Rachel Stewart is winner of the 'Opinion Writer of the Year' award at the 2016 Canon Media Awards.

Rachel Stewart: All hands on deck needed to fight climate change

Our own New Zealand summer has been beyond unusual.  Photo / Duncan Brown
Our own New Zealand summer has been beyond unusual. Photo / Duncan Brown

Went to a barbecue at a friend's inland South Taranaki drystock farm last Saturday gone, and managed to have a fight with the sole dairy farmer there.

What about? Water quality, of course.

To be fair, I lost my rag and he didn't. He said very little - saying I left him virtually no room to do so. Maybe. But what he did say got under my skin so much that I ended up swearing at him and walking away.

It was not my finest hour, and I can offer no excuse for it. Later, I did offer him an apology. I'm unsure if he accepted it or not. He said little. Again.

All of which makes me wonder why he got to me. I'm so used to dairy farmers hating on me that I've become almost immune to it. Yet, here I was taking the bait.

My conclusion is this. While I'm kept busy arguing the toss about whether irrigation is heaven sent or evil, or whether farmers are doing enough to mitigate nitrate leaching or not, the planet continues to burn.

My thing is clean rivers. Your thing may be cycling lanes, or overfishing. It doesn't matter. We're all out here trying to put out fires - fires that spring up out of nowhere but which necessitate a response.

Head down, bum up we fight the good fight and give our lives meaning at the same time. Except, have you lifted your head up lately and had a good, hard look around? We're losing our collective and individual battles.

Just about every bit of bad news is directly linked to climate change. Everything. Oh, and the greed of the few who are trying to extract even more before the inevitable breakdown.

Drought in the east of the country needs to be called what it is: the new norm. Irrigation and the building of dams won't solve that.

Speaking of dams, California's Oroville Dam's erosion problem is holding on by a thread, as a new storm bringing more intense rain is predicted to arrive in a day or two. Years of extremely dry conditions meant the emergency spillway hadn't been used for 50 years.

Anyone notice the heat in Australia last week? Officially the temperatures reached the high 40s. Unofficially, private temperature gauges were showing low 50s, and reports of cattle dropping down dead and koalas expiring and falling out of trees, started filtering through.

Syria. Sure, ethnic and religious reasons exist. But the resources have been running out for a long time now.

Syria has endured years of drought, and the rich take the water for themselves. They get to eat while the rest become acquainted with rickety boats, and hope for the best.

Our own New Zealand summer has been beyond unusual. Wind. Endless, relentless, intense. It dries everything out. Bloody annoying. Only good for getting the washing dry but, even then, you've got to wrestle with the sheets to even get them pegged.

We must stop believing governmental and corporate lies about why we can't economically do such things, or anything. Because, you know, the economy.

It's all playing out planetarily as the models predicted some years ago. Drier in the east, wetter and windier in the west. Extreme weather is now common.

Climate change is like having your head in a furnace and your feet in the fridge. "Averages" will become meaningless.

It surprises me that it's not the only thing on every politician's lips, all the time.

Yet, here we are. Trump is the leader of the free world, Australia has Malcolm Turnbull, and Paula Bennett is our own eminently unqualified Climate Change Minister.

What to do?

For a start, it's time to stop getting caught up in the individual fights and realise that climate change is a mission that must be tackled on a World War II scale. All hands on deck.

We must stop believing governmental and corporate lies about why we can't economically do such things, or anything. Because, you know, the economy.

We need to wise up to the fact that continuing to compartmentalise our endless individual battles - pay equity, dirty dairying, transport, roading, autism funding, education, intersectional feminism, partisan politics - is a waste of precious energy.

Don't get me wrong. All are beyond important but, ultimately, unless we tackle climate change and right now, there'll be no human rights or environment to actually fight for.

Which is why my dairy farmer got to me. The same old tired rhetoric about how much they're doing environmentally bores me to tears, while simultaneously making me apoplectic with rage. Because, whatever it is, it isn't working. Our rivers are still poked.

My heart's not in debating the diversion tactics anymore.

To me, he perfectly represents Darwin's words. "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Will he change in time? Will we all?

- NZ Herald

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Rachel Stewart is winner of the 'Opinion Writer of the Year' award at the 2016 Canon Media Awards.

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