Climate change "rockstar" Bill McKibben's set of figures are enough to set your hair on end. He says we have a mere 15 years to continue life as we're used to before the planet starts to cook. We have reached the point where there is no longer any choice about how many degrees of warming are in store. The legendary figure of 2C will be just that - legend - unless we work hard at change.
McKibben has been more or less on the campaign trail for 25 years. Bitterness, or a sense of tragedy, tinges his otherwise laid-back delivery when he points out that had the world begun to listen all that time ago we would now be well on the way to fixing things. But New Zealanders - apart from the thousand or so who filled the Epsom Girls Grammar School hall to hear his cautionary words - have a record of profound deafness when it come to doing anything about the realities of the impending global disaster.
McKibben, in deciding where his energies could best be spent on his Do the Math world tour, would have based his decision to come here on the following:
Our emissions record since 1990 has been one of the worst of developed countries.
We remain the only developed country not to have entered into a binding agreement for a 2020 reduction target.
Our government has rejected an obligation to reduce emissions in the Kyoto-2 commitment period (2013-2020), cutting itself off from access to Kyoto-compliant carbon units.
Our projected gross emissions for 2020 and 2030 show a continued increase that will no longer be adequately offset by forestry sequestration. Massive plantings 20 years ago will be harvested in about 2020, transforming that industry from a sink into a source.
It's only thanks to the sequestration provided by those commercial plantations that we met our target for Kyoto's first commitment period of 2008-2012. In fact our gross emissions have increased about 22 per cent since 1990 - the base-line date from which reductions are calculated.
The shame of these figures becomes apparent when compared with the efforts of our Western friends. The UK has legislated for cuts of 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. Norway's target is 20 per cent by 2020. The European Union has committed to 20 per cent by 2020 and 80-95 per cent by 2050.
How will they do it? For a start, they have put a price on carbon, making it a tradeable commodity. But that's a market we've shut ourselves out of because of our refusal to enter a second Kyoto commitment period. The Green Party's position paper for last week's conference "Meeting the Challenge: a strategy for a New Zealand Climate Policy" makes this prediction: "Exclusion from the Kyoto carbon market thereafter will require that New Zealand attain its future targets entirely through net domestic emission reductions ... this is simply impossible."
But we can't give up! The consequences are too terrible. There are things we can do, many of which are working in Europe. The most important of these will require legislators to put politics aside and work together to make climate policies the main driver of our economic management.
We mustn't be complacent about the 70 per cent of electricity that comes from hydro plants. All electricity should come from renewable sources. Conservation should be part of the strategy, starting with a government subsidy for solar water heating panels on all new homes.
Public transport must have funding priority over motorways, especially in the sprawl of Auckland. We need to increase the numbers of electric cars on the roads and make provision for safer cycling.
The issue of biofuels is contentious but we have hardly explored the potential for producing it from wood waste and by growing the appropriate crops on marginal land.
We have to rethink how we transport goods, reverting to coastal shipping and ensuring the efficiency of rail.
Many economic priorities will need reversing: it's strange we can't afford a carbon tax but somehow we have $12 billion to spend on motorways.
We mustn't spend anything on exploration for fossil fuels - this track is worse than short-sighted, it is a literal dead end. We now know there is more of the stuff in the ground or beneath the sea than we believed in those "carless" days of the early 1970s - reserves worldwide of about 2795 gigatonnes according to McKibben, which, if burnt, would make parts of the world 6C hotter and result in the submergence of our Pacific Island neighbours.
We need urgently to reduce the power of the world's enormously wealthy fossil fuel companies by ceasing to invest in them and directing our funds towards research into renewable energy sources and economic activities that are genuinely sustainable.
Fifteen years is like a blink but we can't let the odds stop us trying.
Pat Baskett is an Auckland writer.