Cli­mate change and na­ture in cri­sis


The storms that hit New Zealand ear­lier this year, dev­as­tat­ing some com­mu­ni­ties, are start­ing to re­veal what cli­mate change means for hu­mans. But what about na­ture? The species that make New Zealand so spe­cial – from kiwi to kauri, tu­atara to to¯tara – have evolved to live in New Zealand the way it has been for thou­sands of years.

But things are chang­ing. New Zealand is al­ready more than 1-de­gree Cel­sius warmer than it was at the start of the 20th cen­tury. This has been caused mainly by hu­mans burn­ing fos­sil-fu­els like coal and oil, and re­leas­ing car­bon diox­ide into the at­mos­phere.

And at the rate things are go­ing, by the end of the cen­tury the world will prob­a­bly be 4-de­grees warmer – warmer than it has been since hu­mans made their first ap­pear­ance.

The cli­mate has changed in the past, but it has been more grad­ual, giv­ing species time to make ad­just­ments like mov­ing north or south to find new places that have the con­di­tions they are used to.

But be­cause of the changes we have al­ready made, our na­tive species – al­ready un­der se­vere threat be­cause of hu­mans – haven’t got the re­silience and phys­i­cal abil­ity to with­stand the im­pacts of cli­mate change.

These im­pacts in­clude the de­struc­tion of forests, warm­ing and acid­i­fy­ing oceans, droughts, the ar­rival of new pests and dis­eases and the spread of those al­ready here, ris­ing sea-lev­els, and more in­tense and more fre­quent storms.

And then there’s the tu­atara, New Zealand’s di­nosaur relic that has been here for more than 150 mil­lion years, but could be ex­tinct within 400 years as a re­sult of global warm­ing.

The sex of baby tu­atara is de­ter­mined by pre­vail­ing tem­per­a­tures when they’re in the egg. As the tem­per­a­ture warms, more males will be born, to the point where the pop­u­la­tion will cease to be­come vi­able.

To learn more, come to the For­est & Bird Manawatu talk by Adelia Hallett, For­est and Bird’s cli­mate ad­vo­cate, at the Globe The­atre on Tues­day, Novem­ber 14 at 7.30pm. The meet­ing is open to the pub­lic.


A tu­atara at Welling­ton’s Zealan­dia sanc­tu­ary, the first nat­u­ral site on New Zealand’s main­land to rein­tro­duce the rep­tiles.

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