Walking the Green talk

leipold-interviewWatching Stephen Sackur’s BBC Hard Talk interview with the retiring head of Greenpeace this week I was reminded of why I feel thankful that Greenpeace campaigns so hard and so persistently on climate change.  The adversarial style of Hard Talk often grates, and it certainly did when Sackur accused Gerd Leipold of alarmism and even managed to manufacture the impression that Greenpeace claims that the whole Greenland ice sheet will have melted by 2030.  Leipold refused to be sidetracked into defending the organisation against silly accusations, but held the line on the seriousness of the science and the need for political responses to be adequate to the science. Half measures won’t work.

I’m not a member of Greenpeace, and although I’ve always respected their commitments I haven’t felt equal enthusiasm for all of them.  But on climate change I have no reservations.  They stand firmly on the science.  It was encouraging to hear Leipold reaffirm so strongly that it is the science which has engaged Greenpeace’s climate change concern and to be reminded that they have been attentive to the science for twenty years. Admittedly they are not cautious in sounding the appropriate alarms. Neither should they be. They are not taking part in academic exchanges, but accepting responsibility for making the effects of climate change widely known. It’s called bearing witness in the Quaker parlance which influenced Greenpeace’s philosophy. To label this alarmism is wrong. I’ve not felt Greenpeace is pushing the boundaries in its warnings.  It doesn’t need to. Leipold made it clear in the interview that the science has continued to move in the directions that Greenpeace has drawn attention to. Catastrophe is not an inappropriate word to use when pointing to the result of carrying on with business as usual.  There is nothing to retract. 

Greenpeace does more than warn, or course.  It presses for appropriate solutions and Leipold remains optimistic that they will be applied.  Sackur attacked Greenpeace for not being supportive enough of what politicians were now doing, suggesting they ought to be getting in behind leaders like Obama. The Greenpeace USA petition wasn’t spelt out in the interview, but it reads:

Dear President Obama,

When it comes to stopping global warming, we need you to be a leader, not a politician. Show Congress and the world that America is ready to take strong and immediate action to avert a climate catastrophe.

Leipold acknowledged that things are changing on the political front, and welcomed the fact.  But partial measures will not serve. The current Bill working through the US Congress will not on its own produce sufficient emission reductions.  Greenpeace intends to keep emphasising that reductions must measure up to what the science says is necessary. Sackur accused them of not appreciating how difficult it is for politicians to make progress, and in effect of standing aside from the world of necessary compromise.  But it would hardly be consistent to get immersed in the world of political compromise to the extent that the science is evaded.  Should Greenpeace NZ give up on its campaign for 40% reduction in emissions by 2020 and bargain with the government for a 20% rather than 15% reduction?  That would simply say that climate change is not as serious as it appears after all.

Leipold indicated that Greenpeace was seeking to focus more strongly on the energy solutions which are available to avoid worsening climate change. This provided Sackur with the opportunity to accuse them of avoiding the nuclear solution which some see as a necessary means of producing sufficient non-fossil energy to meet the world’s demand.  It seemed apparent that Greenpeace would not oppose nuclear energy if it really was necessary, but that’s not how they see it.  Leipold in this segment of the interview laid considerable stress on the potential of the more efficient use of energy to produce far greater savings than have yet been widely credited. We need to talk much more seriously of the use to which energy is put rather than look to more and more energy production.  This accorded with his observation that the lifestyle of the rich in the world is simply not a sustainable model.

It was good to hear Leipold ending on an optimistic note, partly fed by his observation of the conviction and commitment he is seeing in younger people.  Bearing witness finally worked against the slave trade. May it work against the obstinacy and ignorance which keeps us trapped on our present course.

PS. It’s not too late to join the Sign On campaign if you haven’t already done so.

19 thoughts on “Walking the Green talk”

  1. I left Greenpeace a long time ago, because I thought they were giving more weight to political considerations than scientific. Some of the science they have done has been appalling. But it seems they are doing a better job on climate change, and I hope they do manage to get their message through.

    Incidentally, the reason I parted ways with Greenpeace was over their (then) complete opposition to nuclear energy. Twenty years ago I wrote an article for a university newsletter in which I said that we may have to put aside our distaste for nuclear energy, because the threat of AGW from burning fossil fuels was so much worse than the possibility of another Chernobyl.

    Yup, 20 years ago. It’s sad how little progress we have made in that time.

    1. Well, Greenpeace have other reasons for not liking nuclear power – arms proliferation, lack of sufficient supply of fissionable materials, lousy track record of dealing with waste, etc. Pebble bed reactors have solved most of the problems but not fuel supply AFAIK. And still no movement on fusion…

      1. Indeed. My point was that even with all of those problems, nuclear may still be preferable to putting more CO2 into the atmosphere.

        However, that was 20 years ago, and in the UK.Nuclear is never going to be economical in NZ, and it is already too late for nuclear to be anything more than a small part of the answer elsewhere.

  2. Bit of a threadjack Gareth, but related to combating climate change. I saw a guy on The Daily Show (can’t remember his name but I think he a White House advisor on climate change) and he was talking about painting the roofs (and building new roofs on buildings) in white. He seemed to think it could make huge difference eventually which to my layman’s brain it seems like it would. I wondered if you saw it and if not whether you know any of the science behind it? He wasn’t saying it was a fix-all but that it was a logical step to take to reflect some of that light back.

    1. Sorry Kim, haven’t got much time for a detailed response, but the guy you’re after is Steven Chu – try Googling him, and white paint. The idea’s sound, even if denialists like Monckton have been trying to make fun of him for it…

  3. Yes light or white coloured roofs reflect between 34% and 77% of the suns radiation, whereas dark roofs only reflect about 5 – 10%. It depends on the roofing material as well, and doesn’t take into account ceiling insulation. The effect is that a cooler home does not require as much air-conditioning. Thereby saving the home owner on power bills and – in USA etc burning carbon to generate the power. Every little bit helps. Of course, we could also concentrate on building homes that were more sensitive to the environment in which they were placed and didn’t require so much heating or cooling.
    Which is where we get back on to the thread! The import of which is Greenpeace’s stance on what is now being termed (and quite rightly) the most serious challenge facing the world today. We need to take the same approach to climate change as we do to natural disasters and war. There is no room for slacking off or half hearted measures. It’s all hands to the pump. The role of government should be, to be at the forefront of the charge. Painting roofs white is much the same as when Britain sought the spare pots and pans from the homes of its people in WW2 for material to build war planes – every little bit helped.

  4. Talking of government being at the forefront of the charge I was interested to read today of San Francisco’s new composting law which the mayor describes as part of a “local global climate action plan” to reduce greenhouse gases, especially methane emitted from landfills.

    “The goal is to have a 75 percent recycling rate by 2010, with zero city waste by 2020. Under the law all individuals and businesses must separate refuse into recyclables, compost, and trash, and deposit it into one of three different-colored containers designated for that type of garbage.

    “Fines on placing, say, a plastic water bottle or a banana peel in a regular trash bin could result in a $100 fine when enforcement starts in 2010. Repeat offenders could receive fines ranging from $150 to $200.”

    A small matter perhaps, but led by the city’s council and mandatory.

    And the compost is reportedly splendid.

  5. There certainly is a great many ideas going about. More localised power generation [although I’d prefer in-the-home generation personally], less need for cumbersome long-distance power transmission. This, I think, is particularly important with the current mainstream energy sources; major solar and wind sources tending to be some distance from end consumers in many cases. There are other things too; the StarTech waste-to-energy idea fascinates me http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:StarTech_Environmental_Corp
    People are coming up with ideas, they just need a bit more attention than they’re getting even if they may appear to violate a few scientific notions. Sure there will be some crack-pots but that’s what sites like the one I linked to are for, to filter these out.
    I would also state I’m still opposed to the expansion of Nuclear Fission-related energy supply for several reasons.

    1. One of the simplest ideas, that would not by any means bankrupt the nation, would be to provide a solar-powered water heater for every house in NZ. This would reduce domestic power consumption by about a quarter – more than offseting the power consumed by Tiwai Point, for example.
      As with all these things, it is getting buy-in from politicians that makes the difference. Unfortunately, the politicians will insist on listening to brain-dead drongos like R2, so it is hard to get the message through. But don’t let that stop you trying.

        1. Less than building a new thermal power plant. A few hundred million, I don’t have the exact figures to hand.

          Compared to the cost of doing nothing, pretty cheap.

  6. http://www.buywright.co.nz/solarwaterheater.html

    The cheapest model here is $2,995

    According to Statistics New Zealand there are 1,615,300 households in New Zealand.


    The price to start such a scheme would then cost 4.8 billion. Plus installation, plus upgrading of hot water cylinders.

    If the systems last on average 12 years the scheme would have ongoing costs of $400 million per year, plus installation and administration costs.

    According to the Greens,the new Rodney gas plant will cost $500 million.


    Also according to the Greens, the emissions from a new Rodney gas plant would be 1.74 million tonnes per year:


    So if units trade at $50 thats $87 million a year, far less than the cost of the solar panels.

    So I guess you don’t have time to get figures, but its still fun to dream. All these figures took me about 5 min so they not exactly well researched but as an initial indicator it seems to me Rodney Gas would be far cheaper.

    Quick figures:
    Solar panels – min $4.8B + $400m per year
    Gas – $500m + $87m per year + cost of gas and running the plant

    As for if increasing government spending by the amounts you are suggesting would bankrupt the country, not by themselves but a combination of Green initiates such as this one might be able to. Spending 4.8B would defiantly hurt our credit rating and have other associated costs.

    You suggest I’m brain dead and then provide us with an excellent example of green talking before thinking lol. If they were really a good investment consumers would buy them themselves to save power costs etc so no need for government to intervene, no market failure, just let consumers make there own minds up. The fact that they need government subsidies suggests they are not economical.

    1. LOL. Point to you.

      At least I made you do some research. I will have to go back and look at the material I got that from. I had about $500m in mind as the cost. Perhaps they were assuming that the unit price would drop dramatically if they were bought in the millions, but from your figures, the price would need to be about a tenth of the current market price, so that doesn’t seem likely.

      I should check my sources before I post 🙂

    2. Oh, they’re economical all right, which is why people fit them in the first place. The purpose of intervening in the solar water heater market (as this government is doing) is to create the size of market which will allow the cost to drop. One easy (additional) step would be to make SHW compulsory on new builds (it’s much cheaper to build in than retrofit, in most cases). That would create a market that manufacturers would rush to fill.

      1. But Gareth, if they are economical now, why would the government need to intervene? They should be installed in new houses anyway. Show me some figures please rather than just making statements. I expect the economics depend a little on where you live. To make them compulsory would ignore factors like the fact that some people (especially in hilly Wellington) live in places that don’t get much sun.

        I took the cheapest price, recommended for house of 1-2 people, to allow for some economies of scale. The price for the 3-4 person house is NZ$3,895. 5-6 person house NZ$5,495.

        1. It’s not intervention. The government rebate reduces the time to ROI for the householder, giving more incentive for people to buy them.

          Annual savings on the smallest option are around $400 (about 2000 kWh per annum, based on 20c/kWh). Without the subsidy, ROI is 10 years. With the subsidy, ROI is 7.5 years. Thereafter, the house owner saves money, which I notice you didn’t include in your calculations. The only cost to taxpayers is the government rebate part, not the whole installation cost, because the householder makes the money back. Even taking 12 years as the lifespan of a SWH, the householder would see a net gain of $1800 over the lifetime of the heater, almost enough to fund the replacement.

          I shouldn’t have said “every” house in NZ, my bad. More accurate would be “every house where SWH is feasible”, which is a much smaller number than 1.6 million.

          Even if we just take the $500m price tag of the Rodney power station, that would enable the government to fund 500,000 SWH installations. That would be a saving of about 1000 GWh per year. The Rodney gas station would produce about 2000 GWh per year, by my calculations.

          Still think we’d be better spending the money on a power station?

        2. I’ve worked in SHW and in the construction industry, and the reason people don’t fit SHW is simple. They are not an option in the standard package. Most houses these days are built by developers – Universal, Golden, Sovereign, etc Homes. These houses are designed with no thought to solar efficiency whatsoever. They are constructed, street after street, with no thought to the efficient use of the sun and with their only regard being to “street appeal”. People buy them off the plan or off the show home. It makes me weep! Truly. It is an absolute travesty. Israel has had the installation of SHW in ALL new construction MANDATORY since 1974 – they realised that as a nation they were short of energy and could not be reliant on their neighbours (with whom of course they are still in “conflict”). I know you don’t like it R2 but govt’s MUST act in this way. The market just doesn’t cut the mustard. In war you don’t have a market to see who supplies the cheapest army. Unfortunately, we haven’t time to let the market work out the most cost effective method to tackle greenhouse emissions. Business as usual is going to be too slow.

  7. 1) In business or home, there is *always* a capital first-cost versus long-term savings issue. An investment may have a fine payback … but if you don’t have the capital, you don’t do it. For example, around here (Northern California), these things are often done by better-off families, because they know they save money in the long-term, and they have the capital handy. Entities with more capital can think longer-term.

    This is exacerbated by people moving. Suppose an investment has a payback period of 6 years, but you expect to move in 5…

    2) As a result, there are all sorts of programs to help get more efficient technologies in place by lessening the first cost issue. For example, there are deals where someone installs solar panels on your house at no cost to you, and you pay them a fixed monthly price.
    See Solar City for example.

    3) Here, utilities are incented for *efficiency*, not jsut how much electricity or gas they ship. Hence, they actually work on it, rather than fighting it tooth and nail.

    4) No one in their right minds would just suddenly try to install these on everybody’s houses. What’s sensible is to incent the subset of people whose conversion is most beneficial to do that, while getting it built into new houses as they come. There can be huge differences in installation costs, and of course sunlight.

    5) Sooner or later, gas supplies in NZ will peak and decline. I don’t know enough to know if this is accurate, but I’d suggest that driving off the energy cliff for those who are unprepared will be very unpleasant.

  8. The fuel cost for running Rodney is not insignificant.

    At 480MW it will have to run at 60% load factor to match output of our hypothetical “SHW for all” scenario (assuming the solar provides 75% of the water heating).

    At 60% load factor and 60% fuel efficiency (which is probably generous) and $7/GJ for the gas there is a $100m spend. And as John Mashey points out gas is getting scarce and the gas price is only going up.

    R2 was kind to solar on costs but unkind on durability..20years would be more like it.

    A couple of other nebulous factors in the equation include:
    a) $1bn for the LPG import terminal just in case the domestic gas discoveries don’t appear when expected
    b) The subsidies for gas (eg tax breaks for exploration and/or underwriting of the supply risk as for Huntly e3p).

    This still probably comes out in favour of gas, provided you take an optimistic view of the supply issue, but for how long?.

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