Weather and climate researcher James Renwick confesses to three of the deadly sins
I am guessing you chose gluttony because of the natural resources that we are gobbling through?
Yes, Earth has been treated as an infinite resource and we have gorged ourselves on it and for a lot of people, it's been great, it's led to an absolute boom in the global economy. On average it's been great news for most people, but it's come at a cost and we are starting to see that.
It feels like there has been a major shift in 2019 in the way the average person looks at climate change. Would you agree?
I certainly hope so. The level of public activism is way more than it was even a couple of years ago. It's not all about Greta Thunberg but she had a large part to play in mobilising schoolkids. We are seeing climate change happening before our eyes. Every week we are hearing about these unprecedented weather events or fires and that is alarming the average person.
You suggest that if we could see our emissions, as a purple haze, for instance, we would behave differently. But when you go to LA, you can see the dirty brown haze and it doesn't make any difference.
Maybe it's wishful thinking, people live with all sorts of conditions around them. But I do think if the gases that were causing the problem were visible or we could smell them or sense them somehow, that would bring about different thinking in society generally. If it was global and everyone was affected, I think it would be different, but who knows, we have a great ability to rationalise everything.
Is that why you chose sloth, because we are not taking enough action, quickly enough?
That was part of it and I'm no different than anyone else. I'm a procrastinator, very good at finding excuses for doing what I know I should. It's a part of human nature, I think, that none of us want to think we have to change the way we live our lives because any kind of change can be unsettling and scary. So we all naturally want to drag our heels. Being slothful now has consequences for many generations into the future. That is different from any other social or political problems I can think of, that no matter how bad they are they can usually be sorted out in a matter of years. It's outside our experience.
For ordinary people who understand and accept the problem, want to do something, but feel like it's too big -- what would you suggest?
You can make sure your house is really well insulated, make sure you have solar panels on the roof, but you can also be a bit more thoughtful about travel, use the bus a bit more than the car, fly less. It's a bit like saying, "I don't use plastic straws anymore" or "I don't use plastic bags"- it might seem small but it is actually empowering. People can change their day-to-day lives and every bit helps so I totally endorse that kind of approach. The other thing is going on a march to Parliament, making noise, making it normal to talk about climate change and solutions and what we need to do.
What is your response to people who continue to deny that climate change is happening or that it is a human-created problem?
There are some people who genuinely believe that the science is wrong - that's a pretty amazingly arrogant attitude when you realise how many scientists over how many decades and centuries have worked on this problem. To say, "Well I know better than you" is pretty breathtaking. There are people who love a conspiracy theory, [and suggest] that scientists like me are part of some socialist conspiracy to take over the world. And then there are people whose job it is to [deny climate change] and this is pretty well documented. Even in New Zealand, there are individuals who are paid by oil companies to say these types of things.
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Is that where the wrath comes in, James?
What I was thinking of there was more the Earth itself. We will experience more and more extreme events that will impact food production and cause a lot of damage to property and to economies around the world. You could see that as the wrath of Gaia. Obviously the Earth is not out to get us, we just happen to have set up our system to get the most from the climate we have had for several thousand years and now we have to change all that. If we don't then we are really going to get it in the neck. The Earth will carry on doing its thing but we will no longer be well adapted and we will pay a price for that. We already are to a certain extent.
*James Renwick is appearing at the Tauranga Arts Festival (October 24-November 3).