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This is what the climate crisis looks like in New Zealand, so far

Written By: - Date published: 1:26 pm, August 19th, 2022 - 66 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, global warming, nature, sustainability - Tags: , , , ,

Metservice and NIWA aren’t going to say this is climate change, because any of these floods and slips could have and have happened without AGW. But, the point here is that extreme weather events will get more extreme and more frequent. We already see this with the Buller region having now 4 major floods in a year. The climate crisis is on our doorstep, literally in the case of Nelson people this week.

Things that stand out. At the start of this particular atmospheric river, the forecast was for 56 hours of heavy rain for the upper West Coast from 9am Tues to 5pm Thurs. Two and a half days is a long time to be sitting waiting to see if you’re going to lose your home (again).

That’s in an area already saturated, and that’s had multiple serious floods since the pandemic started. There are now cumulative effects on people’s hearts, minds, bodies and homes. Fortunately for the Coast, they were spared the worst of the deluge, as the rainfall headed over the Nelson area instead.

As you look at these images, understand that more heavy rain is expected over the weekend.



Hattip Joe90 for the before and after photos.

Stuff’s helicopter view video of the extent of the flooding in Nelson.

This RNZ video shows the spread of flooding in just one area. Of note here is how much vegetation is standing when tarmac isn’t, and the fact that shrub and tree ecosystems slow and spread water and thus limit damage. This looks exactly like flooding in the bush on the west side of the divide, and we should absolutely be learning from this in how we design suburban spaces.

This from this morning,


There are also flooding and slips in Wellington, Taranki, Gisborne and Northland. RNZ live updates here.

This twitter events feed is worth following to get a grasp of the breadth and complexity of what is happening.

While atmospheric rivers aren’t new and are in fact important aspects of our normal weather patterns, this one was acknowledged as being unusual,

Tristan Meyers, Meteorologist, NIWA, comments:

“Atmospheric rivers are huge plumes of moisture that move from the tropics to the mid-latitudes (where we are!). Atmospheric rivers are most common in the southwest of New Zealand, but can occur anywhere in New Zealand. New Zealand sees our peak atmospheric river activity during summer, and our lowest atmospheric river activity during winter. When these atmospheric rivers encounter other weather features or New Zealand’s mountainous terrain, the vast amount of water vapour within these atmospheric rivers can get ‘squeezed’ out, falling as heavy rain or snow. Atmospheric rivers are important to New Zealand’s water supply; for the West Coast of the South Island, atmospheric rivers bring 78% of total rainfall. However, they are also responsible for extreme rainfall events; up to 94% of extreme precipitation on the west coast of the South Island are from atmospheric rivers.

“This current atmospheric river is pretty exceptional; it’s long lasting (> 3 days) and has a very anomalously large moisture content. Current forecast models indicate that this would be classified as an ‘extreme’ to ‘exceptional’ atmospheric river – indeed, an analysis we undertook indicates that the amount of moisture in the atmosphere for this particular event is unprecedented for August in climatological data going back to 1959. As a caveat – we’d need to go back and analyse this to confirm whether or not that shapes out to be true after the event.

Insurance companies are saying that change is coming to premiums and coverage. Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton on RNZ in July,

…there was no doubt climate had arrived with the cost of weather-related insured losses doubling in the last five year period.

Grafton said the focus for society now had to be on reducing, controlling and avoiding the risks posed by future extreme weather events.

Stopping developers building houses in “dumb places” such as flood plains would be necessary to avoid increasing these risks, he said.

Common sense. But also a signal that insurance companies will be looking hard at where houses are being built and how they will or won’t insure them. New Zealand has been largely ignoring what’s been happening on the West Coast, parts of which are now leading contenders for the need for managed retreat, but I suspect that the Nelson floods are waking people up to the fact that the climate crisis isn’t just some sea level rises some vague time off the in the future. It’s houses, our houses, in valleys and all the unwise places that developers have been allowed to build where nature will now take over again.

Two days ago on RNZ,

Properties worth $1 million on Wellington’s Petone foreshore could reach $100,000 a year to insure in 20 years, a climate risk expert says.

A treasury report citing research by Aon from September 2021 said 5 percent of New Zealand properties (nearly 90,000 homes) had risk that, if fully priced, would be mean their flood risk premiums would be 1 percent of the property’s value.

That was potently $5000 a year for a $500,000 house.

Meanwhile, nearly 2 percent of homes – about 38,500 properties – faced premiums of 2 percent or more, meaning more than $10,000 a year for insurance.

Auckland, Christchurch, Lower Hutt, Napier and Palmerston North cities were the most exposed to flood hazards in absolute terms. But per head of population Buller, Thames-Coromandel District, Wairoa, Central Otago and Gore districts were the worst affected.

No mention of Nelson. Would love to know what criteria they were using and if that will now change.

Yesterday, RNZ,

The country’s largest insurer IAG says building in flood prone areas has to stop.

IAG has released a three-part plan to try speed up efforts to reduce flood risk from rivers.

It says there have been 10 major floods in Aotearoa in the past two years with insured losses of around $400 million. But the wider economic and social costs are into the billions.

We cannot say we were not warned.

The damage from this one event is mindboggling. But here’s the thing we haven’t got to grips with yet. Eventually we won’t have the financial, logistic, materials and labour capacity to keep repairing the damage.

If we keep doing what we are doing (not acting on climate), then at some point there will just be too many of these events to keep up with. Factor in international issues like oil supply, or collapse of the global food chain, and it’s not hard to see just how bad this could be.

Here’s the good news. It’s not too late for us to both mitigate (reduce the risk of runaway climate change that would collapse civilisation) and adapt (change how we design and run society so that we can take into account the changes happening in our environment). We can also reduce the ongoing cost to society of both of those if we act now.

Acting now means being willing to change, quite radically. All of us. The sooner we do this, the better chance we have of averting disaster.

Also good news is that systems thinking, sustainability, and whole system design are adept at solving these kinds of interwoven problems. We’re not there yet, but it is one of the choices available.

66 comments on “This is what the climate crisis looks like in New Zealand, so far ”

  1. weka 1

  2. PsyclingLeft.Always 2

    Susan joins me to discuss how a sustainable future is possible by starting with engineering principles. Rather than focusing on politics and economics, which can only react in the short-term, engineering provides long-term vision, planning and design which will reimagine a sustainable world—and drag politics and economics into the future.


    "the accelerant of fossil fuel poured on it"

    Prof Susan Krumdieck….talks Sense

  3. Adrian 3

    Those photos are just evidence of bad engineering, the houses are above the road on both sides therefor the roadway is running down the watercourse, any farmer could tell you what was going to happen. The fact that the road has torn up is just really bad road building, not compacting the service trenches properly and making the asphalt far to thin. Cheap as.

  4. DB Brown 4

    Adrian's got a point. Roads ideally sit on a ridge. While we can't put the extreme rain event down to poor engineering we can design better.

    If this rain event had followed a drought it could have been a lot worse, bad as it seems.

    Israel is leaning hard into climate adaptation with large scale desalination plants to refill the (freshwater) Sea of Galilee.


    They've clicked that water is the engine of their economy, and now they trade it with Jordan for solar power.

    • weka 4.1

      I'm looking at the bare hills above the housing slipping away too. Lots of factors in this.

    • Adrian 4.2

      This one is a bit different DB, in TeTau Ihu we were already at field capacity, actually exceeding it at over 30%, this water had no where to sink into and just headed flat out for the nearest watercourse or ephemeral stream. You are right about bone dry land, that shrinks and the water skids over the top but does lose a portion to soakage along the way.

  5. Robert Guyton 5


    It's mind boggling!

  6. lprent 6

    The last best hope for starting to deal with climate change is going to be the insurance system.

    Especially if they get a Minksy moment, something that seems to be getting more and more likely.

    Economist "Could climate change trigger a financial crisis?"

    of this one from 2019 "Changing weather could put insurance firms out of business"

    Our largest insurer certainly seems to pushing very hard on it. "IAG commits to three-step plan for hazard-prone Aotearoa".

    Seems like a good way to shift the doubters and shiftless – increase cost.

    • weka 6.1

      I think so. Also the fear of god that one could lose one's retirement investment.

    • Poission 6.2

      Insurance has not done much for poor decisions in either words,or professional liability.

      Liability Professional & Defamation, Directors & Officers and Public Product & Other 12 months to September 167,186,378 (claims)

      67% increase 2017-21


      Munichre's biggest cost to profits has been the instability on the financial markets with a billion$ hit on investment losses.

  7. Chess Player 7

    I think people are finding that flat land near to the ocean is not a good place to build their house.

    I think people are finding that cutting down the trees that hold the cliff up, and building a house on top of the cliff, is not a good idea.

    I think people are starting to realise why streams and rivers actually exist in certain places, having developed and embedded over millions of years.

    I think people are finding that the authorities that they voted for, and trusted to ensure they would be safe, are scarcely competent.

    I think people are not thinking.

    • Robert Guyton 7.1

      "I think people are starting to realise… "

      "I think people are not thinking."


    • DB Brown 7.2

      I'm sure I read a report parts of the shallow Moutere aquifer had been blocked…

      Here it is.

      "Based on hydrogeological investigations, three aquifers have been delineated in the
      Moutere Valley, i.e. Deep Moutere Aquifer (DMA), Middle Moutere Aquifer (MMA) and shallow Moutere Aquifer (SMA). Hydrogeological data shows that the aquifer system is a leaky one, with there being a low permeability zone between the DMA and MMA and another between the MMA and SMA. The SMA is confined at the surface by reworked valley infilling. "

      I might be barking up the wrong tree, but have we disconnected the shallow aquifer from feeding into the medium aquifer? Not purposely, of course…


      • DB Brown 7.2.1

        I'll just repeat what I see to be a major issue with drainage in case it was missed:

        a low permeability zone between the [medium Moutere aquifer and the shallow Moutere aquifer]


        The [shallow Moutere Aquifer] is confined at the surface by reworked valley infilling.

        This is what I think I'm looking at…

        The shallow aquifer has been disconnected ("confined at the surface") from being able to drain into the medium aquifer. If the medium aquifer and deep aquifers are also at capacity I have no real point (until they're less than full, then it's valid again).

        When the ground is wet water should soak relatively easily down into aquifers until the aquifers are full. If the shallow aquifer can't drain this possibly exacerbates any flooding in the region of the shallow Moutere aquifer.

        I’m having trouble locating data on aquifer levels in NZ. Are they simply very infrequently measured? Or my guess is I am missing something right under my nose?

  8. pat 8

    Its not too late to attempt to adapt…but that still means there are thousands of properties that will need to be abandoned (one way or another) and a ton of infrastructure that will need to be either moved or upgraded and then there is the ongoing repairs….no easy solutions .

    Even if we make the effort, which is by no means guaranteed.

  9. Macro 9

    Certain sectors of the Insurance industry have been warning of the serious consequences of an increasing warming Earth caused by human activity for over a decade now. I cannot find the original assessment by Munich RE now – it was around 2008 IIRC. but here is one of their many assessments and warnings on climate change from 2017. Munich Re Group or Munich Reinsurance Company is a German multinational insurance company based in Munich, Germany. It is one of the world's leading reinsurers.

  10. PsyclingLeft.Always 10

    West Coast landowners hit by piles of flood debris were then hit with a council notice for clearing it from a nearby stream, highlighting bureaucratic problems as climate change causes more severe weather events.

    The Russells – by now stressing over a potential fine, appealed to council chair Allan Birchfield who drove up to the Cronadun farm with his daughter – council engineer Paulette Birchfield – to take a look.

    They concluded the Russells had done what was needed to get the creek back within its banks.


    West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield again expressed his doubt about the government prediction.

    "The sea level is not going to rise so don't worry about it," Birchfield said.


    Climate change caused by human activity, sea-level rise and the need to prepare for it – it is all a load of hogwash, according to the chairman of the West Coast Regional Council.


    Ol' Al Birchfield …climate change denier. Didn't realise his daughter was a Council Engineer. An "Interesting" connection…

  11. weka 11

    Buller's Mayor Jaime Cleine says repeated flood events in Westport are being driven by climate change and infrastructure neglect from previous councils.

    Good. Because he said earlier in the week that it was mother nature.


    • Mike the Lefty 11.1

      The infrastructure neglect is one of the things that Three Waters aims to fix and it would have had positive results if it had been implemented one or more decades ago.

      So will the West Coast mayors now support Three Waters?

      • weka 11.1.1

        I still need convincing the the loss of democracy trade off is worth it.

        • Descendant Of Smith

          Many, but not all, of the infrastructure systems were originally funded and/or built by central not local government. It isn't that long ago water boards existed.

          They were not undemocratically built and maintained then any more than they will be now.

          What has handing those assets over to largely right wing councils over the years got us – lots of rhetoric about councils should only be involved in core business – the roads, rates, rubbish type mantra – then when services such as council housing, etc were cut, staff laid off and services once run by councils privatised large sums went to subsidise the private sector – Hamilton's motor racing, Napier's Art Deco buses, Auckland's yacht races, conference centres all over the place, dams for small cadres of farmers and horticulturalists, etc rather than actually spending lots of money on the core business infrastructure.

          In many places the council handling of the three waters has been poor. The notion of local democracy loss as a reason for not doing this I don't think has any substance = it is just part of the right wing mantra of local involvement e.g. school boards is better. It ain't necessarily so and often just enables capture by vested interests.

          • PsyclingLeft.Always

            What has handing those assets over to largely right wing councils over the years got us

            dams for small cadres of farmers and horticulturalists, etc

            Damn Right ! The real reason behind groundswell and their angry reaction. They see their vested "ownership" of "their" Water becoming threatened.

            And they have been SHIT at looking after it. Reality : their main interest is, and always has been, extracting as much money from it as possible. That is all.

        • Descendant Of Smith

          The shocking scale of the problem was finally outed by the NZ Herald in December and January and came as a shock to most Aucklanders. Its due to stormwater-driven sewage overflows from the Western Bays, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Arch Hill, Mt Albert and Mt Eden areas. Areas especially targetted by pro-Unitary Plan advocates for intensification. These are some of the oldest parts of Auckland, some 16,000 dwellings served by what is called the ‘Combined Sewerage Area’. Built in the early 1900s and designed for a much smaller population it connects to the larger and (somewhat newer) Orakei sewer line which extends eastward to the Eastern Interceptor which then turns southward to the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant. The combined sewerage system is decrepid and increasingly overloaded. Local sewage overflows especially contaminate urban streams like Cox’s and Meola Creeks and inner harbour beaches from Point Chevalier to St Mary’s Bay. While the sewerage system which conveys human waste is within capacity – barely, when it rains as much as little as 5mm, which it does often in Auckland, it increases the volume in the pipes some 40 times over. The system is quickly overloaded with the result that surges of diluted human sewage pop open manholes in suburban streets and on peoples’ properties, spewing into urban waterways and the inner harbour.


        • Mike the Lefty

          I'm not convinced that allowing Maori groups to have a say on the way drinking water, stormwater and sewerage is funded and operated is a loss of democracy at all. I think it is mostly right-wing scaremongering.

          • weka

            Dude, I support co-governance. The loss of democracy is to local communities.

            This whole left wing simplifying of the debate to soundbites is shocking. There are important issues here that need working through.

            • weka

              and, just to be clear, I'm well left of most of the people talking about this here. This isn't a right wing argument.

              • Mike the Lefty

                My argument is that until recently most people wouldn't have given a continental about how it is all done provided their drinking water is clean, the drains work and the sewerage system works – and somebody else gets to pay for it.

                Now the spotlight is on who actually controls what, who pays for it. how it has all been put on the never never for political gain and the whole system has been shown to be flawed.

                The new-found concern for "local democracy" shown by some pop-up civic leaders makes me laugh. It's not local democracy they are concerned about – it is how many votes they will get at the coming elections.

        • gsays

          While I take yr point about 3 Waters, my reckons say democracy will largely have to be ignored if we are to get serious about changing behaviour in regards CC.

          I don't see a population that is ready to surrender it's coffee habit, their trinkets and baubles from Ali Baba, or a seismic shift in spending ability (an end to drive-thrus, $5 pizzas, the whole industrial conveinience junk food addiction).

          • weka

            So Labour puts through 3 waters, National gets in in 2026 and monkey wrenches it. Can't just repeal it because too much work has been done by that time, so they start the process of privatising.

            We've been down this track before, and it ends badly. In the 80s Labour forced through a bunch of change, without taking people with them, and it created very long term problems. Democracy is fundamental to everything else.

        • Graeme

          Unfortunately it's democracy that has got us into the situation that 3 Waters has become the solution.

          No one gets elected to local government on a platform of putting the rates up (or reducing visible services) to dig up the streets to upgrade or repair pipes that no one can see and most likely aren't causing any trouble yet. There's not many votes in that.

          Council voters vote for politicians who say they are going to spend money on things voters can see and use directly and personally. Pipes are out of sight and don 't make a mess in my pretty street.

          The same dynamic applies in roading where NZTA / Waka Kotahi have incrementally taken over responsibility form TAs. That hasn't been as visibly dramatic a change because Waka Kotahi always administered and funded the State Highway network 100%, and funded TA roading by varying amounts. Now the boundary between SH and TA roading is quite blurred at a funding and operations level with very little input from Councils.

          It's democracy that's given Gore one of the best municipal Art Galleries in country, but a 19th century sewage system

          Time to explore other governance structures that combine benevolence and delivery with a strong focus on environmental outcomes. I think the 3 Waters structure meets those objectives and haven’t seen a better proposal presented in the debate.

          • weka

            Unfortunately it's democracy that has got us into the situation that 3 Waters has become the solution.

            no, it really hasn't, it's people that have done that not the system we use for governance. That we have such a poor form of democracy in local bodies is a sign to increase democracy not lessen it. Central and local governments could be doing the mahi of increasing participation. By that I don't just mean getting people to vote, although obviously that's a major issue. I mean actually participating in democracy for the other 1094 days of the three year term.

            Paternalism is attractive to the people in charge. It's less charming when it's NACT selling stuff or privatising.

            I support Labour's moves towards co-governance, in part because it breaks the hegemony of thought around what democracy and governance can look like. I hope that non-Māori will learn some thing and start thinking 'how come we aren't that well represented' and then figure out what to do about it. Three Waters works against that.

            Time to explore other governance structures that combine benevolence and delivery with a strong focus on environmental outcomes. I think the 3 Waters structure meets those objectives and haven’t seen a better proposal presented in the debate.

            Maybe Labour should have started with asking communities what they want. Instead of saying 'this is how it will be' and asking for feedback. It blows my mind that a model that will work for Auckland is considered appropriate to Gore or Te Anau or QL.

            And even if I am wrong about all of that, you still have to bring people with you, and that's not happening.

            (strengthening the local bodies legislation back towards community would be another thing that could be done).

        • Robert Guyton

          21 August 2022 at 8:58 am

          What gsays says.

          • weka

            who should be the dictator? If we're going to take the position that people will have to be forced to change (a la gsays' point on climate), then we should be talking about who gets to be in charge and force that to happen.

            Personally I think we should just hand everything over to the aunties, let them run the show. But I've been suggesting that for a long time now and haven't had many takers.

            • Robert Guyton

              I support the "aunties solution" but with a proviso and that is that the aunties petition all beings who will be affected by their actions; humans, crustaceans, cetaceans, cacti, comets te mea te mea.

              • weka

                agreed. A major benefit of having the aunties in charge is that they will be inclined to do exactly that.

                • weka

                  still leaves us with the problem of how to enforce that.

                  One of the great failings of anarchism is that despite its other desirable attributes, it appears to have no plan for how to get others on board.

                  • arkie

                    Mutual Aid is one such plan:

                    Kropotkin argued that mutual aid has pragmatic advantages for the survival of humans and animals and has been promoted through natural selection, and that mutual aid is arguably as ancient as human culture.

                    Building towards Dual Power:

                    Dual power is important because it prioritizes direct action, decentralized organization, and mutual aid now instead of perpetually waiting for some mythical, singular, and centralized mass revolution that never comes. It also creates a foundation to be built upon once capital and the state fall instead of starting from scratch.

                  • Robert Guyton

                    Nephews 🙂

  12. Hunter Thompson II 12

    Nature holds the whip hand. I guess that was always the case but humans failed to see it (or pretended not to) and have racked up a large bill.

    Now the demand for payment has arrived.

  13. AB 13

    Only tax cuts can save us. If I drown horribly in a muddy deluge, I will be happy because 'my money' is in my own pocket.

  14. Jenny how to get there 14

    This is what the climate crisis looks like in New Zealand, so far….

    This is what the symptoms of the climate crisis look like.

    The real climate crisis is a political crisis.

    The real crisis is a human crisis.

    Like a rabbit transfixed by the approaching headlights, the real climate crisis is our inability to act.

    The real crisis is not the approaching catastrophe about to crush the rabbit, the real crisis is the rabbit that refuses to move.

    Business as usual:

    "As we stare down the barrel of a climate emergency, our Government seems to think it's just fine to let a foreign-owned company extend its coal mine to let our dirty dairy industry carry on burning the stuff," spokeswoman Cindy Baxter said.

    "Whatever happened to our 'nuclear free moment' – seems it's business as usual."




  15. pat 15

    So in effect the quality of the decisions is directly related to the quality of the decision makers….as it ever was. Co-governance dosnt provide any path to improved decision quality, but it does reduce the pool of potential decision makers.

    Does changing the pool of decision makers necessarily change the quality? Especially when the technicalities remain unchanged.

    There has been a commonly stated refrain around co-governance that 'what is good for Maori is good for NZ'….that statement is about as valid as saying 'what is good for farmers is good for NZ', or 'what is good for property investors is good for NZ'….when the reality is 'what is good for NZ is good for all those groups'

    If we are to improve our water infrastructure it is the technical/resource limitations that need to be addressed and the governance form will follow.

  16. Robert Guyton 16

    "There has been a commonly stated refrain around co-governance that 'what is good for Maori is good for NZ'"

    I don't think that's true.

    The better refrain might be, "When Maori and non-Maori cooperate, the outcomes will be optimal".

    This is what co-governance is about, imo.

    • weka 16.1

      nice framing.

      I'd add that Māori have perspectives, values and cultural practices we desperately need in the overculture, and the bringing into right relationship the Crown and Iwi/Hapū will create something that builds on the good of both sides.

  17. Stephen D 17

    And remember Auckland’s Queen Street is built on top of the Waihorotiu Stream. Waters gonna do what waters gonna do.

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