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Debate more polarised

Debate more polarised
University of Canterbury political science Professor Bronwyn Hayward suggests ways to deal with climate change at the Rural Woman NZ event in Tinwald on Thursday. PHOTO SHARON DAVIS

Global warming has become increasingly polarised, with people talking past each other rather than looking for solutions. A political science professor says people need to listen to each to ensure sustainability.

Climate change is an "unequivocal threat with a brief and rapidly closing window" in which to make a difference.

But, University of Canterbury political science Professor Bronwyn Hayward says views on climate change have become increasingly polarised over recent years - with a political divide and a rural-urban divide.

Talking to delegates at a Rural Women NZ event at the Tinwald Function Centre on Thursday, Hayward pointed to examples like Green Party supporters wanting a lot of action on climate change, middle of the roaders wanting some action, and others like National and ACT at the other end of the spectrum who wanted a cautious approach to climate change commitments.

Hayward, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said people "talk angrily past each other" and don't look at the problem that needed to be fixed.

"It means we don't have a common language to talk about climate change."

Primary sector leaders who work on the land did see climate change as the major issue facing their sector.

But outside of the sector, there was more division. Some people felt hard done by and battled for their own interests, she said.

There was a need more meaningful dialogue. Hayward said people needed to take the "time and empathy to listen to people not like you".

Red tape

There was quite a strong lobby in the farming community against red tape and regulation and a feeling amongst farmers that there was far too much regulation. However, Hayward said regulation helped to build trust with consumers.

A recent study found consumer trust in farming grew when consumers believed trusted people and organisations were monitoring farm production, land use and emissions.

Provided regulations were fair and equitable they help to build trust.

A lot of farmers were "working their butts off" on sustainability. For example, 96% of dairy farmers knew their emission profile.

"The more the public understands this the more it builds trust," Hayward said.

Transport and carbon emissions

The New Zealand public tended to see methane gas as the problem, but the biggest issue was carbon emissions - and cities produced 77% of all carbon emissions, she said.

"There is a lot of anxiety around methane but it is hard to lower. It is easy to lower carbon."

The oil fields also had a role lobbying behind the scenes for a focus on methane to buy the carbon industry more time, Hayward said.

New Zealand was quick to build seawalls or install sirens, but not at creating effective solutions.

"You can't plant or biofuel your way out of it."

Hayward said everyone, not just farmers, needed to play a part to reduce global warming and a quick win would be to focus on transport emissions.

Rather than debating whether to build a cycle lane or more parking, local councils should look at ways to lower carbon in their cities "especially around transport", she said.

"Most New Zealanders think the best thing to do is recycle - but we need to change our transport habits, even if it is just two car trips a week."

Hayward said people should cycle, catch a bus, or arrange a ride share to reduce emissions.

Similarly for flights, she encouraged people to make the most of the "love miles" and to stay longer when they went to see family overseas - and to cut out shopping trips to Melbourne.

Box: The effects of climate change

Since the 1980s global warming had put a large number of ecosystems at risk and affected everything from pollination, to sea level rise and coastal inundation through to tourism and recreation, Hayward said.

A large number of animal species had shifted their range to higher elevations in response to global warming and "we don't know what will happen once the world warms more than 2%", she said.

Climate change compounded everyday disasters and made them more difficult, especially in climate change hot spots where people and places were even more vulnerable.

Children aged 10 or younger would see a four-fold increase in extreme weather events, including big storms and big droughts, if the world warms by just 1.5decC - "which will happen", Hayward said.

Today's youth carried a lot of anxiety about climate change. About 70% of children and young people were very worried about climate change - and the children from farming families carried more stress in the classroom when farmers are viewed as part of the climate change problem.

By Sharon Davis