Hurricane Harvey and the devastating floods in South Asia are reminders of the cost we pay for climate denial and inaction.

As we speak, floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal have killed far over 1,000 people and impacted an incomprehensible 41 million people.

And over in North America, Hurricane Harvey has painted a devastating picture for the residents of Houston, Texas.

The equivalent of half of Houston’s annual average rainfall has fallen in the last 48 hours; 80,000 households are without electricity; Houston emergency services have received almost 6,000 urgent appeals for rescues; 54 Texas counties have been declared state disaster areas; thousands of people are displaced or in shelters; five people have died.

And climate change is making it all worse.

While we cannot say definitively that climate change caused the South Asia flooding or Hurricane Harvey, science tells us with confidence that it has increased the impact of the flooding and heightened the intensity of the storm.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For many years, scientists have warned that our continued reliance on fossil fuels will lead to bigger and more devastating storms.

Floods in Thailand
Floods in Thailand, 2011

It’s also abundantly clear that third world countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal, are on the frontlines and vulnerable to extreme weather events heightened by climate change. Texas, as part of the Gulf region, has seen this kind of event before, and is also in a vulnerable position.

Houston in particular — with its slate of oil, gas, and chemical refineries owned by companies like Exxon and Shell — faces the additional risk of toxic petrochemical chemical spills into nearby communities.

When climate-fueled disasters like these strike, those standing in the way of climate action must answer to the victims.

That means we’re looking at you, Bill English. This week, the New Zealand Prime Minister told RNZ he doesn’t think climate change is something that’s important to Kiwis. What he really means is it’s not something that’s important to him. In the past he’s been lukewarm about whether or not climate change is actually being driven by humans despite scientific consensus, and he’s even on the record as saying that climate change is a policy for “the political elite”. But, as one school principal has just pointed out, tell that to the kids on the West Coast, where rising sea levels is a daily reality. Or the victims of the Edgecumbe floods. Or those affected by major droughts in Northland.

Then there are the oil companies, propped up by English’s Government, that are driving climate change. Most recently, Norwegian oil giant Statoil has been searching the deep seas off our East Coast for the oil that we can’t afford to burn if we have a chance at avoiding a climate catastrophe. In April, we took action against them, and Greenpeace swimmers put themselves in the water in front of Statoil’s 125-metre seismic oil ship, stopping it from blasting. We’re now being prosecuted by the Government and face massive fines and jail time. The worst part is that our Government knows that Statoil is searching for is the oil that would push us closer to the brink of climate catastrophe. They know and yet they continue to protect them.

There’s also the leadership of New Zealand’s biggest polluter, agriculture, who continue to have toddler-tantrums, rant, rave and finger point, instead of taking responsibility and working alongside the brilliant farmers who are already being impacted by climate change and who doing their bit to adapt their farming methods. We’re looking at you, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Fonterra.

The thing about climate change is that it’s not just a New Zealand problem, or a South Asia problem, or Houston problem. It’s all of our problem.

The effects of climate change are global, they’re indiscriminate, and they’re getting worse. It’s the duty of leaders everywhere, including New Zealand, to stand up and take responsibility.


Hurricane Harvey aftermath

Greenpeace has put together a list of 11 things our political leaders could do right now if they were serious about climate change. Check it out and share it!

You can also help by putting pressure on your local leaders to do that right thing. We’ve set up a group called ‘The Two Big Questions, NZ Election 2017’, which connects people up and down the country with electoral candidates and meetings.

Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time and it’s going to take an all-government and all-society approach to tackle it. We all need to be in, or we’re out.

By closing the doors on dirty energy and polluting agriculture we can compel innovations that can herald an invigorated and more just economy, and a cleaner, more resilient way of living on this earth.