Former ACT MP Muriel Newman — an extreme right-winger and no stranger to the wilder shores of climate denial — has waded into the debate about sea level rise and coastal hazards in Christchurch in a long-winded and unhelpful article at her NZ “Centre for Policy Research” web site. In many respects, her piece is par for the Hidebound course — full of misdirection, misrepresentation and schoolgirl errors of fact, motivated by a weird world view:
The reality is that unfortunately, carbon dioxide is being used as a political football. When radicals embraced the environmental movement in the seventies, driving out people like Dr Patrick Moore the founder of Greenpeace, they used the climate debate to conceal their real agenda – the global redistribution of wealth.
Newman takes as the text for her sermon a piece by Mike Kelly, a New Zealander who is a professor at the University of Cambridge in the UK. His offering is just as ill-informed as Newman’s — can it really be the case that a professor of technology, whose main expertise is in “advanced electronic devices for very high speed operation”, doesn’t understand the difference between weather forecasting and climate modelling? Perhaps Kelly should read a few introductory texts on climate modelling before pontificating so publicly — and so erroneously.
But what makes Newman and Kelly’s articles so unhelpful to coastal residents in Christchurch and elsewhere is not the parroting of climate denialist tropes, but the conclusion she reaches:
The Christchurch Council – and all other councils around New Zealand for that matter – should base their coastal hazard projections, on what has happened in the past. There is no perfect predictor of the future, but looking at what has actually happened in the past is better than seizing on unreliable models developed by those driving a political agenda.
Let’s do what Newman wants, and forget modelling future sea level rise. Let’s look at the past.
Continue reading “The advice of fools: Newman and Kelly risible on rising seas”
“We can’t make sense of our future until we make sense of our past”, writes Howard Lee in his recent book Your Life as Planet Earth: A new way to understand the story of the Earth, its climate and our origins. The book demonstrates the very considerable sense that science has been able to make of our past. There are clear lessons for us as we forge our future, though whether the political leadership is able to take on board those lessons is moot.
In the first part of the book Lee provides a highly readable account of the turbulent history of the planet in the four and a half billion years of its existence. Geology, climate and the evolution of life are the recurrent themes. He measures this long history against an imagined human life spanning a century. It’s an entertaining and effective way of depicting the enormous spans of time before humans arrive on the planet. On this measure simple life starts in the teens of the centenarian’s life; oxygen arrives during the mid-life crisis; primitive plants and fungi start to colonise land in the late 70s; at 86 complex animals show up; in the 90s four-legged life evolves from fish; at 98 the dinosaurs are extinguished; homo sapiens doesn’t emerge until the 29th December in the final year. And in the few remaining minutes of that last year we have achieved a rapid rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels not seen since the Pliocene, three and a half million years ago.
Our rates and quantities of carbon dioxide generation are rivalling those of the great igneous eruptions which had highly destructive effects on the climate of their times, triggering global warming, ocean anoxic events and mass extinctions. We’re making our presence felt in no uncertain manner, and Lee sees no reason to assume we can avoid the consequences which attended past rapid escalations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Continue reading “Your Life as Planet Earth”
With global atmospheric carbon dioxide bumping along just under 400ppm, and sure to break through to higher levels in the near future, it’s worth taking a long hard look at what the climate system was like the last time CO2 was at these levels — the Pliocene period 3-5 million years ago. Professor Maureen Raymo of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is a paleoclimate expert, and in this new video by Peter Sinclair for the Yale Climate Forum she explains how we can find out what might be in store when the planet finally catches up with its atmosphere. Not good news, especially if you consider that we’re certain to blow well past 400 ppm in coming decades, unless dramatic action is taken to reduce carbon emissions.
I signed off regular writing for Hot Topic some months ago. But failing eyesight doesn’t mean failing concern, and my anger at the way our government heedlessly pursues the expansion of fossil fuel exploration led me recently to reflect I could still see sufficiently to write letters to editors. Publication of a letter by the NZ Herald emboldened me to try something for the dialogue page. It wasn’t accepted, on the reasonable ground that they were about to publish an article by Jim Salinger which they described as along the same lines.
However I thought Hot Topic readers might be interested in my attempt to attack the government on moral grounds. I acknowledge that politics and morality make uneasy bedfellows, and that moral absolutism is hardly a suitable tool for political effectiveness. Nevertheless sometimes issues arise where shades of grey can legitimately be challenged by something closer to black and white, and that transition is certainly much earlier along the path of fossil fuel exploitation than our government (and many other governments) is currently inclined to allow.
The moral appeal is strongly made by many who write and speak on the climate issue. Al Gore sounds it regularly. Among the many books I have reviewed on Hot Topic I recall being struck by what William Calvin’s book Treating a Fever had to say on the question, as I summarised in the review:
“He also pins hope on religious leaders coming to see that climate change is a serious failure of stewardship and our present use of fossil fuel is a deeply immoral imposition on other people and unborn generations. Their arguments will trump the objections of the vested interests, just as they did when slavery was ended in the 19th century.”
Whether there’s any hope of an onslaught by religious leaders in church-going US, or for that matter in less religion-oriented NZ, is hardly yet clear, but the appeal to morality can be sounded just as well by those of no religion, and is worth making if we set any value on the finer human traits.
Here’s the piece I submitted to the Herald. Hot Topic readers will understand that it was written for a general public audience.
Continue reading “Morality, government and fossil fools (Bryan’s back!)”
Geoff Simmons and Gareth Morgan, with help from John McCrystal, have produced a book which one hopes will be read by many New Zealanders. Ice, Mice and Men: The Issues Facing our Far South not only carries illuminating scientific information about the islands and seas to our south and the Antarctic continent beyond them, but it communicates it in a relaxed and engaging style which should ensure a wide general readership. The more people understand what is happening in this vital region the better, and it’s easy to see this book adding to their number.
The opening section explains why the region is important, breaking it into three zones: first, the subantarctic islands, “liferafts” of the Southern Ocean; second, the Southern Ocean itself, home to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and “the engine room of the global ocean and the world’s climate”; third, Antarctica, including the sea ice that surrounds it which helps drive the marine food chain and affects the transport of nutrients essential for marine life around the world. The section provides a detailed account of the function of the three zones not just in relation to each other but in crucial relation to the globe as a whole.
Continue reading “Ice, Mice and Men”