Seeing through the smokescreen; it’s not just a fire, it’s climate change.

By Monica Nelson.

It can be hard to imagine how climate change will impact us here in Aotearoa. Yet, sitting in my living room at home in Nelson, seeing the smoke billow over the horizon, there it was, staring me straight in the face.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I was taking my dog Izzy on her afternoon walk at Tahunanui beach. I saw a huge column of smoke rising from Pigeon Valley, tainting the usually strikingly clear blue skies of Tasman Bay. By 7pm that night, the smoke consumed the whole sky. By 10pm, all I could see was the frightening orange glow of the insistent flames.

Column of smoke billows across the sky obscuring sun in Tasman Bay, Nelson.

Tuesday Feb 5 2019, view across Tasman Bay

I’ve heard and read so much about the California fires. I have family and friends there who’ve had to evacuate their homes. But it’s always been so hard to appreciate what that must’ve been like. Now that our forests are burning, I can begin to understand. The smoke comes and goes as the wind changes. Every night flames glow across the bay. Every hour we touch base with friends – Do they need to come stay here tonight? They can bring the cat, the dogs, the chickens, we’ll find a way to accommodate the horse.  

After two days, everyone’s nerves were still on edge, but one starts getting accustomed to the smoke. Until we got hit on a second front. Friday afternoon, Walter’s Bluff was burning, right there, behind the city. I had biked past the base of the hill only 30 minutes earlier on my way home from work. By the time I’d made it home, flames were licking the sky. And it got to me; I was upset and emotional.

These scenes are something out of a movie. But I have no hopes to live in an apocalyptic thriller. This region is one of the most beautiful places in the country and I am not going to let it go up in smoke. Having grown up here, I treasure the forests in this region and want future generations to be able to climb through the bush in at Lake Rotoiti and ramble through the beech trees in the Abel Tasman.

We cannot let summers of fires become the norm for our region. We cannot become complicit to the idea that this is our inevitable future. With each summer that rolls around, the same headline reads ‘the hottest year on record’. There’s no doubt these fires are being taken seriously, it’s the biggest air firefight on record in New Zealand. But can we say the same about how seriously we are acting on climate change? World leaders promise that meaningful action is on the horizon, but we need bold action immediately. The reality is that the change we need will not be initiated by those sitting in board rooms. We, the everyday people, need to demand it.

Together, I do believe we can achieve the just and fast transition to a society that relies on clean, renewable energy; achieve a world in which our skies are blue, clear of smoke and smog. But it’s going to take all of us.

Crowd stand outside ANZ bank with placards that read 'E'

350 Nelson highlight ANZ’s ‘E’ grade for failure to act on climate change

Yesterday, my fellow volunteers from 350 Nelson and I took to the main street to visit ANZ, ASB, BNZ, and Westpac to express our concern at their continued funding of the climate crisis. Having poured no less than AUD $21 billion into the fossil fuel industry in the last three years collectively, these banks are failing us.

Most people who passed us by were shocked to hear that these major banks, where most of us hold our money, are profiting from and protecting an industry that is compromising our aspirations for a safe climate future.

It’s important not to feel alone, powerless, or burdened by the weight of climate change. It’s important to remember our voices are stronger when we raise them together. I started 350 Nelson as a group only six months ago and have been overwhelmed by the numerous people who care about the climate and are ready to fight for it. Each collective action we take I stand with this group of passionate and engaged people and feel hopeful for the future.

That is the best feeling. I’ve moved a lot in the last two years and each time I do I seek out a group of people who strive for climate justice. Once I’ve found it (or started one), I feel at home and know that I have found my place in my community. I strongly urge you to do the same.  

Join Monica, and other inspired and passionate change-makers here in Aotearoa. Get involved here.