A Science Voice from New Zealand

Climate Change Lecture

Artwork by Jenny Rock, Centre for Science Communication

by Bill Morris

This week the Centre for Science Communication is privileged to host a lecture from Professor Jonathan Boston, who lectures in Public Policy at the University of Victoria. Professor Boston will also be speaking at our SCITED talk on Thursday at lunchtime. In both of these talks he will be discussing climate change – the difficulties of addressing the problem and the outcomes of the UN convention on climate change in Durban last year.

The human species is fast approaching a crisis point at which economic growth based on unsustainable depletion and destruction of natural resources will inevitably fail. Last year the OECD released a report entitled “Towards Green Growth.” The report’s introduction states that in the aftermath of the recent/current global recession;

“A return to “business as usual” would indeed be unwise and ultimately unsustainable, involving risks that could impose human costs and constraints on economic growth and development. It could result in increased water scarcity, resource bottlenecks, air and water pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss which would be irreversible.”

Citing this report, Professor Boston wrote in a recently released article that;

“There is no consensus on whether long-term exponential economic growth is technically feasible. Many experts are sceptical. As the distinguished economist Lord Stern has put it: ‘A picture of indefinite expansion is an implausible story of the future.’

The result of failed economic growth on our world will be starvation and war. How then can we reconcile the hunger of our economy with the health of the natural system on which it depends?

In his article, Professor Boston argues that an “absolute decoupling” of growth and negative ecological impacts must occur if we are to have continued economic growth throughout the 21st Century. In other words, we need to shift to an economy in which almost every resource is recycled or reused; which relies primarily on renewable energy and in which current pollution levels are massively reduced. The shift must be global and on a scale unprecedented in all of human history.

Professor Boston’s SciComm talks come in the wake of a recently released report from the New Zealand government’s Green Growth Advisory Group; a report which the Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has reservedly welcomed; describing it as “a timid acknowledgement of the growing global and domestic green economy and the opportunities and risks that creates for New Zealand.”

The report draws attention to New Zealand’s high carbon-emitting export sector and the value of our “clean-green,” image and calls on the government to engineer a shift towards greener growth. Its findings are completely at odds with the government’s current drive towards mass resource extraction; offshore drilling, coal mining and subsidized irrigation.

There are people who are trying to architect a new future for the planet; to create a new economy that doesn’t destroy the host upon which it feeds. It appears, however, that the government of our country exists in a very different world altogether.


 Come down and hear Professor Boston on Wednesday 14th, 5pm at St David’s Lecture Theatre (get there early as this will be popular). Then call in to the Centre for Science Communication on Thursday 15th at 12 midday for his SCITED talk.

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