Not so hot as it is portrayed!

Hot Hot Hot!    2016 Hottest Year on Record.  New Zealand had its hottest ever recorded year in 2016.

These were some of the media headlines following the release of NIWA’s Annual Climate Summary last week.

Many will think that it’s great to have a hot hot hot summer.  By the pool, at the beach, hot is great!  What’s the problem?  After all, pool and beach images celebrating hot, frames many of the media reports on the conference.  So good it has to be!  Right?

Wrong!

The problem is that for New Zealand, 2016 was the hottest in a series of ever hotter years. Since 1909, annual average temperatures across the country have risen between 0.51°C and 1.20°C above normal.  And the trend is ever upwards.

This trend is reflected in many countries around the world with 2016 now also recorded as the world’s hottest year on record.

There are reasons for that record.  As NIWA says, for New Zealand, it is a combination of three factors.

nzweather-records2016One is that ocean temperatures around New Zealand were unusually warm throughout the early part of 2016.  Last year’s El Nino weather pattern was a key contributor to this.

Second was unusual atmospheric pressure patterns resulting in more northerly and nor-westerly winds that therefore, picked up heat from the warmed oceans.

Third was increased green house gases in the atmosphere that mark a long-term warming trend, aka global warming.  Over 90% of that additional heat in the atmosphere gets absorbed in to the oceans, which loops us back to reason number one.

Science has no real understanding of how much more heat the oceans can tolerate.  It is known that ice loss in the Arctic and Antarctic is causing sea level rise on top of that caused directly by the thermal expansion of our oceans.

There is another aspect to ocean warming not often spoken about.  Higher temperatures reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of water and also increases the biological oxygen demand of the micro-organisms in the water.    

So dissolved oxygen levels in our oceans are declining and with oxygen a key driver of marine ecosystems, much of our food chain is at risk.

This was recognised in a Ministry for the Environment report, “Changes to our oceans pose serious concerns“, published in October last year. Our government recognises the risks, but remedial action is not being taken.

At a global level, the response to climate change is to use “best endeavours” to keep average temperatures below 1.5°C of warming.  At the country’s average of 0.81°C we are more than half the way there.

The climate impacts on different parts of the country vary a lot.

For Pukekohe, the minimum mean temperature was up 0.9°C.  This will have implications on pest control in our horticultural areas – more pests will survive the winter cold and become a problem in the following growing season.

And the annual average temperature in Pukekohe was up 0.8°C.  This will have implications on water retention in the soil and on water consumption – more water will be required to assure us our economic future.

These are not the halcyon days of summer I remember from my youth.

Instead, there is an increasing sense of urgency for us to take actions to mitigate the prime cause of global warming – our release of new sources of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Those actions must be on three prime fronts.

First is to cease harvesting trees.   Trees remove carbon from the atmosphere, leaving less to add to global warming.

Second is to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere.  Fundamentally, this means no more extraction of fossil fuels.  That’s unlikely in the short term so things we can do individually to make a difference, are to significantly cut back on car journeys and air travel.

Third is to remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it away in our soils.

For as long as economic imperatives define the climate actions we choose to take, the first two of these will be difficult to realise.  The third action, sequestering carbon in the soil, is an easy do, one that each and every one of us can do today, tomorrow, the next day and so on, until we make that essential difference.

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Climate action: is there a place for the church?

Church leaders, lay people, activists, scientists and politicians gathered in Mangere on Saturday, 20 August for a Church Climate Workshop to explore what churches can do to address climate change. The workshop was an ecumenical event co-hosted by the Methodist Public Issues network, Sinoti Samoa and the Anglican Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.

Over 120 people were in attendance with Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians and Quakers coming from across the country to discuss what their congregations could do.

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(L-R) Su’a William Sio; Korea Tiumalu; Dr Adrian Macey; Revd Prince Devanandan; … (hidden Prof. James Renwick);  organiser Betsan Martin

Keynote speakers were scientist Professor James Renwick, former climate negotiator Dr Adrian Macey, Mangere MP Su’a William Sio and Pacific Climate Warriors spokesperson Koreti Tiumalu.

Matheson Russell, convenor of the Diocesan Climate Change Action Group highlighted what already has been done in some churches including divesting from fossil fuel companies, statements by the Anglican bishops, and local initiatives to make church buildings energy efficient.

But the emphasis of the workshop was on the need for more action, urgently required to limit the worst effects of climate change, especially for our Pacific neighbours.

Koreti Tiumalu, leader of the Pacific Climate Warriors inspired everyone with the prayerful, culturally based and courageous actions of her group. She detailed their venturing to sea in vaka near Newcastle, Australia to protest against coal mining expansion, and a prayer vigil at the Vatican during the COP21 proceedings, where the group of Pacific youth were able to give a fine mat woven in Tonga to Pope Francis.

University of Victoria Wellington environmental scientist James Renwick showed graphs that detailed the dramatic increase in global temperatures over the last 150 years. 2015 temperatures were the highest on record, and 2016 looks set to be even hotter. He says the time for action is now, rather than waiting a decade or more to implement real change. “If we continue at this rate, we could be facing an ice free Arctic in a few decades.”

President elect of the Methodist Church Revd. Prince Devanandan proposed that clergy start preaching on climate change, and emphasized the major need to re-orient the education programmes of the church – theological education, and parish level adult and children’s education.

He also interviewed Cardinal John Dew as a special discussion for the workshop, reflecting on the papal encyclical on climate change ‘Laudato Si’. They explored questions of dominion and stewardship, and the links between poverty and the environment. Cardinal Dew emphasized the gift of ‘Laudato Si’ for all churches, indeed for all peoples.

Cardinal Dew suggested it is time for advocacy from churches. While working in our own organizations and institutions, we can bring an ethical approach to press for action from business leaders and government.

The workshop gave opportunities for attendees to find out and partner with the practical work and advocacy of climate organizations Generation Zero, 350 Aotearoa, Christian World Service, Coal Action Network, and A Rocha, as well as our own Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.

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Part of the 120-plus audience listening to a range of climate activists. 

Churches were also encouraged to sign up for the ‘Pray for the Pacific’ campaign, where participating churches will hold a special service either on September 4th or 11th to pray for the Pacific and start a conversation about rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and changing weather patterns.

Ms Tiumalu said: “We cannot build a Pacific Climate Movement without engaging our faith communities. Faith is pivotal to our people, and like the ocean, it connects us. In the face of the climate crisis, we need prayer to carry our people and faith to build resilience.”

Climate Science

There is compelling scientific evidence that recent changes in the global climate are due to human activity and that catastrophic consequences will ensue if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise. The burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are the main causes of this. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are often used as an indicator because they have been tracking with the mean average temperature of the earth for thousands of years, as demonstrated by climate paleontologists, and recent levels are unprecedented in human history as shown in this Carbon Tracker video published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA. More infographics and videos for explaining the processes of global warming can be found at The Hadley Centre (UK Met Office) and The Environmental Protection Agency (USA).


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) present the current state of knowledge on Climate change and its potential impacts. You can watch the video above or go to the website for the Physical Science Basis part of the latest IPCC report (IR5). The Synthesis Report is a summary of all the current findings, written for governments and policymakers. It is the final part of the IR5 assessment process and is due to be adopted and released on 31st October 2014. See the FAQ section for more about how the IPCC work.