The watershed moment

Written By: - Date published: 10:51 am, April 21st, 2017 - 12 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, science - Tags: , , ,

In the week of the second cyclone, while people in various parts of the country were either mopping up or still waiting to see if their homes had been destroyed in the previous one, New Zealand reached a turning point in realising that climate change is here to stay. I’ve lost track of how many serious events happened over the weeks of the two cyclones, and it was only a month since the previous big storm (which is significant, because it means there was still water in the land). The thing that stands out this time is that the MSM are no longer shying away from talking about climate change directly. This is significant not only because it’s about time, but because it offers an opportunity to influence what happens next. It’s not a big, shiny silver bullet that will save us, but another more subtle move in the shift in the culture that is taking us from denial to active engagement.

The thing about tipping points within societies is that we don’t necessarily know which way they will go. In this case, it’s a further step in a long period of change for NZ from she’ll be right to turning to face the strange and integrating that into society. At times of chaos and abrupt change there is more opportunity to intervene in systems and have them go in the direction we want.

What we want now is to build on this next layer of awakening. People will be talking about climate change more at this time, and from now on, so there are opportunities to open conversations about a range of responses,

  • what do we really want?
  • where do we feel powerless and what can we do about that?
  • where do we feel empowered, and what can we take action on now?
  • how do we change the friggin’ useless government?
  • how do we create pathways that get more people on board with the ‘war footing’, pro-active approaches instead of turning off again, thinking it’s too late, or deciding to party while the ship goes down?
  • the importance of mitigation not just adaptation
  • we are locked into some climate change, but we still have the chance to stop it becoming the worst case scenarios
  • the interrelatedness of climate change and social wellbeing and social justice

The point here isn’t solely to get people to act, it’s to build a momentum that generates more awareness and willingness to change, and for that to happen in a way that leads to the right kind of action. So tactics are important. What’s the optimal ratio of scary to hopeful to inspired-to-act?

There’s another reason to feel hopeful here. The MSM are now talking about climate change because it’s become normalised to do so (great!), but also because there are real live human beings in those organisations who care and who are trying to do the right thing. They make choices about what gets covered and how, and how the questions get frames. Forget about the deniers and sensationalists, and look for the people that have kids and grandkids and also know that the time to act is now. Those are the people who will increasingly be on the right side of history and each time a new opportunity arises, will have the power to tip things further in the right direction.

Examples from the media over the days of the storms,

A science Q and A on The Herald,

While no one weather event is caused by climate change, all events are influenced by climate change since the atmosphere is now warmer and moister than it was in the past.

Climate change increases the likelihood of extreme rainfall, given the appropriate weather setup.

Research suggests that there will be up to 8 per cent more intense rain for every 1C of warming.

A former mayor of Whakatane, Colin Holmes, spoke on Checkpoint yesterday about how better information gathering and planning would have lessened the impact of the flood in the Bay of Plenty.

[my emphasis, just getting that one out of the way]

While the flooding was still happening RNZ interviewed Colin Holmes where he makes no bones about climate change(here). He talks about flood management in the age of climate change, where you can’t prevent the rainfall but you can better prepare in how you manage infrastructure (in this case an overfull dam). Holmes stresses the need for climate change appreciation, better knowledge/information, and better protocols. He says it’s about investing in monitoring tech to give more detailed real time information as events are starting and peaking, and that investment has to be done with climate change firmly in mind.

While the civil emergency was still going on RNZ had coverage not just of this series of events within a climate change context, but what else NZ can expect, and looked at flood, extreme fire, strong winds, drought, and sea level rise as being givens.

RNZ also linked to NIWA’s NZ climate change scenarios. These are conservative estimates (because that’s how science works), and don’t take into account runaway climate change, but they give some starting points for looking at broad stroke changes in different parts of NZ.

Twitter of course was on point,

 

Moderation note, zero tolerance for climate change denial in this thread. 

12 comments on “The watershed moment”

  1. aerobubble 1

    Wetter climate also means fish move south to keep up with warming seas, and coastal NZ is warmer in winter. Additionally, Northland replaces islands as Pacific beach destination. The problem with odious capitalsm is its agents, pro and con, are all about taking without consideration. Unless we all embrace the idea that every action has upsides and downs then we buy into the odious taker capitalism that never has to equally put back, that ideological revolution known as Thatcherism, neo-lib, neo-con.
    Of course NZ will do better out of climate change, for a while, but refugees, food and war crisises will I bet overwhell the percieved benefts.

    • Tarquin 1.1

      Have you ever been to Northland? It’s bloody cold and hosing down up here at the moment. Only a total sadist would want to go on holiday here in winter!

      • McFlock 1.1.1

        lol

        Confusing a masochist with a sadist could lead to an embarrassing misunderstanding…

      • Jenny Kirk 1.1.2

        Yes Tarquin – unusual and sudden – but we do have winter some times in Whangarei – on the other hand my son and his children went swimming at Coopers Beach today – a bit further north, and had perfect summer weather !

    • weka 1.2

      I would put people talking about NZ doing better out of CC in the denial camp. Even without the pressures from the rest of humanity on the planet, we’ve got our own particular issues. South Dunedin being the most obvious thus far. Yes, I expect the vultures to figure out how to feast on the problems, but the post was really for the people that want to do the right thing 😉

    • AB 1.3

      “Northland replaces islands as Pacific beach destination”
      Sorry – but I know Northland. A couple of metres of rapid sea level rise will destroy all those lovely beaches. Probably turn them into ugly, eroded, rocky or muddy disasters.
      And a lot of the access roads will be gone too so you won’t even be able to get there, which may be a blessing as you can avoid having to see the destruction.
      This is rose-tinted spectacle stuff – a bit like those people who used to say, “ooh it’s cold today, bring on global warming!”

      • aerobubble 1.3.1

        During the interglacial the northern continuents were covered in ice. Seas were warms and lower. Initially global warming will raise sealevels but over time the world will cool itself by dumping snow on thenorthern continuents. So no, warmer beaches in northland in a hundred years.

  2. Grafton Gully 2

    what do we really want? Ask these guys.

    https://nz4wd.co.nz/

  3. gsays 3

    A couple of things:
    I expect a few of these white collar folk to do sod-all, then shrug and go “climate change”.

    Decided a few years back to be a little more harmonious with my environment, be that home life, garden, work place or wider community.
    I have to trust that those conversations planted seeds then actions, fertilise and nurtured those seedlings.

  4. Greg #56 4

    Except this year’s southern hemisphere cyclone season has been one of the most quietest in the past four decades:

    http://tropical.atmos.colostate.edu/Realtime/index.php?loc=southernhemisphere

    and worldwide, Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) has been dropping, ie. getting less, for the past two decades (since the late 90s):

    https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/accumulated_cyclone_energy.asp?basin=gl

    But hey, that’s science for you.

  5. Skeptic 5

    There are so many reports documenting well researched predictions, worst case, best case and all hues in between, that to link to one does injustice to the others. There are several excellent ones that summarise the main impacts we will see in the next three decades before the measures we’ve taken to date start to have a mitigating influence.

    The one fact that most agree on, is that change is happening at a predictable rate – for every 1 degree of mean temp increase, there will be a corresponding 5% increase in the severity of weather events (I think that’s right – please correct me if I’ve got wrong). Additionally, that since measurements started to be seriously correlated, sometime in the mid 1970s, there was about a half a degree increase to the turn of the millennium, and from then till last year about another half a degree rise. By my maths that means an exponential increase in half the time frame. Factoring in roughly the same growth rate, we’ll be 2 degrees warmer by 2025, 3 degrees by 2030, 4 degrees by 2035 and six degrees by 2040.

    The other truly terrifying fact I remember is that 6 degrees is the tipping point from which there is no return. What follows is the worst case scenario – massive floods compared to what we’ve seen to date, Cat 6 & 7 tempest events, extreme droughts, movement of the mean temp across the globe towards the poles, massive change in available arable land, huge movement of disease carrying insect life and crop destroying insects, newer and deadlier microbial (bacterial and virus) diseases, sea level rise – all of it irreversible.

    If our measures to date aren’t going to take effect till 2050, and our climate change is to reach tipping point by 2040, we have a decade shortfall to make up. This is the cold hard scary fact that I for one do not wish to leave my grand children to clean up – if it will be possible to “clean it up” at all.

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