Federated Farmers gullibility highest since records began

You may have noticed that New Zealand’s Federated Farmers organisation is capable of military grade climate change denial. I was going to write on the history of farming denial, but while looking for the 2006 and 2007 Federated Farmers presidential addresses from (then president) Charlie Pedersen (can’t find my copies) I found this wee gem (published two weeks ago) by Don Nicolson, the current president.

With deep snow in the USA, parts of Australia awash and mudslides in Brazil, it’s unsurprising we’re seeing professors of climate change pinning this “evidence” on the climate change donkey.

Sticking with mass media (because, as we shall see, Don Nicolson has great faith is them) I recall experts carefully and mildly saying things like:

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Paul Nurse: science under attack

Paul Nurse is the new President of the Royal Society. His predecessor Martin Rees was firm in his insistence on the seriousness of climate science and climate change, and Nurse is equally so. In a striking BBC Horizon documentary Science Under Attack he examines why public trust in scientific theory appears to have diminished, especially in relation to  climate change. The documentary is not available from the BBC for viewers outside the UK, but it has been uploaded to YouTube, broken into six segments. It is well worth an hour of viewing, but I’ll offer some comment on it here for those who don’t have the time.

Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist, distinguished for his work in the discovery of the control which regulates cell division, for which he shared a Nobel Prize in 2001, and which is relevant to a better understanding of diseases like cancer.  In this documentary he steps outside his lab to investigate how it is that climate science has come under attack and whether scientists are partly to blame.


The documentary opens and closes in the archives of the Royal Society which include among their books the manuscript version of Newton’s Principia Mathematica and the first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, presented to the Society by the author. Nurse and the librarian pause over these two outstanding examples from the Society’s past of science fundamental to our understanding of the world, a useful backdrop to the programme’s investigation of why a well-established science, as climate science now is, should be leaving many people unconvinced or thinking it is exaggerated.

He visits NASA and talks with Robert Bindschadler, who shows him in visualisation how satellites (16-18 from NASA and a similar number from other agencies) circling the globe are gathering enormous amounts of data related to climate. Three quarters of a degree of warming over the last fifty years will be matched by at least another three quarters of a degree over the next fifty even if we do nothing more to modify the climate. Asked whether this could be a natural fluctuation Bindschadler acknowledges that there have been times in the past when the Earth has been warmer than it is today, with less ice and higher sea level, and times colder than it is today, with much more ice and lower sea level. However in the past climate changed very gradually whereas it’s now changing really fast, and it’s the pace of change that is so important in the climate change that we’re living through right now.

Nurse considers not only the NASA data but also the work of seven decades of research from scientists across the globe and concludes that the extent of the data gives us reason for confidence in the idea that the globe is warming and we are causing the change. Yet this evidence is clearly not convincing a substantial part of the wider public. And those who are sceptical turn to other scientists.  Enter Fred Singer, who meets with Nurse over a cup of tea in a café and explains his theory that solar activity, not CO2, is the cause of warming which he regards as variable.

Nurse talks to viewers about the importance of the wider picture, which Singer ignores in his cherry picking. Things need to make sense together.  Solar activity needs to be looked at in the context of all research.  You cannot ignore the majority of available evidence in favour of something you would prefer to be true. Bindschadler comments that small variations in solar activity today don’t match up with the climate data. There’s no doubt, he says, that the sun is not the primary factor driving the climate change that we’re living through. It has to be the huge amounts of carbon dioxide our fossil fuel burning is putting into the atmosphere. You need to stand back and look at the big picture and there’s really no controversy if you do that.

“Who do you believe?” asks Nurse. If you’re not a scientist then ultimately it’s a question of trust. At this point he goes to the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University and talks with Phil Jones, the scientist who was accused in headlines, on the basis of stolen emails, of being at the centre of one of the worst scientific outrages of all time. Nurse points out there was no scientific scandal, as enquiries have established. At worst there was an understandable but perhaps less than wise resistance to meeting obviously engineered requests for information.

Nurse then visits James Delingpole, one of the journalists prominent in proclaiming the climategate email scandal. He is perfectly polite with Delingpole, but his gentle questioning elicits from the interviewee the brash certainties of a man who has no knowledge of the solidity of the scientific consensus on the causes of global warming but is an articulate and bellicose proponent of the theories of the deniers, accepting the few scientists among them as authoritative interpreters of the peer reviewed science which he himself doesn’t read. Nurse is surely right to see an unholy mix of the media and politics as distorting the proper reporting of science.

He acknowledges the problem of uncertainties, particularly in projecting the future and particularly in projecting cloud formation. But a fascinating picturing at NASA displays how the uncertainties are reducing. Bindschadler shows him a screen, along the upper half of which real global cloud data is pictured and in the lower half what the models predict would be happening at the same time. It’s a test of the models, and the level of their accuracy is astonishing to Nurse. Binsdschadler is clear there will always be some uncertainties because there are processes which are not fully understood, but by the measure of reducing uncertainties the science is making extraordinary progress.

There’s much more in the documentary than I have covered here, but hopefully this gives a sense of the thoroughness and reasonableness which marks Nurse’s investigation. He’s a person of intellectual substance who, in his own words has “an idealistic view of science as a liberalising and progressive force for humanity.”

I’ll conclude with a section of quotes I’ve transcribed from the latter part of the documentary, where he sums up what he has been seeking to communicate. First, on the centrality of peer review (irretrievably corrupted according to Delingpole) and the importance of scientific scepticism:

“As a working scientist I’ve learnt that peer review is very important to make science credible   The authority science can claim comes from evidence and experiment and an attitude of mind that seeks to test its theories to destruction…Scepticism is very important…be the worst enemy of your own idea, always challenge it, always test it   I think things are a little different when you have a denialist or an extreme sceptic. They are convinced that they know what’s going on and they only look for data which supports that position and they’re not really engaging in the scientific process. There is a fine line between healthy scepticism which is a fundamental part of the scientific process and denial which can stop the science moving on.  But the difference is crucial.”

On complexity:

“There’s an overwhelming body of evidence that says we are warming our planet but complexity allows for confusion and for alternative theories to develop.  The only solution is to look at all the evidence as a whole.  I think some extreme sceptics decide what to think first and then cherry pick the data to support their case.  We scientists have to acknowledge we now operate in a world where point of view not peer review holds sway.”

That means taking trouble to communicate:

“Scientists have forgotten that we don’t operate in an isolated bubble. We cannot take the public for granted. We have to talk to them. We have to communicate the issues. We have to earn their trust if science really is going to benefit society.”

It matters for the world:

“Over the next few years every country on the globe faces tough decisions over what to do about climate change. I’ve been thinking how scientists can win back the confidence we’re going to need if we’re going to make those choices wisely.”

He turns to the record of the Royal Society:

“350 years of an endeavour which is built on respect for observation, respect for data, respect for experiment. Trust no-one. Trust only what the experiments and the data tell you. We have to continue to use that approach if we are to solve problems such as climate change.”

That brings responsibility with it:

“It’s become clear to me that if we hold to these ideals of trusting evidence then we have a responsibility to publicly argue our case because in this conflicted and volatile debate scientists are not the only voices that are listened to.”

Politics enters the picture but scientists have to keep their focus:

“When a scientific issue has important outcomes for society then the politics becomes increasingly more important. So if we look at this issue of climate change that is particularly significant, because that has effects on how we manage our economy and manage our politics, so this has become a crucially political matter and we can see that by the way the forces are being lined up on both sides. What really is required here is a focus on the science, keeping the politics and keeping the ideology out of the way.”

But that doesn’t mean disengaging:

“Earning trust requires more than just focusing on the science. We have to communicate it effectively too.  Scientists have got to get out there. They have to be open about everything that they do. They do have to talk to the media even if it does sometimes put their reputation at doubt because if we do not do that it will be filled by others who don’t understand the science and who may be driven by politics or ideology. This is far too important to be left to the polemicists and commentators in the media. Scientists have to be there too.”

Paul Nurse has certainly put himself there in undertaking this documentary. Needless to say it cut no ice with the affronted James Delingpole, but surely many viewers will have been impressed with the evidence urgently yet reasonably presented by this distinguished scientist, and equally impressed that he goes to such trouble to make it all accessible to the general public.

Heart of the city

We tend to become riveted on the efforts of national governments to address greenhouse gas reductions, so far with dismal results. But as a valuable new study reminds us, city administrations can play a significant role in mitigation and with more immediate effect. Cities and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Moving Forward is to be published in the journal Environment and Urbanization in April and has been made available online in advance. The lead author is Daniel Hoornweg, lead urban specialist on Cities and Climate Change at the World Bank.

A large share of global greenhouse gas emissions is attributable to cities. But the study points to cities’ ability to respond to climate change at a local and proximate level; cities usually offer more immediate and effective communication between the public and the decision makers than national governments. Cities, say the authors, are credible laboratories of social change, with sufficient scale to bring about meaningful changes. The potential co-benefits of mitigation and adaptation are largest in cities.

The study proposes a path forward for cities which clearly measure and communicate their emissions. They can identify and tackle the largest issues first. They can get help from citizens, other cities and national governments. The study recognises the pragmatism with which cities have been able to tackle other issues such as waste management and water supply, seeing that as a likely indicator of the way they can address climate change.

Cities vary greatly in their per capita levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and the study includes many interesting analyses and comparisons. It is surprising – and encouraging – to see how much work has been done on the measurement of a large number of cities’ per capita emissions. The study refers to 100 for which peer-reviewed studies are available, discussing some of them in closer detail. In most countries per capita greenhouse gas emissions are lower in cities than the country-wide average, but there are often considerable differences between cities within the same country. For example, the per capita emission level in the USA is 23.59 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) per annum. The average level of emissions for New York residents is considerably less at 10.5 tCO2e, yet Denver’s approaches the national average at 21.5 tCO2e. The difference between the two cities is mainly attributable to New York’s greater density and much lower reliance on the automobile for commuting. A review of Denver’s emissions which includes the embodied emissions of material such as food and concrete coming into the city has emissions rising to 25.3 tCO2e per capita, which is above the national average.

Chinese cities are atypical in that, generally, their GHG emissions are, on average, much higher than per capita national averages. For example, Shanghai’s emissions are 12.6 tCO2e per capita, while national emissions are 3.4 tCO2e per capita. This reflects the high reliance on fossil fuels for electricity production, a significant industrial base within many cities and a relatively poor and large rural population, and hence a lower average per capita value for national emissions.

The study offers interesting material relating to Toronto where researchers have broken down the city into districts. Wealthy neighbourhoods and distant sprawling suburbs had significantly higher emissions, dramatically so by comparison with a dense inner-city neighbourhood with good access to public transportation.

Greenhouse gas inventories are obviously important in giving city government bodies reliable information to work with, to share with their citizens and to determine where best to direct mitigation efforts. The study considers that while the making of inventories is still an evolving process it is robust enough already to be operated by all cities, at least by those with more than a million inhabitants. I thought of Mayor Len Brown’s plans for emission reductions in Auckland over the next fifteen years when I read this, and realised that this important pre-requisite should be within that city’s reach.

A striking feature in the study for me was the table which lists the policy tools available for city-level action on climate change.  Transport figures heavily in the policy goals.  Land use zoning can be used to reduce trip lengths, to encourage transit-oriented development zones and to introduce traffic calming to discourage driving. The quality and linkages of public transport can be improved and its services expanded. Employee transport plans can be facilitated. Driving and parking restrictions can be applied, and softened somewhat for fuel-efficient vehicles. The city fleet can be made up of fuel-efficient vehicles. All these are mitigation measures, some of them regulatory, some service provisions. Unfortunately in New Zealand at present those relating to public transport would come up against the Minister of Transport’s benighted determination to put public transport on short rations and spend the money on new roads, but at least in the case of Auckland there are signs of steel in the new Mayor’s public transport intentions.

Next on the list are policy tools relating to building efficiency. Zoning regulations can promote multi-family and connected residential housing. Energy efficiency requirements can be part of building codes. Public and private retro-fitting programmes can be co-ordinated.

The increase of the local share of renewable and captured energy generation can be obtained by building codes requiring a minimum share of renewable energy, by district heating and cooling projects and by waste-to-energy programmes.

Adaptation appears on the list with measures to reduce vulnerability to flooding and increased storm events and to extreme heat. Tree-planting programmes and green roof requirements figure here.

City officials and elected representatives don’t have to scratch their heads and wonder where they can start in the battle to reduce emissions or adapt to the climate change impacts which can’t be avoided. Nor do they have to join the “after you” brigade of international governmental negotiators. They can get under way immediately, either to lower their emissions substantially or, if they are already low to keep them that way as the city grows or becomes more prosperous. Cities can also work co-operatively in their endeavours. Some of the largest are already doing so. The study remarks on the C40 organisation, a group of large cities committed to tackling climate change, currently chaired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York. Relative to the world’s top nations they are collectively a very big player and anything they prove able to achieve must be significant in global terms.

As we watch what looks like the sad spectacle of implosion in the US attempts to tackle climate change at the national level one is wary of sounding enthusiastic about mitigation prospects, but this paper is nevertheless a positive reminder that not everything depends on a handful of anti-science Republican congressmen. Cities can carry hopes which their countries currently largely deny.

[Nick Lowe]

Core blimey, Easterbrook’s at it again

Don Easterbrook’s strange obsession with the Greenland temperature record and the GISP2 ice core data series continues. Despite his last effort having been shown to be completely clueless (though still good enough for Bob Carter and “potty peer” Chris Monckton to reference approvingly), he continues to (snow)plough a lonely furrow. This time it’s in a guest post at µWatts headlined (rather poorly) Easterbrook on the magnitude of Greenland GISP2 ice core data. It’s BIG data, obviously, for Don, but sadly he shows no signs of actually doing any proper research, or developing any real understanding of the issues he feels so free to write about.

So where are the errors this time?

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Before and after science

“We accept the science,” says Climate Change Issues Minister Nick Smith in a Brian Fallow article in the NZ Herald. But what does it mean for a politician to accept the science? For Caroline Lucas (left), leader of the Green Party in the UK and the sole Green MP in the House of Commons, it means taking some lessons from the World War II era. She calls for this in an article in the Telegraph.

“Our health and security, our society and way of life, our natural environment, even our coastline, are all at risk from uncontrolled natural forces – disease, drought, flood and storm. In terms of the human and financial cost in the UK and internationally, the impact over the coming decades has been compared to the world wars of the twentieth century.

“Since the 1980s, successive governments and their expert advisers have accepted the seriousness of the threat, and have known what actions are needed to avert it as far as possible and to prepare for the consequences. But they have not acted either to prepare the UK or to build an international agreement on reduction. And with every passing year, the threat to our country becomes more severe.”


At this point she turns back to the 1930s when many politicians of all parties ignored the threat of war brewing in Europe and failed to take steps to deter aggression or prepare defence.

“At the time, the two main excuses put forward to justify inaction and appeasement were that there was not enough money to pay for proper defences, and that the British public would not support a government that took tough measures.”

Rather familiar sounding, those excuses. Lucas continues:

“Yet by the end of the 1930s, public opinion was far ahead of Chamberlain’s government in demanding tough measures, and the costs of the war itself ultimately far outweighed the costs of the measures that might have prevented it. And during the war itself, the British people were willing to make the sacrifices needed to deal with the horror of Nazism and to try and build a fairer society for the future.”

She points to some of the same patterns becoming apparent today in relation to climate change. Some members of the public, some enlightened local government bodies, some firms, and many institutions and campaigning groups are ready to urge action.

“One of the lessons of history is that putting off difficult issues has a habit of making them far more costly to deal with in the long run: climate change is certainly in that category. Our aim is to help forge the national consensus that will support this or future governments in sustained, radical action.”

Lucas is far from the first on the climate change issue to draw parallels between the challenges today and those of the 1930s, but she does so unhesitatingly because she accepts the science.

Meanwhile back in New Zealand two recent articles in the Herald provided rather disparate examples of what it might mean to our politicians to accept the science. One announced Len Brown’s plans to ‘green’ Auckland. They include a goal of cutting Auckland’s carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2025. It’s aspiration at this point, but it’s way ahead of the government target of between 10 and 20 per cent by 2020, and it’s approaching the level that might put developed societies on track to achieve the much higher reductions that will be needed by 2050 if we are to stand any chance of avoiding dangerous warming. And it places Auckland among those enlightened local bodies which are pushing ahead of their central governments in various parts of the world.

It’s a rather different picture with Nick Smith, as portrayed in a Herald article by Brian Fallow writing about the key questions for the statutory review of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) over the coming months. Yes, Smith affirms the government accepts the science. And let me acknowledge that that is a welcome affirmation.  Accepting the science is an advance on the vacillation which was apparent in the National party in opposition not so many years ago. It means we don’t have to traverse the dreary wastes of denial which still have to be faced in parts of the US legislature and are still basic to the NZ government’s coalition partner, the ACT party.

However, accepting the science doesn’t seem to carry with it the imperative of decisive action. Fallow’s article portrays the Minister as cautious. He says the government wants to reduce emissions (though gives no indication as to how much), that they want to do it efficiently and with fairness between different sectors of the economy, and that they have an overall objective of New Zealand doing its fair share on climate change. Arriving at a fair share? Well, Smith points out, we are the 11th highest per capita emitters globally, but on the other hand we’re in the bottom third of the OECD and we have an emissions profile that is unusual for a developed country in that nearly half of it arises from the bodily functions of livestock, while the electricity sector is predominantly renewable already. No prizes for guessing that our estimation of a fair share won’t be setting any international standards for aspiration.

Indeed Smith wants to continue to signal that a National-led Government “will not be including agriculture [in the ETS] unless there are practical technologies that farmers can employ to reduce their emissions and there has been significantly greater progress than we have seen to date by our key trading partners in pricing emissions”.

Smith allows himself some optimism when it comes to electricity generation and forestry. He points to a substantial increase in the level of renewables in energy built since the passing of the ETS and also to an increase in forestry, “one of the cheapest ways of meeting current and any future international obligations”. But there is no suggestion that the government is looking to any more than the 10 to 20 per cent target for reduction in emissions by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2050 that they have so far adopted. And even those targets have a provisional air to them. What we do will depend on what others do.

We accept the science, says Smith. The science says that if emissions are not drastically reduced in the course of the next few decades the world will consequently experience sea level rise to heights horrifying to even contemplate. Droughts and floods will afflict us ever more strongly. Food supplies will be drastically threatened. And much more. Admittedly New Zealand appears likely to be one of the least affected countries, but that will be small comfort in a world so upturned.

That’s the message the government should be giving the country, and accompanying it with measures commensurate with the threat. Along the way they might show some confidence in the capacity of New Zealanders to manage a successful green economy. Accepting the science doesn’t mean the destruction of the economy, just its reshaping.