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.

“The role and potential of women in sustainable urban mobility”

It is difficult to understand what this is about let alone what benefits may come of it.

Julie Anne Genter: Minister to speak on women and transport at international events

Minister Genter will give the keynote address at the Women Mobilise Women conference, organised by the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative. The initiative aims to generate a debate on the role and potential of women in sustainable urban mobility.

“This is the first conference to empower women in transport and I am excited to be addressing this event focused on implementing sustainable mobility solutions on the ground by women, for women,” Ms Genter said.

I guess Genter will explain to the conference what she means, or maybe attendees already understand this sort of language.

I don’t know why women need to look separately at sustainable mobility solutions in urban areas. Separate women’s carriiges, buses or cycle lanes?

Genter will then go to something that looks more understandable and worthwhile:

The Minister will then join Ministers and government officials from around the world at the 2018 International Transport Forum Summit (ITF). This year’s theme is transport safety and security.

Minister Genter will participate in sessions addressing climate change and transport, ensuring long-term resilience of transport infrastructure funding, and how to increase safety on city streets.

Following the ITF Summit, Minister Genter will travel to Denmark and Sweden to meet with officials and experts on transport safety, particularly to discuss their implementation of ‘Vision Zero’ which aims to achieve a transport system with no fatalities or serious injuries.

“Sweden is one of the safest countries in the world having cut its road death rate by investing in safety infrastructure and setting safer speed limits. Earlier this year I announced that the Government will investigate adopting Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ approach to road safety in New Zealand. I am looking forward to learning from their experience while I am there,” Ms Genter said.

It is good to look at successful road safety initiatives elsewhere in the world.

I hope Genter learns a more realistic approach than “aims to achieve a transport system with no fatalities or serious injuries”. Goals are best when they look achievable.

I think a better goal would be to halve deaths and injuries in x number of years. If successful that can be repeated to slash the road toll, but it can realistically never reach zero.

And a focus on men might make sense where road safety is concerned, given they are generally more dangerous on the roads.

‘Eating and farming patterns need to change a lot”

The potential effects of climate change, plus an increasing world population with a growing proportion improving their standard of living (with less in poverty) mean that it is essential to consider how we produce food and how we consume it.

Regardless of anything else, too many people eat far too much – a lot more than they need to and too much for good health.

Newsroom:  Changing our diets to save the world

Can we grow enough food to feed us all in a changing climate? And can New Zealand thrive as a dairy exporter without worsening climate change? Eloise Gibson spoke to IPCC food security and farming experts and found them surprisingly upbeat.

Newsroom specifically wanted to know what the experts thought of New Zealand’s prospects of thriving as a meat and dairy-exporting nation, in a future where people eat less meat and milk.

We talked through the issues with five experts, whose readiness to answer suggested we were not the first to raise it since they reached our shores.

Based on their research in climate modelling, food security and farming methods, all of them agreed that eating and farming patterns need to change a lot if we’re to feed more people in our new and altered climate. That means raising fewer livestock and sharing the meat and milk we still eat more fairly between nations.

“Sharing the meat and milk we still eat more fairly” should be contentious. Who decides what is ‘fair’? How could it be enforced?

Right now, people in rich countries over-consume, despite the hefty climate impact of their livestock-heavy habits, says Pete Smith, a climate change and soil professor at the University of Aberdeen.

“We can’t have nine or ten billion people consuming the way people do in the Western world. But that’s not to say we don’t still have livestock in the system, we certainly do. But we can’t continue at the rate we are. Although consumption has to come down, there are still going to be global markets.”

Those markets are likely to change significantly.

Holding the pre-Easter IPCC meeting in Christchurch signaled global recognition of what most Kiwis know already – that, among developed nations, our greenhouse gas emissions are uniquely skewed towards farming.

Our problem is mostly cows, with their methane-laced burps and gas-producing urine, both of which New Zealand spends millions trying to solve.

But when these researchers talk about the climate costs of food growing; they’re looking much wider than reducing cow burps.

They’re discussing wholesale changes to the food system. “This is first time really that the IPCC has tackled food, as opposed to agriculture, in a big way,” says Tim Benton, who studies food security in his job as Dean of Strategic Research Initiatives at the University of Leeds. “I’m really hoping that, for the first time, people will start to pay attention to the impact our food systems have on climate and the impact climate has on our food systems.”

Globally, agriculture ranks second only to fossil fuels as a source of greenhouse gases.

Smith, from the University of Aberdeen, lists the numbers:

“Direct emissions from crops and livestock are about 14 or so percent of global emissions, if you include deforestation it’s 24 percent, and if you add things like transport for moving food around and the embedded emissions in the agri-chemicals, you’re probably talking 30 per cent. We can’t meet the Paris targets without it.”

Farming faces a circular problem. Growing food creates a lot of greenhouse gases, and greenhouse gas is threatening the world’s food-producing capability. “If we don’t tackle climate change, the impacts on the food system will be such that there’s no guarantee we could feed 11 billion people at the end of the century,” says Benton.

Even cows are not immune. “Dairy cows really do not like warmer temperatures, it decreases milk production and fertility,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Mitigation, Rosenzweig, Smith and Benton each explained, has to include rearing less livestock, especially our burping cows. “We need to think about what we’re eating and how much. Because large-scale animal production, especially industrial animal production, has a very large carbon footprint,” says Rosenzweig.

None of them suggests everybody goes vegan, because most of us will not, they say.

“It’s just unrealistic to think that everybody is going to give up meat tomorrow,” says Rosenzweig. “So we need to realise there’s probably a pathway of healthy diets that is not no meat at all, but reduced meat consumption.”

Dairy has a lower greenhouse footprint than beef, but it remains considerably higher-emitting than producing vegetable products.

Still, no-one expects a quick switch. “New Zealand has an important livestock sector and I don’t think these people are about to start growing carrots tomorrow. It’s about finding pathways to sustainable production,” says Rosenzweig.

Benton agrees. “On an existential basis, I don’t think any country needs to be particularly worried, because we’re talking about changes over a number of years,” he says. “If you look back 30 years, our agricultural industry was very different to what it is today and in 30 years’ time it will be different again.”

Major change is certainly needed, says Benton.

There will have to be major change in food production in New Zealand, eventually at least. The world market is likely to demand it.

If the current Climate Change minister James Shaw has his way there will be major change much sooner.

Rosenzweig, the impact modeler, sums up those trade-offs and farmers’ tricky conundrum. “The challenges for agriculture everywhere are to simultaneously be reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases and be adapting to a changing climate,” she says. To do it, they will need our help, and that includes changing our diets. “That’s why there’s a role for people changing what we eat. Because as we go from 6 or 7 billion people to 9 or 10 billion, how are we actually going to do that?” she says.

In New Zealand and elsewhere in the developed world eating less will be better for our health – but won’t that increase the population more if we live longer?

 

 

 

Greens, farming and “more sustainable land use”

The leak of policies the Greens say were agreed on in governing negotiations will raise a few eyebrows in the farming and export sectors.

1. Climate action

“Significant climate action, with a shift towards a net zero carbon emissions economy by 2050” and the establishing of an independent climate commission. This would include shifting farms to “more sustainable land use” and a focus on transport, energy and primary industries.

New Zealand is supposed to be committed to zero carbon emissions anyway, and it was also Labour policy.

‘Sustainable farming’ is more contentious.

4. Water

Improve water quality and fund “freshwater enhancement”. Government support for irrigation will be wound down.

There has to be continued and increased efforts to reduce water pollution from farming. Somehow this needs to be done without impacting too much on farm incomes, employment and exports.

The farming sector may be concerned, given that Greens have said they want to reduce cow numbers by (I think) 25%. Some reduction is probably sensible, but significant reductions quickly could have a major impact.

During the campaign James Shaw said that a nitrate tax would cost the average dairy farm “no more than 5%” of their profits.

He said the party, if it were in government, would invest in the Sustainable Farming Fund and introduce a fund to support organic farming alongside a new sustainability accreditation scheme.

Mr Shaw said this would be paid for by a nitrate pollution levy on dairy farmers who continue to pollute the soils and water.

He said nitrate pollution was already measured by a modelling system called Overseer.

“The average dairy farm would pay no more than five percent of their pre-tax profits. So that’s the average and it would be no more than that.

That could be significant to struggling cow cockies, especially when it could be in addition to carbon tax for emissions as well as higher costs for irrigation.

What’s really important is that farmers would be able to get that money back by applying to the funds that we’re setting up.”

The Green Party would also place a moratorium on any more farms being converted to dairy, and instead support organic farming.

There have already been moves towards more organic farming methods and this should certainly be encouraged.

However the potential impact on the livelihood of farmers is not a minor matter.

Green policy (not all included in the governing agreement):  Clean water, great farming

The Green Party has a plan to support farmers to move to less polluting, more environmentally sustainable and more profitable ways of farming so that our rivers and lakes are safe to swim in and our drinking water from aquifers is protected.

We will put a levy on nitrate pollution from agriculture, starting with intensive dairying, and use the revenue raised to fund a package of game-changing support measures that farmers can use to reduce their impact on our environment.  We will:

  1. Help farmers move to more sustainable and profitable farming by
  • Extending the Sustainable Farming Fund with an extra $20 million every year.
  • Creating a Transformational Farming Partnership Fund of around $70 million a year.
  • Increasing funding for the Landcare Trust to $16 million over three years.
  • Rewarding tree planting by farmers and landowners.
  • Allowing accelerated depreciation on dairy farm equipment.
  • Support organic farming by introducing national standards, and new funding of $5 million a year.
  1. Implement a levy on nitrate pollution to help protect our rivers, lakes and aquifers, which will raise around $136.5 million in the first year. This will fund the programmes listed above, and an additional $20 million a year for freshwater clean-up projects.
  2. Put a moratorium on new dairy farm conversions.
  3. Wind up Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd and stop providing subsidies for big irrigation projects.
  4. Transition away from Palm Kernel Expeller/Extract (PKE) to alternative feed stocks, from 2018.
  5. Establish a ‘Good Food Aotearoa New Zealand’ national sustainability accreditation scheme for food products, processors and farmers, so those who work with the land, not against it, can prove it to consumers at home and overseas to fetch a higher price and are more attractive to export markets.

“Help farmers move to more sustainable and profitable farming ” – great ideals, but this is vague. I wonder if there has been any real research done on how much more profitable farming will be if it is made more sustainable, how much it will affect farm production, employment and exports.

There is a massive amount dependant on farming in New Zealand, and raising costs and reducing intensification could have a big impact. Do the Greens know how much?