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Posts Tagged Climate politics

Federated Farmers: sticking their heads in the soil? cindy May 12

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Dryland farmingFederated Farmers says farmers don’t need to worry about the causes of climate change, they only need to cope with the impacts. Feds President William Rolleston says they have “no position” on whether mankind is influencing global warming, and say that looking at the causes is not that helpful. No position?

“We [farmers] need to basically adjust to the realities that are being dealt to us, and why it may or may not be happening isn’t really as important, as actually being prepared for what we actually do get dealt,” their “climate change spokesman” Anders Crofoot told Radio New Zealand today.

You can’t have “no position” on the climate science — it’s like telling your bank manager you have “no position” on your finances, despite the numbers being there for all to see. I’m calling it climate denial. I’ll come back to that later, but let’s look at WHY they’re saying that.  If you were to take a position, that is, agree that climate change is real and caused by humans, you’d have to act. You’d think.

 

So I guess it’s blindingly obvious why Federated Farmers want to avoid talking about the causes of climate change, because farming, at 48 percent, is the largest contributor to our burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions, and the present government has exempted them from the emissions trading scheme, the one they’re consulting on at the moment.

But let’s look at impact of climate change on farmers — what they might be “dealt” as a result of the climate change they’re contributing to but not willing to do anything about, and what they have to look forward to.

One climate impact we can look forward to in New Zealand is increased drought. We’re starting to experience droughts here already, like never before. One obvious problem with increased drought is lack of water. And the expansion of industrial dairy farming — often chopping down forests that used to act as carbon sinks — is driving a massive investment into irrigation and increased water use.

In February this year, during the worst drought experienced by the South Island farming community, maybe ever, Fed Farmers’ Environment and Water spokesman Ian Mackenzie was on the radio slamming the Government’s Crown Irrigation Fund for providing loans for famers, rather than actual investment for irrigation schemes.  The pressure is going on, with both Federated Farmers and Irrigation NZ both pushing hard for Government — and therefore the taxpayer — to front the costs.

What is climate change costing us?

This year’s drought has shaved 0.5% off GDP growth, according to ANZ. Farmers freaked out in February as the unprecedented Canterbury drought forced the shutting of the Opuha Dam for irrigation.  

Meat prices dropped as farmers, unable to feed their animals, had to cull them.

Even Bathurst Resources, which, in the face of plummeting coal prices, is having to rely on supplying coal domestically, reported a drop in income in the first quarter of this year because its main customer, Fonterra, had less milk to dry and therefore used less coal.

The 2013 drought in the North Island was the “worst in history” according to scientists and cost the country around $1.3 billion.  This drought has now been confirmed by scientists to have been made worse by climate change.

The 2007-08 drought had a $2.8 billion economic impact, in on-farm and off-farm costs.

And that’s just the droughts

Let’s turn now to the damages from floods and storms — the type of extreme weather events that are expected to come from climate change. By September 2014, weather-related Insurance had cost $135.4 million. The Insurance Council of NZ predicts that this type of event will cost, on average, $1.6 billion a year, as climate impacts kick in.

Of course not all of this cost will be laid only at a farmer’s door, but if you look at the Insurance Council’s list of big disasters the insurance industry has had to pay out for in recent years, it’s clear that farmers have certainly suffered their fair share of impacts.

Back to the science

Given that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that we’re causing it,  and we’ve now had no less than five IPCC reports, the question has to be asked: where has Federated Farmers been?

Its leader-with-no-position, William Rolleston, is supposedly a smart man. According to this profile, “his appetite for all things science is fuelled by reading on the origins and workings of the universe, biology and natural history.” He sits on the Ministry of Science, Business and Innovation’s Science Board.

So you’d think he’d maybe have read the IPCC summaries, or consulted some of his colleagues on that board about the science of climate change, its causes and its projected impacts, and realised that you can’t have “no position” on climate science. If you are a scientist, you don’t get to pick and choose which bits of evidence you believe in. You live with the facts.

For a group that purports to be acting on behalf of farmers, one would think that in 2015 Federated Farmers would be taking this issue, and its causes, extremely seriously.

The droughts that farmers are feeling today, at 0.8ºC of warming, are already having a serious economic effect on their industry and, given that current projections are that we’re heading to 4ºC of warming, you’d think they’d be going all out to do what they can to stop it. But denying its very existence? Seriously?

I just hope that the rest of the country’s farmers, ie the 85 percent who are not represented by Federated Farmers, aren’t quite that stupid.

But if Federated Farmers refuse to take any responsibility for — or do anything about the causes of climate change — and instead continue upping production without paying any attention to emissions, the question has to be asked: why should the taxpayer, and the Government, continue to give them handouts for drought relief or storm relief, or give them a free ride on the costs of their emissions to the rest of the economy? Why should we stump up for massive irrigation schemes to pay for even more irrigation so they can ramp up production further?

NZ government to consult on Paris emissions target Gareth Renowden May 08

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NZemissionsconsult.jpgClimate change minister Tim Groser announced yesterday that the government is to consult on a post-2020 emissions target to present at the UNFCC conference in Paris in December. The consultation process is open to written submissions now, and there will be a series of public meetings and hui starting in Nelson on Wed May 13, finishing in Christchurch on May 20. Submissions close on June 3. In his press release, Groser said:

“New Zealand wants to set a target which is environmentally credible and reflects our particular circumstances.  But we also need to consider the possible impacts and costs to our economy.”

Reasonable enough, but Groser then starts a pitch that sounds suspiciously as though he’s preparing the ground for an unambitious target:

“Increasing our commitment after 2020 will be a big challenge, as nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture and 80 per cent of our electricity already comes from renewable sources. The easy gains have already been made. But we are expected to make a fair contribution to combating this global problem.”

This impression is confirmed by a quick reading of the discussion document issued by the Ministry for the Environment to accompany the process. Much is made of the difficulties of cutting emissions, and the costs they will impose on the economy, but there is no apparent effort to quantify the risks of inaction, or the benefits to be delivered by the economic transformation to a low-carbon economy.

One of principal reasons that cutting emissions will be “challenging” is of course that Groser and his cabinet colleagues dismantled a comprehensive set of emissions policies inherited from the previous Labour-led government, mismanaged the emissions trading scheme so as to create a laughably low effective carbon price, stymied new forestry planting, and refused to bring agriculture into the ETS. It’s always harder to get somewhere if you’ve spent the last six years pedalling in the wrong direction.

I’ll be commenting further on the discussion document in due course, but as Brian Fallow in the Herald notes, I am not alone in finding Groser’s approach unpersuasive.

Being a cynic, I suspect that this whole rushed process is being offered as a fig leaf for a lack of ambition — about managing expectations downwards, rather genuinely seeking ideas with a view to creating good and effective policy. In the meantime, I urge Hot Topic‘s readers to prepare submissions, make an effort to attend one of the public meetings, and lobby the government for an ambitious set of emissions targets. We can but try…

Milk cow blues: dirty dairy costs NZ dear, but methane cuts might work Gareth Renowden Apr 30

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There’s good news and bad news for New Zealand’s dairy industry this week. On the one hand, research has found a number of compounds that can cut methane emissions from ruminants (cows and sheep) by up to 90% by reducing populations of the bacteria that produce the gas. On the other hand, research into the external costs of dairying — the costs not currently born by dairy companies — suggest that dairying’s value to the NZ economy may amount to a “zero sum” game. At the very least the national income generated by dairy sales is significantly offset by the costs of remediating the environmental impacts caused by that farming — costs that are born by the general tax payer, not agribusiness — according to a team from Massey University.

The good news on methane was announced this week at the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Conference 2015. Agresearch Principal Scientist Dr Peter Janssen told Radio NZ:

It’s a very exciting result but there’s still a lot of checking to be done before you actually get something that a farmer can use safely.

Interviewed by the NZ Herald, Dr Rick Pridmore, chairman of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, was upbeat:

The results are significant for two reasons. First, because they work on livestock consuming a grass-based diet and, second because the short-term trials showed such dramatic results,” he said.

However, it might take up to 5 years for these treatments to reach farmers, as the compounds are tested for the possibility of residues in meat and milk.

Cutting methane emissions might reduce diary farmers’ liability under an emissions trading scheme that included agriculture — they are at present excluded — but would have no impact on the other external costs calculated in a new paper, New Zealand Dairy Farming: Milking Our Environment for All Its Worth, which suggests that the costs of repairing the environmental damage done by intensive dairying approaches the value generated by the activity.

One of the authors, Dr Mike Joy told Stuff:

A strong message from the study is that avoiding pollution is far cheaper for everyone than trying to clean it up afterwards and there is now ample evidence that farmers can make more profit and pollute less when not myopically chasing increased production.

Unsurprisingly, the costs calculated in the paper are vigorously contested by farming organisations and some academics, but will chime with New Zealanders concerned that the rapid expansion of industrial dairying is significantly degrading important rural environments and chipping away at what’s left of NZ’s so-called clean green image.

[The Kinks]

Climate battle at NBR: Rodney’s rubbish versus Wiggs wisdom Gareth Renowden Apr 26

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New Zealand’s leading business media outfit — the National Business Review — has long dallied with climate denial, providing a platform for former ACT party leader Rodney Hide (amongst others) to push climate tosh. Last week Rodney used his regular opinion column to attack the government’s emissions policies (behind paywall) — fair enough, given that they are rubbish — but his rationale was that it was a waste of time because climate change wasn’t happening:

So what about the temperature record? Where is this being reported? Where is the headline? It’s the easiest question to ask, the best news to report and the only salient fact in an ocean of green wash and government propaganda.

And what’s that news? No global warming for nearly 20 years.

So far, so predictable… and so wrong. Here’s the latest news:

GISStemp20153

The last 12 months have been the hottest in the long term record. So was the year ending in February. With an El Niño event brewing in the Pacific, 2015 is on course to set a new record for hottest calendar year. 14 of the 15 hottest years have occurred this century. And that’s just if we look at surface temperatures. If we look where most of the heat is going — into the oceans — there’s no sign of any pause at all.

Rodney’s column attracted a comment from another NBR columnist, Lance Wiggs, a man with some real business chops and a respect for scientific evidence. That in turn sparked a battle of the columnists in this week’s NBR: Rodney’s rubbish, versus Wiggs’ wisdom.

 

A comparison is instructive. Rodney doubles down on his denial, blustering away for all he is worth: taking umbrage at being called a denier, dissing the models, moaning that costly action now will impoverish future generations. Wiggs prefers a more measured tone, provides plentiful references, and on the cost issue makes this telling observation:

Rodney Hide does not want to spend money, but it’s pretty easy to see that if we don’t invest now in combating and mitigating change, then we will be passing an ever-increasing burden on to the future. We advise people to start saving early for retirement because of the compounding effect of interest, and it’s the same with action on climate change – as CO2 emissions increase the job we all have to combat the crises gets harder and harder.

To rub salt into the wound, Wiggs advocates a carbon tax as the best policy to price emissions — exactly the policy Hide advocated in parliament before his Damascene conversion to climate denial.

Wiggs also notes that “the climate damage is already done”, and that we will have to live with the consequences by investing in resilience to climate change as well as cutting emissions. His final paragraph is something I am happy to endorse in full:

So what’s the worst that could happen if we work together to reduce carbon emissions? More business efficiency, lower emissions of the other nasty pollutants and power generation that is driven by free resources. That’s a future I’d like to live in.

Amen to that. In the meantime, would it be too much to ask NBR’s editor at large Nevil Gibson — himself something of a climate contrarian, to judge by the coverage he gives the subject — to ask Rodney to stick to writing about things he understands. Whatever they might be. Ballroom dancing, perhaps.

NZ’s emissions target scam – Groser & Co’s creative accounting exposed Mr February Apr 20

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Simon Johnson (aka MrFebruary) looks at how climate change minister Tim Groser and the National-led government intend to use creative carbon accounting to ensure that New Zealand meets its 2020 climate change target (a five percent reduction) in spite of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) projected to increase to 2020 and beyond.

On 10 April 2015, when he was releasing the latest inventory of greenhouse gases, the Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser made this very confident statement about the NZ 2020 climate change target; “We’re well on track to meet our 2020 target”

That target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to five per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

When this was announced in 2013 the target was criticised as useless, pathetic and inadequate.

The five percent reduction stands in stark contrast to the Ministry for the Environments projections of increasing emissions out to 2020. The Ministry estimates that the increase in gross (total) emissions in 2020 will be 29% above the 1990 baseline (from 60 to 77 million tonnes) and the increase in net emissions (gross less any increase in the stock of carbon stored in forests) to 2020 will be 130% (from 33 to 75 million tonnes). So why is Tim Groser so confident that the target will be achieved?

Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council has commented on the ‘kicking the can down the road’ features of the Government’s climate change policies: the mismatch between the emissions target and the predicted emissions, the absence of a credible plan or carbon budget approach and the deferring of liabilities into the future.

Taking Simon Terry’s work as a starting point, I am going to look at how the Government intends to apply the accounting rules for carbon credits to achieve the 2020 target in spite of the likely predicted increase in gross and net greenhouse gas emissions.

So how is NZ going to reduce emissions by five percent by 2020?

In December 2014, at the Lima, Peru, climate change conference, NZ climate ambassador Jo Tyndall was asked that specific question. Her answer was that NZ had four ways of achieving the 2020 target;

  1. through a combination of domestic emissions reductions,
  2. removal of carbon dioxide by forests,
  3. participation in international carbon markets and,
  4. recognising surplus achieved during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Domestic emissions reductions are unlikely. In 2013, Tim Groser told the Herald that his “strong advice” from officials was that the 2020 target could be met without any changes to settings of the NZ emissions trading scheme (ETS). The relevant Cabinet Paper for the 2020 target also states that the 2020 target can be met without changing policies or ETS costs. In other words, the NZ ETS will remain in its current induced coma, and stay ineffective in reducing domestic emissions.

NZ can’t meet the target by buying carbon credits from international carbon markets as access was blocked at the Doha meeting because we didn’t sign up to a formal Kyoto Protocol second commitment period target.

That leaves two ways of meeting the 2020 target; removal of carbon dioxide by forests, and recognising surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. I will look at the removal of carbon dioxide by forests next.

Forest carbon and Kyoto gross-net carbon accounting

By saying “removal of carbon dioxide by forests”, politicians and officials actually mean that carbon credits will be accounted for using the Kyoto Protocol’s gross-net forest carbon accounting rule. This sounds innocuous, if a bit sleep-inducing. It is in fact a method of creative accounting that NZ has already relied on to meet the 2008-2012 Kyoto first commitment period target.

The ‘baseline’, 1990 emissions, is “gross” – the sum of all emissions without subtracting any “credit” for carbon absorbed into sinks such as growing forests and land use changes. The target (2008 to 2012) emissions are “net”, as credits for carbon absorbed in growing forests are recognised and are subtracted from the gross emissions. This is called gross-net accounting. This makes the comparison between baseline and target inconsistent – it is not an “apples with apples” comparison.

I have blogged on this before but Professor Martin Manning, an IPCC author and formerly of the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, explained it better in 2012.

…achieving the Kyoto Protocol target can be quite misleading because it compares net emissions over the first commitment period, 2008 – 2012, with the gross emissions in 1990. If one compares the net emissions in 2012 with those for 1990, then the increase in NZ has actually been more than 100%.

The National Government intends to repeat this gross net accounting for the 2013 to 2020 target. As long as forest growth exceeds deforestation, this will allow both net and gross emissions to increase up to the quantity of carbon absorbed in forests that was ignored in the 1990 baseline.

The Climate Action Tracker website thinks the credit for carbon absorbed in forests could be up to 25 million tonnes CO2e a year and the ‘recognition’ (under Kyoto rules) of all the units would allow NZ gross emissions to increase up to 35% above the 1990 baseline.

Surplus Kyoto units from first Commitment Period 2008 – 2012

Jo Tyndall’s final method of achieving the 2020 target is to recognise surplus units from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. According to the latest Ministry for the Environment’s net position statement for the Kyoto Protocol, NZ will finish the first commitment period (2008-2012) with a surplus of 90.8 million units.

Even though NZ has no formal 2013-2020 Kyoto ‘commitment’, NZ intends to ‘carry over’ millions of these surplus Kyoto units to the 2013-2020 period in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol rules.

The carry-over rules are of course complicated, but I calculate that NZ will be able to ‘carry over’ almost all of them — 86 million units of the various types of units.

What’s wrong with having a surplus of units? An effective emissions trading scheme with a real cap would never have surplus units. Units would be scarce and realistically priced. A surplus of units is of itself evidence of a failed implementation of cap and trade frameworks such as Kyoto and the EU ETS.

A surplus of units is one consequence of emissions trading with no cap, unlimited access to international carbon markets and over-allocation of units to industry and a rock-bottom unit price. Which is exactly what we have had with the NZ ETS.

We need to remind ourselves why NZ has a surplus of units for the Kyoto Protocol first period. Although net and gross emissions increased, NZ gained surplus units by using the gross-net forest carbon accounting rule and allowing the nearly unlimited import of low-priced international units with dubious integrity which were surrendered by ETS participants to match their emissions.

According to Climate Analytics, internationally, the Kyoto first commitment period ended with 14 billion surplus units; enough to allow all the signatory countries to “comply” with their 2020 targets without restricting business as usual emissions growth. And this is exactly what the Government intends to do.

Each Kyoto unit carried forward will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.

Similarly, each carbon credit recognised for carbon absorbed in forests between 2013 and 2020 will be counted towards NZ’s 2020 target and will allow an additional tonne of domestic GHG emissions above the 1990 baseline.

Our politicians and bureaucrats could have focused on policies to reduce domestic emissions in order to meet the 2020 target. Achieving the 2020 target won’t be an outcome of policies to reduce emissions. Like fixing the emissions trading system. It will be an outcome of the accounting rules chosen for the carbon credits the Government can hold. NZ’s target is a scam and a sham, the result of dodgy creative accounting.

High Water – NZ climate comic anthology Gareth Renowden Apr 16

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Scientists investigate how climate changes, politicians (should) decide what to do about it. Tough jobs. Artists have just as difficult a job: to comment on the reality and unreality they see in society’s responses to the climate threat, and by doing so motivate us to create a liveable future. In High Water, a new anthology of climate-inspired work by NZ comic artists, pulled together by Damon Keen and Faction Comics, that response ranges from the touching to the frightening, huge vistas seen through little frames — all presented in visually stunning stories drawn by NZ’s finest artists. The book kicks off with a superb little story by Dylan Horrocks, Dear Hinewai:

HorrocksHW

I’m a great fan of Dylan’s work1 — his latest, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is a real tour de force — and here he draws beautiful and bittersweet postcards from a future where New Zealanders are exploring a radically altered planet by airship2.

There is a lot of good stuff in High Water, but I have some personal favourites: Damon Keen’s The Lotus Eaters, which takes us on a trip from modern day Auckland through a grim future to the arcadia on the other side of our civilisation reminds me of the comics I grew up with (think Eagle), while Cory Mathis’ My Wife, The Mastodon looks at climate change through the eyes of ice age humans encountering neanderthals (and sabre tooth tigers). Chris Slane’s wonderful Dialogo di Galileo is a powerful poke at climate denial, with a great twist in the last frames.

SlaneHW

There’s an introduction by Lucy Lawless, in which she hits the nail rather more effectively on the head than our Prime Minister:

These eleven incredible artists have not stinted in imagining the gravest outcomes of man-made climate change. Perhaps a visual warning will work better than a written one, that requires imagination from a recalcitrant mind. Gorgeous work!

She’s right, you know. We need all hands to the pumps if we’re going to deal with the inundation coming our way, and High Water is a most welcome contribution.

To see more images from the anthology, and to get more background on the inspiration behind it, see this interview with editor Damon Keen. High Water, featuring the work of Dylan Horrocks, Sarah Laing, Katie O’Neill, Cory Mathis, Christian Pearce, Ned Wedlock, Toby Morris, Damon Keen, Chris Slane, Ross Murray and Jonathan King is being launched this evening in Auckland. Best wishes to all who sail in her…

  1. That’s his image on the cover of The Aviator — see sidebar.
  2. Great minds, etc etc… 😉

The encroaching sea: new NZ sea level rise maps Gareth Renowden Apr 13

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This guest post is by Jonathan Musther, who has just published an amazing series of highly detailed maps projecting future sea level rise scenarios onto the New Zealand coastline. If you live within cooee of the sea, you need to explore his maps. Below he explains why he embarked on the project.

10mSLR-Christchurch480

The effect of 10m sea level rise on Christchurch: say goodbye to St Albans, prepare to paddle in the CBD. Full map here.

For humans, sea-level rise will almost certainly be the most directly observable effect of climate change, and specifically of global warming. As the climate changes, many of the effects will be subtle, or if not subtle, they will at least be very complex. Summers may be warmer, or cooler; we may experience more rain at some times of year, and less at others; tropical storms may increase and they may be sustained further from the equator, but all of these changes are complex, and not necessarily obvious against the background complexity of any climate system. In contrast, there is something obvious and unstoppable about sea-level rise, there is no question that it will send anyone in its path running for the hills.

For some time I have been involved in searching for land appropriate for specific uses such as arable farming, water catchment, and off-grid living. When searching for land in this way, there are many, many criteria to consider, and of course one of these is potential future sea-level. Using GIS (Geographical Information System) software, and elevation models of the New Zealand landscape, it is possible to visualise sea-level rise, and select sites accordingly. Naturally, the next question is what sea-level rise to consider. It is possible to place an upper-limit on sea-level rise – after all, there’s only a finite amount of ice that could melt – but beyond that, we’re limited to informed guesswork.

25mSLR-Christchurch480

25m sea level rise: a sunken city and Banks Island. Full map here.

What is the maximum possible sea-level rise? It depends who you ask. Many sources place the maximum potential sea-level rise at around 60-64 metres, but these figures are rarely referenced, and don’t concur with the latest research. Other sources place the figure at around 80-81.5 metres, and while this appears to be well referenced and researched, it is based on work that is somewhat out of date. The best estimates I’ve been able to locate, based on recent measurements (and lots of them) are around 70 metres, but quite what the margin of error is remains uncertain. Of course, when considering future sea-level, we must remember that here in the South Pacific, we will likely experience increased numbers of more powerful tropical storms, with associated storm surges.

80mSLR-Christchurch480

At 80m, West Melton is a seaside township. Full map here.

The maps I created showing sea-level rise for the whole of New Zealand depict rises of 10, 25 and 80 metres. I have certainly received criticism for not focussing on more modest sea-level rises (e.g. 1 or 2 metres), but there are some good reasons for this: firstly, the resolution of the elevation models of New Zealand do not allow accurate predictions of such small rises. Secondly, larger sea-level rises pose a huge threat, and are therefore worth considering. I made a point of avoiding time frame predictions when producing the sea-level rise maps, partly because the time frame is largely irrelevant (if 80% of our homes are flooded, it’s bad news, no matter when) and partly because the range of expert estimates is huge. Study after study shows that we have underestimated ice-sheet instability, and it is almost universally accepted that large sea-level rise will be a consequence. Unfortunately, most studies place this sea-level rise at some unspecified time in the future – when, we’re not sure, but it’s far enough away that we needn’t worry…

So is a 10 or 25 metre sea-level rise likely? Unfortunately, the broad answer is yes. The Greenland, West and East Antarctic ice sheets are showing growing instability, and many researchers agree that they may have past a ‘point of no return’. Remember, the Greenland ice sheet alone, if completely melted, would lead to approximately a 7 m rise in global sea-level. Of course, we return to the issue of when this is likely to happen, and on that, the jury is out.

I firmly believe that to be good scientists, we must investigate the possibility of large sea-level rise, and its consequences. The time frame is unclear, the absolute rise is also unclear, but there really is something unstoppable about rising oceans. We are now well outside the sphere of collective human experience and expertise, and we should be very careful to prepare, as best we can, for a range of scenarios.

Climate Shock Bryan Walker Mar 12

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Uncertainties attend the predictions of climate science, as the scientists themselves are careful to acknowledge. Reluctant policy makers use this uncertainty to support a “wait and see” response to climate change. Prominent American economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman in their recent book Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet are scathing in their condemnation of such a response. They translate “wait and see” as “give up and fold” and call it wilful blindness.

Their own response to the uncertainty surrounding climate predictions is to ask what the worst case scenario looks like.

Here’s what you get: about a 10 percent chance of eventual temperatures exceeding 6 ° C, unless the world acts much more decisively than it has.

This isn’t a figure they’ve made up for themselves. It’s based on IPCC prediction ranges and on the International Energy Agency’s interpretation of current government commitments.

It’s clearly a catastrophic scenario, but with a 10 percent chance of happening it must play a prominent part in our thinking and planning. We take out fire insurance on our homes with a much lower than 10 percent chance of their burning down. It’s called prudence, and most of us don’t think twice about the precaution of insurance.

 

The book urges a level of response appropriate to an existential planetary risk of catastrophic proportions. There’s no blueprint in the lively discussion about what might be done and why it is proving so difficult to do it, but a price on carbon is one of the essentials, a point repeated many times over in the course of the book. What price? The authors see an appropriate price is one which prevents us getting anywhere close to 6 degrees warming, and offer $40 per ton as a start, the figure the US government estimates for the social cost of carbon. But it’s only a starting point.

What we know of the science points to a higher figure than that. An adequate price on carbon will help channel the human drive and ingenuity which is our best hope of getting out of the threatening situation we are in. The authors quote with approval the words of Richard Branson: “I think a global carbon tax is screaming— blindingly obvious and should have been introduced fifteen years ago…And if that happened, we would get on top of the problem.”

There are many obstacles to effective action on climate change. The temptation to free riding is ever present and often succumbed to. It’s at the heart of the global problem of global warming. Incurring costs which result in common benefit doesn’t come easy to most of us. I reflected at this point in my reading of the book that one only has to listen to the evasive words of ministers in the New Zealand government to be aware of how strong the impulse to free riding is. Apparently we are excused from putting a strong brake on emissions because we would lose competitive advantage if we did so; we can continue to explore for more oil and gas because there could be money in it for us; we can overlook agricultural emissions because we are producing food for the world; in the last resort we are too small to make any difference to the overall picture and in any case we’re only doing what everyone else is. So yes, we’d like to see global emissions come down, but we’ll certainly not offer anything that might be construed as a lead.

But if free riding allows atmospheric carbon to rise to the point where the consequences are causing major damage the authors point to the dangers of a different phenomenon – what they call free driving. Geoengineering by countries desperate to ameliorate warming is the scenario the authors fear. It would be comparatively cheap and straightforward to inject large quantities of sulphur-based particles into the stratosphere and produce a cooling effect. Their book includes an extensive discussion of this type of geoengineering, not advocating it, but finding it difficult to see it being rejected under extreme circumstances. What the authors do advocate is international discussion and an attempt to establish international consensus in advance which would prevent rogue action. The seriousness with which they consider geoengineering is a measure of the seriousness with which they estimate the future risk of warming.

More immediately and positively the authors argue for careful and limited subsidies for low-carbon technologies particularly at the early innovation stages of learning-by-doing. They envisage short term subsidies to enable new technology to get over the initial hump between expensive early production and much cheaper later mass production.  They warn of the trap of long-term subsidies, nowhere better illustrated than in the $500 billion global fossil fuel subsidies.

The book is hardly optimistic. But the authors reject any accusation of alarmism:

We see it as our obligation to paint the full picture of what we know, and to show how what we don’t know might play out. We take no satisfaction in doing so. We can only hope that we are wrong.

Wrong on three counts: because the most drastic outcomes the science points to don’t come to pass; because society really does do what is necessary to rein in emissions; because the seemingly unstoppable drive to geo-engineering can be put under some governing mechanism.

No doubt readers will share the hope that the authors are wrong. But for the present they do a valuable service in underlining to a strangely heedless society that we really are facing terrible human danger and need to take drastic action if we’re to avert it.

DomPost denier debacle: science has the last word Gareth Renowden Mar 10

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The Dominion Post, which blotted its editorial copybook last week by publishing a factually incorrect and highly misleading opinion piece by climate denialists, has today published a heavyweight reply by three of NZ’s top climate scientists — David Wratt, Andy Reisinger and Jim Renwick1. Headed “Human role in climate change is clear”, the article is clear about climate reality:

Human influence on the climate system is clear and growing, and impacts are evident on all continents. If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

We do have options to reduce risks by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to some climate change, but time is running short if we want to limit changes to manageable levels. Ignoring or misconstruing the overwhelming evidence is not a responsible risk management strategy.

It’s not clear whether the DomPost plans any further response to the rubbish they printed from Bryan Leyland and Bob Carter, but the editorial team at the newspaper would do well to reflect on the approach to the subject adopted by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, introducing an important new series of features in that paper:

For the purposes of our coming coverage, we will assume that the scientific consensus about man-made climate change and its likely effects is overwhelming. We will leave the skeptics and deniers to waste their time challenging the science. The mainstream argument has moved on to the politics and economics.

Precisely. Rusbridger — who is retiring after 20 years as editor — wants his newspaper to do justice…

…to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.
So, in the time left to me as editor, I thought I would try to harness the Guardian’s best resources to describe what is happening and what — if we do nothing — is almost certain to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community”.

That’s what a real newspaper does: takes on the big issues. If the Dominion Post wants to be more than a Noddy book newspaper publishing rubbish from the intellectual heirs to Big Ears, it’s high time it took a sensible approach to the climate debate, and followed Rusbridger’s lead.

Meanwhile, Bryan Leyland has posted what his web site describes as a “referenced version” of the text of the article that appeared last week. It’s available here (pdf), and is chiefly remarkable for the quality of what passes as references in crank circles. There are links to blog posts at µWatts and other climate crank sites, conspiracy-riddled pieces from extreme-right “news” services, and barely legible graphs. Where he does link to real science (on sea level rise), the underlying data doesn’t support the contentions in the article. Par for the climate crank Carterist “science” course, in other words.

  1. David Wratt is an Emeritus Climate Scientist at NIWA, an Adjunct Professor in the NZ Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University, and a Vice Chair of Working Group 1 of the IPCC. Andy Reisinger is Deputy Director (International) of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and served as coordinating lead author in the most recent IPCC report. James Renwick is a Professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University of Wellington and served as a Lead Author on the last two IPCC Reports.

25 ways the DomPost failed its readers by publishing Leyland and Carter’s climate crap Gareth Renowden Mar 05

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

The Dominion Post, the newspaper of record for New Zealand’s capital city, today gave great prominence to an opinion piece by high profile climate denialists Bob Carter and Bryan Leyland titled Hypothetical global warming: scepticism needed1. It’s a “Gish Gallop” of untruths, half-truths and misrepresentations — a piece so riddled with deliberate errors and gross misrepresentations that it beggars belief that any quality newspaper would give it space.

I will deal with the factual errors in a moment, but the DomPost‘s lack of editorial judgement extends well beyond any failure to fact check the article. Carter and Leyland’s expertise on the issue is misrepresented. The newspaper’s readers are not given a true picture of their “standing”. They are in fact paid/sponsored propagandists, way out on the crank fringes. Here’s how Carter is credited.

Professor Bob Carter is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of NZ. His expertise is in geology and paleoclimatology — deducing past climates from geological records. He has written several books on climate change.

All of that is true2, but it is far from a full picture. In fact, Carter has been a propagandist against action on climate change since the 1990s, with a history of paid work with and for far-right wing organisations in Australia and the USA – including being paid by the notorious Heartland Institute in the US to produce shoddy pseudo-academic publications. In the right wing Australian journal Quadrant, where links to right wing organisations obviously play well, Carter’s credit runs like this:

Bob Carter is an Emeritus Fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and Chief Science Advisor to the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC).

The IPA campaigns against climate action, and Carter recently starred in its Climate: Change the facts tour around Australia promoting a new propaganda pamphlet. As an adviser to the ICSC — a group attempting to promote climate denial around the world, he works to:

“…directly educate the public about what science, engineering and economics are really concluding about climate change and the downside of misguided plans (e.g., wind turbines, “carbon sequestration”, etc.) to “solve the crisis”. This includes newspaper articles, letters to the editor, radio and TV interviews, public presentations, regular postings on our, and others’, Web sites and use of all forms of popular social media.”

In other words, Carter and Leyland managed to con the DomPost into playing along with their propaganda campaign.

The DomPost credits Leyland thus:

Bryan Leyland is an engineer specialising in renewable energy. He is an accredited reviewer for the IPCC and has contributed several articles on renewable energy technologies to overseas publications.

In fact, Leyland has a long track record of activism against action to reduce carbon emissions. He was a founder member of the NZ Climate Science Coalition and a trustee of the NZ Climate Science Education Trust — formed to bring a court action against NIWA’s handling of the national temperature record. When the case was lost, the trust was folded so that Leyland and his fellow trustees could avoid paying $90,000 of court-ordered costs.

Leyland is notorious in NZ media circles for his attempts to push climate denial. It beggars belief that the DomPost did not know about his track record, and went ahead with publishing an article under his name without prominently noting his role as an activist.

As propagandists, the product that Leyland and Carter are pushing is doubt — a tactic first used by the tobacco industry, but since refined by fossil fuel interests keen to avoid emissions cuts. Leyland and Carter “win” every time a mainstream media outlet gives their views credence by giving them prominence. Newspapers do not regularly provide platforms for cranks, but that is exactly what Leyland and Carter are, as we shall see in a moment.

24 ways to be wrong about climate

Let’s be clear about this. The errors and misdirections outlined below are not mistakes. They are not reasonable constructions that an independent commentator might make when looking at the totality of the evidence. They are arguments deliberately selected to present a distorted picture of reality.

The article gets off to a bad start with this opening sentence.

1: We are constantly told that man-made carbon dioxide has caused global warming that will bring doom and disaster in a few years.

Wrong. Man-made CO2 has certainly caused global warming (IPCC, 2014), but very few people — and certainly no scientists predict doom and disaster in the near future. All bets are off for the latter half of this century, however.

2: These predictions are largely based on the output of computer models, rather than observations of what is happening in the real world.

Wrong. Paleoclimate — supposedly one of Carter’s specialities — tells us a great deal about what may happen as CO2 rises. The models are useful for giving us an idea of what might happen in the future and what we can do to affect the outcome.

3: – the world has not experienced any significant warming over the last 18 years –

Wrong. There has been some slowdown in the upwards trend of surface temperatures — the so-called “hiatus”, but no reduction in the amount of heat accumulating in the system — mainly in the oceans.

4: – more accurate satellite records –

Wrong. Satellites estimate temperature of layers of the atmosphere by using the same radiation transfer calculations as the climate models so derided by Leyland and Carter. The satellite record is interesting and useful, but cannot stand in or substitute for real temperature measurements taken at the earth’s surface.

5: – models “failed to predict this lack of warming”.

Wrong. There has been no lack of warming. Model runs are not forecasts, but when the model runs are examined, those that most closely match what’s happened over the last 15 years (such as the state of the El Niño Southern Oscillation) track recent temperatures well3.

6: We can now be confident that man-made carbon dioxide does not cause dangerous global warming and that the predictions of computer models of the climate are worthless.

Wrong. Carter and Leyland may assert their personal confidence, but that is not shared by the vast majority — 97% or thereabouts, however it is measured — of the scientists with genuine expertise in this field. To act on their say-so would be like backing a three-legged horse in the Melbourne Cup.

7: Global sea ice area is well above the 1979-2013 average.

Wrong. Over the last 35 years global sea ice area has declined by 35,000 square kilometres per year, or about -1.5% per decade. (Source)

8: In the Arctic it is close to average…

Wrong. This week’s Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis from the NSIDC in the US reports that last month had the third lowest February ice extent in the satellite record, and suggests that there is a possibility that this year could set a new record for lowest sea ice maximum extent.

9: In the Antarctic it is at the highest level since 1979…

Wrong. The February extent of 3.58m km2 according to the NSIDC was the fourth highest summer minimum extent on record, trailing behind 2008 (3.75m km2), 2013, and 2003.

10: Once again, there is a large disparity between the computer based predictions of ever increasing loss of sea ice and reality.

Correct, but misleading. Models have consistently underestimated sea ice decline in the Arctic.

11: …rate of sea level rise has slowed…

Wrong. According to the IPCC, the rate of sea level rise has accelerated in recent decades, and is expected to increase further as warming melts land-based ice.

12: Polar bears

Still listed as endangered, and continued loss of sea ice — their preferred hunting grounds — will increase pressure on bear numbers. See this excellent recent overview for a realistic assessment of the state of the bears.

13: Coral atolls are not disappearing beneath rising oceans.

Misdirection. Coral atolls have not yet disappeared, but conditions for human habitation on a number islands — including Tuvalu — are becoming difficult, and will become impossible later in this century if sea level rise continues as expected by the experts.

14: About 15,000 years ago sea levels were rising at 3m a century and coral atolls and the Great Barrier Reef survived.

True. But there were no human populations on Pacific Islands at the time. 3m per century rise over the next century would be catastrophic for cities and populations all round the world. The “survival” of reefs would be the least of our worries.

15: Glaciers are retreating some areas and advancing in others.

Trivially true but hugely misleading, because the number of retreating glaciers far outweighs the few advancing. The World Glacier Monitoring Service estimates non-polar land ice (glaciers and ice caps) are losing mass at an increasing rate.

16: 5,000 years ago the European Alps had less ice than now and the Canadian tree line lay further north.

Misleading. That was during the Holocene optimum, when northern hemisphere regions were receiving more summer warmth than now due to Milankovitch cycles in the earth’s orbit. It tells us nothing about what will happen when the planet “catches up” with the heating effect of current atmospheric CO2 levels.

17: Historical records show that the world was warmer during the Middle Ages Warm Period.

Wrong. This is a canard, one much beloved of climate cranks, but not supported by current science. Some parts of the world may have been as warm as today, but it was not a global phenomenon.

18: Ocean acidification … the ocean is alkaline and is at no more risk of becoming acidic …

Puerile misdirection. “Acidification” is the process of becoming more acidic, and that is what is measured to be happening as CO2 dissolves into the world’s oceans. CO2 + H2O = carbonic acid. The effect on oceanic ecosystems will be huge.

19: Increased levels of carbon dioxide have boosted plant growth worldwide … modern greenhouses burn natural gas to double the CO2 concentration and hence increase production by 40%.

True, up to a point, but also a huge misdirection. Increasing CO2 will benefit some plants, some of the time, but not all. Any benefits will be offset by increasing droughts, floods and heatwaves and rapid polewards migration and distortion of ecosystems.

20: … an IPCC study shows that the frequency of droughts has hardly changed and cyclones have declined …

Misdirection. Studies show increases in rainfall extremes, heatwaves and other weather extremes, and these will increase (as will droughts) as the climate system warms.

21: The British Meteorological Office has predicted that the current lack of warming will continue until 2018 at least.

But they’re using climate models, and those can’t be trusted! The hypocrisy burns.

22: Scientists who study natural climate cycles and the effect of the sun and sunspot cycles on the climate believe that the world has — or soon will — enter a cooling cycle.

This really is crank fringe nonsense. About as credible as backing that three legged horse for a Melbourne Cup/Aintree Grand National double.

23: Most mainstream climate scientists agree that 2 degrees C extra of warming would not be harmful

Nonsense. “Most mainstream climate scientists” understand that 2 degrees of warming will cause a great deal of damage to the climate system. 2ºC is a political target, not a scientific one.

24: The obvious conclusion is that the science is not settled.

The obvious conclusion is that Carter and Leyland are desperately trying to sell “doubt at any price”. The real climate debate is not a scientific debate, or a debate about the science, it’s about how we deal with an issue which is going to shape the lives of everyone over the next few hundred years. Carter and Leyland are selling all our futures to satisfy their inflated egos — and to please the people who sponsor, support and pay for their activities.

Nothing that I write here or that is written in the Dominion Post is likely to change the views of Carter and Leyland, because they are not wedded to science and a rational assessment of climate risk. Their loyalty is to a cause, and they will be counting their DomPost article as a major triumph. The newspaper, however, faces a very big problem. Their 25th mistake.

Giving climate cranks prominence in the paper, and to allow them to misrepresent the facts in such a cavalier manner, is a gross disservice to the DomPost‘s readers, and a huge blow to the newspaper’s reputation. If the paper is really incapable of spotting nonsense when its offered to them, then what confidence can its readers have in its judgement on other matters? What can we expect next? The paper advocating in its leader column that a homeopath should be appointed minister of health?

Readers and other interested parties may wish to consider making a complaint to the editor, and if a satisfactory response is not received, pursue the matter further with the Press Council. As a bare minimum, I believe the Dominion Post should, as a matter of urgency:

  • Apologise to its readers for publishing an opinion piece so riddled with deliberate errors and misdirection.
  • Provide readers with a more accurate understanding of the activist backgrounds of Leyland and Carter.
  • Publish and give greater prominence to a rejoinder from senior scientists with genuine expertise in climate science.
  • Introduce guidelines that provide that opinion or comment pieces that make controversial or counterfactual claims are provided by authors with significant expertise in the area under discussion, or should be subject to fact-checking by people with the necessary expertise.

The Press Council’s own guidelines state that:

Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.

…and that for comment and opinion pieces “requirements for a foundation of fact pertain”.

Leyland and Carter’s propaganda piece clearly falls foul of those guidelines. It is now up to the Dominion Post to address the issue and respond appropriately. It may help them if they consider the 2012 judgement by the Australian Communication and Media Authority against talkback host Alan Jones ands station 2GB, requiring them to take fact checking seriously, or the decision by the LA Times not to publish letters asserting climate change is not real:

Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.

And factual inaccuracies should have no place in a newspaper that aspires to be a newspaper of record.

  1. On page A7 – opposite the leader. Not currently available on the web, but a scan has been posted on Twitter — see this comment below.
  2. Except perhaps for the professorship. Carter has no current academic affiliation that I know of, so I wonder why the DomPost is granting him that status? Surely he wouldn’t have misrepresented himself to the paper?
  3. See, for example, Huber and Knutti, Natural variability, radiative forcing and climate response in the recent hiatus reconciled, Nature Geoscience 7, 651–656 (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2228

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