Earth Day – just the one?

First published: Wairarapa Midweek 20 April 2016

In case you’d missed the news, this Friday is Earth Day. Ever since the 1970’s, the world has celebrated April 22nd as a day to support environmental protection.

I’m all for raising awareness of climate change and the steps we need to take to mitigate it, but a once-a-year celebration feels a bit like the crash diet we start every New Year, just as the Christmas ham runs out. We start off with the best of intentions, but drop back into old habits a few days later.

As far as Earth Day events go, 2016 has one of the big ones. The landmark Paris agreement on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is due to be signed on the 22nd by the United States, China and 120-odd other countries.

And not a moment too soon: 2014 was the hottest year on record, compared to pre-industrial times, until 2015 was. Now 2016 has already given us two of our hottest months in history. Even in the face of this fairly terrifying march of dates and temperatures, plenty of folk still don’t take climate change seriously.

A few years ago, I helped some friends restore a culvert over a creek on their farm. It was a fun day on the digger, and it’s still standing. Now imagine it’s your culvert. Imagine 100 engineers had examined that culvert and 98 of them said it was likely to collapse if you drove over it – sending your new Hilux into the river. Two of them said it’s perfectly fine – and that gravity is a conspiracy theory anyway. Who would you listen to?

That’s the place we find ourselves with climate change. 98% of scientists are increasingly convinced that climate change is real, and that we humans are the main driver of it.

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some amazing initiatives happening; some right here in Wairarapa. I was lucky enough to attend the recent Farming for the Future day, organised by the South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group – the third so far, and largest by a long way.

We heard from people and groups doing their bit to improve water quality, use the land in a lower-impact way, and involve communities in the journey.

Whether we are talking about reducing our contribution to climate change, or adapting to the global warming that is already locked in, many of the solutions we need already exist, especially in rural New Zealand. This is fortunate, because rural communities will be the hardest hit by climate change, and far sooner than our city cousins.

So by all means let’s have an Earth Day that reminds us what is at stake by keeping the largest ever threat to humanity at the front of our minds: let’s just do it more than once a year.