculation only works if you ignore democide and structural violence.

In my opinion, I feel as if, in scorched Earth fashion, capitalists are literally making sure there is no alternative if they collapse the economic order or are overthrown. We may get eco-socialism or full communism—but in a Mad Max wasteland.

We need a fundamentally new society because the status quo can no longer hold. Martin Luther King said it best: we need a revolution in values.

We need a social revolution. Our task now is to hasten such a global socialist revolution, to forge an eco-socialism for an actually free and sustainable future. We may have to go down trying to build that better society or we are going to live in Mad Max. It’s “Communism or barbarism” as Rosa Luxemburg said, indeed.


Snapshots of the ecological crisis in Australasia

Dunedin Smoke

NZ’s South Island with and without bushfire smoke (pic from Alpine Guides).

By Ani White.
This article will be published in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Climate Change and Ecosocialism. To subscribe through PayPal or credit card, click here.

New Years’ Day 2020, Ōtepoti/Dunedin (Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Ironically, my first real-life encounter with the Australian bushfires – not mediated by Facebook, Twitter, or a press article – is the smoke that drifts to Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Ironic because despite being born in NZ, my current place of residence is Victoria, Australia – a region which was only directly affected after my NZ holiday began. NZ is over 3,000 kilometres from Australia – contrary to a common misconception, we are not near to each other – so the smoke reaching Dunedin in NZ’s far south is not insignificant.

Although the yellow tint over Dunedin is less severe than habitats and homes destroyed, or deaths, the directness of the experience affects me more. It’s the first time the bushfires make me tear up. The concept of climate grief names this experience. Two weeks later, on my return to Melbourne, its air quality is the worst in the world1, though my flat is out of the path of the fire itself.

Environmentalists often wonder how to convey a crisis that you don’t experience directly. Yet now in Australasia and elsewhere, we are beginning to experience the ecological crisis directly. Even with this shift from abstract to concrete, the denial from key players remains, whether conservative denial of the basic facts of anthropogenic global warming, or liberal denial about the scale of changes needed.


October 28th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne (so-called Australia)
A ragtag collection of socialists, anarchists, indigenous protectors, and liberal environmentalists blockade the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

For me, it’s all very reminiscent of NZ’s weapons conference blockades. In both cases the crowd is narrower than the mass marches, and more militant, yet notably intergenerational. In both cases the tactic is to directly stop industry actors even if only for a day, to take direct action, not just symbolic action. And in both cases, police repression is brutal. Although the tactics are portrayed in the press as violent, they are fundamentally the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience – putting your body on the line. The weapons conference actions recently led to the cancellation of the conference in NZ, after a number of years moving between venues and cities in a futile attempt to escape protest actions.

My first hour is spent at the front line, the main entrance. Our arms locked together, cops pressing from behind, knees into backs. The horses arrive, always a terrifying moment of intimidation, and we chant ‘get those animals off those horses.’ The first arrest targets Jerome Small, a prominent socialist who is on the megaphone. A number of cops descend on him, knocking him to the pavement, and we cry ‘shame.’

An organiser requests bodies for another entrance. This is part of the difficulty of these blockades – the coordination to cover multiple entrances without spreading yourself too thin. About ten of us head to this smaller entrance. This site is quieter, though cops visit us a couple of times, monitoring us rather than trying to break the picket. We film them and they film us. During that time the police crackdown at the main entrance intensifies, with multiple arrests and at least one limb broken. Unfortunately I miss the participation of my own union, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), despite wearing an NTEU shirt myself.

Later, a photograph of one cop shows him pulling the OK symbol, recently adopted by far right trolls.


September 20th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne (Australia)
The biggest Climate Strike yet. An estimated 100,000 attend in Melbourne.2 More than 3.5% of the population attend the demonstrations in Aotearoa New Zealand. 3

My union endorses the strike. A colleague’s tutorial overlaps with the strike, so it’s cut short. In my classes, the majority of students are engaged with the climate movement, despite being generally uninvolved in party politics.

The NTEU contingent joins the student contingent joins the main march, at state parliament. At that point I move to the pavement to watch, and film, the tens of thousands streaming past, a stream not stopping for well over half an hour. My favourite sign says ‘Aliens will be so disappointed we chose capitalism over existence.’


August 26th 2019, Narrm/Melbourne Victoria (Australia)
SBS Australia reports the following:

A tree with smoke billowing out of it was discovered just after daybreak on Monday nearby the site of a mass protest demonstration to save sacred Djab Wurrung trees located in Victoria’s western districts.

Traditional Owners who have been camped out in an attempt to stop a controversial upgrade to the state’s Western Highway between Ararat and Buangor said they were left feeling “gutted” by the act of vandalism…

The Western Highway development along a 12.5km stretch of land could potentially see nearly 1000 trees bulldozed.

The suspected attack comes in the wake of a mass gathering at the Djab Wurrung Embassy in the past week, as supporters of the land and trees brace for an imminent eviction so that construction of the bypass can begin.4

The Djab Wurrung Tent Embassy, set up to protect ancestor trees from a highway expansion, is around 2 hours’ drive from my flat. I’ve visited twice, when the organisers sent out Red Alerts concerning potential police encroachment. When the arson at Djab Wurrung is perpetrated, the 2019 Australian bushfire season has not begun, but the Amazon fires are ongoing. Across the world, indigenous people are canaries in the coal mine, standing at the front lines of the fight to protect nature from colonial capitalism.


Even for those of us with a low opinion of right-wing politicians, the brazenness of Australian PM Scott Morrison’s non-reaction to the bushfires is shocking. Although much has been made of his family holiday, surely more significant is the initial refusal to allocate funding to volunteer firefighters. Surely, even for a man who once held a lump of coal up in parliament saying “don’t be scared”, this is an obvious national emergency. Surely even if you treat this as purely a natural disaster, disconnecting it from the context of increasingly dry land and rising temperatures, it’s good optics to at least pretend you take it seriously.

On December 29, months into the crisis, Morrison finally allocates some payments for New South Wales volunteer firefighters. Yet this is restricted to those who are self-employed or work for small or medium-sized businesses.5 Unemployed volunteers are still threatened with losing benefits, as they are no longer available for paid work.

The New South Wales bushfire is the largest fire front in Australia’s history.6 The Australian bushfires are bigger than the Amazon fires or the California fires. And yet they are met with sheer complacency and negligence, bordering on mockery.

Morrison is confirming our worst fears: that much of the ruling class have decided to simply let the world burn, let the poor die, and retreat to their bunkers (a number of them located in the South Island of NZ7). Morrison is now very unpopular, but if he loses out as a result of a reshuffle, the Liberals will likely continue his policies. Australia has recently charged through 3 leaders in 4 years, a political Hydra.

Although NZ’s Labour government is not quite as overtly atrocious as Australia’s, their response is still grossly inadequate. The recent Zero Carbon Act was heralded for achieving bipartisan success. For all the hashing out of various details on paper, the fact that emitters will face no consequences for failing to meet targets makes the whole thing basically toothless. The reality is that reducing emissions means confronting entrenched powers such as NZ’s agriculture industry. Bipartisanship and ecological justice cannot be reconciled. We’re left with outright denial at worst, and symbolic commitments at best.

I still hold to the position, not new but articulated recently by Extinction Rebellion, that only a mass social movement can force the necessary institutional changes – let alone replace destructive institutions entirely. Yet as the movement grows, institutions remain as yet unchanged, and the world literally burns around us.

1Smoke haze makes Melbourne’s air quality world’s worst, for a time, The Age

2‘This crisis, it affects everyone’: Organisers say 100,000 at Melbourne’s climate strike, The Age

3Tens of thousands of New Zealand children kick off new climate strikes, Reuters

4Ancestor tree on fire in suspected arson attack outside Djab Wurrung embassy, SBS Australia

5Scott Morrison announces compensation payments for New South Wales volunteer firefighters, ABC News

6NSW Bushfires: Largest fire front in Australia’s history, Nine News Australia

7The Super Rich of Silicon Valley Have a Doomsday Escape Plan, Bloomberg

Eco-villages, transition towns and gardens cities

eco city

Source: BBC.

Tāne Feary is an eco-activist who lives on Waiheke Island, Tāmaki Makarau / Auckland.

This article will be published in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City. To subscribe to Fightback’s magazine, click here.

This article introduces the Transition Towns movement and looks at eco-villages, exploring some possibilities for the future. The focus is on cities, and our increasingly urban existence.


The Transition Towns concept originated in Totnes, UK. Since the first project in 2006, Transition Initiatives have spread to multiple countries and countless regions around the world: Oamaru, Grey Lynn, Sydney, United States and the list goes on. These projects can be carried out on a small or large scale, and include villages, regions, islands, towns or cities.

Transition Towns are set up to address two challenges: peak oil and climate change. Modern Industrial capitalism uses vast amounts of fossil fuels; oil is the lifeblood of the modern industrial economy. Peak oil is not new. But it is not an issue that gets a lot of attention. NZ had oil shocks in the 70s, when we had carless days; but we are not prepared for a future of carless cities.

What would happen if the oil stopped flowing? No food in supermarkets, no cars, no flights. No gas to cook dinner. Power? Shops? Airports? Petrol stations? What else?

Transition Towns has been working on the local scale. But work is also being done on a larger scale – for example, Sweden has declared it will be a fossil fuel-free nation. Fossil fuel-free cities are also being discussed. The Transition Towns concept may not have translated to places like China, but other approaches are being tried.


Ecological civilization is a term that is not new, but is now getting backing at senior levels. Growth is no longer the only mantra in China. Eco-cities are also being developed in China, such as Tianjin Eco-city.

Peak oil is an issue for cities. Smog is an issue. Food security is an issue. Most cities import a lot of food. Clean water is a must. Extracting fossil fuels can be very destructive, and then there is the issue of waste. Put simply, cities face a lot of challenges. Some cities have been in decline. Detroit is not unique.

More extraction. More burning of fossil fuels. More mines. More Standing Rocks, more vulnerable island nations. More of the same will yield more of the same results. What does a different approach look like? Transition Towns explores what a transition away from fossil fuels looks like. Permaculture is another concept that offers answers. Permaculture is a term that was devised and developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. (See the website link at the bottom of the article to learn more about permaculture in NZ). Permaculture doesn’t need to be a rural activity. Urban farming is a modern form of permaculture.

In New Zealand, a village was designed with transition values in mind. Will it work? This particular village in the South Island has so far fallen into debt and has been highly problematic. Many of the commune projects from the “back to the land” phase some people went through in NZ no longer exist. Many people in NZ, however, maintain connections to the land. Community gardens are thriving in NZ. Setting them up is easy, but keeping them going requires another set of skills. “Back to the land” was followed by back to the city. People shift to the cities to find jobs. This is not unique to NZ.

Perhaps what was lacking most in many of these recent and not so recent experiments was community. Many people don’t have farming backgrounds. Other skills were also lacking. That explains some of the mistakes made when people attempted to set up communities in the countryside. Isolation was also an issue. This can be avoided by placing farms in cities. Golf courses could be put to other uses. Lawns or grass verges can be replaced with productive gardens. Placing food production closer to dense populations reduces travel time. Gardens in schools is another way permaculture can be applied in cities. Roof top gardens, vertical gardens… a design rethink opens up vast possibilities. Wellington City has a small productive urban farm placed right next door to its hospital.

Cities are growing. Emissions are growing. More people, more cars. More smog, more pollution. Some blame people, population, migration. I don’t see immigration as a problem. The struggle for a just transition away from fossil fuels includes the struggle against borders which lock people into appalling conditions – increasingly, as a result of climate change. As climate change worsens, migration will increase. If we are to live in cities in large numbers, we need to learn to live well. Cities need to create less waste and generate more energy. Tomorrows cities don’t have to use vast amounts of resources and fill up endless landfills, exploiting and despoiling. Cities don’t have to be coal powered. The eco-city approach offers ways to reduce energy use and create more closed systems inside the cities. When this happens, the city is not a drain on the countryside or a health hazard for its residents.

Food security

In New Zealand, a lot of food is imported and exported. New Zealand traditionally had a lot of farms and exported a lot of dairy products. It still does. This is being done by irrigation and intensive farming. Factory farming.

The current mantra is: The more stock the better. Large volumes, large profits. The downside is large volumes of effluent. Of course, our cities also produce large volumes of effluent. On the small scale, composting is a solution when it comes to food waste. Large scale solutions also need to exist, since large scale problems exist. The conservative government of New Zealand has been trying to push a model that is focused on short term profits: cut down forests, export logs. Blow up mountains, export coal. Pollute rivers, export milk powder. Then there is the motorway mania. Air quality suffers, water quality suffers, and over time – quality of life too.

Some cities are starting to address the issue of food security. Urban farming and community gardening is taking off. Old vacant parking lots of unused land can be put to new uses. Detroit, the poster city for urban decline, is also the poster city for urban farming. Mass migration to the countryside is not on the cards. Urban renewal is a more realistic response to challenges facing urban populations. Eco-villages don’t have to be located far from population clusters. What would an eco-village in the heart of a city look like? Closer to home lessons can also be learned from Christchurch Garden City. A city with a thriving grassroots spirit; a city with a future.

An ecocentric approach as opposed to a capitalistic development model is one that explores permaculture land management and design, Eco-city urbanism and expands on the Transition Towns concept. Can cities have fresh air? Quiet spaces, clean water and clean air? What kind of city do you want to live in?

For more information:



Change Everything: “We can no longer act like each of our struggles are single causes” (video + text)

Text of a speech originally delivered by Kassie Hartendorp at Oil Free Wellington‘s Change Everything flotilla & rally, December 13th 2015.

Tēnā koutou, talofa lava, malo e leilei, kia orana, bula vinaka, aloha!

Tēnā koutou ki te whenua, ki te moana, ki te hunga mate, ki te tipuna.

Ko Ngāti Raukawa te iwi, nō Te Whanganui-a-tara ahau. Ko Kassie tōku ingoa.

Tēnā koutou katoa.

I acknowledge our land, our waters, our ancestors, our passed. Kia ora to the organisers, fellow speakers and to all of you here today. A special shout out to those on the water – you are more coordinated than I and I appreciate it!

My name is Kassie Hartendorp, and I am speaking here on behalf of Fightback, a group that is based on ecosocialism and socialist feminism. Like others here, I want to speak past the talks in Paris, past surface level solutions to a deeprooted crisis.

If there’s one thing socialists love to hate – besides bosses and landlords, it’s conspiracy theories. But it is not a conspiracy to say that the wealthiest 1% have control over the resources and production that has accelerated climate destruction. It is not a conspiracy to say that the demands of profit are currently centred over the needs of people, and of the world around us. It is not a conspiracy to say that the richest Western powers have made decisions that have benefited their position, and destroyed areas they deemed as unworthy. The poorest, remotest and least resourced people of the world have been the first to be affected by these decisions – and narratives around racism and colonialism secure the structural demise of indigenous communities, people of colour and superexploited areas of the world. These aren’t conspiracies, they are just the everyday truths of our existence.

We can no longer pretend that the impacts of capitalism and colonisation are benefiting or even neutral to our planet. We have a system that is based on limitless growth, of unceasing accumulation with the destruction of natural resources and communities being the consequence of this. There have been many arguments made by ecosocialists and activists worldwide that a healthier planet cannot go hand in hand with the logic of the market and endless private profit.

We can no longer act like each of our struggles are single causes, existing in a world of their own. Our fights for social justice, the rights of women, sexuality and gender minorities, beneficiaries and low paid workers are all interconnected with the need for systemic and sustainable change.

We can no longer place all our faith into individually merely recycling more and driving less. These small changes aid us on our way, but they cannot measure up to the structural damage being caused by mass producers and players – which will continue to undo our everyday work.

We need change. We need change that meaningfully acknowledges the kaitiakitanga and mana of tangata whenua in Aotearoa, as well as indigenous people of the world. We need widespread decolonisation that unlearns the language of our colonisers and tears down the systems that have overwritten our ancestors’ knowledges. I am hopeful and romantic that we could have prevented environmental catastrophes earlier, had those knowledges not been destroyed. We need practical action around the idea of interconnectedness. Of us to our environment of us to one another. We need bold challenges to the machines of capitalism – brave actions towards harmful companies and defiant stands against complacent governments. As a well resourced country, we need solidarity with those who are in danger of their communities being uprooted, flooded and displaced.

Our power doesn’t come from talks in closed meetings, among the elite. It doesn’t come from spineless world leaders, biased corporate interests, or parties that propose to ‘green’ capitalism. It comes from a groundswell of collective desire for a world outside of the narrow confines of capitalism. It comes from feet planted firmly on the ground, buckled into boats, refusing to move, on behalf of our unborn grandchildren. It smells like the leaves of Tāne-mahuta, and feels like the waves of Tangaroa. It sees us as a connected Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa, of likeminded islands that must nurture and protect each other. Our power comes from manaakitanga and tino rangatiratanga. We cannot undo what has been done, but we have the power to change what happens next – and that power is in all of you, in all of us together.

He taura whiri kotahi mai anō te kopunga tai no i te pu au
From the source to the mouth of the sea all things are joined together as one