The scientific consensus is that the Earth’s climate is warming – largely through greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity. What we do about this is up to all of us.
Nature of science
Science and society both have roles to play in slowing the effects of climate change. Scientific research can find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the public have to agree to take action to avoid dangerous climate change and related problems. This will mean significant changes to the ways we live and work, but not to do so will result in bigger problems.
Working for change – a global issue
Climate change is a global issue, so efforts to mitigate the problem need to be global too. Governments are working together to find solutions. One example of global collaboration is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since 1992, the world’s nations have met annually to work towards a legally binding agreement to commit to reducing greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol in 1998 was the first step. It was binding for first-world countries only. In 2015, 196 countries approved the Paris Agreement, a legally binding global climate agreement that aims to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Working for change – a national response
New Zealand’s early ratification of the Paris Agreement signals its commitment to global action on climate change. The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) provides a way of charging businesses that emit greenhouse gases, giving them an incentive to reduce their emissions. About half of the country’s greenhouse gases come from agriculture, especially methane from ruminants. One response is government funding for the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre to reduce methane ‘burps’ from ruminants. Another is to use soils and grow trees to store carbon.
Working for change – the scientists
When Dr Ros Rickaby was pondering future career choices at the end of her PhD, she was told, “The problem of climate change is such an important problem – and it’s up to your generation to solve it.” Ros, who had been considering a business career, recognised the importance of the issue and chose to work as a biochemist instead. Specifically, she is investigating the effects that increasing ocean acidification might have on biological systems.
Ros is one of nearly 40 scientists featured in the film Thin Ice – The Inside Story of Climate Science (www.thiniceclimate.org). The scientists have expertise in a range of fields, including engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, meteorology and more. They and countless others have taken up the challenge to communicate their science in ways that make sense to non-scientists. The challenge now is to get sufficient numbers of people engaged in working for change.
Climate science is incredibly complex. This article looks at some of the organisations in New Zealand that are taking on the challenge of helping Aotearoa meet the challenges it presents.
Communicating socio-scientific issues
Garnering public support requires new ways of communicating with the public. For example, Antarctica New Zealand and the Deep South National Science Challenge are working on innovative ways to reach diverse audiences. TEDxScottBase in January 2017 featured business entrepreneurs, an astronaut and the musician Gin Wigmore, who all talked about humanity’s relationship with the climate. Social media star Jamie Curry spent time in Antarctica, making videos to share with her 10 million-plus followers. Social action groups such as the youth-led Generation Zero and Earth Guardians aim to get communities and political leaders involved. On an individual level, social change also encourages us to adopt more sustainable habits.
Working for change – the public
There are many small actions that individuals, schools and businesses can take that, together, can lead to larger change:
- Use fuel-efficient cars – or better yet, leave the car at home. Walk, ride a bike or use public transport instead. Plan ahead to combine trips and errands. Burning fossil fuels like diesel and petrol releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as harmful particulates. In 2020, there was a significant decrease in emissions when much of the world sheltered in place during the initial outbreak of COVID-19. This showed us what is possible.
- Be energy efficient. In New Zealand, we generate over 80% of our electricity via renewable sources (as opposed to fossil fuels), but it still helps to unplug devices when not in use and to purchase energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances.
- Think about what you eat. Add vegetarian meals to the menu. Globally, meat and dairy are responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gases.
- Think about rubbish. Rubbish buried in landfills produces methane gas (a potent greenhouse gas). Composting food and garden wastes, repurposing items, reusable packaging and recycling keep things out of the landfill. Think before you buy.
- Get informed and get involved. The useful links at the bottom of this page are a good place to start! Also, contact the Hub to let us know what you are doing!
Read about climate connections and why climate change matters to New Zealand:
NIWA is working on solutions for effective action on climate change.
NASA Climate Change has extensive resources.
Get involved with local groups:
The New Zealand Ministry for the Environmental (MfE) is the Government's Ministry leading research on climate change.
Watch Jamie's World on Ice videos from Jamie Curry's Antarctic experiences:
- I went to Antarctica
- How to put up a tent...in Antarctica!
- They were all dead?!?.
- We all just pee in a bottle
The Ministry of Education's Climate Change Learning Programme – Teacher Resource and Wellbeing Guide is a level 4 programme focused on climate change that includes specific student activities; the wellbeing guide focuses on student wellbeing and hauora when navigating climate change as an area of learning and action. Many of the suggestions are relevant to other learning levels.
Thin Ice – The Inside Story of Climate Science, a David Sington/Simon Lamb film, looks at what’s really happening with global warming by filming scientists at work in the Arctic, the Antarctic and around the world. It gives a 56-minute view of the range of human activity and scientific work being undertaken to understand the world’s changing climate. The result is a unique exploration of the science behind global warming and an intimate portrait of a global community of researchers racing to understand our planet’s changing climate.
The Science Learning Hub has produced a series of articles using short video resources produced by the Thin Ice team. The film itself is available by emailing email@example.com. It is recommended viewing to give students context for the Hub’s articles and the videos they contain. The link for streaming is available free of charge. The DVD is also available to New Zealand schools for $20 to cover costs.
Learn more at www.thiniceclimate.org