Chlöe Swarbrick: How to make NZ a better place? It’s down to you, me, us


In an emergency, like an earthquake or a flood, everyone is quick to action. You hear sirens and see helicopters. The news runs 24/7 updates from police, politicians and citizens offering first-hand accounts of what’s happening. Everyone stands at attention, ready to serve.

But what happens when the disaster is happening in slow motion? When the disaster is global warming or the housing shortage? As the heat climbs at a pace unperceivable in any given moment, are we the metaphorical frog placed on slow boil?

My baby sister recently had a baby of her own. When my niece starts talking, I’m fascinated by the questions she may ask, familiar to any parent in the world; the “whys” only ever coming to an end with a frustrated, “because that’s just the way things are”.

But why are things the ‘way they are’? This rationale fails when you realise things could change as easily with exactly the same “just ’cause”.

To grow up shouldn’t be to give up on the question or solutions to the problems it probes.

The escalation of humanity’s impact on the earth isn’t a natural phenomenon.

The rules and regulations that favour housing as an investment commodity aren’t written in the stars.

We may be accustomed to rough sleepers resting their head in front of luxury stores on Queen St, but there’s a gulf between the familiar and the unavoidable. It’s called power.

These things are the way they are either by neglect or by design. Reckoning with our role in creating – or at the very least upholding – the rules that allow these chasms of injustice to widen is scary.

We all hold all the power, and the responsibility, to change everything.

Everything could have changed when we woke up to orange skies, the reality of a climate-changed, interconnected world symbolised as smoke from Australia’s historic forest fires cast an unimaginably long shadow. Everything could have changed when we went into Covid-19 lockdown and saw that everything could, very literally, change.

It didn’t, but it could have. And it still can.

What’s standing between us and an Aotearoa where our kids can swim in their rivers, where everyone has a home, where everyone can enjoy holiday breaks in a stable and predictable climate? What’s between you and a sense of power and engagement in democracy? In all seriousness, it’s just a bunch of decisions.

Some of those decisions are small and some of those decisions are big. All of them start somewhere.

Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana preached justice, love and Te Tiriti, sowing a movement now rolling into its centenary, electing and holding politicians to account.

Forty years ago, international superpowers threatened to point nuclear weapons at each other and thousands of New Zealanders demanded our nuclear-free zone. It became political commonsense.

One teenager in a yellow raincoat, at a loss at where to start, sat outside Swedish Parliament. Months later, millions of people across the world took to the streets, following in the steps of schoolkids, solidifying ever-stronger climate laws.

It’s conventional wisdom to see politics as something that happens to us. Not for us or by us. Why? Who does that empower?

Any system is the sum of its parts. Democracy doesn’t look like it’s supposed to when less and less of us engage with it. Decisions won’t serve the majority of us if they don’t involve the majority of us. While that may feel all too familiar, it’s entirely avoidable.

It’s in vogue for climate activists to lament that we’ve got all the solutions we need to keep within 1.5 degrees of warming – all we need, it’s said, is political willpower. Where does that come from?

You. Me. Us.

When my niece Mia learns to talk, I hope she never stops asking questions. I hope she doesn’t grow up, if that means to give up and accept anything less than fair, just ’cause. I hope she inherits a timeline where all of us did the same.

– Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party, is the MP for Auckland Central.

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