Earthquakes, terrifying things and hope?

I’m not known for quoting from The Bible, but Luke 21:11 “There will be great earthquakes… famines and plagues… and there will be terrifying things...” seems to be apt.

It’s not just the election of Trump, or the Kaikoura earthquakes, or Kiribati going under the waves, or the thunderstorm asthma in Melbourne – it’s all of that and, unfortunately, more.

2016 looks to be the hottest year on record, again.  But the Trump camp is quoted as saying they will be cutting NASA’s climate change research, which one chump labelled “politically correct environmental monitoring”.  NASA’s global satellites have been providing the information on temperature, ice, clouds and other climate data essential to understand the accelerating change happening to the planet.

The latest horror statistic I’ve seen is the extremely low extent and thickness of global sea ice – the graph shows a massive drop away from previous years’ trends.

Even for me, a life-long optimist, I’m starting to struggle with the build-up of scary announcement after scary announcement – it feels like I’m in the prelude to one of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels.

I guess I should be hopeful that, in recent days, Trump has wavered on a number of his electioneering claims, including that climate change is a hoax and he would pull the US out of the Paris accord.  Not knowing where he will land and how long he will retain a position doesn’t fill me with confidence though.

What does bring me hope, however, is a group of young Americans, all under 20, who have passed the first hurdle in taking the US Government to court over a lack of action on climate change.  Oregon Judge Ann Aiken has ruled that there is a case to answer, and I love her comments: “This lawsuit is not about proving that climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it. For the purposes of this motion, those facts are undisputed”.  She added: “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

In New Zealand, there is progress with the appointment of a technical working group, including one of my former AECOM colleagues.  I will be watching their progress with great interest – and a pinch of cynicism given their narrow terms of reference explicitly excludes mitigation or revisiting our climate change targets.  It does have farming interests represented though so I’m hopeful they will examine the complexity around agricultural emissions.

Another move this week was a group of 60 NZ businesses spanning finance to fishing, retail to science, and health to religion, coordinated by WWF, issued an open letter calling for stronger Government action on climate change – and not just in adaptation. 

It challenged the Government to keep up with change being led by a growing pocket of the private sector and wider community.  The letter said: “Without the government pulling its weight we will not be able to make the necessary changes at the pace and scale required… set ambitious targets to reduce emissions, create a long-term plan for how to do it, and implement policies that can set us on the right path and empower New Zealanders to make low-carbon choices."

This year’s winners at the Sustainable Business Network awards showcased the inspirational action already happening.  A carbon credits organisation, Ekos, won the innovation category.  Their approach is quality – their credits are certified to international standards but based in New Zealand and Pacific biodiversity conservation projects.  I used them to offset my family trip to Australia earlier this year at the affordable cost of $31.24.

So on balance I remain hopeful.  Leaders are coming together across sectors, there are great solutions getting recognised, and the US judiciary is taking climate change seriously – it’s not time to give up.  Even our neighbours in Palmerston North are getting amongst it with their first fast-charge electric vehicle station opened this week.

We need to stay focused, get the targets right, and then take action.