We need to talk about the weather - James Shaw


I'm writing this week's column on the day that Cyclone Cook is expected to hit New Zealand.

I don't know yet if the forecasts will be true. Whether we will get a truly destructive storm, or just a bad one.

Either way, I think we can agree that with two cyclones hitting the country in the space of a week the weather has not been normal.

But then 2017 hasn't been a normal year. While we had one of the worst summer imaginable in Wellington, farmers in Hawke's Bay didn't see rain for months. In Christchurch, it has been so dry that when the Port Hills caught fire the images were reminiscent of an Australian bush fire.

And then we had flooding. In Northland, they went from being parched to being inundated with rain within a month. And of course last weekend was ex-tropical Cyclone Debbie, and now there's another on the way.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister was asked what he thought was behind this wild weather, was it climate change? His answer was interesting. He said "I don't think it matters too much"… "We don't spend time trying to connect the two".

Think about that for a second. It is quite a remarkable thing to say. I personally can't think of any other catastrophe that's hit New Zealand where a Prime Minister decided they didn't need to know the cause.

When someone has cancer we don't ignore the cigarettes they're smoking. We don't ignore the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath when there's a car accident. We don't ignore what's in the water when people start falling sick in Havelock North.

We can't afford to stick our heads in the sand and not even examine the link between climate change and the weather we are experiencing.

When we rebuild the flood banks broken in Edgecumbe we need to know they can withstand more frequent, intense storms in the future.

Farmers need to know whether deeper droughts are an anomaly or a new trend they need to prepare for.

If we refuse to even consider the role of climate changes in these events New Zealand will be left unprepared.

But most of all we need we need a government that is willing to admit that climate change is a problem and that'll actually step up and do something about it.

A government that can recognise that in the process of solving climate change we can also improve the quality of life in New Zealand.

Shifting our energy sources away from foreign-owned oil to locally produced biofuels would create thousands of new jobs in regional New Zealand.

Making our homes more energy efficient, would also mean making them warmer, fewer kids going to the hospital, and lower healthcare costs for everyone.

Investing in clean electric public transport would not only cut emissions but cut congestion that is beginning to grind our cities to a halt.

This week, we have had a taste of what the cost is of not acting to halt runaway climate change. It's an experience that should spur us into action.