Wetlands at the Pounui Lagoon . . . there is less than three per cent of the original wetlands still remaining in our region. PHOTO/FILE

ALEX PEZZA

Climate change is slowly changing our awareness and perceptions of what’s right and what’s acceptable.

On one hand, the established narrative has helped highlight some largely invisible social dimensions of the issue such as adaptation cost, social justice and environmental well-being.

At the same time, the scientific interpretation of the climate emergency continues to grow ever more alarming, increasingly demonstrating the urgency required to address the issue.

Science has never before dealt with a problem of such magnitude, and the pressure to provide solutions is affecting virtually every sector of every society.

But the highly-sought ‘climate solutions’ should really come from outside the business-as-usual mentality paradigm that created the problem in the first instance.

We need long-term solutions that will address the issue holistically, dealing with the deeply-ingrained causes of the problem, which is how we see ourselves as being separate from the environment.

We need to think outside of the square. Unless we change the way that we think and develop a spiritual connection with the planet, the world and the climate will remain out of balance.

Our biodiversity, our balanced, diverse, and healthy ecosystems, go hand in hand with the climate.

Different countries are starting to realise that indigenous views of well-being and connectivity with the environment can, and should, become a part of this ‘natural solution’.

Almost every indigenous culture appreciates that the health of the environment is crucial for our own well-being, including Maori, Native Americans and Aborigines.

Recovering wetlands at East Harbour regional park, Wellington. Stock has been excluded over the past 15 years, and natural restoration processes are slowly returning the native bush. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

If every human being treated the planet as we would treat our grandmothers – with a sense of respect and nurturing for her well-being, we would easily solve the problem.

A key point here is that widespread pollution and environmental degradation are not just a social well-being or biodiversity issue – they are also affecting the ability of the planet to self-regulate its own climate.

In fact, the whole biodiversity that has always sustained our hunger for growth, at the expense of the environment, is now hugely compromised.

If the soils, vegetation and ecosystems lose their capacity to naturally absorb and store carbon, the climate may continue to change even with emissions reduction.

To increase complexity, some of the proposed mitigation and adaptation strategies may be harmful for the environment and biodiversity.

If we plant the wrong type of trees in the wrong places, and build retaining walls where we shouldn’t, we might make the problem worse in the long-term.

Even though the climate crisis requires an urgent solution, this doesn’t give us the right to ignore the big picture. In fact, we now have an incredible opportunity to change the way we think: to address our addiction to growth, and to put things right.

One of the most remarkable examples of this climate-biodiversity synergy is in our peatlands, which are a type of wetland that occurs in our Wellington region.

They are critical for preserving biodiversity, they can provide safe drinking water, they minimise flood risks and, at the same time, they are one of the largest natural terrestrial carbon stores.

Research shows that worldwide peatlands store more carbon than all other types of vegetation combined. The other side of the story is that when they are damaged or drained, they may become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Overall, we only have less than three per cent of the original wetlands still remaining in our region. These include the Wairarapa and Kapiti coasts, Upper Hutt [Mangaroa] and many ecosystems around Lake Wairarapa.

If we keep losing them, we will be failing to provide our own climate solution.

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the climate change challenge. It is common for us to feel that we are too small to make any difference. But we have a ‘natural solution’ right in our backyard, namely our own environmental well-being, our own biodiversity which goes hand in hand with the climate.

This can empower us to regain our connection to nature. This can promote real change, because it is what we do locally that really matters.

We need solutions that give people hope, to restore a long-lost sense of identity. For this to work, community and local government will need to be on the same side.

The first step is to understand the fallacy of the sense of separation between us and the environment. We need to regain our emotional and spiritual connection to the natural world from a place within the heart, not just the mind.

When we do that, well-being will come naturally. And our addiction to growth will automatically disappear.

  • Dr Alex Pezza is a senior climate scientist at Greater Wellington Regional Council, and an adjunct research associate with Victoria University of Wellington.