Climate change increasingly difficult to ignore


Today, reading the news on the web, I saw something that I found profoundly disturbing. It was an article about mysterious craters appearing in the permafrost regions of Siberia. The craters – some measuring up to 30 metres across and several metres deep – have baffled scientists as to their origins. No meteorites or volcanic activity has been reported in the area. There is however significant methane deposits trapped under the permafrost and in the absence of any other natural or man made event that could excavated these craters, the scientists have made a potentially very dangerous discovery: the permafrost is melting, upsetting the methane pockets below, which are exploding and excavating the craters.

This is the latest in a long line of discoveries that have been made, which have slowly drawn me to the conclusion that man made climate change or not, we as a nation, as a member of the global community need to act now. Just a few of the others are:

  • The accelerating acidification of the ocean, slowly but surely making our oceans inhospitable to the marine ecosystem upon which we rely so much
  • The fact that tiny Pacific Island nations such as Tokelau and Kiribati may slide beneath the sea for good in my life time – as yet they live a tenuous existence at sea level, prone to king tides, storm surge and tsunami –  and the people on these islands may become environmental refugees
  • The frequency with which bush fires are hitting Australia, sometimes in tandem with heatwaves

There was a time when I actually thought climate change was not only man made, but that it was already too late to do anything. However as I progressed through my undergraduate geography and geology papers, and more recently the slew of environmental science papers that I have taken, I came to appreciate alternative points of view. The views are quite varied and range from the openly skeptical that it is just simply a too short period in history to possibly be man made, through to the aforementioned chicken little type view that the sky is falling, woe betide. And then there is the middle ground view that I am drawn towards. And of course there are the outright denials of climate change in any form – which I thought for the sake of this post should be set aside for another day.

One such view was that perhaps it is happening, but that we need to look at the geological record which contains evidence of past warming and cooling periods and their duration before we jump to conclusions. I tend to go with this, but balance it with two additional stand points to get a rounded perspective. Those other two stand points are at alternative ends of the sphere – trying to plant the range of views on climate change on a one or two dimensional spectrum is simply impossible:

  1. There is only limited impact New Zealand can positively have because of our very small contribution to the overall global emissions, and that we should therefore not cripple ourselves trying to be as clean as possible when in one year or less the growth in emissions from developing countries will engulf any reduction we contributed.
  2. That New Zealand should however take full advantage – and this makes me gnash my teeth with frustration – of its technological know how, clean energy sources and environmental planning laws and rather than lead the world in something it simply cannot do, develop a green tech industry, more along the lines of what Germany is trying to achieve.

I gnash my teeth for a very good reason. The elected politicians have not the vision or the courage to prepare a long term integrated plan involving all of the affected sectors of the New Zealand economy and society that can address as far as is reasonably possible the New Zealand portion of a problem I am increasingly led to believe is now too serious to ignore, regardless of the causes. The know how is there. The environmental laws that enable this are there. The means are there.

But as yet, the will is not.

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