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Put focus on adapting to climate change

As Cyclone Gabrielle wreaks varying degrees of havoc across the North Island, pundits have been quick to make a connection between the storm system and climate change.

Calls for New Zealand to move faster, and more radically, to mitigate the warming of our planet will no doubt follow hard on the heels of those reckons.

Given how reactive our current government tends to be regarding any issue causing a big media splash, there’s a good chance we’ll soon see some rushed, poorly thought-out legislation that merely gives the impression of leadership on this complex conundrum but in reality results in a range of unpleasant, unintended consequences.

Examples of this approach to law-making include changes to firearm rules pushed through Parliament in the wake of 2019’s horrific Christchurch mosque massacres.

Lest we forget, the law before this awful event was quite sufficient to prevent the terrorist-to-be from getting his weapons of murder, if only the police vetting his license application had bothered to follow it. And have you noticed a sharp decline in gun crime since the new rules came into force? Yeah nah, didn’t think so.

The inclusion of agriculture in our emissions trading scheme is another case in point.

The government was quick to call this move “world-leading” – while failing to mention that we’re the only country to make such a move even though the Paris Accord on climate change explicitly excluded food production from any mitigation measures, for pretty obvious reasons.

So we now have a policy whose only meaningful impact will be reducing the precious protein that’s available both here and abroad as forecast global food shortages loom on the horizon.

I’m not about to out myself as a ‘climate change denier’, because I accept it is indeed happening – and has been since long before humans were among the earth’s inhabitants. While how much our species has contributed to the current change cycle is up for debate, it’s prudent to assume we have had a significant impact.

What I take issue with is our primary focus on mitigating temperature rise [the idea we can reverse this process in the complex planetary system now that it’s been set in train strikes me as a classic case of idiotic human arrogance] instead of concentrating on the obvious need to rapidly adapt to our changing circumstances.

Perhaps Cyclone Gabrielle’s impact will mean more focus on climate change adaptation.

But even though I believe this is where we should be putting our efforts, it will pain my pedantic little heart if it does. Because while the storm has been seized on as an illustration of the climate change phenomenon, it’s not at all clear how closely it’s connected, as this key paragraph from an RNZ article titled ‘Cyclone Gabrielle: The science behind its power’ spells out:

“Climate change cannot be blamed for Gabrielle’s existence – recent studies have suggested the globe’s warming is actually reducing the frequency of tropical storms in the Pacific – but the extra energy it affords systems could be making those that do form stronger.”

What we need is a rational response, not more wrong-headed, headline-fuelled policymaking that privileges feelings over facts.

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