Nano Girl Michelle Dickinson: Global warming means the sea view you dream of may not be as desirable in the future

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Flooding along Auckland's Tamaki Drive. Photo / Greg Bowker
Flooding along Auckland's Tamaki Drive. Photo / Greg Bowker

This week I dusted off my coat and threw it on as I experienced my first chilly night in months. I expect the weather to change with the seasons, I expect autumn to be colder than summer, but this week questions have been asked about New Zealand's long-term climate, how changes that are already under way could have significant implications for New Zealand's prosperity and how we might be fudging the numbers to make ourselves look more green than we actually are.

The Earth's climate does change, and over the past 4.5 billion years it has naturally fluctuated between being very cold and covered in ice, to very hot and dry.

Earth's distance to the sun, volcanic eruptions and tectonic plate movement are all natural causes of climate change. However, over the past 50-100 years, increasing industrialisation has led scientists to believe that human activities, such as driving cars, farming, burning coal and cutting down forests, are producing greenhouses gases and artificially affecting our natural climate balance.

Scientists have measured greenhouse gases - including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide - released into our atmosphere and can show using Antarctic ice core dating that recent increases are happening at an unprecedented rate.

Greenhouse gases specifically are a concern because they can wrap a gaseous blanket around the Earth, trapping in the sun's heat and warming up our planet.

The Royal Society of New Zealand's report, Climate Change Implications for New Zealand, released to the public this week, was written by a scientific expert advice panel.

It summarised their thoughts based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence about the things that New Zealanders should be concerned about in the coming years.

They found that although New Zealand's temperatures are predicted to rise less than the global average thanks to ocean buffering, our sea level rise is predicted to be 10 per cent more than the global change.

With 16 per cent of our population living on land areas at risk of coastal flooding - including around Auckland's Northwestern motorway and Tamaki Drive which have both repeatedly suffered flooding over recent years - that sea view you have always dreamed about may not be as desirable in the future.

As flooding is the most frequent natural disaster and the second most costly after earthquakes in New Zealand, the future economic cost of this predicted sea level rise could be a high one.

The report also listed other concerns including how increased demand from urban expansion and agriculture combined with a decreasing annual average rainfall plus higher temperatures could lead to increased pressure on the demand for freshwater resources.

Because New Zealand's economic reliance on our dairy and agriculture sectors is so great, our high greenhouse gas emissions are hard to decrease. To counter this, New Zealand has been purchasing offshore carbon credits to meet our reduction obligations under the Paris climate agreement.

These credits were brought to light this week by the Morgan Foundations report, Climate Cheat, which stated that, proportional to our emissions, New Zealand has been by far the largest purchaser of Ukrainian and Russian credits through our Emissions Trading Scheme, so we can claim to be greener than we are by meeting our international climate obligations.

As we make personal decisions today based on where we can afford to live, what transport options we can take, and what our meat consumption should be, the question is: with our rising emissions, economic reliance on agriculture, purchasing of offset credits combined with Auckland's housing shortage, how do we bridge the gap between scientific research, Government policy and the practice of everyday Kiwis to ensure solid investment in our future?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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