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Posts Tagged Climate science

NZ hikes terrorism threat to “low”, ignores Pentagon warning of “immediate” threat from climate change cindy Oct 20

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A low threat of a terrorist attack?  Never mind the climate. So, the threat of a terrorist attack on New Zealand is upon us has risen from “very low” to “low” — second to lowest in a ranking that has six levels. Cabinet is now urgently reviewing our security laws to make sure we’re equipped to deal with this horrific new threat. The media has dedicated hours of discussion, gigabytes of online content, and metres of newspaper articles to this important issue. I’m now quaking in my boots.

The day after John Key’s announcement of this new “low” threat, a major report on a global security threat went entirely unnoticed here in New Zealand. The Pentagon’s “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap,” released on October 14, warns that climate change is an “immediate threat” to national and global security, describing it as a “threat multiplier” that can worsen national security problems such as terrorism and the spread of infectious diseases.

The report says:

 “Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

The US Department of Defense has set out several goals around climate change in its defence strategy, as it seeks to integrate climate change considerations across the department.

“In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.”

One of the major issues for The Pentagon in dealing with climate change was the increasing need for the military’s involvement in dealing with the aftermath of extreme weather events, both at home and across the world.

This sounds familiar. A quick google search shows our defence forces being called in to help with the aftermath of cyclones both in New Zealand: Ita, Westland, 2014) and across the Pacific (Cyclones Ian, Tonga, January 2014; Evan, Samoa and Fiji, December 2012; Pat, Cook Islands, 2010, to name but a few.

In March this year the IPCC reported that New Zealand was “unprepared” for the kind of sea level rise we will get with continued global warming. In recent years we’ve seen a number of weather events — and even just king tides — that have battered our coastlines, such as the disintegrating sea wall in Island Bay, the damage suffered by St Clair esplanade and seawall in Dunedin, and coastal erosion in Hokitika.  Wellington City Council this week released its analysis of what rising seas would do to the city, putting the bill at $400 million.

The people who live in these areas may take a different view to our Prime Minister on which threat is closer to home.

Our climate change minister Tim Groser “welcomed” the IPCC report, but went on to say that it was down to local government to deal with the problem, ruling out any guidance from central government, which was more focused on getting an international agreement.

What does that big focus on an international agreement look like? Last week New Zealand proposed to the UNFCCC its idea of an international agreement that Governments should agree in Paris next year.

Such an agreement, says our Government, should not include legally binding targets for cutting emissions. Everyone should do what they feel up to, not what is necessary to keep global warming to their agreed 2degC. Make ‘em voluntary. Of course this has won praise from the US, not least because there’s no way Obama would ever agree to anything but voluntary action.

What we failed to say in our proposal was that legally binding emissions reduction targets would put New Zealand in a terrible position, because we’d actually have to cut our emissions, emissions that and are projected to rise exponentially in the coming years.

We are setting a shining example to the internationally community that we say we so keenly want to take action.  Our attempts to deal with climate change at home have resulted in our backing out of the Kyoto Protocol, and a failed emissions trading scheme:  in the last two years the taxpayer has paid out $5.85 million in free carbon credits to one company alone – NZ Aluminim Smelters Ltd (Rio Tinto) – which can then surrender those credits for cheap international ones, making enormous profits at the expense of the taxpayer. No emissions cuts in sight as a result of this, then.

Meanwhile our country is getting drier, with international scientists confirming last year’s drought was caused by climate change, and knocking  $1.3 billion out of the New Zealand economy.

We’re terribly concerned about security here in New Zealand – we’ve even just scored a seat a the UN Security Council.  But hey, let’s all focus on the imminent “low” threat of terrorism, and IS. Let’s not look at a threat that’s staring us all in the face because, heaven help us, we might actually have to start doing something about it.

Salinger: New Zealand is drying out, and here’s why Gareth Renowden Oct 14

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In this guest post Jim Salinger (currently working in Italy, but soon to return to these shores), takes a look at the climate influences on last year’s severe New Zealand drought. It first appeared on The Conversation.

Over 2012 and 2013, parts of New Zealand experienced their worst drought in nearly 70 years. Drought is the costliest climate extreme in New Zealand; the 2012-2013 event depressed the country’s GDP by 0.7-0.9%. The drought of 1988-1989 affected 5,500 farms, pushing some farmers to the wall. But what does a climate-changed future hold?

Recent evidence confirms that New Zealand on the whole is getting dryer. And we’re beginning to understand why — increasing greenhouse and ozone-depleting gases are driving changes in the atmosphere, with impacts far beyond New Zealand.

A history of drought

Agricultural drought is occurs when there is not enough moisture in the soil available to support crop and pasture growth. It is usually fairly extensive over significant parts of the country.

In March this year we reported that there is distinct trend towards increased agricultural drought since 1941, in four (80%) out of the five agricultural drought regions. There is a trend toward a summer drying in all of these regions except the west of the North Island. The overall trend for New Zealand agricultural drought is shown in the diagram below.

NZDroughtindex

New Zealand agricultural drought index 1941-2013 averaged over the country. The bars represent individual years, and the straight line shows the 72-year trend. Positive values mean a droughtier year, and negative values mean a wetter year for agriculture.

What’s causing the big dry?

Two recent reports shed light on why drought is increasing in New Zealand.

On 9 September the Geneva based World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations body, announced that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide during between 2012 and 2013.

Last year the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 142% of the pre-industrial era (1750). Methane levels reached 253% and nitrous oxide 121%. Between 1990 and 2013 there was a 34% increase in radiative forcing — the warming effect on our climate — because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide.

These have warmed the climate. Over the last 72 years mean annual global and New Zealand temperatures have increased by 0.6 and 0.7C respectively.

And on September 11 a new report, with Dr Olaf Morgenstern of the NZ National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research as a reviewer recognised the role of ozone depletion in drying parts of southern Australia.

The same link has been established in New Zealand. Ozone depletion affects an atmospheric pattern known as the Southern Annular Mode, or SAM. These changes are particularly pertinent as the spring time stratospheric Antarctic ozone hole peaked this year at 24 million square kilometres on September 11.

SAM describes the movement of the westerly wind belt that circles the Southern Oceans between the South Island of New Zealand and Antarctica.

In its positive phase, SAM causes the belt of strong westerly winds to contract towards Antarctica. There are weaker westerly winds than normal over the South Island with higher pressures, and less cold fronts crossing New Zealand. The opposite occurs in the negative phase of SAM with the westerly wind belt expanded north towards New Zealand and the passage of more westerly cold fronts.

The positive SAM has also been linked to decreasing rainfall in south western Australian, and the recent record-breaking expansion of Antarctic sea ice.

SAMsal

Index of the Southern Annular Mode, 1957 – 2013. Source: British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK.

The graph of SAM over the last 56 years shows a trend towards a more positive index, averaging around -3 at the beginning of the record to +1 in recent years. Several researchers have now shown that this increase in SAM is strongly associated with stratospheric ozone depletion.

Less rain, more evaporation

Recent work has revealed that changes in SAM in New Zealand have resulted in a weakening of moisture laden westerly winds during the summer, and increased high pressures over the North Island with less rain.

The warming trend caused by increasing greenhouse gases has led to more moisture loss to the atmosphere from plants because of increased evapotranspiration. This is where plants “breathe out” into the air moisture that is stored in the soil.

The hotter it is, the more moisture plants pump out into the atmosphere. These two effects — less rainfall and more water loss from the soil have resulted in our climate becoming droughtier for agricultural activities.

Bringing back the rains

The stratospheric ozone layer is now protected by the Montreal Protocol — an international treaty to protect the ozone layer by phasing out production of ozone-depleting substances signed in 1989. Unfortunately it has not prevented some impacts on New Zealand climate — but at least these impacts will be slowed then reversed in coming decades. The Antarctic stratospheric ozone hole peaked in 2006 at around 30 million square kilometres.

However there is no such robust agreement to curb the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The World Meteorological Organisation has called for even greater urgency for concerted international action against accelerating and potentially devastating climate change.

Any future New Zealand government must front up to New Zealand taking full leadership in any international agreements to rapidly halt and reverse the growth of greenhouse gases, as the country did with the Montreal Protection to protect the stratospheric ozone layer twenty five years ago. After all, these trends are now affecting the country’s land-based industries vital for its wealth.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Carbon News 13/10/14: foresters in firing line Gareth Renowden Oct 14

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Anxious foresters await review of foreign credits ban

A controversial decision to make foresters the only emitters banned from using cheap foreign carbon credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions is under review. The provision was slipped through without warning as part of the Government’s Budget in May, and came into effect immediately.

Business poser: are you creating value, or destroying it?

New Zealand is leading the world on integrated reporting but our business leaders are still not taking it seriously enough, latest data shows.

Beehive stays silent on emissions target

The Government remains mum on New Zealand’s 2030 emissions reduction target. New Zealand did not make any mention of its 2030 target at last month’s Climate Summit in New York, at which United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked world leaders to give an indication of the commitments they would make at international climate change negotiations in Paris in December.

New Zealand is drying out … and here’s why

Over 2012 and 2013, parts of New Zealand experienced their worst drought in nearly 70 years.

Australia’s big emitters might yet be billed

Australian companies could yet face a financial penalty for excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Business as usual’ no way to run our rivers

If, as delegates to the 17th International Rivers Symposium agreed, that river restoration is “the hottest topic on the planet” then the insistence by governments world-wide to ignore it is the issue.

Landcorp bio-generation scheme runs out of gas

Landcorp’s pulling of the plug on its BioGenCool manure-powered electricity generation ends the first, large-scale experiment in using milking shed cow dung to drive the milking shed itself.

Voila! a simple new way to put a price on global carbon

A team of French academics has proposed an international carbon trading system, whereby countries with the highest average CO2 emissions pay the most.

Fish heading south big worry for tropic zone

Fish stocks could migrate up to 26 kilometres a decade as the world’s ocean warm.

Wanted: $44 trillion to switch to clean energy

In a world wrestling with climate change and the need to phase out fossil fuels, nothing is more critical than making sure there are reliable and cost-effective clean energy technologies ready to fill the void.

On the web: why is antarctic sea ice at record levels despite global warming?

  • Australian Labor Party leader rules out carbon tax return
  • European businesses split over urgency of EU carbon market fix
  • Canadian watchdog castigates government climate strategy
  • Walmart owners backing campaigns to limit rooftop solar power
  • 25 Devastating Effects Of Climate Change
  • Climate consensus: scientists and sceptics suspend hostilities

Sick seas could cost us billions, UN warns

The global economy could be losing as much as $1 trillion annually by the end of the century if countries do not take urgent steps to stop ocean acidification, says a new report.

World of clean energy ‘feasible’ by mid-century

A global low-carbon energy economy is not only feasible, it could double electricity supply by 2050 while actually reducing air and water pollution, according to new research.

Shift to low-carbon economy could free up $1.8 trillion

Decarbonising the electricity system worldwide would save $1.8 trillion over the coming two decades by avoiding the high operating costs of using fossil fuels, a new study finds.

Europe throws nuclear power a state-aid lifeline

The European Commission has now agreed that Britain can subsidise the building of the world’s most expensive nuclear power station – despite previously believing that the deal breaks the European Union’s rules on state aid.

China’s mythical coal habit is no excuse for climate inaction

By Marek Kubic: I’ve heard it many a time, and you probably have, too. It’s supposedly the trump card to any argument on addressing climate change globally: “Yeah, but what’s the point? Isn’t China building a new coal plant every week?”

Wanganui firm has place among bio pioneers

Calls for New Zealand firms to get into bio-manufacturing omit to mention the fact that we have already been there.

VUW researchers work on better solar systems

Victoria University of Wellington researchers are part of a worldwide effort to design cheaper and more efficient solar energy materials.

Week ends quietly at $4.40

It was a quiet end to the week, with the market for spot NZUs on CommTrade closing unchanged at $4.40, OMFinancial reports.

Smart grids in the spotlight

Using Smart Grid technology to empower electricity consumers was the subject of a talk at Auckland University yesterday.

Special offer for Hot Topic readers: Carbon News has kindly agreed to offer Hot Topic readers personal (ie single user) subscriptions to their news service — and full access to the CN database of over 7,500 stories published since 2008 — at a substantial discount to normal pricing. Three month subs are $110 (code HT3), six month subs $200 (code HT6), and full year subs $360 (code HT12) – a saving of $140 on standard pricing. If you want to take advantage of these prices, register at Carbon News and enter the relevant code when signing up. This offer will expire at the end of the year.

Extremes report 2013: NZ drought and record Aussie heat made worse by warming Gareth Renowden Oct 01

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The latest climate extremes report finds that 9 out of 16 extreme weather events from last year were influenced by climate change. In particular, the conditions that led to New Zealand’s severe North Island drought — the worst for 41 years, estimated to have cost the economy NZ$1.3 billion — were made more likely by the effects of continued warming. Australia’s hottest ever year and run of record-breaking heatwaves also had humanity’s fingerprints all over it. The new research — Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective [pdf] — published as a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is the latest in a series of reports designed to look at weather extremes soon after they happen, and look for signs of the influence of climate change.

The NZ paper, The role of anthropogenic climate change in the 2013 drought over North Island, New Zealand by Luke Harrington, Suzanne Rosier, Sam M. Dean, Stephen Stuart, and Alice Scahill (page s45 in the pdf), finds that a long term trend towards increasing summer high pressure systems over the North Island — seen in climate models as the system warms — has increased the risk of drought substantially.

No fewer than 5 studies in the new report found clear links between Australia’s record-breaking 2013 heat and the influence of human-induced warming, as explained by The Conversation here.

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in Australia and the temperatures we experience during these heatwaves. Extremely hot months, seasons and years are already more likely in Australia.

This human handprint will likely increase the future risk of extremely warm days, months, season and years in Australia. We will likely also see an increase in the risk of heatwaves and dry conditions acting in combination with heat to produce drought.

A summary of the report’s contents is available from NOAA, Climate Central has a very nice timeline, and The Guardian does it with pictures. Strangely, given the subject matter, only TV3 picked up on the NZ drought link (basing their story on a press release from the Green Party), while the NZ Herald chose to run an AFP story that led with the Aussie heatwaves and only mentioned the NZ drought in passing. Neither NIWA nor VUW chose to issue press releases about the study, despite its obvious newsworthiness and relevance to the NZ agricultural community.

Extremes report 2013: NZ drought and record Aussie heat made worse by warming Gareth Renowden Oct 01

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The latest climate extremes report finds that 9 out of 16 extreme weather events from last year were influenced by climate change. In particular, the conditions that led to New Zealand’s severe North Island drought — the worst for 41 years, estimated to have cost the economy NZ$1.3 billion — were made more likely by the effects of continued warming. Australia’s hottest ever year and run of record-breaking heatwaves also had humanity’s fingerprints all over it. The new research — Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective [pdf] — published as a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is the latest in a series of reports designed to look at weather extremes soon after they happen, and look for signs of the influence of climate change.

The NZ paper, The role of anthropogenic climate change in the 2013 drought over North Island, New Zealand by Luke Harrington, Suzanne Rosier, Sam M. Dean, Stephen Stuart, and Alice Scahill (page s45 in the pdf), finds that a long term trend towards increasing summer high pressure systems over the North Island — seen in climate models as the system warms — has increased the risk of drought substantially.

No fewer than 5 studies in the new report found clear links between Australia’s record-breaking 2013 heat and the influence of human-induced warming, as explained by The Conversation here.

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in Australia and the temperatures we experience during these heatwaves. Extremely hot months, seasons and years are already more likely in Australia.

This human handprint will likely increase the future risk of extremely warm days, months, season and years in Australia. We will likely also see an increase in the risk of heatwaves and dry conditions acting in combination with heat to produce drought.

A summary of the report’s contents is available from NOAA, Climate Central has a very nice timeline, and The Guardian does it with pictures. Strangely, given the subject matter, only TV3 picked up on the NZ drought link (basing their story on a press release from the Green Party), while the NZ Herald chose to run an AFP story that led with the Aussie heatwaves and only mentioned the NZ drought in passing. Neither NIWA nor VUW chose to issue press releases about the study, despite its obvious newsworthiness and relevance to the NZ agricultural community.

[Update 2/10: Stuff.co.nz finally covers the story, with quotes from NIWA's Sam Dean.]

Carbon News 29/9/14: Key challenged over climate impacts on Pacific islands Gareth Renowden Sep 29

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Memo John Key: look Pacific Island leaders in the eye

The Government is being challenged to invite the leaders of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati to come and tell Parliament what they think of New Zealand’s climate change policies. Support to help Small Island Developing States move to renewable energy is one of five measures New Zealand outlined to last week’s United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York. New Zealand said that it will support the Small Island Developing States Lighthouses Initiative in addition to the $100 million it is already investing in clean energy in the Pacific.

Renewables make mark on emissions figures

Increasing generation from renewables is continuing to drive a massive drop in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity in New Zealand. For the second quarter in a row, emissions from electricity in the three months to August were down on the same period last year, latest government figures show.

New York talked the talk, but we’ll have to wait and see who heard

At the end of his summit meeting on the climate crisis, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put out a list of accomplishments festooned with 46 bullet points, some of them marking concrete new pledges, others diaphanous phrases.

MIA … but it doesn’t mean China’s not interested

There were a few notable absentees among the more than 120 world leaders gathered in New York for last week’s United Nations Climate Summit — and perhaps most notable of all was the head of the world’s highest-emitting nation, China’s President Xi Jinping.

Do something, big business warns political leaders

Many of the biggest hitters in the global financial community, together managing an eye-watering $24 trillion of investment funds, have issued a powerful warning to political leaders about the risks of failing to establish clear policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities in the spotlight at climate week summit

Even as nations gathered in New York to discuss global-level action on climate change, there was strong recognition that cities, not countries, have so far played the pivotal role in the world’s fight against climate change — and will continue to do so.

Unhappy power consumers eye solar generation

Nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders would like to say goodbye to their power companies and generate their own electricity.

Have a say in energy development

New Zealanders can have a say on the type of energy development they want, thanks to a Victoria University summer project.

Kiwisavers might get to have say in green investment

Research showing how many New Zealanders want their retirement funds invested in sustainable businesses will be unveiled next month.

ON THE WEB … Obama’s drive for carbon pricing fails to win at home

  • Chile becomes the first South American country to tax carbon
  • UK to introduce fracking drilling law despite 99% opposition
  • US Homeland Security moves to tackle climate change risks
  • Hawaii’s solar industry in precarious situation
  • The top 10 greenest cities in America
  • Avatar director James Cameron talks climate change

New market pact keeps Australians on the ball

Australian businesses wanting to keep up to date with the international carbon market during their country’s retreat from carbon pricing have formed a new regional agreement.

How to save the planet … bike, walk or take a bus

Here’s a way to save $100 trillion and stop 1700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from getting into the atmosphere every year by 2050: cycle, walk or take public transport.

Use your phone to report water pollution

Water pollution may soon be reported by the public over a phone app and investigated by an aerial robot.

Clear skies for aviation industry, says Boeing report

The business outlook for civil aviation is bright thanks mainly to rising Asian demand for aircraft. But airlines are expected to have a harder time, with tougher competition in Europe leading to a consolidation of the sector, according to the latest industry forecast.

Win some, lose some … that’s climate change

With climate change, you win some, you lose some. New research shows that suitable new cropland could become available in the high latitudes as the world warms, but tropical regions may become less productive.

Australia seems to be overlooking bioenergy

When we think of renewable energy, it’s easy to picture spinning wind turbines or rooftop solar panels. But what about bioenergy?

Would a climate change treaty be enough?

Do we need a climate treaty, or could a simple political deal based on national pledges work just as well?

Prices likely to drift a little

Spot NZUs remain relatively quiet. OMFinancial reports…

Worth seeing — Thin Ice

New Zealand scientist Peter Barrett’s award-winning film Thin Ice will have a public screening in Hamilton next week. Barrett, a geologist, produced the documentary himself, with a view to finding out whether his fellow scientists really were involved in some sort of climate change hoax as some were alleging.

Study will reveal our use of water

The nature of domestic water demand is being measured.

Off to the tip … 33,000 polystyrene cups

Waikato University every year sends 33,000 polystyrene cups to the landfill.

Special offer for Hot Topic readers: Carbon News has kindly agreed to offer Hot Topic readers personal (ie single user) subscriptions to their news service — and full access to the CN database of over 7,500 stories published since 2008 — at a substantial discount to normal pricing. Three month subs are $110 (code HT3), six month subs $200 (code HT6), and full year subs $360 (code HT12) – a saving of $140 on standard pricing. If you want to take advantage of these prices, register at Carbon News and enter the relevant code when signing up. This offer will expire at the end of the year.

Where do we go but nowhere? Gareth Renowden Sep 26

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New Zealand’s general election is over. The National Party has won itself another three years in government. With a probable overall majority and the support of three fringe MPs, prime minister John Key and his cabinet will be able to do more or less what they like. Given the government’s performance on climate matters over the last six years — turning the Emissions Trading Scheme into little more than a corporate welfare handout while senior cabinet ministers flirt with outright climate denial — and with signals that they intend to modify the Resource Management Act to make it easier to drill, mine and pollute, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the next three years are going to see New Zealand’s climate policies slip even further out of touch with what’s really necessary.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of why opposition parties were unable to persuade voters to unseat Key & Co: that’s being widely canvassed. I do want to consider what might be done to prevent the next three years being as bad as the last six from a climate policy perspective.

One thing is very clear: the climate issue is not going away. While carbon emissions hit new records, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has been trying to galvanise world leaders to take the issue seriously. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens have taken part in people’s climate marches around the world. And the climate news remains, as ever, gloomy. Ice melts, floods surge and sea levels continue to rise. “Business as usual” continues, but is being challenged on many levels.

Gareth Morgan, the motorbike adventurer, philanthropist and prolific author, is no stranger to the climate debate. He understands the issue in the way only someone who has written a book on the subject can ( ;-) ). In a recent blog post, Morgan looked at what it might take to get climate action in the current New Zealand political climate. His conclusion? That we need a new “bluegreen” political party.

But for me, the most frustrating aspect of the election result is the entrenched inability of the Green Party to grasp that the environmental message is something that appeals to middle-of-the-road New Zealanders, not just Lefties.

Sadly the Green Party’s policies for environmental sustainability have always come with a nasty fishhook – the out-dated edict that social justice can only be achieved by rehashed socialism. This has rendered the Green Party a real melon to mainstream New Zealand – a watermelon to be precise, far too red on the inside for middle New Zealand to stomach.

For me, the frustrating thing is that the other Gareth’s1 political analysis completely misreads what’s going on at the same time as his analysis of National government’s performance on climate over the last six years is absolutely spot on….

Morgan’s view of the Green Party is common enough, and his bluegreen blog post has certainly attracted a fair bit of social media support. The “watermelon” trope is an accusation that’s been levelled at green parties and environmental activists around the world since at least the 1970s, and has its roots in the further reaches of far right US ideology. It’s a cheap shot, and not helpful to getting climate action, mainly because the NZ Green Party is what the Green Party is — an environmentally conscious party with deep roots in social justice campaigns going back 40 years.

The Green Party is what it is because that’s what its members want it to be, and as it is arguably the party most accountable to its membership for policy development and candidate selection, that’s entirely appropriate2.

Morgan’s misrepresentation of the Greens buys into the very message extreme right wingers are trying to reinforce in order to prevent climate and environment action. By doing that he also completely misreads what needs to be done if we are to get serious climate policy enacted by a centre-right government in New Zealand.

The last thing we need is a new and poorly defined political party: right of centre on economics and social issues, but reality-based when it comes to climate and the environment. How long would such a party take to build? How long before it could hold the balance of power in post-election negotiations. Six years? Nine years? Too long, by far, even if it could be put together in the first place.

Climate and environment issues do not sit on a left-right political spectrum, however hard the right might want it to seem so. They are external to party politics — challenges that all parties, whatever their ideology, have to come to terms with.

In order to endure, climate policy needs to develop out of a broad policy consensus and a shared assessment of the risk NZ (and the world) faces as a result of continuing warming.

The big question for the next three years is not so much about building a policy consensus — we (arguably) have one in the continued existence of an emissions trading scheme3 — but in communicating a realistic assessment of the climate risks NZ faces.

The key to that lies in persuading the leadership of the National Party that they can’t just leave climate policy on the back burner, a plaything for diplomats and Tim Groser. John Key, Bill English, Steven Joyce, and Gerry Brownlee need to be persuaded to accept that climate change represents a clear strategic and physical risk to the economic and social well-being of all New Zealanders — including all the people who voted for them, and all the financial backers who funded their re-election.

This will not be easy. Philip Mills, one of the founders of the Pure Advantage and 100% Plan lobby groups, gave up his efforts to lobby Key & Co earlier this year. The NZ Herald reported on his frustration:

Mr Mills, son of Les Mills and a former New Zealand athlete, said he had been personally lobbying Prime Minister John Key and his Government for five years to make a meaningful response to the threats posed by a warming atmosphere.

[...] “I’ve been trying impartially to deal with National. I’ve met with John Key around this a number of times, and really I held the hope that I and groups that I’ve been involved with would be able to get National to see sense.”

[...] Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said New Zealand was doing its fair share to reduce emissions and that the onus was on local councils to respond to the effects of climate change such as sea level rise.

Mr Mills said: “For me that was the end. I thought ‘I’ve got to stand up and be counted now’.

“I think that it is morally reprehensible for any country to shirk its responsibilities in this area.

“Furthermore I think it makes no economic sense as we know green industry will be one of the biggest growth opportunities of our time.”

So how do we succeed in motivating Key & Co to act, when years of effort by Mills and others has been rebuffed? There are three potential approaches.

The first is to recognise that there are genuine bluegreens already present in the National caucus and the wider party. The Bluegreen brand is a National brand, presented as the party’s “advisory group on environmental issues”. However, if you look at Bluegreen activities over the last few years you will find it hard to view them as anything other than a fig leaf, at best a rubber stamp for policy made elsewhere.

But there are National MPs and party members who really are green as well as blue, who do “get” the climate issue and understand the real risks the country faces. They need to be cultivated — encouraged to push the issue in the corridors of power, even if confronted by the same intransigence that Philip Mills encountered. Bluegreen MPs have to feel empowered within their caucus.

If they are to do that then they will need support. That will have to come in two forms.

The first is already under way, albeit in a rather low key manner. Alan Mark and the Wise Response initiative have shown the way. It’s time for the scientists and public intellectuals of New Zealand to knock on John Key’s door and refuse to take no for an answer. The Royal Society of NZ, the Prime Minister’s science adviser, the universities, and business leaders like Philip Mills now have to redouble their efforts. NZ’s intellectual leadership needs to stand up and make a powerful case for the cabinet to base climate policy on a realistic assessment of the risks. The lazy demonisation of all things green by senior National figures has to be countered by relentless rationality from those best equipped to deliver it.

Ultimately, it is voters who decide the future governments of NZ. Public opinion on the importance of climate policy will depend on both the leadership given by political parties — including National — and on the development of grass roots support for action. The Climate Voter initiative may not have had much impact on the final vote in this election, but it did provide a powerful demonstration of how the issue could be made to gain traction despite political and media indifference.

To make progress on climate issues there must be a concerted and non-partisan effort to put climate action high up on the political agenda. We have to move Key, English and Joyce from their pernicious “fast follower” stance into at least a middle of the (international) road position on emissions reductions, achieved through an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax which actually incentivises real reductions in NZ, the creation of carbon offsets through tree planting and land use change, and a serious effort to prepare the country to adapt to the warming, weather extremes and sea level rise that are now completely unavoidable.

[What, lugubrious? Nick Cave? Never. Well, perhaps not never. Sometimes, certainly.]

  1. No, not that other Gareth. This one.
  2. Disclosure: I am not a member of the Green Party, but have party voted for them in recent elections because I regard their climate and environment policies as the best on offer, and I have no problems with their stance on social justice issues. For the record, I have also voted for Labour and National on occasion over the last 18 years.
  3. When I discussed climate issues with a (largely sympathetic) National MP a couple of years ago, the response to my criticism of the gutting of the ETS was “well, we could have got rid of it…”

Carbon News headlines 22/9/14: If the PM doesn’t worry about climate change, why should we? Gareth Renowden Sep 22

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Welcome to a new regular feature on Hot Topic: the week’s Carbon News headlines, brought to you every Monday. Carbon News is an NZ-published web newsletter covering climate and carbon news from around the world, published and edited by experienced journalist Adelia Hallett. The full articles are behind the Carbon News paywall. Click on any headline to be taken to that story on the site.

Carbon News has kindly agreed to offer Hot Topic readers personal (ie single user) subscriptions to their news service — and full access to the CN database of over 7,500 stories published since 2008 — at a substantial discount to normal pricing. Three month subs are $110 (code HT3), six month subs $200 (code HT6), and full year subs $360 (code HT12) – a saving of $140 on standard pricing. If you want to take advantage of these prices, register at Carbon News and enter the relevant code when signing up. This offer will expire at the end of the year.

Scientists plead for cuts to ballooning fossil fuel emissions

Scientists are calling for rapid cuts in the use of fossil fuels in the wake of data out today showing we have almost used up our fossil-fuel credit. Greenhouse gas emissions this year will hit a new high of 40 billion tonnes in what the Global Carbon Project is calling a carbon budget blow-out.

Political parties fail to get the sustainability message through

New Zealanders’ support for a shift to a sustainable economy is growing, according to new research from Colmar Brunton. The fact they didn’t vote that way in Saturday’s general election is probably more to do with campaign messages failing to get enough airtime with all the other ‘dirty politics’ noise than it is to do with interest in environmental issues, says the research company’s chief executive Jaqueline Ireland.

If the PM doesn’t worry about climate change, why should we?

New Zealanders are taking their cue on climate change from the Prime Minister, says social trends researcher Jill Caldwell. “They think that John Key is successful and smart, and that if there was really anything to worry about he’d be worried,” she told Carbon News.

Big business signs up with sustainability driver

Some of New Zealand’s largest companies and organisations have signed up to a new international movement on sustainable business.

Why Kiwibank took its business to the kids

When Kiwibank wanted to know how to move beyond the first stage of being a sustainable business, it asked a bunch of 10-year-olds.

We’re spending millions, say green-wise farmers

Manawatu-Whanganui region farmers have spent an average $110,000 each over the past five years on measures to protect the environment, according to a Federated Farmers survey.

Growth and greening now go together, says Stern study

Governments and businesses can now improve economic growth and reduce their carbon emissions together, says a major new report by a commission of global leaders.

… but critic says report fails to back up core message

A new report called Better Growth, Better Climate draws the seductive conclusion that “we can create lasting economic growth while also tackling the immense risks of climate change”.

Let’s do for climate change what we did for apartheid, says Tutu

WEB: Largest-ever climate change march rolls through NYC
* China cautious on fresh commitments ahead of climate change summit
* Will the new EU Commission assure Europe’s leadership on sustainable development?
* It’s time to teach climate change in school
* After An Inconvenient Truth: the evolution of the climate change film

Move over, Queensland, here comes the Great Sydney Reef

Welcome to tropical Sydney, where colourful surgeonfishes and parrotfishes a=
re plentiful, corals have replaced kelp forests, and underwater life seems b=

Population explosion lowers chance of managing climate change

By Tim Radford: New projections say the population of the planet will not stabilise at 9 billion sometime this century. In fact, there is an 80 percent likelihood that, by 2100, it will reach at least 9.6 billion — and maybe rise as high as 12.3 billion.

China goes up a gear but still has a lot of work to do

In the lead-up to the UN leaders’ summit on climate change, China is shifting up a gear in its drive towards national emissions trading.

How renewables can lead to prosperity and jobs

A new handbook shows how forward-looking communities around the world are already moving away from reliance on fossil fuels and generating their own power with 100 per cent renewables — while also becoming more prosperous and creating jobs.

LED street lights could be 50% cheaper

Installing LED lights in streets could halve energy consumption from street lighting, the government’s energy efficiency agency says.

Drought now could be drought forever in California

Things could soon get worse for drought-hit California. New research predicts that, by the close of the century, global warming could have reduced the flow of water from the Sierra Nevada mountains by at least a quarter.

We can make a good life for most in the doughnut

Is it possible for humans to fulfil their needs without also destroying the environment? It’s a question we need to find an answer to soon, as the world’s poorer regions demand the same perks that come with development.

Twister terror coming earlier in tornado alley

The terrifying whirlwinds that punctuate the mid-Western summer in the United States so frequently as to earn the nickname Tornado Alley for the southern plains region states such as Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas, are forming up to two weeks earlier than they did 60 years ago.

And the winner is…

The winner of a copy of MiStory, Philip Temple‘s cli-fi story set in a futuristic New Zealand, is the out-going Labour MP and climate change spokesperson Moana Mackey.

Solid Energy needs extension of guarantee

Commercially troubled state coal miner Solid Energy requires an extension of a government guarantee to meet the $103 million future cost of returning mined land to its pre-mined condition in order to maintain positive equity in its balance sheet.

Pumped-up couple win energy award

The switch to a gravity-feed water system has resulted in huge cost-savings for Otago farmers David and Sarah Smith, winners of an energy excellence award in the 2014 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Focus on certainty

National’s grip on the government benches means certainty for the Emissions Trading Scheme, OMFinancial reports.

Want to recycle? just ask the garbage guru

Sydney has launched an app it hopes will drive recycling.

All material provided courtesy of Carbon News and Futura Media. Given the broad scope of the post, please treat this as an open thread.

Reason in a Dark Time Bryan Walker Sep 03

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Dale Jamieson is a philosopher long acquainted with the work of climate scientists. His recently published book was begun 25 years ago, “an avocation that became an obsession”. He used to joke when asked why the book wasn’t appearing that he was waiting to see how the story ended. Then it dawned on him after the failed 2009 Copenhagen conference that there was no ending, and certainly not a happy one. The continuing journey is largely a matter of salvaging what we can from the wreckage. The book’s title sets the stark picture: Reason in a Dark Time. Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed – and What it Means for Our Future.

Not surprisingly with such a title the book is not a call to action but rather an invitation to understand our failure and to think about what we might learn from it and how best live in the changed world we are creating.

Jamieson proposes a variety of reasons for our failure. Scientific ignorance is one. He recalls British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow’s famous “two cultures” claim in 1956 that the British political and cultural elite, educated in the humanities, was quite ignorant and even contemptuous of science. The “two cultures” are alive and well in the United States today, including among the political elites.  In particular the weight of peer-reviewed science is often not grasped. Jamieson presents an illuminating explanation of the process of peer review which enables the incremental advance of solid science. It is scientific ignorance which has allowed climate change denial to find a foothold, aided by powerful corporations anxious to prevent or delay action which might affect their profitability.

But it’s our ways of making political decisions that have contributed most to our failure. Climate change is a “wicked problem” politically, in that it comes in many frames – global governance, market failure, technological failure, global justice, and others – each requiring its own focus. Our political systems are not good at coping with such complexity. The extraordinarily cumbersome processes of government in the US have certainly not been up to the task. The vulnerability of democracies to populism makes it difficult to see how they can be persuaded to accept the constraints that might help make climate stability possible. It’s a terrifying possibility that we might simply not be able with our systems of government to measure up to the challenge of climate change but it’s difficult to argue with Jamieson’s observations.

He puts at the heart of our failure the notion that evolution did not design us to solve or even to recognize this kind of problem. The onset of climate change is gradual and uncertain. Evolution has geared us to respond to the immediate and obvious. Our animal nature doesn’t help us. Climate change must be thought rather than sensed and we are not very good at thinking. I always find myself resisting this kind of analysis, comforting myself with the thought that evolution has also endowed us with an intelligence capable of modifying our instinctive reactions and that in the history of civilisation there is often evidence of longer term planning. But I have to admit that in the middle of an election campaign in New Zealand the short term predominates.

Neither economics nor commonsense morality are up to the complex challenge of climate change. Jamieson is painstaking in his explanation of why there is no substantial hope from those quarters. He remarks that some economists give the impression that acting too aggressively to reduce emissions is as bad as failing to act aggressively enough, and contrasts this with the scientists’ emphasis on precaution. I wondered whether he sufficiently differentiated the work of economists like Stern who call for early and decisive action because they clearly understand and accept the stark realities of the science, while those who counsel delay do not.

Jamieson acknowledges that many will find his conclusions depressing, and goes on to offer such consolation as he can muster as we live in the world we have changed. In part he writes of what he describes as the “virtues” needed for personal life in the Anthropocene. They are a mix of the traditional and the new or the re-interpreted.  Humility, temperance, the love of nature, mindfulness, cooperativeness, simplicity.

He also offers opportunities for “temporary victories and local solutions while a new world comes into focus”. They are very much of a piece with what more optimistic campaigners urge, albeit toned down and modest in scope: integrate adaptation with development, increase terrestrial carbon sinks, adopt full-cost life cycle energy accounting, put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, force technology adoption, substantially increase research in renewable energy and carbon sequestration, and finally and more generally plan for the flexibility demanded by life in the Anthropocene. There is unlikely to be any concerted global deal to remove the threat of major climate change, but that doesn’t mean we attempt nothing.

When writing this review I watched the film Hot Air which was included in this year’s film festival screenings. It tells the sorry story of how well-intentioned attempts, from both the right (in the early stages) and the left, to introduce climate change legislation in New Zealand were stymied by powerful business lobbies and the argument that we would place ourselves at an economic disadvantage if we took action to reduce emissions. That was just in our small corner of the world. I came away from the film angry and despairing and ready to concede, however unwillingly, that Jamieson’s judgment is likely to prove correct.

[Amazon]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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