EDITORIAL: It is natural to focus on the problem that is most immediate, but what if an even bigger, more intractable problem is moving quietly centre-stage without being noticed.
Eliminating Covid-19 is rightly that immediate priority, but climate change, the issue it would be nice to consider as out there in the future, is playing out already in the drought hitting both urban and rural areas.
The water supply in Auckland is shrinking despite a continuous contribution from the Waikato River, and farmers in much of the upper North Island and Marlborough watch as paddocks shrivel.
This is not just one of those years. Climate scientists at NIWA expect the north and east to become more drought-prone due to ongoing climate change through this century.
Climate change action became the focus of protests and movements through 2019, local bodies declared climate emergencies, and changing how we live seemed to be moving up priority lists.
In just months, after Covid-19 reached New Zealand, climate change action risks becoming a “nice to have” as the Government and councils hastily reshape spending priorities in response to the pandemic.
Budget 2020 has been criticised by some for its lack of innovation, and it won’t be clear whether emission reductions are a focus until it is known which projects get funded, by a variety of programmes.
In Auckland, one third of the country’s population is living in an unparalleled drought, with still-modest bans on outdoor water use, as storage lakes fall to 43 per cent, compared with a 77 per cent “normal”.
Stage 3 restrictions would shut commercial users one day a week.
You would think this might focus the minds both of residents and politicians on the need to accelerate lifestyle-changing action, which Auckland Council has been methodically edging towards in recent years.
It is also a warning for all urban areas of the risks of continuing with a lifestyle dependent on reliable rain.
Farmers are used to dealing with whatever nature throws at them, but the Far North has now spent nearly 90 consecutive days in drought or severe drought according to NIWA, Auckland 92 days, and dairy heartland Waikato, 78 days.
Covid-19 Level 4 provided an inconvenient glimpse in our cities of what the answer looks like. Clean air, and vehicle-free streets. Don’t drive. Ride a bike or walk, or find ways to reduce tripping around in cars – without it being lockdown.
The oft pined-for “back to normal” after the binds of the Covid-19 response are relaxed, will be a welcome relief, but for carbon emissions and our still-unclear pathway to reducing them,…