It is too late to reverse climate change. It will be changing for a long time to come. All we can do is slow it down.
If we act that is and that is where the problem lies. We still think that the economy is more important than the climate and the environment. However, without a good climate and a healthy environment, we will not have a future or an economy as we know it.
We are spending lots of money to get communities affected by the recent cyclones functioning again and rightly so. However, this means that less is available to work on the prevention of future climate disasters. Managed retreat (moving away from coastal areas and those at risk of flooding) is only one thing to do. It will not reduce the worsening of our climate.
Our current political and economic systems, being adversarial rather than co-operative, are not suitable to solve these problems and I fear things will get much worse before they get better.
The web of life is even more important than the changing climate. The myriad number of links in this web are essential to keep it going. Due to our encroachment and interferences with it we are breaking many of those links and when too many are broken the web will collapse. The changing climate makes this worse as many species will not be able to adapt or do so fast enough.
Alpine species are likely to go extinct as there is no place to move up to when warm-tolerant species move into their space. Similarly, in our rivers and streams; not all species will be able to move upstream when salt water moves in. There is also the problem of siltation and mud clouding the waters in streams, due to larger and more frequent landslides.
Repeated deforestation, as is the rule with pine plantations, is one of the main culprits. Most native species do not cope with silt and muddy water and many of our native fresh-water fish are already at risk of extinction. The moving around the world of plants and animals, deliberately or not, is also having an enormous impact on our native species. Who is going to care about those when we keep on having climate disasters to fix?
Locally I have seen plants such as tulip magnolia and red hot pokers flower in summer, whereas they usually flower in winter and spring. Over millennia plants and pollinators (bugs, lizards, birds) have evolved to be available for each other at a particular time of the year.
The changing weather is making plants flower at other than their usual times when no pollinators may be available, so no seed is produced. This is not an issue for magnolias, which are propagated without seed by nurseries, and red hot pokers, which are weedy already, but it could have major impacts on orchards and market gardens, which are dependent on bees for pollination, and on our native species.
Most of our native plants will not be helped by nurseries or species recovery projects and could go extinct. We could end up with mostly pest plants and animals. A new balance would eventually emerge, but it would take many centuries.
You may see a few loops in this reasoning and that is because everything is connected.
Here are some things you can start doing today:
• Start biking, walking and taking public or shared transport. Avoid flying.
• Eat lower on the food chain, ie, plants.
• Eat pest animals to protect our natives.
• Reduce energy use.
• Buy less: all production, packaging and transport affects the climate.
• Practise the five Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle.
• Share what you have. Inequality might be good for the economy, but it is not good for the climate or our happiness. Co-operation is what we need.
For more: check 350.org.nz, and the books Climate Aotearoa – What’s happening & what we can do about it. (2021, various authors) and Requiem for a Species – Why we resist the truth about climate change. (2010) by Clive Hamilton.
Lyneke Onderwater was told she was “strange” when she started to bring up environmental issues in the 1970s. She is pleased that this has now changed somewhat.