Kiwiblog kobblers

New Zealand’s leading right wing blogger, National Party spinmeister and opinion poll guru David Farrar, this morning allowed himself the luxury of a rant about the New Zealand Herald‘s coverage of a new paper on sea level during the late Pliocene. In a post teasingly titled “Alarmist bullshit“, he manages to demonstrate his rudimentary grasp of the facts, misunderstands the real story behind the new research, and ends up shooting himself in the foot. Here’s David in full flow:

Anyone who thinks public policy today should be based on a forecast of what the climate might be in 5,000 years is nuts. Look at how the world has changed in just 100 years let alone hundreds or thousands. Hell in 1,000 years we may be living on Mars.

The Herald should be ashamed for saying that the projected increase could “dramatically transform” our coastal boundaries. A change over 1,000 years+ is not dramatic. It’s like saying the separation of Gondwana was dramatic.

20 metres is a lot of sea level rise. Here’s what 20 metres would mean for my nearest city, poor old quake-plagued Christchurch, courtesy of the Firetree sea level rise calculator. The central business district is under water, the new shoreline well to the west. At a rough guess, I’d say 80% of the city is flooded, and Banks Peninsula is an island once more.

I think that can be reasonably described as a dramatic transformation of the South Island coastline, even if it does take 1,000 years to happen. DPF might like to note that coping with two metres per century sea level rise is nobody’s picnic. But his misunderstanding runs deeper…

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Water is rising

A friend from Los Angeles mentioned when visiting us a few days ago that he had recently seen a striking performance at UCLA by dancers from the Pacific islands of Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati. Climate change figured strongly in the concert, which was part of a project called Water is Rising. Intrigued, I tracked down the project website and to my delight discovered a video of the live performance at UCLA (presented above). I say delight advisedly because I was unable to tear myself away from the 90-minute performance once I’d begun to watch it, captivated by its dance and song and moved by the simple human appeal that accompanied it. The performers were bringing their unique cultural art to American audiences, but they were also haunted by the deep threat to their cultures of the rising sea levels and they had a clear message to go with their performance.

It’s a message which I think we in the developed world need to hear over and over again. I’ve therefore transcribed some of the introductory words of the leaders of the three groups. They were not carefully crafted, the speakers felt for their words, and the English syntax was not always perfect, but the plea was all the more telling for that. The Tuvalu leader, gesturing towards the performers:

These are the human face of climate change. We are the most vulnerable people to climate change and we are here with a simple message to you all – for you to give us a hand, for your minds to feel with us, your hearts to be with us. We are here to represent our countries…we [Tuvalu] are small, we are only 24 square kilometres land mass.  No mountains for us to hide ourselves when it comes to sea level rise…we are only three to four metres high. Please think of us, and enjoy yourselves.

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Fomenting unhappy mischief…

I usually stay out of the fray at NZ’s political blogs, but sometimes it’s impossible to resist a brief plunge into bracing waters. Yesterday, David Farrar at Kiwiblog posted approvingly about the impending launch of a movie called Not Evil, Just Wrong, apparently intended as a counter to Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Here’s Farrar:

The film compares the consequences of the ban on DDT, with the cost of trying to ban carbon emissions. They talk about how Al Gore would have you believe the sea level will rise by 20 feet in the near future, when in fact the IPCC say this would be over millennia.

Here’s Ed Darrell:

The film is both evil and wrong. Errors just in the trailer:

1: Claims that Al Gore said sea levels will rise catastrophically, “in the very near future.” Not in his movie, not in his writings or speeches. Not true. That’s a simple misstatement of what Gore said, and Gore had the science right.

[plus eight more]

It’s sad to see Farrar giving credence to the DDT ban myth — something that’s been shown to be the product of a US tobacco-funded attack on the WHO in the late ’90s. It’s even sadder to see his mischaracterisation of the climate problem:

And again I agree the long-term trend is for warming, but the hysteria over how it is urgent to have cut emissions by 40% by 2020 or the planet is doomed, is just that. In fact by 2020 the planet may still be in a cooling phase.

The “cooling phase” thing is based on something a German modeller didn’t say at a conference a few weeks ago. Climate Crock Of The Week provides the full context (you can hear what Latif actually said), and Joe Romm interviews the man to get the truth. The whole “cooling for 20 years” thing is a beat-up by cranks. And 40%? That’s an IPCC AR4 recommendation…

But Farrar’s misunderstanding runs deeper:

As we get better technology, and gradually transition to energy sources that produce fewer emissions, our carbon emissions will reduce. But 2020 is not some date of no return.

Sadly, we passed the point of no return a long time ago. We are now committed to considerable warming — our current emissions trajectory is pointing us at 4ºC by 2060 — and unless we take rapid steps to reduce global emissions, staying under the 2ºC “guardrail” is already looking unlikely. The longer we leave cutting emissions, the steeper the cuts we will eventually have to make (and the more expensive they will have to be) if we are stay within reasonable temperature bounds. Far from being a counsel of moderation, Farrar is allowing his misconceptions to mislead us into greater danger.

Farrar is of course a National party stalwart, credited by some with being the premiere spinmeister for the present government. If this post were just the ill-conceived ramblings of a right-wing blogger, designed as a dog whistle summons to the crazies who are his commentariat, then it would be worth ignoring. But Farrar’s site is NZ’s top ranking blog, and his thinking looks suspiciously like a reflection of what’s going on in the National caucus. It’s the fallacy of the false middle, based on placing yourself in the middle of a debate you deem to be polarised, but where only one side has the facts right. And that’s not the nutters in Kiwiblog’s comments calling for those who want action on climate change to be “hung, drawn and quartered”.