A Climate Emergency?

So, Auckland Council have declared a “Climate Emergency”.

In the words of Councillor Penny Hulse, chair of Auckland Council’s Environment and Community committee, this declaration is “a call to action for Council to take seriously, its role in climate change.”  She went on to say that Council needs to “… make sure that all policies we set and budgets we set, are set with a climate change lens in mind.”

That is signalling a clear intention to take action.  But it’s not actually taking action is it?

If the emergency were say, seismic readings indicating an increased likelihood of a volcanic eruption, then for sure, Civil Defence would be activated and we would see real actions aimed at protecting Auckland’s population and property.

To be fair to Council, they are taking some actions around climate change.  They have drafted a plan – the Auckland Climate Action Plan (ACAP) – that will go out to public consultation in July/August.  They adopted the Auckland Plan and Unitary Plans adopted in 2018.  Then they have plans in development around: Strategic Asset Management; Measuring Asset Performance; establishing a Landslide remediation fund; profiling spatial dimension community asset risks (flooding); a Natural Hazards Risk Management Action Plan; a Natural Hazards Research Plan and plans for Coastal Compartment Management.

They have implemented a Live Lightly programme, a Sustainable Schools Plan and a Waste Management & Minimisation Plan. 

The current state of Council’s Climate Change mitigation and adaptation actions is an impressive list of plans but contains little in the way of what is needed – actual climate mitigation actions.

Some people will leap to Auckland Council’s defence and say that I am being unfair, that the thinking and planning work needs to be done before actions are implemented.  They are right, that desktop work does need to be done.  But.

Actually, action is required to mitigate the drivers of global warming.
(excerpt from Auckland Council report “Climate Change Risks in Auckland”

Can we afford to wait to see if these plans and intentions translate to an actual reduction in Auckland’s emissions?  If the emergency were say, seismic readings indicating an increased likelihood of a volcanic eruption, then for sure, Civil Defence would be activated and we would see real actions aimed at protecting.

Perhaps Council see no hope for mitigation actions having an impact worthy of going for.  That seems so in the framing of this header in their risk assessment report.

This may be why their report Climate Change Risks in Auckland focuses more on adaptation and less on mitigation.  Perhaps that too is unfair on Council, for the report is a risk assessment and as they say in the report, “Understanding the climate change risks and impacts on vulnerability for Auckland is imperative to both mitigate and adapt to climate change and to inform planning and decision making.”  

If it leads to a new climate change lens, where the word “URGENT” is writ large across it, then perhaps we will do what needs to be done – to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

Actually, taking mitigation actions is not that difficult.  As we have experienced in many of the St Andrews events and projects this past year or three:

  • Our Earth Day events have been carbon negative – we have sequestered more atmospheric CO2 than was emitted in the running of the events plus that emitted by all the people attending them.
  • Our communal food garden has
    • provided food-miles-free food
    • not required any artificial fertilisers
    • used no town-supply water even given the particularly dry summer we just had
    • reduced wastes going to landfill with kitchen waste from parish events going to the worm farm plus garden waste going to the compost
    • provide an opportunity for local people to gather as Friends of St Andrew’s Food Garden
  • Six “Grow Your Own Food” courses have taught many people how to increase their self-resilience.

These are all real climate actions that any parish can implement. For advice on how your parish can do similar things, call the Sustainability Fieldworker, John, on 021 46 36 86.

Sustainable Anglicans

What does sustainability mean to you?

One dictionary defines sustainability as “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”.

Let’s consider water.  On the one hand, we have had enough flooding throughout the country, to realise that we do not have a water flow (rate) problem.  On the other hand, the dry period we have experienced this year has, for many, severely tested their access (level) to water.

What this tells me is that we do not have a water flow problem but instead, have an issue with water storage.  That problem is easily fixed with the local collection and storage of rain water.  This concept, a rain water harvesting system, is what we have in the St Andrews, Pukekohe, community food garden.  The consequence is that in this growing season just finishing, we have not used town water to keep the garden growing.

In our food garden then, are climate and water sustainability actions that anyone can replicate at home.

The food garden also features waste sustainability in the form of a worm farm and composting system that recycles food and garden wastes to apply to the garden as fertiliser.  We have not imported any fertilisers to apply to the garden this year so from those perspectives, production from the garden can be sustained at its present rate.

And of course, the garden itself adds to our community’s food sustainability and energy sustainability by growing our own food locally, and avoiding the carbon emissions from transporting it.

Not only do these actions meet the sustainability definition above, they also provide for local resilience and a measure of adaptability to climate change.

However, I prefer a more compelling definition of sustainability: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

This is what last month’s global School Strike for Climate Action was all about.  In what may well have been the largest global day of climate action ever, these young people are coming of age at a crucial time in our response to climate change.  Unless we take action now, they will be the generation that will have their futures compromised, the generation that has to face the consequences of our past actions, but to which they have contributed so little cause.

Here are two climate/sustainability actions that local people can take to help ensure their future is as fulfilling as our past has been.

One is to join us on the Grow Your Own Food course that starts at St Andrews on April 10th.  For six Wednesday evenings, from 7:15 pm to 8:30pm, we will cover food growing: from the role of soil organisms, through when to plant seeds and seedlings, and crop rotations, to planning your own easy-as productive and no-dig food garden.

Second is to plan on coming to our 2019 Earth Day event.  Spread over two days (Saturday April 27th and Sunday 28th) where we will take the next essential action in mitigating climate change: removing carbon from the atmosphere.  So mark your diaries now: The Charcoal Fire Earth Day 2019 event will be held at Footbridge Centre for Innovation and Sustainability, 59 Chamberlain Rd, Bombay, Auckland.

Cherishing our Earth at Fieldays 2018

I was at Fieldays last week, as an exhibitor in the Innovation Centre.  It was an exciting three days plus one.

Here are some thing that struck me as I observed the weather, the people, the products and of course, the innovations.

First was that despite being the 50th anniversary year, the weather still made its presence felt.  ’Twas not the parka-penetrating chill of the sou-westerlies.  Nor the eeriness of foggy mornings.  No, it was the wheel-spinning wetness that led to hour-long waits to get out of the parking lot that I remember most about the weather.  Is 50 years not long enough to solve that energy-consuming problem?

Then there were the people.  Those who looked away when eye-contact was imminent, those who freely gave a big smile without expectations of anything in return, those who listened to learn about dairy’s role in climate change, and those who either did not care or simply did not want to know.  Guess which group was in the majority?

That so much of the activity was focused on products that we want but do not need, was the big disappointment for me.  We will never achieve societal and environmental sustainability for as long as we try to consume our way to ego-satisfaction.

Finally, innovation in the agricultural sector is a major aspect of Fieldays and there were some really great ideas on display.  However, unlike the judges view that the winners of the awards choose their problems to solve with care, it seemed to me that they choose their products not to solve the problems that the world need solving, but instead, chose them to make a profit.

Will I return for Fieldays 2019?  Of course I will.  Despite my cynicism, it was still a buzz.  But I could do without the Saturday when the general public turn out.

Biochar, a climate action that anyone can take

When buried in the soil, biochar is an easy means to sequester carbon and so mitigate some of our green house gas emissions.


That our climate is rapidly changing ought to be clear to everyone now. Scientific analysis provides clear and sufficient evidence that the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, is caused largely by our burning of fossil fuels and removal of carbon sinks including forests.

The issue is not why is it is occurring or how we got to this stage of chaos.

No, the issue is: what can we do about it?

‘We’ means you and I, not just our national or local governments.

The need to take action is now urgent.

An analysis of data from the Global Carbon Project, has concluded that the world has only five years left before the IPCC(1) carbon budget(2) for 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, is blown.

To express that another way: if the current rate of carbon emissions continues, there is a 2 in 3 chance that sometime in 2021, the mean global average temperature will reach 1.5°C of warming above the internationally agreed baseline of pre-industrial levels.

The forms of action that we need to take are clear.

The first is to reduce our carbon emissions immediately. That is, reducing individual emissions from travel (especially vehicles fuelled by fossil fuels), waste disposal, electricity, gas and coal use, and food production and distribution.

Another worthy action is to lobby government to either introduce a carbon tax, or strengthen the emissions trading scheme so that the country’s gross green house gas emissions(3) are reduced.

Doing these things will slow the rate of global warming but will not stop it dead.

So the second necessary action is to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Planting trees is one way to achieve that outcome, and is the preferred net emissions reduction strategy of this government.

Another way is to sequester carbon where it can be locked away for a very long time.

Biochar_1694
Biochar

That can be achieved by manufacturing biochar from waste organic materials like at municipal landfills (domestic waste), and forestry (tree waste), horticultural (crop waste) and animal (e.g. chicken) waste.

These are waste streams which, if they are not pyrolysed and buried, would decay quickly and add to our green house gas emissions.

Pyrolysis (derived from the Greek ‘pyro’ meaning fire and ‘lysis’ meaning separating) is a process of heating organic materials in the absence of oxygen. The process changes the chemical and physical structure of waste organic materials to produce charcoal.

Turning charcoal into biochar is a process of inoculating the char with beneficial bacteria and fungi.

A very efficient way of achieving that is to use it first as animal bedding in the dairy, equine or poultry industries.  Or it can be used as a water filter in waste treatment systems, added to compost or soaked in a tea made from compost or worm farm castings.

Biochar is a soil amendment that realises significant benefits to the soil and thus the crops we grow.  Biochar achieves this by replacing the need for fertilisers that require fossil fuels in their manufacture and distribution.  When buried in the soil, it is an easy means to sequester carbon and so mitigate some of our green house gas emissions.


Footnotes:

(1) IPCC: The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an internationally accepted authority on climate change, and was established to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.

(2) In it’s 2014 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the IPCC argued, with high confidence, that “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today … warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.”  The IPCC’s goal is to limit global warming to less than 2.0 °C but preferably to less than 1.5 °C by 2100. This lower limit equates to an atmospheric concentration level of 430 ppm CO2-equivalent.
How this relates to New Zealand is covered in a separate report by the NZ Climate Change Centre.

(3) Gross greenhouse gas emissions are defined as the total emissions from the four defined sectors of Agriculture, Energy, IPPU (Industrial Processes and Product Use) and Waste. Net emissions are the gross emissions plus or minus the emissions or removals from the LULUCF (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry) sector.  When forests are being planted, carbon is being sequestered which subtracts from the gross emissions to yield the net figure.