Extreme weather the new normal?

Extreme weather does not prove the existence of global warming, but climate change is likely to exaggerate it by messing with ocean currents, providing extra heat for forming tornadoes, bolstering heatwaves, lengthening droughts and causing more precipitation and flooding.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says a changing climate leads to alterations in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather, and can result in unprecedented happenings.

The panel is an independent group of leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change  and its potential environmental impact.

While most scientists do not dispute the link between global warming and extreme weather, the once sceptical public is now starting to come around — especially following 2011, when floods, droughts, heatwaves and tornadoes took a heavy toll on the United States. According to a poll conducted by researchers at Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communication, four out of five Americans reported personally experiencing one or more types of extreme weather or a natural disaster in 2011. More than a third were personally harmed either a great deal or a moderate amount by one or more of these events. And a large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high-profile extreme weather events worse.

New Zealand is facing a cold start to winter with snow expected to low levels over the next day or two. Central Otago and parts of Southland have already experienced below-zero temperatures and hoar frosts, while parts of the Bay of Plenty have been flooded, causing the death of stock and the destruction of homes and farm buildings. To give the Government credit, it is making the right sort of noises about climate change — although there is some way to go. New Zealand is a small player in the plan to reduce global emissions and the country has other things to worry about right now, including Mycoplasma bovis.

But given the extreme weather events both the South and North Islands seem to be experiencing more often, the Government’s decision to delay its winter energy payment until the start of next month looks ill-conceived.

This year, the winter energy payment will start from July 1 and run until September 29. Next year it will run for five months from May 1 until September 30.

The rate for single people (with no dependant children) will be $20.46 a week, and couples or people with dependant children will get $31.82.

Although those figures do not look great in the scheme of things, people experiencing freezing or wet conditions now will have welcomed a top-up to help keep warm and dry.

Insurance payments are also on the rise as New Zealand continues to experience unusual weather patterns.

The IPCC wants world leaders to err on the side of caution in preparing their citizens for extreme weather events likely to become more frequent.

Kiwis are being discouraged from using solid fuel like coal for heating, even though power prices are rising and are likely to continue to do so. Gas heating may become threatened if the Government carries out its threat to offer no new offshore oil and gas permits for exploration.

New Zealand is officially only six days into winter and it is inevitable more rough weather will hit the country before spring starts in September.

The Government is urged to find a balance between allowing people to burn fossil fuel, installing new log burners, investigating electricity pricing and meeting its climate-change targets. Those Kiwis freezing or soaking this week need assurances someone is listening.

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