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Despair In A Beach Chair

David Goldsmith, a 52-year-old dad from Christchurch, is starting his month-long hunger strike outside Parliament on Monday as a drastic call for climate change action

AR: Hunger strikes are mostly known from prisons – that’s drastic.

DG: Yes, it’s a big thing to pull off, and it’s serious, but it’s more accurate to call it a fasting vigil. I’m not doing it open ended, but for a minimum of two weeks up to a maximum of four weeks. I don’t want to harm myself but be a catalyst for change and inspire others to stand with me.

AR: When did you get the idea?

DG: Over a year ago at a heartbeat meeting with XR (Extinction Rebellion). We were bouncing ideas around, someone said “hunger strike” and the word just grabbed me. I had to take a few breaths to slow down – I was ready to go to Parliament straight away.

AR: What are you fasting for?

DG: My children. Hana, who is four years old, and my two boys Dylan and Rowan, 20 and 22. I’m a self-employed stay-at-home dad, part-time gardener and handyman. I feel real grief about the climate emergency, especially when I bring my youngest into it. I fear deeply for their future.

AR: Climate change seems to have fallen off our radar again since the pandemic.

DG: Covid-19 has actually shown us what we can mobilize and achieve as a nation if we change our behaviour or put drastic things in place like a lockdown or border closure. We must take similar drastic action about carbon emission and mass extinction to save the lives of our children.

AR: How long have you been concerned about climate change?

DG: For about 30 years, before Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”. Back in the 90s, on an overseas trip to Southeast Asia, I tried keep flying to a minimum and flew from Christchurch to Sydney. Then I went by bus to Darwin and hopped over to West Timor.

AR: Were you a climate activist back then`?

DG: (laughs) No, I was a dreamer. One of the things I dreamt of, before the Occupy movement came along, was to set up camp outside Solid Energy’s head office in Christchurch with a banner saying that we can’t keep digging coal out of the ground. But I’ve never done anything until XR (Extinction Rebellion) came along last year.

AR: XR shut down central London and protesters climbed on top of a plane in Heathrow. What sort of things did you do locally?

DG: I was also involved in stopping traffic in Christchurch and was part of a blockade at a Minerals conference in Dunedin. I went to Wellington for the big day of action in early November when we kickstarted a week of protests around the world. That’s where I glued myself to the window of the ANZ bank, together with three others. I was hoping to get arrested, that’s an XR tactic. The next morning, I joined an action by XR tangata whenua, as a pakeha.

AR: What did you do?

DG: We decorated Richard Seddon’s statue with a ball and chain in front of Parliament. Before we started, we stood in a circle and sang the children’s song, “E Tū, Kahikatia”. We wrapped our our arms and legs around each other and stood there like the kahikatia tree. It lives in swamps and their roots bind with each other. That’s where the name of my protest comes from “E Tū: For our future”.

AR: It also has a Latin meaning, “you too”.

DG: Exactly. Others are going to join me, some might take over the fasting from me over the next weeks. I hope there will be vigils in other parts around the country too. Current solutions fall far short or the problem. The information that scientists have been giving us for years is out there, and I want us all to engage with it, not just with the response “oh shit”. The psychology behind it is important: the denial, the despair, and the action. I know all three.

AR: Hunger strike as a desperate action in desperate times?

DG: The despair has been like this dark blanket over me for decades – to the state of depression. It’s hard to hear that the apocalypse is coming, and that we are causing it. My fasting vigil is attempting to build on what Ollie Langridge and others who stood with him did. For 100 days last winter, Ollie stood at Parliament asking the Government to declare a climate emergency.

AR: What’s your concrete demand?

DG: That we ban fossil fuels by 2025. If the government is seeing the light and taking that step, then we’re really doing something. But I know that most people think that’s ridiculous.

AR: Why are you doing it in the middle of winter? That must be so much harder.

DG: I was going to wait until spring, when it’s warmer, but we have an election coming up. And the school holidays mean that I can leave my daughter with my partner in Christchurch, who has taken leave as a kindergarten teacher to fully support me. We have made a pact that we will decide together when it’s time for me to stop.

AR: Are you getting medical support?

DG: I saw my GP for a proper health check. I thought his hair would stand up, but he seemed quite calm. I’ve done some practice fasting over the last weeks as a bit of prep, and did a weeklong fast about 25 years ago, so am familiar with it. But two weeks is completely new territory for me. I’ll also be getting regular pro bono sessions with a therapist while in Wellington.

AR: What are the health risks?

DG: Various things, like electrolyte imbalance, so I’m taking vitamin, mineral and electrolyte supplements. Then refeeding syndrome when your body can go into shock once you start eating again. When you fast too long, the kidneys can get damaged. I don’t want to end up on dialysis or with a kidney transplant.

AR: What about hypothermia – being out in the cold all day?

DG: That’s a real risk. I’ve invested in some good gear like decent boots and a heated jacket. When the weather gets too rough, I’ll wrap myself in a tarpaulin. And I’m sure there will be lots of cups of hot water for me. That’s actually really important.

AR: Where will you be sleeping?

DG: Initially I thought of pitching my tent on the lawn outside Parliament, but luckily the Catholic priests at Viard house near Parliament have offered to put me up. I’ll bring a camping chair along to my vigil, like on the cover of the Supertramp album “Crisis? What Crisis?”. That image was part of my waking up to the climate catastrophe.

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