We have just seen the announcement from the Australian Government that it wants to spend $500 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the impacts of warming waters and ocean acidification.

Environmental groups have dubbed this a tokenistic pledge - little more than a nice gesture. They argue that to solve the problem there needs to be a commitment from the Australian Government to end coal mining. These stories about economy and jobs vs environment aren't new, we've heard them time and time again throughout the world.

Here's the thing though, those who argue for economic stability and job security through extraction on non-renewable resources struggle to see this as an indicator of a bigger problem. Unsustainable use of the planet. Already parts of the world have seen severe - 30 per cent of coral - mass bleaching affecting reefs.

Here in New Zealand, we also see biodiversity and ecosystems under threat. The recent Our Land 2018 report from the Ministry for the Environment reminds us that many of our species continue to decline and we see concerns in quantity and quality of soil. As a nation that depends heavily on primary industries - agriculture, horticulture and fisheries - there is reason to be concerned. Increased flooding from sea level rise, sediment runoff, degrading soil and biodiversity loss lowers system performance. This has direct impacts on crops and stock affecting food security and our economy.


Recently, comments have suggested we may not react to climate change until we have an economic driver. But we are already paying for this as taxpayers.

We are subsidising carbon pollution and environmental degradation and these organisations continue to make profits at our expense. At the moment, the responsibility is not weighted evenly. The argument that the companies will be crippled if they had to pay the sum cost of their environmental impact is a cop out. Naturally, putting a price on carbon is complex. But allowing the taxpayer to subsidise polluters is clearly a flawed model too.

Perhaps putting a price or environmental health index on the state of our ocean, atmosphere, soils and ecosystems will improve the way we value these natural resources.
There is no silver bullet, this will take a number of tools and mechanisms to resolve. The question remains when? When will it be time to be more ambitious, time to safeguard the future, time to develop a plan where we see improvements in our natural resources.

In New Zealand, we have a deep connection with nature. But it's largely an emotional connection rather than a sense of responsibility. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn't make the announcement to end oil and gas exploration because it was the popular thing to do. You could perhaps say she did it because it was the right thing to do. Others may have delayed the inevitable. But how can we define what is right and what isn't?

Where do we draw the line? Racism, sexism, intergenerational equity or environmental issues, everyone has an opinion on these things and voters determine what is or isn't acceptable. Interestingly, in private politicians often say something is a good idea, but they will never commit to the concept or problem in public because they risk losing public support. You could argue this reflects poor leadership – an unwillingness to make the hard or important decisions.

So, we need solutions, the biggest solution for us all is to overcome fear of change, to embrace it.

Many people feel like these problems are too big or too hard for them to make a difference. To make a difference our day to day habits just need a little tweaking. This is not some dramatic change in our lives though. For the most part we don't have to give anything up or change our lifestyle. Here are eight simple things you can do to play your part every day.

1. Quit plastic (use reusable bags, refuse plastic straws and bags, don't buy plastic gimmicks).
2. Buy local, fresh and in season (the further the food has travelled or been stored, the more carbon it used to arrive in the supermarket).
3. Reduce food waste (food produces about 17 per cent of your total emissions profile).
4. Reduce meat and dairy consumption (it's healthier and agriculture is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions).
5. Embrace public transport, bike or get an electric vehicle.
6. Plant a tree (trees are the best technology we have that can offset carbon emissions).
7. Talk about climate and environmental issues (we need to be having these conversations all the time).
8. Donate to environmental organisations (the environment represents less than 3 per cent of donations to charities).


Regardless of your actions, by 2050, the world is going to be very different. We get to define that future.

But by changing your habits - with no significant change in your life - you can be part of the solution that puts us all on track to a world that long-term will cost us far less. The plan to become carbon neutral in New Zealand has begun. But some clear targets along the way are required.

We are all part of the problem, so let's all work together to be part of the solution.

Jacob Anderson is the programme manager at the Sir Peter Blake Trust and is a geologist undertaking his PhD at the University of Otago. His research focuses on past Antarctic climate and ice sheet behaviour.