In my post at The Daily Blog today — Broken English, broken government, broken climate — I take a look Bill English’s unguarded comments on climate change. Apparently, it’s a non-issue. As you might expect, I am somewhat less than impressed…
Over the last few years I’ve documented the current NZ government’s lackadaisical attitude to climate change policy. They’ve gutted the emissions trading scheme and dismantled sensible initiatives, ensuring that NZ emissions are on course to grow steeply. Last night, TV3 News asked three senior cabinet ministers whether they believed in the reality of climate change, and two of the three couldn’t quite find it in their hearts to endorse simple reality. Here’s my transcription of their responses:
Gerry Brownlee (minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Transport, Leader of the House, #3 in the hierarchy):
Well, I think climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say, look, it’s man-made, is an interesting prospect.
Bill English (deputy PM, finance minister, #2 in the hierarchy):
There’s some impact…  we should uncritically follow the Green’s extreme views about these things, well, many of us don’t.
By way of contrast, climate change minister Tim Groser was unequivocal:
Absolutely, the evidence is overwhelming — you’d have to be denying reality…
Given that I’ve been critical of Groser’s stance on NZ climate policy, it’s refreshing that he feels free to be so blunt in his acceptance of the reality of the problem. He is, after all, a skilled diplomat, and knows that if he were to tell the world that climate change was “an interesting prospect”, his peers in the international community would consider him to be a complete tit. It’s perhaps a good job that English and Brownlee don’t have to front up to the world on climate matters, or their self-esteem might suffer.
In this week’s column at The Daily Blog, I argue that the government is living in a bubble of unreality by refusing to take climate change seriously.
…the government — in the shape of deputy PM Bill English and minister of everything and Novapay Steven Joyce — has done its best to avoid acknowledging [the] threat [of increasing drought] to New Zealand agriculture. The reason is simple enough. If you don’t understand the issue — or you don’t want to understand the issue — then you can’t design sensible policy to deal with it. Bill and Steven and their friends are locked into a bubble of unreality, one they’ve been blowing around themselves since they took power.
Read the rest at The Daily Blog.
Occasionally — but only occasionally — the political pantomime that is parliamentary question time throws up something interesting. Yesterday, NZ’s deputy prime minister Bill English managed to dig himself into a drought-ridden hole, only to emerge looking like a climate denier. Green Party co-leader Russel Norman tried to get English to expand on his earlier comments that the government would not be able to help farmers hit by increased incidence of droughts, which led to this astonishing little exchange [Hansard transcript here]:
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the Government’s own research body the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) when it states: “Droughts are projected to become more frequent and more intense under climate change.”?
Hon Bill English: I would not want to question the scientific effort that has gone into that, although there is always uncertainty about these predictions. I recall similar predictions made by similar scientific bodies in Australia just 4 or 5 years ago and it has not stopped raining since.
Astonishing stuff. English gets the uncertainty issue completely wrong1, and then manages to insult Australians who have been suffering through their hottest summer ever. Here’s a little chart from the Aussie Climate Commission that he might find helpful.
Australia may have had an extraordinary “Angry Summer“, but New Zealand’s been having a bit of a cracker too. Prolonged warm and sunny weather over much of the country has driven North Island soil moisture deficits to levels not seen for at least 70 years (see map at left). Official drought status — which means farmers are eligible for various forms of government assistance — has been declared in Northland, South Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay. The Manawatu and Rangitikei regions have also asked government for drought status. Most of the North Island is also subject to total fire bans — another first for this dusty summer. Preliminary estimates of economic losses are already heading towards $1 billion.
Stuff.co.nz noted the obvious climate connection:
Long, dry spells are forecast to double by 2040 as temperatures continue to rise and New Zealand heads towards a more Mediterranean climate.
Experts warn it could spell the end for farming as we know it and may cost the country billions of dollars in drought relief each year before practices are adjusted.
“This is historic,” said climate scientist Jim Salinger, who has calculated that the amount of rain needed for grass growth was the highest since records began. “It’s like comparing your income against expenditure in your cheque book. And we are in deficit.”