Up a blind alley (without a paddle)



The people of Christchurch — and the whole of New Zealand — need a better response to flooding than a prime minister gurning with a mop, because every coastal city and town in the country is going to face increasing inundation as sea levels rise and rainstorms get heavier.
John Key Visits Flood Affected Families In Christchurch
Last week’s flooding in Christchurch was a sign of things to come, and should be a wake up call to the whole of the country. The poor old garden city is leading New Zealand into all our climate futures, because the 2010/11 earthquake sequence lowered large parts of the city — by as much as half a metre (or more) in places — rendering previously effective flood defences useless. Add in unusually heavy rain, a sequence of high tides and earthquake damaged infrastructure, and you have the perfect recipe for historic floods and a particularly offensive prime ministerial photo opportunity.

With Gerry Brownlee grinning in the background, Key wielded a squeegee and performed for the cameras in a flood-hit pharmacy in Shirley. The hypocrisy inherent in the PM’s posturing seemed to escape the media, but it won’t be lost on many in Christchurch. Here’s a government which sails as close as it can to outright denial of the seriousness of climate change – which has gutted the climate policies it inherited from the last Labour government, featherbedded the carbon emissions of its friends in farming and big business, and crucified forestry investment – making it obvious that all it’s prepared to do is mop up after the event rather than plan for the future.

What happened in Christchurch was not a consequence of climate change (though the heavy rainfall is something expected to increase in a warming world), but an early warning of what will happen to coastal cities as sea level rise takes its toll over coming decades. With CO2 nudging 400 ppm, the planet can expect the sea to eventually stop rising when it is 15-20 metres higher than today. It might take a few hundred years to get there, but if we don’t act to reduce atmospheric carbon it’s not just a distant threat, it’s a long term certainty.

Long before we get to the sea level endgame, however, we will see that the relatively modest increases expected over the next few decades will increase the damage caused by storm surges, high tides and heavy rain. Christchurch is there today by unhappy accident, but the issues confronting the people of Canterbury will soon be shared by every coastal dweller in New Zealand — and around the world.

We need a government which recognises the big picture when it’s lapping round their Gucci gumboots, and is prepared to plan for the long term. We need to be exploring mechanisms that allow for planned retreat from the encroaching sea. It’s going to be difficult politics. There’s a lot of money tied up on the seaside, whether it’s ports, roads, city apartment blocks or modest baches, and finding a way through the now inevitable problems is going to be a problem to tax any politician of any persuasion.

Ignoring the problem or pretending it doesn’t exist is not just bad government, it’s bad politics. New Zealanders have a right to expect that their government acts in their best interests. Adapting to the climate change and sea level rise that’s now inevitable is a critical part of that job. If Key and Co persist in pretending that climate change is not an important issue, then they need to be delivered a stern message in September’s ballot boxes.


  1. We need to make climate change an election issue.

    Government legislation prevents climate change being raised as an objection in planning consents, for things like new coal mines and oil wells, and motorways.

    In effect the New Zealand Government has legislated climate change denial as law

    This ignorant and biased pro-fossil fuel industry law must be removed from the statute books.

    Opposition groups against the planned open-cast mine on the Denniston Plateau say a law change is needed following a Supreme Court decision.

    A written decision by the court released today dismissed an appeal by a number of groups including Forest & Bird which argued that effects of climate change be considered when granting resource consents for the West Coast mine.

    TV3 News online staff September 19, 2013

    Like the protests against the TPPA and Schedule 4 mining on Conservation Land. In this election year we need a protest movement to abolish this legislated climate change denial.

    • In contrast to the government legislation that enshrines climate change denial, the government spends tens of millions of dollars protecting failing fossil fuel companies like Solid Energy from the market.

      Granted a $155 million dollar bail out by the taxpayer in October last year, Solid Energy is still racking up tens of millions of dollars in losses, which the managing director refuses to comment on.

      This subsidy was sold to the public as a job saving measure, and you would think that with this eye watering amount of subsidy not one worker should have lost their job.

      Yet Solid Energy has been ruthlessly laying off workers flat out!!!

      The government claimed that the bail out was to save jobs. What it really is, is corrupt corporate welfare of a deadly and polluting industry.

      Meanwhile hundreds and possibly even thousands of job opportunities that are being lost because of the Government’s refusal to put in the barest legislative support for renewables.

      Compare the huge subsidies and biased unfair legislative support for oil and gas exploration and coal mining with this complete lack of support for sustainable industry.

      • A battle is brewing.

        “The project is fully consented and with the right policy settings it could be built in stages over time.”

        Eric Pyle of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association August 21, 2013

        Will David Cunliffe promise that an incoming Labour led administration will put in these “right policy settings” that could see hundreds of new well paying jobs created?

        Or will Labour continue to give the fossil fuel companies subsidies and legislative and preference?

        With Labour’s attacks on the Greens breaking into the open over coal mining and deep sea oil drilling, it looks like Labour is committed to the latter rather than the former.

        Politics is all about pressure.

        At the moment all the pressure coming on our politicians is coming from the fossil fuel industry.

        This is why we need a popular protest movement to put the pressure on the politicians in counter to the pressure from the powerful and corrupt fossil fuel lobby.

    • We need to make climate change an election issue.

      No Jenny we need to put NTHE – Near Term Human Extinction on the menu. ops sorry I forgot no one wants to know …………. give it 5 more years maybe?

      • sorry I forgot no one wants to know …………. give it 5 more years maybe?

        Robert Atack

        Even five years is too long, this needs to be on the political agenda now. Every year that passes in which radical action to rein in fossil fuel extraction and use is not taken, is creating permanent damage to the bio-sphere that cannot be undone.

  2. Don’t panic, don’t panic! Rodney Hide will fix it. Look here he comes now, and he will say the magic words “Man made climate change is a myth” and wave his magic dance partner and – Poof! Look, it’s all gone away.

    • More dangerous than the climate deniers of the loony extreme Right are the climate ignorers of the Centre Left. Who ruthlessly self censor or overtly censor any comment putting demands on Labour to act on climate change.

      Plastering over any differences while falsely claiming that Labour and Green Party policies on climate change are “remarkably the same”. The climate change ignorers of the Centre Left are actively but quietly behind the scenes putting pressure on the Greens to also downplay climate change, and are trying for a repeat of the 2011 election.

      The snake that ate the elephant in the room

      Unfortunately for these snakes, Shane Jones never got the memo to keep this silent war off the front pages.

      Shane Jones told to tone down his attacks

      In direct contradiction to the Centre Left apparatchik, Lynn Prentice of ‘The Standard’ who wants to quietly bury any mention of differences over climate change to keep the pressure off Labour to make a stand, Green MP Gareth Hughes, openly says “Obviously we’ve got differences”

  3. Has there been any further news since I read this on scoop.co.nz?…
    ( I talked to a Labour official attending the Kumeu Show last weekend and he knew nothing of the plans to destroy the plateau without even mining it.)
    Tuesday, 25 February 2014, 12:57 pm
    Press Release: Coal Action Network
    Minister of Conservation should halt Denniston Plateau mining – Coal Action Netwo
    Coal Action Network Aotearoa today called on the Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith, to not issue Bathurst Resources the DOC consent it needs to enter and operate its planned mine on the Denniston Plateau, in light of the company’s terrible financial state.
    Bathurst has announced today that it is making 29 workers redundant and that it’s not going to mine coal at Denniston until international prices have recovered. However, it intends to go ahead and set up everything else on the plateau in readiness for mining.
    This could include the removal of the “overburden” – the beautiful, biodiverse-rich landscape.
    “Bathurst is in a terrible financial state. Like Solid Energy, it’s facing a ‘perfect storm’ of tanking coal prices and a strong NZ dollar – quite a different situation from 2008 when the company started sniffing around the West Coast for coking coal,” said Cindy Baxter of CANA.
    “There is no way this company should go ahead with wrecking the plateau, only to sit and wait until the coal price improves, something international commodities commentators are not forecasting to happen any time soon, due to an oversupply in the market.”

      • Blame yourself, Andy’s, for me going off topic…again.
        In a previous post you, like the Labour official I mentioned here, seemed to be unaware of Bathurst’s plans to destroy the plateaux. I wish to warn people that they can’t assume the fight to save the plateaux is over just because the mining plans have been shelved until coal prices rise.
        Thanks for giving me an excuse to raise this off-topic topic yet again.
        On the subject of Christchurch’s woes, of course I’m not bored with hearing about them, or sympathising with the many problems they continue to face. It’s just that these matters have been well reported, whereas I felt the Denniston plateaux’s fate may be slipping under the radar.

        • It does seem a bit odd doing that topsoil removal on Denniston when there is no immediate plan to mine it.

          I would agree with that

          • Volver a mucho grassy arse, Señor Andy’s Negrito… assuming you agree with me and not the removal of the topsoil !

  4. Good title…

    I heard a previous Labour Party insider say that with the departure of Helen Clark and Margaret Wilson (have I got that name right?) there was almost no Labour politician remaining who seemed to have a real grasp of history and the meaning of Left and Right.

    Chris Trotter has a very sound grasp.

    Let Labour not follow the Winston route – I am among those with a left-leaning past who will vote Green rather than yet another Labour Government that slows the progress of the no-longer-New Right programmes, but leaves all the plumbing in place for them to continue next time a right-wing government is elected.

  5. The Press published a list of the top selling motor-vehicles in NZ today and it’s a depressing catalogue of excess if ever there was. Conspicuously overloaded with SUVs and Utes, suggesting that Jo Average doesn’t give a monkey’s about climate change. Well, the new-car buyers anyway.

    I fear that the Greens lack the will to give their all for the planet and our grandchildren. Eventually they are going to succumb to “Politics is the art of the possible”. True, you can’t achieve anything if you are outside Parliament, but they don’t appear to acknowledge the urgency of the situation. Sometimes you have to die on the battlements to prove a point.

    • True, you can’t achieve anything if you are outside Parliament,

      Ian Orchard

      Kia ora Ian, this above statement is not quite true. Rod Donald was New Zealand’s greatest exponent of disproving this.

      Rod Donald inspired and led the political movement that forced parliament to adopt MMP without ever being in government. He did it by organising a mass movement outside of parliament that brought direct pressure on the MPs on both sides of the house. In the end forcing a reluctant National government under Jim Bolger to agree to a referendum on the issue. And despite $millions of dollars spent by the Right to maintain the status quo, Rod Donald’s campaign for MMP was triumphant.

      We are seeing the same sort of campaign developing around Deep Sea oil drilling. And if the Green Party leadership don’t waver in their opposition to deep sea drilliing and stick to their guns and don’t let the side down, then this movement too will most likely be triumphant.

    • I was never a big fan of SUVs in an urban environment, but they are actually quite useful for driving around the eastern suburbs with its “natural speed bumps”

      The ones with the periscope exhausts are quite good for getting around the St Albans area during the weekly 100 year floods.

  6. Yes, this post or article raises matters that the central government and many councils are tending to ignore. Sea level rise is certain, and while it will come gradually, the last IPCC report states that it will be faster and greater than formerly expected.

    So the Auckland Council will have to make further amendments to their Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, as what they have so far provided as steps to prepare to moderate, to adjust to and to protect from coastline and waterway flooding, is totally insufficient. Policy and rules covering new developments along the Waitemata and Manukau harbours rely on older reports on climate change.

    It is time to stop certain developments that will expose new housing and other constructions to higher risks of flooding. I see a need to improve what the PAUP provides for, to protect from flooding and the damage it will cause.

    • Yes, poor old Christchurch coped its big hit at just the wrong time didn’t she. A decade earlier there would have been few who would have seen any difficulty with the concept of rebuilding the city and it resuming its healthy place in the fabric of national society.

      I referred to these more-recently appreciated challenges in 2011

      wherein I conclude:
      ‘We must ask: “Where is the best place to apply the effort and money we are planning to spend rebuilding Christchurch?” Sadly, one place is sure; NOT Christchurch.’

  7. If you were REALLY interested in helping clean up you would be wearing overalls and gumboots, not thousand dollar suits.

Comments are closed.