The science is in and it's grim

Is it a good week or a bad week when your two greatest global concerns come together in a firestorm of attention? It’s almost enough to send you back under the bed covers and hope it’s just a nightmare you can wake up from.

The latest report into humans-are-a-bit-shit-at-taking-care-of-our-one-and-only-planet was released. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) basically says we’re facing mass extinctions and that’s not good (understatement).

New Zealand is front and centre in the stats too with our high level of species found nowhere else in the world, thousands under threat of extinction. Our unusual flightless birds, giant insects and lack of land mammals, thanks to evolution in the absence of mammalian predators.

However, the unprecedented and accelerating decline in our precious plants and animals here in Aotearoa and around the world is no surprise to me. Working at DOC for 10 years, our message was always “we’re trying to slow the decline in our biodiversity”. We were realists – a-hoping and a-praying that something clever comes along and we hang on the what we’ve got just long enough for that rescue to arrive.

The thing that the latest report emphasises more strongly, along with the new Extinction Rebellion movement, is that our very survival as humans is directly linked to the survival of nature. We are all connected – if the bees go, we all go. And it’s not just the bees we need to worry about.

So where’s the glass half-full part of this column? Well, I’m not sure there is much to be honest. As my friend @SophieFern said on Twitter: “it’s grim. And I'm not wanting to sugar-coat its grimness.” However, she went on to remind us that research shows that the more we know about our fauna and flora, the more attractive we find it and the more we care about it. This is a clue on what we need to do – get connected to nature, both the intriguing unusual species (time for a visit to Bushy Park?) and the common ones in your own backyard.

 The other hopeful move is that this IPBES report starts to roll off the tongue like the IPCC reports on climate change. We need a strong consensus to drive more action. As Royal Botanic Gardens director Alexandre Antonelli said: “what we need now is massive, transformative and globally coordinated changes across all levels of society”.

 This sounds pretty familiar. Zero Carbon Bill anyone?

 I have glimmers of hope with the introduction of the Bill this week, finally. As Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward of University of Canterbury said: “politics is the art of the possible. For the last 30 years we have taken no real action on climate change. This Bill matters as it is the first step in a new era of transition.”

 I’m not interested in the petty point-scoring and knee-jerk criticisms coming from both directions (although I can admit to being guilty of this type of response in the not-so-distant past myself). Professor Dave Frame of Victoria University called it “the inevitable noise from the pro- and anti-farming lobbies”.

There’s a great interview about the Bill with Greens co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw on and it includes this quote: “there’s no point in having a perfect piece of legislation that gets thrown out... If you think about that 30-year target, it’s got to survive three or four governments in that time. And things are only going to get harder in the future, not easier.”

Yes, part of me wants a radical intervention that crushes the ridiculous situation our society finds itself in with “the 1%” owning half of the world’s wealth. However, I also just want us to start treating climate change like the emergency it is and that means targets, policies and actual change. This Bill is the necessary and long-overdue first step in the political part of the solution to this existential crisis – it is literally a battle for human survival.

Thanks to the Science Media Centre for including Professor Susan Krumdieck of University of Canterbury in their collection of expert responses to the Bill. She said: “If climate change and biodiversity collapse are not the biggest manmade disasters yet, then maybe I am wrong about Transition Engineering being an emergent response in the fields. But if I am right, then there is a chance that the future we would want to send our kids to exists.” I hope so - there is no time left to waste.