Hiatus explained

It’s been a long time since a new post appeared at the top of Hot Topic’s front page. You might almost call it a hiatus — but like that other mythical pause it wasn’t brought about by any change in the underlying forcings. Climate change and the ever-increasing impacts of warming have not dropped out of the news, nor are they likely to as we approach the end of another record-breaking year for global temperatures. The denialati remain active, as one might expect, though I have tired of that particular game of whack-a-mole pending any upturn in the originality on display.

Nope. The truth is I’ve been busy tending trees and vines and catching up with work on our small farm, preparing for what looks all too likely to be a summer of drought. What passes for normal service will resume before Christmas — but in the meantime, keep an eye open for reports from the COP21 climate negotiations. HT’s roving correspondent Cindy Baxter will be on a bateau mouche beneath the bridges of Paris, keeping us up to date with events.

Meanwhile, consider this to be an invitation to discuss all matters climate related — an open thread, no less. Usual caveats apply.

28 thoughts on “Hiatus explained”

  1. The El Nino will disturb our weather so I contacted Brett Mullan of NIWA to get an idea of what to expect and he kindly sent me his PP presentation to farmers which he had just done. This is a short summary on my website. http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/latest-posts–news/el-nino-drought
    On the matter of COP2,1 where most governments commitments are inadequate, this is where the hard bargaining begins and nobody leaves the room and till the planet is saved. But is 2C a safe limit. http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/latest-posts–news/how-safe-is-2c

    1. Thank you Bob, those graphics about our impending drought are clear and scary. We are keen gardners on volcanic soil. It looks like our water bill will go up again this summer.

    1. Growth… this is indeed the key perhaps to our entire dilemma.
      Our current (braindead) economic model is predicated by growth (as otherwise, you would be unable to pay back loans with a meaningful interest). However growth (as a percentage of what you got), demands an exponential increase in the total…

      The hybrids of this becomes quickly clear if you try to work out the value of 1 dollar invested at 7% for the duration of 2000 years….
      The time frame is chosen to underline the idea, that the human enterprise should be aiming for a long happy existence… and what is 2000 years in the light of that…

      Hint to those who want to give it a go: Work out the weight in Gold at $57,000 NZ/Kg that that $1 would require after 2000 years. Hint 2: Wikipedia has data on the mass of the Earth, the Sun, the Galaxy and even the entire known Universe….

      A sample calculation will be published shortly… 😉

      1. Fortunately the law of growth is also known as the law of decay.
        Or as the Buddha Gautama put it when ticking his disciples off for carrying on a bit in the face of his imminent death: “All that is mundane shall die”, or words to that effect.

      2. Sample calculation of the effect of growth at 7% of one $ after a period of 2000 years:

        The value of the $1 will be: 1 x 1.07^2000 which turns out to be:


        At NZ$57,0000 per Kg of gold and at the mass of the known Universe to be estimated at:

        100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00 Kg (estimated mass of our known universe)

        …..you would have to lug around the weight of about 10.3 Universes like ours in pure Gold to have the equivalent value of $1 after 2000 years invested at 7%….

        1. Exponential growth such as compounding interest is a self-limiting process.
        2. Any civilization who’s economy is predicated on exponential growth, such us our own, must be short lived.
        3. A civilization charging interest on loans requires exponential growth to pay back these loans with interest.
        4. Due to 1. and 2. any civilization that charges interest on loans is short lived.


        1. Reductio ad absurdum is fun. I’ve often used it, sometimes against my own assumptions. It’s chilling to think we are governed by people addicted to impossibilities which they promote as practical when in truth they who have “other priorities” are being “purely speculative”.

  2. I’ve wondered how farms and forestry can properly be included in a carbon tax system? Here is my present take on the question, with some background arguments.

    “Carbon neutral” effects no-change to the status quo but we have an unstable system with natural cycles compromised. “Carbon neutral” does not mitigate climate change, and may mask large emissions of greenhouse gasses, but does the concept have a place?

    Substituting bio-fuels for fossil fuels has been touted as renewable but is it? On a niche level, local cycle, maybe, but
    not when forests are burned to make way for palm oil,
    not when forests are felled to supply pellets for burning,
    not when oil production takes precedence over the food supply
    – there is simply not enough low level biological waste, it seems to me, to supply man’s massive fuel demand at a large enough scale to make a difference.

    The best thing we can do with organic carbon waste is return it to the soil and keep it there. But how?

    In this International Year of the Soil I’ve read that so much organic carbon is being lost from our soils that most soils across the planet will be exhausted after 60 years (tipping point anyone?), In the UK the Farmers weekly reported on October 21, 2014 that the UK has only 100 harvests left, mostly because of “intensive overfarming”.
    Climate change is weighting the dice against us as well.

    The failed state of Syria began with a dried up aquifer, farmers flooding into the cities, food supply crashing, then civil war.

    Despite a long history of drought leading to civil unrest and war and various people saying so, no preparation has been made so out comes the razor wire, the fences, people turned back to their deaths, rape, other forms of exploitation, the cruelties of reaction. A recent study concludes that natural disasters, most weather related and exacerbated by climate change, has, since 2008, displaced an average of 26 million people each year, 42 million during the last El Niño year(Page 9 in above report). Most displacement has been internal with conflict displacing already displaced people, but only now have nations agreed to collect better figures.

    So how should a carbon tax promote sustainable farming, soil quality improvement and carbon sequestered in the soil? Are there forcings?

    Does “Sustainable” equal “Renewable”? Within what parameters is “carbon-neutral” a useful concept?

    1. A sustainability baseline needs to be established for every farm as every farm emits gasses into the atmosphere because of the activity of micro-organisms that break down decaying materials. We could claim this to be an approximation of carbon-neutrality. Such a baseline would rise with soil improvement.

    2. Greenhouse gas emissions within the natural carbon cycle would not attract a carbon tax.

    A problem here is that everyone will claim sustainability, ignoring if they can the carbon footprint of imports, the polluting effects of intensive farming and damage to soil micro-organisms due to some applied fertilisers. Perhaps resilience in the face of weather and market extremes is also part of sustainability?

    3. Emissions in excess of the sustainable baseline would attract tax providing an incentive toward sustainable soil improvement.

    4. Emissions of greenhouse gasses through use of fossil fuels on farms and forests would attract tax on the same basis as every other human activity.

    5. Sequestering of carbon in soil would be certified and attract a bonus paid for out of carbon taxes and maybe subsequently out of general taxation when carbon taxes no longer generate sufficient revenue.

    6. Development costs associated with initiation of real sustainable processes could be offset against farm carbon taxes on emissions other than fossil fuel emissions.

    Obviously numbers are required. I do not have that knowledge. I suppose there are people that do, or can find out. Presumably there are also indicators – easier to see. Nothing is too hard if it is necessary, and what is necessary is that a carbon tax works to sequester carbon in farming and forestry, as well as other strategies, until the world can reach a biosphere sustainable thermal equilibrium – implemented yesterday!

    I have no time for so called targets with their meaningless if planless percentages. We not only have to stop putting more carbon in the air, we have to take carbon out of air and oceans on a massive basis. Trading schemes may work to begin with if honestly implemented but cannot be as effective as our situation requires.
    Cheers for law student Sarah Thomson!

    1. Soil organic matter is a tricky one. Much of our soil OM loss is down to ploughing, the aeration turning the soil to a new lower OM equilibrium. The initial decline is rapid and releases lots of nutrients to the crop to boot, but when it approaches its new lower equilibrium that bounty disappears and you are left with a lower OM soil that is less resistant to structural damage, holds less water and erodes more easily. You can return OM, but the aerated and growing soil biomass will chew through it fast and when it runs out, eat each other.
      Shallow and low till systems are good, cutting out the very high aeration that inverting with a plough gives, but the soil OM climb up to the new equilibrium is slow. 10 to 15 years to detect a signal over the noise, and all gone in a flash if someone gets the plough out. Policy makers tend to blanch when they hear that they will have a 10 to 15 year wait for any tangible evidence that a new policy has an effect.
      Recalcitrant OM is interesting, for instance stabilised sewage sludge cake and char.
      People still do plough as its what they know, its what they have and is good at turning in surface crop residue that can be poor for the emerging crop. A direct drill is a big bit of kit, and your current tractor may not be up to it. Contractor fees are correspondingly higher, and your land may not be suited.
      As ever with farming in countries like UK and NZ, you have lots of variables at quite small scales. The EU members are trying to get a grip on the movement of P and manure pathogens through the landscape (field to watercourse) and it is fiendishly difficult. Policy to get and keep accumulation of soil OM will be even harder.

      1. Thanks Beaker. Your comments on soil organic matter makes a case very well for carbon taxes to address goals but not to specify specific solutions or “choose winners” as Dave Frame put it here in another context.

        I’ve been taking an interest in what farmers do and find some pleasure in those that work to keep their farms sustainable in the long term – they do exist and illustrate “lots of variables at quite small scales” as you say.

        It also interests me that the most intensive vegetable farming is probably commercial urban farming, The city is an obvious source for recycling of organic carbon and water though I’m not sure how far that has been developed. An abandoned factory with led lighting is also weather proofed!

  3. That’s a long post Noel, I have just a couple of comments. If we stop farming cattle would ploughing the land release more CO2, it would definitely cause more erosion. We are losing 6 tonnes of topsoil per hectare every year. We can get all the enrgy we need from renewabls and do not need biofuels.

    1. I rewrote it 3 times to try to get it shorter but did not succeed!
      Do people still plough? I thought no-till was in these days? Any type of farming must still protect and restore the soils if we are to survive with anything like civilisation. Personally I do not eat cattle, dairy, poultry or fish but that is irelevant to the argument which I have advanced because no one politically seems to know what to do about carbon taxes re farming.

  4. Back to Sea Level Rise:

    The Environment Commissioner has released her report on the impact of SLR on NZ:

    A report released yesterday by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright made it clear the problem of rising sea levels was just beginning, calling it a slowly unfolding red zone.

    And Radio NZ interviewed Rob Bell, NIWA, on the matter:

  5. Don`t know if anyone else caught Bill English`s ever so brief comment on Jan Wrights report in response to a reporters question in the halls of Parliament, quote “Yes I`ve seen it. It`s purely speculative of course. I wouldn`t get to exited about it.” unquote. Then walking very quickly away.

    I was lucky enough to attend a evening with James Renwick in recent days and although I`m already familiar with his material the face to face presentation in very understandable terms leaves one in absolutely no doubt of the climate situation and the relatively very short time frame we as custodians of this planet have to act if we and our offspring are to survive at all or at best with some extreme discomfort.

    James did comment that strong political leadership would be required to at least facilitate change. Don`t hold your breath ah Bill.


    1. It’s funny how the “right” from the National Party dogmatists to the USA Republican Party nutters are doubling down at every possible opportunity to come “right” and join the community of the scientifically literate and “right” minded people. What a hoot indeed.

    1. Hi bill – been thinking of you over there in SA.
      Over here in WA the FDI reached an all time high a week or so back. Temps in the high 30’s winds of 100kmph and no rain to speak of for weeks. The subsequent fires in Esperance. started by electrical storms where there had been no rain.
      Scary stuff

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