Cyclone Gabrielle – impacts on the outdoor community, climate policies, and beyond

Photo Credit: Teresa Vanbeelen/DOC

Cyclone Gabrielle has caused some of our favourite walking, running and mountain bike tracks to close. Flooding has washed some away, landslides have covered others. Huts and campsites are closed and not safe to visit. Some coastal walks have completely eroded into the sea. Cathedral Cove, a beautiful area that attracts kiwis and foreigners alike, is closed. How our favourite outdoor areas have been impacted is often how we experience the impacts of climate change, but in reality is just a really small part of a really big problem. People are homeless, crops have been destroyed, and there’s billions of dollars of infrastructure damage. 

Cyclones themselves aren’t caused by climate change but a rapidly warming ocean is making them more powerful, and especially causing more rain. The water in the Tasman Sea, and elsewhere around NZ has been very warm lately. This is partly because of the La Nina weather pattern, which tends to result in warmer waters, but is exacerbated by climate change. Cyclones are powered by the release of heat when water that evaporates from the ocean’s surface condenses into the storm’s rain. A warmer ocean causes more evaporation, meaning more water is available for the atmosphere to hold. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, which means more rain. A study on how climate change worsened Cyclone Gabrielle, confirmed that while Gabrielle would have been destructive regardless, it was more destructive with potentially 30% more rainfall because of climate change. 

It’s possible there will be more cyclones making their way all the way south to NZ in the future. As we speak ocean temperatures are still rising and there’s a risk of more cyclones until May. Read this article with info from some NIWA scientists for more info on how warm oceans are supercharging cyclones. If cartoons are more your thing watch this excellent video.

Has Cyclone Gabrielle been the reality check we need? (Read this Side Eye comic) Some of us have sandbagged our houses three times this year. We need more than keep cups and EV’s. We need way more than individual action. We need collective action and that comes from voting and civic engagement – demanding more from our leaders, businesses and other organisations.

In a poll released today, 54% of voters say they want more urgency on climate action. Yet the current government has just announced 1 billion dollars of spending cuts, mostly on policies that would have reduced emissions. Take a moment to listen to a great podcast here by the Kaka about how the current government, in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle (a climate emergency) has opted to spend less on climate action. Changes included:

  • Stopping the clean car upgrade scheme (cash for clunkers) which would have swapped polluting old cars for cleaner cars and public transport, benefiting poorer drivers the most. 
  • Stopping the social car leasing scheme, which would have allowed poorer drivers to lease low emissions cars. 
  • Limiting the Auckland Light Rail project to just one section.
  • Narrowing Waka Kotahi’s speed reduction programme (reducing car speeds reduces emissions)
  • Removing requirements from smaller cities to prioritise public transport over driving. 
  • Deferring the container refund scheme. 
  • ALSO $700 million is being used from the Climate Emergency Response Fund to extend fuel tax cuts!?!? This money was raised from the Emisisons Trading Scheme and is not being used to encourage more petrol use. 

This short-term approach is being used to win an election, at the sacrifice of long-term climate action and infrastructure investment. Send your MP an email today, reminding them that you’ll be voting this October for climate action. Let’s get all parties prioritising long-term climate action. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia