by Kennedy Graham
A black milestone in climate change history was reached over the weekend. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the key ingredient in global warming, hit 400 parts per million of the air in our atmosphere, up from 280 ppm in the mid-18th century when the Industrial Revolution kicked in. Internationally, we are rushing headlong towards disaster – 450 ppm being generally regarded as the threshold of ‘dangerous’ climate change.
Al Gore had this to say about the milestone: “.… every single day we pour an additional 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the sky as if it were an open sewer. As the distinguished climate scientist Jim Hansen has calculated, the accumulated manmade global warming pollution in the atmosphere now traps enough extra heat energy each day to equal the energy that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-scale atomic bombs exploding every single day.”
Inaction is not feasible when you consider how many populations will have to move from their homelands, the devastation that will increasing be wrought by floods and the loss inflicted by more frequent, more intense droughts. Food, water and land are all at risk. It doesn’t get a lot more fundamental than this.
Global awareness is growing. Most countries are attempting to rein in their emissions and head towards more sustainable energy sources.
Meanwhile, downunder, the National Government has taken almost every retrograde step that could be done.
Labour implemented an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which aimed at slowly including polluting industries so they paid for the damage they did and there would be an incentive to change. Under National the brakes went on. Subsidies to polluters have continued while sectors such as agriculture are still able to operate with no cost for the damage they cause.
Internationally New Zealand has recently become a climate change pariah. From being a ‘global leader’, we are now the country handed Fossil Fuel awards at UN meetings. National has decided New Zealand will take a different, easier, path from other developed countries by not signing up to future binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. New Zealand is the only developed country not to enter a formal pledge to reduce emissions by 2020. And our emissions are going up. New Zealand is not doing its fair share on climate change, it’s freeloading and hoping the rest of the world will do the heavy-lifting.
This laggard attitude actually means we are missing opportunities. Opportunities to take the lead on green tech, and do our ‘fair share’ to protect the vulnerable from climate change, especially in the Pacific.
This black milestone could have a silver lining for a Government willing to face up to the challenges.
Ralf Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has continued the Keeling Curve his father pioneered, monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from Mauna Loa. He says 400 ppm was a done deal but there’s still hope: “What happens from here on still matters to climate, and it’s still under our control. It mainly comes down to how much we continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy.”
And Al Gore, much maligned yet still committed, says everyone needs to work to stop climate change: “Make no mistake, this crisis will demand no less than our very best. I am optimistic because we have risen to meet the greatest challenges of our past.”
He urges us all to mark this milestone with a commitment to change: “Rededicate yourself to the task of saving our future. Talk to your neighbours, call your legislator, let your voice be heard. We must take immediate action to solve this crisis. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. Now.”
The Green Party will continue to pressure the National Government to act on climate change. New Zealanders want to do their fair share. It’s time we started doing it.