Morality, government and fossil fools (Bryan’s back!)

I signed off regular writing for Hot Topic some months ago. But failing eyesight doesn’t mean failing concern, and my anger at the way our government heedlessly pursues the expansion of fossil fuel exploration led me recently to reflect I could still see sufficiently to write letters to editors. Publication of a letter by the NZ Herald emboldened me to try something for the dialogue page. It wasn’t accepted, on the reasonable  ground that they were about to publish an article by Jim Salinger which they described as along the same lines.

However I thought Hot Topic readers might be interested in my attempt to attack the government on moral grounds. I acknowledge that politics and morality make uneasy bedfellows, and that moral absolutism is hardly a suitable tool for political effectiveness. Nevertheless sometimes issues arise where shades of grey can legitimately be challenged by something closer to black and white, and that transition is certainly much earlier along the path of fossil fuel exploitation than our government (and many other governments) is currently inclined to allow.

The moral appeal is strongly made by many who write and speak on the climate issue. Al Gore sounds it regularly. Among the many books I have reviewed on Hot Topic I recall being struck by what William Calvin’s book Treating a Fever had to say on the question, as I summarised in the review:

“He also pins hope on religious leaders coming to see that climate change is a serious failure of stewardship and our present use of fossil fuel is a deeply immoral imposition on other people and unborn generations. Their arguments will trump the objections of the vested interests, just as they did when slavery was ended in the 19th century.”

Whether there’s any hope of an onslaught by religious leaders in church-going US, or for that matter in less religion-oriented NZ, is hardly yet clear, but the appeal to morality can be sounded just as well by those of no religion, and is worth making if we set any value on the finer human traits.

Here’s the piece I submitted to the Herald. Hot Topic readers will understand that it was written for a general public audience.

The relationship between morality and government is rarely easy to affirm, but if ever there was a clear moral imperative for government it is to mitigate climate change. Human suffering on giant scales is threatened as the predictions of climate science begin to prove correct in reality. Economist Lord Nicholas Stern, head of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change, warned recently of the massive movements of people likely to be triggered by the temperature rises our current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory will cause. He foresees hundreds of millions of people forced to leave their homelands because of disrupted weather patterns and spreading deserts, resulting in serious and prolonged armed conflict.

Emissions continue to rise. This month the global concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has reached 400 parts per million, another milestone on the path to catastrophic consequences for humanity. According to paleoclimate research the last time this level of carbon dioxide was reached was some four million years ago, in the Pliocene epoch. Global temperatures rose perhaps four degrees higher than today, as much as 10 degrees higher at the poles. Sea level may have been 20 or more metres higher than today.  It’s a frightening legacy we are preparing for coming generations. For that matter there is plenty to be alarmed at already, in the intensification of severe weather events, the increasing acidification of the ocean, the diminishing volume of global ice, the rising sea level and many other manifestations of warming.

In the light of what we now understand of the consequences of climate change it is the clear duty of governments to lend their weight to a rapid transition from fossil fuel reliance to energy sources which do not emit greenhouse gases. That is why the present government’s intent to gain wealth for New Zealand by expanding the search for fossil fuels is ethically indefensible. According to Climate Change Minister Tim Groser the government has no dispute with the science. The Prime Minister acknowledges that changes are already occurring, sooner than might have been hoped. Yet somehow that does not mean the government is prepared to forgo what it sees as the possibility of considerable wealth from expanded fossil fuel exploration and exploitation.

Indeed it embraces the possibility with enthusiasm. The Prime Minister unashamedly appeals to consumer desire. He speaks of a possible $13 billion annually from royalties, assisting our “desire to spend like other first world countries”. When challenged, government refers to the way other nations are acting and proudly affirms that it will not allow the New Zealand economy to suffer by comparison. In an interview early in his premiership Key acknowledged that it would be irresponsible of us not to play our part when it comes to climate change but in the same breath asserted we should also not be prepared to “completely sacrifice our economy” in the name of climate change when other countries are just not prepared to do that.

It’s a convenient cop-out. It begs the question of whether there are other ways of running a successful economy than by exploiting fossil fuels. And once that question is by-passed it’s easy to accuse others of naiveté and of promoting economic ruin. Justifying immoral practice in the name of the economy has a long history. Slavery abolitionists in Britain and the US had to struggle for many decades against the accusation that what they were advocating would be disastrous for commerce and national wealth. It wasn’t, of course. Neither will turning our backs on further expansion of our oil, gas and coal resources spell disaster for the New Zealand economy.

The government needs to see its commitment to expanding fossil fuel exploration against the perspective of what a rapidly warming world is threatening for some current populations and all future populations. There are some ways of making money which offend human morality so deeply that decent societies cannot allow them.

36 thoughts on “Morality, government and fossil fools (Bryan’s back!)”

  1. We have to keep hammering away at the fact that if we are to avoid climate calamity, 75% or more of the fossil carbon HAS to stay in the ground. Whatever profits may be made, taxes & royalties gathered or jobs created, deduct at least 75% from the predictions. Suddenly feasible projects are going to look very dodgy, if not total non-starters.

  2. Thanks Brian! Well done.

    I cannot help but wonder though whether ‘our’ position might be viewed as somewhat hypocritical by oil producers, coal extractors and governments.

    With the slavery issue, I suspect that it would be a rare abolitionist who thumped the table and decried the sins of slavery while at home his spare boots were being cleaned by another man in chains.

    Yet many of ‘us’ protest about the sin of seething CO2, of the despoiling of Denniston, the taking of tar sands and the environmental outcomes of big oil; yet the monthly fossil fuel sales of New Zealand and the world show that the ‘you and I’s’ of the world are continuing to use and demand more and more of these products.

    Now certainly rising global population may be overwhelming lowering individual use, but we can hardly blame the fossil fuel producers for emissions when it is the ‘you’s and I’s’ of the world who are clamouring at their gates like drug addicts on the edge of withdrawal with fists full of dollar bills demanding more of what they have to offer at practically any cost.

    You declare this to be a moral issue; it is. But our soap box collapses beneath us if we cannot show that we, you and I personally, individually have reduced our DEMAND for these harmful fuels to the level that would, if adopted by every man and woman on the planet, lead to a prompt halt in the rise in CO2 levels.

    If we can do that then demand for these fuels would collapse, the price would fall, the exploitation of expensive resources would become uneconomic, and Deep Oil, Lousy Lignite, Silly Salt, Terrible Tar and Disastrous Denniston would simply not happen.

    We cannot blame the oil men for making a buck out of our greed and folly; we should look first to ourselves to reduce demand for these poisonous potions, and thus ensure we have a solid moral ground upon which to preach.

    I have started to keep a record of my household energy use so that I can develop a simple measure of my own footprint. When that footprint is down to the size of a soap box, then and only then will I get up on that said box and begin to preach. I have a way to go.

    Nigel Williams

    1. Nigel, wile applauding all personal efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint, and having made modest attempts myself with some success, I see no hope of any substantial switch away from a fossil fuel economy without government direction. The oil men have to be warned their industry is coming to an end before they have finished finding and extracting the oil and gas. Carbon taxes or cap and trade systems have to be applied rigorously. Renewable energy has to receive the kind of assistance at present given to fossil fuels. And so on. Only governments can do this, just as only givernments could abolish slavery. The morality involved is public.

  3. Thank you Bryan for another excellent piece of writing. Nigel, personal lifestyle changes to reduce your carbon footprint are a step in the right direction, but our entire way of life needs to be zero carbon ASAP. That means radical local, national and international changes to how we power our civilisation. We as citizens must insist on such things as electrified public transport. We have to keep on telling the media and politicians why this is essential. I will not accept that I have to exit the system to have any credibility when commenting on the system. The denialists attack Green MPs for flying. Until they can engage in Parliamentary debate and select committees by Skype, or similar technology, how can the Greens do their jobs without flying? Those who were against slavery had alternative options available to them, we don’t have the option of stepping into a zero carbon society because we haven’t built it yet. So please take your soapbox out there (by car if that’s the only way) and help make sure that EVERYONE knows whats at stake here.

  4. Right, first some basics; how am I doing?

    Gives my monthly CO2 emission allowance as 141.7 kg CO2 per month.
    Petrol has 2.39 kg CO2 per litre and diesel has 2.64 kg CO2 per litre.
    NZ electricity has a carbon content of 0.7 kg CO2 per kWh.

    Average over the last 6 months for our one-car two-person household: zero petrol, 86 litres of diesel and 495 kWh per month which (do the math) gives 286.8 kg of CO2 per person per month. This is 202 percent of the allowed target of 141.7 kg.

    As I say, I have a way to go, but we’re working on it and confident we will get there in the next 12 months. This is the first time I’ve done this sum, having started gathering the data a few months ago. Interestingly my emissions from electricity use (173.3kg) are quite a bit higher than from my fuel use (113.5 kg).

    So a reduction across my energy sources to about 50 percent of my present use is required before I can get up on my soap box. New Zealand’s electricity generation has about 34 percent generated using fossil fuels, so achieving a higher renewable mix would be handy. And my car is pretty efficient 5 to 6 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres) so I can only drive less to move that side of the equation.

    Now, regarding the involvement of ‘government’, I hear you say: “ I see no hope of any substantial switch away from a fossil fuel economy without government direction.”

    I agree, but I would be very surprised in Mr Key was prepared to risk going to the polls asking us to reduce our use of bad energy and pay more for good energy supplies without a significant proportion of the electorate already being committed to a lifestyle that fits with the new energy future. Otherwise some other lot will get in with promises of less hurtful measures and around we go again.

    Of course the switch away from a fossil fuel economy will happen whether we like it or not – as Fatith Birol has said – “We must move away from oil before oil moves away from us.” But unfortunately by then we will have trashed the climate. Utterly.

    My point is that governments rise and fall on their popularity. Get out of step with public opinion and you get a three year all expenses paid holiday with international travel thrown in (not bad really), probably longer. But whatever good ideas you had will stall until you get someone back in the treasury benches.

    Thus a swing to more renewables (following Germany’s remarkable Energy revolution) could be encouraged by government, but only if it can convince West Coast coal miners and their brothers that it is in their best interest to reduce their own energy use and drop their picks and ask for government money to set up a solar panel printing plant in Westport. The plant’s mission statement would be to operate on renewable hydro and self-produced PV and to make first the West Coast then the rest of NZ’s electricity production 100 percent renewable as soon as possible Not impossible, but maybe a bit much for some too grasp as an employment opportunity.

    But savings in energy are the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce emissions. Indeed the EROI of PV is not that flash. So we have to be careful that we are wishing for what we really want. Do we want all our energy to be from ‘renewables’ with poor EROI, or should or focus be on reductions in energy use by changes at the demand end of the equation?

    Now, what lights can I turn off…?

    1. How about a PV cell and panel plant in Invercargill, making use of all the hydro power we will have available when the old AL smelter closes? Perhaps a modicum of AL profile extrusion production could remain to make the frames for the panels etc.?
      Now that would be a project that would put a big and winning smile on Tim Shadbold in the media!

  5. Thanks Bryan and welcome back. By not disputing the science, but ignoring the consequences, the government is revealing the latest denialist tactic: do not engage the argument, agree and ignore and carry on as before. Just pretend that our policies are a fair balance, a trade-off, perfectly reasonable…

    Call it cognitive dissonance, call it hypocrisy, call it straight out lying, it is a moral outrage, Bryan, you are right. It makes me feel morally sick to see the way National is pathetically eager to hand over our hard fought for conservation estate to this rogue industry.

  6. Interesting calculations, Nigwil. I suspect we’re going to be pissing into the wind until Our Glorious Leaders up at Fort Fumble bite the bullet and start applying pressure to get car size/weight/speeds down, but with a target of 10% of what we take for granted, that would require a maximum engine size of 250cc and speed limits of 30-50kph. I’d be happy driving a 250cc 4-seater but you can’t buy anything that small, it would be a nightmare jostling with SUVs and the thought of driving to Dunedin at 50kph would go down like a brick balloon for most folk. But that would have been an unbelievable luxury for most of human history.
    It ain’t gonna happen until climate calamities start piling up and We The People hold guns to their heads. (metaphorically of course, in case that comment has triggered a Homeland Security alert)

    1. Thanks Kiwiiano! As a traffic engineer/planner I could not agree more with your comments re cars. My personal hobbyhorse is that every fossil powered vehicle (which probably includes me on a bike doesn’t it!) should be fitted with an adaptive speed regulator that picks up the speed signs on GPS (as my Navman does). The speed limit in town would be set to 30kph and in the country to 60kph. That instantly saves enforcement effort and fuel, reduces emissions and eliminates most serious injuries and pretty well all fatalities. Police would have the ability to simply stop all cars in an area by switching the prevailing speed setting thus eliminating the motorcar as a getaway choice.

      All it needs is a black box of electronics to pick up the GPS speed setting and a grey box to interrupt the car’s accelerator and brake lines to actively limit speed by moderating accelerator inputs and applying the brakes as needed.

      A nice industry; these could be on every vehicle in the nation in a two years fitted as part of the WOF cycle.

      THEN you have an urban travelling environment where the cars travel at the same speed as cyclists do, and simple battery powered vehicles like golf carts are fully compatible with the fossil fueled fleets vehicle performance and low speed safety requirements.

      Solves a lot, but then dreams are free too!

      In the mean time we see already that the economy and oil price are punching each other senseless, and eventually in a series of increasingly miserable slumps it will all unravel. We won’t be able to afford oil at the marginal price of production, and all the cheaper oil will have been pumped or corralled by ChIndia and we in the antipodes will be the last bunch any oil supplies will come to.

      Watching with interest, while vigorously making other arrangements.

  7. BTW a good summary of the German Energy revolution is in New Scientist this week. It quells some of the mythology often put forward by the fossil fuel brigade. Especially note worthy are the facts that: Despite already having turned off about 1/2 of their nuclear power plants, Germany remains a net electricity exporter, even assisted France with electricity demands in post Fukushima nuclear troubles there, while at the same time having reduced their CO2 emissions to over 25% below 1990 levels and more than required by Kyoto. Very impressive indeed. And that in a country where the wind resources are not as good as in NZ and the sunshine hours not necessarily superb either. Another myth, that Germans subsidize their green energy too much with feed in tariffs is also dispelled. It costs the average German 5 Euro monthly extra, hardly a huge price for what is achieved and for the technology leadership they were able to develop though the smart decisions they took over the past decades.
    Key and co would be well advised to learn from the German example. Drill-Baby-Drill and Coal-Digging are yesterdays bad energy bets not be repeated. The green energy future will advance exponentially. Those who bet against it will go the way of Solid Energy. Why throw good money after the bad and why do dirty deals with foreign energy interests against the interests of our national and global future.
    Time for Key and co to go and leave the stage to the minds that have grasped the potential and the imperative of the energy revolution.

    1. “Why throw good money after the bad..?”
      precisely what I said on contemplating the consequences of forgetting to screw on the radiator cap properly 🙂

      1. That’s why I threw everything attached to the same (radiator cap) out of the front of my Toyota Starlet. The heavy bit went to a stock car racer in the end. Now I got a charging plug where once the filler cap was too… cool riding’s… 🙂

    2. Before you get too excited about the German Energiewende, consider that nuclear France is averaging about 80 grams of CO2 for every kilowatt hour they produce. Germany, after twenty years of serious funding of solar and wind, averages about 450 gCO2/kwhr, more than five times as much. France only took twenty years to go from a few percent nuclear to about 75%, eliminating coal use in the process. This shows in the figures for CO2 production per capita ( from 2011 )- France 6.2 tonnes, Germany 9.6, more than 50% worse. The same trend shows in Germany’s nuclear and nuclear-free neighbours. Austria and Denmark ( both nuclear free by law ) respectively 8.1 and 8.4 tonnes of carbon per head. Switzerland and Sweden, both with nearly half their electricity from nuclear power, each had only 5.4 tonnes per capita.( New Zealand, despite so much hydro, wind and geothermal, was nearly as bad as its fellow nucleophobes at 7.8 tonnes per capita.)

  8. To build a zero carbon society we need an electrified rail network, trolley buses, cable cars and trams, electric or biofueled minibuses and delivery trucks, cycleways and bike share schemes. I would have thought a traffic engineer/planner might be aware of such things instead of focusing only on personal transport and personal carbon footprint. In your first comment Nigel, you worry that oil companies, coal extractors and governments might call us hypocrites, I personally don’t care if they do. THEY ARE THE ONES MAKING MONEY DOING SOMETHING IMMORAL! Your suggestion that only those with a tiny carbon footprint should speak out on climate change makes me wonder what side you are on. As kiwiano said at the beginning, we have to keep hammering away at the fact that 75% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground. By all means work on reducing your personal carbon footprint in this fossil fueled society, but we have to change to a zero carbon society and that isn’t going to happen if we all stay quiet. For a positive suggestion, how about we all contact the candidates in the local body elections, find out what they will do to help make non fossil fuel powered public transport available in our communities.

    1. THEY ARE THE ONES MAKING MONEY DOING SOMETHING IMMORAL! no! We are the ones who force our money on them. We are the ones who burn the oil and coal. Not them; they don’t care what we do with it once we have paid for it and taken it away; we are bound to come back soon for more.

      So (as you would have it):- We are the ones doing something immoral.

      I’m as anti big-oil as the best, but we as individuals have to take a long hard look at our own behaviour when we try and pin the blame on someone for the climate changing emissions.

      There are, I believe, still some whales in the ocean, yet the demand for whale oil vanished when mineral oil was found and replaced it. There will be oil and coal left in the ground only when the demand for it goes away. My demand, and yours.

      1. Thanks Nigel for bring some rationality to the discssion.

        There may be interesting parallels in the transitions from whale oil to mineral oil to solar (plus other renewables). Whale oil was higher quality for its uses at the time and lower cost than the first mineral oil – petroleum. Whale oil distribution was controlled by a few companies worldwide who would routinely use fluctuations in supply (some war-related) to advantage in terms of pricing. Sound familiar? Mineral oil was able to gain a foothold because it was able to compete in times of whale oil short supply. Eventually, through innovations that lowered production costs and found uses for lower quality oil coupled with its more diverse and secure supplies, mineral oil beat out whale oil.

      2. All you say is true Nigel.. Humans as a species are to blame. Humanity needs to do something about it. However, humans as a species are, like every other animal on the planet, when left to their own devices, ultimately only interested in their own survival. We need incentives and education to change attitudes and behaviour. Old habits die hard. That is the responsibility of leaders to govern and enact laws and regulations to help individuals to moderate their behaviour in the interests of the whole. Individuals can only do so much, but in the face of the majority they swim against the tide.

  9. If we made a start on electrifying our transport it would help reduce our energy bill and our balance of payments. This would benefit the whole economy. Start on the easy stuff like rail and trams and a few electric cars for local transport and soon we could save 10%. Having made a start we could then keep going. It makes short term sense and in the long term oil is going to become expensive and we will always need transport.

  10. Just a note on getting the religious people to recognise climate change. Most of them do recognise what is happening, the problem is with the fundamental Christians, mostly in America. They must believe that God is all powerful and the Bible is a true record of life. Once you accept that humans can alter the climate the whole tenant falls the pieces. They already have big problems with the World being more that 6000 years old and dinosaurs being around before Adam and Eve and to admit that global warming could be induced by man is a step too far.

  11. ‘we are the ones who force our money on them’ – really?! Remember how urban light rail was ripped up in early 20th cent USA? That was not demanded by the public, it was orchestrated to force people to use cars. And so it has gone on until we have a fossil fuel powered civilisation and we are all addicts. Now you blame the fossil fuel addicts and excuse the oil companies who have spent huge money funding climate change denial. We had legislative change to try and reduce smoking rates, advertising and sponsorship bans, smoke free indoor and outdoor areas declared, quit line help and promotion of healthy alternatives. I’m not seeing this type of help for the fossil fuel addicts, instead governments are aiding and abetting the addicts supplier. So I’m calling out your take a ‘long hard look at ourselves’ as big oil supporting crap. We need to build a zero carbon future, we need to do it now, we will need to use some fossil fuels to do it. Your suggestion Nigel, that we should all somehow reduce our fossil fuel use BEFORE advocating for this change, is obstructive.

    1. “Your suggestion Nigel, that we should all somehow reduce our fossil fuel use BEFORE advocating for this change, is obstructive.”
      I beg to differ. What individual people do with their life choices mattes heaps. Look at the Tesla Electric car company to set an example: They choose to develop a high end car which is now outselling BMW and Mercedes top models in the USA. The choice of Elon Musk to push this development is bearing fruit. He is winning hearts and minds and it did not take a revolution of the system to start this trend. Now the electric vehicle movement is on an exponential track. Lower cost vehicles will follow and in the end change will evolve from the bottom up while governments will hopefully make wise choices to foster this and meet the dynamics with favorable policy.
      Never underestimate the influence people have to get things going!

      But I would say of cause, that despite my hope, as a world we are moving obviously way to slowly and – with a still growing CO2 output – the momentum is still overall moving entirely in the wrong direction.

  12. Nick Smith drives an electric car and last week he opened up conservation land for coal mining. Sure, what people do in their personal lives to reduce their carbon footprint is useful and may influence friends and neighbours, but the general public are not going to push for zero carbon energy unless they truly understand how dire the situation is. The oil companies have run a succesful campaign to mislead the electorate over climate change. Now Nigel wants us to feel guilty about fossil fuel use rather than advocate for change. I’m not buying that! Until he stops presenting the oil companies as blameless business people helping us with our addiction, I see him as part of the problem. It is essential that CO2 emissions drop rapidly and expecting that to occur by everyone voluntarily choosing to reduce their carbon footprint in the current set up is naive. We must advocate loudly for zero carbon alternatives, but I’m guessing Nigel won’t be speaking out, he’ll be too busy calculating his latest carbon footprint figures and making excuses for the fossil fuel companies.

    1. Viv K! You are absolutely correct about me – you must be, as you know the twists and turns of my dark demented soul so much more intimately than I!

      And I do want us to feel guilty about our fossil fuel use! Its me n u who have used it! I am sure you are not suggesting Viv that we are entirely helpless victims of the Car and Oil and Steel industries manipulations, but I cannot wash my hands of the oil I have burned, especially in the last 20 years when this issue has been on the table. I have grandsons and I say to them “Sorry boys, but we have broken the weather” while I do what I can to convert guilt into useful action.

      But seriously tho, my current stance on this matter came into being while I was working with a very active group of engineers who were trying to ramp up public and political awareness of this very serious social and moral issue. And I asked myself a simple question; a question that I would expect the Prime Minister to ask of us at our first meeting:

      “What…” he could quite reasonably be expected to inquire “..are you personally doing about emissions, and climate change?”

      And at that point of time (in spite of having been steadily developing the ability to live a lower-carbon lifestyle for the past 10 years, and getting there faster than most) I could only advise the PM that in fact I was fully embedded in the ‘Western Way’ of seemingly inevitable consumption of more than my share of global resources and the emission-related consequences thereof.

      So I promptly left my engineer friends to it (wishing them well), and intensified close-to-home efforts to get nearer to a position that I would call ‘responsible’ in relation to climate change.

      And of course we must advocate for zero carbon alternatives, with the expectation that every such alternative will cost more per kWh than anything we have today. So to balance the books with the more expensive and complex Green Watts we must also reduce the demand with the simplest and cheapest change to our energy profile:- NegaWatts.


  13. I too consider that walking the talk gives more power to the voice. At 74 I’m used already to being regarded as irelevant but I notice that my actions draw the attention of others and give me a basis for communication which gets them thinking about ways and means. Several denialists have even rethought their views. Nor do I miss opportunities to develop the issues that Viv K is on about. There are many roads to the goal and we need to promote the large picture, support those who act on a large basis, as well as do what is in our own power, concurrently.

  14. I like the way Nigel is thinking.

    Actually the revolution in private transport is well underway.

    Like our mayor, I ride an electric cargo bike to work. A 26 km round trip with an 85 litre bag to carry all I need. That’s a $1 a day commute using a standard wall socket, and no parking issues, no warrant, no hassles visiting petrol stations, speed about 25kph. You can do it too for around $1500 and 1 hr to replace the front wheel on your bike with a hub electric one, and wire up the throttle.

    Now, a covered cycleway would be nice – like the skypath currently proposed for Auckland Harbour Bridge. It is fully privately funded by major Auckland based businesses.

    Dunedin is about to spend $4.5 million on bike infrastructure.

    New York is rolling out a bike sharing scheme.

    Its becoming a stampede.

  15. Sadly the only stampede I see is the one to build more roads, open up conservation land for coal mining and invite oil companies to drill off our coasts- have you guys missed all that?

    Dunedin’s increased spending on cycleways is mostly in response to the recent deaths of cyclists. As I write from the deep south this morning there is a bitter southerly wind blowing and snow is forecast, cycling is not a practical option 365 days a year here, trolley buses, cable cars etc are needed.

    I question your claim Nigel that zero carbon transport would be vastly more expensive per km than fossil fuel transport. How would it cost more to move 25 people across town on an electric trolley bus or tram than for those same 25 people to each drive their own car?

    I also don’t understand how you think you have helped your grandsons more by leaving the “very active group of engineers who were trying to ramp up public and political awareness of this very serious social and moral issue”
    Surely you would have done more for their future by continuing to work with this group to increase awareness and try and counter the misinformation put out by those very same oil companies you seem determined not to find culpable.

    Reducing personal carbon footprints while living in a fossil fuelled society is good, but I would argue that we need to change to a non fossil fuel powered society so everyone can do it and that means getting out there and doing something about it, not just sitting at home navel gazing and feeling smug about your personal footprint.

    1. Viv, Roads of Importance to National are indeed a terrible waste of fast-disappearing resources –material, financial and human. The money would be better off not spent at all, or perhaps spent on upgrades to public transport. The trick with spending money on transport (and hence inducing more travel and emissions by the existing population and encouraging development further away from home) is that it skews the signals people get about where to work, shop, live and what schools to send their children too. When cars were rare we operated in a circle defined by how far we were willing to walk or how far the tram or omnibus would take us.

      When people moan about ‘congestion’ (the angina of the road network) then politicians see votes in promising to spend other people’s money to ’solve’ the problem. The solution they implement seldom provides any useful relief and instead promotes more rather than less travel and cranks emissions up another notch.

      And yes the weather is not that flash of cycling, it will certainly be hardening the shelter belt trees I planted on the coast by Te Waewae Bay a few weeks ago. And Tony’s electric bike would have the legs to get me to Riverton and back home, were it not for the high probability that when such enlightened transport really comes into its own then shortly after I disappear over the nearest crest I will probably be relieved of this handy device by some gentlemen of the road who will promptly convert it to their own use. I will no doubt have a few moments of anxiety about the outcome of their discussion about the advisability of leaving witnesses to this reallocation of resources before I dive for safety in a deep ditch!
      I guess my immediate aim on my present path is to survive long enough and well enough to be of any use to my descendants at all. Once I have some confidence in this regard then I may toss the preserving jars out of my soap box and hit the roads again.

      We all reach our ‘Titanic’ moment don’t we. There comes a point when one stops plugging leaks, pumping bilges and trying to draw the captain’s attention to the impending disaster and turn instead to building and manning lifeboats.

      Take care!

  16. Long ago I traveled widely on a dreadfully enervating machine, a 49 cc Honda Cub. During these travels I met a variety of people who each thought to give this youth wise counsel.

    One was a gardener who thought everyone should be a gardener and become better people thereby. She was old, suffering and devoted to beautifying a very small patch of hillside in Wellington.

    Another was an amateur astronomer who glowed with the wonders his telescope revealed. He believed everyone should study the heavens and be inspired thereby.

    Then there was a hospital visitor who very seriously recommended this pursuit.

    Those who helped the poor to improve their homes could not help seeing similar activities as worthwhile pursuits for me.

    Then there was the aspirant and mountaineer who experienced a profound vision while on top of a mountain and subsequently urged everyone to become mountaineers.

    I suppose we are not short of similar stories in climate and environmental contexts. I of course agree with them all about the benefit of what they do. After reflecting on their counsels I took to advising people to tend their own gardens but to be aware of what others do and if they would have their support in what they do, or work with them, do not impugn their motives, criticise them, or make invidious comparisons. Use goodwill and mean it.

    As I frequently do I have deleted a last sentence in this statement.

  17. May I suggest a rethink. Bill Bryson mentions in one of his books that when we open the frig door we flood the kitchen with more light than an entire early Victorian household could muster. From a single low-wattage 230V lamp. Rather than bickering about the respective merits of nuke v’s renewable or what our respective carbon foot-prints might be, contemplate the lifestyle of a typical 16th century merchant or artisan compared to ours today. Like it or not, we are all the product of a century of unprecedented luxury that even Pharaohs or The Sun King could not imagine. Luxury that is totally founded on cheap oil & coal or should I say fossil fuel for which the total invoice has yet to arrive.

    I suspect that aspects of Gareth’s “Aviator” are off the mark. I spend 3 days a week watching the flood of products into Bunning’s Warehouse, Riccarton and am much discomforted by the thought that all this, and the similar torrents flowing into supermarkets are mind-bogglingly fragile. It will take very little financial, political and climate chaos for all the supply chains to crumble.

    Could we make a solar panel, an electric bicycle, a loaf or bread or even a simple pencil entirely without oil? I very much doubt it. Yet going without them will be our future, period! We either voluntarily reduce our demands to under 10% of what we have come to expect or the planet will do it for us.

  18. Got in my first ski runs in four years this morning, and the first ever with no fossil fuels harmed while getting to them. Dunedin hill suburbs: no lift queues, no carbon guilt!

  19. Nigel- while your efforts to bring your own CO2 footprint down to the levels recommended are commendable, the natural carbon sinks that allow us to keep burning stuff are being filled up, and the biggest of them, the ocean, is acidifying as a consequence and shouldn’t be used as it has been. So the target you’re chasing, before you allow yourself to get political, is receding faster than you’re approaching it. To turn our emissions negative, and start making up for the past, will take major political change.
    Kudos for actually measuring your output though, I’ve been too scared to.

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