This year, a big meeting is happening in Paris, where countries will be deciding on the action they are taking to tackle climate change after the year 2020.
You have until the 3rd of June - next week - to tell the Ministry for the Environment what you think about this. You can do this right now by following this link here, watch the video below and read on for my take on a controversial topic that I have been reluctant to broach in the past.
But is it real?
There are always deniers to anything. I have been told, for example, that it is a bad idea to keep the beach clean of rubbish and when big money is at stake someone will always pay for phony research to try help their cause, but when it comes to the overwhelming majority of independent science, it is "irrefutable" as the President of the United States said recently.
The language has changed from "is this happening?" to "when will this happen?".
One leading Kiwi scientist whom I met recently - Professor Timothy Naish - explained some very disturbing facts about the fragility of the West Antarctica Ice sheet melts and says in the One Ocean Report, that it is possible that one to three metres of sea level rise may now be unstoppable because of the effect of warming the ocean.
Our government seems to be taking this issue seriously in their preparation for the Paris event. See the video below and their discussion document, which also has a language that broadly accepts climate change:
Explaining a global problem
Basically, the world has agreed that we can't let the temperature rise more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels or we are all essentially screwed.
The International Panel on Climate Change (essentially the top climate scientists in the world) say that to have a good chance of stopping this, we the world can release no more than a total of 2900 billion tonnes of CO2. The big problem is that we had already used up two-thirds of this "budget" by 2011.
For a long time, the idea of 'peak oil' made everyone think it didn't matter how much of the stuff we burned. But because of 'fracking' (something I have written about before) oil production and indeed, exploration, is on the rise. The OECD reports that listed companies alone spent USD674 billion in 2012 on finding and developing new sources of oil and gas and this doesn't even include giant state-owned operators such as the Russian and Brazilian outfits.
It seems counter-intuitive that we are trying to reduce carbon emissions but increase oil production at the same time. Over 12 per cent of New Zealand's marine environment is open to oil exploration while only 0.5 per cent is in protected marine reserves.
So, how is this mess ever going to get better?
It is not quite as simple as saying - 'hey everyone, put a solar panel on your roof and bike to work' when people are struggling to afford to feed their kids and many of our jobs are centered around housing bubbles that new entrants have about as much chance of getting into as Campbell Live has of surviving on TV3.
It is clear that solutions like shifting to renewable energy, retiring farmland and upgrading public transport infrastructure is amazingly expensive. But what about the money that is wasted by governments? Could some of that not go to stopping climate change?
The big announcement this month was Barack Obama saying that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security. He warned that the "irreversible effects" of extreme weather and rising seas increase the risk of global instability and conflict. There is no doubt about the threats of disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, which cost about USD75 billion or 0.5 per cent of 2011 US GDP and floods, which the OECD expects to increase to over 50 billion dollars annually by 2050.
So the problems are huge and expensive while the solutions are also expensive, but if this is going to be a security threat, perhaps our old allies could look at the more than $640 billion dollars that they spend annually on their military and divert a chunk of that to renewable solutions?
In times of war this spend goes up astronomically - with recent wars in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan costing over $3.7 trillion, killing over 224,000 people (including over 125,000 civilians in Iraq), wounding 365,000 and displacing 7.8 million.
Predictably, Senator John Mcain, (who no doubt gets plenty of donations from businesses that don't want to reduce carbon emissions), thinks it is more important to kill extremists on the other side of the world who are deeply opposed to his ideologies and no doubt will continue to be if more US troops are sent over.
Iraqi friends of mine have told me that they wish there was never any oil in the ground there. That way Mr Mcain and his friends from the American National Rifle Association whose interests include selling guns that go like hot cakes during war, wouldn't be so interested and their country wouldn't be going through so much hardship.
I am going to put it out there by saying that the main underlying cause of the military action in the Middle East is because of oil and therefore it is directly relevant to climate change.
Our military spending is over $2.2 billion a year and even though New Zealand spends a much lower percentage of its budget on the military - could some of that money be put towards reducing the long term threat that is climate change?
But why is this relevant to me?
The classic excuse I have heard in the past is "China opens a new coal-fired electricity generation plant each week and everyone in the United States drives a V8 - why should I change."
New Zealand's net emissions went up by 111 per cent from 1990 - 2012 and continue to rise as we harvest forests that were planted in the early 90s after the Kyoto Protocol, while the US has only gone up by 7.6 per cent from 1990 - 2011.
We are actually doing much worse than them in terms of improving our situation.
In fact, from 2007 - 2013, the US reduced emissions by 10 per cent - the biggest total reduction by any country in the world. Whilst the main reason for this is that they have 'fracked' out vast amounts of shale gas locally, which is less carbon-intensive that the coal and oil it has replaced, they have also tripled wind production and delivered a ten-fold increase in solar production to get there, but Obama has vowed to go further, joining up with China on an exciting new partnership to decarbonise the global economy.
But sitting at home, trying to contemplate all of this, it needs to come back to why would you do something about it now? Sure, if we manage to get light rail around inner Auckland City you might take it one day, but what will persuade you to decarbonise your own life?
It is not just the global economic powers that will determine this - we are going to have to step up and support the policymakers with our actions and our opinion.
What can I do about it?
Transport is definitely one area that we can choose to make a change. It may mean getting up earlier to get on the bus, or sacrificing income to go towards infrastructure through taxes and rates, or it could mean getting on the bike.
But really, I think it is worth it to try and get on sustainable transport purely due to the fact that we are literally dying because of our poor transport choices. As I have said before, airborne illness has an annual social cost of $273 million to New Zealand and 700 Aucklanders die because of this a year. Our health system is paying for those who burn fuel while those who ride a bicycle suck in the fumes next to them.
Why don't we reveal the true cost by passing this on to the polluters? Wouldn't this reduction of an obvious subsidy be a proper free market approach that benefits the environment?
You could even take the money raised through levies on fossil fuels to put solar panels on the roofs of disadvantaged families so they can more easily afford to feed their kids as they have done in California.
Helpfully, the Ministry for the Environment has created three ways you can make a submission:
3. Write your own submission and send it to Climate Change Contribution Consultation, Ministry for the Environment, PO Box 10362, Wellington 6143 and include:
• the title of the consultation (Climate Change Contribution Consultation)
• your name or organisation name
• postal address
• telephone number
• email address.
Or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org as a:
• PDF, or
• Microsoft Word document (2003 or later version).
Submissions close at 5.00pm on Wednesday, June 3, 2015.
Debate on this article is now closed.