Category Archives: The Climate Crisis

Climate Strike in Christchurch, Oct 5, 2019

For seven years, I’ve been actively involved in research on climate crisis and media, as well as active resistance to fossil fuel pipeline expansion. During my four-week Visiting Canterbury Fellowship, I was delighted to have the chance to participate in the September 27th School strike for the climate here in Christchurch. Below is a slightly revised version of my in-the-moment field report that I posted to my Greening the News blog at rabble.ca.

Robert Hackett

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Fairly or not, Christchurch is reputed to be one of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s more conservative and least diverse cities, and it’s been through a lot in the past decade – devastating earthquakes in 2010/11, killing hundreds and leaving many thousands homeless and traumatized (in many cases, still) and earlier this year, the mosque massacre that occurred on the same Friday as a climate strike.

So notwithstanding the city’s ongoing recovery and its ‘hidden’ history of radical activism, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the September 27th School strike for the climate. My partner Ika and I joined about 300 students and a handful of staff members on the University of Canterbury campus in the morning, to walk towards the downtown square next to the devastated Cathedral (which we understand that, after much debate, is to be rebuilt). Three hundred students I thought – not bad – relative to enrollment, that’s like 600 at my home university – Simon Fraser in Vancouver. We walked en masse through suburban back roads and the peaceful Hagley Park, rivalling my hometown’s Stanley Park in size if not wilderness. Energetic young people set a surprisingly vigorous pace for such a large group, and we supportive seniors brought up the rear.

So when we arrived at the square, the throng was already gathered, and its size was a welcome surprise – about 6,000. One group of students from suburban Lincoln University had started walking at 6 a.m. to cover the 22 kilometres on foot. And more than a smattering of elders, such as the man whose placard displayed two youngsters, presumably his grandchildren.

I made a note of the placards, to see what kinds of claims are being made, what structure of feeling is being mobilized. Some clever ones – “For the Greta good”. Anger and frustration, but also joy at such a coming together. Not a lot of specific policy demands (a few references to divestment or ending oil exploration), and I could not see one sign out of hundreds that referred to a carbon tax. But rather generic environmentalism – “Save the planet”, and demands for drastic action – of some kind – now. “This is survival, not politics” said one sign.

But perhaps it’s a demand for a new kind of politics, which these young people are helping to invent.

On the one hand, demand for rapid and radical action based on principles more far-reaching than most politicians are contemplating. One of the most vocalized chants was for “Climate justice” – not a slogan I’ve heard often at anti-pipeline rallies in BC, which often focus on regional environmental threats and Indigenous rights. I wonder if climate justice is a concept that resonates more down here, perhaps because of the proximity of the disappearing Pacific island nations and their climate refugees?

And on the other hand, a politics that connects social change and personal life choices. Some elements in the crowd did call out specific institutions as a source of emissions – not fossil fuel extraction as in Canada, where it is a major contributor to increasing GHG emissions, but meat-producing animal farming. And the solution offered combined the personal and the political – “Go vegan”. Judging from the t-shirts and pre-printed signs, veganism is a definite movement here.

And it turns out that the (remarkably young) national climate strike organizers do have concrete policy demands. Parliament should declare a climate emergency. All parties should support the Zero Carbon Act. End fossil fuel exploration and extraction. Invest in a just transition to a sustainable economy. Support Pacific island nations and inhabitants by actively honouring Paris climate agreements and providing a dignified pathway for climate refugees.

A trio of aging curmudgeons stared balefully at the crowd, clustered around a sign claiming “Man-made climate change is a hoax”. They were cheerfully ignored. Outnumbered 2,000 to one and doubtless swept away by a tide of reality, they soon left.

Local TV news covered the event sympathetically, as a kind of carnival, emphasizing generic “let’s do it, we’re all in it together” emotion rather than more politically charged claims.

Across New Zealand, in various towns and cities, a reported 170,000 people took part. That’s about 3.5% of the population – one of the largest protests in the country’s history, and proportionately equivalent to the nearly one million Canadians who took to the streets.

Well done on both sides of the Pacific!

Sustained political opposition from just a heavily engaged three percent of the population was sufficient to overthrow authoritarian governments in eastern Europe during the 1980s and 1990s. That was a rather different political and historical context. But a determined and persistent three percent can be a tipping point in the era of planetary emergency – especially if it’s the generation that must bear the brunt of its consequences. As one senior woman said, the youth are no longer the future leaders; they are the leaders.

Robert Hackett
Professor Emeritus
Simon Fraser University
Visiting Canterbury Fellow, Sept. 2019

UC leadership needed for the climate emergency

By Malcolm Scott

Since April this year sustained collective action by Extinction Rebellion (XR) and other environmental groups that disrupted London, and coinciding with the School Climate Strikes, convinced the UK parliament to pass an historic motion to declare a climate emergency (Locke, 2019)[1].  In May Greenpeace called on the New Zealand Government to declare a ‘climate and environmental emergency’ following the precedent set by the UK,[2] and soon after followed resolutions by Environment Canterbury,[3] and the Christchurch City Council[4] and as Locke (2019) notes, more than 900 other local governments in 18 countries, as well as 7000 colleges and universities have already declared a climate emergency.

In his article UC Must Recognize The Ecological Crisis, Locke makes three main recommendations including following Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in joining the Climate Leaders Coalition. On 4 September 2019 UC did follow VUW in taking an historic step toward recognising the global ecological crisis and climate emergency, in an announcement by the VC Professor Cheryl de la Rey that “UC recognises the School Strike 4 Climate NZ on Friday 27 September.”[5] This followed a RNZ interview on 3 September with VUW Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford.[6] According to RNZ Victoria University had joined Lincoln University in endorsing the strike by school students planned for the 27 September, and that they were  encouraging their staff and students to take part, and neither will need to take annual leave nor explain their absence if they do so. On behalf of VUW Guilford said:

“We feel it’s very important, it’d be irresponsible not to support them, we do a lot of work on climate change and are very clear that the consequences of life as we know it from climate change are grave and irreversibly set in motion unless we rapidly de-carbonise the world energy supply so it is the adults that are being irresponsible risk takers not these young leaders.”

Guilford’s comments, and commitment to allow staff and students to take part in ‘civic action’ set a precedent and a challenge for every New Zealand University VC, that was immediately adopted for UC by de la Rey: “We understand that many of our staff and students will want to stand with the School Strike 4 Climate NZ in calling for a more sustainable future and we have made allowances for them to take leave to attend the event.

However, Guilford also introduced another challenge, the relevance of academic curricula in the face of the global ecological crisis and climate emergency:

“The idea that you can just go to school and learn your arithmetic and your English and life’s going to be fine in the next twenty, thirty, forty years is an abject nonsense. These kids are taking charge of their future, we need to support them in doing so.”

This leads back to another of Locke’s (2019) recommendations for UC:

“Our graduate attributes represent a charter for the skills, knowledge, and capabilities we think our students need as 21st century citizens, surely then it would be negligent not to include the ecological crisis.”

Some questions that arise:

  1. How does a UC degree prepare our students for the future of climate change?
  2. How will UC incorporate environmental values and climate change into its graduate profile?

And finally,

  • What does a ‘climate emergency’ actually mean?

All of these questions (and others) are crucial for UC and the rest of the university sector to be engaged with. The point of declaring an emergency is to create a situation of urgency, which according to the IPCC[7] appears to be the case.

But there are also risks and uncertainties for democracy when a government declares an emergency that could allow enactment of emergency powers. This could this lead to executive orders that by-pass due democratic or legislative process. For example, could dangerous environmentally destructive technologies such as aerosol geoengineering[8] be deployed for climate change mitigation under emergency powers despite widespread controversy[9] and no universally accepted governance structure or suitable environmental legislation? Since 2010 the NZ Government has repeatedly denied the existence of aerosol geoengineering operations in New Zealand,[10] yet thousands of New Zealanders have called on the government to cease geoengineering operations allegedly underway (change.org).[11] In an interview with Marc Morano, former US Republican insider, Morano discusses an alleged UN agenda for removal of civil rights and global depopulation under the auspices of a global climate emergency.[12] Discursive interpretations from sociology, politics, and law, as well as the environmental sciences, about what a climate ‘emergency’ actually means are imperative.

There is no doubt, for me at least, that the planet and humanity are facing an environmental and ecological catastrophe[13] and that the public are calling for urgency from government to respond to this. Universities as public institutions mandated to the role of critic and conscience have an obligation to demonstrate leadership through research and teaching, environmental sustainability, and ensuring our graduates are informed and prepared for their future in which “life will not continue on this planet as we know it” (Guilford, Vice-Chancellor VUW).

So far UC leadership has shown some initiative by assessing its investment portfolio and adopting a policy of ‘less than 1%’ of investments in fossil fuel industries, and in October 2018 stated its aim was to “cut its carbon footprint by 45% with a low carbon energy strategy that will significantly reduce its coal-based heating provision”.[14] However, UC focus on international growth means emissions from international air travel by increasing numbers of students and staff travelling internationally or more frequently means that the carbon footprint from air travel is likely to far exceed any reductions achieved by the low-carbon energy strategy. Further, aircraft damage to atmospheric ozone[15] cannot be mitigated by carbon offsetting. Clearly a more comprehensive approach and policies concerning emissions reduction by UC will be needed, including reducing staff air travel, and offsetting travel by international students recruited by UC since we cannot expect their country of origin to carry their carbon offsetting for their attendance at UC. Perhaps international student fees could include a carbon offset component.

Environmental advocacy groups, municipal councils, and the general public are calling climate change an emergency. UC’s response requires leadership and engagement with students, staff, and our local and national stakeholders. What will be our collective response?


[1] Locke, P. (2019). Univoice. https://blogs.canterbury.ac.nz/univoice/2019/09/03/uc-must-recognize-the-ecological-crisis/

[2] 2 May 2019, https://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/press-release/nz-govt-must-follow-uk-and-declare-climate-emergency/

[3] 16 May 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/112758855/environment-canterbury-declares-a-regionwide-climate-emergency

[4] 23 May 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/112932350/christchurch-city-council-declares-climate-emergency-to-protect-future-generations

[5] 4 September 2019, https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2019/uc-recognises-the-school-strike-4-climate-nz.html

[6] 3 September 2019, https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018711572/universities-show-solidarity-for-striking-school-students

[7] https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

[8] 23 November 2018, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/geoengineering-treatment-stratospheric-aerosol-injection-climate-change-study-today-2018-11-23/

[9] Robock, A., (2008). 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 64:2, 14-18.

[10] Ministry for the Environment correspondence: 27 May 2010, (Letter; ENV4443); 3 Feb 2011 (OIA191); 10 March 2011 (ENV6401); 14 April (ENV6749); 5 Dec 2011 (ENV7876, 7936, 8004); Minister, A. Adams, 4 July 2014 (ENV12110); 29 Feb 2016 (OIA 16-D-00142); Minister, N. Smith, 11 April 2016 (OIA 16-O-00321); Minister, D. Parker, 16 May 2018 (COR1477).

[11] 15 Oct 2018, https://www.change.org/p/zane-o-neill-ban-geo-engineering-weather-modification-in-new-zealand/u/23422478?cs_tk=AYWoQ85ITtZhIYOByFsARvwaATghEpKNexUz1XKBLw%3D%3D&utm_campaign=5dcc4a1c2bd64aba991ee71ceb00d265&utm_medium=email&utm_source=petition_update&utm_term=cs

[12] 12 August 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpxAIYrtGLw&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR3fM-qPIHJD4C_c31OKEV__M9bOl6dooDrseUyEqcyRmxKo0zIOqLBopc0

[13] 6 May 2019, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/

[14] 25 October 2018, https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2018/uc-aims-to-cut-carbon-footprint-by-45.html

[15] New Scientist 1994, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg14219232-100/

UC Must Recognize The Ecological Crisis

By Piers Locke

In October 2018, after a meeting held here in Christchurch in March, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report that gave us 12 years to implement radical change to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees[1]. After more than three decades of obstruction, denial, and inaction on climate change[2], this seemed like the urgent wake-up call our governments needed to hear. Shortly afterwards Extinction Rebellion (XR) emerged, an activist movement advocating non-violent civil disobedience to force governments to declare a climate emergency[3].

In April this year it culminated in sustained collective action that disrupted London, capturing the UK news cycle. Coinciding with the School Climate Strikes[4], a well-timed David Attenborough documentary on climate change on the BBC[5], and Greta Thunberg’s invitation to speak to a coterie of top politicians, the UK parliament then passed an historic motion to declare a climate emergency[6]. Ireland has followed suit[7], as have France and Canada[8]. Here, as the NZ government prepares its Zero Carbon Bill[9], Nelson City Council[10], Environment Canterbury (Ecan)[11], Christchurch[12], Auckland[13], Wellington[14], and Dunedin[15] city councils (and more[16]) have all declared a climate emergency, as have more than 900 other local governments in 18 countries![17] Furthermore, 7000 colleges and universities have already declared a climate emergency, with a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030, mobilizing resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation, and increased delivery of environmental and sustainability education.[18]

These are important symbolic first steps, but of course, they must serve as the basis for coordinated action.[19] Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has recently released a highly significant report that alerts us to the biodiversity extinction crisis and the threat to the ecosystems upon which organized human life depends[20]. In short, the environmental consequences of human activity and our industrial economy now pose an existential threat to civilization as we know it. This requires nothing less than a transformation of our values, our thinking, and our political and economic systems, as well as a reorientation of our technological endeavour, and much greater ecological appreciation of the impacts of human activity. Business-as-usual is no longer tenable and transformative change is imperative, as contributing authors to the IPCC and IPBES reports acknowledge.

Daunting as this may be, it follows then that we must also rethink the University to meet the extraordinary challenges of the 21st century- a time when the global scale of ecologically transformative human activity has proven sufficient to propose a new geological epoch- The Anthropocene. The University is making positive strides with a new Sustainability Plan and an advisory group for its implementation (of which I am a member), but greater integration of research and teaching with operational planning remains a gap to be filled (although another working group has been formed to address this). What should we do then to make ourselves fit for such purposes?

Here are three modest suggestions:

– The University of Canterbury is already a CEMARS-certified[21] institution measuring and reducing its carbon footprint. Perhaps then it could consider following Victoria University to join the Climate Leaders Coalition, participating in the Climate X collective to steer New Zealand toward a zero carbon economy?[22] It would make sense to formally plug-in to this initiative as an institution since the University is home to manifold expertise on diverse aspects of the climate crisis (including a member of the IPCC).

– If our graduate attributes represent a charter for the skills, knowledge, and capabilities we think our students need as 21st century citizens, surely then it would be negligent not to include the ecological crisis. While some of us may have experienced the implementation of the graduate attributes as little more than a matter of bureaucratic compliance, that does not mean they cannot become meaningful for staff and students as they are increasingly integrated into teaching practice (although I note that most of my students still seem unaware of them). Proposing an additional, distinct attribute may not be the most desirable approach to take since the predicament we face today is at least partly a result of failing to integrate environmental consideration with thought and action in the domains of society, politics, economics, and technology, i.e. treating the environment separately is a key part of the problem.

Bearing in mind the institutional effort the attributes have required, perhaps then it would make greater sense to modify the existing attribute of global awareness than to implement a whole new one. My suggestion then is that it be adjusted to consider planetary as well as global awareness (since the former suggests the biophysical materiality of the life systems upon which we depend, while the latter suggests the social dynamics of an increasingly inter-connected world).

– Finally, I think we should make a concerted, institutional effort both to encourage more inter-disciplinary collaboration and to reconfigure our curricula to make them better suited to the challenges of these extraordinary times. Our disciplines can sometimes seem like territories to be defended, especially in the age of audit, which has pitted them against each other in competition for student enrolments. This has sometimes deterred us from exploiting complementarities and working across disciplines (although corrective initiatives are now afoot in this regard).  Disciplines are neither eternal verities nor discrete islands of knowledge, but rather configurations of knowledge and practice subject to change and hybridization. This is acutely pertinent to the global ecological crisis as a multi-faceted phenomenon, which exceeds the reach of any one discipline and the all-too familiar boundaries between the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences that have been integral to the structure of the modern university[23]. To address the crisis, disciplinary knowledges either need to be put into  more rigorous conversation with each other or integrated into hybrid forms, both of which are occurring with renewed urgency[24].

The education our students need then, is one that prepares them for a world of tumultuous change that may be more logistically, sociologically, and psychologically challenging than any generation has previously had to confront. Indeed, climate grief and ecological anxiety do not just represent novel topics of enquiry, but something at least some of our students are experiencing now, reminding us that a disinterested understanding of global ecological processes and the role of human activity is insufficient. Surely then, we have a moral responsibility to ensure we equip our students with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions with which to exercise meaningful agency in averting social and ecological catastrophe.


[1] For a summary of the IPCC report see: https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

For commentary from Professor Bronwyn Hayward, a member of the IPCC here at UC, see: https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2018/new-ipcc-report-marks-end-of-magical-thinking-about-climate-change—uc-expert.html

[2] For the story of the political struggle among scientists, activists, politicians, and corporate lobbying here in New Zealand, watch the documentary film Hot Air: Climate Change Politics in New Zealand. http://www.hotairfilm.co.nz/

[3] Beginning in London, UK it has also spawned chapters active here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. https://rebellion.earth/

[4] https://www.schoolstrike4climate.com/

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-47988337

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48126677

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/10/irish-parliament-declares-climate-emergency

[8] https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/06/24/four-countries-declared-climate-emergencies-give-billions-fossil-fuels/

[9] https://www.mfe.govt.nz/have-your-say-zero-carbon

[10] https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/112774585/nelson-declares-climate-emergency  

[11] https://www.ecan.govt.nz/get-involved/news-and-events/2019/environment-canterbury-declares-climate-emergency/

[12] https://ccc.govt.nz/news-and-events/newsline/show/3614

[13] https://ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/articles/news/2019/06/auckland-council-declares-climate-emergency/

[14] https://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/news/2019/06/climate-emergency

[15] https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/dcc-votes-declare-climate-emergency

[16] https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/113747732/councils-declare-climate-emergencies-but-will-it-result-in-any-real-change

[17] https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/climate-emergency-declarations-cover-15-million-citizens/

[18] https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-emergency-colleges-universities-2639161884.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

[19] https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/22-07-2019/so-youve-declared-a-climate-emergency-now-what/?

[20] https://www.ipbes.net/news/ipbes-global-assessment-summary-policymakers-pdf

[21] https://www.enviro-mark.com/what-we-offer/carbon-management?gclid=CjwKCAjw5pPnBRBJEiwAULZKvoTGxYFTNNm7WrVnGeC0DTUVaV7Br1ea5ckwrW_5oiUbe3r2kcZSyxoCb9kQAvD_BwE

[22] https://www.climateleaderscoalition.org.nz/

[23] For instance, here’s a recent article arguing why science needs the humanities to address climate change: http://theconversation.com/why-science-needs-the-humanities-to-solve-climate-change-113832

[24] In my own Anthropology teaching on the global ecological crisis for example, I combine earth system science with sociocultural anthropology, human geography, and environmental history, introducing students to discursive fields where academics talk across and beyond disciplinary boundaries.

Students Making a Difference on Campus- UC Fossil Free

Fossil Free UC was a single-campaign club calling on the University of Canterbury to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

We were part of a global ‘Fossil Free’ movement of university students, faith groups, and businesses with a simple premise: since it is wrong to wreck the climate, it is also wrong to profit from that wreckage. Fossil fuel companies’ ties with respected institutions like universities are what give them the social licence to continue business as usual – a business that is destroying the planet, and the futures of the very students UC seeks to educate!

By divesting from fossil fuels, UC could help revoke that social licence, no longer legitimising the destructive business of the fossil fuel industry, and instead prioritise the interests and wellbeing of its students, its staff, and the wider society it serves.

We started a petition urging UC to divest in 2015. Through posters, movie nights, campus stunts, and other events, we raised awareness on campus about the harmful effects of fossil fuels. We found that many students were concerned about climate change, but didn’t necessarily know how they could engage with the issues. Our grassroots action gave students a way to make a difference on campus and beyond.

We delivered our petition to the Chancellor in September 2016, by which time it had gathered nearly 2,000 signatures from students, staff, alumni, and concerned community members.

However, it took another six months of campaigning and raising awareness before we could declare victory. On 29 March 2017, the University Council resolved to have no direct investments in fossil fuels and to reduce indirect investment in fossil fuels to less than 1%.
Our campaign took two years, the dedication of a handful of core members, and the support of thousands of students, staff, alumni, and community members who signed the petition, came to events, and spoke up on behalf of our collective future. Together, we sent a powerful message to the fossil fuel industry: their destruction of our future will not be tolerated at UC. Sadly, the university demonstrated little interest in championing its students prepared to make a difference, or its decisive action in response to their efforts, barely communicating this success to staff, students, and civil society.

Mah Mah (Tohoa) Tetini, UC Fossil Free, PhD student in Anthropology