We must change the way we think about the future, now

Hot Topic’s NZ election 2011 series continues with an excellent piece by Dr George Laking, an Auckland-based medical oncologist. George is a member of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health, a group of senior doctors and other health professionals concerned about the effects of climate change on population health. This article first appeared in the NZ Herald on Nov 17th.

This month the International Energy Agency published its latest World Energy Outlook. It says if high-carbon energy investment continues for more than five years, atmospheric carbon dioxide will unavoidably overshoot 450 parts per million and global warming will exceed 2C. The agency’s chief economist says “I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum. The door will be closed forever .”

The IEA is not a fringe organisation, and it is not alone in accepting the scientific work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The World Bank says “The countries of the world must act now, act together and act differently on climate change.”

Senior officers from the UK Ministry of Defence identify climate change as “an immediate, growing and grave threat” to global health and security. Leading international medical journal The Lancet calls climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. Risks include extreme weather events, loss of food and political security, and increased range of infectious diseases. The World Medical Association has urged doctors to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change.

It has not been easy to get this message across. People have long known fossil fuels to be non-renewable. The surprise is that before they run out, fossil fuels will harm us. Fossil energy is the basis for our way of life. No wonder modern societies find it so hard to give it up.

In New Zealand, the Act Party is at the front of resistance to climate change policy. It is a paradox that Act claims to value rational thinking and hard choices. Act’s denial of climate change has evolved over time. Rodney Hide said it was a hoax. That view still has support in New Zealand, as shown by newspaper letters the day after it snowed in Auckland. Don Brash concedes there is warming but says humans are not the cause. His evasive responses on flooding of atoll nations suggest a view that even if humans were the cause, such effects would be the “price of progress”.

Act’s attitude to climate change marks one of the most anti-scientific phases of our history. The National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research has had to defend legal action filed by Act’s Northland Candidate, Muldoon-era Energy Minister Barry Brill, claiming the New Zealand temperature record is faulty. The record confirms our temperature has risen by about 0.9C over the last century.

During this time, temperature stations have moved from sea-level to hillsides, reflecting coastal urbanisation. Because it is a degree cooler on hillsides than at the coast, the raw data record of temperature seems to show little change. This basic fact has completely fooled ACT. The effect of their legal canard is to further increase doubt about climate change, and further delay action by New Zealand.

It is wrong to think our country’s actions do not matter. The most basic moral rule is “do as you would be done by”. The fact we continue on our high carbon development track shows how far we have moved as a society from the values we claim to espouse.

Earlier this year, several groups wrote to the Prime Minister to seek his personal commitment to address climate change. Writers included senior doctors, business leaders, and lawyers. The letters met with no response. There is no evidence John Key actually read any of this correspondence seeking his personal views. We were told it had been passed on to the Environment Minister.

Climate change is a serious enough issue for the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, the World Medical Association, and the UK Ministry of Defence to urge global action. Surely it is serious enough for our Prime Minister to show some leadership of his own?

Senior members of the National Government will not see that climate change is actually a serious threat. Finance Minister Bill English referred to purchase of low-emission Ministerial cars as a “fad”. Bill English is intent on mining Southland’s lignite and offshore oil prospecting at Raukumara and the Great Southern Basin. These are exactly the practices the IEA is advising against.

The National Party was able to reach and hold its position on high-carbon development because anti-scientific views on climate change went unchecked. Act’s electoral future will be decided in Epsom, one of the wealthiest, most educated electorates. It is home to our most elite schools and a campus of our leading University. Why are Principals and Vice-Chancellors not speaking out against anti-scientific views that threaten our collective future?

Human success has always been based on changing the environment. Now we have reached a limit to change of the natural environment. We must change the way we grow food, the way we travel, and the way we think about the future. And we must make these changes now. New Zealand has until November 26 to wake up to what is happening in the world.

We simply cannot afford another three years of burying our head in the sand. It will help a lot if science is not dragged through the dirt, yet again, in Epsom.

28 thoughts on “We must change the way we think about the future, now”

  1. To underline the current government’s love affair with fossil fuels and disregard for rapid action on climate change, 3 News reported last night that John Key had taken time out of his busy campaign to meet a US oil company exec who is also a climate denier. The conversation was not apparently taped… 😉

  2. The Scoop/TV3 link of Patrick Gower’s news piece on Andarko is worth watching.
    I am glad there is at least some political journalism that is not “flogging the dead horse”. It almost restores my faith in the dark art.
    I expect some rushed constitutionally objectionable special legislation favouring Andarko soon after the election, if National wins.
    Here’s a post “teapot tape” campaign idea for John Key.
    National Untaped: A Vote for National is a Vote for Andarko!

  3. Said Oil boss Jim Hackett from Anadarko, with whom John Key met, spoke his mind on Fox News on the matter of climate change and what a drivel it was….


    and most hilariously on BigThink on why “Climate Change, which is getting warmer, is great as less people freeze to death….” (the full version of the citation in the TV3 blurb…)


    And a lot more here:


  4. “The record confirms our temperature has risen by about 0.9C over the last century. During this time, temperature stations have moved from sea-level to hillsides, reflecting coastal urbanisation. Because it is a degree cooler on hillsides than at the coast, the raw data record of temperature seems to show little change.”

    Really? Is that the real reason the seven stations all moved down by a degree and had to be moved back by Jim Salinger?

    1. Try reading the 341 comments (some of which are intelligent!) on the relevant thread first!. You obviously know nothing about the subject. The writer is a little confused about hillsides – Kelburn is the primary hillside site that is at a higher elevation than earlier Wellington sites, however the 0.9C is correct and has been re-verified several times (and not by Salinger – his was the earliest version). I could give you the name of a scientist who could give you chapter and verse on the matter technically, but I would not be doing him a favour by allowing a well-known troller a chance to waste his valuable time! If you can do nothing more than parrot the drivel spouted by Treadgold, you should fall silent.

        1. This part as quoted needs correction: “During this time, temperature stations have moved from sea-level to hillsides, reflecting coastal urbanisation”. Of the 7 stations used in both the original series and in subsequent updates, only one (Wellington) has had a move from a coastal or sea level site to significantly higher ground – Kelburn is at about 126m ASL, whereas the Thorndon site was near sea level (12m ASL from memory). On the other hand, the Auckland composite is derived from the relatively warm Albert Park CBD site earlier on, and Auckland Aero later.

          A detailed report is here:


          1. Thanks RW for the link. My paragraph could be reworded but I don’t agree it “needs correction”. There exists a phenomenon of stations moving from sealevel to hillsides. In the Seven Station series, this is seen at Wellington. I don’t say it’s the only or even the main thing Treadgold et al overlooked. Having grown up in Wellington, to me it’s cognitively apparent how it would affect the series.
            Anyhow, NIWA make the point more elegantly than I, on page 7 of their report: “… most early sites in New Zealand were in warmer locations than current sites … This finding … is likely a consquence of early settlers siting their settlements in the ‘best’ (i.e., warmest) local micro-climate.” In future writings I’ll probably follow their lead.

            1. Of course your paragraph needs correction, George! It claims that ACT was completely fooled by one basic fact – recorded temperatures were altitude driven, and caused by the uphill migration of the seven stations.

              Now, that’s simply untrue. Six out of seven stations had nothing to do with altitude changes or the entire story you made up about about progressive coastal urbanisation.

              “There exists a phenomenon of stations moving” upwards, downwards and sideways.

              You should obviously offer a correction to your op-ed, which otherwise stands as a permanently misleading account of NIWA’s work.

            2. Act were completely fooled – by Treadgold’s incompetent “analysis”. It is a long established practice in climate science that composite series must take account of station changes, because of micro-climate variations between sites. Colder temperatures at higher stations, due to adiabatic lapse rate, are one example of the kind of correction that needs to be made.

              Treadgold blithely ignored scientific best practice, and simply stitched together different station records. The results fitted his ideological preconceptions, so he declared fraud. The results also fitted Act’s ideology, so they uncritically accepted what Treadgold said. This is a clear breach of their parliamentary duty to follow responsible scientific advice – they chose instead to follow the ramblings of a scientifically illiterate fool.

            3. Yes, I should have said “amplification”. I just wanted to make sure that the Treadgold troll family would not try to seize on altitude as a major focal point for their spraying efforts, given that Australis had already narrowed the focus to that exclusively. In the original 341-part saga, a lot of attention was given to the Wellington record – and a lot of absolute nonsense was inevitably written. One latter-day self-styled expert even wanted to change the sign of the correction!

              Apologies if the previous comment gave anyone the wrong impression.

          2. Thanks for supportive comment, CTG. I feel I could have phrased that particular paragraph better, but I don’t thank RW for using the word “correction”.  Welcome to the sometimes bruising world of climate record defence, I suppose.
            If you want to have a go at what I wrote, Australis, then point out that there are other factors at play than just upward relocation. The trouble is that these work in the same direction to confirm the main effect. NZ temperatures have risen by about 0.9C over the last century.

  5. Thanks Hot Topic for letting me repost this. One of the things I picked up from hostile comment is a prevalent belief that the political failures somehow negate the science, i.e. “we fixed it so there would be no deal at Copenhagen, therefore your science must be wrong.” Another observation is that any timescale beyond a decade seems invisible to common sense. That’s why Creationism has such a hold. People fail to perceive slow-moving events.

  6. Australis, you are trolling in the wrong blog. Go to the CSC pages if you want to see a “permanently misleading account of NIWA’s work”. I was kind on Treadgold, for only identifying one of his errors.

  7. I’ve now had a look at the link provided by RW. The adjustments for the station move from Thorndon to Kelburn are dealt with at length in pages 69-72. There is no mention of adiabatic lapse rates or higher altitudes, and the adjustments are made solely on the basis of calibration with 4 other stations. This is the technique described by Salinger.

    None of the comparison stations were moved up hillsides, and I didn’t find any reference to “coastal urbanisation” anywhere in this highly-detailed report.

    So, what was the source for your sweeping claims about the temperature record, George? Did you overhear it somewhere, or just make it up?

    1. Australis, Page 69, paragraph 2, second sentence, elevation difference of “122m”, this is a “higher altitude”. Page 72, paragraph 5, first sentence “-0.89C”, this is a “lower temperature”. One tends to avoid moving comparison stations up hillsides, they’re used as a fixed reference for comparison. Interpretation of this report from NIWA is aided by a little additional knowledge of science (adiabatic lapse) and world events (urbanisation). Australis, you have failed to make your point, please go away now and tell your friends the IPCC is correct.

    2. The monthly mean temperature at Thorndon (Site 5) in December 1927 was 14.7 °C, while at Kelburn (Site 6) it was 13.7 °C, a difference which is close to that which would be expected for sites with an elevation difference of 122 m

      The “which would be expected” refers to the lapse rate, which equates to 6°C cooling per km of altitude. The contribution for lapse rate between Thorndon and Kelburn would be 122/1000*6 = 0.732°C. In fact, they determined an adjustment of 0.9°C, because it is not just the altitude that is different, but other micro-climate effects from wind and sun exposure.

  8. It really remarkable how much energy the ACT trolls spend on a matter that is so well within the reach of an average high school science class to discuss, printed in any introduction book of meteorology and taught at any flight school. How daft these guys really are to even go to court over the matter. Dumbness has no bounds when it comes to the far right figures of this world and when dumbness mixes with power…. the history books are full of the resulting corpses…..

      1. yea, its really like discussing evolution and the age of the planet and the universe with the Pentecostals…. Deeply deluded people are simply best left to the bubble of their subjective reality as long as they don’t interfere with the fate of the rest of us…

        1. Evolution delivered us brains that find it very hard to comprehend events occurring outside a timescale of seconds to a few years. That’s why geology, evolution, and climate have been so disputed. We can use science to understand them but it’s much harder to apply our common sense because as a species we’re not optimised for it.

          1. Exactly, and that’s why we developed the system of science where we trust the judgement of those who have the brains, the education and the expertise to secure our knowledge over these domains which are outside the area of common experience.
            Sadly those who lack the brains, the education and the expertize are these days trying to dabble with matters of science far beyond their reach rather then being satisfied to simply discuss the politics of what to do about issues such as Climate Change. The outcome is predictably messy and while we should by all means have a robust political debate of what best to do about AGW we are debating matters of science which are long settled.
            Its preposterous.

  9. This has all become totally confusing. We’ve gone from a universal problem of “coastal urbanisation” to “Treadgold’s only mistake”. What was his perceived mistake?

    1. This is getting very close to content-free trolling, and therefore counter to my comments policy. Please engage in substantive good faith discussion or your comments will be transferred to The Twilight Zone.

      1. Treadgold’s mistake was to estimate a trend on the raw NZ temperature data, uncorrected for changes in site location, exposure, and instrumentation. An example of his mistake was to not correct for the change in altitude of the Wellington station from Thorndon to Kelburn in 1928.

    2. No, it’s not very confusing, although you are trying your best to confuse matters.

      You think that Treadgold’s series was correct? What is your scientific basis for saying that?

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