My granddaughter Isla was christened recently.
I stood by as she was blessed with prayers for her future, knowing her parents’ mix of pride and hope.
Instead I felt fear.
Fear for the world she would inherit. Fear she would never enjoy the opportunities I had. Fear her life may even be cut short.
The days before the christening had been spent at the Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference. It was a glum affair. Speaker after speaker took the podium with the news all is not well and, even more depressing, it’s not going to be.
Their message was clear: Without enormous cultural and social change the world we leave for our grandchildren will be governed by climate change on a destructive scale never seen before.
I don’t envy governments, including ours, who are now locked into setting standards for carbon emissions by 2014. It’s a complex balancing act. But I’m starting to feel it’s just too little, too late.
Doomsday scenarios are now being forecast by believers and sceptics alike. Acclaimed scientific journal New Scientist is predicting at least one metre sea level rise by 2100. Even the sceptics are saying we are looking at a two degrees global warming by the turn of the century. That is considered conservative by the brilliant futurist and commentator George Monbiot, who sees four degrees of warming and a three metre sea level rise.
Consensus is emerging and it is painting a grim picture. Our future world will be one of rising seas, dying reefs and diminishing food sources. And it is coming sooner than any of us predicted.
In that catastrophic setting there will be $600 billion worth of property destroyed and 100 million people displaced. As many as three billion people will suffer water shortages. It is global chaos at a level only the worst horror films depict. The ‘lifeboat’ states for displaced people will be Great Britain, Australia and yes, New Zealand.
Our country is likely to be colonised by a flood of climate refugees. They could one day come from anywhere in the world. But the immediate issue is right on our doorstep.
I will soon ask the Auckland Mayoral Forum to define areas for resettlement of Pacific Island nations. The science is now showing many low lying Pacific atolls will be underwater by the turn of the century at best, or within 30 years at worst. Larger states such as Samoa will be suffering shortages of food and fresh water and the regular battering of cyclones and storm surges. New Zealand will be the first place they look to.
We have to get real about the impending influx of displaced migrants. Cities cannot turn a blind eye to the massive population that will soon be knocking at our doors. They will need access to food and healthcare. They will need places to live.
Many are in denial even as this future becomes a reality. I’ve seen first hand the bile that spews out after even small attempts to save the environment. When my city Waitakere announced a goal of going plastic shopping bag free in September, I got at least 20 abusive phone calls to my home. Some said climate change is a myth. Most were just angry they would have to pay 5c a plastic bag.
It’s easy to feel like losing hope in the face of such small minded opposition. But this country can’t afford to let climate change catch us unawares the way the global economic meltdown did. If we wash our hands of our responsibility to stop climate change, it too will hit us in an unstoppable tsunami of chaos.
I have asked the Local Government New Zealand Metro Sector (which represents New Zealand’s eight largest cities) to hold a day long climate change workshop in May. We will be inviting the successful businessman, author and former climate change sceptic Gareth Morgan to address us. My aim is that he will stir the leaders of New Zealand’s major cities to drastic action.
It could be that we simply need a reality check. Maybe the films showing the destruction our cities - London, New York – have been so fantastical and so unreal we believe only Peter Jackson could deliver that kind of disaster. The movie we should be watching is The Age of Stupid. Its account of how ignorance and selfishness are speeding us toward an apocalyptic future is frighteningly believable.
The climate change disaster is real and it is unfolding before our eyes. Saying it is not will only intensify its impact. But throwing our hands up and saying it is too hard to stop will only make its direst possible outcomes a definite reality. It may be too late but if we give up we will lose any chance we have of averting disaster.
So I say there is still hope. Our choices are still important and we have many left to make. There is still every reason to recycle, to conserve power, to bike to work, to grow your own garden and to say no to a plastic bag at the supermarket.
It’s about saving the seaside bach that may be underwater in two generations, still heading to the mountain for winter skiing trips, stopping flooding in your basement or preserving the beautiful shoreline where you take an evening stroll.
As for me, I just want a better world for Isla.