OPINION: Queenstown’s council has hypocritically pushed its way on to the overcrowded virtue express train 5 with its recent declaration of a climate emergency.
Not only have councillors misinterpreted what an emergency is, they have distracted from urgent local issues for which they have far more direct responsibility and a much greater chance to resolve.
Disclaimer – I’m not a climate change sceptic, I studied climatology and climate change for my science degree at university. There is no doubt the climate is changing, it’s obvious for all to see and clearly supported by a strong scientific consensus.
I still think there is room for more sensible discussion on the scale of human impact but what I am very sceptical about is our approach to addressing our climate challenges.
It seems ironic that as we endure a very dry and mild winter complete with bare mountain tops, that myself, a keen skier, wouldn’t term our warming climate as an emergency.
An emergency, the Oxford dictionary says, ”is something dangerous or serious, such as an accident, that happens suddenly or unexpectedly and needs fast action in order to avoid harmful results”.
We have been talking about climate change non-stop since 1990, it’s hardly unexpected or sudden and while over time the results can be dangerous, I’d argue for Queenstown the chances of any mass fatalities as a result of climate change in the near future are low.
Climate change is not an emergency for Queenstown, it’s a large, extremely complex issue that will continue to impact us over our lifetime. It requires sensible and, equally, large cooperative action to mitigate.
The scale of the issue is such that Queenstown council’s action can only ever be seen as virtue signalling; in fact, most of our global action to date would fit into this basket, unfortunately.
NZ could disappear into the ocean and global C02 concentrations would carry on rising as they had before.
The formation of another Large Igneous Province (volcanic area) such as the Siberian Traps would render
all our global mitigation strategies useless due to the amount of C02 it would pump out.
Does that mean we are not impacted, or we shouldn’t try to be part of a sensible response? Not at all, we are dependent on our natural environment and our climate. We need the world to work together to maintain a safe climate and ensure we aren’t a mountain biking-only resort.
But we should clean up our own room first by focusing on our local social, economic and environmental emergencies, crises and issues. We have a hope and strong need to resolve these in our lifetimes.
Prior to the last local body elections there were promises to address our worker housing shortage, which many would call a crisis, and those living in expensive and overcrowded conditions or struggling to find good staff would agree with this term.
While there has been a lot of constructive talk, action has been far slower, and the issue remains.
If you want an emergency, look at our healthcare or lack of, we have spent decades begging for proper resources locally.
Despite this being a hot topic at local and national elections and a lot of talk about private solutions, like the little girl in the World Vision adverts, ”we still wait” for a tangible outcome.
We have a traffic crisis, with gridlocked roads significantly impacting our local and visitor experience. The talkfests around solving this have set records and yet those in Shotover Country and Lakes Hayes Estate know all about waiting … waiting in traffic!
Lastly, if we want a real environmental emergency, we need look no further than our freshwater. Queenstown’s council has breached its own consents for wastewater discharge hundreds of times and has been fined
for numerous overflows into our pristine fresh water bodies in recent years.
Its answer is to apply for a resource consent to make such
discharges legal for the next 35 years.
It is this blinding hypocrisy that makes this climate circus even more galling.
So, Queenstown council, by all means take sensible action in step with the global community on climate change, but first look at the things we have cocked up in our own backyard that need solving first, and if you really want to pretend to be serious about the environment, save our freshwater as we will poison ourselves long before we cook at this rate!
Mark Wilson is a Queenstown marketing consultant