Roughan’s relaxed, world drowns

By Bryan Walker 07/04/2014


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.