“Climate believers, climate deniers, deep in our hearts we think it will happen somewhere else. Or, in some other time, in 2025 or 2040 or next year. But we are here to tell you, in this postcard from the former paradise, that it won’t happen next year, or somewhere else.
It will happen right where you live and it could happen today. No one will be spared.”
The climate emergency is an existential challenge that will take all of humanity’s collective will and effort to overcome. I fear for the lives and health of my children and their descendants should short-sightedness and greed prove us unequal to the task.
As is now abundantly clear, we’ve run out of time; climate change is already dangerous at the current level of 1.1 C over pre-industrial, and the IPCC targets of 1.5 or 2 C will bring widespread human and ecological misery.
NB: The last time that greenhouse gas levels were similar to today was 3 million years ago, when the temperature was 3 C warmer and sea levels at least 25 metres higher. Back then, our ancestors were still sleeping in trees and eating fruit, leaves and grass. Now, we have 8 billion mouths to feed.
Notwithstanding this, the Paris Accord currently condemns us to 4 – 5 C, which will could doom much of the planet’s biosphere, ourselves included.
While New Zealand, fortuitously, lies within the largest heat sink on the planet – the Pacific Ocean – we are not immune to the coming devastation of our lives and food sources by drought, fire, flood, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. Indeed, we are already seeing these effects in our own lives.
Last year, the West Coast of Auckland, where I live, experienced a series of westerly storms that, fuelled by an unusually warm Tasman Sea, brought widespread wind damage, flooding, power outages and death (three students drowned in a flooded stream). Whilst our home suffered only superficial damage from winds gusting over 200 km/hr, our immediate neighbours lost their lounge ranch sliders, many trees were felled and the district was without power for 5 days.
In a recent paper, New Zealand climate scientists, led by Jim Salinger and James Renwick, studied that freakishly hot summer and found that it would likely be an average summer under climate change, just sixty years earlier than anticipated:
During (summer) 2017/18, the New Zealand region experienced an unprecedented coupled ocean-atmosphere heatwave, covering an area of 4 million km2. Regional average air temperature anomalies over land were +2.2 °C, and sea surface temperature anomalies reached +3.7 °C in the eastern Tasman Sea. … The event persisted for the entire austral summer resulting in a 3.8 ± 0.6 km3 loss of glacier ice in the Southern Alps (the largest annual loss in records back to 1962), very early Sauvignon Blanc wine-grape maturation in Marlborough, and major species disruption in marine ecosystems. … The unprecedented heatwave provides a good analogue for possible mean conditions in the late 21st century. The best match suggests this extreme summer may be typical of average New Zealand summer climate for 2081–2100…
This is but a harbinger of much worse to come, if anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are not seriously checked over the next decade – we risk losing all control of the Earth’s climate as planetary boundaries are crossed and feedbacks generate self-sustaining emissions that will dwarf the human contribution.
Well before then, New Zealand will suffer the secondary impacts of climate change, as refugees flee increasingly inhospitable equatorial and low-lying regions of the world. Along with the storm-tossed poor and dispossesed from the Pacific Islands and Asia, there will likely come a different class of “climate migrants” like the Peter Thiels and Russian oligarchs who are already purchasing citizenship and land for their “Plan B” bunkers. As we have already seen, such wealthy individuals will have the power to corrupt our local politicians; I fear that Kiwis may become second-class citizens in our own country.
The Australian Breakthrough organisation examines existential climate risk in a series of papers providing a credible scenario wherein human emissions under the Paris Agreement, aided by carbon-cycle feedbacks and massive refugee flows, lead to the collapse of civilisation around 2050 – within the lives of our children and grandchildren.
To avoid this fate, Breakthrough lay out an integrated, world-wide strategy for mobilisation on all levels to decarbonise our energy supply and economy and to draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, possibly alongside geoengineering technologies to buy us a little time.
Well-researched, helpful and inspiring, this site presents a strategy for climate activism at all levels, from those wishing to engage their family, friends and communities, to those working with local and regional governments, through to boardroom activists and climate scientists fed up with the endless delay and compromise of the IPCC / UNFCCC process.
it will be a close-run thing, but, motivated by clear-eyed hope – and fear – we can still make it through the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, but only if we have the courage to leave the past behind – we no longer live on the planet that we grew up on.