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Posts Tagged Climate politics

Oxfam: saving the tava’e (and the world) Gareth Renowden Aug 29

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This guest post is by Oxfam NZ‘s (relatively) new director, Rachael Le Mesurier. She’s off to the UN conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia next week, and here provides an interesting overview of the climate, sea level and other issues that are going to be on the agenda.

The national leaders of some of the world’s hottest island getaway spots are meeting in Apia, Samoa as the third UN conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) gets underway 1st – 4th September. 14 Pacific Island nations and Timor Leste, 16 Caribbean countries and eight small island nations from Africa, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea are coming together, for the first time in the Pacific, under the theme “The sustainable development of Small Island Developing States through genuine and durable partnerships.”

But it isn’t all glorious sunsets and palm-tree lined white sand beaches in these small island nations. That perfect, tourist-brochure picture is already being impacted by climate change, economic isolation, social challenges and increasingly severe environmental disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, cyclones and floods. The SIDS are coming together to alert the world that the Tava’e/Tropicbird — like the infamous canary in the coal mine — is struggling and the world needs to pay attention.

Oxfam works with Pacific Island civil society organisations (CSOs) as partners in our development programmes across the Pacific. We also work with these CSOs and their governments as they lead the response to extreme weather events and put plans in place to manage the risk associated with these disasters in future. The CSOs in SIDS have sent a very strong message on climate change’s impact on sustainable development to the UN meeting in Samoa. They have highlighted that twenty years after the first SIDS meeting in Barbados, the positive achievements in sustainable development are primarily seen at local and community levels.

There are some SIDS governments providing leadership on the global stage in advocating on climate change. At the UN launch of the International Year of SIDS, the president of Nauru, Baron Waqa said:

“No people or country has faced the risk of total inundation from rising seas before. Yet, that is exactly what we must contend with — losing entire languages, cultures, histories, and all the progress that came at such a high cost for those who came before us.”

The CSOs are drawing attention to the environmental impact of climate change on sustainable development as king tides and coastal erosion impact some of the lowest-lying countries on the planet, contaminating their water supplies and undermining work on sanitation. Cyclones are now causing increased damage to the natural environment, crops, and infrastructure that cannot be repaired in time for the next cyclone season.

Climate change also impacts on the economic and social dimensions of sustainable development. Rising sea levels, ocean acidification and extreme weather are threatening livelihoods, access to social systems such as health care and education and leaving many homeless, particularly women and children. Climate change threatens food security and efforts to eradicate poverty and fuels civil unrest. Climate change-driven migration is going to be an increasing challenge to the developed countries. In July this year a climate change asylum seeker, from Kiribati, was declined refugee status by the NZ government.

SIDS members know that the reality of living surrounded by oceans, hundreds of miles away from any other nation, with short runways and non-existent deep water harbours, means very little humanitarian aid can reach them quickly when a disaster hits. Disaster risk management has become an essential tool for climate change adaptation, sustainable economies, resilient communities and prevention of environmental degradation – in short: essential for the survival of these small island nations.

Addressing the General Assembly last September, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Winston Baldwin Spencer told delegates:

“It is a recognised fact – but it is worth repeating – that small island states contribute the least to the causes of climate change, yet we suffer the most from its effects.”

The CSOs are calling on developed nations to re-commit to the action necessary to keep warming below the 2C target leaders agreed 5 years ago in Copenhagen, including by meeting the $100bn per year financing promise made in Copenhagen by 2020. CSOs have also offered specific suggestions including:

  • A comprehensive vulnerability index, first raised in the SIDS Bermuda Plan of Action (BPoA) in 1994, as a more appropriate measure for the allocation of financial resources and support by development partners.
  • The development of appropriate micro-insurance policies to provide the protection of infrastructure and crops through natural disasters and the increasing impact of climate change.
  • Local island communities have to respond to the reality of earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis, so resources and risk reduction plans need to be communicated in a form that can be understood by those who need it most, hours and days before any external help can reach them.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and 21 heads of UN agencies are attending the UN SIDS meeting in Apia. They are sending a strong message of support to SIDS, in recognition of their unique and particular vulnerabilities to climate change, that their messages are essential to the success of the UN General Assembly’s High Level joint meeting on Climate Change and the post 2015 goals (23rd and 25th September).

Genuine and durable partnerships is the theme for SIDS 2014, but absent in providing any true partnership to date are many developed countries, such as Pacific neighbours Australia and New Zealand. From New Zealand being the fifth highest per capita emitters in the OECD to Australia dismantling its climate change institutions, neither have taken appropriate responsibility for the impact of their pollution on climate change.

Oxfam supports the people of the small island developing states in their efforts to be heard as true partners in the global response to climate change and calls on the UN member states to: attend the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit; support the conclusion of a fair and ambitious climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and articulate support for a climate change goal in the post-2015 agenda.

With the Climate Summit and then the COP 21 in Paris, there is a very real opportunity for the rest of the world to pay attention to the Tava’e, and take action to save it, and the rest of the planet, from the catastrophic impact of climate change.

TDB Today: Bought and paid for – the dirty politics of climate denial Gareth Renowden Aug 27

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It was always going to be difficult to avoid writing more about the impact of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics and what it tells us about the way the present government and its supporters have behaved, so in my post at The Daily Blog this week — Bought and paid for – the dirty politics of climate denial — I take a look at the latest revelations from the hacked correspondence. It ain’t pretty…

Friday melts, weird weather and whales (it’s been a long time…) Gareth Renowden Aug 22

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It’s been a long time since my last post: apologies for that. You may blame a bad cold, an urgent need for root canal work, the peak of the truffle season (and truffle tours for culinary heroes1 ), the start of pruning and political distractions for the drop off in activity here. Normal service should resume in the near future, but meanwhile here are a few of the things that have caught my eye over the last week or two. You may therefore consider this an open thread – and given what follows, somewhat more open than usual…

The political distraction, of course, has been the response to Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. I haven’t yet read the book — it’s queued up on the iPad — but as everyone now knows, it concerns the sordid activities of right-wing attack blogger Cameron Slater, and in particular his close ties with senior government politicians. Slater has a long record of climate denial — often lifting material from µWatts or the Daily Mail to support his ignorant bluster — but the revelation that he published paid material for PR companies masquerading as his own opinion begs a question: was there a similar motivation for his climate denial posts?

As far as I can tell, Hager’s book only mentions climate once, in a discussion of Slater’s pet hates, but it will be interesting to see if the “raw data” now being drip fed into the public domain by the hacker2 who obtained Slater’s emails and Facebook chat messages contains any hints of another motivation — if it indeed it does go beyond the knee-jerk denial so common on the far right of NZ politics. For the record, I should note that Slater once used the words “twat” and “fraud” in close conjunction with my name. It would appear that both are likely to apply rather more aptly to him.

The real world, of course, obeys the laws of physics rather than the wishful thinking of political smear merchants, and out here the signs of continued warming are unmistakable. Europe’s Cryosat has detected a big increase in ice sheet melt at both poles, for example:

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year.

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

“The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute.

The atmosphere is also responding to energy accumulation by delivering an astonishing sequence of heavy rainfall events and flash floods. The BBC reports that 160 people have died in floods in Nepal and northern India, while in Hiroshima 36 people have died in landslides triggered by rain falling at rates of 100mm per hour (Japan Times). In Sweden, heavy rain is causing “catastrophic” flooding, while last month northern Italy bore the brunt of torrential downpours. Flash floods also hit parts of Arizona earlier this week. Nor should we forget the heavy rains that brought damaging floods to Northland in July. For a roundup of July’s weather, check out Chris Burt’s blog at Weather Underground.

Some of these rainfall extremes may be explained by the poleward expansion of the tropics, bringing warmer wetter air into the mid latitudes, as this new paper explains. Some of that tropical air may have been tickling Britain, which apart from experiencing some flash flooding has also just recorded its warmest January to July period since records began. And as a WMO conference found this week: “rising temperatures will have a “multiplying effect on weather events as we know them”.

Finally, and in brief: Earth Overshoot Day shot past this week – earlier than ever; warming may be hiding in the Atlantic; Choiseul in the Solomon Islands becomes the first town to relocate because of sea level rise; and The Wireless is running lots of good climate material this week.

  1. See also: why.
  2. @whaledump on Twitter, see here for why whale dumps are important for climate.

Climate Change and Human Development Bryan Walker Aug 15

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It has been clear for some years that climate change is affecting poorer populations sooner and more gravely than it is economically developed societies. There is little sign that the wealthy nations are much disturbed by this fact, and no sign that it has any braking effect on the inexorable drive to find and exploit fossil fuel reserves. But there are some who care and they can show a dogged persistence in demanding that we take notice of how drastically the climate change for which we are responsible is threatening the lives of people with few defences against it.

Hannah Reid, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, has written a book Climate Change and Human Development which falls into that category of the doggedly persistent. She draws much of her material from a wide range of NGOs’ contact with affected communities and individuals. The book contains numerous short reports of what is happening to people in many parts of the globe, particularly Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Island states. It brings the reader close to the struggles of people like the tribal community elder in Pakistan who describes the disappearance of birds, the advent of mosquitos, the eroding flash floods and concludes: “Our options for survival are shrinking day by day”.

The examples pile up: severe drought in Kenya, erratic rains in the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, salt water intrusion into estuaries and aquifers in Bangladesh, rising sea levels affecting mangrove forests in Pacific Island states, glacial retreat threatening the livelihood of South American communities, and a great many more.

Although many of the examples the book provides are localised, the populations from which they are drawn are large. Looking a little ahead Reid points out that if not addressed, climate change could put an additional 80–120 million people at risk of hunger, 70 to 80 per cent of whom will be in Africa.  Livelihoods built for generations on particular patterns of farming may quickly become unviable.  If temperatures rose by 2 degrees, large areas of Kenya currently suited to growing tea would become unsuitable; this would have an enormous impact on Kenya’s economy. Over 100 million poor people in Indonesia stand to suffer increasing hardships within two generations as a result of climate change. 2000 small islands in the Philippines will likely be lost by 2030 and many thousands of coastal farmers throughout the archipelago will have to look for other livelihoods as sea level rise predictions take effect. Vast numbers of people are under threat.

Painstakingly the book lists and discusses the major areas of concern, drawing on the predictions of climate science as well as the adverse effects already being experienced. Food and farming heads the list, appropriately since hunger is an ever-present threat to the poor and many of them are engaged in precarious subsistence farming. Water is next. Reid points out that 1.5 billion people already lack access to clean drinking water for a variety of reasons and that global warming is making the situation far worse. A further 2 billion are expected to be water-stresses by 2050. The list continues through health, weather disasters, migration, conflict and others, all of which impact heavily on less developed poorer nations.

The book is more than an account of the severe difficulties experienced and to be experienced by those living nearest to poverty. It demonstrates many efforts being made to cope with the changes and build resilience for what is yet to come. Heartening examples are provided from diverse areas: changing crops in Nepal, establishing sustainable agricultural practices and empowering small farmers in the Philippines, pooling resources and sharing technological information with farming neighbours in Kenya, rural communities joining to increase the productivity of their farms in west Honduras, and so on through many localities in many countries.  The book is clear that local engagement and cooperation is the key factor, with NGO and other assistance delivered through community engagement.

But no adaptive strategies lessen the need for a drastic lowering of carbon emissions by the industrialised nations. Reid emphasises the need for wealthy countries to make plans to implement cuts is emissions of greenhouse gases of between 60 and 80 per cent by 2050.  She also points to the moral and ethical obligations those nations have to help vulnerable nations and people deal with the consequences of climate change.

In her final section she challenges the notion that development is dependent on global economic growth, describing it as a major driver of the destruction of the natural environment.

“It is as if we hope that by turning natural capital into financial capital we can somehow disengage ourselves from our dependence on the natural environment and the ecological limits of our world. In climate change we find evidence that this approach is misguided, myopic and unsustainable.”

She invites contributions from four “world-leading thinkers”, development practitioners from poorer countries, to suggest new models for human development in a climate-change-constrained world. Their ideas give considerable substance to the book’s closing chapter. Local communities figure strongly in much of the thinking they articulate.

Earnest and well-intentioned books like this are important, even though they are likely to be little regarded by those who wield power in the wealthy world. The NGO world which the author represents is a better custodian of the values which civilisation is meant to embody than many of the companies and accomplice politicians who continue heedless of the human consequences of the continued use of fossil fuel. The sanity and decency the book exemplifies has intrinsic worth, whether or not it prevails against the unreason and greed which currently holds sway.

People talking’ #17 Gareth Renowden Aug 01

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It being the weekend that truffle growers from all over New Zealand meet to discuss their trade and to eat the fruits of their endeavours, I will be absent from the Hot Topic helm for the next few days. Please use the occasion to discuss anything and everything climate-related, from the state of the climate to bizarre holes in Siberian tundra that may be caused by dragon breath… Keep it polite, please.

TSB Today: Broken English Gareth Renowden Jul 30

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In my post at The Daily Blog today — Broken English, broken government, broken climate — I take a look Bill English’s unguarded comments on climate change. Apparently, it’s a non-issue. As you might expect, I am somewhat less than impressed…

Adventures in the Anthropocene Bryan Walker Jul 28

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Science journalist Gaia Vince left her desk at Nature and spent two years visiting places around the world, some of them very isolated, where people were grappling with the conditions of what is sometimes described as a new epoch, the Anthropocene. It dates from the industrial revolution and represents a different world from the relatively settled Holocene in which human civilisation was able to develop. Adventures in the Anthropocene tells the story of Vince’s encounters with some remarkable individuals and their communities. It also includes lengthy musings on the technologies the future may employ as humanity faces the challenges of climate change, ocean acidification, population growth, resource depletion and more.

Vince goes to the front lines of the human battles. In a remote village in Nepal she describes the extraordinary work of Mahabir Pun who gained a university scholarship in the US and returned years later to bring computers and Wi-Fi to the children of his village. It’s a fascinating story, full of hope for development in his region. But it’s also precarious. Electricity for the computers comes from a small hydro-scheme fed by glacier water. In the same chapter Vince points out that the warming rate in that Himalayan region is five times greater than the global average and the glaciers are melting. Once they are gone there is no meltwater and no power. Levels have already been diminishing in the once-deep stream near the village.

Nowhere is the precariousness of forward-looking attempts to carve out development in the Anthropocene more poignant than in the Maldives where Vince expresses her deep admiration for the work of since-ousted President Mohamed Nasheed. All the impressive attempts to adapt to rising seas and to set an example of renewable energy development are clearly doomed by inexorable sea level rise, as the author explicitly recognises in her fictional epilogue.

Vince spends time with renowned activist Rosa Maria Ruiz in the Amazon forest. Here the immediate danger is not (yet) from climate change so much as from the human forces hell bent on destructive activity which will hasten its onset. Vince reports Amazon activists killed at the rate of one a week in 2011. It is not at all clear that government control will be asserted to protect significant sectors of the great forested areas.

The book’s stories from a great variety of different places around the world are valuable chronicles of how individuals and larger communities are seeking to sustain and enhance human life in often difficult circumstances. Vince acknowledges those difficulties and gives them due weight. The relentless pressure of climate change is always prominent among them. She can be quite brutal about the realities. For instance she describes the aim of experimenters she visits in the Brazilian Amazon as being “to discover whether the Amazon will reach a tipping point and change rapidly to desert, or gradually worsen, perhaps giving us time to act”.

She can also point to reasons for optimism. The vast unexploited tracts of sun and wind-exposed deserts are seen as the key to future energy production in the Anthropocene. But at the same time there are very few signs of the uptake of renewable energy at a rate sufficient to replace fossil fuels in good time. China, Vince says, needs to be bolder in its development of non-carbon energy.

Threats and opportunities jostle in the communities Vince visits and in her book. For all her recognition of human adaptability and inventiveness and her innate optimism she cannot assure her readers that all will be well for humanity in the Anthropocene. It is city life on which she places most of her hope. Cities may be the most artificial environment on Earth, but they are where humanity feels most at home, and they may well be where our demands on the environment can be most minimised. Not that she idealises them – her account of wading through a stream of raw sewage to reach a shanty slum she wants to visit is one of the memorable moments in the book. Cities can include areas of extreme deprivation, as described in the city of Khulna in south Bangladesh where 40,000 flood-displaced migrants were joining the slums each year. But slums can be rebuilt and cities ultimately deliver better lives. Colombia’s Medellín  is offered as a prime example.

The book provides impressive city statistics. If the population of a city is doubled, average wages go up by 15%, as do other measures of productivity, like patents per capita. Economic output of a city of 10 million people will be 15– 20% higher than that of two cities of 5 million people. At the same time, resource use and carbon emissions plummet by 15% for every doubling in density, because of more efficient use of infrastructure and better use of public transportation.

Cities are certainly growing fast. A million-person city will be built every ten days for decades to come. By 2030, 75% of Chinese will live in cities; thirty years ago, less than 20% did. Vince’s cities chapter includes lengthy surveys of ways in which such highly urbanised life can be sustainable, while acknowledging that some existing cities will be drowned by rising seas.

The author emerges from her invigorating tour of the Anthropocene with hope grounded on the human qualities she has encountered on her journeys.

“Our threats are many, including much of what we are bringing on ourselves – but we humans are resourceful, intelligent and endlessly adaptable.”

Let’s hope there is enough power in the qualities she lists to see humanity through the crises ahead. But there are also darker forces at work driving us to environmental destruction of massive proportions, and it remains an open question as to which will prevail.  Vince doesn’t pretend her book answers the question conclusively. But she does offer some plausibility for a better outcome than many of us fear.

Hot Air: the sorry tale of climate policy in New Zealand Gareth Renowden Jul 23

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This guest post is by Alister Barry, producer and co-director of the new documentary Hot Air, which will be premiered in Wellington next week. Hot Air is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival around the country over the next month.

Hot Air is a story of compromise, broken promises and corporate pressure, of misinformation and pseudo-scientific propaganda. It’s also a story of good intentions. The 1989 Labour government under Geoffrey Palmer began to map out the first emissions policy. In the 1990s Simon Upton, the National government’s minister responsible for climate change policy tried to put a carbon tax in place as did his successor Labour’s Pete Hodgson. After 2005 David Parker struggled to pass an emissions trading scheme.

I began work on Hot Air in 2009 thinking it might take a couple of years. I recall one of my partners saying, “You better get it done quickly, because within a few years the film will be out of date. Climate change will have been confronted and dealt with.” No such luck.

I soon found that while there have been some books written about the history of the politics of climate change in the UK, the US and elsewhere, there was no comprehensive account telling the New Zealand story. I spent a lot of time in the National Library doing the basic slog of getting the history down on paper. Then I had to condense it into a documentary script before beginning actually making the film.

One benefit of the long gestation period was the unexpected number of key figures that agreed to be interviewed for the film. Experts from both the environmental and economic fields, newspaper editors, businessmen, and a wide range of political figures including National’s Simon Upton, and Labour’s Pete Hodgson & David Parker, all one-time Ministers of Environment, contributed. Many of the major players (particularly Labour’s ruffled former Minister of Environment, Pete Hodgson) clearly welcomed the opportunity to tell their stories, as well as vent some frustrations!

Editing has taken a couple of years finding and fitting together archive footage with the original interview material and condensing that into an informative, and we hope entertaining film. Co-director and editor Abi King-Jones has done a masterful job creating a film that is a pleasure to watch.

On one level the film attempts to provide an understanding of the political landscape on which those of us who want to see some effective action on climate change will have to fight, on another level it is a case study of the extent to which power in our society has shifted to the corporate elite and away from the rest of us.

Hot Air is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival around the country beginning on July 31st in Wellington.

Here are all the current screening times.

Auckland

Friday, 1 August — 1:00 p.m, Sky City Cinema

Saturday 2 August — 3:30 p.m, Sky City Cinema

Wellington

Thursday 31 July — 6:15 p.m, Paramount Cinema (World Premiere)

Wednesday 6 August — 11.00 a.m, Paramount Cinema

Dunedin

Friday 8 August — 1:00 pm, Rialto

Sunday 10 August — 1:15pm, Rialto

Christchurch

Mon 11 Aug — 6.00pm, Hoyts Northlands 3

Tues 12 Aug — 11.00am, Hoyts Northlands 3

Bookings and tickets are available at the New Zealand International Film Festival website.

Barry Brill and Anonymous: U R A Fraud Gareth Renowden Jul 22

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People send me things. Brightening my email inbox last week was a pithy little email, headed U r a fraud. It didn’t have much to say. Here it is, in its entirety, exactly as it appeared:

Please take down your posts about barry brill or Anonymous may have to

Make some “unauthorized” changes to your shitty website.

I had to laugh. Barry Brill — the man who formed a charitable trust in order to avoid the financial consequences of a failed legal action against the New Zealand temperature record — must have some very strange friends1. The idea that hacktivists like Anonymous would side with Brill and his climate crank pals against climate reality strikes me as drawing a very long bow — but there are certainly hackers for hire in Russia and China who might be prepared to repeat their efforts against the Climatic Research Unit’s email servers2 in order to take down this little web site. But who would fund that? Not Brill, I’m sure. He’s too busy taking the Heartland shilling, campaigning hard for a worse future for the world, and avoiding payment of court-ordered costs.

Meanwhile, I shall watch my server logs with interest (but I won’t be holding my breath, and certainly won’t be removing any posts about Brill).

[Sheer Heart Attack]

  1. Indeed, he does – as shown by his attendance at the recent Heartland-funded climate crank networking event in Las Vegas, where he rubbed shoulders with all the luminaries of the crank pantheon, from Monckton to Don Easterbrook.
  2. aka the so-called Climategate hack.

Labour’s dodgy drilling policy avoids climate reality Bryan Walker Jul 17

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In his interview on TV3’s The Nation last weekend David Shearer declared a Labour Party policy on oil and gas drilling which, like the Government’s, fails to confront the reality of climate change. Drilling will continue. The approval processes will be improved, the regulations will be tight, the money gained will be used well, but drilling will continue. He acknowledged that “at the end of the day” fossil fuels are out. They cannot continue to be our future. But we can use them to transition to renewables. They can remain a strand in our development. ”There’s a potential there and while there’s a potential we should be looking at it.”

Transition is a word which acquires a convenient elasticity in the language of those who argue for the continued exploration for fossil fuels. We all realise that the change from fossil energy can’t happen overnight. There has to be a period of transition. But to use that fact to justify continued new exploration and development of fossil fuels is to rob the transition of all urgency and treat it rather as something we will need to gradually prepare for as fossil reserves are finally exhausted.

The message from the science is clear. If we burn more than a third of the fossil fuel reserves already discovered we will cause a level of warming likely to prove catastrophic for human society.

Political parties and governments which support expanded exploration and development of fossil resources either do not understand the severity of the scientific message or are so consumed by the prospects of economic wealth that they are determined not to heed it.

Earnest discussion about making deep sea drilling safe for the environment by ensuring the availability of technology to deal quickly with a leaking well is beside the point. The far greater danger of deep sea drilling is that any discoveries it results in may be used to delay the move to low-carbon energy we so desperately need. The financial investment is huge and the pressure to ensure a return on it likely to be determined.

New Zealand is not alone in attempting to straddle professed concern about climate change and a willingness to expand the search for more fossil fuels. But that doesn’t make it a defensible position. Its intellectual hollowness is plain. Its consequences if we go on to burn all that is discovered will be disastrous long before we have finished.

I was in the process of reviewing Gabrielle Walker’s book on Antarctica when I listened to the interview with Shearer. I thought of the great West Antarctic ice sheet and its vulnerability the scientists she wrote about are discovering. I wondered if any National Party or Labour Party politicians in New Zealand feel the kind of rising alarm that seems to me the only appropriate response to what the science is revealing.

It’s an alarm which dwarfs the prospect of gaining wealth from further exploration for a fuel that we must learn to manage without at a quicker pace than Shearer seemed ready to contemplate. But evidently it’s an alarm which remains muted for most of our politicians.

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