He might be entering his 10th decade, but Bob Owens resident John Maunder is still as curious about his chosen subject as he was as an eight-year-old boy from Takaka wondering why the river would flood the vacant land next to his home every time it rained.
“I’ve been involved in the weather business for more than 80 years. I constantly watch the news, and I still have so many questions,” laughs John, now 90.
John’s early curiosity led to him getting a job as a trainee weather forecaster at the New Zealand Meteorological Service, then later as a lecturer and academic.
It has taken him around the world, working in Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA and he spent eight years as president of the Commission for Climatology of the World Meteorological Organization from 1989 to 1997.
He has also written five books about the weather, focusing on its social, economic, and political effects, with his first book, The Value of the Weather – a text book for university students published in 1970 – being reproduced as recently as two years ago.
“I was always more interested in the impacts of weather, rather than the physics of it,” he says.
Not surprisingly, the subject of climate change pops up regularly, and John admits he has a more tempered view on the hot topic than most.
“The words ‘climate change’ are in almost every news bulletin, and I do feel it’s over-exaggerated. After all, we have had droughts and floods before.
“I think people forget. They say it’s the worst ever but in what time? In the last 100 years, 1,000 or 10,000 years?
“There have been times in history when average temperatures were higher than normal but there was no heavy industry and minimal carbon dioxide and methane emissions.”
While he accepts that perhaps the speed of today’s climate changes could be different, he responds: “I once asked an American expert on tornadoes if there are more tornadoes. He said ‘I don’t know but there are more being reported.’”
John says in the past, changes to the climate have been caused by nature, namely the sun, oceans or volcanoes.
“There are natural things that are happening, they may be influenced by people or animals but the real difficulty is knowing if it’s related to what the real story is. In other words, if it’s nothing to do with us, do we have an even bigger problem?”
John (second from left) featured on the cover of The Listener in 1982.
While he thinks Greta Thunberg has ‘had her day’, he agrees with her ideas on reducing pollution.
“She certainly had a great story to tell but I have a feeling we have gone too far.”
He says the Ukraine War could trigger a day of reckoning with gas supplies to Europe drying up.
“In a strange way, the Ukraine War will really be a major factor in terms of gas supplies. It’s a climate-related problem because Europe decided to stop burning any coal.”
John published his most recent book after visiting family in Adelaide early in 2020.
“It was a very hot day, 45 degrees, and my daughter said ‘why don’t you stay home and write another book?
‘I said ‘what do I call it?’ and she said ‘Climate – The Truth!’
The title of the book ended up being Fifteen Shades of Climate: The Fall of the Weather Dice and the Butterfly Effect with the aim of it being to correct the over-simplification of the climate change story.
“I’d still like to write a book called Climate – The Truth!” he laughs.
Having lived in various places around the world, John says it was the weather that led to him and his late wife Melva choosing to retire in Tauranga.
He has written more than 500 columns on the topic of weather for the local website SunLive of the Weekend Sun.
“If people asked me what I would do if I could do it again I would still choose weather forecasting, understanding the weather and what’s going to happen in the next few days.
“We used to say we’re the only people who get paid for getting it wrong, but we lived the weather.”