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.