Dame Anne Salmond says in choosing our leaders at this election we must ask who cares most about the biggest issues and the future of the rising generation

Is this how it was just before the meteors struck? Dinosaurs large and small rushing around the landscape, jostling each other, not noticing a fiery ball streaking across the sky? Over the millennia, life on earth has seen many species come and go. Is it possible that our own species might join them?

In his ‘witness statement,’ A life on our Planet, Sir David Attenborough gives a bleak, heart-wrenching warning that unless humanity changes its present ways of living, this is not just possible, but likely. In this case, though, extinction would be self inflicted. Species that destroy their own ecological niche don’t have a good chance of long-term survival.

In his recent book, Hope in Hell, Sir Jonathon Porritt summarises scientific findings on climate change, biodiversity losses, the degradation of waterways and the ocean, and gives us a decade to rescue a planet that is habitable for humanity.

In a UN report released this week, The Human Cost of Disasters, the authors lament, ‘It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people.’

In New Zealand, on the other hand, some of our leaders think they know better than all of these experts, while others are hesitant, and wary.

In this election campaign, we are debating taxes, and four year terms of office, when those who best understand these matters are telling us that we have barely a decade to save the future for our children and grandchildren. In these strange times, weird and wonderful behaviour.

And yet, in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have a real chance to tackle climate change, biodiversity losses, dying rivers and the oceans. These crises are interconnected, and must be dealt with together.

It makes no sense, for instance, to rely on industrial forestry based on clearfelling and monocultures to sequester carbon if at the same time, topsoils are destroyed, biodiversity harmed and rivers and harbours choked with sediment and slash. We can’t tackle one crisis by making all the others worse.

In A Life on our Planet, Sir David Attenborough sketches out a range of strategies that can make a major difference – clean energy, eating less meat, rising equality, marine reserves across all international waters, protecting and growing biodiverse, indigenous forests. All of these things are possible in New Zealand, perhaps more than in most parts of the planet.

A small, diverse, highly interconnected society with diverse ecosystems, surrounded by a vast moat, the Pacific Ocean – the same things that made it easier for us to take on Covid-19 give us the chance to lead the world in living differently – with regenerative agriculture and ‘close to nature’ forestry, marine reserves, clean energy in transport and housing, and growing equality among our people. A truly clean, green and decent New Zealand.

Its not the future of political parties we should be worrying about at present, but the future of our children and grandchildren. Will it be bright, or bleak?

In choosing our leaders, we need to ask – who cares most about the rising generation, and can give them hope for the future? Who understands, and has the wisdom and courage to tackle the existential challenges we face?

Dame Anne Salmond is a Distinguished Professor in anthropology at the University of Auckland, and 2013 New Zealander of the Year.

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