This is a response to an article in the NZ Herald on the 30th Dec 2017 by John Roughan titled ‘Year of extreme weather was not too bad’.
Dear Mr. Roughan,
It seems that you have not been following the climate change issue too closely. This puts you in good company here in New Zealand. I felt that the problem was so under-reported in this country that I elected to study it myself: reporting on my findings and sharing them. I became an amateur blogger and podcaster.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have a profession of my own, and I would take a pretty dim view of anyone without experience jumping in and expecting it to be easy. Articles like yours certainly encourage me, however. Typos and grammar aside, your piece entitled ‘Year of extreme weather was not too bad’ was so entirely devoid of useful content that would be hard for me to do worse. Your attempt to convince the reader not to worry about climate change provided no references and included uninformed observations that would normally make me question your credentials. You appear to have been writing for the Herald for some time, so I can see they are quite sound.
The issue of Global Warming celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. You’ve been writing for longer than this and yet seem to know close to nothing about the subject. I suggest you give Professor James Renwick a call. He is a climate scientist at Victoria University and is the person most likely to appear in the media when a specialist on this subject is sought. I found him to be generous with his time and he is superb at providing the information in an easily digestible format.
Before you do, you might even read a book on the subject. James recommends ‘The Sixth Extinction’ by Elizabeth Kolbert, and I recommend Naomi Klein’s ‘This changes everything.’ Another you might consider, if you prefer to save time, is the New Yorker article ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ by David Wallace Wells.
All of these provide views of the global warming situation that are so unrelentingly grim that you may prefer to assume they are the rantings of extremists. You would not be alone in taking such a view. James Renwick does not. He confirmed that Klein, Wells, and Kolbert are pretty much on the money.
The fact is, after thirty years of massive increases in carbon emissions around the world, the situation has progressed from alarming to dire. If you press them, many in this field will tell you that there’s not much chance for us as a species. They are pretty sick of being labeled ‘scaremongers,’ and many have reverted to pretty dark humor. Since the oil companies fessed up, many sceptics have started down the stages of grief. You appear to be entering the bargaining phase.
Now let’s talk about the specifics of your article. Yes for the most part people in this country are enjoying a warmer summer this year. You rightly note that there were some floods this year and that we expect to see some sea level rise. You tell us that from what you have read a sea level rise of 53-97cm by next century are the worst we can expect to see here if we do nothing. I’d love to know where you obtained that information. A search on your paper’s site for the words ‘coastal report’ provides 2960 results, many of which refer to Coastal Hazards and Climate Change guidance 2017 document buried by the previous Minister for Climate Change Issues. Here are some articles from a paper I prefer to the Herald:
You’ll see there that the posts have moved. Currently, 0.5m is the baseline: the least we can expect this century no matter what. We could now anticipate 2m of sea level rise in this century if the Antarctica shelves start to collapse. Since this report appeared, it seems that this is what they are doing.
It turns out that up to 3.35m of sea level rise could be caused by the melting Antarctic ice alone. More will occur due to thermal expansion: where water occupies more volume as it heats. The oceans have been much warmer lately. Even the Herald has reported on the recent marine heat wave. Nature has a scientific report on this event that states that ‘it was very likely to be (>90%) and virtually certain (>99%) that anthropogenic climate change increased the likelihood of an event of this intensity in the 1982–2005 and 2006–2020 periods, respectively’.
You also noted, somewhat bizarrely, that the weather was ‘not too bad’ in 2017. Perhaps it wasn’t in New Zealand if you ignore Whanganui and Edgecumbe, anyone affected by the Port Hills fires, or slips (1000 in Wellington alone), or the farmers who had an unusually wet season (search for ‘Wet Season 2017’ in NZ Herald’s site – 2270 results).
I know what you’re about to say – that wildfires and wet seasons are local anomalies and probably have nothing to do with climate change. I only mentioned them first because you seem to be unaware of the extraordinary wildfires and wet seasons across the world in 2017.
You probably did hear about the 2017 hurricanes: two category fives, two category fours, and two category threes. Intense hurricanes happen every three years on average, but their intensity is increased: due to rising ocean temperatures they can carry more water.
I would like you to reflect on this last point. We are currently at just over 1C of global warming. The Paris Accord was intended to keep below 2C and would only work if all the participants keep their commitments. We never came close in NZ and failed to include our biggest emitters anyway. Many of the most significant emitters, the USA, Russia, and China are miles away from keeping to theirs, so there’s just no hope of staying within 2C. Once we sail beyond that seriously catastrophic changes can be expected. We are enjoying this pleasant summer in much the same way someone falling from a precipice might enjoy the view.
You might try attending the Pacific Climate Change Conference this coming February in Wellington. This will provide you a terrific opportunity to catch up on the subject. I hope you do. I believe that the most verbal climate change naysayers are the very people that could make the greatest difference soon while we try to stave off the worst of the worst. If, before you disappear into the background as most of them do, you could come out and announce to your audience that you have discovered that you were wrong, you might change opinions where nobody else could. You could make a valuable, lasting contribution to this problem.
Either way, you will be remembered. We in New Zealand have access to some of the best people in the field. Talk to them and think about your legacy.