Kia ora koutou, kia orana, ni sa bula vinaka, Talofa lava, Fakalofalahi atu, Taloha ni, [Kam na mauri], Halo olgeta, and warm Pacific Greetings everyone.
It’s a huge honour and a privilege to be part of this Wellington People’s Climate March. [It’s a huge honour and privilege to be with everyone here today on the People’s Climate March because what we are marching, speaking out, and protesting for is the need to address the greatest, most historically unprecedented social and ecological crisis of our time.
If we look at science, the picture is clear: extreme weather events are now going to be the future norm; the sea ice is shrinking; there will be more high temperatures, droughts and fires; the glaciers are melting and permafrost is thawing; methane stores are releasing all over the globe; we are looking at an ice-free Arctic future; we are in the midst of a human-induced mass extinction; and if we do not keep under the 2 degree rise, many scientists predict that the earth will become increasingly inhospitable to life, both humanity’s and that of many other species that we share this beautiful planet with.
We’re staring at mass extinction, and an incredibly dark future for future generations – for our babies, and our babies’ babies.
This is why we’re out on the streets, this is why we’re gathering together, this is why we’re here today.]
I’m here as an academic, and as Sandra Grey has said, we believe that academics have a heavy responsibility to be at the forefront, at least intellectually, in terms of pushing the social and ecological issues that we need to confront collectively as a society. But I am also here today as a person of the Pacific, and so we also carry a certain weight and a certain sadness over the lack of action over the last twenty years particularly (although we can go further back than that) in terms of substantial, international public policy changes. And if this Paris meeting doesn’t produce anything substantive, I think we are going to have to seriously confront the next steps.
We’ve been marching for the last thirty years, and yet here we are, begging our governments again to simply listen to the people. One of the reasons that I’m out here especially is because I don’t really come from the generation of all the people who run and control and make the major decisions in our society – that’s the people before me. But I can see that the people who will really bear the brunt of climate crisis into the future will be our babies, and our babies’ babies.
So I know we have gathered here today to petition our political leaders, our parliamentarians, but today I’m going to take a different focus. I want to talk instead to us, the people, and I want to talk in particular, to you all, the young people, who are our future and who are our hopes and dreams, who will have to clean up the mess that previous generations can laid at your doorstep. I want to talk to you, first and foremost, rather than our politicians because I come from a certain tradition, a certain indigenous tradition, that holds that the power in a society always comes from below.
My mum used to call this black stone. Vatumaraga. That was because on our islands, our volcanic islands, that was the baserock. The foundation stone. If we translated that into political understandings, it actually means that ultimately power rests and abides with the people.
So our governments, our leaders, our political parties, should be for the people. If our government is not for the people, it is fundamentally illegitimate.
To be honest, I think if we were to look at how serious and grave things are, we can’t leave it up to our politicians. So what I’d like to address is not so much the politicians today, but I want to address everyone here, the people, but I especially want to address you young people. I want to address you who are going to be picking up the crap that our forebears are leaving behind and that they’re going to leave on your doorstep. And I don’t say that with any – I say that with a lot of sadness.
But I want to address you young people, and I want to do it as a teacher. Every time I teach, I try to push students – I tell students who come to university, not just to get a qualification, you’re actually coming to learn how to die. What that means is, you come to learn to grow, because there is no growth without death. You come to learn about society, you come to learn about the deep values that your societies are based upon and also the systems that you live within, that teach critical thinking, and that takes courage.
So I’m going to leave you with some points that I think we need to keep in mind, if, after Paris, we do not get the substantive policies we need.
THE FIRST IS THAT IF WE’RE GOING TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF ADDRESSING THE CLIMATE CRISIS, WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO MUSTER THE COURAGE TO HONESTLY CONFRONT THE ROOTS OF THE CRISIS. Climate crisis and other forms of ecological crises and social crises, whether it is ocean acidification, topsoil loss, deepening inequality or structural poverty are not accidental consequences. They are patterned consequences that are the products of the social systems, the systems of power, we live within. The first step to addressing the climate crisis, then, is to honestly confront these systemic roots in the socioeconomic system of capitalism. This sort of honesty is always difficult because it involves challenging some of the most deeply held beliefs that our societies are based on and challenging the most powerful economic groups and political elites who are our leaders. This difficulty is why the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche calls this process of honest, critical self-reflection looking into “the molten pit”, the molten pit of human reality. And even though it’s difficult, it has to be done because that’s always the first step to addressing any problem. As James Baldwin has said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.”
We’re not very good that that at the moment. Just look, for instance, at how most of political discussion addresses the issue of “the environment”: we tend to frame it as a matter of needing to balance the needs of “the economy” against the needs of “the environment”. We assume that economy and environment can be “balanced”. We never question whether or not “the economy” – capitalism – is even sustainable or not. And there are powerful reasons we need to confront that show how capitalism never has been and cannot ever be sustainable. This is a system that has origins in bloodshed – in the imperialism, dispossession and genocide against indigenous peoples – and in the ecocidal imperative of infinite growth at a rate of 3% a year. That’s compound growth. You can’t have infinite compound growth on a finite planet. This reality, however, is hard for us to face because of the concentration of corporate power that we’ve undergone over the past forty or so years that’s seen most of liberal institutions become co-opted and subject to corporate capture, and most of us are deeply invested in this culture of rampant consumerist growth.
THE SECOND IS THAT WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND AND NEVER FORGET THE TRUE NATURE OF POWER. Frederick Douglass said it best: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” This means building social movements that are powerful enough to actually break the corporate stranglehold over the political process and that can force politicians to actually act in the public interest.
You know, we’re taught this myth in our schools that “democracy” and “capitalism” naturally go together. That’s never been true. If we look at history, the truth is that democratic culture has always been under threat from corporate culture, and at certain times, that democratic flame has actually been extinguished by the corporate concentration and consolidation of power.
That fragile democratic flame has only survived because the unions fought for them, because the women’s movement fought for them, because the civil rights movement fought for them, and right from the start, because indigenous people fought against colonisation when it came to these shores.
THIRDLY, WE CAN’T SEPARATE ECOLOGICAL CRISES LIKE THE CLIMATE CRISIS FROM SOCIAL CRISES ANY MORE. We can’t say, “Minister for the environment, please look after us,”; we can’t say, “particular leaders, please look after us,” – this is a fight that we have to carry out at every single level of our institutions, through our society. We have to reclaim that democratic culture that’s been taken away from us. And it’s been taken away from us by big business.
FINALLY, I’M GOING TO LEAVE YOU WITH THIS: IF WE DO NOT PUT AT THE FOREFRONT THOSE WHO SUFFER THE MOST, I THINK WE’LL ACTUALLY BE LOST.
We need to put at the forefront, tangata whenua; indigenous people throughout the Pacific; I came across here, Tereseia Teaiwa, and a few of our Pacific brothers and sisters over there had a placard that said “CO2 Colonialism”. And I think that’s the truth. Because climate change happened through that colonial project that saw certain people as less than human, and that also saw the land as something that was inherently exploitable. So, I’m really honoured to be here today with you all, let’s continue to fight and take things forward, but let’s also push ourselves to look at things that we have looked away from for far too long. Kia ora.
– Pala Molisa