• Who Do You Trust on Climate Change?

    I foresee a day when, perhaps fifty years from now, New Zealand celebrates St Michael’s Day, in commemoration of Michael Hosking and his achievements. Speakers at the celebrations will recall how the great man – almost alone – had used the pages of the Herald and other outlets to refuse to kowtow to the conventional wisdom and the opinions of virtually the whole of the expert scientific community on global warming and climate change, and had warned against abandoning the life style and economic activity that had served us so well.

    He had urged us to go on with the emissions – produced by the burning of fossil fuels and the perpetuation of what Margaret Thatcher once called “our great car economy” – emissions that were thought to create global warming, and he had added that New Zealand was so “fantastically small” that, even if there had been something to be said for the global warnings about global warming, what we did would not matter a damn. He argued that we should put ourselves first and set at nought any responsibilities we might feel towards our island neighbours in the Pacific Ocean.

    The speakers would go on to celebrate the fact that the experts had been proved wrong and that only those of robust common sense, like Mike Hosking, had spared us the quite unnecessary disruption that had been proposed in order to avoid a quite non-existent threat.

    There is of course another possible scenario. On that same day, fifty years hence, it will be conceded, after a long struggle against steeply rising temperatures, raging fires and catastrophic weather events, that New Zealand, with many other parts of the globe, was no longer habitable, let alone suited to the production of food. It is recalled that the “tipping point” had occurred perhaps 25 years earlier, when the increased warmth of the world’s oceans had melted the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps, to such an extent that the delicate balance that had ensured climate stability was destroyed, and global warming had not only intensified and increased sharply in speed but had become irreversible.

    That leaves just one more possibility. With the benefit of hindsight, we might celebrate – as we marked another fifty years of development as a nation – the wisdom of our leaders in introducing policies that reduced our dependence on fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine and, as a result, allowed us to arrest the inexorable rise in global temperatures, so that we could maintain our life styles and living standards.

    We might marvel that, against the opposition of the ignorant and complacent, we had had the foresight to make the changes needed and that, through those far-sighted adjustments, we had succeeded in continuing to feed not only ourselves but also those in other countries who depended on us for essential foodstuffs and who continued to pay us the export earnings on which our living standards depended. We might ask ourselves where we would have been if we had insisted on ignoring the facts and assuming that we could just go on defying the inevitable.

    Those with long memories might also recall one Mike Hosking who had tried to persuade us that we should ignore what was staring us in the face and should instead just carry on regardless. Speakers might warn against the kind of self-delusion that holds that there should be no concession to the facts if they are in conflict with our prejudices.

    Bryan Gould
    7 September 2018