One way of thinking about Covid-19 is that it is Mother Nature reminding us pretty sternly who is boss.
She is. The laws of nature are not the kind we can break, or that Parliament can repeal. Whether they govern the human body or the planetary climate system, we ignore them at our peril.
One of the economy's pre-existing conditions going into the Covid-19 crisis is, of course, pretty much untrammelled growth in greenhouse gas emissions.
It would be tragic if the acute problem of dealing with the pandemic and its economic fallout were to retard the now-urgent need to address the chronic problem of climate change.
National MP Judith Collins evidently does not agree. In a recent op-ed she took a swipe at a provision in the Resource Management Amendment Bill, as reported back by the environment select committee last week, which adds emissions-reduction plans and national climate change adaptation plans to the list of things local authorities must have regard to when they make or amend regional plans and district plans.
Divining somehow our collective future thinking, Collins asserts that "We will wonder how that could happen without adequate public consultation. And when anyone mentions Greta, we will ask 'Who?'" Dare one suggest it will be "Judith who?" long before it is "Greta who?"
The amendment bill is mostly about freshwater, but it also reverses legislation in 2004, which amended the RMA to prevent regional councils from considering the effects of climate change when making rules or assessing applications relating to discharges of greenhouse gases.
At the time, climate policy was considered to be an issue best addressed nationally by the emissions trading scheme.
To leave that in place would, however, be inconsistent with the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act, which was passed late last year — with the support of the National Opposition, which indicates that Judith Collins had not prevailed over more progressive members of her caucus.
The Zero Carbon Act expressly permits decision-makers acting under other legislation to take into account statutory emissions targets, carbon budgets and emissions-reduction plans made under its provisions.
The first national emissions-reduction plan under the Zero Carbon Act is due by the end of next year, so the select committee recommends the climate change-related RMA amendments also come into force at the end of 2021.
Not exactly unseemly haste.
Collins and her colleagues are on somewhat firmer footing when they object on procedural grounds to the select committee's including the climate change provisions.
"These late changes are an abuse of the select committee process because they were made after public feedback was called for, meaning submitters have not had the opportunity to properly consider the new bill," she said.
The climate change considerations were not in the original bill and it appeared only some of the people who submitted were aware of them.
"The amended bill also gives submitters the right to cross-examine each other during RMA applications. This would significantly increase the time and cost of hearings."
But what is the point of inviting submissions on a bill if calls to improve it by adding a provision are ruled out because they address an omission in the original bill?
National opposes the bill altogether. Its dissenting minority view in the reported-back bill points out that a review of the resource management system as a whole is under way, chaired by retired Court of Appeal justice Tony Randerson, and is due to report in the middle of this year.
"The National Party is of the view that that any substantive changes to the RMA should be made with full understanding of the expert panel's recommendations, to avoid unnecessary additional disruption to current users of RMA processes."
The Ministry for the Environment, however, in its advice to the select committee says that "a significant number" of the public submissions on the bill raised the issue of climate and most them favoured amending the RMA to enable decision-making authorities to consider the effects on climate change of proposals before them in plan making and resource consents.
Although most of the submissions are from individuals, both the Waikato Regional Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council are of a similar view.
"If Government is choosing to await the introduction of climate change mitigation and adaptation matters into the already signalled more comprehensive second tranche of RMA amendments, we believe this to be a missed opportunity for the here and how," the Waikato council said.
If opponents of action on climate change are hoping that the Randerson review will be sympathetic to that view, one would wonder where they get that idea.
The review's issues and options paper published late last year says, "While an effective emissions price is likely to be the best way to reduce emissions in a fair and efficient way, regulation under the RMA may serve as a useful complement to this approach."
Options might include creating a more permissive regulatory approach for certain activities that are necessary to facilitate a transition to a low emissions economy such as forestry and renewable energy development, it says.
"It might also include use of spatial planning to influence the way urban areas develop, decrease the need for carbon-intensive transportation and improve energy efficiency in the long term."
Meanwhile, if the concern really is that the RMA must not get in the way of developments needed to assist the economy's recovery from what will be a severe recession, Environment Minister David Parker last week assured us the Government did not want the standard RMA consenting processes to constrain the pace of recovery.
He said he had officials working on how resource consenting processes for certain infrastructure and development projects could be fast-tracked, once we are in the recovery phase from Covid-19.
Details could be expected "in coming weeks".