Roughan’s relaxed, world drowns

rising seaInsouciance is the new face of climate change denial. John Roughan’s column in Saturday’s New Zealand Herald was a typical example. Half a metre sea level rise by the end of the century? What’s there to be concerned about in that, he scoffs. A bach at the water’s edge might no longer be a good idea, but that’s about all it amounts to.

At a century off, the predicted disaster of climate change is a slow burn.

“It is plenty long enough for people to move if necessary, for crops to change, fresh water to be managed much more efficiently. Human life will adapt if it has to…”

It’s hard to credit the nonchalance, let alone the implicit inhumanity. Roughan settles for the lower sea level rise estimates, I notice.  No mention of the metre or more which is now commonly advanced by scientists. But there’s not much need to be too closely acquainted with the science if you can brush it all away with the assertion that humans will adapt if they have to.

There’s no acknowledgement that sea level rise will continue to catastrophic levels in succeeding centuries if we take no notice of the urgent need to constrain emissions. No recognition of what a metre of sea level rise will mean for many small island states, or for the dense populations of low-lying coasts and the great river deltas. No appreciation of the precariousness of the lives of the hundreds of millions of poorer people whose subsistence is closely tied to a relatively dependable climate pattern. Does he advise them to be “sensibly relaxed about the risk of climate catastrophe”, as he praises the New Zealand government for being?

He appears as dismissive of technologies to address climate change as he is of the magnitude of the risks it carries. He contemptuously suggests that the alternative to adapting to climate change is returning “to some pre-industrial age of bicycles and village crafts.”  I think of books like Al Gore’s Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis which grew out of many lengthy and intensive “Solution Summits” he organised to enable leading experts from round the world to share their knowledge. The kind of technological expertise they represent is apparently not worth Roughan’s bothering to acquaint himself with.

Roughan’s trivialising may not be denial of the science, but it is denial of the science’s import. It effectively claims that climate change can’t be as bad for humanity as the science warns it will be. It pours scorn on those who allow themselves to be thoroughly alarmed at the prospect. It undermines urgent mitigation measures and misrepresents what those measures might be.

Roughan is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Herald. Of late the paper has carried a number of accurate and well-assembled news reports about climate change matters, albeit at some distance from the front pages.  It also hosts occasional opinion pieces which set out the seriousness of the issue. And a couple of days ago it at long last tackled the question in a thoughtful editorial critical of the lack of urgency in the government’s approach to climate change.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, to find one of its senior journalists so blasé on such a serious matter.


18 thoughts on “Roughan’s relaxed, world drowns”

  1. To give Roughan his due he is nothing if not obedient. Clearly he has received the memo from National’s central policy planners and is doing his part to insert the concept of adaptation into public perception.

    It was instructive listening to Tim Groser speaking on the Sunday Morning programme on National Radio yesterday. He made a point of stressing that sea level rise over the next century would not be all that much; that a hundred years was a long time.

    The National government, and their acolytes, having failed to convincingly demonstrate that Climate Change is not happening at all, appears to be adopting the narrative that even if it is happening it will be slow. We can adapt, at some time in the future, if and when the effects become apparent, nothing much to worry about.

    I’m confident we will all hear much more about adaptation in the coming weeks and months from National’s various media releases.

    1. Gary, I too heard Tim Groser and was struck by the similarity, downplaying the sea level risk and stressing the time interval. Neither of them seem to have noticed that 100 years has already become 86, within the life expectation of today’s young children. John Key on the same programme repeated the “doing our bit” mantra and the familiar cop-out excuse that we’re too small to make any difference to the big picture. As you predict, the themes are likely to become depressingly familiar this election year.

  2. One of the problems is that the government is still using the IPCC A1B scenario which is the old ‘middle of the road’ estimate for CO2 emissions. As we have consistently been above the A1F1 worst case scenario it about time they changed the projections. The figures are all there for the A1F1 but it looks pretty bad so they adopt a complacent attitude and not spend much money or frighten people. My web site illustrates the problem but its well down the page.

  3. Roughans column was complete rubbish. I managed to post a couple of scathing comments, including how badly informed and dangerous his comments were on both climate and earthquake risks.

    1. Pffft, whatever. At least people like Roughan are airing their stupidity for all to see. It’s now part of the public record. He can’t distance himself from his delusional statements like all the anonymous denier numpties.

  4. So Mr`s Roughan, Keys and Groser lets take a current event like the Solomons. (Reportadly `Once in a lifetime`, `Worst in living memory` or `Worst in decades`. Take your pick. Whatever the choice it`s pretty dam bad for 10,000 plus people. Many have lost their entire wealth and security in life. Some have lost their lives and some the lives of their children.
    So as a case study relatively on our doorstep lets see how they adapt.
    May I suggest there will be very little insurance involved. The relief effort will run out of puff and once the media have moved on to other ` more newsworthy` items the Solomons will disappear into the mist along with the tragedy bestowed on many lives.

    Of course in Roughans mind the Solomons, (or any other disaster area of note in recent time) don`t count because they don`t affect him or his ability to enjoy a comfortable life in our little `clean, green` paradise.
    I suspect many will follow this take on events paying little credence to the science. (As with commentators Houton, Williams and wanna be poly Whyte etc)

    What they fail to understand is that climate change is not a linear event. What I mean by that is that because 400 parts/mill have accumulated in a historically very short period the planet is in effect playing catch up therefore we actually do not know the full effect of 1deg. will be let alone 2,3 or four degrees. (The models are a best guess and a moving target after all).
    You could consider it the most extravagant game of roulette the world has ever played and I for one don`t think our chances are at all flash.

  5. The problem with SLR is beaches – especially in NZ – tend to be very flat. A typical profile might be 1:20, so 1m of rise will have your high water mark moving inland by up to 20m.

    Even in the 10 years I have had my place in Waikanae, with the 3cm or so that we’ve had since then, I can see an increased incidence of spring tides hitting the dune front. It may only be an extra half metre that the tide is coming up the beach, but that’s enough to be the difference between missing the dunes and undercutting them. Already the effects of erosion are plainly visible, so by the end of the century it is pretty obvious that there will be some houses who will be taking “sea views” to a whole new level.

    But try telling the good people of Kapiti that…

    1. As you say, it doesn’t take much SLR to make a big difference to low lying land.

      The sea is going to reclaim much of the farmland south of the Firth of Thames as it advances up the Waihou and Piako rivers returning it to the saltmarsh and swamp which is it’s natural state.

  6. John Key and his mouthpieces are peddling complacency as hard as they can. Our PM is so relaxed about everything, including the collapse of the holocene, I’m surprised he doesn’t fall asleep. And, at least half of the voting electorate are lapping it up. Peace in our time? Yeah, right.

  7. Having a few dependant territories give us some status a influence but when their islands go underwater we will have to accommodate them. They are nice peaceful people and there are not vast numbers and we can afford it but not many people understand the consequences and responsibilities of a warming planet.

  8. Oh I see the early stages of adaptation in the Solomons are going well. Yes, refugee camps, preparation for disease breakout, fresh water in a couple of weeks or so, recover the dead bods and of course its their fault because they built on a flood prone area. Bit like Christchurch.
    Should be able to use the `adaptation recovery model` in Oz in a few days after 300km/hr tornado has done its bit. I guess we will get really good at it in the next 30 or so years while we can afford the cost. After that my guess is you will be on your own, maybe you already are.

      1. Oh, for God’s sake, do we really have to put up with mindless linkspamming to such a source? Either spit it out for yourself or don’t bother, Bio.

  9. I was being sarcastic. Adapt ion is being used by people who want to go on with business as usual and put the problems right as they arise in some kind of evolution. They blithely talk of opening up northern areas for farming but in reality Canada has had it soil scraped off by glaciers and can you imagine Texas being abandoned and the pioneers moving to a new golden land in Canada. That is a plane that is not going to fly.

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