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.
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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.

The Justice of Communal Food Gardens

There are 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 adds justifications for the Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s sustainability project introduced last week – Communal Food Gardens.


Last week I introduced Communal Food Gardens as a food sustainability project that provides a number of social justice benefits as well as being an action that mitigates the effects of climate change.

Following organic growing principles, our gardens yield food that is healthy, nutritious and safe, and thus helps improve positive health outcomes in the community.

Each parish will decide for themselves how to distribute the food grown in their gardens. This can be to the workers who planted the seed and nurtured the growing plants, to the sick or elderly, or to those in greater need. The choice is the parish’s to make.

Any one of these social justice benefits is in itself, a sufficient reason to start a food garden. So what additional climate change benefits do communal food gardens bring?

First is that food grown locally means a reduction in the green house gas emissions from the transport fleet required to bring produce from the growers to the market.

Second, by adopting organic growing principles, we do not requires fossil fuels to be used to manufacture and deliver fertilisers and various poisoning ‘cides’, to the garden.

Third, by eliminating the risk of individual exposure to pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, we eliminate risks to human health.

Fourth, by eliminating the excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilisers, we eliminate the degradation of our soils and the microbial soil-based life that plants depend on.

Fifth, our gardens will not be tilled so organic materials in the soil will not be oxidised and returned to the atmosphere as climate-warming gases.

Sixth, if we do this right, we can actually remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil where it may remain for many years.

Seventh, the planned introduction of an integrated composting system for our kitchen and garden wastes, means a reduction in the volume of refuse going to landfill sites. This waste sustainability action will itself significantly reduce methane emissions as well as maintaining the fertility levels of our gardens.

So many benefits to a communal food garden!

Why would everyone not want to start one this spring? Why not contact me, John Allen, right now and find out how easy it is to start your own food garden. Just use the contact form below.

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.

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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.

Introducing the new Sustainability Field Worker

Cherished Earth is a climate justice initiative of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland. This is about connecting faith with caring for creation and is the practical outworking of a commitment by the Anglican Bishops of Aotearoa,  New Zealand and Polynesia, to take action on climate change.

The initiative has its origins in 2007 when a group of lay  Anglican members formed the Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.  The goal is to help the Diocese’s churches and members move towards a more sustainable and carbon-neutral lifestyle.

Since 2007, the Action Group have conducted workshops around the Diocese and achieved the major goal of divesting the Church’s investments from fossil fuel industries.

In 2012, a part-time Sustainability Field Worker was appointed to implement a sustainability programme among the churches of the Diocese.  Yvonne Thompson provided a service that, through on-site building assessments and energy audits, assisted a number of parishes to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and so reduce costs as well as carbon emissions.

The appointment of a new Sustainability Field Worker (see the adjacent box) in 2016 sees this work continuing alongside some new sustainability and carbon emission mitigation initiatives.

The first of these initiatives is around sustainability in our food supply.  A programme establishing communal gardens or food forests in participating parishes will commence in early spring.  This will be complimented by waste minimisation actions (various composting methods) that any household can do.

A climate change mitigation initiative being developed is an on-line carbon footprint calculator designed to assist parishioners assess their personal contribution to global warming and compare that against national benchmarks.

Many more initiatives are in the gestation stage, along with an innovative means of funding them, that all go to give a practical expression of our faith in the context of caring for creation.

Please check out our progress and let us know your thoughts at our blog site  www.cherished-earth.org.nz or contact me direct using the contact form below.

Blessings
John Allen