A sustainable energy future for NZ (without all the hot air)

This is a guest post by Phil Scadden, a regular commenter at Hot Topic (bio at the end of the post). Phil’s interested in energy issues, and has spent a considerable amount of his personal time developing an overview of New Zealand’s energy issues, inspired by the approach used by Cambridge physicist David MacKay in his recent book Sustainable Energy – without all the hot air. I’m very pleased to say that Phil is making his work available via Hot Topic (PDF here), because the perspective he brings provides a starting point for the strategic energy debate we need to be having. Over to Phil:

Sustainable Energy – without all the hot air by Cambridge physicist David MacKay is an excellent and highly readable book of numbers about the questions associated with sustainable energy (available as a free download at www.withouthotair.com). As an advocate of sustainable energy, he describes himself as “pro-arithmetic” rather than a campaigner for one type of energy production over another, which is surely what informed debate needs. Rather than dealing with daunting numbers, he reduces energy calculations to units of kWh/person/day. 1kWh is the unit we pay for in our electricity bills — the energy used by one bar heater switched on for one hour. If you want to prioritise savings then you need to read this book. Turning off a cell phone charger when not in use for a year saves the energy found in one hot bath. “If everyone does a little, then we will achieve only a little”.

The majority of MacKay’s calculations are done for the UK, and I was interested in a New Zealand perspective. To this end, I have used a similar approach to look at two questions.

  • Can New Zealand maintain its current per capita energy consumption without fossil fuels and, in particular, can we live on renewable energy sources alone?
  • How can we achieve a BIG reduction in our personal and national energy consumption, in order to reduce our power requirements?

The detailed document (about 20 pages) can be downloaded here, but this is a quick overview.

Currently 30% of NZ’s energy comes from renewable generation. My calculations (based mainly on 2007 data) show that NZ has the potential to increase this to nearly 100% over the next few decades, thus eliminating fossil fuel use, while still maintaining our current per capita energy consumption (assuming no significant population growth). We could do this initially with new hydro, geothermal and wind generation, while large-scale solar and marine technologies are promising options for the future. Biofuels are feasible but only at the expense of considerable agricultural intensification.

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Who writes Rodney’s rubbish?

rodenymorph.gifWho’s this supporting the NZ C”S”C’s idiotic attempt to cast doubt on the NZ temperature record? Why, it’s none other than Rodney Hide, leader of the ACT Party, and Minister of Local Government, Associate Minister of Commerce, Minister of Regulatory Reform and Parliamentary principal climate crank. Hide has written to climate change minister Nick Smith, demanding that the NIWA release the temperature data:

There is only one process that is appropriate for matters of science, and that is to release all data, together with a detailed account of what adjustments have been made, with an account of the reasons for doing so, and the computer codes that have been used to adjust and smooth the final published series, together with details of which measurements have been discarded. All the data and the relevant computer codes should be available for scientific scrutiny.

Free the NIWA code! What a rallying cry. It’s a pity that he thinks the likes of Treadgold constitute independent scientific scrutiny. Hide’s also been taking instructions on the CRU hack, and is seemingly happy to completely misrepresent what’s been going on. Apparently the emails:

…reveal a systematic attempt to manipulate the historical time series data, together with what appear to be arbitrary adjustments to the computer codes which produce the averaged and smoothed temperature data…

Er, no. That’s not true. The Herald does a far better job than the Minister of Local Government of covering the stolen emails and what they actually say. But perhaps Rodney gets his “facts” from somewhere else. So, in the spirit of his letter to Nick, here’s mine to Rodney.

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Imagining 2020: The Age Of Smart

Second essay in the new Scoop/Celsias/Hot Topic Imagining 2020 series is a very positive view from the Climate Defence Network. Remember, if you’d like to contribute your vision of a low-carbon future for New Zealand, please get in touch — details at the end of the piece.

About this story:

This story came about because there didn’t seem to be any overall New Zealand plan to reduce our emissions – let alone at the scale and speed needed to do our fair share to avoid global climate tipping points. Yet, as life seems to go on as usual, so many of us are quietly wondering just how serious the climate crisis is and what can we do to look after our families. What we do – who reduces how fast and with how much help – are decisions for all of us. The biggest lesson from the last decade is that we can’t afford any more delay. The future is coming regardless and what we do now can make it brighter and better.

The good news is that we can do our fair share and be better off. We don’t have to shoot cows or crush all our cars. We can act smart and tell our politicians they must too. Our problems in New Zealand aren’t technology or money. The real problems are political will, business-as-usual thinking – and more delay.

2020 – The Age of Smart is a scenario of the future to get New Zealanders thinking, talking and working out how we create a low emissions country together. Our fair share means halving our current emissions by 2020 (in other words, making a reduction of 40% on 1990 levels) to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2 degrees of warming – and avoiding climate tipping points. Or to put it another way, each person on Earth has just 110 tonnes each of CO2 to emit into the atmosphere before 2050. At New Zealand’s current rates, we will use up our quota by about 2023. The following suggestions may not be the only ideas or possibilities. And we don’t have to pick up all these suggestions – but we do need to agree on a fair way forward to rapidly cut our emissions.

It’s time that scientific necessity shaped political feasibility – and urgently. If climate change is “the greatest market failure”, let’s make sure our response is New Zealand’s greatest success – for our environment and for our economy. We can start really reducing our emissions from 2010 – and do our bit to stop global disaster for our families. We must do this – and we can!

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Ice Age

The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World

It might be about the last ice age, but global warming concerns are never far away in Brian Fagan’s latest book The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World. Fagan collaborates with three other writers to explain how our understanding of the ice age has developed since the great 19th century achievement of its discovery. A book for the general reader, its content is well explained in medium-length chapters with many photographs and helpful illustrations.

Fagan kicks off with an account of how geologists first began to interpret the signs of glaciation and to posit the advance of great continental ice sheets in northern land masses. He also describes the early searches for clues as to when and why the ice age had begun and how many glacial events it may have included, culminating in the essential validity of theories that variations in the motion of the earth around the sun triggered the multiple glaciations.

Paleoclimatologist Mark Maslin takes up the story, first looking at the possible confluence of events, particularly tectonic, which pushed the warm planet of 50 million years ago into increasing coldness. A near ice age 5 million years ago seems to have been aborted by the influence of ocean currents, but full onset was realised some 2.5 million years ago. A climatic rollercoaster followed, with many glacial-interglacial cycles, alternating coldness and warmth. The waxing and waning of the huge continental ice sheets was initiated by changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun which were then amplified and transformed by various feedback mechanisms. Sometimes things happened quickly. The so-called Heinrich events, massive collapses of the North American Laurentide ice sheet, which added enormous quantities of cold fresh water to the North Atlantic and altered ocean currents provide a stark warning of the possible extreme and rapid effects of climate change in the future.

John Hoffecker, an expert on human adaptations to cold climates, offers a fascinating chapter on the human response to the ice age. Novel forms of humankind evolved repeatedly in Africa and migrated into Eurasia during the Ice Age, confronting either intense cold or intervals of warmth. Homo sapiens, finally, with the emergence of mind brought a new capacity for adaptation to environmental challenges. They spread into an astonishing range of habitats and climate zones without differentiating into new species, and displaced their cold-adapted Neanderthal cousins. One hopes that the creative powers of mind will be adequate to the rather different range of challenges ahead.

Paleontologist Hannah O’Regan completes the picture with a survey of the animal life of the ice age. Megafauna survived all glacials but the last, and while acknowledging the controversy surrounding the extinctions O’Regan notes that what differentiates the last glaciation from the others is the arrival of modern humans on all continents.

Fagan returns with a chapter on the way human communities have adapted and flourished in the ten or so millenia since the last glacial period. Sea level rises in the order of 90-120 metres were among the staggering environmental changes initially faced. The relatively stable climatic conditions of the Holocene have seen the development of agriculture and animal domestication and the appearance of civilisation, but even minor temperature and rainfall shifts within this context have had dramatic effects on human societies, especially through the incidence of famine. “We would be rash to assume that our own cities are impregnable to climatic forces that are beyond our control.”  (Readers of Brian Fagan’s absorbing earlier book on the medieval warm period The Great Warming will recall his reconstruction of the devastating effects of drought on many civilisations of the time and his expressed concern that future global warming, unprecedented for human society, will include drought that will severely affect crowded populations in vulnerable parts of today’s world.)

As Mark Maslin reminds us in a final chapter on the future, we are part of the ice age and depend on its legacy. The huge ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are witness to that. What happens if you put lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere of a planet with lots of ice sheets? That is the experiment which is now under way. What the study of the Ice Age tells us is that when climate changes it can do so suddenly and without warning. The book adds its voice to the many warning us that the experiment is dangerous and should be stopped.

The study of past climates is important for our understanding of the present and the future we are storing up, as a number of books reviewed on Hot Topic make clear, including Broecker’s Fixing Climate, Ward’s Under a Green Sky, Turney’s Ice, Mud and Blood and Archer’s The Long Thaw. But in a book like this one by Fagan and his associates there’s also an intrinsic interest in the picture of the past that is being constructed as the jigsaw is assembled. I read it partly for the sheer pleasure of sensing the past, untroubled, albeit only briefly, by anxieties about the future.

NZ sceptics lie about temp records, try to smear top scientist

homer.jpgThe cranks in the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition have sunk to new lows in a desperate attempt to cash in on the far-right driven furore about the Hadley CRU data theft. Here’s an extract from a press release which was doing the rounds of NZ’s newsrooms this morning:

New Zealand may have its own “Climategate”, including manipulation of temperature readings, according to a combined research project undertaken by members of the Climate Conversation Group and the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition. The researchers claim that temperature readings from seven weather stations throughout New Zealand have been adjusted to show a higher degree of warming than is justified by a study of the original raw data.

The author of the press release and the “research project” into NZ’s long term temperature record is blogger Richard Treadgold, not unknown to readers of Hot Topic. Unfortunately for him, and for the credibility of any of the members of the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, Treadgold’s approach to the issue is ignorant, his results meaningless, and he can have no excuse for not knowing he was wrong. Worse, Treadgold, Dunleavy and the rest of the NZ CSC seem determined to smear NZ’s best-known and most respected climatologist, Jim Salinger (who did much of the early work on NZ’s temperature record), based on little more than straightforward lies. Their press release continues:

“NIWA’s official graph (done originally by Dr Jim Salinger, who features also in the emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia) shows considerable warming, which they give as 0.92°C per century, saying this is consistent with global warming over the 20th century. But the actual temperature readings taken from the thermometers show an almost flat trend for 150 years.

These figures all come from NIWA. So, why are they so different from each other? Because NIWA has adjusted the earliest temperature readings downwards by up to 1.3°C, which has the effect of introducing a false warming as the graph then “climbs” to the present day. It’s a disgrace. So far, neither Dr Salinger nor NIWA has revealed why they did this,” said Mr Treadgold.

The real disgrace is that this analysis has been conducted by a team seemingly hell bent on ignoring the facts, preferring instead to make up their own.

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