An open letter to John Boscawen and his party

Dear John, four months ago, when you were sitting in for Rodney on an ETS Review committee hearing, you wondered why the evidence I gave in my submission was so different to the submitters who preceded me at that session. You asked me if I would, as a personal favour, examine their evidence and explain why they were wrong. The chairman, Peter Dunne, made your request a formal one, and I happily agreed. I submitted my comment on the McCabe Environmental Consultants evidence on April 22, and I slept easy in the knowledge that I had met your request. You see, I think it’s important that those who seek to guide the ship of state are well-informed, and I was glad of the chance to cast a little light into the dark corners of your understanding of climate science.

But you didn’t read my evidence, did you John?

I’ve been looking through ACT’s minority report, appended to the ETS Review report (PDF) published earlier this week. I can see no evidence that you or Rodney paid any attention to the majority of the submissions made — but then you didn’t attend many committee meetings, did you? Nor did Rodney. But, being a diligent parliamentarian, you will of course have taken the trouble to read all the written evidence, and particularly the extra evidence you specifically asked me to provide. That being the case, how can you justify the statements you make in your minority report? Let me run through a few…

The UN IPCC asserts that the matter has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. But it is neither impartial nor authoritative. Its charter obliges it to focus on human actions as a source of climate change.

Clearly you didn’t pay much attention to the submission (PDF) made by the NZ Climate Change Centre (whose members are AgResearch, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Industrial Research Limited, Landcare Research, NIWA, Plant and Food Research, Scion, the University of Canterbury, and Victoria University of Wellington), because they explained how the IPCC process works. But then perhaps you know better than the country’s top science organisations, who are convinced that the IPCC’s reports are authoritative, impartial and conservative.

Its most strident conclusions and “calls to action” advocacy are the work of a relatively small number of the contributing scientists who do not speak for the scientific community as a whole. More than 30,000 scientists have signed the following petition: [Edited to exclude the full “Oregon Petition” statement]

The IPCC reviews the work — all of the science done in the field — and condenses it down to a succinct overview. The IPCC reports are not “strident”, they are more usually criticised for being excessively cautious. As for your “30,000 scientists” how many are publishing in the field, John? I suggest you do a little more reading, this time about the Oregon Petition, and then ask yourself if scientific truth is decided by opinion poll or political lobbying.

The minority report moves on to consider global temperature changes:

The surface cooled for a period in the middle of the 20th century and appears to have stopped warming during the last decade despite strong emissions growth during this period.

This is how I know you didn’t read my evidence. I spent some time explaining how the global temperature record over the last decade did not mean that global warming had stopped. I went into detail, provided references to recent papers, but that appears to have passed you by. I suppose being an MP must mean that you are very busy, and occasionally so tired that your eyes glaze over when reading stuff you don’t want to believe.

Your report also seems to have a problem with facts:

Another difficulty is that the earth warmed by perhaps only 0.7 degrees Celsius during the last century while atmospheric greenhouse gas equivalents rose 41 percent from a pre- industrial level of 281 ppm to 396 ppm by 2007.

Atmospheric CO2 is currently at 387ppm. A small slip, to be sure, but it doesn’t encourage me to set much store by the rest of that paragraph, where you suggest that because we’ve only seen 0.7C of warming over the last century we’re not going to see much more. The problem is that your argument is specious (and I’ll explain why, in detail, in another post if you ask nicely). But it does demonstrate that you seem to think that you know better than New Zealand’s science community. Doesn’t that smack just a little of hubris?

I’ll move on. Later in the report you state:

ACT has not seen any evidence that the IPCC projections anticipated the lack of warming in this decade to date while emissions have grown strongly.

Then you must have been asleep in class, John, because not only has there been no “lack of warming” (as I pointed out, you will recall), but the IPCC does not make projections of short term changes in global temperature — it projects climate states averaged over decades. You would know that, if you had been paying attention.

Currently, ACT has seen no observationally-based evidence of any warming trend in New Zealand that would be grounds for concern. NIWA accepts that New Zealand warming might be only two-thirds of any global temperature increase. Plausibly this might be beneficial for New Zealanders for many decades at least.

It is true that New Zealand is expected to warm more slowly than most of the world — it’s one of the benefits of being a little group of islands in a big cool ocean, but that doesn’t mean that we can sit back and relax. There is robust evidence of considerable warming in NZ over the last 100 years — slightly more than the global average, in fact, and vast amounts of mountain ice have melted away. In coming decades, summers will be hotter, damaging droughts and floods more common. I would be interested to know where your “plausible” evidence of benefits to New Zealand comes from. It seems to be based on a very narrow view. What happens to NZ if the rest of the world suffers? Will we turn away the Australians keen to set up home in our little green oasis? There are rather a lot of them, and they mostly own us now anyway.

Finally, I have to wonder at the rationale behind this paragraph in your report’s concluding statements:

Uncertainty can be a valid reason to delay action, particularly when waiting can produce future information and new technologies might reduce the cost of action. Regardless, actions need to be justified on the basis that likely benefits from action exceed the costs.

Uncertainty is not our friend when it comes to dealing with climate change, John. As I said in my evidence to the committee, and in the evidence I prepared especially for you, the longer the world delays taking action, the worse the long term damage will be. If we wait until the damage is all too obvious (and I would argue that’s already the case), then the long term damage will be considerable. The balance of risks between action and inaction are not symmetrical. If you and your party are right, and climate change is not a problem, then what will we lose by taking concerted action now? A little money, some inconvenience, perhaps. We’ll certainly get rid of a lot of pollution. But if you’re wrong and I’m right but we do nothing to constrain emissions, then the world is going to change out of all recognition and humanity will be put in great peril. Yours is the counsel of the wise monkey, who prefers to see and hear no evil. I won’t comment on the value of what you might have to say.

Let me ask you one question. Who wrote ACT’s minority report? Much of it reads as if was compiled by Rodney and Alan’s friends in the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition. The idea that GeoNet should be the lead agency for responses to climate change is lifted from the evidence given by Bob Carter, and the fancy that NIWA has been “captured” by the IPCC is a favourite of Owen McShane. The reference to the IPCC’s charter obliging it to look only at man-made change is surely a nod in the direction of that doyen of NZ’s climate cranks, Vincent Grey (87). Can it be that ACT New Zealand is relying on the NZ CSC for policy development? What next? Will you be approaching the NZ Association of Faith Healers for advice on health policy? I suppose that makes as much sense as relying on the Business Roundtable for economic advice…

Let me end by expressing again my sadness at your failure to learn from the ETS Review process. You asked for my advice, and it was gladly given. I spent some time preparing it for you, but then you ignored it. Why was that? Did I not make myself clear? Or do you have comprehension difficulties? Or — worse — did you ignore what I had to say because it was inconvenient to your party’s policy, and might have upset ACT’s financial supporters? In the long run, you can only ignore the evidence for so long. What will ACT’s policy be when the sea is lapping at the Beehive, and bananas are growing in Hamilton? Waders and free fruit for all? No, every man for himself and devil take the hindmost. How sad.

Kind regards,


22 thoughts on “An open letter to John Boscawen and his party”

  1. Excellent letter, Gareth.
    But I fear it will fall upon John’s selectively blind eyes.
    I find it curious how he can consider that any warming might be “beneficial” to New Zealanders while to your north-west are a pair of nuclear armed neighbours, India and Pakistan, who share dwindling water resources that are projected to run out by 2035.

    1. Of course it will fall on deaf ears. ACT and their acolytes (should that be actolytes?) have already made up their minds, and no amount of evidence will ever change their minds. After all, one of their MPs is the smartest man of all time, so why would they need to listen to scientists?

  2. Good post, glad you followed up on that. So i’ll nitpick:

    Why is Vincent Gray’s age relevant?

    I suppose that makes as much sense as relying on the Business Roundtable for economic advice…

    Is that a partisan political point about economic policy in general or some sort of jab at the quality of their climate change policy advice?

    1. I make it a point to refer to Vincent’s age in every post in which I mention him — consider it a sort of reference to Private Eye (UK satirical mag), where poet E J Thribb is always (15).

      The BR reference is aimed at both their economic and climate change advice: refer to my jousting with Roger Kerr on his submission to the ETS Review. And my distaste for the extreme free-market stance of the BR is hardly “partisan” — it comes from having a more moderate (and I would argue, realistic) take on economics.

  3. “…ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism” – Susan Jacoby in 2008 on the new age of unreason in America. I came across it while reading this morning, and immediately thought how well it fitted the bill for ACT. The sheer irrationality is quite threatening, all the more if it really represents the electors of middle-class Epsom.

  4. “What will ACT’s policy be when the sea is lapping at the Beehive, and bananas are growing in Hamilton?”
    Reduce the number of MPs and change the anthem to “Daylight come and me wanna go home”.

  5. The Gray thing reads a bit more like ‘the poor guy’s old, he can’t help it that he’s crazy’.

    And my distaste for the extreme free-market stance of the BR is hardly “partisan” — it comes from having a more moderate (and I would argue, realistic) take on economics.

    Your blog, but I prefer it when you’re apolitical. Pretty minor really.

    I’m done now.

    1. the poor guy’s old, he can’t help it that he’s crazy’

      You might very well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment… 😉

      I prefer it when you’re apolitical

      I try to be reasonably non-partisan, but not apolitical.

    2. ‘the poor guy’s old, he can’t help it that he’s crazy’.

      “…major cognitive mechanisms…are sensitive to age-related decline…demonstrated in thousands of research studies.”

      — From the introduction to _Cognitive aging: a primer_
      By Denise C. Park, Norbert Schwarz (Dr. phil.), Norbert Schwarz

      Sad but true. You get old, your senses decline, your brain function is impaired … and eventually, you die.

  6. Really, a parliamentary report includes the Oregon petition and the “warming stopped in ’98” canard ?

    I knew ACT were nuts, I didn’t know they got their science from kiwiblog threads…

      1. I’d be surprised if they can read cereal packets as they can’t seem to read reports. Or is this some kind of selective vision mental defect they have? To me it comes back to two options for people like this; they’re incompetent or apathetic.
        I think one of the best ways of picturing this issue was comparing it, in a way, to insurance policies.

          1. When the damages amount to 100% of your income, I’d say any insurance is better than none.

            I would prefer that NZ still has an economy in 100 years time. You seem quite happy to sit and wait for the economy to collapse. Why? Do you hate people or something?

  7. Dear, oh dear, oh dear…….

    But looking for the positive in all that sorry tale I found this little gem.

    waiting can produce future information

    A eureka moment, I’ve always liked the idea of producing information and especially future information. So I’m off now……to wait……….

    Andrew 🙂

    PS.. and Steve W was pretty funny again…keep it up!

  8. ACT has never really grabbed me as a party with grip on reality. Their report coupled with their almost complete lack of attendence to the select committee meetings simply shows that they were never going to listen to evidence. They weren’t even going to weigh up opinions, simply sticking the metaphorical fingers in the ears while yelling “na na na na na”.
    I’d have a wager on the fact that most of the report was written before the deliberations began.

    1. How long must we put up with the rubbish from the lunatic fringe supported by barely 3% of NZ , and given power beyond their mandate by the misguided people of Epsom.

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