When I first started following climate change as a political topic, it was early 2000. Few seemed to know that much about climate change and there were plenty of doubters. As a student fresh out of high school and starting university, this was a hot button topic for me. I was convinced based on the strength of the El Nino phase a couple years earlier and the La Nina phase that was starting to form in 2000 that climate change was happening. 16 years later, what has changed?
Quite a lot, and on many different levels.
On a political level New Zealand Members of Parliament across the spectrum, with the exception of A.C.T., generally acknowledge that climate change is a growing issue both in terms of impact and in terms of the urgency with which we need to act. However a combination of lack of political will power, some very deep pockets funding the resistance to attempts to tackle it and a lack of general understanding by the public at large mean that people are aware it poses a problem, but they do not know what that problem is.
On an environmental level, the problem is perhaps already here. Glaciers are the shortest that they have been since before European settlement. The weather seems more and more erratic about following the seasonal patterns – in 2013 for example winter in Canterbury was in many respects over by the end of July, and the worst of it happened in the space of a couple of weeks; in 2014 80% of Christchurch’s annual rainfall had already landed by the start of June with March and April being amongst the coldest in decades. Of course a couple of years of erratic weather does not make a century or more but blips like this will become more frequent and more intense if predictions prove correct.
Internationally, the environment is in a poor state for several reasons, all related in some way or another to climate change:
- Acidification of the ocean by carbon based gases is causing huge and possibly irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem
- Air pollution degrades the quality of living in many cities and causes acid rain when mixed with rain
- The melting of the ice cap and the receding glaciers may be interfering with the isostatic equilibrium of the planet
Just yesterday I was reading that the particulate reading in Beijing’s air pollution went past 500, which is about 20 times the World Health Organization guideline. As many of the pollutants are carbon or sulphur based, they contribute to climate change as well. With such high air pollution – Beijing residents face medical, environmental and economic issues – a strong case exists in my opinion to act, with or without climate change.
On a geophysical level, the issue becomes clouded by incontrovertible facts. Yes the situation facing island nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu is getting worse and both of these will probably be abandoned in my lifetime. Both are extremely exposed to storms, tsunami and even a big tide can cause significant problems. It is not just the tide though. Atoll islands are the small portion of a coral mound on top of an extinct volcano that has eroded beneath the sea that is above sea level. Because erosion is what I consider a terminal process that cannot be stopped, eventually these islands will erode beneath the sea. Their populations will shortly be climate refugees. We can see in the Hawaiian archipelago how that erosion is taking place (the island of Hawaii, where you can find Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes is growing, but those islands northwest of Hawaii are progressively older and more eroded – Kauai is 5.5 million years old).
Climate change or not, I am now of the opinion that if New Zealand and the world do not act, we will have other environmental problems that in the long term could be as damaging as the climate change we argue over so much. They are already here, and already starting to impact. But that impact will get much worse and have socio-economic consequences no Government, regardless of ideological stripe can ignore.
This is the day. Now is the hour.