Auckland’s billion-dollar road tunnel between New Windsor and Waterview is about to open to traffic. For a few days before that happens, the public can walk through part of the 2.4 km tunnel to admire the engineering. I did so a few days ago with geographer colleague Robin Kearns and a few of his friends and family. The tunnel was bored by a machine nicknamed “Alice,” so for me it was a walk through “Alice’s restaurant.”
As we joined a stream of Aucklanders descending underground, Robin remarked that it felt like being “on a stage set for some post-apocalyptic march out of the city.”
I said I thought there was a certain irony to the fact that while we were paying obeisance to the mighty motor vehicle and its demand for pathways and passages, across town a group was launching a climate declaration calling on New Zealanders to phase out the use of fossil fuels by 2050.
Every 30 metres of the roughly 600 metres we walked (the rest was blocked off), large signs told us which “deluge zone” we were in. There are 173, apparently, stretching the length of the tunnel. They denote firefighting sectors.
The name triggered thoughts of Jackson Browne’s song “Before the Deluge,” the lyrics of which turn out to be not inappropriate: “Some of them were dreamers and some of them were fools in the troubled years that came before the deluge.”
Road transport makes up about 18 percent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicle emissions have increased 78 percent between 1990 and 2015, and the country’s rising total GHG emissions are largely driven by this segment. For an island nation already feeling the impact of sea-level rise, it is not too dystopian to imagine that we are in the “years before the deluge.”
Anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli says what is needed is a rupture of the “carbon imaginary”—the mentality of modernism that cannot imagine a future without carbon-based energy. Is humanity even capable of such a transition, such a break with the “current organisation of the actual?”
What is certain is that these troubled times call for climate dreamers, not fossil fools.