Asking the hard questions

I watched TVNZ’s Q+A on Sunday with dismay.  Phil Heatley, the Minister of Energy and Resources, was interviewed about the New Zealand government’s intention to increase oil, gas and coal exploration and mining. The emphasis of the interview was on the environmental issues, yet not a word was said about greenhouse gases or climate change. The environmental questions discussed were not unimportant, but they were easy for the Minister to swat away with talk of how Taranaki’s environment has not been seriously impacted by drilling, of how fracking is confined to suitable deep rock formations, of how careful the Government is to balance the interests of the environment against the economic gains to be had from the exploitation of our mineral resources, and so on.

What would the Minister have said if he was asked how the Government can justify pushing for increased fossil fuel exploitation in the light of the global warming to which the burning of these fuels will contribute?  I have a fair idea what he would have said, but he wasn’t asked. The fact that he wasn’t bothers me as much as his likely answer if he had been. Because it seems to indicate that the overwhelming question is either not perceived or deliberately avoided by journalists running a major current affairs programme.

Not perceived? How can it be missed? At a time when one would expect governments to be putting major effort into the transition to low-carbon economies, hastening the day when we are able to manage without burning fossil fuels, our government is holding out the prospect of an influx of wealth from an enlarged fossil fuel industry.  The contradiction with an avowed concern over climate change ought to be apparent to any reasonably informed journalist. Climate change is the result of our burning fossil fuels. It can be limited by our ceasing to use those fuels as soon as we possibly can. Surely competent journalism would want to ask the Minister not only about the effects of fracking or the dangers of deep sea oil spills but also about why the Government is enthusiastically seeking out more fossil fuels in the first place, knowing the effect they will have in increasing greenhouse gases.

Deliberately avoided then? One can only speculate why that might be. Perhaps it was judged too big a question for viewers to cope with, or perhaps considered not to be sufficiently in the forefront of public attention to warrant the attention of a current affairs programme. Perhaps the journalists themselves lacked the confidence to ask the question because they didn’t know how to press it. Perhaps in comparative ignorance of the science they assume it represents an extreme position which doesn’t warrant a place in regular discussion. Perhaps, aware of how commonly the Government path is mirrored in the actions of many of the world’s nations, they thought it not worth nailing one small country for so widespread a practice.

Whatever the reasons for omitting the question from the programme the result was that Q+A appeared to be in some kind of collusion with the view that it is sensible and right to continue to search out fossil fuel resources and exploit them provided localised environmental effects are sufficiently managed. It is not. It is foolish and wrong. The fact that fossil fuel mining will bring us a good deal of money is immaterial alongside the damage it will cause to upcoming generations. The evidence from science mounts daily.  Climate scientist Ken Caldeira put the matter very clearly in a striking guest blog on Climate Progress on the same day that Q+A managed to avoid the topic altogether:

We are converting the climate of our planet to one that is similar to the hothouse climates that existed on this planet when dinosaurs were the top predators…

Economists estimate that it might cost something like 2% of our GDP to convert our energy system into one that does not use the atmosphere as a waste dump. When we burn fossil fuels and release the CO2 into the atmosphere, we are saying “I am willing to impose tremendous climate risk on future generations living throughout the world, so that I personally can be 2% richer today.” I believe this to be fundamentally immoral. We are saying we want to selfishly reap benefits today while imposing costs on strangers tomorrow.

Here is what we should be doing:

All I am asking is that we follow the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is fundamentally a moral issue, not an economic issue. Given what we know now, it is simply unethical to impose risk of grave damage on future generations just so that we can have a few more consumer products today.

The only ethical path is to stop using the atmosphere as a waste dump for greenhouse gas pollution.

It may be daunting for journalists in the New Zealand context to ask questions of Ministers about policies which are widespread and apparently accepted without demur by many of the world’s governments. But it is a dereliction of journalistic standards to leave the big questions unasked.  New Zealand politicians should not be shielded from facing their share of responsibility, small though it may be in the global setting.

69 thoughts on “Asking the hard questions”

  1. “It may be daunting for journalists…”

    The disinformation campaign has a policy, it would appear, of organising drive-by shootings in the comments following any article giving credence to any aspect of AGW including related environmental issues. That is a policy of intimidation appears to have paid off. See the NZ Herald for examples. It should be noted that big business are big advertisers too. I know from my own experience they don’t hesitate to influence the media through their advertising power.

    I have noticed on Slashdot that there seem to be an increasing number of posts of substance re climate change that are immediately supported by other posts – team action maybe. Then the denialists find themselves late off the mark and on the low ground. So response-able people should collaborate more.

    Perhaps some material should be aimed at journalists and editors too to educate them with the necessary background so they know what the issues are. I saw on Al Jazeera a few days back a journalist ask a climate scientist a question in an inappropriate way. He gave the straight science answer then made a speech on context with some passion that I suppose was aimed at clearing away the false assumptions introducing the subject.
    He was concise The editors did not cut it at all.

    On Dw television sciences have a prominent role. Denialists do not get a look in. Other sciences have their corresponding misinformation professionals too.


  2. Funnily enough I asked Phil Heatley exactly the question you were disappointed Q&A failed to at a recent conference, namely, given the IEA and OECD have said in recent reports we (civilisation) will lock in dangerous climate change if we continue investment in fossil fuel infrastructure between now and the 2020, how can government morally justify its new drive to exploit oil gas and coal? or words to that effect.

    He didn’t answer the question. He just said that it would create jobs, and anyway I use fossil fuels so don’t be a hypocrite. He also mentioned Peak Oil – i.e.some people worry we won’t have enough oil and others worry we will have too much, implying therefore this somehow cancels itself out and the govt can do what it likes (ignoring the complex reality that we can have too little oil in the short term and too much fossil fuels of all kinds in the long term, of course).

    1. We need to pre-empt that line by pointing out that every dollar spent on fossil fuels is a dollar lost to developing alternatives, that do exist and will be needed eventually even if you pretend rising CO2 doesn’t matter.

      1. Your trouble is this dollar spent on fossil fuels is largely coming from external sources that Nz doesn’t control. Hence NZ has little power to decide that it should be better spent on anything.

        1. We always come back to the old argument that NZ is too small, we can’t make any difference, which is correct of course. But every individual American, Chinese, Indian, Scotsman, Latvian and Samoan says the same and we sleep-walk into disaster.

          We could refuse to extract any more fossil carbon and put more of our meager research funds into developing alternatives. Why is that little pink birdy up in the tree going “Oink!”?

          1. I think the key words here are ‘our meager research funds’.

            Given the size of the NZ economy it is unlikely we are going to get much investment in this area.

            Of course we could open up the energy generation market to external companies who might have much more cash to spend in this area. You up for that kiwiano?

            1. There’s no shortage of ideas, like tidal flow electricity, but raising venture capital, as Admin has pointed out so often, is hopeless in NZ. Unless of course it is a multi-national oil company bent of sucking yet more fossil carbon out of more and more difficult sites and bugger the consequences. Then there are billions available for development and the Gummint fall over themselves helping out. The irony of that is that they are the big spenders in exploiting the consequences of climate change,particularly in the Arctic, but won’t acknowledge that they are the major cause of continuing harm. God knows what they think they will bequeath to their own grandchildren.

            2. It is quite simple Kiwiano. Government in NZ cannot provide a high level of research funding for this. The only alternative is for the private sector to do so. The private sector normally does this if there is a sufficient return from the research at a near enough time in the future. If there is going to be then this research will happen at some stage somewhere.

  3. Given the seriously weak arguments made by Heatley in response to Jake, its clear progress is being made and the drumbeats are getting louder.

    Its pleasing to see, for example, in the print edition of the Herald today, that one of the risks of the new Auckland conference centre is said to be emissions from long distance air travel.

    But then depressing also to see that Key himself actually suggested the whole ‘conference centre for law change to allow more pokies’ deal.

    But when the government drops this like a hot brick in a week, perhaps they will argue that one reason was concern about climate change? That and flying pigs.

  4. I’m glad Jake put the question that the journalists avoided. I think Heatley didn’t answer it because he can’t. There is no moral justification for the course the government is enthusiastically pursuing. Hence the recourse to diversion.

  5. It is not foolish or wrong unless you also think intensive dairying is foolish and wrong.

    It certainly provides additional challenges for climate change mitigation but if you are honestly suggesting that the only option is for no fossil fuel consumption then that is a very hard sell indeed.

    This is why we need to look at options where we remove carbon from the atmosphere as well as reducing the amount we add to it.

    1. Gosman, please give a description of all the technologies that are available today for removing carbon from the atmosphere, along with a detailed estimate of the costs involved in doing so to a meaningful degree.

      1. I’m not going to give you a list of them. I will give you one though. Planting trees. This can also be an economic activity in it’s own right in that it more than pays for itself usually.

        Now can you tell me one way of removing methane from the atmosphere and the cost of it?

        1. How many trees need to be planted to pull down the carbon that has already been added to the atmosphere – never mind the additional carbon that may be added after today? How much would that cost? What about the lost economic activity due to being unable to log trees, or the losses from arable land now converted to forestry?

          Just a rough estimate will do.

          1. The wacky weather around the world (largely but not entirely missing NZ) is the result of CO2 released in ?the 50-60’s. Bodes ill for our lifestyles once the CO2 from this century starts to bite. It will undoubtedly take a helluva lot of tree planting on all marginal land in a desperate attempt to retrieve the situation. With populations continuing to climb (how will we feed 9 billion?) arable land will be (over)committed.

            As to the costs, we always have also ask the question of what will be the cost of inaction?
            Re methane, I don’t think there are any ways to remove it from the atmosphere, so it behoves the fossil fuel industry to bust a gut minimising the accidental leakage of the stuff.

            1. Methane removes itself from the atmosphere after a period of about a decade, forming CO2 and water.

            2. So you accept there is a way of removing carbon but not methane from the atmosphere. So why don’t you hold the agricultural sector in the same moral disdain?

          2. Gosman, I didn’t say anything about methane, and I asked you to provide some economic analysis for your tree-planting idea. It’s interesting that you don’t appear to have any figures to back it up.

            1. Actually it was Kiwiano I was responding to .

              BTW this isn’t a one way conversation CTG. I answered your question and would expect the courtesyof a reply to mine before I expand on the economics of tree planting.

              What is your view of intensive animal husbandry in terms of methane output and do you hold this industry in the same level of opprobrium of the Oil industry?

            2. No, Gosman, you did not answer my question, in fact you have gone to great lengths to avoid answering it. I find it interesting that you frequently lambast proposals to reduce carbon emissions on the basis that they would be too costly, but when asked to provide costings for your preferred mitigation action, you are unable to come up with any figures at all, and go to great lengths to avoid discussing the economics of your idea.

              In terms of methane, I think it is far better to avoid putting it into the atmosphere in the first place than to try and extract it later. There are many promising lines to investigate that could reduce methane emissions, e.g. GMO clover that could reduce methane produced by cows by up to 15%. It’s not a matter of opprobrium, just a matter of balancing current profits versus future costs.

              Now, how about you provide some figures for your planting trees idea?

            3. whoops, we’re running out of comment space….
              I’m uncertain about the ag industry, Gosman. The academics are working on the methane problem, developing microflora to reduce the belching, but we probably should be reducing our beef consumption and/or choosing meat species where methane emmissions are less of a problem. It is just one piece of the vast jigsaw of changes we need to make to our current lifestyles.
              Re availability of research funds, our gummint choose to pretend there is no urgency in dealing with CC, hence the failure to answer questions and a pathetic program.

            4. ‘In terms of methane, I think it is far better to avoid putting it into the atmosphere in the first place than to try and extract it later.
              There are many promising lines to investigate that could reduce methane emissions, e.g. GMO clover that could reduce methane produced by cows by up to 15%. ‘

              Agreed that it would be better if we didn’t do anything that damaged the environment and increased the likelihood of catastrophic climate change impacting on our civilisation. However the unfortunate reality is that this is unavoidable.

              Our highly intensive agricultural industry contributes a large amount of methane in to the atmosphere. This is arguable as damaging, (if not more so), than any carbon produced by Fossil fuel extraction.

              Yes we could look at reducing the emissions by using GMO Clover, (interesting what the Greens think about that idea) but we will still be emitting Methane just like if someone discovered a way to make cars emit 15 % less carbon dioxide.

              Yet people here seem more concerned with fossil fuels and have this blanket ‘moral’ objection to them. Why not a blanket moral objection to intensive agriculture?

            5. Still avoiding the question, eh Gosman? Can’t wait to see those figures on how many trees are needed to solve AGW.

              Interesting you talk about moral objections. I personally have no moral objection to fossil fuels. I do, however, have a moral objection to someone like yourself putting my son’s future at risk by refusing to take responsibility for your actions. You claim it is “unavoidable” that climate change will have catastrophic consequences, but that will only be the case if you, and people like you, refuse to take action. For example, cutting down on fossil fuel use.

            6. You misinterpret what I wrote. I did not state that it is unavoidable climate change will have catastrophic consequences. I stated that it is unavoidable that we will take actions that will damage the environment and increase the liklihood of catastrophic climate change. That is not to state we shouldn’t take steps to reduce these actions or look at ways of mitigating or reversing the effects. The point is by merely existing as a settled civilisation humans have a negative impact on the environment in some way.

            7. That is not to state we shouldn’t take steps to reduce these actions or look at ways of mitigating or reversing the effects.

              Such as planting trees. Which reminds me, how many trees would we need to plant, exactly? And what is the economic impact of the lost opportunity from lands that would have been arable land if they were not now covered in trees sucking CO₂ from the atmosphere?

              I’m pretty sure you promised to have some figures on that, oh right about now…

            8. Considering you seem to think it is a good thing for going for a mere 15% reduction in methane emissions using GMO clover, surely you also agree that any reduction in carbon in the atmosphere is a good thing.

              Would you also support GM engineers research into trees that could convert carbon from the atmosphere faster and could store more of it?

            9. surely you also agree that any reduction in carbon in the atmosphere is a good thing.

              Certainly. So, how many trees do we need to plant to return atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels, as well as offset all future emissions assuming that we use all non-conventional sources, such as the Alberta tar sands? What would the economic impact of that be?

              These are simple questions, I don’t understand why you are so reluctant to answer them.

            10. I don’t think we will ever get back to pre-industrial levels, certainly not just by planting trees. I’m more interested in reducing the negative effects of climate change.. Planting trees is just one way of doing this. There could be numerous others that might become viable as the technology develops.

              Just like you seem to be happy with a 15 % reduction in methane by using GMO clover insteads of downsizing NZ Agriculture industry I am happy with looking at reducing the impacts of burning fossil fuels rather than banning the industry.

  6. Obviously we can’t stop using fossil fuels overnight. If we did the harm it would cause would not be morally justifiable either. The course of action that satisfies both the present and the future would be to pursue a credible carbon reduction strategy which involved a transitioning away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible without commiting socio-economic hari kari, or maybe a little more slowly if CCS becomes a credible option.

    Finding and navigating the right ‘moral’ course (i.e. the one that minimises harm across generations, does not unfairly burden NZ but is consistent with avoiding dangerous climate change) is a very difficult task, but plunking huge amounts of capital into high-carbon infrastructure is obviously wrong, and given what we know is at stake, arguably immoral.

  7. Very well said. There was a very similar case on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report today (” New gas mining technique safe, says Solid Energy”) which you can listen to there via podcast. The CEO Dr Don Elder is interviewed for about 5 minutes about their trial coal gasification plant (with a tiny sound bite from Gareth Hughes of the Green Party at the start which Don Elder effectively rubbishes). The conversation was all around “is it safe?” but only in the context of the local environment and water table contamination. I am personally fairly unconcerned with fracking per se but this seems to be the narrow focus of the Greens at the moment (perhaps because it is easy to scare monger about?) Greenhouse gas emissions are never mentioned and once again the concerns are easily swatted away by the media savvy Dr Elder.

  8. One must assume that the Heatelys (and the Keys) don’t get AGW.But if they do (and I’m sure they don’t) their political advisors,like Obama’s, will tell ’em not to mention it or swat it if it comes up.I despair with the lot of them.We need 3 new big and bold systems:an economic one,a war on AGW one,and a political one to achieve the first two.But a cold, small voice in the back of my head says “Sorry,chum.Grow up!”

    1. Yep, you have no show of that happening anytime soon. Mainly because you have really no clear understanding of a practical alternative that would work. Just a pie in the sky utopian vision much like early Socialists.

      1. Sir:Actually I do have lots of workable ideas and while you can call me a socialist (or whatever you want to),you are mistaken.In matters of governance I’m a cybernetician–the late Stafford Beer’s man–and the application of his systems would radically change our government,and a lot else.Capitalism is broke and just how broken it is emerges from the shadows like a mad monster.Our ecosystems are broke too and the same applies to them.There are solutions of course,but muddling on is not any of them.Somehow or other a leader has got to be found or otherwise emerges to capture hearts,then minds.The job is immense,the stakes infinite but some of us know that already.

        1. Fascinating. I would love to see how this system would work.

          Take something like video games. How would the system you are talking about manage the creation and distribution of this product?

          1. Why employ the video games example? It’s a feature of piloting a fly-by-wire Airbus or Boeing,but it’s a very minor one and doesn’t address the objectives of the systems–safe and efficient aviation.What Stafford Beer was on about was the control of large, complex systems.Sure,one of the aspects is that you can ‘play’ with them as in an aircraft simulator;try ideas out and watch what happens without actually crashing and burning.But,we do that frequently anyway with thought experiments though their reproduction here is infeasable.I talked to Stafford on the phone when he lived in England and it’s the obvious block–conventional power and influence factors like the Yes Minister depictions–that are made irrelevent, but it’s these that keep the ‘old way’ in business.So,I think it’s all got to get really horrid before anything much happens.But a no to your video games creation and distribution systems;that’s not the point at all.Moreover,I should have admitted to being “one of Stafford’s boys”;being ‘grown up’ about things has no appeal because being adult is so rich in tedious,mainly cynical assumptions.

            1. Why did you avoid the question? You stated you thought there was a practical alternative out there to replace our cuurent system. I merely asked you how it would work creatinf and distributing one of the worlds biggest markets – Video games. Why doesn’t Stafford Beer’s model deal with this? If it doesn’t the the system is flawed.

            2. I do apologise,I misunderstood you.From a glance at the screens,Stafford’s cybernet set-up looks like a video game in much the same vein as a Boeing 777’s.Of course you are right;the same principles would apply to the management of the type of enterprise you have described.I should have added Stafford’s vision is being enacted by the march of technology but governments have been especially hidebound and haven’t adopted much,if any,heavy tech in their debating chambers or cabinet rooms.Where are all the large screens,key boards, and the real-time models?

            3. It seems terribly theoretical Minkie41. I thought you stated there was a practical, (i.e. one that has been trialled and proved to work), alternative to the current system. I postulated a scenario relating to the Video games industry yet I am still none the wiser how the system you seem to be proposing would deal with this. It seems quite straight forward really.

            4. Well,Gosman in one way you’re right,Stafford was a clever man and he did like to dolly things up.His books are rather daunting unless you’re determined.Put simply,Managerial Cybernetics is about replacing ‘models-in-the head’ with animated models on the screen.In an AGM parliamentary debate I’d borrow a lot of stuff from the Sceptical Science site–including the 2100 draught map–along with amelioration strategies,and I’d chart NZ’s progress on them.All very scientific-fact-based.As things are so interlinked, you’d want to screen the economic impact of the 2100 draughts on the economy as well as the social ones.This’d stop all the rabitting-on about minor anomalies in the Hadcrut3 data set that we’d normally expect in a models-in-the-head debate.The trick is being able to change strategies and tactics,screen their impact and measure latencies–the gaps.We have the technology but sadly not the will yet to govern like this.

            5. Minkie41, this is what you stated in your original comment –

              ‘We need 3 new big and bold systems:an economic one,a war on AGW one,and a political one to achieve the first two’.

              I then replied that was all well and good but unfortunatyely we didn’t have any practical examples of alternative systems.

              You then stated that you did have one. However I have yet to see this demonstrated. Where is the practical alternative economic system, and how would it deal with something as simple as the creation and distribution of computer games?

            6. That’s an easy question to answer quickly.Instead of profits and shareholder value,I’d move NZ onto a value added and shared metrics on the basis that we want to create wealth AND as crucially,spread it around.Our taxation systems would then follow rewarding value adding and its distrubution while penalising rent seekers;the often non-contributing sector.The objectives here include fast-paced innovation and would call for a strong engineering (defined widely) sector to substantially lift our GNP per head.Instead of wall-to-wall lawyers and accountants (assume high electronic automation),we’d end up with a wall-to-wall value generators.And,goodbye to 20% of our children living in poverty.

            7. I agree it is easy to answer. However I want a practical solution not an easy theoretical sound bite. Let’s take it back to the Video game example. How would this value added and shared metric system handle the creation and distribution of video games?

            8. The value-added and shared idea is an economic policy and one would cybernetise that to enable governments and its citizens to moniter plans and performances–amongst other issues.In my message about the impact of cybernetics on parliamentary governance,I tried to illustrate how this information-based system (those big screens and keyboards) would change the way our MPs functioned in an AGW debate:a radical change to their current homo-pontificatus (Stafford’s words) approach.I think,though I was probably wrong about the 2100 draughts.They’ll be along much sooner–say 2040-2050?

              Returning to your question.The best answer is to read two of Beer’s books,’Brain of the Firm’ and ‘The Heart of the Enterprise’.They are companion volumes,incidentally.He’ll take you through Systems 1 to 5,algedonic loops,and cyberstride.He may change the ways you organise things;I hope he will.They are in the library system,but I could lend you mine.I’d want them back,though!

            9. I’ve had a look at some of the material on the internet about this. It is certainly bvery interesting and is worthy of a more in depth look. However it does seem very production focused and theoretical in nature. It seems to rely on a number of feedback loops but the nature of the feed back is unclear. I’m not sure how it relates to service industries. That is why I gave you an example of one so you could walk me through how the process would be put to practical use. I am still waiting for you to do this.

          2. Managerial Cybernetics isn’t something I can “walk you through” by email! It’s about designing organisations based on information flows and models.There’s a language too,and common structures to learn about.And,it can be applied to any complex system–for AGW, it needs to be adopted by goverments fast,especially at the Systems 4 level of what the future is going to be like and how it will change.I reiterate that the Skeptical Science site at its predictive levels is an excellent prototypical example of this.But,’Business as Usual’ applies and while the AGW bad news continues ( that on the Methane Clathrate and Tundra melts in the Arctic is especially awaited),cybernetics won’t save us because the pollies etc still won’t recognise that there are two worlds:one is real and the other one is theirs.If they looked at both and realised their terrible mistake,all things are possible.

            1. Then it is far too complex to be very practical. The solution is pie in the sky stuff that has no show of being implemented fast anywhere if you can’t even explain how it works with a simple real world scenario.

              The beauty of free market capitalism is it is very simple and straight forward with elegant feedback loops that don’t need to be over engineered to achieve the desired outcome. In short – you don’t need to learn another language to understand it.

            2. I’m obviously too trusting,Gosman.Who employs you to drive informed,careing people way from this,and probably other sites?How are you paid–on results? On subscriber number reductions? Or,are you just on a retainer,a nuiscance shill-retainer?

              To your two points.I’ve already clearly demonstrated how cybernetics would change parliamentary debate by focusing on facts specific to scientific forecasts,not wooly,biased models-in-the-head.Secondly,even–or especially after half a bottle of scotch–I could drive 100 armoured personel carriers line-abreast in perfect formation through though your version of free market economics starting with the externalities gap.

              But keep at it,you’ve a living to earn!And,thank you for teaching me what a shill really does.You’ve taught me one test:feelings of irritation probably mean a shill attack.

  9. Bryan,
    The Heatley Q & A interview is a near-perfect example of what I called the “snake swallowing the elephant in the room” response to climate change – that I posted on at the end of 2011.

    Heatley’s answers to Jake, when asked the “elephant in the room” question on increasing fossil fuel consumption and climate change, were just the usual business-as-usual mantra of jobs, GDP growth, and “balancing the environment”. In other words, Heatley was “flogging the dead horse”.

    Same for John Clarke doppelganger Dr Don Elder in his discussion on National Radio on coal gasification. The health and safety aspect is of course important – but the crucial difference between those direct effects and climate change is significant. Health and safety might or might not be adequately managed or mitigated. However, it is absolutely certain that these new non-conventional gas extraction techniques will inevitably add more carbon dioxide to the already excessive anthropogenic concentrations in the atmosphere. That fact cannot be mitigated or managed away. Don Elder knows this and so he ignores the elephant and expertly “flogs the dead horse” of mitigation of the localised effects.

    I very much support the Greens on climate change issues and policy but I wish sometimes that their approach placed more of a laser-like focus on the climate change impacts of fossil fuel extraction, before they get caught up in the dead horse flogging which the media seem largely happy to go along with.

  10. Yes Mr February, the Greens still seem to have a rather large ‘backward-looking element’ in their party ranks, which doesn’t help with addressing the looming climate crises.

  11. Thank you Bryan for another very good post. Most recent discussions about oil/gas/coal do seem to focus only on local effects and climate change is ignored. The recent article in the Listener on oil drilling is another example. I wrote to the editor pointing this out.2 weeks on my letter hasn’t been published (in fact none have been published about this article) . I have copied it in below.
    I was horrified to read in Stuff this week that Solid Energy’s new coal gasification plant isn’t even using the gas it is creating. It is reported that the gas is being burnt at the surface, being converted to water & CO2, they plan to do this for 18months. Adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere just to prove the technology works, so they can then build a bigger plant to use the coal that is too deep to mine. That is insane!

    Dear Sir/Madam, 02/04/2012
    The article “Mining the Depths” never once mentions climate change. The first paragraph in the Ministry for the Environment’s 2009 report ‘New Zealand’s Fifth National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ states “The New Zealand Government is committed to doing its fair share in combating climate change and reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. Tackling climate change is the Government’s number one environmental priority.” How on earth can the Government say this to the United Nations and then say they want to triple petroleum exports?
    If the proposed deep sea mining went ahead without spills or leaks it would still cause serious environmental damage because oil and natural gas are fossil fuels. Using this oil and gas anywhere in the world would release yet more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and add to the serious, dangerous and expensive problem of human induced climate change, which results in ocean acidification, sea level rise and weather extremes. Even the conservative International Energy Agency has warned the world is headed for irreversible climate change in five years if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy (Guardian 09/11/11)
    To focus only on the local effects and ignore the worldwide consequences of burning fossil fuels in a discussion on the pros and cons of oil drilling is extremely remiss.
    Yours faithfully,
    Vivienne Kerr

  12. I was reading with interest the comments regarding the impact of ‘intensive agriculture’ in some of the comments above. The problem as I see it is not the added short lived methane added to the contemporary carbon cycle by the cows, but the release of carbon dioxide that was removed from the ancient atmosphere as part of that carbon cycle, then sequestered for millions of years as coal, oil and natural gas (methane).

    1. Methane certainly is something to be concerned about, although on a global level it is more the release of methane from Arctic permafrost that would be a potential problem. There is no sign yet that global methane levels are increasing rapidly, so permafrost melt does not appear to be happening yet.

      NZ is very unusual in that methane release from agriculture makes up nearly half of our annual emissions. I see this as more of an opportunity for NZ than a problem. We are in a very good position to do something about this, as we have very good agricultural research going on here. As I mentioned upthread, there have already been tests of engineered clover that could reduce emissions from cows by up to 15% – that would have a huge impact on our emissions if that is successfully implemented, not to mention the potential benefits from licensing the technology to other countries.

      Some people apparently think that the only way to reduce methane emissions is to tax the dairy business out of existence, but I think that’s patently absurd. If the government were to bring agriculture into the ETS sooner rather than later, at a modest level at first, it could fund research that could substantially reduce the amount that farmers would end up paying in the long term. Sadly, politicians (and some commenters here) don’t appear to be able to look at the long term.

      1. We could reduce methane emissions by a lot more than 15% if we banned animal husbandry.

        If methane is a damaging Greenhouse gas and NZ Greenhouse gas emissions are made up of over 50% of Methane isn’t it ‘morally reprehensible’ that we promote industries like dairying’?

        I am also curious what your view of the Greens opposition to GM research is.

        1. I personally have no objection to GM research, which is one of the main reasons that I am not a member of the Greens.

          What I do find morally reprehensible is saying that the only way to address climate change is by shutting down certain industries. No one has suggested banning agriculture as a mitigation option, so you are misrepresenting the situation. For goodness’ sake, Gosman, people’s lives are at stake here, and you are pissing about playing childish word games. Grow up, and start putting some serious options on the table.

          You have suggested planting trees as an option for (post-hoc) mitigation, but have not provided any economic analysis to say how much it would cost or how effective it would be. If you are even remotely participating in good faith, you need to stump up with some numbers, PDQ.

          1. No I don’t have to start putting numbers. You postulated a 15 % reduction in methane production using GMO clover in agriculture. Do you not acknowledge that additional trees reduce Carbon in the atmosphere, if even by a bit. If you are happy with reduction strategies for methane why aren’t you comfortable with carbon reduction method via tree planting?

            ‘What I do find morally reprehensible is saying that the only way to address climate change is by shutting down certain industries.’ – This goes exactly to my point about the oil industry. So long as we manage the negative outputs from burning fossil fuels, (e.g. looking at ways to reduce or eliminate carbon dioxide getting into the atmosphere), the industry itself can continue at some level. This includes in NZ.

            1. The oil companies are perfectly free to diversify into other ways of making money. We have no moral obligation to ensure that they keep making vast profits from oil.

              Interesting though that you feel obliged to defend the poor old oil companies, Gosman. You just carry on shilling, avoid putting any numbers to your “solutions”, and I hope you sleep well at night.

            2. ‘I hope you sleep well at night.’ – Is that the basis of your argument? Because if it is then it is no wonder those pushing for drastic action on dealing with the effects of AGW are not making much progress.

              There is no reason we can’t continue to exploit fossil fuels so long as we manage the negative effects of this. There are a number of industrial applications for hydro-carbons that there is no effective alternative, (e.g. Plastics), so by shutting down the industry you will be causing the economy harm beyond just the energy sector.

              Just as you are flexible on dealing with the agricultural impact on AGW I think you should be consistent with dealing with fossil fuel exploitation.

            3. You are the *only* person talking about “shutting down the industry”, Gosman.

              The hard fact is, there is a limit to how much more carbon we can put in the atmosphere before the negative economic impacts of climate change vastly outweigh the economic benefits of continuing to exploit fossil fuels. You put forward tree planting as a mitigation effort, but provide no economic analysis whatsoever to back it up. That’s hardly a sound basis for economic planning.

              Like I said, come up with some real numbers, otherwise you are just trolling.

    2. Depends. If land that was preciously forested is cleared for dairying then it is removing a carbon sink and creating an source of increased methane. Even if land is converted from growing crops to animal husbandry there is an element of this.The point is whether the moral aspect of doing so is similar to prospecting and extraction of fossil fuels.

  13. CTG; the number of trees that would be needed to offset our fossil carbon release is waay more that the amount of marginal land we have available. However, if we reduced the amount of fossil carbon consumed, by reducing vehicle size and speed and the number and distance of journeys it might be feasible. By my fag-pack calculations the majority of journeys could be achieved with vehicles no larger than 250cc. Such cars or more correctly, motor cycles, exist but would require a helluva mind-set and legislative change for most of the sheeples to accept them. It won’t happen until something scares the bejezzers of of us.

  14. It would help if more people switched from beef to venison and reduced their dairy intake, but it would also help if people built smaller, more efficient houses, lived closer to work, holidayed nearby, bought appliances, clothes, etc that would last 20 years or better, had fewer babies and so on.
    A while back, Jim Mora interviewed a climate expert and right at the end of the discussion he threw in a question that wasn’t explored. “How much would we have to reduce our carbon footprints to make a difference?” “Oh, to about 12%….” That’s TO not BY.
    We will really have to pull finger on every frontier, not just agriculture or motor vehicles, but Our Glorious Leaders have their fingers in their ears and are singing LA LA LA LA!!!
    If the wacky weather happening around the world is the result of carbon released in the 1960s (correct me if I’m wrong there) God help our descendants by the 2060s.

  15. Gosman
    I’m a vegan. My little garden is being astonishingly helpful. No medications! I must be an economic saboteur 🙂


    On the matter of doing something effective, I caught a passing comment to the effect that legislation was being prepared in the EEC or perhaps it was Germany, to the effect that new buildings would be required to generate the power they consumed. “Hah! distributed generation with a vengeance and would the powering of vehicles be part of that definition? Away with the coal fired power stations, ” I exulted but so far have found no official docs on that re the EEC.

    I did find California is well on the way preparing legislation to the effect that new buildings, private and commercial, will be net-zero buildings which appears to mean the same sort of thing. New construction is less concern to the legislators though than the 98% of existing buildings, is it enough to target changes on renovations? It may take 50 years before that opportunity presents itself so not soon enough, but a starter certainly.

    To make things easier a statewide programme via the power utilities to eliminate the up-front financial barriers by arranging payments through the regular utility billing is being developed. In NZ only Nova, as far as I know, is implementing such a policy through Nova Energy Solar, but only for their own power customers.

    I personally consider that every city, town, village or residence should be seen as a power source, not just a consumer, but what a difference it would make to giving effect to that, with economies of scale for example, if the government, if necessary prodded by cities deciding to go down this road, created the necessary environment – much cheaper than business as usual, economists, doing the calculations, keep on saying.


  16. I absolutely laud the intentions of your theme, Noel, but fear that we’ll be kneecapped by a perfect storm of wacky weather and resource depletion. The transition from our present growth-at-any-cost society to something sustainable is Humanity’s greatest challenge. I’m both glad and sad that I’ll miss most of it, but hope to do what I can to give my grandkid(s) the best we can hope for.

    Stop Press: Interesting article just came to hand….

  17. Kiwiiano
    On the article you linked to: Influence of weather. I once asked a girl to accompany me on an outdoor expedition about a month in advance. She glanced toward the window. Outside it was pouring with rain, she declined. I waited for fine weather, asked again, with the opposite result.

    I know a guy who thinks the climate scientists are obviously lying because an increase in frosts on his land (north of Auckland) has made a certain crop rather risky to plant, so the climate must be getting colder. It may be useless to point out that Northland, despite risks of heavy rain from the north has been getting drier, with probably more frosty conditions in some micro-climates. Well, this day the water tank will run dry with forecast rain on friday insufficient to half fill it if it comes. To quote the article:
    “When the Arctic is less cold in winter, they explain, there is less temperature difference with the warmer air to the south, which means the jet stream (which divides the two regions) is weaker, loopier, slower… and so, for one thing, weather systems don’t move as fast, get stuck over one region for days on end, unrelenting.”

    We’re in the opposite hemisphere with a different kind of scene but this current spate of fine weather has, according to my water tank been going on too long. Oh well! tanks seem to have dropped in price. Time for a second far bigger tank. and more roof tied in. Meanwhile some mornings the dew is almost enough to water the garden, but not dependable, the half (white)roof record for the last four days being 0,0,14, 9.5 litres.but sometimes more than 17 L. which is the maximum capacity of the first flush diverter which collects plenty of phosphates and sulphur too for the garden.

    Still the council has at long last approved a solar hot water system so shortly I will have even more conflicted feelings about slow moving weather systems.


  18. Gosman:”There is no reason we can’t continue to exploit fossil fuels so long as we manage the negative effects of this. ”
    Entirely reasonable, except that most of the fossil carbon released will be damn hard to trap and sequest. Motor vehicles for example. One technique I have following is Origin Oil’s plant in Queensland that is converting the CO2 emmissions from a coal fired power station and converting it to algae fuels. In itself that plant is still ultimately releasing the fossil carbon, but it’s a start. The company had quite an exciting announcement last week that their breakthrough technology for separating the oils from the algae cells is also applicable to separating oil from fracking fluids, a multi-billion $/yr industry.
    The problem is the sheer scale of the amount of carbon being released, the complexity of pathways and the realisation that the weather disturbances of today are the consequence of CO2 release decades ago. We needed to have capture & sequest technology cut & dried back in 1950, not pie in the sky in 2012.

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