Climate change: What the people say

5:22 pm on 7 December 2015

Climate change means something different to everyone, usually based on where we live. Five New Zealanders share what it means for them.

Darryl Wilson, Tasman Bay

As far as tourism operator Darryl Wilson is concerned, Tasman Bay behaves today as it has always done - with a mind of its own, and occasionally with more vigour than the average kayaker or sightseer might enjoy.

Tourism operators Darryl Wilson and Lucy Hodgson in Abel Tasman National Park.

Tourism operators Darryl Wilson and Lucy Hodgson in Abel Tasman National Park. Photo: Supplied

Mr Wilson heads Wilsons Abel Tasman, a business sprung from family roots in the area dating back 170 years. He said climate changed, and humans were not faultless in the part they might play in that, but the cycles of change had been happening for aeons and were most noticed by those living with them.

"We've been here for only a blink of an eye in terms of the history of the area, and while climate does change, there's great debate on the triggers thereof," he said.

"I always remember my grandmother who said French nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1970s wrecked the weather. Every generation has an issue to deal with - and back then it may have been testing at Mururoa."

Mr Wilson's forebears began farming in 1844 at Awaroa, at the northern head of the strip of golden coastline which in 1942 became the Abel Tasman National Park.

The Wilsons ventured into a commercial operation in 1977, after the only boat available to take visitors to the national park was wrecked in a storm. The company now operates lodges at Torrent Bay and Awaroa, coastal vessels plus guided walks and sea kayaking tours.

Mr Wilson said the beachfront lodges were under attack from erosion, as they had been for decades; three months after remediating the beachfront at Torrent Bay, a whole row of fenceposts placed there in about 1915 started appearing out of the beach.

"Back then, the beach was a lot less than it has been in my living memory. We're facing things around the coastal environment that are moving faster and which are more cyclical than climate change," he said.

"At Awaroa in 1995, the whole front beach disappeared in a big ocean swell. After five years the beach had rebuilt itself.

"These cycles are too quick to be climate change as such, but I live by the sea on reclaimed land and I've just lifted my section 800mm in recognition of the change that's occurring. Everyone has to try and do the right thing."

(In this series, being run to coincide with the Paris climate change talks, we will publish opinion pieces from Greenpeace, Sanford, the Motor Industry Association, 350 Aotearoa, Mainfreight, Straterra, Federated Farmers and the Environmental Defence Society. Air New Zealand, Fonterra, Holcim and Genesis Energy were invited to contribute, but declined.)

David Litchfield, Wellington

David Litchfield has lived on Owhiro Bay Parade, on Wellington's South Coast, for about 20 years.

The area was particularly hard-hit by a storm earlier this year, and Mr Litchfield said the issue of rising sea levels around his neighbourhood made him feel a bit vulnerable.

He told RNZ the waves came across the road and right up to the front of his house.

Erosion at a carpark at the eastern end of Wellington's Lyall Bay on 15 June 2015.

Erosion at a carpark at the eastern end of Wellington's Lyall Bay on 15 June 2015. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

Mr Litchfield is aware of the Paris talks because he has friends who are particularly interested in it, but he does not hold out a lot of hope for the conference.

"I'm probably slightly cynical about it because there's been so many talks before and so many times they generally say a lot of quite good things, yes, yes, yes, we'll take it into account and then nothing really happens. That's the way I see it anyway."

Mr Litchfield did not believe Westerners had been affected by the impact of climate change but said those living in the Pacific Islands had.

"On the whole, people are not that worried about it because there's too many embedded things for keeping industry going and keeping finances going that side of it."

Owhiro Bay resident David Litchfield.

Owhiro Bay resident David Litchfield. Photo: RNZ

But he did care about the talks and wanted like to know what was happening.

"I was a little dismayed, I got a copy of the National Geographic come through and they were showing all the countries of the world and who's doing the most for global warming and New Zealand was way down the bottom, so that was a little bit of a worry," he said.

"I'm sure we can do better than that."

Scott Butcher, Christchurch

Scott Butcher lives on Southshore, a stretch of land between the estuary and the sea in Christchurch.

The area was hit hard in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, lots remain empty and the roads bumpy.

The area was part of the coastal hazards chapter in the Christchurch City Council's district plan review, which identified 18,000 properties at risk of flooding.

Southshore resident Scott Butcher

Southshore resident Scott Butcher Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

Mr Butcher said although coast hazards were shelved in September, they caused stress in the community.

"Not only have we come through an earthquake, then all of a sudden we had these hazard lines which identified areas affected by sea-level rise."

Mr Butcher said he had a strong interest in the Paris talks, as he had a background in environment science.

"It's been talked about for so long, so it's nice to see momentum finally happening and proper discussions about what we can do about climate change."

Mr Butcher, who had volunteered in the Solomon Island's as a natural resource management advisor, said he believed New Zealanders were detached from nature; in the Solomon Island's people noticed the changes on a daily basis, with their crops being eroded into the sea and the wet and dry seasons merging.

"I think people here are afraid about the idea we are affecting the planet, so we have been putting it aside and denying it is even happening for the last 15, 20 years."

Mr Butcher said he has high hopes for the climate change talks in Paris but said the government could always push to do more.

David Whitburn, Auckland

The City of Sails does not face the same risk from rising sea levels as other centres but that does not mean it is exempt from the impacts of climate change; the report by the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment identified pockets of low-lying land in Auckland most at risk from rising sea levels.

Sandy beaches in Orewa

Orewa beach. Photo: Wikicommons

They are dotted around the city's coastlines, including parts of the central city, and more than half are in the north of the city.

Property developer David Whitburn said only a small number of property owners were directly affected but for them rising sea levels would be a serious problem.

"Some of those nice sandy beaches in Orewa and Omaha, towards the north of Auckland, have developments that are very close to or on the sand dunes.

"Further sand dune and soft-shore erosion is a real possibility with those."

Mr Whitburn said the Paris talks centred around big-picture climate action but New Zealand's government could also do more to mitigate the impact of climate change on properties at home.

"The government has a role to play in this, but it would only be if they were to put on legislation preventing owners building at certain levels."

It could also set rules as to where people could place houses near cliff edges, he said.

"Some people are going to have their beach houses potentially submerged - their $2 million beach house in Omaha is underwater."

Hal Harding, Northland

Northland farmer Hal Harding milks 830 cows on his farm at Aoroa just out of Dargaville.

He did not not have a lot of faith in the ability of world leaders to agree on measures to avoid catastrophic climate change; it was already happening and farmers were acutely aware of it, he said.

Three of the past five summers have brought severe drought to Northland's west coast - and floods in the region have become more frequent and more intense.

"I've had to buy in heaps of feed, and graze the cows off-farm, as far away as Mangawhai and Mangamuka."

Hal Harding (Northland)

Hal Harding Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Mr Harding said he was doing his bit to cut CO2 levels but believed farmers in general could be doing more.

Mr Harding belonged to the Kaipara Biological Farming Group and was committed to reducing his carbon footprint by working with nature, by using such substances as naturally occurring carbon compounds found in association with lignite, coal and peat deposits, known as humates.

"When we apply nitrogen fertilisers, they are activated by carbon in the soil - and that releases CO2 into the atmosphere. But if we apply humates at the same time, the nitrogen utilises that, leaving the carbon in the soil undisturbed."

Mr Harding said methane emissions from cattle could also be reduced by adding humates to their feed.

"I'm a bit cynical about the Paris talks," he said.

"New Zealand's contribution to climate change is miniscule, compared to the big nations. But that doesn't mean we can't do more."

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