This week climate minister Nick Smith and international negotiator Tim Groser start their 2020 emissions target roadshow, ostensibly taking the pulse of the nation on the question of what target New Zealand should commit to in the run-up to Copenhagen in December. Much of the argument will undoubtedly centre around the costs of taking action. The government has already signalled it wonâ€™t commit to targets likely to damage the economy, but there is a bigger question to consider — what emissions cuts does the world have to consider in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and how should New Zealand play its part? Any cost to the NZ economy is only a small part of that overall equation, and (arguably) not the most important. I want to examine what â€œthe scienceâ€ is telling us about a global goal and how we get there, and what that means for New Zealand. The leaflet produced to accompany the consultation process is pretty feeble in this respect, so I make no apologies for going into some detail here.
John Holdren, recently confirmed as President Obama’s science adviser, has said in an interview that discussions at the White House include looking at geoengineering options to reduce the effects of global warming. He stressed that it would be a last resort, but can’t be ruled out of discussion if the failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions continues. He is concerned that several tipping points could be fast approaching, with chances of “really intolerable consequences”, instancing the possible loss of Arctic summer sea ice within six years, the release of frozen methane from thawing permafrost in Siberia, and more and bigger wildfires worldwide. He would much prefer to see the problem solved by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but global warming is happening so fast that geoengineering has to be looked at. “We don’t have the luxury … of ruling any approach off the table.”
The Emissions Trading Scheme Review committee has released the first batch of submissions it has received — those made by organisations and individuals who have already made their presentations to the committee. There are some heavy hitters in there: from New Zealand’s science and policy community there’s the Climate Change Centre (a joint venture between the University of Canterbury and Victoria University of Wellington, plus all the Crown Research Institutes – from NIWA to AgResearch), VUW’s Climate Change Research Institute, and GNS Science, and from the world of commerce, we have the Business Roundtable‘s “evidence”. Why the quote marks? Because the Roundtable’s submission is a fact-free farrago of nonsense.
You’re a senior New Zealand climate scientist. You shared in the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC last year. As a young scientist in the 1970s you did ground-breaking work on warming in New Zealand, and wrote a seminal paper in Nature pointing out that cooling experienced in the northern hemisphere might be due to aerosols. You wrote the first book on what global warming might mean for New Zealand. And then your name appears on a list of “500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares” published by the Heartland Institute. Would you not be a trifle irritated?
Jim Salinger (for it is he! – excellent Herald profile here) and four other NZ scientists who found their way on to the Heartland list issued their response last night (pers comm):
The five scientists concerned are Associate Professor Chris Hendy (University of Waikato), Dr Matt McGlone (Science Team Leader, Landcare Research), Dr Neville Moar (retired DSIR,), Dr Jim Salinger (Principal Scientist, NIWA) and Dr Peter Wardle (retired DSIR, FRSNZ). Other eminent scientists around the world, also included in the list of 500, have publically distanced themselves from the Heartland statement. While the Heartland Institute is entitled to make what it will of their research, these scientists strongly object to the implication that they support Heartlandâ€™s position. The scientists fully endorse the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as to global warming and its causes.
There’s good coverage by Angela Gregory in the Herald this morning, plus Hard News & Stuff, and Morning Report has an interview (6:16am, podcast available), including a remarkable effort by Owen Mcshane of the NZCSC to defend the list. DeSmogBlog broke the story about the Heartland list, and has been documenting the reaction from scientists on it. Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute has made a small change to the heading of the list, but refuses to remove it from their web site.
This is the same Heartland Institute whose President, Joseph L Bast, sent a letter to The Listener (scroll down this page) demanding that Dave Hansford stop writing about climate. He wrote:
I donâ€™t know how writers like Hansford sleep at night. If he has even a shred of personal integrity, he should apologise for his attacks on the growing number of scientists who say the threat of global warming has been over-sold, and promise to never again write on this subject. And his publisher should accept nothing less.
Bast defends his actions over the list in equally bombastic fashion (here):
Many of the complaining scientists have crossed the line between scientific research and policy advocacy. They lend their credibility to politicians and advocacy groups who call for higher taxes and more government regulations to â€œsave the worldâ€ from catastrophic warming … and not coincidentally, to fund more climate research. They are embarrassed — as they should be — to see their names in a list of scientists whose peer-reviewed published work suggests the modern warming might be due to a natural 1,500-year climate cycle.
Well, Mr Bast, I’ve got news for you. The embarrassment should be yours. You are happy to claim the moral high ground when making thinly-veiled attempts to get rid of a journalist prepared to point out the inconvenient truth about your organisation and its funding of sceptics in NZ and around the world. But when you professionally smear a group of respected scientists – and then deepen the smear by questioning their ethics – you cross the line from advocacy to desperate defamation. To coin a phrase, you should apologise for your attacks on respected scientists, and promise to never again write on this subject. And stay out of New Zealand.
But I’m not holding my breath.