Highway to Hell!

(fire, California)

Some time ago Jeanette Fitzsimons described our action on climate change like a car driving rapidly to a precipice while the occupants argue about whether they should maybe change down a gear. If we are to continue with this analogy I would say that the cliff edge is now very visible, the car is still in top gear and we have only a slight chance of stopping in time if we hit the brakes now.

350.org named itself after the parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere that was considered a safe level. At the time the organisation was formed in 2008 that level had not been reached, but five years later we passed 400 ppm.

It's not as though we haven't had ample warning, there has been scientific consensus for decades and even Margaret Thatcher was making speeches on climate change thirty years ago. The evidence of rapid climate change is constantly in our faces. We are globally experiencing extreme weather events on a far more regular basis and the intensity of these are growing. Australia had to introduce a new colour to their weather maps to include temperatures above 50 degrees celsius that were occurring more regularly. 18 of the 19 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000.

It has just been reported that a Russian city on the edge of the Arctic Ocean recorded a temperature of 28.9 degrees (more than twice the average high of 12 degrees for the time of year). The latest reading of carbon in our atmosphere is 415 ppm and I am concerned that while it was reported in Stuff, it wasn't a headlining piece.

While visiting New Zealand the UN Secretary General expressed concern that action to address climate change is being frustrated due to a lack of political will. While the Secretary General praised our leadership on climate action, we should be taking a lead anyway. We are the 5th worse in the OECD for per capita emissions and the worst for methane (6 times the global average). While methane doesn't remain in the atmosphere permanently like carbon, it is 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas. In terms of our impact on the climate we are possibly the worst in the world per capita.

At a local level The 2018 Summer in Invercargill was the hottest for 100 years, trees died in our garden and the sea temperatures at Oreti Beach were 7 degrees celsius warmer than usual. Our local politicians are also dragging their heels on climate change. Mayor Tim Shadbolt had no idea whether his council had any climate change policy when challenged by student protestors (it hasn't). It was clearly an issue that rarely enters his mind.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw is trying to get cross party support for the Zero Carbon Bill and yet politics and economic self-interest have already ensured that it will be too little, too late. We still have a "softly softly" approach to deal with our agricultural emissions, Oil and Gas company OMV have an application to discharge waste while drilling off the Otago coast and our transport emissions still grow steadily. We currently have business as usual when delaying action is not an option.

If we really cared about the future for our children and future generations we should demand more from our politicians and give them a clear mandate to make the necessary decisions. We are on a highway to hell and we need to hit the brakes on our emissions immediately!


Karl B said…
Hi Dave Ok we have over 400 pm of Carbon in our Atmosphere that's a Problem but Tree's turn Carbon into Oxygen via Photosynthesis is that correct ?
What about the Amounts of Nitrous Oxide which is Belching into the Atmosphere about New Zealand Farms where Over 3 Million Tonnes of UREA are Applied Annually & 50% goes up as Nitrous Oxide & it's 210 Times Worse GREENHOUSE GAS Than CO2 ! What Counters this Huge amount of Nitrous Oxide in Our Atmosphere as we already have 79% Nitrogen in The AIR WE BREATH ?
Cheers Karl Barkley
bsprout said…
Hi Karl, trees are seen as a climate saviour by many to offset emissions but there is also a theory that their generally dark green leaves also absorb heat. Many think planting trees will directly offset emissions but I think their effect may be less than people hope: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00122-z

Methane is the elephant in the room for NZ because it is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is still the dominant agricultural emission. Nitrous oxide emissions from our soil has apparently increased by 25% since 1990 and I have read it is actually almost 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It also is difficult to remove from the atmosphere because the process also removes important ozone gas. However, all the academic literature I have read suggests a much smaller % of what is applied that gets released into the atmosphere, it isn't 50% but between .5 and 1.56%. While it is still a very dangerous gas that we should limit but the amounts being released are much lower than you claim:

However, I'm pleased you mentioned this to me again because I had forgotten about the impacts of Nitrous Oxide when I wrote the post and I note MPI have acknowledged the impact of the gas too: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/protection-and-response/environment-and-natural-resources/emissions-trading-scheme/agriculture-and-greenhouse-gases/

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