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  • Jo Wills

It's all about people

On Friday 1st April I attended a Climate Change Speakers Forum in Tauranga organised by Envirohub. The event began with a short Al Gore presentation by Michelle Elborn from Tauranga City Council, followed with a screening of Chasing Ice, a documentary about the retreating glaciers around the world, specifically Iceland and Alaska. It was such a powerful and haunting visual representation of the rapid transformation our planet is going through with magnificent and ancient glaciers shrinking, retreating and collapsing into the ocean. When pieces fall off it’s called calving, and this is a natural process. The alarming thing is that now, in some cases the glaciers are shrinking, retreating and collapsing at such an intense rate, what has in the past taken 100 years, is now taking 10 years. The balance between the ‘warm’ and the ‘cold’ has tipped, and the climate change we are experiencing now is quite literally changing the ecosystems we rely on for our own existence.

It can sometimes be difficult to fully grasp the severity of this, especially when in NZ, for many of us, an increase in temperature is welcomed. We love the sun, we rejoice in a hot summer…and for most of us, we are not at risk of losing our homes and our livelihoods to sea level rise. But the devastation from sea level rise as well as flooding, tornadoes, drought and other natural disasters we have either experienced first-hand or see on our TV screens are all too real and unless a lot happens to reduce our C0² emissions on a global scale, they are going to get worse and more frequent.

The world we live in is a system, when we drastically change one thing i.e. temperature, we have to expect consequences.

None of this is new. I didn’t attend the forum to learn what climate change was (although I always learn every time I attend anything like this), and I imagine many of the other people in the ‘sold out audience’ were the same. We know this is real, we know what’s causing it, and the only people arguing it are those who are making millions of dollars from contributing to the problem, i.e. fossil fuels.

The real question is how do we stop it? Or more to the point, what do we need to do to stop temperatures rising past that ‘canary in the mine’ figure of 2°C. The outcome of Paris COP21 (which NZ has agreed to), was that we should be striving for a global average temperature rise of no more than 1.5°C. The problem being we have already surpassed this (globally). The NZ government’s actual response to this has been lacking in integrity and urgency to say the least and we have a very poor performance in C0² emissions when compared to the rest of our all-important trading partners. NZ is going to reach its targets by buying carbon credits.

It’s easy to get carried away with what’s wrong and what’s not working, and how bad the situation is, (and it is pretty bad). But, the second part of the forum I attended included a panel of speakers each who had 7mins to share their thoughts on climate change. It was an impressive line-up; Professor James Renwick - Professor of Physical Geography of the School of Geography, Environment & Earth Sciences, Victoria University, Professor Ralph Sims – Professor of Sustainable Energy at Massey University and Director of the Centre for Energy Research, Chris Karamea Insley – an expert of climate change policy development (too many qualifications to list), Rod Oram – (my personal hero and someone I am so proud to call an acquaintance) 40 years’ experience as an international business journalist, with Kate Frykberg as the facilitator, Kate has an extremely impressive bio of involvement in philanthropy and the community sector, also a former Business Woman of the Year and a recipient of the NZ Order of merit for services to business and community. I have been lucky enough to work with Kate as well. Needless to say we were in good hands.

All of the panelists are connected to this issue globally as well as being a solid selection from NZ’s finest authorities on what’s actually happening from a scientific, economic and social perspective. These are the people we should be listening to on climate change, and it was a brilliant opportunity to do so through this exceptionally well organised and delivered forum.

So each of the panel had 7mins to share their wisdom and knowledge with us about climate change and then the audience had time to ask questions. And I have to say, not only was the caliber of the speakers outstanding, but from the types of questions the audience answered, we were a pretty switched on bunch as well. There is one question and the subsequent answers I want to share, because it really struck me as being a very powerful part of the answer to the question I raised earlier – what are we meant to do about climate change.

The question was this: to all panelists, if you became the ‘ruler’ of NZ tomorrow and had the chance to affect any change you wanted to overnight, what would be the first thing you would do to impact climate change. What a great question and the answers might surprise you.

Rod Oram grabbed the microphone and said; ‘I would make every NZ’er excited about the opportunities that exist for us all if we take action – who wouldn’t want reduced costs for electricity and travel?’ Chris Karamea Insley was up next, he agreed with Rod and said he would also raise the price on carbon, make it a cost to business so they had to address it and he also said, ‘make climate change an election issue’. Professor Ralph Sims agreed with Rod and Chris and added that he would get people to care about climate change and the impacts not just on our lives but on the lives of the global community. Professor James Renwick was the last to answer, and his response was largely, ‘I have not much more to add except that we needed to shift from a world where everything has a price and nothing a value, to where we value our resources’. What a deeply insightful and compassionate bunch.

This is the type of leadership I respond to.

No one mentioned specific ‘silver bullet’ technologies although throughout the seminar technology was discussed as having a major role, and that is obvious, but the thing I found really powerful was the each of them focused on the same thing as being the first thing they would do - get people to care.

It makes perfect sense, if you care about something enough, you take action, if you don’t, you won’t. But in many cases, people don’t always know why they need to care, its such big picture stuff. We all can so easily get wrapped up in our lives and the important things like paying the bills, upgrading the car, raising kids etc. so what’s happening to a particular species we have never seen or a community of people we will never meet, can sometimes just not seem important enough. Especially when we have people we should trust like the government telling us not to worry about it, as well as how important it is to continue our reliance on fossil fuels because it’s good and it will make us all richer.

After watching ancient glaciers crumble and fall into the sea, all that seems a little trivial. It’s symbolic of the ivory towers collapsing, because if we don’t make significant changes and quickly, those symbolic glaciers will be falling down all around us, even in NZ.

We just need people to care. We need people to care about the communities they will never meet and the species they will never see, because ultimately we all rely on exactly the same ecosystems for our survival.

This is a big part of what Sustainability Options has been set up to do, share our sustainability knowledge with communities so people have a reason to care, and when they can, make decisions that have long term and wide reaching benefits.

Thanks to Envirohub for putting on such a provocative and impactful forum. Here is more information about Chasing Ice

#ChasingIce #climatechange #meltingglaciers

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