You can’t Hide (your policy from me)

rodenymorph.gifA few months ago, Rodney Hide decided that he and his party had little to lose and votes to gain by declaring themselves to be climate sceptics. I’ve roundly criticised this stance in earlier posts, and this week I’ve been joined by The Listener‘s Ecologic columnist Sarah Barnett, who takes Hide to task here (full text available next week). With the election approaching, it’s time to dig a little deeper into the intellectual foundations of ACT’s climate change policy, such as they are.

The ACT web site now features a policy document [PDF], and a background briefing [PDF] on their policies page. Let’s take a detailed look…

I’m sorry to say it’s not a pretty sight. The background briefing consists of little more than a reprint of an article by Nigel Lawson – the British sceptic who turned up here last year to lie on national TV. The policy document, on the other hand, offers some “interesting” background information. Consider this:

New Zealand is not warming. There is no warming trend since 1970 and the slight warming trend since 1950 is not statistically significant.

Pardon? That’s not what NZ’s climate scientists say. Then there’s this:

If it were to warm moderately, we would likely benefit in terms of land-based production, human health and reduced heating bills. Arguments that we would lose from sea-level rise or more extreme events are unproven conjectures.

If forecasts of sea level rise and increased frequency of extreme events are “unproven conjectures”, then what does that make the blithe assumption that we’ll benefit from warming?

It is reckless to distort the New Zealand economy in the cause of an ineffectual Protocol that expires in 2012 and won’t be rolled forward because its 1990 targets are unacceptable to China and the United States.

Another unproven conjecture, surely, and one well out of line with most expectations? Then they move on to principles. Here’s one:

The government is globally unique including methane gas (produced by ruminants) in calculating our Kyoto commitments. This is extreme, contrary to all other member countries and should be amended.

It appears that ACT doesn’t understand the Kyoto Protocol. Methane is most certainly included in the protocol’s greenhouse gas accounting. It’s true that most countries have ignored methane when designing their emissions regimes, but they still have to account (and pay) for them.
This leads on to:

A commonsense approach to Climate Change would recognise that there is no point destroying our economy in pursuit of “carbon neutrality‟ if carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are not driving global warming.

Yes, that would be a commonsense approach, if we didn’t understand in considerable detail the role of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in warming the planet.
The policy detail contains no surprise: repeal the ETS, withdraw from Kyoto, fiddle with the RMA, take consideration of climate change out of energy and transport planning. The document ends with a plea to “give ACT your party vote, for better informed policy on climate change”. The irony is obvious.

Sceptic arguments against action on climate change are weak and getting weaker by the day, but this pathetic repackaging of a few crank talking points is ill-informed and dangerous. If they can be so wrong on matters of fact, and so misguided on matters of policy, why should we give any of their other policies any credence? Politicians should stick to policy-making, basing their efforts on the best available evidence. In stepping so far out of the mainstream, Hide has shot himself in the foot – not good news for a dancer.

But they do have one guiding principle I wholeheartedly support:

Make decisions based on sound science – not on blind belief or ideology which is increasingly divorced from reason.

Hide and his party urgently need to apply this maxim to themselves.

[Title reference]

22 thoughts on “You can’t Hide (your policy from me)”

  1. Also, I would’ve raised this little tidbit from the background briefing:

    In the first place, while atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have grown steadily over the past hundred years, and indeed continue to grow briskly, the warming has occurred in fits and starts. To be precise, it‟s been confined entirely to two periods:
    ï‚· from 1915 to 1940, and
    ï‚· from 1975 to 1998.

    No warming since 1998?! Golly!

  2. Sarah Barnett didn’t have the most propitious of starts at the Listener, stepping as she did into Dave Hansford’s shoes, but she’s actually done a grand job not just on this story but many others as well.
    Can’t wait to see if her article prompts an angry response from the usual suspects, as the Hansford article did ..

  3. Ironic that ACT accuse people of being obsessed with climate change, but have no other environmental policies other than one on .. climate change. Unless you count their anti-RMA rant based on nothing more than the supremacy of property rights.

  4. Sarah Barnett was always a good journo at The Listener – her first column after Dave Hansford stepped down was one of the most succinct take-downs of The Great Global Warming Swindle I’ve seen. She can’t be blamed for her editor’s misdemeanours.

    ACT is unbelievable. If they ever get into bed with the Nats then we’re sunk… scepticism lies just beneath the surface in that party as well.

    When the National Party’s new climate policy was released a couple of years ago, even Nick Smith said he was only “80% convinced of the science”. We know John Key was a true sceptic right up until he became leader and there are others in his caucus who are totally with Hide. So while Hide is an obvious target for his policy now, I’m not holding out much hope if the Government changes.

  5. Stephen. Before you pull out that tired old argument, bear in mind that almost every year since 1998 has been higher average temperature than the average for the decade 1988-1998. So, on every scale longer than about 5 years, it is correct to say that there has been warming since 1998. Saying that warming stopped on the last peak which exceeded the current day is exactly the kind of psuedo-science which undermines the credibility of those making it.

  6. Thanks Gareth, yeah I was (I won’t get started on the definition of irony though). I’m obviously not around this blog enough!

    I actually kinda hoping that someone was going to correct me, because who the hell uses the ‘1998’ argument anymore? Seriously!

  7. “Make decisions based on sound science – not on blind belief or ideology which is increasingly divorced from reason.”

    I completely agree with that as well. The thing is though, that neither side of the argument has incredibly sound information. It is a pretty difficult topic to come to a conclusion on, which is why the government shouldn’t really put such as heavy focus on it.

    There is actually historical evidence to suggest that the earth has always gone through warm periods and back to cold periods – climate change was one of the reasons the Goths and others invaded Rome back in ancient times.

    Doesn’t New Zealand only produce about 0.02% of the world’s carbon emission? This again kind of suggests our government shouldn’t be putting such a huge focus on the issue.

  8. ” that neither side of the argument has incredibly sound information. ”
    Wrong.

    “Doesn’t New Zealand only produce about 0.02% of the world’s carbon emission? This again kind of suggests our government shouldn’t be putting such a huge focus on the issue.”

    If NZ doesn’t begin to change the direction of its economy the country will not know what would hit it.

  9. “If NZ doesn’t begin to change the direction of its economy the country will not know what would hit it.”

    I assume you’re talking trade…You don’t think that argument is overhyped a bit?

  10. I know you weren’t asking me, Stephen, but no, I don’t think the trade argument is overhyped – in fact I think it is not given enough importance.

    Sitting comfortably in NZ it’s easy to assume that our excellent products will always find an easy market overseas. The reality is a lot more complex – it takes time and effort to build markets, but they can be lost very quickly, as scares over contamination or foot and mouth demonstrate. We’re only a tiny player in most markets, and nobody owes us a living. That’s why we’re so vulnerable to “food miles” and “buy local” arguments, or losing our carefully cultivated “100% Pure” image. Food fads can be fickle…

  11. Thanks Gareth. IMHO, ‘scares’ carry a hell of a lot more weight than ‘uses carbon/GHG intensive’, for obvious reasons. Currently, our products are high quality and competitive, so there is plenty of demand for them…The only way I think damage could be done here is through government enforced trade tariffs because the NZ government is not fully complying with Kyoto – for all the talk of their being mentioned, it does not seem especially plausible (maybe something has developed lately – I haven’t looked at this for several months). Or, damage may come through voluntary or government enforced labelling of products for full life-cycle GHG emissions, and consumers being picky – but businesses do not NEED Kyoto signed to take advantage of such consumer preferences, as they can be certified/independently switch to low-GHG emission business. If they can adapt to other consumer trends, why not this one?

  12. That’s true enough, and quite a few NZ businesses have chosen to make a virtue of being low carbon/carbon neutral in order to protect and develop their export and/or domestic markets. Grove Mill wines is one example, but there are also a good number of tourist ventures pushing low carbon/sustainability in order to reduce tourist “guilt”.

    However, some form of carbon tariff system is likely to be part of any post-Kyoto agreement, in order to protect industries inside markets with carbon pricing. What form that sort of arrangement will take is obviously highly debatable (and negotiable), but it’s one reason why I am sceptical of lobbyists who argue that we’ll lose industry overseas if we price carbon. They may not have anywhere to go!

  13. “However, some form of carbon tariff system is likely to be part of any post-Kyoto agreement”

    What do you base “likely” on? Are some countries pushing for it already, or do you simply consider it a logical ‘protective’ measure?

  14. Both. Europe has explicitly called for carbon tariffs to protect European businesses from the effects of cheap imports from countries with no carbon pricing. This is one of the sticks being readied for use in getting China and India to the table.

    It’s also logical. If you are going to have an internation carbon pricing mechanism which some countries choose not to be part of, then you have to have agreed measures to deal with the free-rider problem. Having said that, I doubt that there will suddenly be carbon tariffs from 2013 – far more likely to be phased in, with exemptions for developing countries. You might also find a case being made for emissions resulting from manufacturing overseas being counted in the country of final sale (helps China, particularly) – but that’s highly contentious.

  15. Doesn’t New Zealand only produce about 0.02% of the world’s carbon emission? This again kind of suggests our government shouldn’t be putting such a huge focus on the issue.

    In the Kyoto negotiations, New Zealand, along with Australia, Canada, the US and Japan, is part of a lovely little group called the “umbrella group” . None of them have particularly good policies – in particular Japan and Canada (and of course the US but the administration’s about to change there so I’ll leave that one out for now).

    This little group has the capacity to completely screw up the negotiations – the conclusions of which have to be agreed by concensus. So our tiny little country can actually wreck the entire negotiations by sticking with its fellow brollies.

    So while we may have only a tiny proportion of the world’s GHG emissions, our clout in these negotiations is WAY bigger.

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