The future of both Chrises' children is at risk, as well as those of every other New Zealander, writes Dame Anne Salmond. Photos: Getty Images

Last week, Sir Jonathon Porritt expressed his disappointment with the ‘two Chrises’ in New Zealand politics for their failure to address climate change at pace and scale.

Sir Jonathon knows what he’s talking about – as a global leader in this field, and as Chair of Air New Zealand’s Sustainability Panel for years, he has worked closely with one of the Chrises, sharing with him and his colleagues global insights and analyses of how climate change is affecting Aotearoa, and the planet.

As a former member of that panel, I share his dismay. One of our Chrises talks about “bread and butter” at a time when Kiwi families are losing livelihoods and lives to climate change. After Cyclone Gabrielle, the costs are astronomical, with billions of dollars lost. What price ‘bread and butter’ when a family has lost their home, their jobs, or a family member, or the economy of an entire region goes down the drain?

The other Chris understands the challenges we are facing, but offers no serious plan to tackle them. Instead he announces a plan to establish a Ministry of Hunting and Fishing – at a time when deer, goats and pigs are destroying indigenous forests across New Zealand, and climate scientist Tim Flannery tells us that Aotearoa’s temperate rain forests are among the best ecosystems on the planet for sequestering carbon.

Are our leaders blind and deaf? Don’t they realise that we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, and that collapsing ecosystems threaten human survival? Haven’t they heard the rivers across Tairāwhiti roaring, choked with sediment and forestry slash and destroying fences, paddocks and farm buildings, beaches and harbours, roads and bridges in their tracks?

Haven’t they seen the wildfires raging across the northern hemisphere at present? In New Zealand, even the Greens are fiddling with identity politics while the planet is burning; and in their enthusiasm for carbon farming with industrial plantations of short-lived, shallow rooting, highly flammable pine trees, they’re partly to blame for Tairāwhiti’s devastated landscapes.

Around the world, the scientific community is increasingly desperate, as the impacts of climate change exceed their worst expectations. As forests ignite, ice melts and sea temperatures rise, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has issued this warning:

“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has begun. According to the data released today, July has already seen the hottest three-week period ever recorded, the three hottest days on record; and the highest-ever ocean temperatures for this time of the year.

“For the entire planet, it is a disaster. As for scientists, it is unequivocal – humans are to blame. We need dramatic, immediate action. Acclerating temperatures demand accelerated action.”

Aren’t the two Chrises listening?

The future of their own families are at risk, as well as those of every other New Zealander. What kind of leader pursues power in a way that forecloses the future of their own children?

The coming election is a litmus test. Are our leaders honest, and long-sighted, or cynical and expedient? The electorate needs the first kind of leadership. Do we have a real choice at present?

Dame Anne Salmond is a Distinguished Professor in anthropology at the University of Auckland, and 2013 New Zealander of the Year.

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