Addressing the crystal ball, Ben Gray

Unsettled Outlook, New Zealand in a Greenhouse World
Matt McGlone, Tom Clarkson and Blair Fitzharris
GP Books, Wellington, 1990, $19.95

Historical Taranaki: An Archaeological Guide
Nigel Prickett,
GP Books, Wellington, 1990, $19.95

The ‘Greenhouse effect’ has entered our vocabulary. Most people are aware that it has something to do with global warming but are liable to get it confused with ozone depletion. Any who have delved into the subject in more detail have found it far from simple and the information gleaned will vary depending on whether one is looking for ‘scientific fact’ or ‘planning probability’. Some of the predictions sound like something out of science fiction and somehow little connected to everyday life.

‘Unsettled outlook’ is a term weather forecasters use when they are uncertain about what tomorrow will bring but suspect we are not going to like it. The first half of this slim volume, written by three eminent New Zealand climate researchers, describes in detailed but clear fashion what is understood about the atmosphere, its pollution and the effect it is having, our weather patterns, the Greenhouse effect and ozone depletion. This section covers the basics that many of us know about, such as the importance of CO2 production and the balance between carbon sinks (such as fossil fuels and trees) and atmospheric CO2. It also details less well known facts; for example, in New Zealand the worst offending gas for producing the Greenhouse effect is methane, which is predominantly created by sheep and cattle. The methane, added to our nett CO2 production, puts us high on the list of offending countries on the global atmospheric pollution stakes.

The most alarming information relates to ozone depletion. Two American scientists have proposed a hypothesis that there would be a catastrophic drop in stratospheric ozone in the event of a major volcanic eruption the size of Krakatoa. The injection of sulphur gases into the stratosphere from a volcano would act synergistically with the CFCs we have released to create major ozone destruction in mid latitudes. This could well lead to crop failures over a whole hemisphere.

The second half of the book attempts to gaze into the dirty crystal ball. On the basis of the best current guesses it outlines the likely climate changes in New Zealand. It then looks at the consequences of those changes on the physical landscape, including our farming sector and our natural habitat. The most important message is that to be a successful farmer an ability to predict the weather is essential. As the effects of global warming develop we will stray further and further from the established weather patterns that we have gained some ability to predict. It might be nice having a warm winter in Central Otago, but it does nothing for the apricot harvest.

The final chapter looks at possible international, national and individual responses focusing mostly on what practical things should be done without much regard to the major political problems.

This is an important book. Much has been written about the Greenhouse effect and ozone depletion, but I haven’t seen anything as scholarly, concise and readable as Unsettled Outlook. As the authors say, ‘If you as a New Zealander wish to understand what is going on and perhaps make a contribution to the debate which has begun about atmospheric change, you have no option but to try to understand some of the basics. If not, you’ll be the passive victim of every shrill headline and emotion-laden TV special. There has never been a time when intelligent public participation has been more urgently needed’. This is a good book to start with.

Not long after arriving in Taranaki I discovered Pukerangiora which lies above a precipitous cliff overlooking the Waitara River Valley. It is steeped in both pre-European history and that from the land wars. This combination of stunning views with such an aura makes it one of my favourite places. Many people in Taranaki have never been there, let alone to the other wonderful historic sites.

Nigel Prickett’s guide has a brief history of Taranaki and a section on how to interpret sites; how to find them, their history and features. It is presented in a clear accessible fashion with excellent illustrations. Its 64-page format would fit well into the car glove box. It is limited to archaeology, so the places are either fortified pa or colonial defensive posts. This is a shame because the distinction between archaeological and other historic sites is not important to the layperson using this book. Similar information about Hurworth, The Gables Cottage Hospital and Parihaka, for instance, would greatly complement it: perhaps this should be the subject matter for a companion volume. Several of Taranaki’s rich heritage of sites have been badly damaged and those that remain are in my view undervalued. More information and awareness of these is the best way to achieve better protection; this guidebook will help.

Ben Gray is a general practitioner and Regional Councillor who has lived in Waitara for the last 10 years. He has been active in the environmental movement, particularly in relation to the Think Big Projects and the Waitara Waitangi Tribunal hearings and now as a Regional Councillor.


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Posted in History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review
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