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Earthquakes v Climate Change

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, November 25th, 2016 - 23 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, global warming - Tags:

North pole temperature

For over a decade now, the Greens and environmentalists have been trying to get Labour and National-led governments to address climate change. Above many other environmental issues, it made sense to join in with a global political movement that led to the historic Kyoto and Paris agreements.

But it has consistently failed to persuade National governments, or form unity of purpose and dialogue in society. It’s not set to change. So is this focus on climate change in New Zealand politics fundamentally misjudged?

Compared to climate change, the earthquakes that started in Christchurch in 2011 to 2014, and now set to roll from Kaikoura to Hawkes Bay to Gisborne for many years, are a more immediate and more powerful political challenge to our lived connection to nature.

In the Christchurch examples, the earthquakes have required a similar future-proofing to climate change: managed retreat from the coasts and estuaries, strengthening of institutions and civil defence, changes to planning regulations, focus from global insurers, binding local and central government expectations and responses, forcing engineers to think hundreds of years into the future for return events, strengthening reticulation systems and networks, and rebuilding thousands of houses and the entire CBD. We would have had to do most of that across Christchurch for climate change anyway.

In the Kaikoura case, ferries are being considered to build redundancy against tested highway and rail systems along the coast. Rahui against sea harvesting have already been agreed to let the coastal realm recover.

No analogy is perfect, but earthquake response, unlike climate change response, has demanded and received no resistance and complete unity from all political parties, all governmental layers, all kinds of institution, and all media.

Not all responses to earthquakes will be good for the environment – but then neither are earthquakes. They are a lot to deal with for every living creature.

Unlike climate change, earthquakes register right across the public sector from Treasury to Statistics to the SIS, and with absolute immediacy. They demand of us all to deal with the force of nature, and to re-tool our whole society to accept that rather than ignore or resist it. Ignore or resist is what our current government is continuing to do on climate change, and that won’t change. Earthquakes on such magnitude and duration force us to deal with and understand nature as never before.

I’m not saying rip up your urban gardens and stop beating your head against the governmental brick wall about climate change. Go for it. But I’m saying firstly, these earthquakes have and will continue to force governments and our society broadly to think about how we live with nature. It’s a good and hard-to-argue-with thing generating immediate political and structural unity.

Secondly, New Zealand’s global circumstance is different to most. For the foreseeable future we will likely be affected more by earthquakes than any other natural force. Maybe we all need to alter our priorities about how we engage with natural forces.

Right now is an acting and reconstructing and planning moment that will roll, like earthquakes, for many years to come. It has already demanded societal unity. It changes us all. That demands a shift in how we think.

23 comments on “Earthquakes v Climate Change ”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    Have the recent earthquakes and the likely political response altered the emphasis that will being given to addressing climate change

    Yep. It will change from 0.7% government effort to 0.5% government effort. So you’ll notice a change in total news coverage time but zero change in actual climate change trajectory over 50 years. Because we weren’t having any effect on that to begin with.

  2. esoteric pineapples 2

    The old “we’ve got more important things to worry about that climate change” argument in another guise.

  3. Cinny 3

    What an interesting read. Thank you Advantage, totally agree with all your points.

    So true this is… “No analogy is perfect, but earthquake response, unlike climate change response, has demanded and received no resistance and complete unity from all political parties, all governmental layers, all kinds of institution, and all media.”

    So why the hesitation with climate change, after all both earthquakes and climate are forces of nature, why is one given immediate priority over the other?

    Is it because the destruction of an earthquake is immediately visible?

    Are some humans unable to comprehend the effects of the climate overtime, thereby unable to grasp the real situation?

    Are children being taught in schools about climate change just as much as earthquakes? Kids lead the dialogue at times, especially around the dinner table… what did you learn at school today kids often educating the adults.

    Are we educating the kids and others… in so many years time things may be very different on the planet due to the climate, what should we consider doing to adjust and fit in with the earth?

    Does NZ have a climate change plan? Like an earthquake plan? Climate change guidelines for building and so on?

    Really important topic that does need addressing.

    • Ad 3.1

      It was quite telling int he last rates valuations of Dunedin’s St Clair properties when the owners couldn’t believe their valuations had gone down. No-one said “managed retreat” to them, but that wall isn’t going to protect them for long.

      The South Dunedin as a whole – including the big post-flood discussion – is at least opening up the question of comprehensive managed retreat. But it’s naturally highly resisted. Whereas in Christchurch’s Brighton and other coastal suburbs, evacuation and demolition is simply done.

      Lots of other District Plan changes have begun to take future sea level rise into account, including Auckland’s Unitary Plan. But coastal foreshore real estate is the most expensive residential asset class we have, so the King Canute complex will remain high.

      As for whether we have a Climate Change plan, would be great but it’s not evident.

      There was a useful little primer book by Anthony Giddens a few years ago “The Politics Of Climate Change” which I would recommend to you, and answers a lot of your other questions. It’s certainly not just news-cycle speed.

      • Cinny 3.1.1

        Thank you Ad for the book suggestion I will check it out. As well your insight and information is very much appreciated.

      • pat 3.1.2

        “The South Dunedin as a whole – including the big post-flood discussion – is at least opening up the question of comprehensive managed retreat. But it’s naturally highly resisted. Whereas in Christchurch’s Brighton and other coastal suburbs, evacuation and demolition is simply done.”

        not so I’m afraid….as with the rest of the country the only plan in ChCh (managed retreat) at this stage is to let the property owner carry the inevitable capital loss and insurance implications of any increased hazard.


        A compensation package, while likely doable with the current affected sites would quickly become ruinous as more and more real estate becomes impacted. The opportunity to get a step ahead in ChCh was lost when we didn’t use the insurance coverage to subsidise a managed retreat from those at risk areas and instead have largely rebuilt.

        There are going to be some very difficult and acrimonious discussions in the not too distant future.


  4. Colonial Viper 4

    Crude oil consumption projected to rise 30% to 120M barrels per day by 2040


    • The first line says,

      “Following James Carville’s sage advice, I will attempt to explain to president-elect Trump, Fed-head Yellen, and the average American why global oil, commodity, and consumer demand is set to collapse using the Carvillian principle…”keep it simple stupid”.”

      and the headline says

      “Keep It Simple, Stupid…Why Oil & Commodity Demand Is Set To Fall Indefinitely”

      and cv says in his headline

      “Crude oil consumption projected to rise 30% to 120M barrels per day by 2040”

      why the discrepancy?

      edit – someone should teach the person who did the article how to present information – the link shows how NOT to do it. Impossible to read just garish,

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        I agree that the guy failed in presenting a simple story.

        Basically: oil demand is projected to greatly rise, but demographic and credit collapse within rich countries is going to put a big hole in those forecasts.

    • Come on Cv you know they have to find the stuff first.

      • Colonial Viper 4.2.1

        I heard the Earth was making more of the stuff every day….isn’t that true???? 😛

  5. Corokia 5

    Earthquakes are instant and you can’t ignore them. Climate change is incremental and most people ignore it.

    Earthquakes are caused by plate movements. It’s not our fault. Climate change is being caused by greenhouse gas emissions. It is our fault.

    • + 1 nice summation

      • Ad 5.1.1

        Humans measure impact before they attribute blame or guilt.
        It definitely all helps make earthquakes the policy ‘precursor drug’ to climate change impacts.

        • marty mars

          yep – perhaps climate change is really similar to ongoing and increasingly severe earthquakes and the associated impacts upon people, society, infrastructure and so on and therefore earthquakes that happen are in front of mind and could be used as impetus to strongly build the case for action around climate change. Only problem – we will imo probably have earthquakes AND the severe effects of increasing climate change so may really be a moot point.

    • Cinny 5.2

      For sures.. but unfortunately due to human activity usually from chasing greed many earthquakes are the fault of humans, like Oklahoma.


    • keepcalmcarryon 5.3

      True Corokia.
      Hence, being seen to be decisive in a natural disaster gets you re elected even if you are a slimy reptilian (Bob parker Or John Key take your pick). Natural disasters are political gold for the incumbent. We cling to our leadership.
      Climate change is a lose lose politcal can to kick down the road.

  6. weka 6

    No analogy is perfect, but earthquake response, unlike climate change response, has demanded and received no resistance and complete unity from all political parties, all governmental layers, all kinds of institution, and all media.

    I think many in Chch would beg to differ. And I’d say that the denial about quakes is on par with the denial about CC. Most of NZ is still not ready for the Big One, 5 years out from Chch 2, and most people still live as if it’s not going to happen (naturally enough given we have no idea when the big one will come). Why is that we’re not prepared? Didn’t we just have the 111 system fail? We still don’t know how to respond to tsunami threats. And that’s not even getting to recovery, where we still have people in Chch with insurance claims not settled, and there is still a housing crisis there.

    If you are suggesting that in the immediate aftermath of quakes people pull together in ways that transcend politics, I would agree. They even maintain that for some time afterwards. And sure, the government sector is going to have additional work to deal with that overt emergency, but it doesn’t fundamentally change much about the values and direction of that government. National are still going to make decisions and set policy according to their Brighter Future ethos in the same way that they do with CC.

    • Ad 6.1

      People pulling together as part of earthquakes is the given of our nature. It’s a terrible political cliche.

      But it’s the politics of it that interests me more. The politics and the policy drivers. I suspect that with so many otherwise unaffected Ministries and Departments and entities being directly affected in Wellington that would otherwise not care, the policy impact will roll around Wellington for many years to come. They are after all human, and there’s nothing like a direct threat to your livelihood, life, or daily transport to home to really focus the mind.

      All of that is pretty different to climate change impacts in a policy sense.

  7. aerobubble 7

    As seas warm… ..does that mean the new seabed brought up closer to the surface will be advantageous for warmer seas organisms and at a disadvantage to …

    We may not get Climate Change, the planet does.

  8. garibaldi 8

    Earthquakes are temporary disasters/distractions. Climate Change will be terminal for us, and it’s coming rapidly. Far more rapidly than 99.9% of us are prepared to accept.

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