My First CoNZealand Panel: “Climate Change and Conventions” – Can We Go On Meeting Like This?

World War 2 poster showing a couple pondering a journey, with caption "Is Your Journey Really Necessary"?

The 78th World Science Fiction Convention, CoNZealand, is underway. (There is also a free fringe conference, CoNZealand Fringe!)

I’m getting fully into panel-going from tomorrow, but today I attended my first event as a panelist – “Climate Change and Conventions”, moderated by Erin Underwood with panelists Kyoko Ogushi and Cameron Bolinger. It was an excellent, wide-ranging discussion in a Q&A format, with lots of knowledgeable and helpful contributions in the chat.

There was general – although not universal – agreement that intercontinental travel for science fiction conventions needs to be restricted, and plenty of discussion of other ways in which conventions contribute to climate change – including the energy costs of virtual conventions.

Here’s the presentation I prepared for the panel: We Can’t Go On Meeting Like This (PDF, 385 KB)

Transported: 2 days to go – Getting Around

A lot of people, a lot of places, but what the stories in Transported have in common is that they all feature journeys of some sort – journeys ranging from a few hundred steps to many light years. Actually, all the stories in my first collection, Extreme Weather Events, include journeys as well. Could there be a theme emerging here?

The term “Transported” shouldn’t be interpreted in purely physical terms – some of the characters are transported by love, others by envy, fear or greed – but in the book, characters:

travel by ferry
travel by jetboat
travel by tractor
run up and down the pitch
move house
take the train (to Lower Hutt; to the Finland Station)
fly into space
fly through space
fall in the pond
set the matter transmitter for the banks of the Dnieper
drive back home from kids’ cricket
run the 100 metres in the school sports
run for their lives
set sail surreptitiously
drive a bulldozer
drive a Lotus 49T
fly in a plane
soar aloft on their pinions
plunge to earth
walk with a limp
dance (fast)
dance (slow)
drift in a dinghy
sail in a yacht
go out for a few quiets
climb to the top of the mountain
climb the walls
climb trees
jump in the water
wade in the sea
go under
hop to it, and
walk some more

No bikes, eh? Must try harder next time.

Stupid, Wasteful, and Dangerous

Last night I attended a public meeting to oppose plans by the Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington, and Transit New Zealand to “solve” central Wellington’s transport problems by building more roads and digging new road tunnels, despite the considerable body of evidence (such as this report) that shows this approach does nothing but induce more traffic onto the roads, thus causing further congestion.

I was peripherally involved in organising the meeting, and I’ll be making a submission on the issue. I went along hoping the meeting would go well, and it did: we got over 100 people, lots of whom stayed around afterwards to offer help with the campaign. But the meeting did something I didn’t expect: it made me angry.

Not angry at the presenters, but angry at Wellington’s transport planners who, year after year, decade after decade, trot out the same “solution” to the problem earlier “solutions” have helped to create. Despite the massive contribution of private car transport to greenhouse gas emissions; despite the mismatch between the world production of oil and world oil demand, which is the underlying reason behind high oil prices, and which will only get worse as oil production peaks and then declines; despite the body of research which shows that there are better ways of solving transport problems; despite all that, these planners repeat their mantra that we have to build more roads to take more cars.

There’s some extenuating circumstances. New Zealand’s bizarre transport funding rules mean that local government can get central government to pay for 100% of certain roading projects, but only 50% of non-roading projects. Wellington’s Mayor has openly said that road tunnels are essential, no matter what comes out of the public consultation process. There’s a whole heap of construction companies eager to put on the hard hats and the fluorescent jackets one more time and let the asphalt flow out and the money roll in. And, of course, by no means are all transport planners stuck in the past.

But in an era when climate change and oil depletion are both accelerating, when cities overseas are moving away from the private car, when transport alternatives are available, to keep pushing the same old failed solution is stupid. It’s wasteful – roads are massively expensive to build, more expensive than the alternative options. And it’s dangerous, because it fails to face up to the reality of our urgent energy and environmental problems, and diverts resources that should be spent on tackling those problems.

It’s stupid, wasteful, and dangerous. And it has to stop.

• Reports of the meeting by Matt Bartlett (PDF) and Eye of the Fish.
Make a submission (deadline is 22 February) and read the planning report