You can help us make the biggest and best choices of goals, policies and pathways to becoming a zero carbon, deeply sustainable nation.

It’s easy to do. Just go the Climate Change Commission’s submissions page and respond to its online questionnaire.

You don’t need to be an expert – the Commission offers summaries of its draft recommendations at each point in the questionnaire. You can tick boxes, and add your own comments. You can respond briefly to the six big themes (such as the pace of change, future generations, types of forests, emission reduction priorities, and technology and behaviour change); or dive deeply into whichever subjects you choose. You can save your work in progress and come back later – as long as you finish by the March 28 submissions deadline.

Crucially, every voice counts. The more members of the public and more members of iwi respond, the better the recommendations the Commission can give the Government on the range, depth and ambition of actions we’re up for. While businesses, lobbyists, NGOs and other organisations will have lots to say to the Commission, the public’s voice must be heard too. Then we can build a strong national consensus and commitment, which hopefully will empower the Government to act.

How about, for example, gathering a group of family, friends or colleagues to make a joint submission? Working through the questionnaire, you’ll get plenty of ideas about how you can contribute to, and benefit from, the transformation of our economy and society.

The Commission says it’s delighted with the engagement it’s got so far. As of this past Tuesday, it had received over 1,300 submissions. Of those, some 800 were through its online portal from 697 individuals and young persons, 14 NGOs, six Māori/iwi, plus 14 from the public sector and 74 from business.

… we still lack the deeply informed and abiding political consensus on fighting the climate crisis that the UK, Scandinavian and a handful of other countries benefit greatly from.

In addition, its 12 public Zoom sessions, each on a particular topic and available for replay on the Commission’s website, have attracted 1,638 attendees in the past six weeks. Commissioners and staff have also done some 50 in-person speaking engagements so far with a wide range of audiences.

Our very best response to the climate crisis, collectively and individually, needs three strong characteristics: we take responsibility for the crisis we’re causing; in response, we are ambitious about building a climate compatible nation; and we commit to our own actions and to helping others.

What’s holding us back

Our very worst response would be denial, division and doomism, to borrow terms from The New Climate War, ­the latest book by Michael Mann, a leading US climate scientist.

Denial is less prevalent here than in many other countries where fossil fuel and other heavily emitting industries and unconscionable conservatives are fighting to protect their vested interests. But it is still a powerful brake on progress in more subtle ways such as claims we’re so small a country, or such efficient farmers, or so capital constrained we can’t / don’t have to change.

Moreover, we still lack the deeply informed and abiding political consensus on fighting the climate crisis that the UK, Scandinavian and a handful of other countries benefit greatly from.

Division, though, is very apparent here. The biggest is between urban and rural people. Many farmers believe townies are pushing them hard to reduce their climate emissions, water pollution and ecosystem degeneration so townies can avoid dealing with their own climate failures.

But the reality is urban and rural people have two different but equally big climate challenges. We have a huge task to make our towns, transport, industries and consumption sustainable and climate compatible, as this recent column discussed. While we will largely use technologies developed elsewhere we’ll still need to invest tens of billions of dollars to implement them.

Yet, we also have an immense challenge to make rural economies and lifestyles just as sustainable and climate friendly. However, the investment in devising and implementing new technologies to do so will be far lower, and the economic and environmental payoff greater than the urban equivalent, as this column explained.

More divisions will turn up in the submissions to the Commission from some companies, industries and sectors. Some will plead they can make only modest reductions in emissions or minor adoptions of new technologies or business models if they are to stay in business. Or they will need heavy subsidies from taxpayers to adapt and survive.

Doomism is the third scourge we have to fight. It’s easy to succumb to despair.

So better, they will argue, others should do the hard yards on the road to a zero emissions economy. We can easily test those claims by comparing the supplicants against the best in their sectors overseas. But even if some factors are valid, we have to accept some unchanging companies will not survive. Then the task will be to redeploy their financial, human and intellectual capital to companies that can make better use of them.

The most damaging division of all, though, is social. Our existing inequalities in health, education, housing, income and wealth will only deepen on our journey to a zero emissions economy if we fail to ensure this is a just transition. Currently, this is a rudimentary area of government policy.

Doomism is the third scourge we have to fight. It’s easy to succumb to despair. The scale and complexity of the climate crisis are daunting; the changes we have to make are massive; the time so short; and our individual impact so infinitesimal.

Yet, the Climate Commission’s draft recommendations are extensive and credible; and the more ambitious and creative the feedback to them, the better and more empowering they will become.

Mann tackles doomism in his book by citing the revolutions gaining momentum in technologies, financial systems, behaviour and other human endeavours. But it is a frantic race against time, as Jonathon Porritt lays out in his latest book, Hope in Hell. We have one last decade left to entrench substantial transformation.

To succeed, we need “stubborn optimism,” says Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican climate diplomat who chaired the Paris climate agreement, in her latest book The Future We Choose. Hopefully, just her eight minute video will inspire you to contribute to the Aotearoa we choose.

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