Finding better words

ClimatechallengeA sidelight to Gareth’s post about the 4ºC map launched in London last week is the strength of the language used at the event by the Miliband brothers — foreign secretary David (left) and climate change secretary Ed. The Times reported that David Miliband accused the public of lacking a sense of urgency in the face of the potentially devastating consequences of climate change. People have grown apathetic, he said, when they needed to be galvanised into action before Copenhagen.

“For a lot of people the penny hasn’t dropped that this climate change challenge is real and is happening now. There isn’t yet that feeling of urgency and drive and animation about the Copenhagen conference.”

His brother Ed chimed in to point out that only 18 percent of people believed that climate change would affect their children, and defended the government’s hard-hitting advertising campaign on the dangers ahead. He also spoke of a positive vision of a low-carbon future.

The Milibands are not alone in offering a robust message to the British public.  Gordon Brown speaks unequivocally of the threat and has undertaken to go to Copenhagen.

There ought to be nothing remarkable about this, other than the fact that it has been so long in coming. It’s straightforward, down to earth political leadership which we have a right to expect in a modern democratic state where scientific literacy is fundamental. But it looks remarkable from a New Zealand perspective because we are hearing next to nothing by way of urgent statement from our own government on the issue. Certainly no clarion calls.

I’ve scrolled through the record of ministerial releases and speeches which bear on the issue, and have nowhere found anything resembling a wake-up call to the New Zealand public. Nick Smith sometimes gives the impression that he is aware of the threat, but most of what he has to say is about the difficulties of facing it. I commented on his May address to a climate change conference here, and it is difficult to see much change since then. The most recent statement I could find was his address to the Bluegreens Forum, entitled Goodbye Nanny State; Hello Green Economy which, after detailing few government initiatives, concluded with the reassuring government mantra of a “balanced approach”.

Not much help from Gerry Brownlee. One of the first things he did was to remove the ban on new thermal baseload electricity generation.

“The Government wants investment in new electricity generation to occur on the basis of sound economics, rather than through ruling out particular options on the basis of ideology.”

Admittedly since he has duly welcomed advances in renewable energy deployment and claimed much credit for the home insulation scheme, but one looks in vain for any indication in his speeches that these are matters of urgency. 

Tim Groser is also a letdown when it comes to stressing urgency.  On his departure for pre-Copenhagen talks in New York last month he had this to say:

“New Zealanders will want to know that the deal is fair and the efforts they are called upon to make will lead to a safer future.”

His ministers give the Prime Minister an easy ride. However on the international stage when addressing the UN in September he sounded briefly exciting:

“Distinguished representatives, the major focus of the General Assembly this year must be the challenge of climate change. 

“Climate change demands innovation and a global response.  The world cannot afford to contemplate failure at Copenhagen.  Political leadership is needed, and it is on display.”

But it was downhill from there, and the balance theme duly emerged:

“All countries must take action that reflects our individual circumstances, responsibilities and capabilities.

“For our part, New Zealand is committed to securing a durable and meaningful agreement on climate change. An agreement that is both environmentally effective and economically efficient.”

I’ve not heard anything from John Key inside the country that comes anywhere near his opening words on the topic at the UN. But there’s been plenty on the need for a balanced approach. With tepid statements from the political leadership the New Zealand public can perhaps be forgiven for thinking there’s not too much at stake.  And it leaves plenty of unoccupied space for the lobbies urgently pursuing shortsighted financial interests.

Another contrast has shown up today. President Obama has just given a major speech on clean energy at the MIT.  No quarter there for those who want to slow things down: 

“There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy — when it’s the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs. There are going to be those who cynically claim — make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary.

And no helplessness in the face of how difficult it all is:

“But understand there’s also another myth that we have to dispel, and this one is far more dangerous because we’re all somewhat complicit in it. It’s far more dangerous than any attack made by those who wish to stand in the way of progress — and that’s the idea that there is nothing or little that we can do. It’s pessimism. It’s the pessimistic notion that our politics are too broken and our people too unwilling to make hard choices for us to actually deal with this energy issue that we’re facing…

 “I reject that argument. I reject it because of what I’ve seen here at MIT. Because of what I have seen across America. Because of what we know we are capable of achieving when called upon to achieve it.”

It looks as if New Zealanders won’t know what they are capable of achieving because they won’t be called upon to achieve it by those best placed to issue the call. I realise this post is about words rather than deeds, and that rhetoric alone won’t save us. But without some political rhetoric I see little chance of effective actions.

24 thoughts on “Finding better words”

  1. The “climate change challenge is real and is happening now”. Yes indeed. He got that right. But that’s because climate has always changed and always will so he’s not saying anything new.

    The question is, in which direction? Cooler? Warmer? Like all alarmists these days, he’s got a dollar each way so he can’t lose. A clever expedient in the interests of saving face for the inevitable collapse of the manmade global warming scam/myth.

    As for the very amusing Stern who thinks eating veges instead of meat will somehow “save the planet”… good grief where does one start with THAT one? Is he a vegetarian himself?? Or is he like Gore: ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and he tucks into a big juicy steak? This gets funnier and funnier with each passing day! Now here’s an idea: you guys should join a comedy troupe with Stern, Hansen and Gore and go around entertaining us with your climate wit. Maybe you already have and I’ve been mistakenly taking you all seriously when it’s just been a big silly joke all along.

  2. AGW-Denier No, I’m in deadly earnest. I think climate change is for real, and I’m profoundly alarmed by it. Please line me up with Stern, Hansen and Gore and a great many others and have your laugh.

  3. R2D2 and AGWD, it’s not like we actually WANT to be right about climate change. But we have to face up to what the evidence is telling us. You have to be a special kind of moron not to be taking it seriously.

  4. R2-AGWD, don’t you have anything better to do with your lives than troll for comments by revealing your ignorance?

    Is that the only recognition you can get these days?

    How sad…

  5. Bryan Walker says “No, I’m in deadly earnest. I think climate change is for real, and I’m profoundly alarmed by it. Please line me up with Stern, Hansen and Gore and a great many others and have your laugh.”

    Ok. Henceforth I shall associate you with those alarmist nutters. They think the sky is about to fall on their heads because of a few THOUSANDTHS of a percent change in a naturally-occuring atmospheric gas that is actually essential to life on earth! Good one! And you’re “profoundly alarmed by it”. You poor lad. You need to get out more and enjoy the balmy weather we’re having due to manmade globull warming. I can’t wait for more warmth! Oh right, sorry I’m wrong… there IS no balmy weather because it’s actually been really cold. Have you noticed that? It’s actually darn cold! Forget warm. It ain’t happenin.

    So global warming where exactly??

  6. Carol Stewart: “it’s not like we actually WANT to be right about climate change”.

    Eh?? Why ever not? I certainly wish you WERE right! Sadly you’re not. I far prefer a warm earth to a cold one. Don’t you? Or are you a sucker for punishment and enjoy the discomfort of cold icy days and nights, trying to heat your home? Warm is far better. You need to totally get over the CO2 myth. It’s messing with your head. I mean hey I’d be the first to wish that our measly invisible CO2 emissions were somehow heating the planet, but unfortunately they aren’t.

    But in any case I think you’re desperate to be right, but for a very different reason: AGW is your religion. It’s a matter of faith. And to have your religion threatened encourages a hostile and volatile reaction. Hence the term “denier”, a subtle reference to Holocaust “denial” and akin to the term “heretic”. Nevertheless, I’m proud to call myself an ANTHROPOGENIC-global-warming-denier because the “anthropogenic” bit is complete and utter tosh.

      1. He/she/it doesn’t need science. He/she/it has decided that it is not so, and no science in the world will ever convince him/her/it. Scientists are all just liars anyway.

  7. “I far prefer a warm earth to a cold one. Don’t you?”
    Australians are just waking up to the fact that a warm earth may mean the loss of their beloved coastline. Maybe they won’t like you so much when the storms wash their Gold Coast apartments into the sea.

    1. Right…. that amazing 2mm per year rise thats been happening for the last 14000 years is pretty scary stuff. Or do you have evidence of acceleration you would like to share?

      1. Arguing from ignorance again, R2? Over the last 14,000 years the rise has been about 110 metres – a little under 8 mm a year. If SLR returns to the long term average, that would be 80cm this century…

      2. “Right…. that amazing 2mm per year rise thats been happening for the last 14000 years is pretty scary stuff. Or do you have evidence of acceleration you would like to share?” – R2D2

        Bah, too easy:


        “Here, we extend the reconstruction of global mean sea level back to 1870 and find a sea-level rise from January 1870 to December 2004 of 195 mm, a 20th century rate of sea-level rise of 1.7 ± 0.3 mm yr−1 and a SIGNIFICANT ACCELERATION OF SEA LEVEL RISE of 0.013 ± 0.006 mm yr−2. This acceleration is an important confirmation of climate change simulations which show an acceleration not previously observed. If this acceleration remained constant then the 1990 to 2100 rise would range from 280 to 340 mm, consistent with projections in the IPCC TAR.”


        “A reconstruction of global sea level since 1700 has
        been made. Results from the analysis of a 300 year long
        global sea level using two different methods PROVIDE EVIDENCE THAT GLOBAL SEA LEVEL ACCELERATION UP TO THE PRESENT has been about 0.01 mm/yr and appears to have started at the end of the 18th century. The time variable trend in 300 years of global sea level suggests that there are periods of slow and fast sea level rise associated with decadal variability, which has been previously reported by several authors [Douglas, 1992; Woodworth, 1990; Church and White,


        (last 2 links courtesy of AGW Observer)

        More looney tunes from R2.

  8. To the contrary AGW-D, it’s a matter of faith is when you don’t have the science on your side. When you’re relying on grand conspiracy or corruption instead of aceepting the ongoing consistent results from painstaking but rigorous scientific method, well, that’s far closer to religion.

  9. Not that we didn’t already suspect it but AGWD goes ahead and proves himself to be just what Carol said he would have to be.

    Would it help you AG’ if our CO2 emissions were visible?

    And the “denier” label is not a reference to anything, it is just what it is. For you to raise a possible association is just a smokescreen.

  10. AndrewH: “Would it help you AG’ if our CO2 emissions were visible?”

    They already are.

    Here’s a useful analogy to give some perspective: if the atmosphere were a 100-storey building, mankind’s CO2 emissions would be the thickness of linoleum on the first floor! That’s not a lot.

    So yes, essentially invisible.

    Seriously you guys totally need to get over CO2. It’s sensational stuff. The more the merrier I say! But hey don’t worry because as these things go, in a few years everyone will be wanting to pump it into the air in huge amounts to help the plants grow because it’s too cold!

    1. Okay, would you like to breathe some CO2 from this fire extinguisher I have here? If it’s sensational stuff, it should be really good for you. right? Non-toxic and all that. Go on, try some. Pleeease!

      1. Yeah, or let me add just a very small amount of arsenic to your food. Hey, it’ll only be 0.1% of the meal. If you die immediately afterwards, you can’t blame the arsenic, as it was just a very very small percentage…….
        Standard denier lack of logic again I’m afraid……..

  11. R2 & AGWD – ignorant morons. Let’s see how many of you will own up to your stupid, ignorant rants a few more years down the track. Public outrage will ensure that quite a lot of your soulmates will be running for cover. You have my contempt.

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