Posts Tagged Imagining 2020

The last climate denier in New Zealand Gareth Renowden Nov 22

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My entry for the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Manhire Prize for science writing (in the fiction category), made the shortlist but didn’t win. My congratulations to Brian Langham for his story Fourteen [pdf] (and to Renee Liang for her winning non-fiction piece — Epigenetics: navigating our inner seas [pdf]). For the sake of posterity, here’s my little tear-jerker. Some might do well to remember that it is intended as satire.

The last climate denier in New Zealand slapped his battered old panama hat on to his balding head, adjusted the bulky wrap-around sunglasses over his bifocals and stepped out into the hot morning air. He groaned. His car, the last petrol V6 in the city — a classic, his wingèd American chariot made stationary by lack of fuel — slouched under a coat of red dust. Again. Some urchin child of an Aussie refugee had written “wash me, fossil fool” on the back. The letters were ill-formed and childlike. You could say the same for the parents, he thought. Could there be any soil left in Australia, now that so much of it was blowing over the Tasman to coat the city? Come to that, were there any Australians left in Australia? It didn’t seem like it. The rich ones had bribed their way in, bought big properties well inland and built mansions. The poor were huddling in their masses in the abandoned beachfront baches, camping out on the top floors when the spring tides lapped around the gardens, trooping inland with tents when storms brought waves washing through the eroding dunes to pound at their doors.

The dairy was only a hundred meters away on the street corner, but the heat was already beginning to beat up from the pavement and the tar on the road was tacky under his old leather sandals. He wished he hadn’t put his socks on. The sun struggled to cast shadows through the waves of wispy smoke spreading undulating fingers down from the alps and over the plains to the sea. More fires in Victoria, more refugees in boats heading east over the Tasman. There would be unpleasantness at the barricades on the West Coast beaches. He pulled a grubby handkerchief from the pocket of his baggy shorts, lifted his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow before it could burrow down through shaggy eyebrows and drip into his eyes.

Two youths sucked ice cream cones outside the dairy. They stared at him, passing the time with uninterested eyes. He pulled a carton of milk out of the fridge, paid the girl behind the counter, and set off for home.


He liked his tea hot and strong, a little splash of milk to tame the tannins that browned his teeth while the caffeine scared his thoughts into action. He took his second cup of the day into his little book-lined office and lifted the ageing ‘pad off the desk. The air conditioner creaked into life, and blessedly cool air began to trickle down to the scuffed old leather chair that was his workplace. He pulled his silver neck chain over his head, and plugged the data stick disguised as a St
Christopher into the ‘pad. His fingers began to chase arthritically after the dancing icons, but with the remnant dexterity of long practise he was quickly tunnelling his way through virtual networks and secret anonymising proxies to log in to the denier underground. It was time to do his duty, to play his small part in the continuing fight against the dark forces of totalitarianism and socialist environmentalism.

He flicked through the daily newsletter, looking at the talking points he was expected to post
under alarmist news items about weather disasters and sea level rise. It was his job to point out the facts — the real truth. It’s all a natural cycle. Nothing we can do about it. The cooling will come. It’s not carbon or coal or oil’s fault. It’s not our fault. It’s not my fault we’re all hurting. The denier trials in the Hague are a travesty, the victimisation of coal companies a rejection of capitalist freedoms. He felt his temper rise, the old rage flood back into his system. His motivation returned refreshed as it always did at this time of day. He tapped at the screen for an hour, pausing only for a pee and another cup of tea.

Lunchtime approached. The air conditioner struggled to cope with the heat, and the room was stuffy. His eyes unfocussed from the bright little images of floods in Europe and icebergs
cascading out from Greenland glaciers. His mind wandered back to the good old days when to be a climate sceptic was to wear a badge of right wing honour, when the force of a rapid fire of carefully calculated pseudo-scientific non-sequiturs could baffle people into inaction. Serious emissions cuts had become politically impossible. He smiled, remembering the days when MPs would stand up in Parliament and read the lies he’d written for them. His American friends, still the core of the dwindling movement, had made the world safe for fossil fuel companies for decades. It wasn’t their fault that the cooling hadn’t come, that some strange and unidentified wrinkle of solar physics had warmed the planet. It wasn’t fair that they’d had to hide themselves away in the new settlements in Greenland and Canada, that they had to cower in their beds at night fearing the knock on the door that would mean they’d been found by the climate gestapo. He wiped a tear from his eye, shook his head slowly, and pushed himself up out of the chair. He would feel better after something to eat.


He clambered off the biofuelled bus and began the slow walk up the hill towards the cemetery. As he climbed, the city opened up behind him — the hateful green city of low rise, low carbon buildings that was the legacy of the great quake. The afternoon tide was lapping at the steps of the pathetic cathedral, its cardboard walls already beginning to swell and distort. Over the foothills to the west and the plains to the south great towers of cumulus were marching steadily north, signalling a change in the weather. Lightning flashed in the distance. He felt the thunder rumbling in his viscera, and quickened his step. It would not be a good idea to be caught in the open when the front arrived. He clutched the bunch of flowers to his chest and steeled himself against the muggy air. There was vigour still in his old legs, and another duty to perform.

The cemetery was quiet. A few graves sported fresh flowers vibrant against the faded and colour-shifted photographs of loved ones long gone. He walked along the rows looking at the names. He’d known some of these people. Been at school with this one, slept with that one when she’d been a lissom young student. He stopped for a moment and looked around. A small ripple of pain crossed his chest and buried itself in his armpit. He shivered. There was nowhere to go beyond here. He would never see the cooling come, never experience the vindication that was rightfully his. A draft of cold air rustled the flowers in his hand and a large drop of cold rain hit his nose and rolled down to dangle off the tip.

The grave had been disfigured again. Crude fluorescent yellow letters spelled CLIMATE CRIMINAL across the marble, which had been pitted in places by blows from something — a hammer perhaps? He’d expected no better. It happened every year around this time, when some of the wilder young people sought vengeance for the lives they were living, the future they faced. A few years ago he’d tried to argue his friend’s case, pointed to the signs of imminent cooling, the negative feedbacks starting even as the temperature climbed, but all he’d got for his troubles was a good kicking. Now he kept his peace, and tended the grave once a year. Someone had to keep the flame burning, parade the torch that had been lit so long ago by the sheer force of this man’s television presence. He pulled the bottle of solvent from his bag and began rubbing at the letters with a rag. The paint wouldn’t shift.

Waves of particulate water began to pummel his coat, as if someone were shaking a hose around the ranks of stones. He rubbed harder and harder, down on his knees on the wet grass, the floral tribute forgotten as he bent to his task. The drops turned to soft hailstones and grew larger. He looked up and saw white curtains of ice sheeting down in the stiffening southerly. The hail was bouncing off his hat, pummelling his shoulders and back, as big now as broad beans and as hard as stone chips on the highway. He pushed himself to his feet, and began to stagger towards the lychgate over the cemetery entrance, holding his hat on to his head against the gusting wind. A great tearing noise ripped the air around him. Bright light flashed in his eyes and he fell to the ground, his St Christopher clutched in one hand. The lightning blasted his hat to charred straw, but left his coat untouched and his skin unblemished. He was dead before the hailstorm reached its apocalyptic peak, at peace before ice balls as big as grapefruit made his body jump and turned his upturned face to a bloody pulp.


Outside the last climate denier’s house, the last petrol V6 in the city gave in to the hail and subsided in a heap of battered sheet metal and red mud. It no longer had a driver. Its world had gone. There was no need to stick around.

(2) Degrees of existence Gareth Renowden Nov 24

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According to a UN Environment Programme report released yesterday, The Emissions Gap Report – Are the Copenhagen Accord Pledges Sufficient to Limit Global Warming to 2° C or 1.5° C? (summary PDF), if the planet is to have a reasonable (defined as 66%) chance of limiting warming to 2ºC, global emissions will have to peak before 2020, with emissions in 2020 of around 44 GtCO2e and reducing sharply thereafter. The report assesses the Copenhagen Accord pledges as likely to deliver best case 2020 emissions of about 49 GtCO2e. — leaving a “gap” of at least 5 GtCO2e between commitments and ambition. A “lenient” interpretation of the Accord could result in emissions little different to business as usual.

In order to close that gap, the report suggests that countries could adopt higher conditional targets, avoid the use of surplus emissions units (so-called “hot air”), and ensure strict rules for land use change and forestry carbon accounting. The good news is that the report suggests this might be possible. The bad news is that to have a reasonable chance of hitting a 1.5ºC target emissions will have to reduce by 4 – 5% per year after 2020, and move into negative (removing carbon from the atmosphere) territory after 2050. The report suggests this could be done by huge afforestation projects and using biomass energy generation with carbon capture and storage.

The UNEP report is part of the stage setting for the COP16 conference in Cancun beginning next week. More coverage at the BBC, Independent, and Guardian. Richard Black at the Beeb puts the worst case in the lead:

The promises countries have made to control carbon emissions will see temperatures rise by up to 4ºC during this century, a UN report concludes.

Ban Ki-moon was a bit more up-beat (that’s his job):

“I encourage all Parties to make good on their national mitigation pledges, and to further progress within the negotiations as well as through strengthened efforts on the ground to curb emissions. There is no time to waste. By closing the gap between the science and current ambition levels, we can seize the opportunity to usher in a new era of low-carbon prosperity and sustainable development for all.”

Sounds good. Sounds implausible. The gap between commitment and ambition is big and getting bigger by the day. Even a global recession could only trim last year’s emissions by 1.3% compared with the year before, as emissions growth in China and India more than made up for falls in the US, EU and Japan. The UNEP report suggests that there’s still a way to avoid the most damaging warming, but a look at ambitions for Cancun indicates the political will is lacking.

[Update: Barry Brook has a guest post from Tom Wigley looking at the likely climate system response to achieving zero emissions by 2050.]


Green opportunities far outweigh the costs Gareth Renowden Mar 08

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Fifth contribution to the Imagining 2020 series of essays comes from Phillip Mills, executive director of Les Mills International, who describes his vision for a low carbon future based on ‘clean technology’. Phillip, with a group of leading members of the NZ business community, has been urging the NZ government to work on cleantech/greentech initiatives. He received a World Class New Zealand Award for New Thinking in 2009 and was Ernst & Young New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004.

The transition to a low carbon future is something most economies are grappling with, and if they’re not, they should be. There’s much talk about what this might look like and whether it will require cataclysmic change. From where I sit the short answer is no. And that’s because my vision for a low carbon future is based on switching the dialogue from costs to opportunities. The opportunities are those inherent in the clean technology boom and they are huge.

While most New Zealanders agree we need to lift our economic game and get growth ticking at a faster rate, we are currently busting our guts to raise productivity under what’s become a tired, outdated economic structure.

Consider the following:

  • We’re working longer hours but achieving lower productivity than others in the OECD.
  • Unemployment is at its highest level in a decade
  • As a small pastoral economy we are at risk of being sucked dry by spiralling resource costs because of the increasing affluence of emerging economies.
  • Cracks have appeared in our 100% Pure New Zealand brand, compared with our actual behaviour. Several articles in international media last year took us to task for our environmental performance and it’s clear we need to do more, environmentally, to protect our brand and our export and tourism industries. Instead, in firming up intentions to intensify farming and allow mining on Crown land including parts of the conservation estate, the Government is running the risk of further sacrificing our brand, if not our environmental quality.

It’s time for an entirely new economic engine to power us towards a brighter future within a low-carbon economy.

It’s time for an entirely new economic engine to power us towards a brighter future within a low-carbon economy. This requires a shift in our focus to what’s called ‘clean technology’ — developing and commercialising innovative, green technologies in the areas of clean energy, clean transportation, clean industry, clean agriculture and the environment.

This isn’t just another short-lived, green fad for those with a penchant for tree-hugging. The ‘green wave’ may be slow rolling at present but will, over the next decade, gather force for an economic boom on a scale to rival the information age and the industrial revolution. Certainly, this is an area where New Zealand needs to be ahead of the pack.

A number of New Zealand business leaders have teamed together to cast a vision for a clean economy. We believe we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform New Zealand’s economy by gaining early-mover status in the emergent, clean technology market. This year, we have sent a book by Australian economist Ben McNeil: The Clean Industrial Revolution to all Members of Parliament, detailing the compelling economic argument for our case.

In summary, putting focus on the emergent, clean-tech market presents a compelling opportunity for New Zealand to:

  • Reverse our slide down the OECD tables through the creation and attraction of major new industries and the addition of significant value to our biggest current ones
  • Add brand value and reduce the risk of significant and possibly irreparable brand damage to exports and tourism
  • Cut costs at a national and individual business level
  • Reduce our exposure to risks such as escalating foreign oil and resource costs, carbon costs and tariffs (legislated and market-led).

A clean, low-carbon economy is highly efficient and fiercely competitive. It holds the promise of prosperity for all New Zealanders by inspiring new jobs and retraining, higher-value exports and a stronger eco-brand to attract overseas tourists and consumers.

The nay-sayers talk about the cost of developing and implementing clean technologies. But the fact is the opportunities far outweigh the costs.

The nay-sayers talk about the cost of developing and implementing clean technologies. But the fact is the opportunities far outweigh the costs. Denmark, with a similar population to New Zealand, decided to champion wind energy and now supplies more than half the world’s wind turbines, The Danes have added tens of thousands of high value jobs to their economy, reduced their carbon intensity by a third in ten years, dramatically reduced their exposure to imported energy costs and created a new export business the size of Fonterra – earning $15 billion a year in exports alone.

Germany and Sweden, also early movers in green-tech, have had similar results and the rest of the world is beginning to wake up. In the US, President Barack Obama has promised significant investment to move to an alternative energy economy. Indeed, American businesses are investing heavily in the development and use of clean technologies as the basis of the country’s next wave of wealth generation.

Countries and companies who are investing in clean technologies also reduce expenditure on raw materials and energy, achieve greater efficiency and less waste at a huge rate of return on their investments.

To ’do a Denmark’ and really win this game as a nation, New Zealand needs to identify our greatest opportunities — clean agriculture and various renewable energy sources are obvious candidates — then pin our ears back and go for them.

We’re already blessed with huge natural advantages in this area. And we can be encouraged that hundreds of Kiwi companies already recognise this and are quietly leading the way. They include start-up companies such as Lanzatech — making ethanol from flue gases; to Air New Zealand — recognised as the world’s greenest airline. Todd Energy is investing in tidal power generation in the Kaipara and our biggest exporter, Fonterra, outlined its benefits from climate change, energy and sustainability strategies at the World Environment Day symposium in June.

We need the same visionary leadership that led to the creation of our hydro dams and state forests in the 1930s

Local supporters of the clean-tech revolution now number more than 100 senior business leaders and we’re working hard to urge the Government to set up a joint government and business investigative committee to identify the best opportunities and the most efficient ways to capitalise on them through a ’clean tech’ strategy for New Zealand. We need the same visionary leadership that led to the creation of our hydro dams and state forests in the 1930s; the Vogel Government’s development of telegraph, national railways and shipping links and the introduction of refrigerated shipping that opened our farming industry to the world.

Rather than playing catch-up with Australia, let’s surpass our trans-Tasman cousins with a strong, clean economy that enables us to live our values and is viable over the long-term. I’d welcome discussion on this important issue.

Imagining 2020: Green Crude Gareth Renowden Dec 13

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The fourth contribution to the Imagining 2020 series of essays comes from Pete Fowler, who takes a look at producing biofuel from algae as a sustainable means of meeting our liquid fuel needs. If you’d like to contribute your vision of a low-carbon future for New Zealand, please get in touch — details at the end of the piece.

I was very pessimistic until last year about our prospects of weaning off fossil fuels before reaching an irreversible tipping point. Some positive feedback loop would kick in, like higher temperatures releasing trapped methane from arctic permafrost and seafloor sediments. Increased atmospheric methane, about 30 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, would further raise temperatures. End result? Within a few decades Earth would be as hot as Venus. The whole of humanity would go the way of the civilisations described by Jared Diamond in Collapse, who could see they were on a track to self destruction but were unable to alter course.

In 2008 I read one of the most positive books ever written; The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil. He points out that whichever way you measure the rate of technological change, it accelerates exponentially. Moore’s law for instance predicted in 1965 that artificial intelligence would double in complexity and halve in cost every two years. It’s held for the last 44 years, and if it continues to hold until 2020, we’ll then have machines approaching human intelligence.

Kurzweil maintains that right now, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics are the main drivers of technological advance. The production of crude oil from atmospheric CO2 and water will be mostly a triumph of genetic engineering.

Nature took hundreds of millions of years to produce the crude oil which, in about 200 years, we’ll have exhausted. If we can speed up this process, and produce all our liquid fuels and chemical industry feedstocks, and some stock feed and human food from atmospheric CO2 and waste, by a process many times as efficient as farming, without diverting farmland or native bush, on the same timescale as the rate at which we deplete fossil fuel, we’ll have solved the problems of peak oil and global warming, and a few lesser problems.

Conventional biofuel production isn’t particularly efficient. It requires fuel inputs for farm vehicles, and it either diverts farmland away from food production or destroys native bush. Only an average 300 watts per square metre world wide of sunlight is available for photosynthesis, and natural photosynthesis isn’t a very efficient way to convert sunlight to chemical energy. The most efficient fuel crop is sugar cane, fermented to ethanol. It yields up to three harvests a year. But it’s labour and land intensive, requires fuel for farm machinery and transport, it increases the cost of food and only grows in the tropics. Because all conventional crops need further processing in different places before they reach the petrol pump or dinner table, their total number of carbon kilometres is typically several times the distance round the world.

What’s needed is a continuous process, not a batch process like conventional harvesting. The world is running out of land suitable for conversion to farming. An algae reactor can be set up on land which is unsuitable for farming or anything else, and can still produce more than 15 times as much fuel per hectare as canola or palms. Unlike natural crude, it can yield a product free of contaminants like nitrogen, sulphur or benzene. The first generation will use sunlight for their energy source, but later, as energy sources like pebble bed fission reactors and ultimately nuclear fusion become available, these will drastically increase yield.

Some natural cyanobacteria can double their mass every hour. With genetic engineering, high temperature varieties, and varieties which fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere are possible. The obvious raw materials to use are untreated sewage and atmospheric CO2, helping to solve two environmental problems. Eventually, when energy sources other than sunlight are available, the demand for sewage will outstrip supply, and other sources of micronutrients will be needed. But as with conventional agriculture, micronutrients are in principle recyclable. All you need is a way to reclaim elements like phosphorus, sulphur, iron, molybdenum and the rest. This is feasible with a bioreactor producing algae, but not on a conventional farm, where they drain away, and not only are they wasted, but they cause problems like nitrate in drinking water and eutrophication in waterways.

The only high tech part of producing green crude is the final step; converting algae into oil. There’s no reason why bioreactors can’t be operated in the world’s poorest countries, as well as everywhere else where a demand for the products exists. Being a factory, rather than an outdoor farm operation, it can be conducted close to population centres, or anywhere else. CO2 is available everywhere, and low-grade water supplies unfit for human consumption, almost everywhere.

An obvious location for a bioreactor is right next to a thermal power station, where there’s waste CO2, waste heat and transmission loss free electricity, but in principle one can operate anywhere.

The algae is harvested continuously, 24/7. Currently four technologies exist to extract the oil:

  1. Dry the algae and press the oil out. This is the simplest method.
  2. Dissolve the oil in a supercritical fluid like CO2 at high pressure. When pressure is reduced the oil separates out and the CO2 is reused. This is the most promising method.
  3. Hexane solvent. Hexane, a hydrocarbon similar to petrol, dissolves the oil. The hexane is then separated from the oil and reused.
  4. Ultrasound breaks open the algae cells, and the oil is pressed out.

The remaining dry matter is a high protein stock feed.

A bioreactor producing algae which are processed into liquid fuels, foods and petrochemicals, is a machine for converting waste, including CO2, into essential commodities which are getting scarcer every year. The only input needed is energy. It’s a closed loop. There is no waste and no collateral damage to the environment.


The “Imagining 2020″ Series of articles is a creative commons discussion effort coordinated by , and Contributions are welcome from all comers. Please see the introduction for an explanation of the project and instructions for how to contribute.

Imagining 2020: The age of the bloody lucky Gareth Renowden Dec 04

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Third essay in the Imagining 2002 series comes from Imagineer Dave McArthur, who examines how NZ made the transition “from being per capita one of the most violent and polluting nations on the planet to a centre of harmonious practice”.

It is 2020 and we have finally worked out the nature of the mysterious force that came to dominate human affaires and transformed global society a decade earlier. A consensus now exists that if this force had not emerged then the existing play of physical forces were all set to form a confluence that would have resulted almost certainly in a catastrophic world war about 2013 in which many billions of people perished in terrible ways.

All manner of experts have endeavoured to identify this great force that prevented such misery and grief. Only now are we aware of how its enormous transformative potential existed in a latent form in nations for centuries. There are few records of it being mentioned in the daily discourse of people this last century or so and we still do not understand how humans suddenly were able to harness its powers so effectively. This much is known:

In the 20th Century we human beings had developed industrialised processes of slaughter of all kinds of creatures, including the massacre of our own species on continental scale. By 2009 many people were feeling helpless as they and their communities were buffeted by an aggregation of hostile forces — climatic, hygroscopic, hydrologic, carbonic, phosphoric and other elements that normally sustain human life. Studies of the language of the period reveal much self-hatred and the demonising of other races and cultures, carbon, climate change, water, global warming and even energy itself.

The rare accounts we have of those who don’t generally write the history books indicates that many people had gut feelings of increasing impotency and deep dread of imminent societal collapse. It is clear that media accounts and official statistics of the period did not accurately reflect their experience of growing inflation and loss of wealth, rising household debt, malnourishment, pollution and crime. It is evident that by 2009 this was also occurring on scale to the middle class in supposedly rich countries.

All manner of systems, including credit systems, built on a valuation of mineral oil of $US25 a barrel were imploding. They were set for imminent collapse as this immensely valuable mineral resource was being depleted in insane ways (private cars, trucks, jets, fertiliser, ’disposable’ items etc.).

This confluence of forces made a seismic lurch into catastrophic warfare inevitable.

It is probable that a combination of the widespread gut feelings of the futility of war and a desire for civilisation generated the behavioural change. It is instructive to study the transformation of the small country of New Zealand. It changed from being per capita one of the most violent and polluting nations on the planet to a centre of harmonious practice. We are now aware that the following prime changes occurred.


Traditionally the abuse of the nation’s carbon, water, solar and electrical potential had been enabled by a curriculum that taught that science is a way of thinking devoid of moral force. The result was a reverence for an amoral, all-powerful god called ’The Market’ plus the destruction of most of New Zealand’s forests and much of its soil, water and air quality.

By 2009 the new neurophysics research capacity showed clearly the powerful and integrated roles of our primal psychology, ’mirror neurons’ and symbol use. Quantum physics indicated information is physical. We know some people were concerned too by documentation showing that the average New Zealander consumed resources at over five times the sustainable rate of planet Earth. We know some also realised the nation’s high level of destruction of remaining mineral oil and gas reserves would have an incalculable negative affect on our options in 2020 and beyond.

These are some of the possible reasons why a national consensus emerged in 2010 that an education system could no longer be evaluated by what its graduates said. The truer measure of quality education is what graduates actually do.

This new measure immediately revealed the traditional Education Curriculum Framework was fatally flawed. The subsequent review redefined the nature and role of science. Science became the driver of all education and was redefined as a state of being in which the following qualities are each necessary requisites for the state of science to exist:

  • Compassion in learning
  • Collegiality and sharing
  • Time and reflection
  • Inquiry and inclusiveness
  • Honesty and trust

The effects of this new National Education Curriculum Framework were almost instantaneous and profound. A great transformative force occurred. Students now understood science is a state almost every human is born into. They were no longer taught that Science is a special way of thinking, only attainable by a small clever elite called ’scientists’ who understood ’science’.

Instead they now understood the state of science is a dynamic moral condition that enables the arts, language and civics to thrive. It is the essence of effective learning.

This new consciousness spread rapidly into communities. Schools restructured their learning activities and teachers their lifestyles. Their communities became excited by the changes and rapidly adopted them. There are many accounts in which people speak of their ’creative potential being unshackled’ and experiencing ’new and wonderful meaning’ in their lives.

It is clear this restructured education curriculum played an essential role in releasing this mysterious potent force that came to dominate human affaires. It is difficult to determine how much the altered curriculum affected the simultaneous transformations that occurred in other spheres of human activity. [Sustainability Principles: NZ Curriculum]


Previously any fall in a nation’s population was experienced as a sign of a failing economy. People who decided to have childless and sole child families were derided as greedy and spiritually deprived, particularly in Anglo-American nations like New Zealand. Now access to family planning facilities became a universal civic right and those who decided not to propagate became revered. A nation’s health was now measured by its ability to reduce its population in careful humane ways.


For over a century an elite, usually those who most benefited from private corporations, fostered the belief that copyright law enabled creativity and wealth creation. The 2008 economic implosion in supposedly wealthy nations addicted to the copyright ethos may have alerted many people to the dangers of this myth. Nations like the USA and New Zealand which should most have profited from copyright were instead now revealed as bankrupt and dangerous.

The transformed education curriculum also made it obvious to most people that copyright destroys creativity and wealth because it disables all the requisites necessary for science to exist.

The review and mass rejection of copyright law that resulted caused a great flowering in the varieties of technology, media, music, arts and other meaningful options available.

The review and mass rejection of copyright law that resulted caused a great flowering in the varieties of technology, media, music, arts and other meaningful options available. It is difficult in 2020 to comprehend the scale of the starvation and under nourishment, wars, waste, inequity, pollution, wasteful devices and unsustainable practices that existed just ten years ago because of copyright.

’Energy’ and ’Power’

Study of all forms of media indicates that an oligarchy of merchant bankers dominated human discourse till a decade ago. This small group determined the use of these prime symbols. They promoted uses of these vital symbols by which the symbols were associated with the products they most profited from. By 2000 the ’energy’ and ’power’ symbols were synonymous with fossil fuels and Bulk-generated electrical products.

These symbol associations generated addictive uses of these resources and destroyed science on scale.

We now understand clearly the fatal flaw in this behaviour; the dangers of confusing energy/power with individual forms; and the dissonance generated in the denial of the Conservation Principle of Energy. All children are now taught a working knowledge of the wisdom in that great guide to symbol use —the Sustainability Principle of Energy.

Energy is now experienced as the potential of the universe(s) and power as a measure of the rate the potential is manifest. It is difficult in our current sense of bounty to imagine the sensations of deprivation and disconnection experienced by people a decade ago.


The new education curriculum had a spontaneous effect on journalism schools. Students and professionals alike were filled with a refreshed sense of science. This was incompatible with the century old corporate media structures designed to serve the short-term selfish interests of the controlling oligarchy.

Dedicated journalists realised their lifestyles defined their journalism. Many elected to work part time in manual and other jobs for independence of income and to employ the new electronic media in ways that enabled deep integrity of journalistic practice.

Dedicated journalists realised their lifestyles defined their journalism. Many elected to work part time in manual and other jobs for independence of income and to employ the new electronic media in ways that enabled deep integrity of journalistic practice. Their dedication was soon rewarded. New Zealanders, motivated by the newfound feelings of stewardship and meaning enabled by the new education curriculum, responded by supporting quality journalists directly, just as they now valued and directly supported artists, musicians, researchers, teachers et al in their communities now. Public broadcasting facilities began to flourish as the charters governing Radio NZ and Television NZ were rewritten to enable true national discourse.

Carbon Potential

New Zealand’s history since 1800 is characterised by an abuse of its carbon potential -deforestation, monoculture, destruction of soil life and high carbon pollution of the atmosphere. In the 1990s it was in the forefront of the development of a global Carbon Trading scheme by which nations ceded sovereign rights and responsibilities to an oligarchy of stateless merchant bankers/traders. In 2008 it was one of the first nations to cede away stewardship of carbon and allow this stateless oligarchy of ’carbon traders’ to set the value of carbon forms.

It is easy now in 2020 to identify the psychopathy and psychosis of this brutal regime. It was not so easily apparent then. We know the 2009 reforms of this ’Emissions Trading Scheme’ (ETS) reinforced in many New Zealanders their gut feeling of great unease that the ETS represented a gigantic rort. They sensed the hideous course of the Carbon Trader pathology.

In 2010 we see the resurrection of the NZ Values Party, based on values of personal and sovereign stewardship of carbon. This Party had unique resonance in the new spiritual climate and soon other parties withdrew support for the ETS.

Since 2010 the majority of New Zealanders have welcomed the self-imposed annual doubling in value of carbon forms like mineral oil. This has allowed the investment required to create the wonderful electrical mass transit systems and work/recreational potential we enjoy today plus the elimination of our national debt.

Modern carbon uses, such as the use of polymers for transfer and storage of electrical products and of biomass for storage of data, illustrate very clearly it is not how much carbon we use but how we use it that matters.

Electrical Potential

New Zealand’s abuse of this potential is similar in magnitude to that of its abuse of carbon. The prevalent myth, propagated by this same oligarchy of merchant traders for a century, was that their Bulk-generated electrical products ARE energy, power and electricity. This myth soon dissipated in the much-enhanced state of science that emerged. Students now associate energy and power with bounty and variety. They also now comprehend that electricity does not exist. They are careful to symbolise each of the very different electrical phenomena that do exist and this is a reason why our dwellings are now such sustainable sources of amazing electrical products.

Students are now also skilled to differentiate between ’smart’ and ’intelligent’ electrical technology’. We now recognise that ’smart’ uses of technology can easily destroy democracy and put us all at risk. We know that ’intelligent’ uses involve all the community in an equal democratic conversation of how their local electrical potential is used. Most students are now capable of rating local grids on an intelligence continuum.

It is clear this proliferation of resources could not have occurred without the repeal of the 1993 and 1998 NZ Electricity Industry Reform legislation. This repressive legislation was designed with 100% effect to remove the historic right of all New Zealand communities to own the intelligence of their local electrical potential. By 1999 not one community retained that right anymore.

It seems the repeal and re-enfranchisement of NZ citizens occurred with surprising ease. Perhaps it was the prospect of the imminent and horrific war in which our large dams and other Bulk-generation devices would be prime targets of obliteration? Perhaps it was the gut level unhappiness of their families and their staff of their roles? Whatever, records show many top managers of the Bulk-generation corporations in the sector urged the Government repeal of the Electricity Industry Reform legislation. There are many subsequent accounts in which both executives and staff speak of the sense of release, exhilaration and reward they now experience working in the multitude of community-based structures that sprang up again after the repeal.

Solar potential

In 2020 we take if for granted that before enacting any major legislation we ask how it impacts on our capacity to conserve and maximise our solar potential. A decade ago nearly all building and ’environmental’ regimes were designed to serve the short-term interests of the banker oligarchy. They determined how we built and used our dwellings and communities. They controlled all electrical metering and most electronic information transfers, transport structures and food distribution. Speculators commonly built to destroy urban solar potentials whereas now we would not dream of building a dwelling without, for instance its roof facing to the sun. Whereas local councils were primarily Building Code enforcers a decade ago they and the new Building Code are now the prime drivers of research and education of sustainable design.

The power of the mysterious force alluded to is such that in 2010 the NZ Minister of Energy and Resources, Hon Gerry Brownlie, realised such a title is patently ludicrous. Unlike his immediate predecessors he gained the fortitude and inspiration to transcend his ego.

The power of the mysterious force alluded to is such that in 2010 the NZ Minister of Energy and Resources, Hon Gerry Brownlie, realised such a title is patently ludicrous. Unlike his immediate predecessors he gained the fortitude and inspiration to transcend his ego. In 2010 the pretentious and destructive role of Minister of Energy was laid to rest and in its place we now have various ministries, including the Ministers for Conserving our Solar Potential, our Mineral Potential, our Electrical Potential and our Carbon Potential.


This, like Environmental Education, exists mainly in our history books now. Both are superseded by the powerful discipline of civics. Economics a decade ago is best characterised as a religion in which believers defer to an omnipotent Being called ’The Market’. Study of the literature and media of last century reveals a growing tendency to ascribe all manner of human qualities to this transcendent ’Being’. Typical was media statements of belief that ’The Market likes/does not like this decision/that Government policy’.

In 2020 we recognise the dangerous pathology of this religion and how it nearly destroyed humanity. We now are mindful to conserve the potential of the ’market symbol’ and know there are all manner of markets involving every type of human interaction. To each we give a name.

Similarly Environmental Education was a sophisticated form of Banker Speak that destroyed science on scale in our communities. The advent of the science-based curriculum placed personal stewardship at the centre of the study of all disciplines. This, plus an enhanced sense of integration with all, caused both concepts to fade into irrelevance.


In 2020 in our privileged state of science the majority of citizens now embrace our roles as stewards. We are much more aware that our every action is a vote. In 2009 the average NZer had no awareness that they placed their most potent votes at the petrol pump, airline counter, supermarket checkout and dwelling switchboard. These votes determined the quality of their Parliament and thus New Zealand MPs were characterised by fear and amorality. Hansard records reveal that every party approved the ETS and Electricity Industry Reforms. It is hard now to imagine how impotent and exploited the average citizen was.

Some call 2020 the Great Solar-Electrical Age. Others who are aware of how close human kind came to triggering a catastrophic global war in 2013 call it the Age of the Bloody Lucky. Perhaps it is best known by the name of that mysterious transforming force that underpinned all the changes mentioned — The Age of Compassion. It was this force that enabled even members of the psychopathic Banker oligarchy to experience the moments of other sentient beings and to transcend their own greed and suffering for vital periods. They thus decided not to risk a vast escalation in needless misery by abusing the insights in articles like this one. Compassion prevailed.

Imagining 2020: The Age Of Smart Gareth Renowden Nov 28

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Second essay in the new Scoop/Celsias/Hot Topic Imagining 2020 series is a very positive view from the Climate Defence Network. Remember, if you’d like to contribute your vision of a low-carbon future for New Zealand, please get in touch — details at the end of the piece.

About this story…

This story came about because there didn’t seem to be any overall New Zealand plan to reduce our emissions — let alone at the scale and speed needed to do our fair share to avoid global climate tipping points. Yet, as life seems to go on as usual, so many of us are quietly wondering just how serious the climate crisis is and what can we do to look after our families. What we do – who reduces how fast and with how much help – are decisions for all of us. The biggest lesson from the last decade is that we can’t afford any more delay. The future is coming regardless and what we do now can make it brighter and better.

The good news is that we can do our fair share and be better off. We don’t have to shoot cows or crush all our cars. We can act smart and tell our politicians they must too. Our problems in New Zealand aren’t technology or money. The real problems are political will, business-as-usual thinking …and more delay.

2020 – The Age of Smart is a scenario of the future to get New Zealanders thinking, talking and working out how we create a low emissions country together. Our fair share means halving our current emissions by 2020 (in other words, making a reduction of 40% on 1990 levels) to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2 degrees of warming — and avoiding climate tipping points. Or to put it another way, each person on Earth has just 110 tonnes each of CO2 to emit into the atmosphere before 2050. At New Zealand’s current rates, we will use up our quota by about 2023. The following suggestions may not be the only ideas or possibilities. And we don’t have to pick up all these suggestions —- but we do need to agree on a fair way forward to rapidly cut our emissions.

It’s time that scientific necessity shaped political feasibility – and urgently. If climate change is ‘the greatest market failure’, let’s make sure our response is New Zealand’s greatest success – for our environment and for our economy. We can start really reducing our emissions from 2010 – and do our bit to stop global disaster for our families. We must do this — and we can!

2020 ‘The Age of Smart’ — coming to our country soon (hopefully)

At home and work…

‘New Zealand’ is synonymous with sustainability. Electricity and heating is now 90% renewable — amongst the best in the world. This global advantage came from encouraging smart behaviour and smart technology. Growing energy efficiency standards helped us avoid becoming the dumping ground for the world’s outdated and expensive-to-run technology. Businesses find that smart energy use frees up investment for business development and innovative New Zealanders are among the world’s top entrepreneurs leading the ‘Low-C’ revolution. Industries have replaced fossil fuels with sustainable biomass energy. Our homes are warmer, drier and healthier. Workplaces are more pleasant too, complemented by home and community-based telecommuting and videoconferencing.

Powering our homes and businesses…

Sustainable energy planning and investment has been smart economics. With world oil prices skyrocketing over the last few years, the era of cheap oil is over. Wind energy generation is no longer controversial thanks to better wind turbine design, a greater understanding of the climate crisis, and the regional designation of the most suitable and acceptable areas for turbines.

The national electricity grid, powered by geothermal, hydro and wind power (with some peak-use gas), is increasingly used for transport, in addition to industry and household energy needs. More homes and businesses feed into the national grid too, thanks to a mix of good policies to help the development of renewable energy technology. Efficient low emission wood-burners teamed up with solar power for heating and hot water are dampening electricity demand peaks. Cities, towns and farms are literally greener with plentiful tree plantings for firewood, food, climate control and biodiversity restoration.

On the move…

Transforming transport has meant better health (especially with the reduced air pollution), well-being and more time together. Neighbourhoods have more ‘heart’ with local shops, services and community workplaces to reduce commuting. Online delivery is smart shopping. Trades-people concentrate call-outs within their local areas, which has cut travel down-time too. Bicycles are popular, but there’s travel gear to suit every need and taste these days. Keeping active and feeling good is such a natural part of everyday life now, rather than an extra to fit into a busy work day or crowded school curriculum. Routine travel to schools and workplaces mostly involves legs or shared transport. New Zealanders are healthier and happier and national health spending is dropping.

Public transport is reliable, fast, frequent, friendly and fun. Places where many people gather – like hospitals, universities, large subdivisions and commercial and industrial areas — link easily into existing public transport and are also serviced by shared transport operators. Most urban centres have free bike schemes and even country towns have community buses and taxis. Care has been taken to nurture rural community facilities and ensure the quality of local schools. A popular business service has been the Auckland-Wellington overnight sleeper train and the new high speed rail link between Auckland and Wellington is almost completed.

Much of long-haul freight transport is by train and coastal shipping. Road maintenance costs have dropped, as well as accident rates. We originally lowered open road speeds to conserve fossil fuel, but community support has kept these lower speeds because road accident rates also plummeted. Fewer vehicles, and 30kph limits for residential and built-up areas, have got rid of traffic congestion and actually sped up travel. Driving practices are much more considerate as drivers are increasingly walkers and cyclists too.

Increasing fuel efficiency standards and policies which decreased reliance on fossil fuels were critical to making transport work. Although our reduced vehicle fleet is increasingly electric now, people are choosing not to bother with the hassles of private car ownership and maintenance. Vehicle share initiatives mean flexibility to choose vehicle size to suit each trip.

The degree of international connectivity through electronic communication (especially in the business sector) means long-haul air travel is unlikely to return to pre-2010 levels. Days of jet-lag and so many hours wasted in air travel are not attractive, compared to the ease and frequency of high-technology video conferencing.

Aviation and shipping were included in the international emissions reduction treaty, but with the end of cheap oil and accessible high quality video communication demand has considerably decreased. The size and nature of New Zealand tourism has changed considerably with fewer visitors overall, more regional and domestic tourism and longer stays by overseas guests.

On the farm, on the land and beyond…

We’re a proud farming nation in 2020: world-renowned for smart sustainable farming and free of GE contamination. This has re-established our image as ‘clean and green’ which earns a marketing edge with eco-conscious customers. Food footprints and animal welfare standards are credibly documented for ‘100% Pure NZ’ brand integrity.

Our farms lead the world in lowering livestock emissions and smart farming practices. Feed, nutrients, water, soils and stock are managed to increase efficiency and resilience to extreme weather events as well as to reduce emissions. Fast adoption of innovative practices and technologies to achieve this has really paid off – thanks to extensive R&D and close attention to market demands.

New Zealand has a much wider range of produce and animals. The dairying boom for international commodity markets has given way to low emissions high value dairy products and diversifying into protein-rich crops. Diversity means greater resilience in the face of shifting world market prices and changing weather conditions. Much of our export food production is for an increasingly drought-stricken Australia, as well as value-added high quality protein products across the Asia-Pacific region.

New Zealanders have always enjoyed a sense of self sufficiency and more of us are enjoying home and neighbourhood gardens. Aided by the expansion of marine reserves New Zealand’s fish stocks are showing significant signs of recovery from serious overfishing and damaging fishing methods. In future these stocks will be in good shape to continue to feed future generations.

Almost all of New Zealand’s marginal land is in forest. Former degraded pastoral lands are covered by a mix of pine and other exotics, plus regenerating natives. The most inaccessible land and the steepest slopes are reverting to native forest for long term carbon absorption, soil stability and biodiversity, with pest control to protect native planting and restoration. The more degraded marginal areas have been planted with faster growing versatile-use exotic tree species (with invasive species strictly controlled). The forestry sector is booming, with a diverse mix of tree species planted on 8-80 year rotations. Our extensive native forest carbon capture assets are also enhanced by a national programme of pest control. There is strong demand for sustainably harvested wood as a construction material both domestically and internationally over more energy or emissions intensive products. Strategic on-farm planting has helped adaptation to extreme weather events such as flooding and drought.

Smart policies, smart investment…

Strategic investment recognised our sustainable strengths and weaknesses in the low-C revolution. We realised business-as-usual plans and increases in fossil-fuel intensive industry such as airports, major roading projects and lignite-to-fertiliser conversion plants were dead ends. Instead, investment focussed on carefully targeted subsidies, grants and education to speed up the transition to sustainability.

Investment in forest planting, pest control, agricultural research, smart farming, fast-access broadband, home insulation, and sustainable transport helped turn around recessionary unemployment from a decade ago. Exposing emissions to market prices using global best practice was an essential building block. A smart mix of policies has also helped divert investment from housing and land speculation, to innovative, sustainable and resilient business. Our skill as innovators coupled with sound policy architecture ensures that we are well placed to seize the emerging opportunities of this global transition. Our 90% renewable electricity makes us the country of choice for trans-Tasman industry.

The government chose 40% of 1990 levels by 2020 as a responsible emissions reduction target so we could do our fair share in global emissions reductions. This target, together with the decision to help developing nations with low emissions development and support for adaptation has been a win-win strategy for us internationally and domestically. Wisely, we chose to invest in preventing runaway climate change and global instability.

Following from the United Kingdom’s 2009 lead, New Zealand has taken a whole-of-government approach to emissions reduction. We have legislated annual targets, departmental emissions budgets, and annual reporting. All Cabinet papers include emissions impact analysis. The independent Climate Policy Agency has a prominent role in policy setting with an overview of mitigation and adaptation planning, and public education.

Economically, New Zealand is in a reasonable position in 2020 with increasing employment, decreasing oil imports, and a manageable balance of payments and overseas debt level.

Looking back…

Although plans to halve our emissions by 2020 seemed ambitious back in 2009-2010, we found that by moving quickly in the right direction and by sending accurate price signals, innovation took off. Change was challenging at times, but easier than we first expected. Wisely, we decided to find most of the cuts domestically. Emissions prices have gone through the roof and thankfully, we are a seller in the international emissions trading market.

It’s strange to look back on some of the issues that used to worry us here in New Zealand — like rising unemployment, health sector concerns, our OECD inferiority complex, and competition with Australia. There was even debate in some quarters as to whether the threat of human-induced climate collapse was real! This despite the huge proportion of scientists and international agencies expressing urgent concern. Increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice was definitely ‘the canary in the coal mine’. As we’ve watched the signs of climate change grow in severity and impact around the world, the overall feeling is utter relief that we turned the corner in time – and although there’s a lot of work ahead here and internationally, we can avoid disastrous climate tipping points.

New Zealand’s emissions began to decrease from around 2010. The signs are that we’ll have to keep lowering our emissions through to 2050 to close to zero. Thankfully, the choices we made earlier this decade mean we can do it.

It’s good to enjoy life in 2020 and feel hopeful for our future and our children.


The “Imagining 2020″ Series of articles is a creative commons discussion effort coordinated by , and Contributions are welcome from all comers. Please see the introduction for an explanation of the project and instructions for how to contribute.

Imagining 2020: A Low Carbon Future? Bah! Humbug! Gareth Renowden Nov 25

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First essay in the new Scoop/Celsias/Hot Topic Imagining 2020 series is a thought-provoking vision from Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal of the Morgan Charitable Foundation:

On the eve of December’s Copenhagen conference on climate, all indications are that there will be no legally binding obligations agreed to by nations insofar as carbon emissions are concerned. The inability of civilisations to pre-empt catastrophe is nothing new: history is littered with instances of societies marching steadfastly to oblivion in full knowledge that this is the consequence of their inability to change. Jared Diamond’s book ’Collapse’ provides a perceptive and sobering historic collation on this topic.

Our genetic code commits us to paths portending self-destruction, albeit this time the threat is on a scale hitherto not encountered. There is no compelling reason to doubt the view that human activity is causing a rise in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, and that this in turn will lead a rise in global average temperatures, we can expect the effects of climate change to be making themselves felt in earnest in 2020. And we can probably expect the rise in temperature to be faster than the currently favoured predictions, given that most of the new evidence that emerges daily suggests that the world is warming more and faster than had been expected by those who compiled the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.

So what — if our disposition for denial dictates we adhere to insufficient pre-emptive action — might be the worst of the scenarios we face in 2020? The rate of growth in global emissions of greenhouse gases will have slowed, but it won’t have reversed, as we so badly need it to have done by then. After the debacle at Copenhagen, it will have taken several years for international accord on meaningful reduction targets to be reached. Some nations will have made great strides in reining in their emissions, and some may even have cut them, but New Zealand, like most other liberal democracies (including the United States), will be lagging behind our commitments. The tough decisions that need to be made will have continued to prove just too tough for politicians eyeing their re-election prospects. Centrally planned economies like China, by contrast, and some of the more socialist European states will have taken strong, concerted action. The worldwide search for truly sustainable energy sources will have begun in earnest as stocks of easily obtainable petrochemical resources have become depleted, sending the cost of energy soaring, and this will be the single greatest contributor to the slowdown in the rate of fossil fuel consumption.

New Zealand, like most other liberal democracies (including the United States), will be lagging behind our commitments.

Nevertheless, the world will already be nearing the maximum ‘safe’ limit of 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide by 2020, and emissions will not yet have been stabilised, let alone reversed. The conversation both here and abroad will have shifted from what will be necessary to adapt to a rise in the global average temperature of a couple of degrees over pre-industrial levels to what will be necessary in a world that is four or five degrees warmer.

The retention of greater levels of energy within the climate system will have different effects from region to region. New Zealand will be comparatively better off than some places. Next door, for example, Australia will be losing vast areas of formerly arable land to intractable drought, even as the major population centres on the east coast are hammered by powerful tropical storms in the north and torrential rain events in the south. Desertification in Africa and Central Asia will accelerate. Extreme weather events such as flooding, heavier-than-usual and unseasonal snowfalls and heatwaves will afflict Europe. The hurricane-prone regions of the world – the Atlantic seaboard of the Americas, the Pacific Islands, East Asia and the sub-continent – will find themselves cleaning up after more and more intense storms.

In New Zealand, the west coast of both islands will experience increased rainfall, while eastern areas will see precipitation rates dwindle, both the consequence of a more persistently westerly set to the weather. Ironically, our regional average temperature may have cooled over the decade, which would be of considerable comfort to climate change sceptics if only there were any left outside asylums for the chronically deluded by 2020. More powerful weather systems in the Southern Ocean will drag cold air into our latitudes from Antarctica during our winter, making for some pretty grim winters in the south. But increased precipitation and colder winters won’t disguise the change in the distribution of rain and snowfall, and nor will it be any consolation to farmers who are forced to walk off their dusty holdings in North Canterbury, Marlborough, the Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay and the Far North. The competing claims of conservation, agriculture and recreation will be bickering even more bitterly over water use rights in these areas than they presently are.

Ironically, our regional average temperature may have cooled over the decade, which would be of considerable comfort to climate change sceptics if only there were any left outside asylums for the chronically deluded by 2020.

Fox and Franz Josef glaciers will have spent most of the decade advancing, due to higher snowfalls on the western aspect of the Southern Alps. Meanwhile Auckland will have recorded its first case of locally contracted dengue fever.

Higher rainfalls on the Main Divide in the South Island will make water shortages in our hydro lakes something of a rarity, and this will improve our energy security and reduce the quantity of fossil fuels we consume in energy production. The excess electricity in the grid initially released by the long overdue closure of the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point will be mostly offset by 2020 through its increased consumption by the burgeoning national fleet of battery electric vehicles. This will work an improvement in the efficiency and the renewable component of the energy consumed by our transport sector, and this in turn will comprise the major component of the slow-down in the rate of New Zealand’s increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Just behind this will be the impact of measures imposed by the government to improve the energy efficiency of domestic and commercial buildings. The third largest contribution will be the carbon offset earned by the re-aforestation of land that was formerly used for agriculture. But agriculture – particularly dairy – will prove resilient: although New Zealand agricultural products will become steadily more expensive on the world market with the addition of a price premium to reflect ‘food miles’, the reduction of demand further afield will be replaced by increased demand from Australia, whose agricultural sector will be under severe pressure.

Like the rest of the developed world, but more like America and less like Europe, we will have failed to wean ourselves off consumption for the sake of it. Everything on the shelves at the Warehouse will be greenwashed in one way or another – wearing a label proclaiming its environmental virtues – but the full range of crap will still be there. The Warehouse’s red sheds will probably have been re-painted green by then, too. But our terms of trade will be desperate, because while we’ll retain our taste for consumer goods manufactured abroad (our domestic manufacturing industry will, of course, have relocated lock, stock and barrel to China, where its largest market lies), demand for our primary produce will barely have survived the imposition of transport tariffs. Tourism will have fallen away markedly, too, as the international conscience turns against air travel as fast as the price of an airline ticket takes off with the addition of carbon levies, and as our claim to the ‘100% Pure’ moral high ground looks sick in light of our failure to act decisively on controlling emissions.

But never mind all that. Housing will be trucking along, as a new generation of Kiwis assembles a portfolio of renters to let to the huddled masses of climate refugees arriving here from the Pacific and from the poorer parts of Asia and the subcontinent. The prices of beef, lamb and seafood will have plummeted as supplying the domestic market becomes more attractive than exporting.

As we happily contemplate our capital gains, we’ll still find it easy to ignore the environmentalists who will be painting doomsday scenarios around the disposal difficulties arising from all the heavy metals used in electric car batteries. Oh yes – and their urging of politicians to set politics aside and take meaningful action on climate change will still be a bemusing sideshow.


The “Imagining 2020″ Series of articles is a creative commons discussion effort coordinated by , and Contributions are welcome from all comers. Please see the introduction for an explanation of the project and instructions for how to contribute.

Imagining 2020 – the world will be what we make it Gareth Renowden Nov 16

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Hot Topic is pleased to join with Scoop and Celsias in launching a new series of articles with the theme of Imagining 2020. We want New Zealanders, as Scoop co-founder Alastair Thompson explains in this introductory post, to imagine what a low carbon future might be like:

The idea is to provide a platform for a collective long-term forecasting effort which considers the impacts of economic transformation on each sector in the NZ economy. If we start by dreaming and imagining our futures, then perhaps we can effectively gain some control over them.

Imagining 2020 will be what Al describes as “a creative commons online discussion festival in which individuals and businesses are invited write about how a low-carbon future affects their individual circumstances”. As the project progresses, we hope to get contributions from a wide spectrum of opinion in NZ, with (I hope) a focus on the positive aspects of the transformation we will inevitably have to make. This is your invitation to take part — email (address below) for details. Over to Al:

In recent months the climate change debate has all too often been framed as a matter of what level of sacrifice we as consumers and businesses are prepared to bare to save the planet. Domestically and internationally various economists have produced econometric models which show the likely negative impacts on GDP growth – extrapolated to household income – of climate change mitigation measures.

On the other side the public is berated by doomsayers who tell us the question is not what the cost of change is, but what the cost of not changing will be in the future. However as many commentators have since pointed out, the reality of climate induced economic transformation is infinitely more complicated than either these perspectives indicates.

A sacrifice approach to the issue of climate change induced economic transformation is a wrong headed – as our international trading competitors such as Japan and China have already clearly recognised. There is huge opportunity for economic growth in transformation.

Meanwhile the “fear the future” approach is a giant turn off. It is defeatist for one thing. If we are doomed anyway – say the cynics – then why not enjoy the view while the ship goes down. And while the argument may be true – until we actually start to smell the fear personally, it is hard to comprehend what threats global warming really poses to us.

Therefore a group of New Zealand websites has decided to get together and encourage discussion of the positive side to climate change mitigation. After all — how many of us really believe that the way the world is currently run is optimal – both for our personal lives as well as for the environment.

So let us think about what opportunities and benefits are present in the coming transformation to a low-carbon future for NZ and global economy. How can our lives be improved by a reorganisation of the economy? How can we use this opportunity for change to fix many of the obvious wrongs in the current consumption driven trading and economic system?

At the beginning of the 21st century we are on the cusp of a once in a millennium opportunity for globalised re-engineering of the political economy. All the ducks are lined up. What we need now is sufficient imagination to build a new and better future for the planet and our children. It is a time for some dreaming and imagining.

The following is my set of beginning assumptions of what low-carbon economic transformation is likely to mean:

  • oil and transportation costs will continue to rise as a result of peak oil as well as carbon taxes;
  • the sales pipeline (manufacturer to consumer) will grow increasingly efficient – driven in particular by online innovation;
  • small businesses and cottage industries will expand as consumer goods move from a “disposable” basis to a “recyclable/reusable” basis;
  • consumers will spend more time in their local environment, consuming locally produced goods and interacting with each other – i.e. communities will become more important;
  • Govt. regulation will increase as energy/resource smart technologies are discovered and the Govt. seeks to accelerate their adoption in the real economy.

All of these things has interesting impacts on Scoop as a business. And in terms of our planning for the future a consideration of the likely impact of these trends is very interesting.

Clearly few if any of these things can be effectively modelled.

Innovation and disruption are inherently hard to predict and the main econometric models which attempt to plot the impact of a Kyoto 2 agreement do not even attempt to consider these issues. Rather they simply look at the aggregate impact of rising prices at a macro-economic level.

But in the real world we as individual businesses and consumers can expect a complex set of rebalancing of the way we live our lives and do businesses. Some industries will become more competitive and others less so as a result of change. And the key to success in such an environment is – of course – to plan.

In response to the disconnect between the opportunities in transformation and the perception of sacrifice around climate change – an alliance of online media partners (Scoop, Celsias and Hot-Topic) have hatched a plan.

“Imagining 2020″ will be a creative commons online discussion festival in which individuals and businesses are invited write about how a low-carbon future affects their individual circumstances. The idea is to provide a platform for a collective long-term forecasting effort which considers the impacts of economic transformation on each sector in the NZ economy. If we start by dreaming and imagining our futures, then perhaps we can effectively gain some control over them.

And one thing we can be certain of is that economic transformation is what is ahead.

Here in New Zealand while “40% by 2020″ is the catch cry of several NGO led campaigns (Greenpeace’s & Oxfam’s “Feel The Heat” petitions among them), the Government’s response to this challenge so far has been to throw a lowball to the rest of the world.

Climate Change ministers announced an initial target of between 10% and 20% at the beginning of August. Since then New Zealand’s presence at the Bangkok UN Conference on Climate Change (view reports from Greenpeace’s Geoff Keey) was less than inspiring, and our contribution at the conference failed to inspire.

The latest disappointment is that our Prime Minister is not even intending to attend the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen due to begin on December 5th and run to December 18th. At a practical level NZ Government actions are also disappointing. They show little inclination to begin the sorts of transformation necessary to achieve even the most superficially modest targets we might adopt.

So far this year the new National led Govt. has:

  • removed the ban on new thermal generation;
  • cancelled work on vehicle fuel efficiency standards;
  • reversed the sales ban on incandescent light bulbs;
  • and is now in the process of pushing through an emissions trading scheme which seems to be neither effective nor sustainable.

I say superficially modest, because even a target of 20% reductions by 2020 will require NZ to cut – or offset – current emissions by 35% to 45% by 2020 to meet its obligations. And that’s a lot. But while the NZ Government may be a little confused about both what objectives it should seek, and what that will mean, there is no reason for us to be similarly confused.

The idea of the “Imagining 2020″ discussion is not a debate about what our target should be, what should be realistic, or what policy’s to adopt to get there. Instead we want to sidestep the here and now and instead imagine how a low carbon future would look when achieved?

While the reality of the future may turn out to be a big mess, here at the beginning it is worth looking to how we would like our low-carbon future to look.

What will a low carbon future mean for our businesses? What will it mean for our lives? These are the question the Imagining 2020 project wants you to help answer. And so we (Scoop, Celsias and Hot Topic) are issuing an open invitation to all to contribute to the Imagining 2020 project.

Write to us telling us what you think a low-carbon future will look like for you personally, for the country and world. If you are a business then we want you to think about what it means for your company – and if you are not frightened to provide some possible advice to competitors then we would also be interested to hear about your strategies to deal with the coming period of change.

Simply email and you will be sent instructions on how to participate. Or visit Scoop, Celsias or Hot Topic where you will be able to read in greater detail some responses to the Imagining 2020 project.

Once we receive your responses we will edit them, compile them and publish them across the three websites. We will encourage others to read them and hopefully be inspired and encouraged to think positively about the future.

This article first appeared as a Scoop Editorial, and is based in part on an article which appeared in the October issue of In Business magazine.

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