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Opinion: Headlines, soundbites, memes and context

Opinion: Headlines, soundbites, memes and context

A headline, a soundbite, even a snappy meme can have a huge impact on public perception. They can encapsulate an idea that is simple to understand without digging any deeper into the subject.

Christopher Luxon found this out earlier this month, much to his chagrin, when he was asked whether the National Party would reinstate the $5 co-payment charge to women’s contraceptives if they gained power at the next election.

The Government feasted out on his reply, that National would indeed do this, with dire images of the Handmaid’s Tale and overall repression of women’s reproductive rights. Of course, all this was nonsense when you stepped back and look at National’s actual stance; that co-payments would be removed for lower income earners and reinstated for those earning more, but the damage was done.

The headline, the soundbite was damning, and people had to be willing to dig much deeper for context to see the bigger picture.

I was interested, then, when I saw Federated Farmers sharing a meme on social media. One side of the panel read “Paris 2015, we will aim to reduce emissions in a manner that does not threaten food production”, the opposing panel sombrely declared “New Zealand 2023, government releases emissions proposal that would drive 5% reduction in dairy production”.

The message obviously being that the New Zealand government, a signatory to the Paris Agreement, was proposing policy that contravened the very agreement they had signed.

It was a sentiment I had seen expressed before, but never by a serious organization like Federated Farmers. It seemed pretty unlikely to me the government hadn’t spotted, or were wilfully ignoring, this loophole in the Paris Agreement, so more digging was definitely needed.

Much like Luxon and his women’s contraception gaffe, it was time to zoom out and see the bigger picture.

That is not as easy as it might sound, as international treaties tend to be written by international lawyers, and making things simple for your average dairy farmer to understand is not their highest priority.

The relevant clause is in Article 2, section 1(b) and it reads “Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; and”

The “and” at the end of that sentence is important because it leads us to section 1(c) which ties the whole thing into developing a low GHG pathway.

If we zoom out even further, we can see that Article 2 needs to be read “in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

The whole of Article 2 is there to protect developing countries, to provide a pathway for them to reduce emissions without increasing poverty or affecting their food security. While there is poverty in New Zealand, we can in no way claim to be a developing nation.

We didn’t need to zoom out very far to see that Article 2 was never intended to be applied to countries like New Zealand, and pretending it does is disingenuous at best.

Unfortunately, in this day and age when the best way to communicate with your base is a simple meme, people don’t want to zoom out and look for context. It’s why the government have never engaged on this point, they know all too well, and you need look no further than Mr Luxon to see, that explaining is losing.

by Craig Hickman