My daughter is in her first year of rowing and for the entire season has proudly gone by the rowing nomenclature of a "novice" as she navigates the early morning starts, calloused hands and long distances that more seasoned operators have all seen before.
One year in as National's Climate Change spokesperson and I can't help but see some similarities. I have encountered my fair share of challenging reports, alarming data, and global stage-struts. This is the story of my novice year.
The role was never one I sought. Coming from a rural background with career stints at both Zespri and Fonterra, climate change was never something I had considered in great detail. As our farmers and growers will appreciate, the climate serves up what it will, and our job was to make the best of it and produce something overseas markets would pay top dollar for.
"Climate change" was for academics and planners to wrestle with and if I'm honest, I privately mused that I'd be long gone before it happened or not anyway.
Initially, the only thing that changed was my inbox. Emails began arriving in their hundreds, equal parts "existential threater" and "climate sceptic", sprinkled with the occasional offerings of good luck or riddance. As I hit the road on a nationwide roadshow of more than 40 public meetings I found my newfound pen-pals were as passionate in person as they were in their Arial font size 12, often more so.
Reports, data, modelling and academic opinion flooded in at a scale that was astounding in volume and complexity. I decided early on I would not seek to become an expert but instead to reflect on how we, as an isolated export-reliant country, could play a part in what will be a century of economic change and climate adaptation across the globe.
As James Shaw and I sat down to negotiate a framework for the establishment of an independent climate commission, I strongly advocated for our National Party principles: allowing science to paint the picture, technology leading the way, pacing ourselves at the pace of our competitors, and being relentlessly honest about the economic implications of the transition.
Bi-partisanship is easier said than done, but as we have walked through our conversations in good faith, I am optimistic we can find common ground. While 2018 was spent developing a view on a framework for emissions reduction, we now need to quickly move to tackle the more difficult challenge of actually reducing emissions.
Most other countries reflecting on their own domestic commitments are confronted firstly with electricity generation, which is often fossil fuel dominated. That is their challenge of the next decade. Ours is harder, with electricity production already at 85 per cent renewable. We can continue to increase this, but as we approach 100 per cent renewable electricity, the last few per cent become very expensive and don't deliver significant emissions reductions.
We have to play our part, but only really have the levers of transport, industrial processing, and potentially agriculture (technology pending) to do the heavy lifting. Of course, we could plant more trees, but these take a long time to grow and the more farms you plant in pine, the more pain small-town New Zealand feels.
We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that ultimately it will be decisions made in Washington, Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi that determine the level of warming we will see over coming centuries.
The climate game is a global arm-wrestle mainly fought between the established economies demanding action, but not necessarily in their economies, and the developing countries who want eye-watering support for not doing what developed countries did for 150 years – using cheap fossil fuels to drive economic growth. We need to reduce our emissions in line with global partners while preparing to adapt to a changing climate as global efforts appear certain to fall short of what is required.
Year by year the conversations continue as the world meets at UN conferences. This is where the "climate strutting" is most evident. Tens of thousands of delegates are locked in rooms negotiating line by line the rules by which commitments will be assessed, tested and measured. The whole thing has the feel of a giant trade show with the latest research, data, and technology with intensely earnest NGOs everywhere you look demanding more action, and faster.
Solutions are coming into view but will take time to translate into action. Meanwhile, the climate clock keeps ticking, but maybe that's the point. Perhaps it always will, and we will just collectively learn to adapt to the sound. But hey, I'm just a novice. Perhaps it will all become clearer in my second year.
Todd Muller, MP for Bay of Plenty, is the National Party's spokesperson on climate change.