© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Do we really want warmer weather?

Brad Christensen
Environmental Investigation Agency
  Environmental Investigation Agency

We can’t see it or, or feel it or touch it quite yet, but if you’re in the same boat as me, it has us pretty concerned.

Closing in year-by-year its effects are becoming increasingly glaring.

You know what I’m getting at, that global warming chat 10% of your friend group is always so hung-up on. 

You can go back and join the blind masses if you want to, if this meaningful discussion is above you.

Now’s your chance.

The reality is: Climate change is going to make life a lot more difficult for many groups of New Zealanders, especially those already on struggle street.

President Professor of the Royal Society Te Aparangi, Richard Bedford, said in a recent report “if we think of the basic building blocks of health, such as our shelter, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, all will be affected by climate change”.

Bedford explained that more particulates [particles] and pollen in the air will exacerbate respiratory problems like asthma, contaminate water supplies and increase “food spoilage or crop failures which may reduce food safety and affordability”.

Considering more than half a million Kiwis currently take medication for asthma-related issues, this is a problematic finding.

This reality could force people to move away from their homes and potentially even New Zealand.

The report explained this “can cause uncertainty for vulnerable populations and lead to mental health issues from the trauma of leaving familiar surroundings, the breaking of social ties, and the difficulty of resettlement.”

Respiratory Disease in NZ4
Respiratory problems in NZ will be exacerbated by higher levels of particulates in the air, a result of climate change. Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of NZ

Hotter days also have a raft of flow-on effects.

University of Canterbury Geology lecturer, Matthew Hughes, said we can ultimately expect to see an increase in heat-related deaths and illnesses.

Days exceeding 25 degrees are expected to rise in frequency.

This “means people can be directly impacted by heat stroke and other things that mainly impact older, sick and other vulnerable people,” said Hughes.


Tracking the National Temperature Average

Findings from the report also showed that increased heat can be associated with “aggressive behavior, violence, and even suicide”.

Temperatures above 20 degrees are also synonymous with an increase in hospital patients suffering from mental health or psychiatric conditions.

They’re up to three times more at risk than Kiwi’s without any form of mental illness, according to the Royal Society report.

New Zealand's Warmest & Coldest Regions

Hover over the regions in red or blue to see the highest and lowest temperatures experienced by New Zealand in the last 17 years.

If you're an asthmatic living in Central Otago you could be in trouble. 

When I discussed these findings with Hughes, he agreed the outlook is bleak but said there is definitely room for optimism.

“It’s really good that people try to do things individually, if only because it is positive for their own health. Doing more biking and that is obviously good for your health. And the more fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks that we can get off the road, the healthier communities will be,” said Hughes.

However, he did admit that for there to be a real change in the way things operate, governments need to take some serious responsibility.

“Our entire civilization at the moment depends upon burning fossil fuels,” Hughes said.

He was hopeful with the recent change in government and the introduction of a climate change commission, our output of greenhouse gas can be more efficiently managed and ultimately reduced.

Hughes urged people to embrace the issue, rather than turn their back on it.

“What we do now is going to impact the earth for many thousands of years and I believe we have a burden of responsibility to protect it for all the unborn generations and leave them a legacy of a beautiful planet.”