In a small community on the shores of Lake Ōhau, fire has reduced most of the houses to ash.
Queenstown-based climate scientist Jim Salinger said Otago's fire season is now prolonged and pronounced because of climate change. Across the globe, fires rage through forests and towns, hurricanes hurl themselves at coastal communities, and floods deluge already sodden spaces.
Climate chaos is here and getting worse. We are all facing unprecedented challenges and uncertain futures. Given the situation, it is profoundly irresponsible that the NZ mining industry planned an annual conference in Hamilton this week.
The NZ Minerals Forum is hosted by the mining lobby organisation Straterra, representing the biggest coal miners, gold diggers, iron sand trawlers and rare earth metal prospectors in New Zealand.
Straterra is pushing the line that mining can contribute to a low-carbon economy - but the forum focus on coal mining completely contradicts that, because mining and burning coal is the single largest contributor to the climate chaos we see all around us.
The major sponsor of the conference is New Zealand's largest coal mining company, Bathurst Resources Limited, which plans to expand its operations and notes that it has "permits over 15,000ha on the Buller coalfield" along with its existing mining operations in the North and South Islands.
Meanwhile, NZ Coal and Carbon is a conference attendee that proudly claims: "With coal resources to last more than 100 years and other coal-related opportunities, such as coal seam gas (CSG), we are well placed for continued development and future growth."
Leading climate scientist James Hansen of Nasa and Columbia University says that if we are to stabilise the climate at a safe level, the world needs to phase out coal burning to zero by 2030.
Yet coal mining companies want to continue business-as-usual well into the next century.
It is clear that we cannot rely on the government to ensure the view of science prevails.
Rather than tackling the end of coal mining and developing a plan for a just transition with those working in the mining sector, the government has largely given a "pass" to the industry to continue its climate destruction. As an example, dairy and steel - the largest users of coal in the country - are given generous exemptions from the Emissions Trading Scheme.
These lavish exemptions have enabled Bathurst Resources to keep itself afloat by selling coal to Fonterra to use in its massive milk-drying plants.
Straterra, Bathurst Resources, and the rest of the mining lobby aim to delay the end of fossil fuels as long as possible and avoid paying the price of their actions.
The Minerals Forum appears to be all about image management and public perception, not changes to mining's actual practices or impact.
Surveys and polls repeatedly confirm New Zealanders are extremely concerned about
climate change. Given that coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel, a conference promoting coal mining in the midst of a climate crisis is unacceptable.
Climate change is only one of the issues plaguing modern coal mining. Mining and burning coal causes irreparable damage to surface waters, native bush, indigenous flora and fauna, agricultural land and to people's health.
Bathurst has repeatedly breached resource consent conditions for its Coalgate mine in Canterbury. Coal Action Network Aotearoa, an organisation of climate activists who work to end coal mining and use in New Zealand, have pointed out: "Over the three years from 2017-2020, Bathurst has been fined a total of around $38,000 for allowing runoff to flow into a local stream 28 times, a stream that is home to a nationally threatened species, the Canterbury mudfish... Bathurst's ongoing and extensive breaches of its consents [was] described by a judge as a 'systemic failure to comply'."
We are fast running out of time to meaningfully address climate change and the other devastating impacts of mining on freshwater and ecosystems. We have an obligation to build a just transition that means taking care of the people in the jobs and industries that must come to an end as well as taking care of people and communities.
We don't have any more time to burn coal. We have a window that is closing on our future, and it is time that we stand up to make sure that science and the public good prevail.
The people who planned to peacefully blockade the mining conference need to disrupt and delay this industry because, unless it is stopped, there won't be a future for any of us to debate.
• Tim Jones is a writer, climate change activist, and member of Coal Action Network Aotearoa.