Pink blossoms on a tree

Smell the blossoms while we still have them

Article author
Article by Linda Clark, Partner, Dentons Kensington Swan
Publish date
18 Nov 2022
Reading time
2 mins

The very last of the blossom petals have fallen on to my path this week. 

For a short spell in October or November each year, my front door is framed by the fluffiest, whitest fat blossom and every year it’s a thrill. Summer is coming. 

Every year at this time, I also think of Dennis Potter, the celebrated British storyteller who, in an interview just before his death in 1994, gave a kind of ode to blossoms. 

Look at the blossom, he said, “the frothiest, blossomest blossom”. Really look at it. 

“The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous and, if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it.”

Potter, who’d spent a lifetime writing bleakly of the worst of people and the most despairing of things, discovered wonder at death’s door. 

Perhaps that fate awaits all of us.


This week in Egypt, the annual climate change conference, COP27, has just wound up. You may have missed it; certainly, our prime minister did. 

Anyway, the news from COP27 is all bad. 

The internationally agreed emissions-reduction target of limiting global warming to less than 1.5℃ appears to be doomed. 

The UN Environment Programme issued a stark warning on the eve of COP27 – that we’re actually on track to see global temperatures rise by between 2.4℃ and 2.6℃. 

The numbers may be small but the impact will be catastrophic. 

In the Pacific, a temperature rise on that scale would mean the loss of all coral and all low-lying islands by the end of the century. 

Younger readers may even be alive to see it.

Here at home, there is bipartisan support for the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, but no agreement on how we might make the necessary adjustments to meet that target. 

Equally, there are consistent signs that New Zealand businesses are open to customer concerns about the issue. Plenty have zero-emissions promises of their own. 

Yet to date, NZ's greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow – up 21% between 1990 and 2020. 

Climate destruction

The evidence that we need to do better is wherever we care to look. 

Large parts of Pakistan are still underwater after June’s unprecedented flooding, which killed almost 1,800 people and destroyed huge tracts of productive land and livestock. 

Australia’s New South Wales and Queensland have been plagued by repeated severe flooding since February. 

The same states are now bracing for bushfires after last summer’s mega-fires burnt nearly 24 million hectares and destroyed 2,700 homes. 

In the South Island, the road between Nelson and Blenheim will be closed until Christmas to repair damage caused by August’s rains. 

In Wellington, the council reported nearly 700 slips caused by rain in July and August alone, with 60 slips caused in one single day of torrential downpour. 

A house not far from where I live remains precariously perched above a landslip that shows every sign of still moving. 

If global warming continues on its current path, these events and our fragility in coping with them will get much, much worse.

In the face of all this, outright climate change deniers have been whittled down to a very small, relatively quarantined minority, but what stalls progress now is endless debate and denial about potential solutions to the crisis bearing down. 

It’s a different kind of debate, but the result is the same: we all get to do what we’ve all always done for just a little bit longer.

Mostly this is driven by vested interests, with strong notes of exceptionalism. 

That said, most of us – however well-intentioned – are also happy enough to avoid big shifts in behaviour if we can, or at least until the alternative becomes too easy to ignore or high emissions become too costly to continue. 

Old habits

This year’s public transport experiment is a good example of what changes old habits. 

When the government stepped up the subsidy (and petrol prices increased), more people opted to leave their cars at home. When driver shortages made public transport unreliable, people worked from home (if they could) or got back in their cars.

At COP27, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres – a man who must increasingly feel like King Canute – pleaded with world leaders that "we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator".  

To meet the targets set in 2015 in the so-called Paris Agreement, we now need global emissions to fall 45% in the next eight years. 

That cannot happen without swift, deep structural changes, yet the political will to confront this reality, communicate it and implement what must follow simply does not exist, neither domestically nor internationally.

There are pressing issues taking our politicians’ attention off climate change and those issues are serious. But there will always be pressing issues. 

Leaders must be able to rub their heads with one hand and their bellies with another at the same time.

Like every COP meeting, COP27 ended with calls for greater international co-operation and cohesion. We could start by asking our own politicians for more bipartisanship here in NZ.

There are people smart enough on both sides of the House to realise that on this issue the only way to make proper progress is to plan for the long term and move towards it steadily and (now) fast.

National’s recent promise to repeal Labour’s offshore oil and gas exploration ban signals such hopes are fanciful.

My blossom tree is an annual reminder that nature’s ‘nowness’ is fragile and beautiful. The whole planet is.

But our political system, geared as it is towards the petty, the polls and the point-scoring, is proving itself ill-equipped to recognise what needs to be done now, until it really is too late.

This article was originally published by BusinessDesk


About the author 

Linda Clark co-leads the Wellington public law and dispute resolution team at Dentons Kensington Swan.

Before becoming a lawyer Linda was an award winning political journalist and broadcaster.

Linda is a member of the board of New Zealand on Air and the New Zealand Police Risk Assurance Committee.


Dentons Kensington Swan