Sustainable Dunedin City

Looking to Dunedin's Future

Browsing Posts published in May, 2009


Dear Members,

Please find attached a summary of SDC

“Council forecasts show debt rising to $354 million in 2010-11, largely due to planned borrowing to pay for big-ticket infrastructure items and the planned $198 million Otago Stadium”, reports the Otago Daily Times. Council staff, it says, “have already highlighted the effects of the spending plans leaving little room for additional expenditure of the 10-year period” (13:3:09). That means that there’ll be no money to stave off climate change over the next ten years, or to deal with its effects.
I’m no scientist, but it’s easy enough to find out what’s going on. Stories about climate change appear almost every day in the Otago Daily Times, The Listener, Time, the Guardian Weekly, the New Scientist and other reputable journals. Some models predict that the planet will be cooked as early as 2050. We cannot simply avert our eyes from the bad news. Five-year-olds will only be 45 when the world as we know it comes to an end. How can we protect the next generation from the worst effects of climate change? What can we do to delay this catastrophe? I beg our civic leaders to use their power and resources to take effective and immediate action, as indicated by the more detailed submission from Sustainable Dunedin City.
Here are some recent headlines plucked pretty much at random. On 10 March 2009, the ODT published an article about the respected scientist James Lovelock. Climate change, he says, will wipe out most life on Earth by the end of this century, and mankind is too late to avert catastrophe. Higher temperatures will turn parts of the world into desert and raise sea levels, flooding other regions. Crop failures, drought, and death on an unprecedented scale could cause the population of the world to shrink from about seven billion to one billion by 2100 as people compete for ever-scarcer resources.
Efforts should therefore be focused, he says, on creating safe havens in areas which will escape the worst effects of climate change. The good news is that the leading scientific journal New Scientist says that those areas include New Zealand. But the bad news is that some models predict that the planet will be 4 degrees warmer as soon as 2050, well within the lifetimes of our children and their children (28:2:08).
“Climate guru calls for ‘drastic action,'” writes Robin Mackie in The Observer (21:1:09). Jim Hansen, the distinguished climatologist, has pinned photographs of his three grandchildren to his office wall. They remind him of his duty to future generations, children he believes are threatened by a global greenhouse catastrophe that is soaring out of control because of soaring carbon dioxide emissions from industry and transport.
Barack Obama’s administration, says Hansen, offers the world the last chance to make things right. If it fails, global disaster–melted ice caps, flooded cities, species extinction and spreading deserts–await mankind. Coal-burning power-plants he especially singles out as factories of death. I suggest that it would be responsible, for instance, to eliminate all coal-burning heating plants in Dunedin.
“Melting glaciers imperil world’s water,” says the Sunday Star-Times (18:2:09). Nearly two billion people in Asia will suffer water shortages as global warming shrinks glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau. Temperatures in high-altitude Tibet rose by 0.32 degrees centigrade every ten years between 1961 and 2007, well above the world and national average, says a report in the ODT (9:3:09). Meanwhile, down in Antarctica, more rain is speeding glacier melt and nudging up world sea levels, which could exceed 150cm this century, says the Guardian Weekly (2:01:09). That would swamp many major cities of the world, as well as low-lying parts of Dunedin. I suggest that we need to start planning urgently and creatively for a hothouse world.
“Earth teeters at its physical limit,” says John Vidal in the Guardian Weekly (19:12:08). Last year, he writes, it may have dawned on governments that hell-for-leather, western fossil-fuel-based, car-centred growth only ends in social and ecological disaster. Record carbon emissions, soaring air pollution from air travel and the loss of tropical forests, melting of Arctic and Greenland ice, methane bubbling up from melting tundra, and extreme weather events such as hurricanes and drought, bring famine and desertification. The drop in oil prices may give us a chance to “climate-proof” our economies, says Vidal. I suggest that Dunedin needs to fast-track green technologies and urgently implement energy-efficient measures.
But is it too late? “Scientists start to say “yes”‘, reports the Guardian Weekly (19:12:09). At a high-level academic conference in Exeter last year, climate scientist Kevin Anderson wanted to be told he was wrong to argue that carbon emissions were soaring way out of control and that the battle against climate change has been lost. But everyone sat in stunned silence as Anderson pointed out that carbon emissions since 2000 have risen faster than anyone thought possible. The Co2 level is currently at 380 parts per million, rising more than 2 parts per million every year. At 650 parts per million, the earth would face a 4C average rise in temperature, which would be quite simply catastrophic.
“A radical new world order may be our only hope,” argues Gaia Vince in the New Scientist (28:2:09). With a warming of 4 degrees, 90% of humanity could vanish. Cities such as London and Shanghai would drown. The drying up of the great rivers would leave Bangladesh largely abandoned, African deserts reaching into Central Europe, and China a dustbowl. All the life will be in the high latitudes. New Zealand would be “unrecognisable,” a “densely populated island state with high-rise cities and intensive farming.” I suggest that Dunedin needs to start planning boldly and imaginatively for this radical new world order.
The most terrifying prospect of a world warmed by 4 degrees is that it may be impossible to return to anything resembling today’s varied and abundant earth, says Vince. Worse still, most models agree that once there is a 4 degree rise, the juggernaut of warming will be unstoppable, and humanity’s fate more uncertain than ever. So what must we do? In order to be safe, we have to reduce our carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2015. We are currently putting in 3 per cent more each year. I suggest that we need to find ways of reducing Dunedin’s carbon emissions.
“Only total energy renewal can save us,” writes George Monbiot in the Guardian Weekly (5:1:08). To give ourselves an even chance of preventing more than two degrees of warming, global emissions from energy must peak by 2015 and decline by between 6% and 8% per year from 2020 to 2040, leading to a complete decarbonisation of the global economy soon after 2050. The cost of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, but we have no other option.
Closer to home, the latest issue of the University of Otago Magazine, tells about Associate Professor Abby Smith’s research into the increasing acidification of the sea and the threat it poses to marine life and the ocean ecosystem (“The acid test”). Since industrialisation, says Smith, the ocean has absorbed about one third of emissions. But these rising CO2 levels are altering the chemistry of the ocean, creating a increasingly acidic environment that could spell bad news for marine animals, especially those which make shells, such as plankton.
This could have profound effects on our fisheries, with potentially catastrophic effects on aquaculture and coral reefs. Millions of people depend on these reefs for food, coastal protection and tourism. Ocean acidification is perilously close to becoming irreversible. The worst-case scenario could be the extinction of sea creatures with shells, with flow-on effects all the way up the food-chain.
In Dunedin last July, members of the Dunedin Secondary Students’ Climate Forum implored the DCC to act, and act urgently. To stave off climate change, they said, the Council needs to improve the way Dunedin functions as an environmentally conscious community with regard to our public transport system; how we generate, use and conserve our electricity; the level of environmental awareness and action in our community; the way we perceive, manage and reduce our waste; support for local producers and manufacturers, and promotion of a less materialistic lifestyle; how and where we build our homes; and the way we use and conserve our water resources. I believe that a revised community plan would thoroughly and quickly implement these urgent recommendations from our wise young people.
These youthful citizens have their eyes on the ball. All over Dunedin and its environs, grass-roots organisations such as Transition Towns in North-East Valley and Waitati, Hampden Community Energy, the Enviroschools movement, Otepoti Organics, and Sustainable Dunedin City, along with institutions such as the Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago, are working to build responsible and resilient communities. So can the DCC. Two thousand climate researchers meeting in Copenhagen say there is no excuse for inaction (ODT, 14:3:09). The very future of the world depends upon communities such as ours becoming involved as soon as possible. A radically revised Community Plan is the best place to start.

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