Upping the Game Against Deniers

Editor’s note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


It’s great to see the climate change skeptics gearing up for the COP 21 in Paris at the end of the month. They have arrived on cue with all the old tricks along with some new ones.

They’re still taking their advice from the inter-web advice trolls, the most popular remaining: ‘the climate has always changed.’ Tick.

Next up: cherry-picking data to show individual data points instead of long-term trends. Tick.

Alas, a new one: selecting old headlines about climate change that have not come to pass. Clever, our dear Chronicle letter writers, but researching the headlines was surely not your own work. Could you please include the website you got them from? A five second Google search leads me to believe it was climatedepot.com.

And then there is: those who believe the 98% of professional climate scientists and believe the mountains of data and peer-reviewed research are simply prone to living in fear and only seek to make others join them.

On this final tactic, I believe it’s callous toward thousands of New Zealand farmers who are experiencing the effects of increasingly frequent extreme weather events that impact the economic viability of their operations. Combined with volatile meat and dairy prices and high debt levels, is it any wonder that depression and suicide are major issues in rural New Zealand? Many farmers do live in fear of extended drought or devastating flooding and slips, as they could lead to foreclosure and loss of one’s life’s work.

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But I digress. The point I wanted to make is that those with a radical bent to deny the best available science will grasp at anything and everything to sway public opinion. They’re very good at it, and as a result the scientific community and the environmental movement need to be extremely careful about what we put out there.

Quality matters a lot, and this is where the sustainability movement often fails itself – by allowing and even supporting low-quality work in the public sphere. The attitude appears to be that doing anything is better than doing nothing. I disagree. In many cases well-intentioned by misdirected efforts can do more harm than good. Those in the international aid field know this all too well!

And so it is with caution and a critical eye that I view new initiatives, especially those coming from government sources. On the other side of the coin, you may imagine the delight of discovering initiatives that are both robust and courageous, such as the Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration:

We have come together, as a group of Mayors representing local government from across New Zealand to:

  1. acknowledge the importance and urgent need to address climate change for the benefit of current and future generations;
  2. give our support to the New Zealand Government for developing and implementing, in collaboration with councils, communities and businesses, an ambitious transition plan toward a low carbon and resilient New Zealand;
  3. encourage Government to be more ambitious with climate change mitigation measures;
  4. outline key commitments our councils will take in responding to the opportunities and risks posed by climate change; and
  5. recommend important guiding principles for responding to climate change.

We ask that the New Zealand Government make it a priority to develop and implement an ambitious transition plan for a low carbon and resilient New Zealand. We stress the benefits of early action to moderate the costs of adaptation to our communities. We are all too aware of challenges we face shoring up infrastructure and managing insurance costs. These are serious financial considerations for councils and their communities.

To underpin this plan, we ask that a holistic economic assessment is undertaken of New Zealand’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and of the opportunities and benefits for responding. We believe that New Zealand has much at stake and much to gain by adopting strong leadership on climate change and ambitious emission reduction targets at the UNCOP meeting in Paris in December.

Some smart and dedicated people drafted this document that includes seven guiding principles: Precaution; Stewardship/Kaitiakitanga; Equity/Justice; Anticipation; Understanding; Co-operation; and, Resilience. Spot on.

The full declaration can be viewed here: http://www.lgnz.co.nz/assets/Mayors-Climate-Change-Declaration.pdf



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