A rough ride ahead

The Northland Age - - Opinion -

Last month we wit­nessed global and na­tional school ‘strikes’ that high­lighted the need for ac­tion on cli­mate change. Young peo­ple are be­gin­ning to re­alise that the older gen­er­a­tion’s re­sponse to our rapidly chang­ing cli­matic con­di­tions are either de­nial or down­play. Those with strong cog­ni­tive bias pluck ran­dom weather events to ‘prove’ it’s not hap­pen­ing, while ig­nor­ing a huge body of ev­i­dence to the con­trary, while those in po­si­tions to ef­fect change avoid their re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause it may af­fect their re­elec­tion chances (or the pock­ets of their spon­sors).

Un­less we ad­dress the fun­da­men­tals that are driv­ing the rapid car­bon­i­sa­tion of our cli­mate, civil­i­sa­tion is in for a rough ride. The first is the mag­i­cal think­ing that we can con­tinue to grow the econ­omy for­ever within a fi­nite sys­tem (our planet). We need an al­ter­na­tive to the GDP god that most econ­o­mists wor­ship. We can­not con­tinue to grow our global econ­omy while ex­pect­ing to re­duce our green­house gas emis­sions.

There is now more car­bon in the at­mos­phere than there has been for over three mil­lion years. Hu­mans have pros­pered dur­ing a pe­riod of par­tic­u­larly sta­ble cli­matic con­di­tions, but we are rapidly up­set­ting the ap­ple cart. To achieve the Paris Agree­ment tar­get of lim­it­ing warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius we need to halve emis­sions by 2030, and re­duce those to zero by 2050.

This re­quires an an­nual re­duc­tion of 6.6 per cent. Last year New Zealand’s emis­sions rose 2.2 per cent, al­most 9 per cent in the wrong di­rec­tion. Any­one with a mort­gage un­der­stands the implicatio­n of com­pound in­ter­est. You can see where we are head­ing. At our present rate of in­crease we’re look­ing at be­tween 4 and 8 de­grees warmer by the end of the cen­tury.

In a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion with James Ren­wick, one of New Zealand’s lead­ing cli­mate sci­en­tists, I asked what it would take to avert this cli­mate catas­tro­phe. “Some­thing like the WWII re­sponse, where vir­tu­ally the whole pop­u­la­tion will­ingly sup­ported the war ef­fort. And in the near fu­ture!” Ev­ery year we carry on with ‘busi­ness as usual’ will mean a much steeper des­cent to achieve emis­sion re­duc­tions.

If we are smart we can cre­ate a win­win sit­u­a­tion. There don’t have to be losers. Ditch­ing coal for geo­ther­mal, so­lar and wind is a no-brainer. The safer, cleaner jobs cre­ated by a New Green Deal cur­rently be­ing ad­vo­cated in the US are just as ap­pli­ca­ble in New Zealand. Like wise for our agri­cul­tural emis­sions. Switch­ing to re­gen­er­a­tive farm­ing meth­ods can both se­quester car­bon in the soil and di­vert waste from our wa­ter­ways into a re­source to help grow the bil­lion trees cur­rently be­ing planted.

I’m keen to work with any­one, in­clud­ing busi­ness peo­ple, farm­ers and young peo­ple, to find ways to help re­duce our GHG emis­sions while cre­at­ing a re­silient econ­omy that will work for ev­ery­one. The third ar­ti­cle down on my page at https://www.face­book.com/ pro­file.php?id=1000085668­15341 has a raft of in­for­ma­tion on cli­mate change. It’s time to have this con­ver­sa­tion and start the change.

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"We need an al­ter­na­tive to the GDP god that most econ­o­mists wor­ship. We can­not con­tinue to grow our global econ­omy while ex­pect­ing to re­duce our green­house gas emis­sions."

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