Book Review: New Sea Land, by Tim Jones

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_new_sea_landYou can lick the salt off this poetry, half expect sand to spill from the centrefold. Tim Jones’ latest collection, New Sea Land, is part history, part rattling fortune-telling. It is a slap on the face by a wet fish, a digging up of heads-in-the-sand. Jones has spied a calamity from the shoreline, an oncoming deluge. History is repeating on us, and this time the tide is coming in full.

New Sea Land is salty, but it is not your run-of-the-mill nostalgic beach jaunt. The sea and land are dispassionate players in a human-instigated ecological meltdown. Jones’ sea ‘does not mean any harm’ and his ‘sea does not apologise’. The sea is a desultory child, nibbling at the edges of things, erasing ‘Beachfront property / … with the stroke of a pen’.

Jones’ work is didactic, but not earnest at the expense of a playful image or a great one-liner. He pokes tongue at the itch for beachfront investments, and the securing of LIM reports. In a great little anachronism, Jones has Noah’s (of the Ark) carpenter crew curse ‘zero hours contracts’ and swim away from the job. Then there’s an alternative history played out, wherein Captain Cook and Dracula take ‘tea and blood together’ in Kealakekua Bay. It is all fun-and-games, but the broader picture is sober and confronting.

The world is falling apart at its seams. This is a New Zealand where climate change is playing out. The sea floods Lambton Quay, rolls over childhood homes, and meets householders at their doorsteps. People are left with new geographies of which to make sense. Jones gives us a periscope to a time where myopic vision has crystallised into something tangible. It is only once the impact is ostensible that we realise we ‘backed the wrong horse’.

There’s a passing of the torch, from one generation to the next, but one gets the sense that the flame has gone out. Jones’ people are asleep or in denial. They leave a legacy of rash decisions, a lack of investment in a future beyond their own:

‘You slept until you lost the path,

and woke to find your children’s path
blocked by rocks you long ago set falling’

New Sea Land glances backward, as much as it forecasts. It reflects on history, memory that ‘renders everything askew’. Jones stresses the importance of cognition of times-gone-by, in the navigation of a future. His people, though, are ‘so eager to obliterate the past’ that they ‘wash away the stepping stones’. Condemned to repeat past error, through disavowal of history, we find ‘all our futures / are hostage to our actions’.

Jones’ poetry is a caution and a premonition. ‘Nature doesn’t stuff around’. The sea and the land couldn’t care less about where we’re heading. Jones writes so well, you might lose sight of the fact you’re getting cold water thrown at you. You can lick the salt off this poetry, by all means. But Tim Jones doesn’t give you halcyon coastlines or ice-lollies on the beach. This is poetry that knows what’s coming, and insists you ‘keep your life raft close at hand’.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

New Sea Land
by Tim Jones
Submarine (an imprint of Mākaro Press)
ISBN 9780994129963

Book Review: No Place to Hide, by Jim Flynn

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_no_place_to_hidJim Flynn encourages the reader of his book to “critically examine” what he has written about the climate debate, not elevating it to “the status of scripture, but assess[ing] everything I say”. He, himself, set out to discover the true facts after, as he puts it, “being assailed by contradictory opinions that ranged from nightmare scenarios to reassurance”.

In his extensively researched book, Flynn comes to the sobering conclusion that at a certain date, likely as early as 2050, global warming may become a self-sustaining process – a state of no return. The greatest illusion, he states, is that the nations will agree to cut their carbon emissions in time to avoid this point of no return.

He sums his findings up with two propositions that were put forward by climate change observers in past studies. The first is that even if current emissions were cut immediately by 20, 50 or 80 percent, 2050 would still be the point of no return where the melting of the polar glaciers, the acidity of the oceans and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere will mean new higher temperatures that will persist for thousands of years.

Secondly, there is no way of de-carbonising the world’s economy that is viable within the next fifty years. For various reasons, all thoroughly explored, conversion of dirty technologies to cleaner ones will initially raise emissions, as the infrastructures of the latter are created and put into place.

The staggering amount of research Flynn has done in producing this book, gives the reader an idea of the complexities of the situation we find ourselves in. There are many factors involved, all interrelated in ways that add to the effects of the damage our planet is sustaining.

Writing before the results of the election in the US were known, Flynn comments – “If the Republicans win the election in 2016 you can kiss American carbon targets goodbye”. He further states that “even if a sane president is elected…” the pressure from the coal, gas and oil lobbies will make it extremely unlikely that the phasing out of the use of fossil fuels will be on the political agenda.

In the last chapter, Flynn puts forward suggestions founded on various studies, of possible solutions, which, in light of his preceding conclusions, seem almost like wishful thinking, a clutching at straws with little hope of seeing a fulfilment. He concludes by asserting that global planning is needed. Clean energy and climate engineering are fundamental to any effective long term strategy. 2050 need not be the point of no return if governments stop making gestures and face reality.

As a reader I feel his earlier words are more likely, that the greatest illusion is that all nations will agree to cut carbon emissions. But one thing this book does is inform those who take the time to read it, of the immensity of the problems facing us as we head into the future.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

No Place to Hide
by James Flynn
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503246

WORD: Tim Flannery – An Atmosphere of Hope, with Simon Wilson


Tim Flannery

Simon Wilson got an early laugh as he announced himself as “speaking on behalf of the Lorax.” He was an excellent chair, knowledgeable and entertaining.

A sobering fact of climate change to start with: if the earth’s temperature continues to rise at the current rate of increase, in 80 years the whole earth will be 4-5 degrees warmer on average. The sea levels will be at levels that they were 55 million years ago, and there will be virtually no ice caps. This will cause huge migrant populations, with flow-on effects including food shortages and economic problems.

To stay within 2 degrees of our current temperature, we have to reduce our CO2 emissions. Wilson was an excellent chair: one of his first questions was, on the scale of 1 – 100 in optimism in our ability to bring about change, with 100 being ‘it’s all going to be fine,’ where does Tim Flannery sit? In short, he was close to 1 seven years ago when the Copenhagen Climate Council (which he was involved in preparing for) failed to bring about change: he is now at 50 or 60, since the Paris Agreement in 2015. The significance of the Paris Agreement is that “we now have unified, consensual agreement to end the fossil fuel era.”

To put some context around this: Tim Flannery is one of the world’s experts on and authors about climate change. He is chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international climate change awareness group, and from 2011 was the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, a Federal Government body providing information on climate change to the Australian public. Until he was sacked by new Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

One of the key ways that Flannery thinks that as nations, we can make drastic cuts in emissions, is by shutting down all coal-powered Electricity plants. And his renewable energy of choice is something I hadn’t previously heard of: Concentrated solar power. “There’s a lot of way of doing this – mirrors, tower, super-heated objects.” You can store it in a lot of places – silica sand being an example. Port Augusta coal-powered Power Plant was the biggest emitter of CO2 in Australia: it has now been replaced by CSP. Sundrop Farms, an agricultural farm that is run using this technology, now grows 10% of all of Australia’s tomatoes. The biggest benefit of CST is that it can make our most worthless land – desert land – the most productive agricultural place on the planet. The challenge with regular solar power is that it can’t be stored – it needs a back-up for days that aren’t sunny.

Wilson put it out there that if you breed despair, we feel hopeless. But then if you generate hope, you are in danger of people just going well then we won’t worry about it – we’ll carry on as is. To this Flannery noted, “The single greatest impediment to implementing environmental change is that we haven’t got everybody along with us.” But despite all that there are solutions, and promising trends. China has started to close down a lot of their coal-powered plants, in favour of nuclear plants, and more renewable energy plants – and they are scaling up their electric car manufacture hugely.

The trend of electric cars, and driverless cars is something Flannery thinks is going to make our world unrecognisable within 20 years. My husband has been putting off learning to drive because he figures nobody will be soon – he may well be right. Certainly by the time my kids are grown up, they will be watching out for robot cars on the roads – or perhaps being driven by them.

Flannery thinks that developed countries have passed peak oil use, and that the idea that developing countries still need to go through this stage is a strategic challenge that these countries have to work through.

Politics and the environment
Here’s where things get revolutionary. Flannery believes that our system of government has taken us as far as we can go. He believes that decisions about money shouldn’t be in the same space as decisions about how to deal with climate change. With climate change, and anything that affects the whole world, we need to select citizen juries and give them all the facts scientists know. Flannery gained an enormous respect for the common sense of people while Climate Commissioner. “We have to break the nexus between money and corruption. If we can do that, we would get a long way forward.”

The conversation shifted to carbon credits at one point: at the moment, the price for carbon credits is random. To make any true difference to our CO2 emissions using our current methods we’d need to plant all of North America in forests. Flannery says, “We need to start making investments that are required to make a difference. We need to both reduce emissions, and find new ways of dealing with our world via technology.”

The reason Flannery has hope stems from a combination of factors: the two-year flat-lining of Co2 emissions, the fact we have the Paris Agreement, the changes in technology and social networks are among them.

There were some good audience questions at this session. How do we prepare for what is coming? Flannery quipped, “NZ needs to live up to its reputation of being clean and green. You guys have some great innovators. The government needs an innovation fund to foster this in areas we’ll need in the future”.

Ultimately, “We have to start preparing to adapt to the unavoidable. We need common sense regulations in place to deal with that.”

I am going to be reading more about this essential topic – I think we all need to. This is the world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. My sons will still be alive in 80 years; I don’t want them to be living in a ruin caused by us.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Atmosphere of Hope: Tim Flannery

Atmosphere of Hope
by Tim Flannery
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925355406

The Explorers
by Tim Flannery
Published by Text Classics
ISBN 9781921922435

We are the Weather Makers
by Tim Flannery
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781921145346

Book Review: Looking Out To Sea, by Kevin Ireland

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_looking_out_to_seaLooking Out To Sea is a collection of landscapes and the people that inhabit them. With the image of the ocean at its centre, Kevin Ireland deftly crafts a panorama of vision and memory.

The cover image of a single man amongst the tumult of the ocean hints at the complex emotions explored in Looking Out To Sea. At first, the opening poem focuses on a single moment of childhood bliss where the narrator skips stones “across the still and glassy sea”. However, this bliss is soon undercut by an ending that suggests the losses of growing up.

By placing this denial of romanticism at the very beginning, Looking Out To Sea also considers what is real. We, as the reader, learn to become wary of our own interpretation, such as being sceptical of the beautiful silhouette in ‘Girl on Cheltenham Beach’. Sometimes this message is more explicit; for example, ‘Great day in paradise?’ is a poem that asks its title with doubt, and chooses to depict the true ferocity of the ocean that others tend to forget.

Following from this are also poems about the very act of writing poetry itself. Ireland explores how writing a poem can sometimes be a conscious process of grasping the right words before they, and the moment, slips away. It also acknowledges the flipside of this, suggesting the danger of waiting indefinitely for a poem to come.

The beautiful moments that Ireland captures are still valid, even if there is the possibility of romanticism. ‘Cold Duck’ is a short but simple poem that is both vivid and sweet. The rich language of the piece ends beautifully on the image of wine “corks we aimed / at the summer moon”. Although there were some pieces such as “Happy twenty-first” that contained more hackneyed and simple language, pieces like ‘Cold Duck’ were brilliant moments that brought emotion and wonder to Ireland’s landscapes.

As I read further, the collection seemed to be zooming out from the opening piece, which was a poem that had quite a contained setting. Near the end of Looking Out To Sea, Ireland zooms out further and touches on wider subjects. The title of one of these pieces, ‘Human climate change’, made me wary whether the poem would be preachy and cliché. However, I found the piece to be an unexpectedly comical and original take on an often-discussed matter.

Finally, the last piece briefly considers the Earth as a whole. This final poem also suggests other means of interpreting the title Looking Out To Sea. It can remind us of the dual nature of the ocean that can be both fierce and calm, a complexity that Ireland’s poetry explores. It can, indeed, encapsulate the feelings evoked from this action and the seemingly limitless way the horizon stretches into the distance. Or it can also simply be the act of looking out into the distance that was steadily conveyed throughout the collection, from a single focus to a broader and greater picture.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Looking Out to Sea
by Kevin Ireland
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9781927242926

Book Review: Towards a Warmer World: What Climate Change Will Mean for New Zealand’s Future, by Veronika Meduna

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_towards_a_warmer_world

There are of course many books, both short and long, on climate change. This one is particularly focussed on New Zealand and the South Pacific: what could the future look like for this region?

This is one of the BWB Texts, which are billed as “short books on big subjects”. It’s certainly a short book, and there are few subjects bigger than climate change.

Meduna has found a surprising number of studies on aspects of climate change within New Zealand and Antarctic and charts their effects on our flora, fauna, ocean levels and the projected impact of these changes on the way that we live. There’s no wild predictions: just careful analysis of where we are, how we got here, and what our future path looks like.

Many children already born will see the year 2100, and that is the time-span that is broadly dealt with. The author has found many scientists working in the areas of climate change, geography, palaeontology and related fields, and brings their findings about the past and present, and more importantly their projections for the rest of this century, to a wider audience.

The book has nine chapters, and most begin with a simple, particular observation – such as a very wet June causing flooding in many part of NZ – and use of the underlying science work to explain a wider phenomenon – in this case the El Niño climate event and its effect on the oceans. And of course, what affects the oceans affects all of us. This moving from the particular to the general is a feature of the writing, and roots the narrative in the concrete, leading the reader to more abstract thinking in gentle steps. This technique is just right in this situation, and I am sure that the author would be a gifted teacher.

Some of the predicted changes are horrific such as flooding of coastal regions. Some are less so: kiwifruit orchards in Canterbury anyone? The author does not dramatise but bases her predictions on what we see now and can model for the future. I say “her predictions”, but they aren’t hers alone: the scientists involved are named, and their experiments and theoretical work described.

In a book this size it obviously isn’t possible to discuss all the possible variations thrown up by the climate models, and it isn’t possible to discuss the experimental data in depth. But this does not detract from the book’s usefulness as an introduction to, and summary of, the science. Thankfully, the book is free of rhetoric, is always rational and unruffled even when describing we have damaged the world possibly beyond repair, and is carefully based on good science. Political issues are avoided.

There are no tables, figures or graphs – I did want a map of Antarctica at one point.
Veronika Meduna initially trained as a scientist, and now works as a science broadcaster and journalist. She is one of the best communicators of science that this country has. She has managed to condense a wealth of information into the book’s 89 pages, and include suggestions for further reading for those interested in more depth in some of the matters discussed. The writing is clear, engaging and yet precise.

There are many of these BWB texts, released in electronic and print form. I hope that they are all as good as this one. If you do not already have a good grasp of the science behind climate change, read it immediately.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

Towards a Warmer World: What Climate Change Will Mean for New Zealand’s Future
by Veronika Meduna
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780908321735