It’s complicated alright – many variables, many possible ways to interpret them – especially when you throw in the ‘cherry picking’ curve ball – selective focus and interpretation of the data. Some don’t even realise that they’re cherry picking. It’s hard to know what you do or don’t know and, if you rely on social media for your information, then you’re likely to be being fed a self fulfilling reinforcement of what you already believed.

Talking to people can be revealing. I recently talked with an ex farmer who argued that what us humans are doing has very little to do with the climate change we’re seeing. And actually the temperature levels being predicted in the next few decades are similar to what they were back in 900AD, so what’s the problem? Climate change has become an industry based upon twisted facts and self-interest-driven false science.

Well, I also spoke with a Volcanologist, who was aware about that warm spell. He referred to it as the Medieval Warm Period (MVP), understood to have been caused by solar forcing (insolation or heating from the sun), a reduction in cooling from large volcanic eruptions and ocean circulation change – all natural forces and nothing to do with what humans were doing at the time. Remember that in 900AD there were less than 250 million humans worldwide. Today there are more than 28 times as many of us – over 7 billion. The MVP was apparently not global either
– while it was warming in the north, down in the southern hemisphere it was less pronounced. The warming we see today IS a global event.

Ah, but there are lies, damn lies and statistics right? Well, here’s my breakdown of what I’ve so far learnt to be the most widely accepted and most credible ‘facts’…

Climate change is normal. Earth naturally goes through warming and cooling events – some far more extreme than others, some global, some regional. There are multiple causes. Warming and cooling can be caused by a range of forces – solar, volcanic, organic/chemical – and probably some others I still don’t know of.

The underlying problem. There were about 3 billion humans when I was born. Now there are over 7 billion. This will grow to over 9 billion by 2050. Yet our planet and its resources remain finite.

It IS down to us. Unlike other global warming events, this one is human-driven organic/chemical warming. Since the industrial revolution and particularly in the past 50 or so years, this warming has increased at a faster pace than ever identified at any other time in the history of the earth. Rather than natural forces like volcanic events, it is chemicals (carbon dioxide mainly, but also methane and nitrous oxides) from burning fossil fuels, transport, industries such as dairy/beef farming, consumer behaviours that release fluorocarbon, etc; the dramatic depletion of forests; all amplified by wanton over consumption and waste, that have created the conditions resulting in a warming planet this time around.

This global warming event IS different. The vast (and still expanding) majority of the global scientific community, including most of those recognised as the best minds, conclude that the best and still growing datasets show that humans are in the process of inducing a climate change unprecedented for at least 800,000 years and probably 3 million years or more. The climate 3 million years ago is well outside human experience in terms of food production, ecosystem response, or living conditions. Many climatologists and others suspect that the climate experienced in our grandchildren’s lives and possibly even our aging children’s lives will be very different from now and maybe totally unrecognisable.

Our time to act is running out. There are points, called ‘tipping points’, in the climate system – thresholds that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes in the state of the system. We are now approaching such a tipping point – one where climate change will switch from a human-driven (thereby reversible) to a planetary response. At this point the natural domino effects of our planet’s ecosystems will kick in and there’s nothing we will be able to do to prevent further warming. It will be too late for us. Based on current scientific data predictions, the tipping point is
about 2 more degrees of warming, to be reached in the next 30 years if we humans don’t get our collective act together.

The planet does NOT need saving, we do. Earth has been through countless climate change events unscathed. But the environment WE need to survive and thrive in does need saving – that is what’s at stake, not the planet. Act now, it does matter. Immediate and effective action needs to happen globally, coordinated by governments and industries. But when there are so many humans, even little positive actions by individuals, spanning a very wide spectrum, can also make a huge difference. And in the end, it is individuals who vote in governments and buy corporations’ products, stocks and shares.

I struggle mightily with the beliefs of people like the ex-farmer. Even though there is some room for debate, when the stakes are so high, why spend energy trying to refute a need for more sustainable, less wasteful, less polluting, more respectful behaviours (responses needed to effectively address global warming)? Even IF the human impact on global warming was overstated, the worst thing to happen from acting on that line of thought is better use of our scarce resources – which will help to reduce illnesses, poverty and starvation regardless. On the other hand, if humanity elects to follow human-induced climate change deniers and THEY are wrong, then a conducive living environment for humans (and multitudes of other species) is, at the very least significantly diminished, if not destroyed. Why even contemplate taking that risk?!

For many trips, captioned images and route maps from New Zealand and beyond