Talking climate change and human rights with David Slack on RadioLive

Today, I spent an hour chatting with the ever charming David Slack on RadioLive. We set out to discuss climate change and human rights, and ended up spinning through John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight (though I wrongly called him American!), the right to housing and 90 day eviction notices, climate denial, the trust gap in the UNFCCC climate talks and UN Disaster Risk Reduction talks, and even the price of oil in Venezuela.

You can listen to it here from 2:10pm today (6 April 2015) [though it looks like they’ve adjusted for daylight saving wrong, so go for the 4:10pm link for now!] if you’ve got a spare hour to hear two Davids talking.

I’ve got David Tong here, and he’s not your ordinary lawyer.

I’ve been thinking about three things since the show though:

  1. What will it take to convince the climate deniers? We had one particularly persistent listener messaging us over and over with the same tired climate denial lines. We decided not to squeeze a response to him into our last ten minutes talking, but he ended up asserting that he’d believe climate scientists when they tested and fixed their models. Thing is, they’re doing that all the time. As I said on the show, the scientific method is all about constantly testing and correcting errors. Most notably though, this is almost exactly what the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project did: Set out to test the climate record with a skeptical eye, using the most rigorous science. And it found that the models and measures were doing a pretty good job and that, yes, the globe was warming as predicted. Yet the deniers still trot out the same old lines, because this isn’t about science, logic, or reason. It’s about fear of change and deep seated irrational beliefs.
  2. What makes Kiwi blokes so sure that we know what matters to the rest of the world? Another serial messenger raised a few interesting points about the challenges of balancing a just transition to a 100% renewable, fossil-fuel-free economy with the challenges of sustainable development, especially for the world’s poorest four billion people. Fair enough. These are tough issues, and I tried to answer them by drawing on the expertise of people I know from groups like PACJA, Jubilee South, and Via Campesina – not to mention a few SIDS, LDCs, and LMDCs negotiators – who come from that poorest four billion and speak for many in that poorest four billion. I don’t think I have any legitimate right to speak for the Global South or pronounce what they want, so I defer to the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with from those societies and countries.. But our caller wasn’t having a bar of it. He knew what the developing world wanted, knew what the ‘real issues’ were, and, by golly, he was going to tell us – no matter what the actual people from the countries and societies in question wanted. What is it that makes white dudes so sure that they know about the real issues that face people who live a world away? I became very aware that we ended up having – more or less – three white men talking about the struggles of brown women, which is just absurd. I don’t have any legitimacy to talk about those issues. All I can do is try to be a good ally to the people living that struggle and relay and amplify their stories. (But am I actually a good ally? Or am I taking up space and airtime that others deserve more?)
  3. How can we overcome the trust gap in the international climate negotiations? I’ve written about this before (over and over and over), but it’s a perennial problem that isn’t going away. In February’s Geneva talks, we saw an unprecedented unity from the Global South in the G77+China (which now includes ~130 countries), with every other Global South negotiating bloc standing as one behind them. These divides spilled over into the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction talks in March. This bodes ill for Paris – and I have to wonder how much the ongoing Snowden and Wikileaks spying revelations about the Five Eyes partners (representing the intelligence communities of the Anglo countries at the core of the Umbrella Group) are deepening this trust gap. 2015 is the year that the world’s governments make their plans for a race for renewable economies in the 2020s, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Tying all these three together, I’m pondering just how different the climate (and human rights) debate in New Zealand is from in other countries. As far as I can tell, just like how they say there aren’t any atheists in a foxhole, there aren’t many climate change deniers in Tacloban, New Orleans, or Vanuatu. More broadly though, I’m extraordinarily grateful that I’ve had the chance to talk climate policy with people from countries as diverse as Nigeria, Nepal and Fiji – especially through the Adopt a Negotiator project (and applications are now open for 2015 – get into it!).

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