Editorial: The end is nigh - sooner or later

Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012

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OPINION: Oddly enough, given the subject, the realisation dawned on a day of warm spring sunshine. To the crack of bat on ball and the scamper of frantic fielders.

Superstorm Sandy seemed a million miles away from the lush green fields hosting my son's cricket match, but concerns about climate change were set to encroach the boundary.

The Taranaki Daily News had published a story that morning on new worries from climate experts that their "gloomier" predictions on temperature rise would be closer to the mark than other, more cautious pronouncements.

These scientists believed the increase could be as high as 4.4°C by 2100, resulting in higher seas, engulfed coastlines, more droughts and shortages, and more destructive superstorms. I'm not sure how it was raised, but that potential for dramatic climate change and the attendant devastation was broached with another cricketing parent.

Which brought the sobering realisation. She thought about it briefly before quickly turning her attention back to the game and an unrelated train of thought raised a little earlier.

The prospect of climatic catastrophe was dismissed with little more effort than it took her son to quickly turn his cricket whites to a grubby shade of green.

And it dawned on me that issues with science and the dubious agenda of deniers were not the biggest hurdles to tackling climate change. The bigger barrier was mankind's inability to handle any threat not immediately in front of its nose.

As numerous researchers and scientists have shown, we are hard-wired and "bound by biology" to react decisively and adeptly to any threat against ourselves, our families or our property.

But as neuroscientist Lori Marino points out, our "brains haven't evolved to deal with problems that are not within our immediate sensory sphere".

Which is probably why people are more fascinated with the ludicrous suggestion that the Earth will end on December 21 than the much more real prospect of life-changing temperature rises over the next 90 years.

And that short-term mentality both inspires and is empowered by the vital governing infrastructure of our society.

Democratic governments around the world are elected in short-term cycles ranging from three to five years, and through a process that inspires division and demarcation of talent and labour, rather than real bipartisan collectivism and unity of purpose.

A point proven during the recent American presidential election, during which neither candidate mentioned climate change, preferring instead the more immediate and definable threat of a fiscal cliff.

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That's a shame, because the world needs a vision and someone to lead and unite the globe around it. So often in the past we have looked to the US for that.

We can only hope they look at Sandy and now realise, like the rest of us should, that the threats are indeed immediate.

- Deputy/Digital Editor Rob Mitchell

- © Fairfax NZ News

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