People debate the serious nature of the potential effects that climate change may have on the economy, on the environment and on people. But what threat does it pose to our health and society? Below are just some of the risks that we may face for not actively encouraging awareness of changes in the environment.
One of the less obvious problems that is likely to more noticeable is the proliferation of noxious and potentially dangerous pests. Noxious pests are already banned in New Zealand under the Biosecurity Act and individual regional councils will have an inventory of all of the potentially damaging or dangerous animal and plant species that are not allowed in New Zealand. As the climate becomes drier in the east of New Zealand, it is thought that poisonous spiders which currently find it too wet, could become established. If this were the case, such species as the Australian Redback, which is already found in Otago around vineyards may spread further north into places such as the semi-arid Mackenzie Basin. And due to its proximity to New Zealand, it is likely that Australia will continue for the foreseeable future to be our no. 1 source of pests (figuratively and otherwise!).
Another risk animal that New Zealand is already seeing occasional localized incursions by are fire ants. These little red ants can decimate our bird life, cause huge amounts of damage to vegetation. Once established they can breed easily, do not seem vulnerable to climate change. Their nasty sting is lucky to cause a surge in doctor complaints.
A second prospect in wetter parts of the country is that the combination of moisture and humidity will enable the breeding of mosquito species not yet seen in New Zealand. Some of these may be containing diseases or viruses such as the Ross River virus. Mosquitoes generally breed their larvae in stagnant water, which needs to be warm and shallow.
Other changes that are considered likely to affect New Zealand are seasonal illnesses. Hay fever is often advanced in spring as the ready availability of pollen aggravates peoples allergies. As drier weather takes hold, the water level in rivers, streams and other fresh water systems may lower. The combination of sunshine reflecting in a shallow pool of water during summer periods may give rise to cyanobacteria, which is potentially lethal in dogs and may pose a threat to human health as well.
I look forward to seeing what discussion papers come up with about these threats. And whether or not calls to action might eventually persuade New Zealanders that man made climate change or not, we have a responsibility of care to look after our economy and environment, some of the effects are already here.