You can take the boy out of politics, but you can’t take the politics out of the boy — at least, not if you’re former ACT party leader Rodney Hide. In my Daily Blog column this week, I take a look at Rodney’s latest dalliance with climate denial, and wonder why it is that the extreme right think that refusing to accept the facts makes for good politics. Comments over there, please…
Rodney’s rubbish rides again May 15
Hot Topic interruptus May 13
It had to happen eventually. The creaking old laptop that was once my pride and joy1 has finally gone to the great orchard in the sky, and I have been forced to visit the grocer for a new piece of fruit. Being that I am a creaky old geek, I couldn’t just nip down to the computer store and buy an off-the-shelf model. No, I had to have the processor upgrade, the maximum memory and a Fusion drive, which means it will be about a week before I can access all my files2. Until then I will be servicing the digital world from this iPad, which is a wonderful device for everything but writing. Posting will be (even more) intermittent, at best, and brevity will be my watchword. You have been warned…
- It was new when Hot Topic was born.
- You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, etc.
A hierarchy of fleas May 10
Big fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite ‘em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
And so, ad infinitum.
We’ll start in the middle, shall we, with “high priest of climate scepticism” Chris Monckton still railing against the failure of the halls of NZ academe to bow down before his obvious intellect. You could say that Chris is doing his best to be a flea in the fur of climate science, what with all his attempts to irritate scientists with scattergun accusations of fraud and libel. But the potty peer is also collecting his own fleas, attracted by his conspiracist thinking and intent on feasting on his fanaticism.
A few weeks ago, John O’Sullivan — the serial liar behind vanity crank science startup Principia Scientific International — wrote an open letter to Monckton, taking him to task for dismissing people who don’t accept the existence of the greenhouse effect as cranks. It’s a question of credibility amongst cranks and their peers, and Monckton could not resist a snotty response.
One John O’Sullivan has written me a confused and scientifically illiterate “open letter” in which he describes me as a “greenhouse gas promoter”. I do not promote greenhouse gases.
It’s a minor classic of a minuscule genre1. Monckton goes for the straightforwardly rude dismissal:
The series of elementary errors he here perpetrates, delivered with an unbecoming, cranky arrogance, indicates the need for considerable elementary education on his part.
The PP’s use of the C word stirs the mighty behemoth that is the collective intellect behind PSI, and O’Sullivan’s rejoinder is also a minor classic of its kind: the goalpost shift. Monckton’s second reply is, if anything, even snottier than his first:
Here, O’Sullivan characteristically but unwisely assumes that, since he is himself bottomlessly ignorant, others are as ignorant as he. As will be seen, that is not so.
Hell hath no fury like a crank scorned, which is something Monckton discovered for himself during his NZ visit. Interviewed by the editor of Uncensored Magazine2, Chris was rather dismissive of the reality of the chemtrails conspiracy. According to NZ’s chemtrails community, that means he’s playing “an active role in the chemtrail/geoengineering cover up”. Here’s more incisive analysis of Monckton’s real role from the same source:
Could it be that he’s functioning as a gatekeeper to keep people from knowing about the weather modification technology being used globally to create extremes, and exposing the IPCC, Al Gore, Michael Mann, Phil Jones and others as con artists, in order to win the public’s trust? He may be engaging in predictive programming regarding United Nations’ Agenda 21 – telling people that it is going to happen, so they will more readily accept it?
You could almost feel sorry for Monckton, were he not himself a conspiracy theorist, happy to tell his audiences that the UN is plotting to force humanity to live in concentration camps and that climate science is all a trumped up fraud. The potty peer wants to be accepted as a real scientist on a par with the people he defines as his peers3 — Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer chief amongst them4, even going to the extent of leaping to the defence of Spencer at µWatts when he was criticised by Skeptical Science recently5.
For Monckton, this could be a simple matter of self-esteem or self-importance, but it is also evidence of a need to retain what passes for credibility in the world of climate denial. He has to put clear blue water between himself and what he defines as the lunatic fringe. Unfortunately, his own descent into rabble-rousing and conspiracist thinking has drawn the rest of the fringe towards him like moths towards a flame — a perfect example of crank magnetism.
Further evidence of this need to reject the fringe can be seen in Anthony Watts refusal to espouse or promote the arguments6 adopted by O’Sullivan’s group of greenhouse deniers, and Roy Spencer’s various articles in defence of basic physics7.
These are all symptoms of a wider problem for the campaign to do nothing to reduce emissions — how do you maintain a credible case for inaction in the face of mounting evidence of a serious, perhaps even civilisation-threatening problem? As the evidence becomes quite literally undeniable, how do you keep the campaign going? How do you keep your sceptical foot soldiers happy?
These problems aren’t new. The answer was decided long ago: you feed the base. To keep the campaign going you tell your supporters what they want to hear, whatever the facts: that there’s been no warming for 17 years, that the Arctic ice melt isn’t a problem, that those heatwaves and floods and droughts are nothing to do with our emissions.
Unfortunately, that’s not what the science says, or most of the media report, so to make the lies credible you have to postulate a global conspiracy by climate scientists and environmentalists to distort the facts, commit fraud and create a chimera. And that’s Pandora’s Box you just opened.
As the years have gone by, and the accusations of conspiracy and fraud have become more strident, so the climate inactivists have drifted further and further from reality and into the orbits occupied by the chemtrail and crank physics conspiracists. They’ve sat down with the devil, and they’ve picked up his fleas. The result is quite a circus…
- Crank replies to criticisms by other cranks of their own crankery.
- Well, was Jack the Ripper Winston Churchill’s father? I think we should be told.
- Yes, I know it’s the second time I’ve used that pun, but you find a better word…
- Not setting the bar very high, it could be argued.
- SkS deals with Spencer’s misrepresentation of the science, but the best bit in the Catholic Online interview is where he says “we will need to burn even more fossil fuels in order to find replacements for fossil fuels.” I mean, words fail, etc etc.
- Many, various and mutually inconsistent.
- He’s been at it since 2009, at least.
This year’s NZ climate change conference is fast approaching, and I’ll be heading up to Palmerston North at the beginning of next month to cover proceedings for Hot Topic. The conference runs over June 4th and 5th at the Convention Centre, and covers just about every aspect of work on climate and related issues in NZ, organised under four main themes:
- The Physical Science
- Impacts, Vulnerability & Adaptation
- Integration & Cross-cutting Issues
Keynote speakers are Professor Jon Barnett from the University of Melbourne, Andy Reisinger, Dave Frame and Professor Robert Anderson. I’ll be blogging/tweeting from the conference, and plan to post some short audio interviews with key participants. I’ll have to sing for my supper too — my abstract for a short talk entitled When two worlds collide: Communicating climate science on the internet1 was accepted by the organisers.
In other conference news, Wellington readers might like to pitch up to Parliament on Friday, June 7th, where Green MP Kennedy Graham is organising a one day meeting “with the aim of fostering cross-party and public dialogue on climate change”. Speakers will include the UNFCCC’s Christina Figueres (by video) Dave Frame, Andy Reisinger, Adrian Macey, Judy Lawrence, HT’s own Cindy Baxter, Peter Weir, Suzy Kerr, Simon Terry, Jonathon Boston and more. Should be an interesting and worthwhile day: register (for free) here.
- Scheduled for 3-15pm on the 5th
Potty peer Chris Monckton’s complaint against VUW academics Jonathan Boston, David Frame and Jim Renwick has been roundly rejected by the university. An investigation carried out by a senior member of the academic staff found that Monckton’s allegations of fraud and libel were “not substantiated”. VUW vice chancellor Pat Walsh was unequivocal in his support of the VUW 3:
“I want to state clearly that I have faith in these academic staff. By speaking publicly in their field of expertise, they were doing exactly what we expect.”
It remains to be seen how Monckton will respond, but it will probably involve more empty threats. In a typically tasteless and intemperate article posted at WND last week, he fantasised about reporting VUW to the police:
If I do not receive a reply very soon, police will be asked to investigate not only the “professor” who had posted up the dodgy graph but also the vice-chancellor, the chancellor and the “university” itself as accessories during and after the fact of scientific fraud. Don’t send your child there, and don’t give it any money.
Despite hobnobbing with a High Court judge during his NZ visit1, it appears that Monckton’s grasp of the law is as dodgy as his understanding of climate science and economics.
- Or at least claiming to. It would be interesting to know to whom he refers…
This is a guest post by Dr Gavin Kenny1, a New Zealand scientist who has worked on agricultural adaptation to climate change in NZ and world wide. He has a very interesting and informed perspective on the sorts of things NZ agriculture should be doing to address climate change as it happens — exactly the sort of conversation we need to have on this big issue. The article first appeared in the agriculture section at Stuff.co.nz last week.
For more than 20 years I have worked professionally on the “what ifs” of climate change, focused mostly on what it might mean for agriculture. I’ve done this work in New Zealand, Europe, the Pacific Islands and Asia. During that time I have experienced the progression from the hypothetical to real-world responses. Climate change, particularly as experienced through more frequent drought and flood events, is increasingly influencing what farmers are doing in many countries. It is not clear whether this is yet the case in New Zealand, but I suspect so.
With a record summer drought just behind us, and with negative and positive effects that will continue to unfold for farmers, it is relevant to ask: What if we get more frequent and intense droughts in the future? How might farming change and how might those changes affect wider society?
To help guide our thinking and acting for the future it is instructive to first look to the past, not just in New Zealand but to other societies and civilisations that have entered periods of more frequent and intense droughts.
In his book The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilisation, Brian Fagan explores the impact of climate shifts, including drought, on civilisations over the last 15,000 years. He writes:
“In our efforts to cushion ourselves against smaller, more frequent climate stresses, we have consistently made ourselves more vulnerable to rarer but larger catastrophes.”
The story of the city of Tiwanaku is a good example. Over a period of 500 years Tiwanaku thrived near the shores of Lake Titicaca in what is now Bolivia. The city was supported by agricultural intensification that was strongly reliant on water.
The onset of a climatic shift about AD1100 changed everything. Annual rainfall declined by 10 to 15 per cent over a prolonged period and Tiwanaku crossed a critical threshold of vulnerability. Fagan explains:
“The ability of the Tiwanaku state to adjust to the great drought was limited culturally by centuries of rapid population growth underwritten by the remarkable productivity of the raised fields. […] Tiwanaku’s economy was entirely dependent on this single agricultural technology, which in turn depended on abundant water. When the water failed, the entire system collapsed.”
Focusing back on present-day New Zealand we have seen a strong move towards intensification of farming over the last 20 years. Two obvious examples of this intensification are the increased focus on irrigation and the huge increase in use of urea fertiliser. The lesson from Tiwanaku is that it would be unwise to simply put our faith, and a huge amount of debt for infrastructure development, in more large irrigation schemes.
This is not a matter of cockies2 versus townies. Agricultural intensification in New Zealand has been fuelled by our collective demand for consumer goods. We can’t criticise the negative things we see with farming without looking at our own behaviour.
And that gets to the crux of what climate change requires of us all: behaviour change. Simply put, we’re increasingly living beyond our means and the capacity of our land and water resources to sustain our wants.
What’s the alternative then? Since 2001 I have worked on documenting positive things farmers are doing that are relevant in terms of building resilience to climate change.
This includes increasing numbers, still a minority, who are shifting to biological soil management; changes in pasture species and management with a focus on longer covers (not grazing the grass so hard) and greater rooting depth; changes in stock policies aimed at greater flexibility; a focus on greater soil moisture retention; fencing of riparian areas; on-farm water storage; planting trees for multiple benefits; fencing remnant native bush and putting them into QEII Trust covenants.
We already have the ingredients for smart, resilient, farming systems. The vision I have for farming in New Zealand is consistent with Colin Tudge’s Campaign for Real Farming. In a New Zealand context this would involve developing a “Food First” policy to ensure that the basic food needs of all within New Zealand are met for now and for a future with climate change. We then export the surplus.
This would be founded on low carbon farming systems that are a functional part of, and working within the natural constraints of, local environments. There is a lot of unrealised ecological potential in this regard, which is strongly linked to unrealised economic potential.
To develop such a future we’ll all need to look at changing our behaviour. In Colin Tudge’s words “We are talking about the difference between a world that could endure effectively forever, in peace and conviviality, and one that could be in dire straits within a few decades.”
- Gavin has a PhD in agricultural meteorology, managed a European Union climate change project at Oxford University in the early 1990s, followed by eight years with a research group at University of Waikato. He has worked independently since 2001.
- NZ slang for farmers.
Why not devote 15 minutes of your time to a good cause? John Cook of Skeptical Science, one of the regulars on The Climate Show, who just happens to be a research fellow in climate communication for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, is crowd-sourcing a survey of the climate literature to try and measure the extent of any consensus that might exist. Here’s the full story, in John’s own words:
I’m seeking your assistance in conducting a crowd-sourced online survey of peer-reviewed climate research. I have compiled a database of around 12,000 papers listed in the ‘Web Of Science’ between 1991 to 2011 matching the topic ‘global warming’ or ‘global climate change’. I am now inviting readers from a diverse range of climate blogs to peruse the abstracts of these climate papers with the purpose of estimating the level of consensus in the literature regarding the proposition that humans are causing global warming. If you’re interested in having your readers participate in this survey, please post the following link to the survey:
The survey involves rating 10 randomly selected abstracts and is expected to take 15 minutes. Participants may sign up to receive the final results of the survey (de-individuated so no individual’s data will be published). No other personal information is required (and email is optional). Participants may elect to discontinue the survey at any point and results are only recorded if the survey is completed. Participant ratings are confidential and all data will be de-individuated in the final results so no individual ratings will be published.
The analysis is being conducted by the University of Queensland in collaboration with contributing authors of the website Skeptical Science. The research project is headed by John , and adheres to the Guidelines of the ethical review process of The University of Queensland.
Give it a try — you’ll be helping with an interesting research project, and it might even be educational…
Bill McKibben — that most thoughtful and interesting of climate campaigners — is bringing his very successful Do The Maths campaign to New Zealand next month, and will be speaking in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. Bill’s argument is straightforward:
The maths are simple: we can burn less than 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The problem? Fossil fuel companies have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we do the maths to change our future.
Talks are scheduled for:
- Auckland – Tuesday, 11 June, Epsom Girls Grammar School Hall, 7-8.30pm
- Dunedin – Wednesday, 12 June, venue tbc
- Wellington – Thursday, 13 June, The Embassy Theatre, 7-8.30pm
I had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with Bill in Wanaka during his last NZ visit, and would urge HT readers to go along and listen to what he has to say. Details and tickets are available at maths.350.org/nz.
[Edited to add the trailer to the soon-to-be-released documentary of McKibben's Do The Math tour of the US last year...]
Any day now the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide measurement station is going to bump through 400 part per million, and stay there for a week or two. In my Daily Blog column this week I ruminate on what that means by taking a look at the last time CO2 stayed over 400 ppm for an extended period.
Pliocene climate is not something that crops up in many history lessons, but what it tells us needs to be much more widely appreciated. It shows where we are heading — where our apparently insatiable appetite for coal and oil is taking us: a drowned world. That simple fact needs to be shoved under the nose of anyone who argues that climate change isn’t happening, won’t be too bad, or will be something we can adapt to. It needs to be engraved on the hearts of the people negotiating international action on emissions, and the politicians legislating to do little or nothing.
My first post at The Daily Blog is also relevant. Comments over there, please.
Yesterday morning I climbed up the short track on the Tasman Glacier terminal moraine to the lookout, and was amazed by how much the glacier’s calving front had retreated compared with my last visit to the same spot, back in February 2008 (below – click on either picture to see a bigger version). Across the full face of the glacier there’s now a sheer cliff, where large bergs calve into the growing lake — the most recent, back in February, being rated as the largest ever.
Both pictures were taken from the same spot, but with different cameras and lenses, so a direct comparison isn’t possible, but it should be clear that the glacier front has retreated up the valley significantly over the five years. Given the dramatic scale of the landscape (those are 3,000 metre peaks up valley) it’s hard to estimate distances by eye, but recent rates of retreat have been estimated to be 400 to 800 metres per year. Glaciologist Mauri Pelto has a detailed analysis of the glacier’s recent history at his blog From A Glacier’s Perspective here.
Similar rapid rates of retreat are being seen on the nearby Mueller and Hooker glaciers, both of which have large and growing terminal lakes.
One message got home to me: rapid climate change isn’t something that happens to other people, or to other parts of the world. To see New Zealand’s largest glacier so visibly diminished in the space of a very few years brought home the reality and scale of the problem we face in a very direct manner. Sometimes we need to step away from our computers and see what’s happening with our own eyes…