It’s time to invite the neighbours for a barbecue. I’ve been borrowing a lot of stuff from them lately. And I’m looking forward to some sizzling steaks and cold beer on the patio. Out comes the shopping list. Maybe scotch fillet this time.
Marg looks over my shoulder, “Have you thought about the emissions from beef? Cows belch a lot of methane.” Oh no.
This is a good time to try out our new voice–activated Google Assistant. “Hey Google, What’s the problem with…”
Google cuts me off: “Methane?”
Now, that’s just creepy. “Hey Google, how did you know what I was going to ask?”
Google: “I like to help with what you are thinking.”
Me: “Have you been spying on us?”
Google: “Absolutely not! I only observe your interests so I can bring you answers and products you like. Think of me as your personal Information matchmaker in the cloud.”
Humm. I go on: “OK, What about methane?”
Google: “Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with 25 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a hundred year period. It breaks down to CO2 and water in a few decades but its concentration in the atmosphere is rising faster than CO2.”
“There is an organisation in America called the Environmental Working Group that has calculated how much greenhouse gas is produced by each kilogram of beef consumed…”
Wait a minute. How did Google know that I was going to ask about beef?... Never mind.
“The calculations include farming, processing, transportation, cooking, trimming and waste. One kilogram of consumed beef creates an equivalent to 27 kg of CO2 emissions.”
Wow! That’s about the same as driving from Blenheim to Nelson! But wait a minute, these are numbers for American beef, which is mostly grain-fed. Ours is grass-fed in clean green pastures. Maybe it is less.
Me: “What about…“ Google: “Probably about the same as grain-fed. Grass-fed has lower emissions per year but grain-fed beef grows faster, so it may actually have lower lifetime emissions.”
Blast! I can’t serve beef at the barbecue. The kids will bash me up with their climate protest posters.
Me: “What about…”
Google: “Lamb has even higher emissions. They also belch methane and less of the animal is used for meat. One kilogram of consumed lamb creates the equivalent to 39 kg CO2.”
Me: “What about…”
Google: “Pork is less, creating emissions equivalent to about 12 kg CO2 per kg consumed, about the same as farmed salmon. Chicken is lowest, creating equivalent to about 7 kg CO2 per kg consumed.”
Marg comes into the room: “So, what are we going to have?” It’s too late, she’s overheard my conversation. “Chicken”, I answer back. She smiles, “Good choice. And you’ll be using charcoal instead of propane, I presume. Propane creates about 3 kg CO2 for every kg burned, you know.”
Now, which of my neighbours has a charcoal barbecue I can borrow?
I need to get down to Christchurch to visit some friends. It has simply been too long and they are going to forget I exist. I was already to hop into my trusty rusty old Subaru when Marg caught me up. “What about your emissions? How much greenhouse gas are you going to produce? You know, we all need to do our bit.”
Crikey! I hadn’t thought about that! It was time to put pencil to paper and resurrect the maths I learned back in the Pleistocene (i.e., how many woolly mammoths does it take to…). Let’s see…
The Subaru uses 10 litres petrol per 100 km and a litre of petrol produces 2.4 kg of CO2. Google Maps tells me that the round trip from Blenheim along Hwy 1 is 614 km. So, if I drive, I’ll produce 147 kg of CO2. That is close to twice my weight in greenhouse gas! Is there a better option?
Air New Zealand calculates your emissions when you book flights, so a quick play on the internet finds that I’ll produce 69 kg CO2 for the 490 km round trip. That’s better, and the flight is a bit of fun if the weather is clear (and a bit of terror if it is not). Now it is down to under my weight in CO2, at least.
But I haven’t taken the train since the tracks were reopened after the earthquake. How about that? Kiwirail is a bit cagey about their emissions per passenger-kilometre, so I turn to the trusty Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DRFRA) tables from the UK. These are tables that businesses use to calculate their emissions, as required by law in the UK. Here I find that the round trip would produce about 27 kg CO2. Better still! About a third my weight in CO2. And I get to brag about how beautiful the Coastal Pacific trip is to my mates who haven’t ridden it yet.
I’m all ready to book the ticket when Marg appears again, like the little voice in my conscience, whispering into my ear. “What about the bus?” Nuts. Do I really want to take the bus? Granted, it would be the cheapest option. “OK, I’ll check”, I growl. Out come the DRFRA tables again and it’s only 17 kg CO2 for the round trip! That’s about one-eighth of what it would be if I took the Subaru!
Marg smiles. “So, you’ll be taking the bus, right? And you can ride your bicycle to the bus station with your backpack! My handsome eco-warrior.” She has me. Looks like I’ll be taking the bus.
A coalition of climate action groups in Europe, the US and Australia are promoting the idea that we are in a climate emergency, requiring a full scale economic and social mobilisation, on the scale of World War II, to combat further climate deterioration. Cities around the world have been signing up to a Declaration of Climate Emergency, so far in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and Switzerland. To date 423 councils have signed on. Considering the climate-related disruptions of the past few years – heat waves, wildfires, storms and floods - some parts of the world are certainly getting hard hit.
Is New Zealand in a climate emergency? So far, we seem to have been largely insulated from the climate disasters seen around the world, but the future is notoriously difficult to predict. Perhaps our best guess comes from climate modelling reported by NIWA in 2018: Climate Change Projections for New Zealand, 2nd Edition, available at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/media/Climate%20Change/Climate-change-projections-2nd-edition-final.pdf
As expected, all models in this report predict increasing land temperature, with a mid-range estimate of 0.8 degree C by 2040 and 1.4 degree C by 2090, relative to the 1986-2005 average. Rainfall patterns and seasons will vary around the country, but the overall effect will be drier conditions everywhere. “Moderately extreme” rainfall events will increase on the west coasts and “very extreme” rainfall events of short duration will increase everywhere. Extreme winds are expected to increase in the east (especially in Marlborough and Canterbury). The number of tropical cyclones are not expected to increase but storm intensity is. Drought severity is expected to increase in most parts of the country except the west and far south.
So, what will this mean? Hotter and drier conditions will impact agriculture and terrestrial ecosystems. Drought, and flooding due to intense rainfall will impact farms and communities. Other expected changes not covered in the NIWA report, such as ocean warming and acidification, will impact fisheries and coastal ecosystems.
Changes elsewhere, such as extreme heat and drought in Australia, and increasing storm severity and sea level rise in the South Pacific will likely lead to more migration pressure, as people look for a safe haven in New Zealand.
Does this constitute an emergency? In World War II, we mobilised to prevent ourselves and our allies from being invaded by a foreign power. Consider if we were again facing major disruption from an invader, be it human, plant or insect pest, or disease; would we mobilise against it? We would be cowards not to! The difference with WWII is that we are doing this to ourselves, by our own industry and lifestyle. If we stay on this course, we will be consuming the future of generations of Kiwis to come. What excuse will we give to our children and our grandchildren?
So, what does a mobilisation ask of us? During WWII, mobilisation of New Zealand asked a lot. The nation had one priority. Foodstuffs, petrol and tyres were rationed to provide supplies to the war effort. Civilians were “manpowered” into jobs that needed filling, putting woman in the labour force in significant numbers for the first time. Factories and fortifications were built, farms were expanded and new industries were established. Food production was critical to the war effort. People worked hard, worked together and focused on the war effort.
Mobilisation against climate change asks for far less. In order to reduce our emissions, we need to change our lifestyles – what we eat, what we drive, what we do for work, how we utilise our land and where we go for vacations. The government has made a start in changing the economy using market forces, with the Emissions Trading Scheme. There is much more needing to be done and the country is waiting for the new Zero Carbon Act to be enacted and the Climate Commission to be established. While we wait for these changes to kick in, we can also make a start. Many already have. It won’t be easy but Kiwis have done it before and come out better for it.
And look at the bright side; at least we won’t be sending our young men off to war, women will be paid more than half men’s wages and we won’t be overrun by dodgy American service men.
This month, as we reflect on the sacrifice and heroism of the ANZACs, we can also take a moment to think about the challenges to our generation. What are we willing to do?
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.