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Herald on Sunday editorial: NZ should be doing its bit for the climate

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New Zealand has one of the highest levels of scepticism on climate change. We are behind only Norway and Australia and marginally more sceptical then even citizens of the United States.
New Zealand has one of the highest levels of scepticism on climate change. We are behind only Norway and Australia and marginally more sceptical then even citizens of the United States.

Climate change protesters looked very chilly up on a parapet at Parliament this week.

Icy conditions throughout the country and floods in some districts have made it hard to worry about the rising temperature of the planet, though climate science says extremes of all weather events are a consequence of global warming.

They also tell us today New Zealand has one of the highest levels of scepticism on climate change. We are behind only Norway and Australia and marginally more sceptical then even citizens of the United States. Why might this be?

Possibly it is harder to believe in environmental catastrophe in places where people breath fresh air every day, have plenty of space and live within easy reach of oceans, farms, forests and natural landscapes. Norway, Australia and New Zealand are all in the category.

We might feel differently if we were choking on the air of Chinese cities on too many days, or living under the low hazy skies of Europe.

Or perhaps we are just more optimistic than most people. Climate change denial, as it is called, covers not only those who doubt the problem is serious but also those who do not doubt the science but remain confident that human ingenuity will adjust to higher mean temperatures without the drastic lifestyle changes environmentalists prescribe.

Probably we should treat the comparison of national scepticism with scepticism. It appears in a paper from the University of Tasmania and it is probably not by chance that Australia and New Zealand come out badly. Both countries are laggards in preparing for an international conference in Paris in December that needs new national commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Hence the protesters on the parapet this week, hence the scepticism rankings. The study found higher rates of scepticism in countries with higher carbon dioxide emissions. The authors might not be aware that nearly half of New Zealand's emissions are methane from farm animals but point taken, if we were not so sceptical we would be demanding our Government do more about it.

So far the Government has offered no new emission reduction target to follow the 2020 expiry of the current modest target, which the country will miss. It is prone to exaggerate the economic costs of putting a realistic price on greenhouse emissions.

If it were to adopt a target of 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030, projected GDP growth could average 2.3 per cent rather than 2.4 per cent a year. Scepticism does not preclude sensible precautions. New Zealand should be doing more.

- Herald on Sunday

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