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.

This climate action helps save the world

“Flash flooding is expected across the upper North Island over the next two days” trumpeted the news headlines last Tuesday morning.

What, again?  This is the third or fourth time this autumn that gutters and drains needed to be cleared of leaves in preparation for a deluge.

There was a time, not too long ago, that such flood warnings were issued for only “1 in 100” year events.

“1 in 100” does not mean that it occurs only once every 100 years.  It means that there is a one per cent chance of such an event occurring in a single year. Statistically, a 1 in 100 year event may occur many times in one year, but the average over a number of years, will be one.

It is wishful thinking to conclude that the next 500 years will therefore, be flood-free.

Given the clear impact that our carbon emissions have on global warming, we can expect only more extreme weather.

This may be why we no longer hear warnings of 1 in 100 year events.  The climate is changing so fast, that scientists have not been able to reassess their frequency.

One thing that science is getting better at, is the attribution of extreme weather events to man-made causes.

The World Weather Attribution Project is a collaborative project with Climate Central that aims to achieve near real-time attribution of extreme weather events around the world.

This week’s deluge, which should clear the country today, was described by a NIWA meteorologist as a “tropical torrent” and a “serious situation … arising in New Zealand.”

NIWA goes on to say that April, only six days old, is shaping up to be an abnormally wet month.  Five time the monthly rainfall was expected to fall in the last couple of days, with more heavy rainfall events expected.

So the Franklin ward, and Hauraki and Thames-Coromandel districts, should expect more damage from storms like that earlier in March that was declared a medium-scale adverse event.

How many times do we need “adverse events” to be declared before we realise that we need to take serious action on climate change?

Repeatedly clearing drains and gutters only normalises the situation.

The actions we must take must be focused on the dual fronts of reducing our carbon emissions, and on clawing atmospheric carbon back from our oceans and atmosphere.

A clear and strong climate action celebrating this year’s International Earth Day is planned for St Andrews Anglican Church in Pukekohe on Sunday April 24th.   Biochar will be created and trees planted at “The Charcoal Fire” event.  Join us – bring a gold coin or one kilogram of dry wood for burning anytime between 8:00 and 11:00 am.

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The early stages of biochar production in a kontiki-style earth kiln.

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.

Biochar a foil to doomsayer Guy McPherson

Climate doomsayer Guy McPherson was in Auckland last week, talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change.

I do not call him a doomsayer to belittle him or what he has to say.  For he is saying things that need to be said, things that too few want to acknowledge, let alone take action on.

When McPherson says “the situation (climate change) is far worse than it was (in 2014)”, the scientific evidence proves him right.  Atmospheric carbon levels have now exceeded 400 ppm and 2016 is projected to be the hottest year on record.

But then he goes on to say, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change … there’s nothing we can do to stop it”.  His denial of our will to survive is beyond defeatist.

For sure, the task of bringing atmospheric carbon back to levels the earth can sustain is ginormous.  But not even worth trying for?

As Yoda said in the future, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

And do two things we must, if McPherson’s non-future is to be avoided.

One is to eliminate burning fossil fuels.  As unlikely as that is, it will not avoid catastrophic climate change as the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to drive warming for decades yet.

Second is to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

High tech Carbon Capture and Storage processes are seen by many as the way to save the world.  But they either do not work yet, or are too expensive.  While politicians wait for technologic fixes, the risks become ever more dire.

There are two low tech means to sequestering atmospheric carbon that could be implemented from tomorrow if there was the political nous.

First is planting trees.  We can and should do that, but it will have only a small impact in the time scale McPherson talks about.

Biochar_1694Second is to make biochar and bury it in agricultural soils.

Making biochar from forestry and municipal waste would give us the win-win-win of renewable biofuels, improved soils and less atmospheric carbon.

This sounds an easy do but the scale of the challenge before us is daunting.

To hold global warming to under 2°C, atmospheric carbon needs to be under 350 ppm.  If emissions reductions had begun in 2005, a reduction rate of only 3.5% per year may have sufficed.  Starting today, the required reduction rate is 6% and if delayed until 2020, then it is 15%.   Biochar sequestration can achieve a 12% rate.  So doable it is if we start now.

As discussed last week, it is our perception of the risks that determines whether we take precautions or not.  If we assess a low risk to catastrophic climate change, Guy McPherson will be proved right.

This is not a time for whimsy…

The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things

This whimsical line is from the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-glass. It was said after the oysters had been lured from their oyster beds with the promise of a ‘pleasant walk, a pleasant talk’. The oysters were eager for the treat and ventured to the beach. ‘Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, Their shoes were clean and neat’ is how Carroll described them.

the-walrus-and-the-carpenterMuch like the gathering of politicians at COP22 I imagine. Their time has again come, to talk of many things. A walk on the beach (180 km from Marrakesh) is not likely and my hope is that oysters are not on the menu. Otherwise Carroll’s poem looks too much like a parable.

Conference Of the Parties is what COP stands for, and this will be the 22nd such conference organised by a UN Climate Change body.

The body’s objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Despite the action verb that starts their objective, the framework has set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions and contains no enforcement mechanisms.

In the previous twenty one conferences, has their talk been more than whimsical?

COP21 in Paris last December was lauded for the fact of its agreement but provided no solutions.

Our government ratified the Paris Agreement in October, and agreed to target an 11% emissions reduction by 2020. They seek to achieve that target by economic sophistry – a combination of purchasing carbon credits to pay for business-as-usual emissions plus the gains from new forest plantings.

As a consequence, our actual gross emissions will increase. What the world needs, is a better than 40% reduction in actual emissions.

In the absence of meaningful government-led climate actions, it falls on us, individually, to take action.

Climate actions by individuals

led-bulb-green-backgroundOne simple way that we can contribute to actually reducing carbon emissions is by replacing our old incandescent light bulbs.

A 60 watt incandescent light bulb burning for just one hour per night will cost less than 2 cents per night to run. Burn that bulb for a year and the energy cost totals $6.48.

Install an equivalent LED bulb and the energy consumed will cost just $0.76 per year. That’s a $5.75 saving every year for the next 20 years. $115 saved for a $10 investment! If the bulb burns an average of three hours per day, well, you do the maths.

For those with 100 watt bulbs, converting to LEDs will save you even more – $9.50 per year or $190 over 20 years for the same $10 investment. That capital cost will be paid for by electricity savings in just 12 months. If the bulb burns for three hours per night on average, expect to recover the purchase cost in four months.

The carbon emissions reduction is small but multiply the savings from a single replaced bulb by the number of bulbs you have and by the number of households in this country, and the impact on our national carbon emissions is significant, and greater than what our government are doing.

These are the savings from reduced electricity consumption. For every LED bulb purchased, the purchase of 15 – 20 incandescents will be avoided. So there are also capital savings to be made if those old bulbs are thrown away.

An incandescent bulb has an average lifetime of 1,000 hours. Burn it for an average of three hours per night and you will replace it every year. The equivalent LED will last at least 15 years before needing replacement.

Waste not, want not.

This was something my parents said. Throwing away a 98 cent bulb does go against my waste minimisation principles, but that cash saving of $5.75 in electricity costs is just too great to justify holding to that principle.

You might also say that the price of LED bulbs is dropping and waiting another year will mean they are cheaper. That’s likely true enough, but again, that $5.75 saving in electricity costs in the first year of replacing a bulb, means that the future cost would need to more than halve for that argument to hold.

Or you might say that you prefer the softer light from an incandescent than an LED. That was true a few years ago but today, there is so much variety in the colour output of an LED. The alternative is to get out to the rubbish dump and collect all the old incandescent bulbs that the rest of us are throwing out.

And then there are the procrastinators amongst us, those who put off the replacement of old bulbs because it’s a hassle. Far better it is, to go around the house once and replace all the bulbs than having to do it many times over the next year or two. So next time you have the step stool out to replace one bulb, replace them all and save yourself having to do it again for many many years.

This is not a time to be whimsical: how many bulbs do you have that could be replaced to save you money, and contribute to saving the planet?

Pope Francis reinforces his Laudato Si’ encyclical

Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to all christians last week.  He called for us to show mercy to our common home, to cherish the world in which we live, and to have compassion for the poor.

In my context, the pontiff is appealing for us to be sustainable (mercy), mitigate the causes of climate change (cherish) and for social justice (compassionate).

Ilaudato-si400n his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (on 1st September each year) the Pope declared as sins, actions that “… destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation”, “… degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands” and “… contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life…”

The strength of leadership shown in this blunt words is to be commended.

What can we do individually to follow this lead and change our course from  a system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature”, to a system that is more respectful of creation?

An course changes within a modern lifestyle will be around reducing waste, planting trees, separating rubbish and minimising energy use.

We can also do something else the pontiff called for – to press our governments to act on the commitments made in Paris in December of 2015 and to advocate for even more ambitious climate mitigation goals.

The Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s Cherished Earth initiative is exactly aligned with promoting these changes.  The parish level actions around energy, food, waste and water sustainability can each be easily implemented in our own home.

Pope Francis has gone a step further by advocating for care for creation to be added to the seven spiritual works of mercy outlined in the Gospel.  This would be a significant and controversial change but one that fronts up to the seriousness of the crisis we now face.


To learn more about the Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s sustainability work, contact John Allen through the contact form below.

 

A practical view of sustainability

If 2015 was a year that sustainability issues came in to sharp focus, then 2016 is the turning point for taking action on the many issues.

Three pillars of sustainability are commonly advocated – environmental, social and economic.

These pillars are reflected in the Cherished Earth initiative of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland. This is about taking actions that “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth” (matching the environmental pillar), and to “respond to human need by loving service and to work to transform unjust structures of society” (the social pillar).

The first pillar, environmental, is about enhancing and maintaining the ecological systems that sustain all life on Earth. In so many areas has our environment suffered because of man’s economic activities, with devastating consequences for many. This pillar is reflected in the Anglican Church’s focus on Caring for Creation.

The second pillar, social sustainability, is about equity between sections of today’s society. One example is between the things our generation take for granted compared to what future generations will likely inherit. Another example is between developed and developing nations. This pillar is reflected in the Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s initiative on climate justice.

Economic sustainability is about the financial success of notional entities including the firm, the farm, the town or city. Competitive advantage and continual growth are at the core of economic sustainability and the goal for most is to maximise shareholder profits.

The order in which we think about the three pillars is important.

Traditional-Sustainability
Figure 1. Traditional view of Sustainability

The traditional view (figure 1.) is of three overlapping circles with sustainable development occurring only in the area where all three intersect

This implies that some economic activity can occur without environmental or societal implications. Whilst it is the case that some societal or environmental activity can occur independent of economic impacts, the reverse is not the case. All economic activity has some social or environment impact and so, to me, this model of sustainability is not itself sustainable.

Environmental-Sustainability
Figure 2. Neoliberal view of Sustainability

A few see a model (figure 2.) that places economics in the outer of three concentric circles. This is the neoliberal view of sustainability – resources in the environment and workers in our society are there to serve the economic needs of the firm. For many, and by unstated implication, increasing shareholder wealth is more important than social or environmental impacts.

A more widely held view of sustainability (figure 3.) inverts the three concentric circles, putting the environment in the outer position, surrounding and constraining society which in turn encompasses and constrains economic activity. In this model, economic activity is for the benefit of all the people in a community rather than for only the owners of the capital invested.

Economic-Sustainability
Figure 3. Sustainable view of Sustainability

Of all the sustainability issues we face, climate change induced by global warming, is the greatest.

Our government seem to be following the neoliberal model of sustainability – that of economics over-riding the other two pillars. Hence, they are not actually planning for a reduction in our gross green house gas emissions, and instead are looking to buy their way out of future trouble through cap and trade financial instruments.

Given that our political leaders appear to favour economic imperatives ahead of people and the environment, it falls to the people to take climate actions, both collectively and individually, that will give expression to our caring for creation.

The Diocesan Climate Change Action Group are planning a number of new climate action projects that add to their earlier work around energy efficiency and conservation. The first of these is a practical project to establish communal food gardens, or food forests, in as many churches as have space available and want to participate.

Whilst the Diocesan Climate Change Action Group continue the planning work for this project, what other actions do you think parishioners might take? Please leave your comments below.

Small Actions Count

We live in an interconnected world in which the small actions of many people combined, have huge impacts. Our everyday purchasing decisions, from coffee through to our mode of transport, can all have an impact on climate change. Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council, Fairtrade and other similar certification schemes, despite their limitations, work to promote sustainable practices in environmental as well as economic terms and help to inform purchasing decisions.

Members of the DCCAdrawingpin2G share some practical actions they have taken in their own lives.

“To reduce our carbon footprint from travel, we’ve converted our Prius to a plug-in hybrid. The extra batteries, charged by the photovoltaic panels on our roof, give the car an 80 km range on electric power, after which it reverts to its existing petrol-electric hybrid mode. This has halved the car’s fuel consumption from 5 litres per 100 km to 2.5 litres. Rod is a relatively frequent flyer for work purposes so he contributes to Air New Zealand’s Environment Trust with each ticket he buys.” Read more about Rod Oram’s photovoltaic installation in the Fossil Fuel Divestment section of the website.

Others wrote:

“We have taken action to reduce our car travel by carpooling, using buses when possible, using Skype for teleconferencing and retaining one instead of two cars when we were able.”

“Relocating our family closer to work and school was expensive, but much less stressful and lower emissions too.”

You can find more actions on the Who We Are page. In the Links section we list other church and religious organisations that are working to promote sustainability and combat climate change.