The last climate denier in New Zealand

My entry for the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Manhire Prize for science writing (in the fiction category), made the shortlist but didn’t win. My congratulations to Brian Langham for his story Fourteen [pdf] (and to Renee Liang for her winning non-fiction piece — Epigenetics: navigating our inner seas [pdf]). For the sake of posterity, here’s my little tear-jerker. Some might do well to remember that it is intended as satire.

The last climate denier in New Zealand slapped his battered old panama hat on to his balding head, adjusted the bulky wrap-around sunglasses over his bifocals and stepped out into the hot morning air. He groaned. His car, the last petrol V6 in the city — a classic, his wingèd American chariot made stationary by lack of fuel — slouched under a coat of red dust. Again. Some urchin child of an Aussie refugee had written “wash me, fossil fool” on the back. The letters were ill-formed and childlike. You could say the same for the parents, he thought. Could there be any soil left in Australia, now that so much of it was blowing over the Tasman to coat the city? Come to that, were there any Australians left in Australia? It didn’t seem like it. The rich ones had bribed their way in, bought big properties well inland and built mansions. The poor were huddling in their masses in the abandoned beachfront baches, camping out on the top floors when the spring tides lapped around the gardens, trooping inland with tents when storms brought waves washing through the eroding dunes to pound at their doors.

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Imagining 2020: Green Crude

The fourth contribution to the Imagining 2020 series of essays comes from Pete Fowler, who takes a look at producing biofuel from algae as a sustainable means of meeting our liquid fuel needs. If you’d like to contribute your vision of a low-carbon future for New Zealand, please get in touch — details at the end of the piece.

I was very pessimistic until last year about our prospects of weaning off fossil fuels before reaching an irreversible tipping point. Some positive feedback loop would kick in, like higher temperatures releasing trapped methane from arctic permafrost and seafloor sediments. Increased atmospheric methane, about 30 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, would further raise temperatures. End result? Within a few decades Earth would be as hot as Venus. The whole of humanity would go the way of the civilisations described by Jared Diamond in Collapse, who could see they were on a track to self destruction but were unable to alter course.

In 2008 I read one of the most positive books ever written; The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil. He points out that whichever way you measure the rate of technological change, it accelerates exponentially. Moore’s law for instance predicted in 1965 that artificial intelligence would double in complexity and halve in cost every two years. It’s held for the last 44 years, and if it continues to hold until 2020, we’ll then have machines approaching human intelligence.

Kurzweil maintains that right now, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics are the main drivers of technological advance. The production of crude oil from atmospheric CO2 and water will be mostly a triumph of genetic engineering.

Nature took hundreds of millions of years to produce the crude oil which, in about 200 years, we’ll have exhausted. If we can speed up this process, and produce all our liquid fuels and chemical industry feedstocks, and some stock feed and human food from atmospheric CO2 and waste, by a process many times as efficient as farming, without diverting farmland or native bush, on the same timescale as the rate at which we deplete fossil fuel, we’ll have solved the problems of peak oil and global warming, and a few lesser problems.

Conventional biofuel production isn’t particularly efficient. It requires fuel inputs for farm vehicles, and it either diverts farmland away from food production or destroys native bush. Only an average 300 watts per square metre world wide of sunlight is available for photosynthesis, and natural photosynthesis isn’t a very efficient way to convert sunlight to chemical energy. The most efficient fuel crop is sugar cane, fermented to ethanol. It yields up to three harvests a year. But it’s labour and land intensive, requires fuel for farm machinery and transport, it increases the cost of food and only grows in the tropics. Because all conventional crops need further processing in different places before they reach the petrol pump or dinner table, their total number of carbon kilometres is typically several times the distance round the world.

What’s needed is a continuous process, not a batch process like conventional harvesting. The world is running out of land suitable for conversion to farming. An algae reactor can be set up on land which is unsuitable for farming or anything else, and can still produce more than 15 times as much fuel per hectare as canola or palms. Unlike natural crude, it can yield a product free of contaminants like nitrogen, sulphur or benzene. The first generation will use sunlight for their energy source, but later, as energy sources like pebble bed fission reactors and ultimately nuclear fusion become available, these will drastically increase yield.

Some natural cyanobacteria can double their mass every hour. With genetic engineering, high temperature varieties, and varieties which fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere are possible. The obvious raw materials to use are untreated sewage and atmospheric CO2, helping to solve two environmental problems. Eventually, when energy sources other than sunlight are available, the demand for sewage will outstrip supply, and other sources of micronutrients will be needed. But as with conventional agriculture, micronutrients are in principle recyclable. All you need is a way to reclaim elements like phosphorus, sulphur, iron, molybdenum and the rest. This is feasible with a bioreactor producing algae, but not on a conventional farm, where they drain away, and not only are they wasted, but they cause problems like nitrate in drinking water and eutrophication in waterways.

The only high tech part of producing green crude is the final step; converting algae into oil. There’s no reason why bioreactors can’t be operated in the world’s poorest countries, as well as everywhere else where a demand for the products exists. Being a factory, rather than an outdoor farm operation, it can be conducted close to population centres, or anywhere else. CO2 is available everywhere, and low-grade water supplies unfit for human consumption, almost everywhere.

An obvious location for a bioreactor is right next to a thermal power station, where there’s waste CO2, waste heat and transmission loss free electricity, but in principle one can operate anywhere.

The algae is harvested continuously, 24/7. Currently four technologies exist to extract the oil:

  1. Dry the algae and press the oil out. This is the simplest method.
  2. Dissolve the oil in a supercritical fluid like CO2 at high pressure. When pressure is reduced the oil separates out and the CO2 is reused. This is the most promising method.
  3. Hexane solvent. Hexane, a hydrocarbon similar to petrol, dissolves the oil. The hexane is then separated from the oil and reused.
  4. Ultrasound breaks open the algae cells, and the oil is pressed out.

The remaining dry matter is a high protein stock feed.

A bioreactor producing algae which are processed into liquid fuels, foods and petrochemicals, is a machine for converting waste, including CO2, into essential commodities which are getting scarcer every year. The only input needed is energy. It’s a closed loop. There is no waste and no collateral damage to the environment.

The “Imagining 2020″ Series of articles is a creative commons discussion effort coordinated by , and Contributions are welcome from all comers. Please see the introduction for an explanation of the project and instructions for how to contribute.

Imagining 2020: The age of the bloody lucky

Third essay in the Imagining 2002 series comes from Imagineer Dave McArthur, who examines how NZ made the transition “from being per capita one of the most violent and polluting nations on the planet to a centre of harmonious practice”.

It is 2020 and we have finally worked out the nature of the mysterious force that came to dominate human affaires and transformed global society a decade earlier. A consensus now exists that if this force had not emerged then the existing play of physical forces were all set to form a confluence that would have resulted almost certainly in a catastrophic world war about 2013 in which many billions of people perished in terrible ways.

All manner of experts have endeavoured to identify this great force that prevented such misery and grief. Only now are we aware of how its enormous transformative potential existed in a latent form in nations for centuries. There are few records of it being mentioned in the daily discourse of people this last century or so and we still do not understand how humans suddenly were able to harness its powers so effectively. This much is known:

In the 20th Century we human beings had developed industrialised processes of slaughter of all kinds of creatures, including the massacre of our own species on continental scale. By 2009 many people were feeling helpless as they and their communities were buffeted by an aggregation of hostile forces – climatic, hygroscopic, hydrologic, carbonic, phosphoric and other elements that normally sustain human life. Studies of the language of the period reveal much self-hatred and the demonising of other races and cultures, carbon, climate change, water, global warming and even energy itself.

The rare accounts we have of those who don’t generally write the history books indicates that many people had gut feelings of increasing impotency and deep dread of imminent societal collapse. It is clear that media accounts and official statistics of the period did not accurately reflect their experience of growing inflation and loss of wealth, rising household debt, malnourishment, pollution and crime. It is evident that by 2009 this was also occurring on scale to the middle class in supposedly rich countries.

All manner of systems, including credit systems, built on a valuation of mineral oil of $US25 a barrel were imploding. They were set for imminent collapse as this immensely valuable mineral resource was being depleted in insane ways (private cars, trucks, jets, fertiliser, “disposable” items etc.).

This confluence of forces made a seismic lurch into catastrophic warfare inevitable.

It is probable that a combination of the widespread gut feelings of the futility of war and a desire for civilisation generated the behavioural change. It is instructive to study the transformation of the small country of New Zealand. It changed from being per capita one of the most violent and polluting nations on the planet to a centre of harmonious practice. We are now aware that the following prime changes occurred.


Traditionally the abuse of the nation’s carbon, water, solar and electrical potential had been enabled by a curriculum that taught that science is a way of thinking devoid of moral force. The result was a reverence for an amoral, all-powerful god called “The Market” plus the destruction of most of New Zealand’s forests and much of its soil, water and air quality.

By 2009 the new neurophysics research capacity showed clearly the powerful and integrated roles of our primal psychology, “mirror neurons” and symbol use. Quantum physics indicated information is physical. We know some people were concerned too by documentation showing that the average New Zealander consumed resources at over five times the sustainable rate of planet Earth. We know some also realised the nation’s high level of destruction of remaining mineral oil and gas reserves would have an incalculable negative affect on our options in 2020 and beyond.

These are some of the possible reasons why a national consensus emerged in 2010 that an education system could no longer be evaluated by what its graduates said. The truer measure of quality education is what graduates actually do.

This new measure immediately revealed the traditional Education Curriculum Framework was fatally flawed. The subsequent review redefined the nature and role of science. Science became the driver of all education and was redefined as a state of being in which the following qualities are each necessary requisites for the state of science to exist:

  • Compassion in learning
  • Collegiality and sharing
  • Time and reflection
  • Inquiry and inclusiveness
  • Honesty and trust

The effects of this new National Education Curriculum Framework were almost instantaneous and profound. A great transformative force occurred. Students now understood science is a state almost every human is born into. They were no longer taught that Science is a special way of thinking, only attainable by a small clever elite called “scientists” who understood “science”.

Instead they now understood the state of science is a dynamic moral condition that enables the arts, language and civics to thrive. It is the essence of effective learning.

This new consciousness spread rapidly into communities. Schools restructured their learning activities and teachers their lifestyles. Their communities became excited by the changes and rapidly adopted them. There are many accounts in which people speak of their ”creative potential being unshackled” and experiencing “new and wonderful meaning” in their lives.

It is clear this restructured education curriculum played an essential role in releasing this mysterious potent force that came to dominate human affaires. It is difficult to determine how much the altered curriculum affected the simultaneous transformations that occurred in other spheres of human activity. [Sustainability Principles: NZ Curriculum]


Previously any fall in a nation’s population was experienced as a sign of a failing economy. People who decided to have childless and sole child families were derided as greedy and spiritually deprived, particularly in Anglo-American nations like New Zealand. Now access to family planning facilities became a universal civic right and those who decided not to propagate became revered. A nation’s health was now measured by its ability to reduce its population in careful humane ways.


For over a century an elite, usually those who most benefited from private corporations, fostered the belief that copyright law enabled creativity and wealth creation. The 2008 economic implosion in supposedly wealthy nations addicted to the copyright ethos may have alerted many people to the dangers of this myth. Nations like the USA and New Zealand which should most have profited from copyright were instead now revealed as bankrupt and dangerous.

The transformed education curriculum also made it obvious to most people that copyright destroys creativity and wealth because it disables all the requisites necessary for science to exist.

The review and mass rejection of copyright law that resulted caused a great flowering in the varieties of technology, media, music, arts and other meaningful options available.

The review and mass rejection of copyright law that resulted caused a great flowering in the varieties of technology, media, music, arts and other meaningful options available. It is difficult in 2020 to comprehend the scale of the starvation and under nourishment, wars, waste, inequity, pollution, wasteful devices and unsustainable practices that existed just ten years ago because of copyright.

“Energy” and “Power”

Study of all forms of media indicates that an oligarchy of merchant bankers dominated human discourse till a decade ago. This small group determined the use of these prime symbols. They promoted uses of these vital symbols by which the symbols were associated with the products they most profited from. By 2000 the “energy” and “power” symbols were synonymous with fossil fuels and Bulk-generated electrical products.

These symbol associations generated addictive uses of these resources and destroyed science on scale.

We now understand clearly the fatal flaw in this behaviour; the dangers of confusing energy/power with individual forms; and the dissonance generated in the denial of the Conservation Principle of Energy. All children are now taught a working knowledge of the wisdom in that great guide to symbol use –the Sustainability Principle of Energy.

Energy is now experienced as the potential of the universe(s) and power as a measure of the rate the potential is manifest. It is difficult in our current sense of bounty to imagine the sensations of deprivation and disconnection experienced by people a decade ago.


The new education curriculum had a spontaneous effect on journalism schools. Students and professionals alike were filled with a refreshed sense of science. This was incompatible with the century old corporate media structures designed to serve the short-term selfish interests of the controlling oligarchy.

Dedicated journalists realised their lifestyles defined their journalism. Many elected to work part time in manual and other jobs for independence of income and to employ the new electronic media in ways that enabled deep integrity of journalistic practice.

Dedicated journalists realised their lifestyles defined their journalism. Many elected to work part time in manual and other jobs for independence of income and to employ the new electronic media in ways that enabled deep integrity of journalistic practice. Their dedication was soon rewarded. New Zealanders, motivated by the newfound feelings of stewardship and meaning enabled by the new education curriculum, responded by supporting quality journalists directly, just as they now valued and directly supported artists, musicians, researchers, teachers et al in their communities now. Public broadcasting facilities began to flourish as the charters governing Radio NZ and Television NZ were rewritten to enable true national discourse.

Carbon Potential

New Zealand’s history since 1800 is characterised by an abuse of its carbon potential -deforestation, monoculture, destruction of soil life and high carbon pollution of the atmosphere. In the 1990s it was in the forefront of the development of a global Carbon Trading scheme by which nations ceded sovereign rights and responsibilities to an oligarchy of stateless merchant bankers/traders. In 2008 it was one of the first nations to cede away stewardship of carbon and allow this stateless oligarchy of “carbon traders” to set the value of carbon forms.

It is easy now in 2020 to identify the psychopathy and psychosis of this brutal regime. It was not so easily apparent then. We know the 2009 reforms of this “Emissions Trading Scheme” (ETS) reinforced in many New Zealanders their gut feeling of great unease that the ETS represented a gigantic rort. They sensed the hideous course of the Carbon Trader pathology.

In 2010 we see the resurrection of the NZ Values Party, based on values of personal and sovereign stewardship of carbon. This Party had unique resonance in the new spiritual climate and soon other parties withdrew support for the ETS.

Since 2010 the majority of New Zealanders have welcomed the self-imposed annual doubling in value of carbon forms like mineral oil. This has allowed the investment required to create the wonderful electrical mass transit systems and work/recreational potential we enjoy today plus the elimination of our national debt.

Modern carbon uses, such as the use of polymers for transfer and storage of electrical products and of biomass for storage of data, illustrate very clearly it is not how much carbon we use but how we use it that matters.

Electrical Potential

New Zealand’s abuse of this potential is similar in magnitude to that of its abuse of carbon. The prevalent myth, propagated by this same oligarchy of merchant traders for a century, was that their Bulk-generated electrical products ARE energy, power and electricity. This myth soon dissipated in the much-enhanced state of science that emerged. Students now associate energy and power with bounty and variety. They also now comprehend that electricity does not exist. They are careful to symbolise each of the very different electrical phenomena that do exist and this is a reason why our dwellings are now such sustainable sources of amazing electrical products.

Students are now also skilled to differentiate between “smart” and “intelligent” electrical technology”. We now recognise that “smart” uses of technology can easily destroy democracy and put us all at risk. We know that “intelligent” uses involve all the community in an equal democratic conversation of how their local electrical potential is used. Most students are now capable of rating local grids on an intelligence continuum.

It is clear this proliferation of resources could not have occurred without the repeal of the 1993 and 1998 NZ Electricity Industry Reform legislation. This repressive legislation was designed with 100% effect to remove the historic right of all New Zealand communities to own the intelligence of their local electrical potential. By 1999 not one community retained that right anymore.

It seems the repeal and re-enfranchisement of NZ citizens occurred with surprising ease. Perhaps it was the prospect of the imminent and horrific war in which our large dams and other Bulk-generation devices would be prime targets of obliteration? Perhaps it was the gut level unhappiness of their families and their staff of their roles? Whatever, records show many top managers of the Bulk-generation corporations in the sector urged the Government repeal of the Electricity Industry Reform legislation. There are many subsequent accounts in which both executives and staff speak of the sense of release, exhilaration and reward they now experience working in the multitude of community-based structures that sprang up again after the repeal.

Solar potential

In 2020 we take if for granted that before enacting any major legislation we ask how it impacts on our capacity to conserve and maximise our solar potential. A decade ago nearly all building and “environmental” regimes were designed to serve the short-term interests of the banker oligarchy. They determined how we built and used our dwellings and communities. They controlled all electrical metering and most electronic information transfers, transport structures and food distribution. Speculators commonly built to destroy urban solar potentials whereas now we would not dream of building a dwelling without, for instance its roof facing to the sun. Whereas local councils were primarily Building Code enforcers a decade ago they and the new Building Code are now the prime drivers of research and education of sustainable design.

The power of the mysterious force alluded to is such that in 2010 the NZ Minister of Energy and Resources, Hon Gerry Brownlie, realised such a title is patently ludicrous. Unlike his immediate predecessors he gained the fortitude and inspiration to transcend his ego.

The power of the mysterious force alluded to is such that in 2010 the NZ Minister of Energy and Resources, Hon Gerry Brownlie, realised such a title is patently ludicrous. Unlike his immediate predecessors he gained the fortitude and inspiration to transcend his ego. In 2010 the pretentious and destructive role of Minister of Energy was laid to rest and in its place we now have various ministries, including the Ministers for Conserving our Solar Potential, our Mineral Potential, our Electrical Potential and our Carbon Potential.


This, like Environmental Education, exists mainly in our history books now. Both are superseded by the powerful discipline of civics. Economics a decade ago is best characterised as a religion in which believers defer to an omnipotent Being called “The Market”. Study of the literature and media of last century reveals a growing tendency to ascribe all manner of human qualities to this transcendent “Being”. Typical was media statements of belief that “The Market likes/does not like this decision/that Government policy”.

In 2020 we recognise the dangerous pathology of this religion and how it nearly destroyed humanity. We now are mindful to conserve the potential of the “market symbol” and know there are all manner of markets involving every type of human interaction. To each we give a name.

Similarly Environmental Education was a sophisticated form of Banker Speak that destroyed science on scale in our communities. The advent of the science-based curriculum placed personal stewardship at the centre of the study of all disciplines. This, plus an enhanced sense of integration with all, caused both concepts to fade into irrelevance.


In 2020 in our privileged state of science the majority of citizens now embrace our roles as stewards. We are much more aware that our every action is a vote. In 2009 the average NZer had no awareness that they placed their most potent votes at the petrol pump, airline counter, supermarket checkout and dwelling switchboard. These votes determined the quality of their Parliament and thus New Zealand MPs were characterised by fear and amorality. Hansard records reveal that every party approved the ETS and Electricity Industry Reforms. It is hard now to imagine how impotent and exploited the average citizen was.

Some call 2020 the Great Solar-Electrical Age. Others who are aware of how close human kind came to triggering a catastrophic global war in 2013 call it the Age of the Bloody Lucky. Perhaps it is best known by the name of that mysterious transforming force that underpinned all the changes mentioned – The Age of Compassion. It was this force that enabled even members of the psychopathic Banker oligarchy to experience the moments of other sentient beings and to transcend their own greed and suffering for vital periods. They thus decided not to risk a vast escalation in needless misery by abusing the insights in articles like this one. Compassion prevailed.

Imagining 2020: The Age Of Smart

Second essay in the new Scoop/Celsias/Hot Topic Imagining 2020 series is a very positive view from the Climate Defence Network. Remember, if you’d like to contribute your vision of a low-carbon future for New Zealand, please get in touch — details at the end of the piece.

About this story:

This story came about because there didn’t seem to be any overall New Zealand plan to reduce our emissions – let alone at the scale and speed needed to do our fair share to avoid global climate tipping points. Yet, as life seems to go on as usual, so many of us are quietly wondering just how serious the climate crisis is and what can we do to look after our families. What we do – who reduces how fast and with how much help – are decisions for all of us. The biggest lesson from the last decade is that we can’t afford any more delay. The future is coming regardless and what we do now can make it brighter and better.

The good news is that we can do our fair share and be better off. We don’t have to shoot cows or crush all our cars. We can act smart and tell our politicians they must too. Our problems in New Zealand aren’t technology or money. The real problems are political will, business-as-usual thinking – and more delay.

2020 – The Age of Smart is a scenario of the future to get New Zealanders thinking, talking and working out how we create a low emissions country together. Our fair share means halving our current emissions by 2020 (in other words, making a reduction of 40% on 1990 levels) to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2 degrees of warming – and avoiding climate tipping points. Or to put it another way, each person on Earth has just 110 tonnes each of CO2 to emit into the atmosphere before 2050. At New Zealand’s current rates, we will use up our quota by about 2023. The following suggestions may not be the only ideas or possibilities. And we don’t have to pick up all these suggestions – but we do need to agree on a fair way forward to rapidly cut our emissions.

It’s time that scientific necessity shaped political feasibility – and urgently. If climate change is “the greatest market failure”, let’s make sure our response is New Zealand’s greatest success – for our environment and for our economy. We can start really reducing our emissions from 2010 – and do our bit to stop global disaster for our families. We must do this – and we can!

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Imagining 2020: A Low Carbon Future? Bah! Humbug!

First essay in the new Scoop/Celsias/Hot Topic Imagining 2020 series is a thought-provoking vision from Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal of the Morgan Charitable Foundation:

On the eve of December’s Copenhagen conference on climate, all indications are that there will be no legally binding obligations agreed to by nations insofar as carbon emissions are concerned. The inability of civilisations to pre-empt catastrophe is nothing new: history is littered with instances of societies marching steadfastly to oblivion in full knowledge that this is the consequence of their inability to change. Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” provides a perceptive and sobering historic collation on this topic.

Our genetic code commits us to paths portending self-destruction, albeit this time the threat is on a scale hitherto not encountered. There is no compelling reason to doubt the view that human activity is causing a rise in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, and that this in turn will lead a rise in global average temperatures, we can expect the effects of climate change to be making themselves felt in earnest in 2020. And we can probably expect the rise in temperature to be faster than the currently favoured predictions, given that most of the new evidence that emerges daily suggests that the world is warming more and faster than had been expected by those who compiled the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.

So what – if our disposition for denial dictates we adhere to insufficient pre-emptive action – might be the worst of the scenarios we face in 2020? The rate of growth in global emissions of greenhouse gases will have slowed, but it won’t have reversed, as we so badly need it to have done by then. After the debacle at Copenhagen, it will have taken several years for international accord on meaningful reduction targets to be reached. Some nations will have made great strides in reining in their emissions, and some may even have cut them, but New Zealand, like most other liberal democracies (including the United States), will be lagging behind our commitments. The tough decisions that need to be made will have continued to prove just too tough for politicians eyeing their re-election prospects. Centrally planned economies like China, by contrast, and some of the more socialist European states will have taken strong, concerted action. The worldwide search for truly sustainable energy sources will have begun in earnest as stocks of easily obtainable petrochemical resources have become depleted, sending the cost of energy soaring, and this will be the single greatest contributor to the slowdown in the rate of fossil fuel consumption.

New Zealand, like most other liberal democracies (including the United States), will be lagging behind our commitments.

Nevertheless, the world will already be nearing the maximum ‘safe’ limit of 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide by 2020, and emissions will not yet have been stabilised, let alone reversed. The conversation both here and abroad will have shifted from what will be necessary to adapt to a rise in the global average temperature of a couple of degrees over pre-industrial levels to what will be necessary in a world that is four or five degrees warmer.

The retention of greater levels of energy within the climate system will have different effects from region to region. New Zealand will be comparatively better off than some places. Next door, for example, Australia will be losing vast areas of formerly arable land to intractable drought, even as the major population centres on the east coast are hammered by powerful tropical storms in the north and torrential rain events in the south. Desertification in Africa and Central Asia will accelerate. Extreme weather events such as flooding, heavier-than-usual and unseasonal snowfalls and heatwaves will afflict Europe. The hurricane-prone regions of the world — the Atlantic seaboard of the Americas, the Pacific Islands, East Asia and the sub-continent — will find themselves cleaning up after more and more intense storms.

In New Zealand, the west coast of both islands will experience increased rainfall, while eastern areas will see precipitation rates dwindle, both the consequence of a more persistently westerly set to the weather. Ironically, our regional average temperature may have cooled over the decade, which would be of considerable comfort to climate change sceptics if only there were any left outside asylums for the chronically deluded by 2020. More powerful weather systems in the Southern Ocean will drag cold air into our latitudes from Antarctica during our winter, making for some pretty grim winters in the south. But increased precipitation and colder winters won’t disguise the change in the distribution of rain and snowfall, and nor will it be any consolation to farmers who are forced to walk off their dusty holdings in North Canterbury, Marlborough, the Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay and the Far North. The competing claims of conservation, agriculture and recreation will be bickering even more bitterly over water use rights in these areas than they presently are.

Ironically, our regional average temperature may have cooled over the decade, which would be of considerable comfort to climate change sceptics if only there were any left outside asylums for the chronically deluded by 2020.

Fox and Franz Josef glaciers will have spent most of the decade advancing, due to higher snowfalls on the western aspect of the Southern Alps. Meanwhile Auckland will have recorded its first case of locally contracted dengue fever.

Higher rainfalls on the Main Divide in the South Island will make water shortages in our hydro lakes something of a rarity, and this will improve our energy security and reduce the quantity of fossil fuels we consume in energy production. The excess electricity in the grid initially released by the long overdue closure of the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point will be mostly offset by 2020 through its increased consumption by the burgeoning national fleet of battery electric vehicles. This will work an improvement in the efficiency and the renewable component of the energy consumed by our transport sector, and this in turn will comprise the major component of the slow-down in the rate of New Zealand’s increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Just behind this will be the impact of measures imposed by the government to improve the energy efficiency of domestic and commercial buildings. The third largest contribution will be the carbon offset earned by the re-aforestation of land that was formerly used for agriculture. But agriculture — particularly dairy — will prove resilient: although New Zealand agricultural products will become steadily more expensive on the world market with the addition of a price premium to reflect ‘food miles’, the reduction of demand further afield will be replaced by increased demand from Australia, whose agricultural sector will be under severe pressure.

Like the rest of the developed world, but more like America and less like Europe, we will have failed to wean ourselves off consumption for the sake of it. Everything on the shelves at the Warehouse will be greenwashed in one way or another — wearing a label proclaiming its environmental virtues — but the full range of crap will still be there. The Warehouse’s red sheds will probably have been re-painted green by then, too. But our terms of trade will be desperate, because while we’ll retain our taste for consumer goods manufactured abroad (our domestic manufacturing industry will, of course, have relocated lock, stock and barrel to China, where its largest market lies), demand for our primary produce will barely have survived the imposition of transport tariffs. Tourism will have fallen away markedly, too, as the international conscience turns against air travel as fast as the price of an airline ticket takes off with the addition of carbon levies, and as our claim to the ‘100% Pure’ moral high ground looks sick in light of our failure to act decisively on controlling emissions.

But never mind all that. Housing will be trucking along, as a new generation of Kiwis assembles a portfolio of renters to let to the huddled masses of climate refugees arriving here from the Pacific and from the poorer parts of Asia and the subcontinent. The prices of beef, lamb and seafood will have plummeted as supplying the domestic market becomes more attractive than exporting.

As we happily contemplate our capital gains, we’ll still find it easy to ignore the environmentalists who will be painting doomsday scenarios around the disposal difficulties arising from all the heavy metals used in electric car batteries. Oh yes — and their urging of politicians to set politics aside and take meaningful action on climate change will still be a bemusing sideshow.

The “Imagining 2020″ Series of articles is a creative commons discussion effort coordinated by , and Contributions are welcome from all comers. Please see the introduction for an explanation of the project and instructions for how to contribute.