At a meeting recently in the tiny West Coast settlement of Granity, 35 kilometres north of Westport, climate change and mitigation came up in the debate. A local property owner raised the question about what the Buller District Council was going to do with regards to coastal erosion, as his property is right on the coast. The answer was not to his liking.
Climate change is a testing subject when it comes to debate. Some people go so far as to say it simply does not exist and that the whole scientific basis for suggesting climate change does is non-existent. Others, particularly those of Green persuasion say not only does it exist, but that it could cause irreversible and overwhelmingly negative effects in our life time if decision makers do not act quickly. The general consensus of the scientific community is that, yes, climate change does exist and that there are changes in progress now because it exists that if they are not addressed in the next two generations, will have effects that cannot be undone in a human life time.
Granity is one of many New Zealand communities that will be grappling with stormier seas in the near future. Already we see large storms happening more frequently. In the future they could become more intense in terms of wind and produced, last longer and start earlier. As the local at the Granity meeting found out, the local council is likely to only have limited financial and physical means to address the physical effects of coastal erosion. And Buller District Council with a rate paying base of only a few thousand people would struggle to justify expensive coastal works that might be good for only 15-30 years.
These problems mean that more substantive measures are likely to be needed, which might be politically unpopular, but socially and economically necessary. They might not be achieved with coastal protection works or stop banks on rivers, but by land zone changes that acknowledge the unsuitability of certain lands for building on. These will be met with challenges by land owners and interest groups, possibly in court and certainly through submissions when the documents are open for public input.
It is not just impacts on living that climate change will have. Job security in seasonal jobs might be brought into question. Industries such as skiing may find themselves dealing with shorter and more unpredictable seasons, where most of the snow that falls in a season might land in a single event or come as a whole lot of small events, none of which really support skiers. The same weather will raise questions about security of electricity generation when the hydro electric power storage lakes run low, as the replenishing moisture that falls as snow during winter also falls as rain during the summer and supplies Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, Ohau, Manapouri and Te Anau.
Planning for these economic uncertainties is something that Government ministers have acknowledged needs to happen. However no clear blue print for tackling them appears to exist at this time. The rhetoric remains largely that. Meanwhile the time keeps moving forward and any certain damage we are causing becomes more and more likely to be compounded by our delays, our politics, our reluctance to be brave and make the next move.