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.

Join us for Earth Day 2018 in Buckland

The future of the Earth as we know it, is under threat.  Scientists have named that threat global warming.

We already see some of the impacts of global warming: climate change; extreme weather events; the loss of animal and plant species; rising sea levels; and the acidification of our oceans.

The main drivers of global warming are twofold. First, the mining and burning of fossil fuels adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  Second, when we cut down forests, we reduce the Earth’s ability to tolerate those gases.

To reduce the impacts of climate change, two things we must do.  One is to significantly reduce our individual and household greenhouse gas emissions.  The other is to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The longer we take to do these two things, the harder is the task of ensuring a liveable climate for future generations.

EARTH DAY 2018, is the day to show that we cherish our Earth, the day to take a personal climate action to help ensure the Earth’s regeneration and protection for future generations.

Next Sunday, April 22nd, the Anglican’s Climate Action Network are offering an easy-do climate action that anyone can take.  The Pukekohe Anglican Parish are holding their second Charcoal Fire event in the grounds of St Paul’s Anglican Church in Buckland Road, Pukekohe.

For each person attending, a 1kg wood block will be burned to make biochar which will be buried in the soil and fruit trees planted on top.

This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding the CO2 that would have been released back to the atmosphere as the wood decays.

It will also sequester1kg of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

And even more carbon will be removed from the atmosphere over the fruit trees’ lifetime.

Join us between 9 am and 11 am to place 1kg of wood on the fire and learn about biochar.

Or join us at 11:30 am for a sausage sizzle before the fire is quenched at 12:30 followed by the planting of fruit trees on the biochar.

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 10.18.52 AM
Click to view full size map

Park at Buckland School – 72 George Crescent, Buckland.  A gold coin donation on entry will help us continue our sustainability work.

For more information, call John on 09 238 1357


The Charcoal Fire event 2018

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

Is the Pope being used to support BigAg?

subliminal

[suhb-limuh-nl]
adjective, Psychology.

1.

existing or operating below the threshold ofconsciousness; being or employing stimuliinsufficiently intense to produce a discretesensation but often being or designed to beintense enough to influence the mentalprocesses or the behavior of the individual:

a subliminal stimulus; subliminal advertising

 The article below was first published by Corporate Europe Observatory and is best read on that site as it includes many pertinent visuals.
The article begs the question of whether corporate lobby groups and multinational corporations used the Pope’s influence, without his approval, to push their own agenda around industrialised agriculture.
To me, the case is well made.  What do you think?

The Pope and the Pesticides

“On March 28 2017, participants in the 10th Forum for the Future of Agriculture were greeted with a big surprise at the beginning of the conference: a “special” video address from Pope Francis! Although the lobbying event is an annual Brussels mainstay for the big agribusiness lobby, organised by Syngenta and the EU lobby group of large landowners (ELO) every year.”

. . .

“The day following the FFA, the video title on the FFA’s website and on Youtube was changed from “FFA 2017 Address From His Holiness The Pope” to “His Holiness Pope Francis on agriculture and environmental issues”. FFA organisers told CEO that this was because the former title could have been interpreted as being “potentially misleading”, and La Machi told CEO that they had asked for the title of the video to be changed. Indeed, it did mislead the participants.”

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.

Time to cherish this earth, our common home

Christmas.  For most a season to share good times with friends and family, to relax and regenerate in the outdoors, and to give and receive gifts.

For many, it is a time to celebrate our faith and to recover from the many activities that celebrate the time of year – the work functions, school prize-givings, and the commercial pressures to spend, spend, spend.

For some, it is a hedonistic time of over-indulgence in food and alcohol, and the consumption of stuff that we want but do not need.

For a few, but still too many, Christmas has a downside.

A time of stress, resulting in a surge of domestic violence and disorder.  Or of grief, consequent on the annual spike in the number of road and water deaths.

The increasing number of families queuing outside the Auckland City Mission for Christmas food parcels is a sad reflection of an unequal society.  [Don’t be too sad – donate to the City Mission’s work at aucklandcitymission.org.nz or by phoning them on 09 303 9200.]

These are the human faces of Christmas.  But Christmas is not only about the human race, as the song released in 1984 by rock band Queen, ”Thank God It’s Christmas”, reminds us.

This song brings God, and the birth of Christ, back in to the focus.

In an increasingly secular society, many question or ignore that focus and so an important message gets lost in the frenzy of shopping and partying.  The consequence of our over-consumption and hedonistic disregard for the environment, is impoverishment.

Christians believe the environment was entrusted to human beings by God, who commanded us to cherish the earth. So care for God’s creation we must. Others lived here before us they argue, so we in turn must maintain it for posterity.  Whatever your view of God is, christian or secular, this is an imperative to guide us.  It is a definition of environmental sustainability.

How many will take the time to ponder the year past, the year ahead and to reflect on the climate actions needed to address the greatest threat to our existence on earth?

Actually, I meant to say, threat to our existence.  The earth will out-survive us.

kepler186f_artistconcept_2
The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Credits: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

And contrary to the fanciful ideas of science fiction, nor the ambitions of Elon Musk to make human life multi-planetary, there is no way that we humans are going to escape this earth before the proverbial hits the fan.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to all christians.  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 (compassion).  Please do your part to make it so.  And have a cheery Christmas whilst you do it.

Blessings
John Allen

Be a light switcher to save cash and the planet

After testing more than 3,000 different theories before finding one that worked, Thomas Edison was reported as saying “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

A corollary of this Edison quote is that the most certain way to fail, is to give up. Which is what Professor Guy McPherson is doing, giving up.

Those particular 3,000 theories were about finding a filament that worked in the new electric light bulb.

edison_bulb
Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Edison’s incandescent light was launched at a public ceremony in December 1879.  His belief then, that electricity would become so cheap that only the rich would burn candles, was proved correct.  And hasn’t our society become a better place for that invention?

Today, 137 years later, we need to move away from that old technology, not because of the cost of electricity, but because of the need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LEDs are the new lighting technology and many will be skeptical that replacing old light bulbs will have a material impact on climate change.

For sure, replacing one light bulb has only a small impact.  But if each New Zealand household, more than 1.5 million of them, replaced them all, then the impact would be significant.

How significant?  Stay with me while we do some easy maths.

Based on the average burn time for a light bulb of three hours each day for a year, a 60 watt incandescent bulb will burn 66 units of electricity and emit 9.8 kg of carbon to the atmosphere.  That’s the equivalent emissions from driving 32km in a large car.

The equivalent seven watt LED will burn less than eight units of electricity over a year and emit nearly 1.1 kg of the carbon – less than a 4 km drive in that same large car.

As well as helping save the world, light switchers will save cash too.

At $0.30 for each unit of electricity and a 3-hour burn time per day, a $9.95 LED bulb is paid for through electricity savings in just seven months.  That’s an incredible 172% return on investment.

Those returns are much greater when we factor in the lifetime savings of switching to an LED bulb – over $240 through replacing an LED once every 14 years instead of replacing an incandescent every year for each of 14 years.

led-bulb-green-backgroundThese comparison apply to LEDs of the same brightness and with a range of colour tints available, switching to an LED, gives no loss of light quality.

Being a light switcher is an easy do, will save you cash as well as demonstrating that we are not giving up on saving the planet.

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.

Without healthy soils, our changing climate matters less.

Today, Monday December 5th 2016, is World Soil Day.

Who knew? Who cares?

There are more than two reasons to care. First is that nearly all of our food production requires soil to grow in. Second is that we have only 60 years of food harvests left at current rates of soil degradation.

The 60-year estimate comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their first Status of the World’s Soil Resources report published last year.

The FAO argue that “Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline. The current escalating rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their needs.”

a hand full of wormsLet’s be clear what soil is. Soil is one of our three major natural resources, alongside air and water. It is so much more than the dirt that covers much of the earth’s land. Soil is made up of three main components: the minerals that come from rocks; organic matter from the residues of plants and animals; and the living micro-organisms that live in soil.

It takes nature 200 – 400 years to make a layer of soil one centimetre deep. To make it fertile, may take 3,000 years.

The FAO estimate that between 25 and 40 billion tonnes of topsoil are eroded by wind or rain every year.

Not only does this loss lower farm profitability, it is also a major driver of climate change.

Soil organic matter is exposed when forests are clear-felled and when agricultural lands are tilled. The exposure of soil organic matter to oxygen means that previously sequestered carbon joins the carbon cycle and is added to the atmosphere as a new source of carbon dioxide.

To avoid catastrophic climate change, the world needs us to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere. The longer it takes us to act on that need, the harder it is to avoid catastrophe.

As well as driving climate change, the loss of soil organic carbon reduces the availability of nutrients and minerals to plants and so affects the quality and safety of our food. It also leads to increased pests and diseases which, in a downward spiral, further reduces food availability.

For the sake of our climate and our food supply, the health of our soils needs to be assured. This can best be done through regenerative farming and gardening practices.

One regenerative action that anyone can take, is to add carbon, in the form of compost and biochar, to our gardens and farms.

By looking after our soil, so the soil will look after us.