Wednesday, February 2, 2011
My ironic birthday
Wednesday 2nd February morning 7am
I just realised a few minutes ago, reading the paper, that this is my "birthday".
It is ironic because I am reading about Cyclone Yasi in this morning's newspaper which shows Yasi in an aerial photo as about one fifth the size of Australia itself!
God help the poor Aussies.
As the oceans warm up it was predicted that hurricanes (cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes are all the same thing by a different local name) will increase in number, intensity and reach. And this is exactly what appears to be happening all over the world.
Hurricanes need warm oceans to feed their velocity and as the world's oceans get warmer, it seems even just a teeny bit warmer, this added capacity assists hurricanes to move further north and south of the equator and achieve greater destructive power. A couple of years ago an area in Brazil not previously considered vulnerable to hurricanes got an unwelcome visit. The same potential to cop damage from a dying but still huge weather system presumably applies in New Zealand. Two of New Zealand's most expensive disasters were caused by the tail end of Cyclones. There was Giselle in 1968 which was downgraded to a super tropical storm by the time it hit New Zealand but still had enough power, when combining with an upward heading southerly, to sink the Inter-Island ferry Wahine, put winds upto 275Km an hour through Wellington and kill 53 people. Cyclone Bola hit the east coast of New Zealand dumping millions of tons of water onto farmland valleys, washed away the main bridge in the town of Wairoa, did widespread damage to enormous areas of farmland, killed 3 people and (according to an article in The NZ Herald 26 March 2010) cost the country $332 million.
There is nothing to suggest Yasi is heading this way but over the next few decades I would imagine if oceans continue to warm the potential for more tail end storms causing hundreds of millions worth of damage will also increase. And far more often than was the case last century.
Reading about this huge cyclone in Australia (and who can not feel for Queensland which has seen weather events so huge one politician described it as "biblical") before breakfast I suddenly caught today's date, 2nd February. I always think of this as the day my adult life began - I had already lived away from home (teens did in those days) but this was moving to a new city and island, on my own.
It was this day,date, forty-one years ago I came to Christchurch, for the first time to live. I remember myself as a spotty, skinny 19 year old coming off the Inter-Island Ferry at Lyttelton, stranger in a new land ....well it was a bit different from the North Island !!
Somewhere in my journey down I purchased a copy of "Time" magazine to read. This had a cover story about the potential of coal fired power stations and car exhausts (which generate heavy carbon molecules quite distinct from natural carbon sources in the atmosphere) to cause warming of the planet with potentially disastrous consequences. Wow, I was stunned. [And 41 years later, thanks to the miracle of the web I can even show the cover - though ironically it doesn't look anything like the NZ cover that I have always recalled),
I thought then and I still think now - "bloody hell, why destroy the planet just for the convenience of driving to the dairy". Happiness and the quality of life has very little to do with ease and comfort, indeed it is almost in reverse proportion beyond a certain base comfort level. To me, too much comfort kills the freshness, sharpness and passionate richness of life. the texture of that comes from being immersed in life, not just driving past it. I thought then and I think now is there not a way we can redesign public transport to make it an alternative to car use and ownership?
This "Time" magazine cover story was radical at that time, it represented one of the earliest intrusions into mainstream public consciousness of environmental issues, from a prestige mainstream publication widely distributed throughout the world (this was before internet stole the fire from such mags). Without knowing a single person in Christchurch I felt a sense of mission to save the planet (don't ya love the kid's optimism!!). In the quiet of my rented YMCA hostel room I started an organisation, the Society for the Abolition of Private Transport, (!!) and spent many hours chewing on the end of the pen as I tried to word the manifesto and the first pamphlet. I also designed a [hideous] logo, of a fern leaf over a cog wheel, made a poster and stuck it on my wall. I was and remained the only member! But it began a lifetime interest in public transport which has taken me into 14 years driving buses in city and sight-seeing services, researching and writing two history books and various articles, dozens of suggestions and about ten formal submissions to local transport reviews and more recently this blog,
The only thing where I - and most other people interested in the environment - got it wrong was the timing and scale of global climate change and its effects. It is happening so much faster and so much more violently than earlier predictions. And the danger of reaching an irreversible tipping point escalates all the time, when Yasi type storms occur not once in a hundred years but every decade, or even more often, making conventional living, infrastructure, farming, food production etc extremely expensive. Or not viable at all.
Public transport remains almost at the level of a cocktail party issue - oh wouldn't it be nice to have a lovely shiny new light rail system. Actually to me it is deadly serious, one of the core issues of the years ahead, one of the core technologies by which we can try to improve the quality of life (walking, talking, living on foot,connecting to each other, alive on the street). A chance to replace what amounts to an addiction to car use and the accelerated blended (and blanded!) quality of life it delivers with a different combination for achieving mobility. One that doesn't waste a fifth of one's working life to get a vehicle ill-suited to half the tasks and only used (moving) on average one hour in 24!! One way we can create systems that don't kill the planet.
It is ironic that such a devastating storm as Yasi should fall exactly 41 years to the day on the anniversary of the "Time" article seeking to awaken the world to the consequences of filling the atmosphere with heavy carbon molecules, my spiritual birthday as an adult and public transport advocate.