A climate action that worked

World-wide, thousands of people took part in the March for Science on Earth Day last Saturday.  The Guardian‘s headline declared “Global ‘March for Science’ protests call for action on climate change” as the reason for the marches.   Calls to action and defending scientists from attacks on the legitimacy of climate science, were the objectives.
First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.  The wider goals of this demonstration are laudable, but I have two ‘howevers’ around the March for Science action.
First is the irony of the marches – significant volumes of new carbon were emitted to the atmosphere from the vehicles used by participants.
Using the average emissions factor defined by our Environment Ministry for petrol vehicles and an average distance travelled of 25km, each participant released around 6kg of new carbon dioxide.
The second ‘however’ is that actions, not more words are now needed if global warming is to not exceed 2°C.  That is the goal of the climate agreement that our government has committed to.
One of the few Earth Day events that actually achieved a reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, was the Charcoal Fire event at St Andrews Anglican Church in Pukekohe last Sunday.
This event involved burning wood to make biochar.  The char was buried, inoculated  and two peach trees planted on top.
For each person attending that event, an estimated 3kg of carbon dioxide was removed from the atmosphere and buried away for a very long time.  Plus the new trees will sequester more carbon for many years.
It may be that the Marches for Science had an impact on US politicians.  It is clear that the Pukekohe event had an impact on reducing global warming.

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How does the carbon cycle work?
The carbon cycle is the movement of carbon between the atmosphere, oceans, soils, and plants.  
One part of that cycle involves trees and plants taking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and converting it to carbon which becomes embedded within the tree, and to oxygen which is released back to the atmosphere.
When a plant dies naturally, much of it’s carbon is released back to the atmosphere, and becomes available to other plants to absorb and continue the cycle.
Soil contains one of nature’s largest stores of carbon which is slowly released to the atmosphere or locked away as fossil fuels.
This balance in the carbon cycle has been a feature of our environment for millennia. 
We humans upset that balance when we add new carbon to the atmosphere by tilling the soil, extracting and burning fossil fuels, and when we cut down forests.  We have been doing this for over 100 years, which is seen in the ‘hockey stick’ graph that charts rising atmospheric CO2 levels.

A win win win climate action

Last week’s cyclone-determined weather was mild for us in Pukekohe, but severe on our east coast and catastrophic further south in the Bay of Plenty.

It is likely that a future cyclone will deal equally severe blows to us and our west coast communities.

Whilst we cannot forecast severe weather impacts for specific areas, NIWA have warned North Islanders to brace themselves for more flooding events.

And scientists are finding more linkages between our carbon emissions and extreme weather events.  Last month, Nature.com published an article on the influence of anthropogenic – aka “human caused” – climate change on extreme weather events.

Are we, individually and collectively, prepared to take a punt on future catastrophic weather events bypassing us?  The people of Edgecumbe would give a different answer to that question from those not yet seriously affected.

Those who do not consider the risks are burying their heads in ever-warming sands, for one thing is clear: extreme weather events are now part of our future.

The Insurance Council agrees.  It was reported last week, that the Insurance Council and Local Government NZ have worked together for about three years to explore changes to building consenting processes.  Their goal is to minimise property damage during severe weather events.

But Prime Minister Bill English does not agree.  He was reported last week as saying that it does not matter “too much”, what is causing the weather we have experienced over the past three weeks.  He went on to say that climate change as the cause, is something he does not want to spend time thinking about.

It is our grandchildren’s future that he dismisses so casually.

So what can we as individuals do that our government do not want to think about?

One action is to reduce our household carbon emissions.  Which means travelling less, buying only what we need, reducing waste, saving energy and more.

The Charcoal Fire - A climate action.page1.jpgAn easy-do action, is for us to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

Atmospheric carbon now exceeds 400 parts per million, and to bring that back to a level that will keep global warming below 2°C, carbon needs to be removed from the atmosphere.

At The Charcoal Fire event on Sunday 23rd April, you can learn the means to achieve that.

Making and burying biochar is a win for carbon sequestration and a win for the fertility and water holding capacity of our garden soils.

And planting fruit trees on top of that biochar is a further win for growing healthy, nutritious food.

Join us at 18 Wesley Street in Pukekohe, anytime between 8 am and 11 am this Sunday (23rd April) to learn how to make biochar as a win win win climate action.

The Charcoal Fire - A climate action.page2.jpg

Removing our weather blinkers to take climate action

Another Tuesday, another severe weather warning from the MetService.  On Good Friday, Cyclone Cook is expected to dump 200mm of rain as it passes close to or over the North Island.

NIWA’s modelling suggests that the upper and eastern North Island “currently stand the best chance of experiencing an impactful weather event from Wednesday through to Friday morning”.

Huh?  The “best” chance?  Like it’s a desirable event?

Try telling that to those in Edgecumbe who may never be able to return to their homes. For them, last week’s flood was a catastrophe.

Heavy rain events are now regularly occurring somewhere in the country.

Last week’s event was much more than a flash flood.  It was more than a 1 in 100 year event.

Have we normalised extreme weather to the extent that we are now blinded to its causes?

A new study, linking human-caused carbon pollution to extreme weather patterns in the northern hemisphere, ought remove our weather blinkers.  The study, published on nature.com, finds that this pattern has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural weather variability.

As report co-author Michael Mann says, “We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events.”

This study will not placate those increasingly affected by the increasing incidence of extreme weather events.

Should someone be held to account for those affected?  To me, yes of course.

The responsibility lies with each of us who continue to release new carbon to the atmosphere – nature will hold us and future generations to account.

Our grandchildren will not thank us for shrugging our shoulders and writing this off as “acts of God”.

An event at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Anglican Church on Sunday 23rd April, is an opportunity for us, individually and collectively, to make a stand against our climate changing actions.

At 8 am, a fire will be lit in a special in-ground pit.  When the fire is extinguished at 11 am, more than one third of the wood burned will be turned to charcoal.

If left to rot in the field or burn completely, one hundred percent of that timber would be turned to ash and all of its carbon released back to the atmosphere.

Instead, burying the biochar will sequester carbon away for a long time, effectively taking carbon out of the atmosphere.  Planting fruit trees on top of the biochar will remove even more atmospheric carbon.

Join us at 18 Wesley Street, Pukekohe any time between 8 and 11 am and show your support for a climate action that does make a difference.

Communal Food Gardens – a sustainability and social justice initiative

Of the four broad aspects of sustainability that we individually and collectively need to face up to: energy, food, water and waste, this post focuses on food sustainability and introduces an Anglican Diocese of Auckland sustainability project – Communal Food Gardens.


My last post introduced food sustainability as an issue of importance to each of us.

Our industrialised food production and distribution systems have served us well for many decades but some now see that industrial approach to be unsustainable.

What is needed, is a food system that is equitable and meets the food needs of our local communities without degrading natural or human resources.

The Anglican community can take a step towards natural farming systems by getting involved in the new Anglican Diocese of Auckland project to establish communal food gardens.

community garden
Community Garden in San Diego (image courtesy Wikipedia)

The project matches Anglican beliefs around care of creation – safeguarding the integrity of creation, and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth. It also advances the Diocese’s response to the House of Bishops Statement on Climate Change and their media release in November of last year – We choose to fight climate change rather than drown.

Communal food gardens are a tool in that fight.

Communal gardens is a term heard less often than community gardens. How do the two differ?

Community is a noun and defines a garden that members of a like-minded group of people might access. A community garden could be a food, decorative, or flower garden and is a place for people to enjoy. This is the what of our project.

Communal is an adjective, related to community, and describes how the community garden is owned/worked/harvested – together. This is the how of our community project.

We name this project as Communal Food Gardens and distinguish them from other community gardens as in the Table below.

Type of gardening Description and/or example(s)
Allotments A garden in a public place where individuals or groups each garden their own plots
Communal gardening A garden in a public place where the gardening is carried out communally (that is, by members of the community)
Shared gardening Where a resident offers spare land for neighbours to garden or neighbours assist each other with their home gardens (often on a roster or working bee arrangement)
Revegetation projects (a variation on communal gardening) These projects usually focus on planting indigenous vegetation on public reserves. These sites sometimes also include community orchards and/or community gardens.
Guerrilla gardening Planting without permission on public or private land such as road reserves, traffic islands, parks and empty sections.

This definition embeds some reasons that Communal Gardens are beneficial – they are: a place for social activity; for bringing communities together; a means for city dwellers to connect with nature; and a healthy place for individuals to just be.

We see our communal food gardens providing all these benefits alongside their primary purpose – being a community learning and demonstration resource that expresses the Diocesan Climate Change Action initiative and extends the role of the Diocesan social justice initiative.  That extension is from researching and communicating justice issues, to providing equitable access to good, nutritious food as a means to better health.

The project is rolling out this month so for further information on the establishment of a communal food garden in your parish, either email me, visit our resource page at Communal Gardens Project or leave a comment below.

Practical Actions for Churches

EnerSt Lukes Mt Albert new heatersgy use is one of the main contributors to the Church’s carbon footprint, along with the individual transport component for parishioners coming to church. The worldwide Anglican Consultative Council has urged all churches to, “assist transition to a carbon-neutral world by accepting, year on year, a five percent reduction in the carbon footprint of the churches.” As there is no specific calculator for churches in New Zealand, an estimate can be found by using the Household calculator on the carboNZero website. The carboNZero certification programme is an internationally recognised greenhouse gas footprint measurement and reduction scheme. This free Household calculator is intended for individuals to estimate their greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to note that it provides an estimate only and is not intended for organisations or businesses or to provide a certified carbon footprint. To use the calculator you will need to know your church’s total energy consumption for one year. You can find more information about analysing and managing your electricity consumption in the Resources section.

The Sustainability Newsbites page shares stories from churches around the Diocese who have analysed their electricity bills as part of a sustainability assessment of their church.