Climate change – do we mitigate or do we adapt?

Written By: - Date published: 1:32 pm, February 25th, 2023 - 21 comments
Categories: act, climate change, Environment, labour, national, same old national, science - Tags:

As I type this another storm has hit Tamaki Makaurau.

The North has been particularly badly hit.  Mangawhai received 300 mm of rain in a seven hour period.  Auckland’s average rainfall in the past for February was 65 mm.

And out west Scenic Drive has slumped in a vital area.  There is now only one viable route out for West Coast residents and this is hanging on by a thread.

It is February, normally the warmest and driest month of the year.  What is happening?

The answer is climate change.  That thing that us lefties have talked about for decades is now happening.  And given the trajectory of effects this is bad, but it will get much worse.

Much, much worse.

As a long term observer of the responses of the political right and of Capital can I acknowledge the sophistication of their historic responses.

The oil and gas companies have for a long time fought even the most modest of steps to address the production of greenhouse gasses even though they knew the damage that was going to happen.

They even created pseudo citizen organisations to cast doubt on the science and feed into a manufactured both sides debate even thought the science was then clear.

This Newsroom article describes the situation well and quotes former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who led the fight for America not to ratify the Kyoto protocol on the basis it was a threat to the economy and jobs.  From the article:

“What we now know about some of these large oil companies’ positions … they lied. And yes, I was misled. Others were misled when they had evidence in their own institutions that countered what they were saying publicly. I mean they, lied,” he told the documentary-makers.

Asked if the planet would be better placed to confront the climate crisis if the oil industry had been honest about the damage fossil fuels were causing, Hagel did not flinch.

“Oh, absolutely. It would have created a whole different climate, a whole different political environment. I think it would have changed everything,” he said.

This PBS video which backgrounds what was happening ought to make you really, really mad.

This is the introductory video.  There are further episodes if you want to become incandescent with rage.

The history is clear.  Activist right wing groups claimed there was a conspiracy to install Communism or United Nations control or Agenda 21 or various other variants and wanting to save the world from devastation was a pretext for global control.

Now that we have reached the stage where the effects of climate change are in our faces and cannot be denied except by those whose grasp of reality is severely compromised elements of the right are now changing their approach to the issue.

And hoping that enough of us will forget the sustained attacks they have mounted on the concept of climate change for so long as they now pirouette to a completely different position.

They are clearly hoping to have a new political debate where citizens will look to the future and forget about the past.

For instance Act now wants the country to focus on adaption and ignore the need to mitigate increasing greenhouse gasses.  From Russell Palmer at Radio New Zealand:

Seymour said the weather showed a need to shift focus regarding climate change.

“Our climate change response needs to shift from mitigation to adaption. New Zealand can’t change the climate but it can better adapt, and unfortunately we’re getting a really big lesson in that right now.”

He said risks should be accurately priced in insurance, and people who benefited or imposed costs should be the ones to pay, rather than costs being forced on them.

However, having EQC price in risk resulting from climate change was an option ACT would consider supporting.

Green Party co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw welcomed the government’s “decisive and comprehensive” action in responding to the emergency, but despaired over a lack of action on the climate.

“Just when we thought we had had our worst climate-related disaster in this country only two weeks ago, we are now facing an even more significant challenge,” he said.

Act has come a long way.  In 2008 then leader Rodney Hide said in Parliament:

I think I will be the only person speaking in this debate who has any qualifications in environmental science. It is not that that should count, but I think it is significant for what I am about to say—that is, that the entire climate change and global warming hypothesis is a hoax, that the data and the hypothesis do not hold together, that Al Gore is a phoney and a fraud on this issue, and that the emissions trading scheme is a worldwide scam and a swindle.

He never changed.  In 2014 Hide pronounced a build up of Antarctic sea ice as the trigger that finally ended public fears about global warming.

National has also played around with the issue.  It has learned to make reassuring noises but cannot resist at poking fun at policies that could actually achieve a lot of good.  Remember how they railed against energy efficient light bulbs and short showers in 2008? And their kowtowing to the oil industry and farmers shows how determined they are not to be determined about the issue.

More recent examples include National’s opposition to light rail and cycleways and their obsession with the construction of more roads.  They cannot help but criticise any issue which has progressive aspects.

National’s indifference to the issue is highlighted by the fact that climate change and the environment are not mentioned in its list of priorities.

Maureen Pugh’s recent issue merely highlights that below the reassuring rhetoric that National engages in there is a deep cynicism at the seriousness of the problem or the steps needed to actually address the issue.

And there are signs that National may also focus on adaption rather than mitigation.  This paywalled Herald article by occasional Standard reader Matthew Hooton highlights the issue and includes his criticism of National for not concentrating on adaption.

The right’s fixation with adaption underlines their economic illiteracy, because make no mistake about it adaption will cost more than mitigation.

In 2006 the UK Government commissioned Stern Report suggested that adequate mitigation would cost 1% of the world’s GDP per year but that adaption would cost 20%.  A review 10 years later suggested that because of the development of cheaper reusable energy technology the difference had increased.

The sixth Labour Government will be criticised for not doing enough.  But to be fair to them changes do not occur overnight.  It takes years to design, consent and construct large scale wind turbine farms for instance.  Benefits can take years to occur.

This year the focus will be on climate change.  And which parties will be best placed to see us through this crisis.

Labour and the Greens ought to be well placed given the progressive left’s long term commitment to the issue and because it has been shown to be right.  But time will tell.

21 comments on “Climate change – do we mitigate or do we adapt? ”

  1. Ad 1

    Mickey, just sent you something with a local take.

  2. Stuart Munro 2

    It is going to be a difficult issue, and adaptation will probably be more productive than waiting for a coherent government response. There are still people out there touting hydrogen, not to speak of airlines greenwashing on the back of ostensible carbon credits in third world countries. The time for such things was never – but they are slowing any credible response.

    There is a long way to go – government is still merely spraying wilding pines instead of replanting with whatever makes it past DoC's bizarre set of nativist prejudices. The Greens were at one time keen on regulating bottled water out – it's a product that creates entirely unnecessary waste – no progress. If we cannot manage no-brainers like these, what hope is there for more complex issues?

    • mickysavage 2.1

      The trouble is as the Stern Report shows adaption is way more expensive.

      This cartoon is really relevant.

      • Stuart Munro 2.1.1

        It applies to all our environmental interactions. No stock enhancement or supported breeding in fisheries. Little supporting research for diversification to chase the billion dollars in aquaculture returns target. There should be an environmentally positive transition model for dairy by now – haven't seen one.

        It's like Buckminster Fuller & the New Alchemists never published.

    • pat 2.2

      None, so long as politics is allowed its say. (both lower and upper case)….and that is a problem in a democracy.

      But do we wish to abandon democracy? and what in its stead?

    • joe90 2.3

      but they are slowing any credible response.

      But shareholder returns…

  3. bwaghorn 3

    I'm afraid it's fortress nz time, move to higher ground ,the wild place will have to be abandoned, owner occupied horse get support, bach owners I'm afraid you're on your own

    • weka 3.1

      Many cribs can be relocated. And then retrofitted with grid tied solar, lots of insulation, passive tech etc. Way cheaper than building a new house.

      • bwaghorn 3.1.1

        The few cribs I've seen are held together by gravity!!and that's about it. But I was thinking more the luxury items the wealthy own who hate taxs bit will be crying for government loving

  4. Siobhan 4

    "Labour …well placed given the progressive left’s long term commitment to the issue and because it has been shown to be right."..that should be Labours next election campaign slogan…about as informative and committed and ultimately meaningless as Labours "Lets do this" campaign..

  5. Thinker 5

    We talk about the problems created by Big Oil.

    Looming are the problems created by Big Insurance.

    If we compare the Napier Earthquake of 1931, where a city rebuilt itself in about 18 months, with the Christchurch Earthquakes, which took much longer, we recall in the latter the lengthy and frustrating time it took for people to receive their insurance payouts which was the precursor to rebuilding their lives.

    The more climate change impacts on not only New Zealand but elsewhere insurance is going to really affect how we are able to deal with things. Premiums will need to go up (or do we find other ways to protect our assets?) and the timing of payouts will dictate how quickly communities can recover.

    I'm not an expert on Japan, but I have some friends there and I think they live quite differently to us. They deal with their earthquake risk not by building expensive, strong buildings, but by building lightweight, cheaper buildings that are presumably cheaper to insure and to replace if/when a proportion of them need it. Maybe other "Standardistas" know more about this.

    As much as my point is that maybe the way we build our buildings might change, it is also that we need to be on guard against the timing of our communities' rebuilding/rebirthing being controlled by Big Insurance.

    • Graeme 5.1

      A big sticking point with insurance in NZ is th predominance of 'Total Replacement' policies. These dictate the the loss has to be replaced exactly as it was before the loss.

      These policies are an easy sell, people can sleep easy knowing that a loss will be put back as it was. But if any changes to the building are prudent, tough luck.

      I once worked for a company who had a building with some major layout deficiencies that burnt down. The insurers insisted that the building be rebuilt as it was before the loss. From other claims we've made with our business and personal, it's very hard to get an insurance company to deviate from what they see as the best course of action for themselves.

      Can see insurance as the big sticking point in any transition / retreat, just like they were with Christchurch

      • pat 5.1.1

        Total replacement policies were discarded post the ChCh quakes…insurance is now on sum insured basis.

        • Graeme

          That's only for a total loss, try making a claim for a less than total loss and the insurer will only entertain replacement to the exact state immediately before the loss, and want to exercise total control over the reinstatement process.

          Been there done that twice since Christchurch and they were difficult before, they are total pricks since, often to their disadvantage.

          • pat

            I bow to your recent experience…though find it difficult to imagine they could be worse to deal with than previously.

    • Hunter Thompson II 5.2

      Maybe if houses and other structures erected in unsuitable locations become uninsurable, that will effect a managed retreat?

      Won't happen overnight, of course.

  6. AB 6

    The sudden leap to adaptation and abandonment of emissions reduction/mitigation is just the latest form of denialism. Repeating myself – but adaptation without mitigation becomes ruinously expensive and then impossible as we head towards something like 4 degrees of warming (or worse) by the end of the century. They are hanging their hats on the peg of market-based 'solutions' in the form of technology (direct air capture of CO2, geoengineering, marine algae cultivation to remove CO2 from oceans, etc.) An incredibly high-risk game just to keep the existing show on the road – because for them, no other show is conceivable or permissible.

  7. barry 7

    It is not an "either or" it is "both".

    Real adaptation is many times more expensive that mitigation. If the world had taken the KLyoto agreement seriously 30+years ago, then GW would have been reduced and adaptation costs would be much less.

    Every bit of mitigation we do now, reduces the need for adaptation in a generation at a cost many times higher.

    We can choose not to mitigate, but we can't choose not to adapt. Most adaptation just looks like normal business or life decisions. Growing conditions are better elsewhere so we change where we farm. The climate is better elsewhere so we move. We put in air conditioning.

    The sort of adaptation we notice is things like managed retreat from low lying areas, or higher stop banks. This is a lot of money all at once, but overall a small proportion of the costs.

    Hooton's argument is just as specious as Pugh's. We don't wait for more evidence, nor do we assume that this is as bad as it gets.

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