Ask me why

Sadly the Greenhouse Policy Coalition (GPC) welcomes the result of the poll they commissioned from UMR Research, as reported today in the Herald.  I’ll comment on the poll a little later in the post, but first a reminder of what the GPC stands for. It includes some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in its membershipwhich it describes as “a large and diverse range of New Zealand industry and sector groups covering the aluminium, steel, forestry (including pulp and paper), coal, dairy processing and gas sectors.”   They are described as responsible for 14% of GDP and 31% of total exports.

Note they do not deny the reality of human-caused climate change:

“The Coalition accepts there is growing evidence of a causal connection between observed changes in the global climate and human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases.  The Coalition considers there is sufficient scientific evidence to warrant the adoption of appropriate precautionary public policy measures.”

But their notion of what constitutes appropriate measures is severely constrained by their determination to protect what they call the competitiveness of all sectors of NZ industry. They urge a wait and see attitude when it comes to doing anything of consequence to reduce NZ emissions.

“Climate change public policy should … be moderate and measured until such time as it is appropriate, and justified, to be otherwise.”


Current government policy seems to fit their bill pretty well. Although they would have preferred a suspension of the ETS they have welcomed the relief the revised scheme offered to large businesses.

Given the tepid policies being advanced by the government, the results of the commissioned poll are probably not surprising.  45.8 per cent think climate change is happening and is caused by humans – up 1.6 per cent from previously.  32.7 per cent think the climate is changing but are uncertain as to whether it is caused by humans – down 3 per cent. 19.3 per cent think the problem doesn’t exist – up 1.8 per cent.

But although 45.8 per cent think climate change is caused by humans only 36.3 per cent think it is a serious issue – down from 42.6 per cent last year. Generally speaking numbers were down on all measures aimed at mitigating climate change. For example, the 23.4 per cent of people who agreed New Zealand should reduce its emissions, even if it meant reducing the standard of living was 11 per cent down on last year’s 34.9 per cent.

Last year climate change concern was eighth in order of importance. This year it is tenth.

The GPC’s executive director, David Venables, said the results of the survey reinforced the Government’s decision to moderate the impact of the Emissions Trading Scheme and the need to fine-tune it to keep in step with New Zealand’s main trading partners – which lagged in implementing their own schemes – and the rest of the world.

In other words, in the court of public opinion the government is on the right track.

But can reasonable judgment be delivered by public opinion at the present? Public opinion is not being informed of the seriousness of climate change.  The majority of our political leadership displays little or no sign of concern at the mounting dangers of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The message they thereby deliver to the public is that the issue is not of great importance. The public gratefully receives this message and turns its mind to more immediate concerns. Whereupon the likes of the GPC point to lack of public concern as a sign that the government has got it right. It’s not too difficult to see a mutual ratcheting down process proceeding happily between politicians and the public until the folly of it becomes too apparent to ignore. And heaven knows how far off that might be.

One has to hope it will be the ineluctable science which interrupts the process and not the onset of severe events. But I have been hoping that for a number of years now, and there is little sign of full appreciation of the science in the political sphere, in the media, or in the leadership of many major companies. From where is the general public able to receive the message if it is excluded from the mainstream of political and economic life?

Real understanding of the scientific evidence would mean that David Venables would lament the result of the poll. It would see John Key and Phil Goff standing alongside each other and saying this public ignorance was dangerous and they wanted to help correct it. Tomorrow’s editorials would declare the same. Some hope.

Meanwhile all the directly measurable effects continue – global temperature rises inexorably, Arctic summer sea ice diminishes with unexpected speed, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to lose mass.  And the less specific predictions of increased wildfires, floods and droughts show every sign of coming to pass. Positive feedback loops loom in the shadows.

“Climate change public policy should … be moderate and measured until such time as it is appropriate, and justified, to be otherwise.” And when might that be, David Venables and all those for whom you speak?

[Fabs in Hamburg]

46 thoughts on “Ask me why”

  1. GPC is a policy coalition, not a science coalition. They debating the policy of climate change. It should be possible for someone to disagree with the policy without being seen to be a climate heretic.

    I think we can all agree that if New Zealand alone took action to reduce emissions nothing would be done to prevent climate change.

    The tone of your article implies that somehow GPC don’t care about mitigating climate change. I think they would argue that they only don’t want NZ to move before the rest of the world at the expense of our economy and for negligible environmental gain.

  2. R2D2 You’re right about what they argue. It’s what the government argues. I disagree with their position, as is obvious. But that was not the trigger for my post. What upset me was the satisfaction GPC expressed with the fact that only a minority of the population think climate change is a serious matter. Surely a full and widespread awareness of the seriousness of the threat of climate change should be the background against which policy discussions are held.

    1. What alarms me is that when the population is shown to disagree with you rather than critically examine your own opinion and accept that intelligent people disagree with you, you place yourself on an intellectual pedestal above the general population and argue that they need to be re-educated to think the way you think.

  3. R2D2 The only “opinion” I have in this matter is that the scientific evidence is overwhelming and trustworthy. As for re-educating the public, my concern is that they have been denied ready access to the scientific evidence by a combination of blustery denial, media failure and evasive politicians. Your talk of intellectual pedestals is off beam given the seriousness of the issue.

    1. So the general public doesn’t have the same information you have? If they disagree with you it must be because they have been decieved. It couldn’t be that they have formed an intellegent opinion based on the same evidence…..

      1. Facts are not decided by opinion poll. Public opinion is manipulable – something politicians and lobbyists specialise in. The vast majority of the general public are not, and cannot be expected to be as well-informed on the subject as Bryan (though it would be great if they were). They have to rely on informed opinion (as they do with medical advice, for instance), but their sources for that are the things being manipulated (as in the case of this survey). So the ideal, as I’ve said many times, is for everyone to accept what we know about the causes and consequences of climate change (be conservative, say AR4), make a balanced risk assessment, and then get on with the politics of deciding what to do. The GPC, by advocating going slow, are increasing the risks we face, and deserve censure for that.

        1. I think that’s just crap Gareth. There is lobbying, politicians, and manipulation on both sides of the debate. ‘Denial’ does not have a monopoly on that. And there are also good robust arguments on both sides of the debate. You have made up your mind, that is fine. But if others do not agree with you it is not because they are small minded and easily manipulated, it is simply because they don’t draw the same conclusions from the evidence available as you.

          What you are saying is similar to arguing, the general public could never understand macro-economics, finance, defense, trade policy, environment etc therefore let’s just have a panel of experts nominated by university professors set government policy. Because democracies are ruled by public opinion that can so easily be manipulated, whereas academics have never been wrong.

          1. Sorry R2, but you’re the one talking nonsense. The “debate” is not now, and never really has been, about the “science”. We know more than enough to justify action to cut emissions — and have done since the first international efforts were made in the 90s. The picture has only become clearer since then.
            How we go about cutting emissions is a legitimate matter for public debate — there are all sorts of approaches available, and the political process is the best way to decide between them. To continue the medical analogy: the general public cannot and should not decide on the merits of particular treatments — that’s a matter for medical professionals and researchers — but they have every right to debate the structure of the health service and the way that it’s funded.
            You make a similar category error in your list of other government activities.

            1. It wasn’t public opinion (in that I doubt National gained many extra votes because of its stance on the ETS) it was the National government, goaded by ACT after the election. It was bad policy-making, to be sure, but governments are good at that. “Public opinion” supports action on climate change – the numbers vary considerably depending on the way the questions are asked.

            2. It wasn’t public opinion? Everything, votes, opinion polies, surveys, suggests it was. What do you have that suggests otherwise?

            3. National won the election for many reasons, one of the most important being that many people thought it was time for a change. Its stance on the ETS did not play an important part in its pre-election campaign, and — as I said — I doubt it brought them many votes they would not otherwise have won.

              The fact remains that all polling shows a majority of the public support action on climate change, even when the poll is conducted by the GPC.

  4. I’m surprised (and slightly disappointed), Bryan, that you appear to have taken the survey results at face value – and you didn’t look at the “loading” of the polling questions.

    Looking at the survey results on the GPC’s web page you can see just how loaded the questions are. They hardly constitute an objective poll.

    “New Zealand should reduce carbon emissions – even if it means reducing our current standard of living
    (who said it would reduce our current standard of living? Where has this been backed up, apart from bogus reports written by industry-funded think tanks? If people are faced with a statement that their current standard of living will drop, what is the likelihood of their agreeing to cut carbon emissions?)

    or “New Zealand should take steps to reduce carbon emissions even if it costs jobs
    (who said it would cost jobs? See comment above)

    “New Zealand should switch to more sustainable technologies, even if there’s a cost for doing this

    and on it goes.

    I think a pinch of salt is required when reading these results.

      1. Quoting from the report

        “Conclusions and recommendations
        1. The New Zealand economy will continue to grow under all of the scenarios that we have modelled. In the absence of any policy change, we estimate that income per capita (as measured by RGNDI) will grow from around $38,500 in 2009 to $56,000 in 2025. The introduction of a carbon price will not significantly affect New Zealand’s potential growth rate.”

        1. That is a price on carbon. We were talking about reduction in emissions,

          “there is a cost to meeting our international commitments. Under a carbon pricing scheme with a world price of $100, per capita income could fall by up to $2,000 by 2025”

  5. Cindy has got it right – loaded questions give desired results. The IPA in Australia – an industry funded think tank at the forefront of denial – does similar exercises, and then uses waves their bogus poll results around to try and “prove” most people are sceptical of climate change.

    This is a public relations war. It’s about creating cascading doubt. They more they make climate change sound “mainstream”, the more likely people will adopt the view of a *perceived* majority.

  6. During his recent visit to NZ, Lord Stern stated that we need to reduce our emissions to 10% of our current value by 2050

    Does anyone have any idea how we can do that without shutting down our entire economy?

    1. Did the great lord explain the benefit of this if China and The USA take no action?

      The issue with competitveness is not that our industry is not emissions competitive, it is. It is that if no other nation puts a price on emissions we can not compete.

      1. I’m pretty sure that the great lord would gently turn our heads to look firstly at USA and then at China.

        Neither has a cap on emissions, but just look at who’s doing better on manufacturing renewable energy facilities to sell to the rest of the world. No need for taxes or capntrade, USA and countries that follow its example will be absolutely flattened by Chinese development and experience in yet another industry.

        This stuff about trying to maintain competitiveness by hanging on to what you’ve got rather than getting down and dirty in the marketplace looks an awful lot like the West sneering at Japanese entry into car and electronics markets a few decades ago. No, no, no. Our consumers won’t want shoddy Jap goods. They’ll keep buying what we keep making.

        And wasn’t that a raging success?

        1. You should read the following by Paul Krugman.

          There is a difference in economic growth from increased productivity and economic growth from increased capital. China is ‘catching up’ not “flattening” the USA.

          China has been held back for a long time by bad leadership. Now it is catching up to the rest of the world. This does not mean labour productivity is increasing. But the lack of capital and institutional inefficiencies are being removed.

          The real test to China will come when the low hanging fruit are gone, as it did for Japan.

          1. The challenge now is to, as a world, get together on putting the policies in place which can promote a new industrial revolution. A revolution which is much more energy efficient and uses different kinds of technologies. And if you look at say Korea and look at China, they’re starting to see the future in terms of low carbon technologies, and the green race has begun, and it’s a race that is actually going to be incredibly innovatory, creative, productive, and it’s a race which if people back out from, or pull back from, over time they’ll get left behind, and over time they’ll get shut out of markets from people who understandably have invested very strongly in green technologies, in reducing emissions radically, and will expect in their imports to charge people who haven’t gone that route.

            Lord Stern via Guyon Espiner on Q+A

            “China is changing from the factory of the world to the clean-tech laboratory of the world,” said Liu. “It has the unique ability to pit low-cost capital with large-scale experiments to find models that work.” China has designated and invested in pilot cities for electric vehicles, smart grids, LED lighting, rural biomass and low-carbon communities. “They’re able to quickly throw spaghetti on the wall to see what clean-tech models stick, and then have the political will to scale them quickly across the country,” Liu added. “This allows China to create jobs and learn quickly.”

            Thomas Friedman via NYT

            You’ve got to accentuate the positive
            Eliminate the negative
            Latch on to the affirmative
            Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

            Arlen and Mercer via Bing and Bette

    2. John D: You are asking questions that show that you are discovering the magnitude of the problem! The fist step into the right direction.

      Its a bit like this: Doing nothing means causing extensive harm to our future. The scenarios are well known.

      Doing enough will be tough. But it comes with the great bonus that we need to get off the fossil fuel train anyway because we are looking at peak oil (by now everybody admits its happening, the more dire predictions of its effects can be read in reports of several military leaders to their governments lately – US, Germany among them).

      Mitigating the effects of climate change and mitigating the inevitable peak oil threat is done with the very same strategy.
      Those who want us to believe that we have a future – any future – banking on a growing consumption of non-renewable resources live in gaga land. We need to convert the remaining momentum of our current economy into transforming our civilization from living down our ONCE IN ANY PLANETARY HISTORY fossil fuel inheritance to living sustainably from the energy flows that we have available in the future. We need to do this NOW as we will not get a second chance to achieve this once the oil production is dropping from under us as then pandemonium will reign unless we are prepared. It is probably already very late in the game!
      There is not time to waste!

  7. John: requires flair and imagination, and a wide range of things like public transport (and train lines), support for a sustainable economy, no subsidies to coal, embracing of research on sustainable dairy (perhaps stopping things like Lincoln College’s love affair with Ravensdown, for example) … etc etc…

    1. Cindy,
      I think it will take a LOT of imagination, of the SciFi variety, to acheive emissions reductions of this scale without significantly reducing the world’s population.

      But then that’s the aim, yes?

            1. All we need to do is educate the women and girls. All over the world, when women are educated the birthrate drops like a stone.

              So, you are agreeing with the Malthusian thesis then, if you are suggesting that birthrates need to “drop like a stone”

              By the way, who is going to look afte rthe old people? China already has this problem, with its one child policy.

      1. John: A world 5 Deg warmer than today – the result of doing nothing – WILL cause a massive reduction in the worlds carrying capacity for humans. We do not eat Oil or Coal, we eat food grown on arable land under good conditions of soil, moisture and temperature.
        Already we are struggling to grow enough food. Our grain reserves are at record lows. In some of the best grain growing regions local effects of climate change already see temperature anomalies in the 5 Deg range during summer causing unprecedented drought conditions in peak growing times resulting for example in Russia stopping all grain exports this year!
        Pakistan will find it extremely difficult to feed its population this year after record monsoons which are part of the predicted effects of a warmer climate in that area. These are just two examples. Sea level rises will salt the water tables of many low lying countries and will swamp some of their best growing areas this century.
        If you are worried about sustaining hungry mouth do not think of your personal standard of living or how many cylinders and HP your next car will have! Think how you are going to feed 7 Billion today and 9 Billion soon…. in a world where you are going to loose the grain areas to drought and the rice fields to flooding….

  8. Cindy, I’m sorry to disappoint you, even slightly.Yes, for the purposes of the post I took the results at their face value. My main gripe was that the GPC showed satisfaction at the number of people who appeared not to rate climate change as a serious concern. I don’t dispute your dissatisfaction with the questions, though even allowing for that I think it remains the case that the level of public concern about climate change in most western countries is far lower than it should be on any rational understanding of the science.

    1. Bryan – yes, I definitely took that point – the GPC did seem stupidly upbeat about the results – a “see, we’re right our poll says so, so back off” attitude that is hardly an appropriate reaction to the climate science.

      See Thomas Friedman’s piece in the NYT – great article on the use of 4-letter words around action on climate change. In the US [and NZ] it’s JOKE, in China it’s JOBS.

  9. New Poll questions (skewed the other way)

    Do you think New Zealand should reduce carbon emissions if it would make us a Green World Leader?

    Do you think New Zealand should take steps to reduce carbon emissions and create sustainable green jobs at the same time?

    Do you think New Zealand should switch to more sustainable technologies and stop subsidising dirty coal?


    1. From George Monbiots article:

      “Greens are a puny force by comparison to industrial lobby groups, the cowardice of governments and the natural human tendency to deny what we don’t want to see. ”

      I think Monbiot says it as it is. We have a majority of Science illiterate people and politicians and the majority of our industrial leaders are stuck in enriching themselves and their shareholders while there is a chance to do so, come hell or high water (quite literally).

      Democracy is great if it is all about dividing up a delicious cake that is rising in the oven. Crumbs for everybody!
      But sorry to say, the times coming are about engineering a pathway out of the train wreck of the collision of our exponential growth paradigm with our one planet reality. Its time to roll up your sleeves and get to work to build bridges to a sustainable future.
      But there there are many like those – like John D, R2D2 and all the others who desperately like to party on until the last deck of the Titanic is awash. In times like these democracy is challenged by the individual greed and denial of the people. There have been tragic examples in the past where democratic systems have spectacularly failed. Perhaps the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany and the election of Hitler by the people could be seen as the worst of these examples.

      The enlightenment? Fun while it lasted! (Monbiot)

      Unless something changes fundamentally and soon in the common psyche of the people the path to the future is pointing to war, famine, chaos.

      1. But there there are many like those – like John D, R2D2 and all the others who desperately like to party on until the last deck of the Titanic is awash

        Show me some evidence that this is my view.

  10. I read somewhere – mebbe the nzh – how this poll was conducted July/August.. and I was a tad surprised.

    The way it came out in the media suggested an 80-90s-type collusion. Headlines—get the headlines—that’s all yorll need for your story. Webspeak, see.

    Current regimes – conservatives all – didn’t dump their past, they changed the words. That’s all. Fast-followers. Yep. following others, else following themselves.

    Take a look, what do YOU SEE ?

    So, sure the poll was past with its moe, but the driver wasn’t simply down here. It was (and corporately) everyplace.

    And looked at that way, things aint so bad. Besides, as Julie Reuter(@MSRI) says for corporate investors writ large, risk profiles of bad industrial polluters is changing things, making for miss out next time around.

    Betcha minister Gerry didn’t know that.. well at least before recent speechmaking. But his boss can sure verify.. as we’d all want fast followers to do.

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