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Posts Tagged Climate politics

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 I recall one of my partners saying, “You better get it done quickly, because within a few years the film will be out of date.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.

Little Whyte Bull Gareth Renowden Jul 09

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Late last week, New Zealand’s far right ACT party was pleased to let the media know that its leader, Jamie Whyte, had won the “prestigious Institute of Economic Affairs’ Seldon1 Award” — an award given to IEA fellows by the IEA for work published by the IEA. Whyte is an IEA fellow, which may (or may not) be prestigious in itself — the IEA is the grandaddy of British free-market “think tanks” — but the award appears to be little more than a bit of mutual backslapping. Whyte won for a paper published last year entitled Quack Policy – Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism (pdf), in which he sets out to show that “much ‘evidence-based policy’ is grounded on poor scientific reasoning and even worse economics”. Unfortunately, in his discussion of climate science in the paper, he shows an incredibly poor understanding of what the science actually says, and an even worse appreciation of its implications for humanity.

Here’s Whyte asserting that “the science is not settled” (p80 of the pdf):

The forecasts for AGW relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other authorities are derived from modern climate science and, especially, from general circulation models (GCMs). How credible are these models and the climate science behind them? Or, more precisely, how much credence should we give their predictions of a calamitous man-made increase in the global climate (sic) in several decades’ time?

That climate models are especially important in determining a need to urgently cut carbon emissions is a common fallacy expressed by those who seek to minimise the need for action to reduce those emissions. Climate models are extremely useful tools, and they allow us to ask a great many “what if” questions about the way the ocean/atmosphere climate system works, but to know that we are in big trouble all we need is basic physics and an understanding of climate history.

What do we know with great certainty?

  • Adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere must result in heat accumulating in the climate system. This is both theoretically obvious — known for 150 years — and understood down to the quantum level.
  • The pattern of warming observed — the fingerprint — is precisely what would be expected from increased greenhouse gas levels. It is supported by observations of land and ocean warming, land and sea ice reductions, and stratospheric cooling.
  • The study of past climate states — paleoclimate — tells us that when atmospheric CO2 was at levels equivalent to today’s, sea levels were 16-20 metres higher than now, and the world was a much warmer place, with little or no ice in the Arctic and a greatly reduced Antarctic ice sheet.

No models are required to suggest that dumping ever more carbon into the atmosphere is going to get us into big trouble. The models provide useful advice about what we can expect to happen and when, given assumptions about future greenhouse gas emissions, but they are not the only or even the most important reason2 why we need to act to stabilise and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas loading.

A paragraph later, Whyte suggests a null hypothesis, but gets it completely the wrong way round.

This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that we do not know what the climate would be in 50 years’ time if the climate models that predict AGW were false. In other words, we do not know what the climate would be if the null hypothesis were correct. No one denies that the climate changes even without any human influence. But, without depending on the very models we seek to test, we cannot predict the future climate without the effects of greenhouse gases. This means that we do not know which future climatic observations would confirm the AGW hypothesis and which would disconfirm it.

When we have observations showing that the planet is warming because of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases, and a detailed understanding of why based on well-understood physics, then the correct null hypothesis is that warming will continue if greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. The onus of proof lies with those who want to overturn that understanding. I somehow don’t think that Whyte is quite ready to re-write quantum physics.

Whyte’s misunderstanding of climate models and what they tell us is not limited to the foregoing, and I leave it as an exercise for the reader to enumerate all the ways in which he is wrong3, but it is worth looking closely at his discussion of “uncertainty and climate policy” (p91 et sub). Here’s his introduction:

The predictions of theories that have not been tested, and are not entailed by well-known facts, do not warrant high levels of certainty. Those who insist on this are not ‘anti-science’, as they are often claimed to be. On the contrary, it is those who are willing to be convinced in the absence of predictive success who display an unscientific cast of mind. The predictions of AGW may well be true but the certainty we should have in them falls well short of the certainty properly enjoyed by the predictions of physics. Those scientists who say otherwise – who claim that the predictions of climate science warrant as much confidence as predictions based on gravity, or that the AGW thesis is ‘settled’ – do not promote the public understanding of science.

Whyte’s fixation with, and denial of, the “predictive success” of climate models is just one more straw man among many, but his misunderstanding of certainty implies that the “motivated certainty” he imputes to scientists is much more in evidence in his own thinking. He argues, but fails to convincingly demonstrate, that we can’t be certain of the truth of the “AGW thesis”, and that therefore we should not act to cut emissions. It’s been difficult to get international agreements on emissions reductions, he says, and then states:

Add to this the uncertainty about the AGW thesis, and pursuing the policy of cutting carbon emissions looks misguided.

As non-sequitors go, that has to take the biscuit, if not a whole packet of jammy dodgers. It is certainly difficult to get international cooperation on climate matters, but that is true on almost any policy matter. I don’t expect to find Whyte’s ACT party arguing against the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement on the ground that it’s difficult to negotiate and that its benefits are uncertain, though both are certainly true.

Whyte’s failure to grasp even the bare bones of the climate problem lead him to some truly facile statements about sensible policy options.

If AGW is uncertain, and if the future climate even without AGW is uncertain, how can you decide which adaptive policies are wise? The short answer is that you need only respond to market prices. [...] …adaptations to climate change will occur without any direction from governments. Insurers and investors have a private interest in adjusting the prices they charge to changing risks, and businesses and households have private interests in responding to those changing prices. No government policy is called for.

There’s one small problem for this view, and it’s a trap Whyte would have avoided had he bothered to familiarise himself with what we really know about the climate system. We no longer live in a static climate. Heat is accumulating in the system, and even if atmospheric greenhouse gases were to somehow, magically4, stabilise at current levels, the planet’s surface would continue to warm for at least another 30 years, and sea level rise would continue far into the future. If you take no steps to cut emissions and stabilise greenhouse gases, you are committed to adapt to a moving target.

Acting to reduce emissions amounts to a sensible insurance policy5, because it reduces the risk of low probability, but high cost damages in the future. We may not be certain that warming will be catastrophic, but even a low probability of that being true should motivate us to act urgently, because the ultimate costs will be so large.

Those costs, however, are not purely economic and cannot be assigned a single monetary value. You cannot simply assume that economic growth will continue in the future, or that future generations will inevitably be richer than we are today. The environmental damages of climate instability and resource restraints on an increasingly crowded planet will make continued economic growth (as it is presently defined) ever more difficult to achieve. The economy and the environment are not two separate but interacting systems. Economies exist inside earth systems that provide free support services (air, water, soil, stable climate etc). When those services fail, economies inevitably struggle. Money is of no use if there is no food to buy.

If you accept the evidence offered by climate science at face value — that the planet is warming, and it would be wise to try to stabilise and then reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — then policy making can flow from that. The message is not itself political: it is a statement of well understood fact. The denial of that fact is, however, motivated by economic interests and political ideologies. Whyte is just another ideologue making stuff up to justify his world view. Apparently that’s enough to get a form prize in year 12 philosophy at Free Market Grammar.

In some respects it’s not surprising that the right wing, free market, libertarian-leaning wing of political thought should be uncomfortable with the recent emphasis on building government policy around real evidence, and not just gut feelings or populist sentiment. As Stephen Colbert has pointed out, reality has a well-known liberal bias. It’s hard to think of a single tenet of free-market, right wing policy which has any broad base of evidential support. So what do you do when you don’t like the facts? You shoot the messenger delivering them.

Whyte’s paper, in its section on climate science and condescending nonsense about scientific expertise, is just a well-written but intellectually lightweight exercise in building straw men and shooting them full of arrows. In right wing circles, this obviously plays well, as his award — and rapid elevation to the leadership of the ACT party — demonstrates. The real world is not about to cooperate, however hard Whyte, ACT and the ideologues of the right might wish it to.

[Tommy Steele]

  1. Not this Seldon, sadly.
  2. Ocean acidification alone should be enough to motivate steep emissions cuts and ultimately, reduction of atmospheric GHG levels.
  3. They are many, and various, but life is too short etc etc…
  4. The free market at work, perhaps?
  5. Whyte manages to get the insurance argument wrong, too, in a section in which he discusses alien abduction policies(!).

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future Bryan Walker Jul 03

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Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, co-authors of the acclaimed Merchants of Doubt, have joined forces again to produce a striking short fictional work The Collapse Of Western Civilization: A view From The Future. It purports to be an essay written by a Chinese historian three hundred years after the collapse of western civilisation towards the end of the 21st century when untrammelled climate change took its full effect.

The period of the Penumbra (1988-2093) ended in the Great Collapse and Mass Migration (2073-2093). That’s the scope of our Chinese historian’s survey. He (or she)records the dawning scientific realisation of the effects human activities were having on the planetary climate, the setting up of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the first manifestations of the change in the intensification of fires, floods, hurricanes, and heat waves. Thus far he writes of matters familiar to us.

He then moves on to recount the rapidly mounting disasters as the century proceeds. It’s somewhat unnerving to read of what we know as predictions as if they had already become the stuff of history. All the more unsettling because anyone who follows climate science will recognise that the chain of disaster he traces, from failing food crops in intense heat waves to unmanageable sea level rise as the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets begin to disintegrate is entirely possible if greenhouse gases continue to be pumped into the atmosphere by human activity. The resultant human suffering and death the historian records may be more speculative from our end, but his calm account of the human consequences has a dismaying ring of likelihood to it.

The startling aspect of this rapid decline to the historian is that the people caught up in it knew why it was happening but were unable to act upon what they knew. “Knowledge did not translate into power.” In fact, in full contradiction to what was known, a “fossil fuel frenzy” developed just when the urgency of a transition to renewable energy was becoming undeniable. The frenzy was exacerbated by the expansion of shale gas drilling and as gas became cheaper it supplanted nascent renewable energy industries.  Oil from tar sands also became an attractive commercial prospect and developed apace.

There were notable exceptions. China, for instance, took steps to control its population and convert its economy to non-carbon-based energy sources. The West didn’t like population control and didn’t notice that the rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions in China masked the renewable energy revolution taking place at the same time. China’s emissions fell rapidly by 2050. “Had other nations followed China’s lead, the history recounted here might have been very different,” comments our Chinese historian, perhaps a trifle smugly.

A shadow of ignorance and denial had fallen over people who considered themselves children of the Enlightenment. “It is for this reason that we now know this era as the Period of the Penumbra.”  A second Dark Age, in other words.

How did it happen? Perhaps surprisingly the scientists themselves get some of the blame. They failed to recognise how much was required of them in communicating the broad pattern of climate change. They concentrated on their specialist areas. They were too concerned to demonstrate their disciplinary severity by setting unnecessarily high standards for proof that various phenomena were linked to warmer temperatures. They were culturally naïve in the face of the powerful societal institutions determined to continue to use fossil fuels.

…it was the dominating ideology of market fundamentalism which prevented the West from coming to grips with the threat of climate change…

However it was the dominating ideology of market fundamentalism which prevented the West from coming to grips with the threat of climate change, although the technological knowledge and capability to do so was available to them. Even when some scientists realised that they needed to be more urgent in communicating the full implications of their knowledge to the public they could make no headway against the neoliberal economic theory which prevailed. The ideology suited those who wanted to continue with fossil fuels and who were quite prepared to jettison the science which pronounced the folly of doing so. And so the protagonists of neoliberal economics blocked a managed transition to a low-carbon economy. They were left in the end with only disaster management, and ironically with the centralised government and lack of personal choice which they most dreaded.

Is this, or something like it, really going to be our future? The authors are not being fanciful in the scope and grimness of their future historian’s record and analysis. There is no reason to suppose our civilisation can avoid the massive translocations and severe human suffering that will ensue if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their present trajectory. And there is little enough evidence of a political will to avoid that path and manage a rapid transition to non-carbon energy systems. Indeed denial is still on the rampage in many circles of government and industry. Think of Tony Abbott or Stephen Harper and their cohorts, or of the madness that is abroad in the utterances of some US Republican politicians.

The tepid and ambiguous climate concern which characterises governments such as our own in New Zealand is no more reassuring. Being hell-bent on further fossil fuel discovery and exploitation is hardly compatible with action to rein in climate change. The “fossil fuel frenzy” of the book is in full operation here.

Oreskes and Conway do justice to the full seriousness of climate change. That seems to me prime among the many values of their book. The consequences of unrestrained climate change will surely be shattering. Their sheer magnitude is hard to appreciate and few seem to grasp it. The historian the authors have imagined writes in the unimpassioned and analytical language proper to his profession. We can’t and shouldn’t match him in that regard. The future reality the book portrays is fearful. It must be our spur to insistently demand that our governments throw off the shackles of ideology and take the pragmatic steps which can yet avoid the worst that climate change will bring. For all its dispassion the book is a call to arms.

TDB Today: Getting out the climate vote Gareth Renowden Jul 02

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In this week’s article at The Daily BlogGetting Out The Climate Vote — I take a look at the first batch of responses to the Climate Voter question of the week: President Obama calls climate change one of the most significant challenges we face, requiring urgent action by all governments. Do you agree?. No prizes for guessing who laughs in the face of civilisational suicide…

Ange Palmer: Why I Feel So Good About Climate Change Gareth Renowden Jun 26

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I have been marinating in the meaty world of climate change for a good five years now. I’ve been on a wild ride as a film maker producing a documentary called 2 Degrees (that’s the trailer above). Our film looks at the flaws in the UN climate negotiation process through the gritty lens of climate justice, and then follows a fantastic community uprising lead by a fiery 80 year old woman mayor in South Australia.

As a result of this process I have become intensely interested in how we respond psychologically to climate change as humans. How do we cope with the grief, anger, confusion, disbelief and disempowerment that inevitably arises when we allow the reality of those doomsday news reports to sink in? Can we keep our chins up amidst all this?

Personally, I can. I’m way beyond depression and anxiety. In 2009 I sat in at the Four Degrees and Beyond conference in Oxford when the world’s eminent climate scientists shared their current research and came to a collective realisation that the worst case scenarios that each was predicting via their various areas of specialty modelling was, in fact, already playing out. It was a sobering vibe to say the least.

Later, filming in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I witnessed poverty and suffering which left me stunned and numb with shame and sadness. And then of course there was the Copenhagen climate conference. Watch my film to get a feel for that! It was… unbelievable…

Congo Villagers reduced

Yet today I feel good about this climate emergency – a time of emerge-ence – because each morning when I awake I know that I will do the best that I can in the day ahead to address it. In my own small ways. And that this is the most I can do…that any of us can do.

In conversations about climate, of which I have many, people often express to me their despair at what WE have done, at what WE need to do, and what WE are unlikely to do, with faces grim and foreheads sagging. And therein lies my message. For me it is not so relevant how WE respond. Ultimately I am only responsible for how I myself tackle climate change and this is where it all begins.

Hold the concept of a million tiny lights across the world. We are each one of these lights and together they make up a virtual supergrid of life as we all wake up to the destructions and step up, speak out and act. Every day I learn of incredible new ideas and initiatives and am now constantly in awe and celebration of these.

Think of ourselves, those of us who care deeply about all this, as the Earth’s immune system. As the dis-ease of ecocide – large scale air pollution and destruction of ecosystems – takes hold, we are mobilised like white blood cells to protect our pulsing, precious body. Make the difference you can make – by what you consume, how you travel, changes you initiate or support in the work you do, your work place, school or community group.

Importantly, talk about climate change. A lot. Because this is how we learn and how we connect in to a collective response. Build community. There is much to be inspired and excited about, and much work to be done. Join the revolution.

Ange Palmer is a Nelson-based documentary film maker. She is planning a NZ tour with her film 2 Degrees in August / Sept. where she will share her experiences of making the film, and speak on our response to climate change and Eradicating Ecocide. If you could support Ange by hosting a screening send her an .

Volunteers are also sought to assist with distribution. See here for details. A film is a great way to create a community dialogue, and can be a pathway to action. The film can also be watched online via the 2 Degrees website, and you can follow the film’s progress on Facebook and Twitter.

People talkin’ #16 Gareth Renowden Jun 25

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I promised an open thread, so here’s one to hold all your latest thoughts and wisdom. What’s it to be? Wind power, silly “solar models” built on notch filters and fudge factors, or the abysmal climate politics afflicting our friends across the Tasman? You decide. I only ask that you abide by the comment policy and stay roughly on the climate beat.

Climate Voter: new campaign to put climate on NZ election agenda Gareth Renowden Jun 24

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ClimateVoter

A non-partisan campaign to put action on climate change at the centre of the coming election campaign was launched at the weekend (NZ Herald, RNZ). Climate Voter, a joint initiative by Forest & Bird, Generation Zero, 350 Aoteoroa, Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF, is using social media to drive the campaign, and will host a debate on climate policy between the leaders of the top six polling parties in September. At the time of writing over 10,000 people had signed up to the campaign — including me. It’s a very worthwhile effort and one I’m very happy to support, because as long as politicians are allowed to get away with mismanaging or ignoring climate policy, NZ will remain on the wrong path. The laws of physics don’t care what your politics are, but they will make people who ignore them pay a high price.

In vino, climate veritas: Salinger on warming and the new world of wine Gareth Renowden Jun 23

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Wine grapes are a climatically sensitive crop grown across a fairly narrow geographic range. Growing season temperatures for high-quality wine production is generally limited to 13–21°C on the average. This currently encompasses the Old World appellation regions of France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the Balkans, and those developing New World regions in California, Chile, Argentina, southern Australia and New Zealand.

Speaking at the International Masters of Wine Symposium last month in Florence in Italy, professor Greg Jones, the wine climate specialist from the University of Southern Oregon, noted that the overall growing season temperature trend was upwards. This is for numerous wine regions across the globe from 1950–2000, by 1.3°C. Greater growing season heat accumulation with warmer and longer seasons has occurred. At the same time frost days (days below 0°C) have decreased from 40 to around 12 per year at Blenheim.

There has been a decline in the number of days of frost that is most significant in the dormant period and spring, earlier last spring frosts, later first frosts in autumn with longer frost-free periods. For example in Tuscany, the Chianti region of Italy, summer temperatures have increased by 2°C from 1955-2004. The warming is extending the world’s wine map into new areas such as British Columbia in Canada, Exmoor in England and into the southern Baltic.

The climate impacts of these warming trends in the Old World regions has been earlier budburst and flowering and altering ripening profiles which affect wine styles. For example, potential alcohol levels of Riesling at harvest in the Alsace region of France have increased by 2.5% (by volume) over the last 30 years and are highly correlated to significantly warmer ripening periods, earlier budbreak and flowering. In Napa, California from 1971-2000 average alcohol levels have risen from 12.5% to 14.8% while acid levels fell and the pH climbed. Soil temperatures are increasing in the wake of air temperatures, and will likely present numerous additional issues.

Similar warming trends are being observed in viticulture areas in New Zealand. For example in New Zealand’s largest wine production region in Marlborough, mean annual temperatures over the last 80 years have increased by 0.9°C, with the number of summer days (days above 25°C ) at Blenheim increasing from 24 to 36 a year.

Blenheimhotdays

At the same time frost days (days below 0°C) have decreased from 40 to around 12 per year at Blenheim.

Blenheimfrost

Greg Jones noted that climate model projections by 2100 predict growing season warming of an additional 2.0–4.5°C on average. NIWA mid-range projections for the New Zealand wine grape areas are for a warming of 1°C by 2030 and 2°C by 2090.

The Florence Symposium turned its attention to how the European wine industry is preparing for a warmer world — and these lessons are very pertinent to our wine industry in New Zealand.

While challenges exist for all New Zealand wine regions, opportunities for a more sustainable industry are being addressed in the overseas industry and research communities. At the vineyard level the terrain slope (utilizing north rather than south facing slopes), training systems and vineyard design can be changed. For example many vine rows, have been oriented to maximize sunshine in places where this is no longer the optimal objective and shade will become a positive rather than a negative in many places.

Another option is wine variety diversification. The Piedmont region of Italy is noted for its red wines which are made from either Dolcetto or Nebbiolo varieties. Although both varieties are grown over a relatively narrow climate range, Nebbiolo performs better in a warmer climate (17.8 to 20.4°C) with a long growing season. Dolcetto does better in a slightly cooler climate (16.4 to 18.4°C). This represents an expansion in quality and production potential.

There are about 5,000 or so varieties of grape that are known presently. In Bordeaux (France) the Parcelle 52 project, underway since 2009, is monitoring the performance of all sorts of locally unfamiliar grapes such as Grenache, Tempranillo and Georgia’s Saperavi in order to prepare for a hotter climate in the future.

Wineclimates

Climate-maturity groupings based on relationships between plant life cycle requirements and growing season average temperatures for high to premium quality wine production in the world’s benchmark regions for many of the world’s most common cultivars. Diagram supplied by Greg Jones.

Other tips for a more glorious future in wine production from researchers include Rabigato and Alfrocheiro in Portugal; Sumoll, Escursac and one of the two different Maturanas in Spain; Counoise and Verdesse in France; Lagrein on the Italian mainland and Nieddera in Sardinia. The fastest growing varieties globally have been away from the cooler wine styles to Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, especially, Tempranillo. The New Zealand wine industry can seize the opportunities with similar evaluations for each region with different varieties.

Finally the traditional appellation regions in Europe are in areas of significant topography and research programmes have been mapping potential new areas for production at higher elevations. New Zealand has a long latitude range and the South Island, in particular, has significant areas above 300 metres which can be utilised. This allows the migration of warmer wine styles south, with the cooler wine styles to higher elevations. For example, the MacKenzie Basin in inland Canterbury very likely has a significant potential for a future viticulture area – with a dry climate, hot summers and cold winters.

The Romans said: ‘Vino veritas — In wine there is truth’. The truth now is that the earth’s climate is changing much faster than the wine business, and virtually every other business is preparing for. The gradual nature of climate change should provide the industry sufficient time to develop and utilise some of the adaptation strategies discussed in Florence. A warming world represents opportunities for the New Zealand wine industry – both producers and growers.

This guest post is by Dr Jim Salinger, who is currently a visiting scientist at IBIMET-CNR, in Rome. He is conducting research on climate and wine quality in Tuscany. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it… An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Lucy Lawless edition of the NZ Herald earlier this month.

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