When I was seven years old, I moved from Nelson to the small town of Takaka when my father George Maunder was appointed Manager of the Bank of New Zealand.

We lived in the Bank building and from the balcony I, as a seven-year-old, watched the Takaka river flood across the nearby farm and on several occasions the water went onto Commercial Street.

At that early age I asked two questions: why did it rain and what were the consequences of the flooding.

Now in my 89th year I still have questions but also some answers.

Some of the answer to the complexities of the climate are given in my recently published book Fifteen shades of climate... the fall of the weather dice and the butterfly effect

The following are extracts form the book, notably the Preface and pages 3-4 Climate Change 2020 and the Villach Conference of 1985


The explosive nature of the “climate” has brought about a significant challenge for those of us who are climate scientists to provide details of what is currently happening, why is it happening, and what is going to happen in the next month, year, and decade.

An equal challenge is for media, including the social media, to present this information in a coherent manner, so that society, and political leaders at all levels - from the UN down to the local level, make appropriate decisions, whether this involves solar energy, burning of coal, forest management, hydro electricity, electric cars, veganism, nuclear power, the building of sea walls, moving to a better climate, learning to live with whatever climate Nature provides, or even who to vote for in the next election.

There are many aspects of climate that could be written about, and this book includes most subjects that are commonly discussed in the media, which should be of interest to the public at large.

As always there are continual developments in the climate scene and readers may wish to follow the current research by a simple Google search of any topic such as methane, sea level changes, winter temperatures in New Zealand, or an answer to such a question as “Are hurricanes increasing or decreasing in frequency?”

The information in this book aims to provide a “need to know” background on weather and climate matters, climate change, and “global warming” with the aim to promote a better understanding of these matters.

In my 89 years, I have been involved in a wide range of activities in the “climate business”; from watching a river overflow into the small town of Takaka, Golden Bay, New Zealand when I was eight years old and asking why it happened, and was it good or bad; to the realms of several national meteorological services and universities, to the weather business, and the World Meteorological Organization.

Essentially, my book is a collection of specific activities and writings on the questions of climate, climate change, climate’s variability (natural or otherwise) and climate politics over the years. In this regard I am reminded of the physicist Leo Szilard (1898-1964) who once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: ‘I don’t intend to publish, I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.’ ‘Don’t you think God knows the facts?’ Bethe asked. ‘Yes’ said Szilard. ‘He knows the facts, but he does not know this version of the facts.’*

From Hans Christian von Baeyer, author of “Taming the Atom”, (from the preface paragraph in A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, A Black Swan Book, 2004)

Climate change 2020 and the Villach Conference of 1985

Among the many climate science meetings I have attended, the most significant, at least in terms of climate change is concerned, was my involvement in the UN sponsored International Conference held in the beautiful town of Villach, Austria, in October 1985.

One hundred experts from 30 countries attended the meeting (in contrast to 10,000 to 20,000 who now attend such meetings), and I was privileged to be the only New Zealander invited.

We were all there as experts - and not representing our respective organisations - in various fields of science, endeavouring to do the best we could in looking at the complexities of climate science.

This conference predated by three years the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The first session of the IPCC was held in Geneva in November 1988.

Among the principal findings of the Villach Conference was that “while other factors, such as aerosol concentration, changes in solar energy input, and changes in vegetation, may also influence climate, the greenhouse gases are likely to be the most important cause of climate change over the next century”.

At that time, even though I was partly responsible for the writing of the above paragraph, I along with a few of my colleagues, had some misgivings about this phrase, and were somewhat surprised that within a year ‘human-induced global warming’ caught the imagination of much of the world. Indeed today, not a day goes by without some mention of ‘global warming’, climate change, emission trading schemes etc., all terms which up until 1980’s were the preserve of academic text books.

Despite this concern, a colleague of mine from Australia, Bill Kininmonth, who in 2004 wrote a book called Climate Change - A Natural Hazard has mentioned to me on several occasions that I have changed from being a ‘gamekeeper’ and become a ‘poacher’.

Whether that is true is a matter of opinion. However, irrespective of my personal views on the matter, it is clear that there are two main views held by climate scientists and others on the subject of global warming and climate change.

First, those who are mainly involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many or most government scientists, plus others, such as Al Gore, and many politicians and most journalists who consider that humans activities, including domestic animals, are the prime cause of recent changes in the climate.

Second, those - in the main some university scientists, many retired climatologists, and a minority of politicians and journalists, who consider that “nature” is the main cause of changes in the climate.

Thirty years ago, it was unconceivable that the New Zealand or any Government would have a Minister of Climate Change; indeed back then, as weather forecasters and climatologists we just got on with our job of making the best possible weather forecast and providing the best climate advice to all those who requested information, without guidance or interference from the government of the day. How things have changed.

The book is available through the web site Just Google “fifteen shades of climate” for details.

Weather Eye
with John Maunder