What each of us can do to tackle climate change

We all have to deal with the weather – we enjoy it when it is good, and cope with it when it is bad. With climate change there may be more good weather to enjoy, but also more bad weather to cope with.

Unusual weather events will inevitable be linked to climate change, even though individual extremes have happened throughout human history.

News.com.au: Sweltering heatwave set to scorch large parts of Australia until the new year

Australians are facing unprecedented heat, with some areas set for maximum temperatures above 40C for four days straight for the first time in 90 years.

Extreme record-breaking heatwave conditions are forecast to sweep across four states over coming days, sparking health and fire warnings.

A broad area stretching across much of southern Australia is set to experience the hot weather, with temperatures generally 10C to 14C higher than usual for this time of year, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

There’s plenty more of yesterday’s sweltering Christmas weather to come, as an oppressive and sustained heatwave is set to linger into the new year.

Going by the forecast here in New Zealand it doesn’t look like we will be getting much of that heat coming our way. But some areas (up north) have experienced flooding earlier this week.

Whether or not the weather is a result of climate change Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick suggests One simple thing you can do to tackle climate change

Transforming how the world produces energy and consumes resources to create a zero-carbon future is going to require innovation and investment on an industrial scale, creating myriad new jobs and making a better, more sustainable, life for everyone.

Climate change is a huge threat. Already, floods and droughts, heatwaves and fires have intensified around the world, and even another degree of warming will kill off the coral reefs, damage global food production, and lock in metres of sea level rise. The potential for mayhem and misery seems almost limitless.

The way I react to climate change is to keep both viewpoints in mind. If we do nothing, or if we do something but not fast enough, the future looks pretty dire. And I don’t mean in centuries from now, I mean in one working lifetime, another 20, 30, 40 years. To me, that’s a huge motivation to do what I can to advance the transformation we need.

Feeling like you’re a part of the solution, that you’re making a positive difference, is so much more empowering than feeling helpless or despairing, or apathetic. It is now understood that stress and anxiety caused by seeing fires, floods and other extremes affect communities, and worries about the future of our own families, are major mental health risks.

The empowerment will only be sustained if we feel we have actually made a positive difference. If we keep getting weather extremes, or if we see other countries continue to get weather extremes, we may think our efforts are a waste of time. It could be difficult keeping up enthusiasm for being ‘a part of the solution’.

Each of us can take small actions that collectively add up to big reductions in emissions.

Anything that lowers your personal carbon “footprint” is a good idea: using public transport when we can, engaging in active transport – cycling and/or walking, flying less (and offsetting when we do fly), eating less or no red meat, making sure our homes are well-insulated, buying an electric vehicle (if we’re looking for a new car), and so on.

Using public transport more, walking and cycling more and driving and flying less may cost us less, while insulating homes and buying electric vehicles cost more up front, something many household budgets will struggle with.

But the most important thing we can do is talk. Talk about climate change. Make it as much a part of the daily conversation as the cricket or the rugby. Talk about the magnitude and the urgency of climate change with family/whānau, with neighbours and local community, with workmates, and most importantly with our elected representatives in local and central government.

Here we are then.

Talk.

Government policy sets the tone for how society operates, and signals to the business sector where to invest in our future. If all of us sent a single email to our electorate MP demanding climate action, the volume of mail would be bound to get a response!

Political activism by school students going on “climate strike” shows what’s possible in terms of gaining attention and shifting the conversation.

Is it appropriate for an academic, a climate scientist, to be encouraging political activism?

It now seems clear that the people, the general public, will need to speak out before there is meaningful political change.

New Zealand as a country should see climate change as an opportunity, to lead the world and to help other countries. If any country can become 100 per cent fossil-free, it has to be New Zealand, with our abundance of water, wind and sunshine. Being at the forefront of green technology is bound to be good for business, for investment and for the economy.

I would like to see something far more substantive than “being at the forefront of green technology is bound to be good for business” – academics should be showing how it will be good for business, not just seemingly wishing and hoping as this looks like.

I would love to see us achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2025, and see government raise the price of carbon via changes to the ETS or via a carbon tax, as that will push the business sector in the right direction. Money raised could be used to incentivise purchase of electric vehicles, to improve public transport, and to support lower-income New Zealanders disadvantaged by carbon charging or by the direct effects of climate change.

The sooner we start down this path, as a country, with all sectors on board, the sooner we’ll achieve the changes we need as a country, and as a global community. Some of our nearest neighbours in the Pacific are some of the most at-risk communities and it’s my feeling that we have a moral obligation to them to do all we can.

It’s my feeling that academics like climate scientists have a professional obligation to show us whether our efforts will make any difference significant and sustainable difference to other countries (and our own).

Showing other countries how it’s done and then helping others tread the same path is a vital role this country can play, now and in the future.

How vital?

What if the green business dream doesn’t add up? What if climate change changes set back the New Zealand economy?

What if we manage to become a bit more ‘sustainable’ as a country but other countries take little or no notice?

Climate science shows that, probably, we have significant problems looming unless we can change change things significantly.

But I don’t see climate scientists doing anywhere enough to convince me that their proposed solutions are going to work, and that their proposed solutions don’t pose more risks than the problems they are trying to overcome.

Things like reducing energy use, especially fossil fuel energy use, and reducing waste and pollution, are worthy things we should all be considering and doing regardless.

But if we are to launch into major changes to our way of life I’d like to see far better plans and predictions for how this might pan out, including possible risks and down sides.

Political activism will only work successfully if well reasoned cases are made.

Climate scientists may have made a fairly good case for the likelihood humans are stuffing things up and need to reduce and repair the damage we have caused and are causing.

But I haven’t yet seen decent cases made for some of the changes that climate activists are suggesting. Until that is done I doubt whether the general population will get on board the change train.

What each of us do to tackle climate change will depend on feasible cases being made for the changes being asked for by activists.