Don Brash: climate clueless™ to the core

The new leader of New Zealand’s far-right ACT Party — the former National Party leader, Don Brash — has confirmed that he’s a fully paid up member of the climate clueless™, a worthy successor to Rodney Hide, and perfectly on side with major ACT Party backer, millionaire Alan Gibbs (who just happens to be on the policy advisory panel of the International Climate Science Coalition). But Brash hasn’t troubled himself with working on a new script for his climate denial, he’s retreading some of the oldest canards in the denial play book. In a speech this afternoon to the annual conference of Federated Farmers, Brash trotted out this remarkable sequence of untruths, half truths and straightforward lies, annotated below for your reading pleasure…

Early in his speech, Brash joined in with the denial meme du jour, accusing lowly local government officials of being “little Hitlers“, but then got into his stride with a robust attack on government policy.

[…]finally, ACT will press for the abandonment of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Why do we have an ETS? I have to admit I know of no good reason at all.

One might wonder why an intelligent man who has led two political parties and been governor of the reserve bank could be so unaware of the facts, but thankfully he proceeds to explain what he does understand: clearly and obviously nothing.

To be sure, it seems pretty clear that on average temperatures around the world have been increasing. But they’ve been increasing for at least the last 200 years, since the days when the Thames regularly froze over, and that warming began long before greenhouse gases caused by human activity could’ve had a significant influence on the climate.

Do I hear echoes of Bryan Leyland and the NZ Climate Science Coalition here? Has Brash been outsourcing his denial to the friends of his backer, Alan Gibbs? Couple of points Don. The Thames never “regularly froze over”. It happened only in the coldest winters, and after the demolition of the old London Bridge (which acted as kind of weir) not at all.

And we know temperatures were very warm in the medieval period, and in Roman times, when grapes were routinely grown in what is now the United Kingdom. And greenhouse gases could hardly explain that, or the cooling which took place between those warm periods.

Oh dear, the old canard about grapes in the UK. There’s almost certainly a greater acreage of vineyards in Britain now than at any time in recorded history. Did Lord Lawson forget to mention that, the last time you met?

Even if a case can be made that human activity is behind the gradual increase in global temperature, it isn’t obvious that an increased temperature is necessarily a bad thing for life on the planet.

Time for Don to don the blinkers. You’d think he must have been asleep during the record breaking weather extremes of the last 18 months, which just happen to have been exactly the sort of thing you expect from a warming climate, and which many experts suggest are an ominous harbinger of things to come.

We know that plant life thrives on an atmosphere high in carbon dioxide – which is why many market gardeners deliberately pump carbon dioxide into their glass houses.

But Don, you must have noticed (as a good kiwifruit grower) that not all plants live in greenhouses, pampered and spoiled by their growers. Out in the real world, they thrive under the limits ordained by Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, and CO2 is seldom one of those.

And we know that human societies thrive both in Singapore and in Finland, though average temperatures in the two places could hardly be more different.

Brilliant. Global warming affecting you? Install air conditioning. Got a Fujitsu franchise, Don? Doesn’t help the plants or the ecosystems that are under threat, especially when the pace of change is so rapid. Or your kiwifruit plants, which need some winter chilling to produce fruit.

Incurring the many trillions of dollars in cost which would be involved in any serious global attempt to slow the increase in average temperature would place an enormous burden on all societies, especially those already living on the margins of existence.

Cynical in the extreme, Don. The worst off people in the world are the ones expected to suffer most as the climate warms, and it’s the well off in the developed world, who got rich without penalty on their carbon emissions who are to blame. So to avoid some economic cost — and not as much as you might have us believe — we are to condemn the poor to suffer. The rich might be able to afford to adapt, if only in the short term. Tell that to the people living in the Asian megadeltas, who will be the first to see their livelihoods destroyed by rising seas.

And even if it were accepted that human activity is causing the planet to warm, and that the enormous cost of trying to slow that warming is justified, it’s entirely unclear why New Zealand should be at the forefront of that effort, at considerable cost to all New Zealanders, including New Zealand farmers.

At last, a reasonable argument. Accept the facts, and argue about what we do. That’s some kind of progress. But we should — morally and ethically — do our bit, do our fair share. If we listen to the siren voices of Gibbs and his Climate Science Coalitions, ignore what’s coming down the road, and lock our economy into a high carbon pathway, we will lose money on the way to losing our planet. How stupid is that?

[Nick Lowe]

13 thoughts on “Don Brash: climate clueless™ to the core”

  1. RWP – tick! MWP – tick! Frozen Thames – tick! Grapes in the UK – tick! Humans not to blame – tick! Warming not-so-bad – tick! CO2 is plant food – tick! Any fix will cost $trillions – tick!


  2. As the farmers will be among the first to suffer with increasing wacky weather, they should have been waiting with feather pillows and a tar-pot. Ask them up in Northland.

  3. Don Brash gets all his ideas from the Republicans which consists of, lock up all the undesirables, reduce taxes for the rich, let businesses exploit the resources and the workers and somehow we will all benefit.
    Farmers like him because he is against a carbon tax and here we have a problem. The idea of the carbon tax is that it is only an interim measure before we stop burning coal altogether. It is not meant as a tax where we pay it and keep going with CO2 emissions.
    We are not going to stop growing food so why are we taxing farmers.
    They can improve their methods but a tax is not the answer. We need a better deal to get them onside.

  4. The concluding comments in this post link back with how you finished the last Climate Show. Both you and Glen somewhat uncomfortably addressed the issue of your own overseas travel.

    Glen used a variant of Brash’s argument, that the air travel component of CO2 emissions is minor and therefore it’s ok to fly/ NZ’s emissions are trivial on a global scale and any unilateral action is pointless.

    Unless we start walking the talk, fence-sitters will only see the hypocrisy of our message and the lack of substance to any moral arguments.

    On the other hand, I’ve recently read in a photography blog that there has never been a better time to travel the world, because it won’t be the same for much longer.

  5. The stop flying argument is a tough one. It requests individual restraint from executing one of the most cherished expressions of modern individual freedom: The right to travel the planet.
    I am unsure if the appeal to individual restraint is going to work. Those who stay home are simply taking pressure of the rest. In the end it is not clear if any CO2 will be saved this way.
    Policy incentives like annual CO2 budget allowances etc. might be better. It would affect all and not just those willing to make personal sacrifices. The same argument holds for international climate treaties. If we allow some nations to do nothing and in the short term out-compete those who invest in a better future then we defeat the issue.

    1. Interestingly, IIRC (and sorry if I’ve got this garbled) Eli Rabett has touched on this one a bit, and seemed to be expressing ideas that I could sympathise with.

      The reasoning runs as follows –

      I have made rather a large number of sacrifices in my life in order to do the right thing by the environment. All around me are people who have no intention of making any sacrifices whatsoever; in fact, they loudly proclaim selfish irresponsibility as their birthright. At a certain point I feel fully entitled to say that further sacrifices on my part are masochistic, and achieve nothing except making me unhappy, especially since they merely liberate resources for others to squander. If the rest start to move, I’ll move with them, but currently I’ve drawn the line here.

      Now, in my own life I spent a decade taking a long 2 train commute to get to work where every trip in the morning was horribly stressful due to having to make a connection that failed roughly 25% of the time and added a further half-an-hour to an already long day in the process. I’d routinely get stopped in the station yard 300m out and get to sit there watching my connecting train roll out and past me…

      Despite this I spent some time trying to lobby for other staff members to use the train and this to become an organisational goal – we’re a 6-7 minute walk from a station – and for us all then to lobby collectively for the local station to be reassigned from its current minor status in order that we’d be able to more than double the number of trains stopping at it, thereby making it easier for everyone and taking a hell of a lot of stress out of my commute.

      The result – zip. In a local-government office with about 150 staff the number of rail commuters remained squarely pegged at about half-a-dozen, and despite lots of environmentally-friendly rhetoric in reality the car park remained full of hulking SUVs. (As an interesting – and indicative – aside, the office building in question, when originally constructed, made no provision for pedestrian access. Seriously: none. We had an entrance driveway – that was it! A ‘pedestrian’ is a person passing between a building and a car park, apparently!)

      So, when eventually my partner got a job based out in a suburb in the same direction as my workplace and simply couldn’t afford the commuting time in order to get back in time to run her small-business in the evening we started sharing the drive to work, reducing travel time daily to 1 hour as opposed to 2 1/2 hours for each of us.

      And so it has remained.

      However, that, of course, is getting to work!

      Now, I’ve touched on this before, but I grow and distribute at least 20 000 local-native tubestock plants a year, which by some calculations entitles me to all sorts of things – probably spending the rest of my life in the air, for example!

      But I’m not convinced by this calculus, not least because any oil I’m burning in my car came from the oceans yonks ago and has been buried underground ever since, while any plants I’m responsible for are only fractionally making up for the terrible vegetation carbon-storage deficit created by white settlement, easily visible on any satellite photo of my home state. I fail to see how my planting activities – or anybody else’s, for that matter, can really ‘offset’ the fossil-fuel carbon cycle – let alone how adding a few paltry $ to the cost of an air-ticket can really achieve much of anything, except a fairly queasy ‘peace of mind’!

      But hell, I’ve got long-service leave coming up, and despite the commuter tale above I’ve been waaaaay more responsible than my neighbours… And every self-proclaimed ‘Greenie’ I know flies to Europe at least once every two years…

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