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Posts Tagged NZ Herald

When will they ever learn? Herald reprints Telegraph’s tawdry climate lies Gareth Renowden Apr 08

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Why would the New Zealand Herald choose to reprint a review of a book steeped in climate denial, under the headline The game is up for climate change believers in the week between two major climate reports from the IPCC? The review, by Charles Moore, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph, an up-market British newspaper noted chiefly for its unwavering support of the right wing of the Conservative Party, appeared on the Telegraph’s web site over the weekend — over a year since the book was first published. Someone at the Herald clearly thought that Moore’s views on The Age of Global Warming by former banker and right wing think tank denizen Rupert Darwell, would add something to the paper’s coverage of climate matters. If they did, one wonders whether they bothered to read it first, because Moore’s review is little more than extended paean of praise to Darwall’s conspiratorial thinking — global green conspiracy, capture of science by politics — all the tropes that traipse through the “works” of Delingpole, Wishart and Lawson. Worse than that: it makes factual errors that anyone paying the slightest attention to the content of the Herald — which you might expect its own staff to do — should have been able to pick up. Even worse: the Herald failed to notice that the Telegraph‘s own Tom Chivers noted that Moore was talking nonsense:

…whatever the merits of the book, Charles has made a howling, awful error in his very first paragraph, quoted above. Let’s look at it again:

The theory of global warming is a gigantic weather forecast for a century or more.

No, it isn’t.

It simply isn’t. Whatever your thoughts on anthropogenic climate change, and whatever your thoughts on hockey sticks and the IPCC and “watermelons” and Climategate and urban heat islands and all these vexèd things, there is simply no sense in which “the theory of global warming is a gigantic weather forecast for a century or more”.

Chivers proceeds to demolish Moore’s review, and finishes his piece with this damning comment:

Charles has utterly misunderstood the issue, and told an entire scientific discipline that he knows best, and it’s important that someone points out that he’s got it wrong.

There’s more — much more — that Moore gets wrong. Here’s a sentence from his penultimate paragraph:

Last week, the latest IPCC report made the usual warnings about climate change, but behind its rhetoric was a huge concession. The answer to the problems of climate change lay in adaptation, not in mitigation, it admitted. So the game is up.

Utter tosh. Next week sees the release of the third part of the IPCC’s fifth report, devoted in its entirety to mitigation. It will undoubtedly point to the need to urgently reduce emissions. The Herald news pages will, I’m sure, go to some lengths to ensure that they provide good coverage of this important news.

But no notion of “balance”, or of reflecting a range of opinion can excuse printing factually incorrect propaganda from overseas. The Herald‘s foolish editorial team (or an ideologue hiding therein) made the paper look stupid today. It would be funny, if it weren’t so seriously wrongheaded — and dangerous for sensible public discourse on this crucial issue.

[Update 9/4/14, 8:45am: In the last hour the Herald has published Tom Chivers' response to Moore's review, but there is no link from Moore's review to the riposte, or any other acknowledgement that it is clearly factually incorrect. At least it proves someone at the Herald is awake and following Twitter...]

Roughan’s relaxed, world drowns Bryan Walker Apr 07

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rising seaInsouciance is the new face of climate change denial. John Roughan’s column in Saturday’s New Zealand Herald was a typical example. Half a metre sea level rise by the end of the century? What’s there to be concerned about in that, he scoffs. A bach at the water’s edge might no longer be a good idea, but that’s about all it amounts to.

At a century off, the predicted disaster of climate change is a slow burn.

“It is plenty long enough for people to move if necessary, for crops to change, fresh water to be managed much more efficiently. Human life will adapt if it has to…”

It’s hard to credit the nonchalance, let alone the implicit inhumanity. Roughan settles for the lower sea level rise estimates, I notice.  No mention of the metre or more which is now commonly advanced by scientists. But there’s not much need to be too closely acquainted with the science if you can brush it all away with the assertion that humans will adapt if they have to.

There’s no acknowledgement that sea level rise will continue to catastrophic levels in succeeding centuries if we take no notice of the urgent need to constrain emissions. No recognition of what a metre of sea level rise will mean for many small island states, or for the dense populations of low-lying coasts and the great river deltas. No appreciation of the precariousness of the lives of the hundreds of millions of poorer people whose subsistence is closely tied to a relatively dependable climate pattern. Does he advise them to be “sensibly relaxed about the risk of climate catastrophe”, as he praises the New Zealand government for being?

He appears as dismissive of technologies to address climate change as he is of the magnitude of the risks it carries. He contemptuously suggests that the alternative to adapting to climate change is returning “to some pre-industrial age of bicycles and village crafts.”  I think of books like Al Gore’s Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis which grew out of many lengthy and intensive “Solution Summits” he organised to enable leading experts from round the world to share their knowledge. The kind of technological expertise they represent is apparently not worth Roughan’s bothering to acquaint himself with.

Roughan’s trivialising may not be denial of the science, but it is denial of the science’s import. It effectively claims that climate change can’t be as bad for humanity as the science warns it will be. It pours scorn on those who allow themselves to be thoroughly alarmed at the prospect. It undermines urgent mitigation measures and misrepresents what those measures might be.

Roughan is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Herald. Of late the paper has carried a number of accurate and well-assembled news reports about climate change matters, albeit at some distance from the front pages.  It also hosts occasional opinion pieces which set out the seriousness of the issue. And a couple of days ago it at long last tackled the question in a thoughtful editorial critical of the lack of urgency in the government’s approach to climate change.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, to find one of its senior journalists so blasé on such a serious matter.

 

Risible Rodney rides again Gareth Renowden Feb 17

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Rodney Hide’s regular opinion slot in the Herald on Sunday has often provided the former ACT Party leader with a platform to spout his trademark climate denialist nonsense, but yesterday’s has to take some kind of biscuit1 for purveying unsubstantiated, completely made up nonsense. He starts by riffing on new research that suggests that an increase in Pacific winds has acted to slow down global temperature increases, and then goes completely off his trolley:

Scientists predict that when the Pacific trade winds slow global warming will take off with a bang. Armageddon remains on.

Climate scientists say the best policy is still one that bombs us back to feudal times.

Not to put too fine appoint on it, that is distasteful nonsense; a misrepresentation at best, a lie at worst — but either way the opinion editor of the Herald On Sunday should be ashamed for permitting it to appear in the paper.

Hide’s statement is wrong on many levels. Climate scientists seldom directly advocate for policy (beyond the need for urgent cuts in carbon emissions). And nobody outside of a looney right-wing think tank has ever suggested that cutting carbon will “bomb” anyone back to the middle ages. It’s cheap and easy rhetoric from a man with a column to fill, and no fact checker on duty at his newspaper.

To get a better perspective on the research Rodney is attempting to spin to his cause, check out this commentary by Mike Mann, or Dana Nuccitelli’s excellent explanation at The Guardian. It’s fascinating stuff, and deserves better than a once-over lightly from an ideologue with an agenda.

Hide then hops onto another pseudo sceptic hobbyhorse: the climate models:

One hundred years is a long time to have to wait to see if the models are correct.

The poor results so far don’t prove anything. And none of us will be alive to see if the models are actually correct.

He’s wrong about that, too. For an example of just how good the models can be, check out this blog post by professor of computer science Steve Easterbrook which compares the EUMETSAT year of weather video noted at Hot Topic recently with a visualisation of a year’s weather patterns from the atmospheric component of NCAR’s CCSM climate model. Run the the two animations side-by-side.

That’s how good our general circulation models are, and that’s how wrong Rodney Hide is. Again2.

  1. Girl Guide, perhaps, or Garibaldi?
  2. Construction adopted to please @davidslack

Not telling it like it is – media reluctant to face up to climate crisis Bryan Walker Aug 09

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The news media, with some outstanding exceptions, has monumentally failed to communicate to the public the magnitude of the threat of climate change to human society. Depressed, I tried recently submitting an opinion piece to the Herald dialogue pages on the subject. It was rejected. It’s hardly the sort of thing that needs writing for Hot Topic readers, but there may be interest in seeing what the Herald turns down. And it’s not because they were besieged by material: there were a couple of obvious fillers from overseas newspapers to occupy the space in the same week.  Here it is:

The mainstream news media continue to serve the public poorly on the question of climate change. The magnitude of the threat revealed by scientists engaged with climate science and related disciplines is rarely conveyed in news reports, and even more rarely followed up in any considered fashion.  Yet stark realities are already apparent in more frequent extreme weather events, the ominous warming in the Arctic region, the growing acidification of the oceans, the increased rate of sea level rise and much else which bodes ill for human society. Reports from biologists indicate that the process of change is happening at a rate too rapid for many species to adapt. Mass extinctions are clearly likely.

All of this one would imagine would be treated as important news, frequently prominent in the headlines, often canvassed in editorial discussion, with regular comment sought from leading scientists on the implications of what is happening and expected to happen in the time ahead. But that doesn’t occur. Occasional items appear, sometimes well reported and thankfully these days less likely to be “balanced” by reference to climate change deniers, but the overall media response is muted at best, with a few notable exceptions such as the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Presumably there are judgments being made at editorial levels which account for this evasion of responsibility. Maybe scientific ignorance prevails in such circles and there is simply no understanding of how solid the scientific consensus is on the basic elements of human-caused climate change. Perhaps they still buy the spurious claim made by deniers that there is serious division among climate scientists about these basics. Maybe they just feel that it is inconceivable that humanity should be bringing about such vast changes to the workings of the global climate, no matter what the scientists say. Maybe they think that their audience doesn’t want to hear bad news and make a commercial decision to ignore it.

Whatever the reasons, the media’s neglect is dangerous for society and it’s high time the public was given well-resourced information on a regular basis. It’s not difficult to supply. Kathryn Ryan’s recent National Radio conversation with Professor Daniel Pauley, Director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Colombia, on the implications of the world’s fish moving to cooler waters as oceans warm up was an example of how quickly an expert, when intelligently interviewed, can convey the magnitude of a climate change impact. There are a great many scientists similarly well placed to explain the results of their research in a variety of settings. The current economic excitement because the retreat of Arctic sea ice promises access to drilling for oil and shorter passage for shipping would be considerably dampened if the public was fully informed of the fears of Arctic scientists. They realise that the warming of the area may lead to substantial methane release from the offshore permafrost. This would increase global warming significantly and lead to costs to the global economy far outweighing the benefits now being touted. Arctic expert Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar ocean physics group at Cambridge University, affirmed recently in a Guardian interview that rapid methane release from the Arctic seabed is not a low probability event.

By any measure reports from active scientists which bear upon such widely significant possibilities are newsworthy. Added to the full range of climate change impacts they absolutely demand full attention and appropriate action. It may already be too late to prevent a global temperature rise of at least two degrees, which in itself will at very least require expensive adaptation measures. But if the burning of fossil fuels continues as usual we may well even this century be looking at a three or four degree rise, with enormously painful consequences for human society.

That’s the picture responsible scientists are presenting. Surely it’s more than enough to galvanise the news media to ensure that what the science has to say is adequately conveyed to the public and brought to the centre of public discourse.

TDB Today: penny-pinching stupidity by the NZ government Gareth Renowden Jul 11

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In my Daily Blog column this week, I express disgust at news that the NZ government is planning to cut climate science research funding by 50 percent. Not content with keeping their heads buried in the sand, the government seems hell bent on piling the sand even higher around their necks. It’s climate policy madness, again. Comments at TDB, please…

Hypocrisy at the NZ Herald: de Freitas given platform for more climate lies Gareth Renowden May 27

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When the NZ Climate Science Coalition lost its court case against the New Zealand temperature record last year, the NZ Herald — the newspaper of record for NZ’s largest city — ran an editorial pointing out the stupidity of the climate cranks tactics. It went on to criticise the views of Auckland University’s Chris de Freitas — a man with a long history of distorting the facts about climate science — expressed in an opinion piece on the judgement published in their own paper. Two years ago the Herald also broke the news that de Freitas was teaching climate denial to first year university students.

You might think that those experiences would have left the paper a little wary about giving de Freitas a platform in its pages, but it appears that the newspaper is a slow learner. This morning, the Herald carried another opinion piece by de Freitas under the headline Science proves alarmist global warming claims nothing but hot air, a response of sorts to an opinion piece by Jim Salinger that appeared in Friday’s paper. Here’s the opening sentence:

Several aspects of Jim Salinger’s op-ed “Climate hurtling towards a hothouse Earth” (Herald 24/5/13) are quite misleading.

Unfortunately for the reputation of the Herald, de Freitas goes on to be more than “quite misleading”: he tells a remarkable number of straightforward lies about our understanding of climate change. It appears that the newspaper believes it’s acceptable to print lies when they masquerade under the flag of opinion.

Unpacking all of the distortions and misdirections in de Freitas’ article would require a much longer post than I have time to write, but here are the major points:

1: de Freitas writes: “…there is no evidence that the putative change would be large or damaging”.

No evidence. Really? CdF is not merely expressing a personal view of the nature or quality of the evidence, he’s denying outright that it exists — and that’s a straightforward lie. There’s considerable evidence assembled in the IPCC reports and the peer-reviewed literature of both the magnitude of expected warming and the damage likely to result.

2: “The so-called evidence of minor human-caused climatic change can also be attributed to causes or processes other than those related to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”

Recent warming has been robustly attributed to atmospheric CO2 increases. Once again, the IPCC assembled a handy overview of the huge amount of work done in this area in their Fourth Report (2007), and will produce an update later this year. No doubt de Freitas will pretend that doesn’t exist either.

3: “…climate alarmists who assume climate is governed by positive feedback processes which they claim will lead to runaway global warming. Four billion years of global climate history shows that negative feedbacks prevail.”

It would take a long time to unpack all the misrepresentation in these two sentences, but the idea that negative feedbacks prevail over positive feedbacks is proven wrong by the climate history of the last few million years. If negative feedbacks really dominated over positive, then we’d be stuck in a permanent ice age.

4: “Climate warming does not confirm that carbon dioxide is causing it. The evidence would have to distinguish between human-caused warming and natural warming. This has not been done.”

Another straightforward lie, unless de Freitas claims to be completely ignorant of the entire attribution literature — which would be odd for a man who has repeatedly represented himself as a climate scientist. Chapter 9 of IPCC AR4 has that subject covered, and references over 500 papers.

5: “There are natural variability theories of warming. Much of the talk of “increasing evidence for global warming” is actually evidence of climate variability.”

It is true that there are crank theories of warming that don’t allow CO2 to have a role — but none that explain why the well understood radiation physics of the gas should suddenly cease to apply now, and none in the peer-reviewed literature. There’s plenty of evidence that current warming is beyond “natural” variability — see 2 above.

6: “During the Medieval Warm Period from 900 to 1200AD, the Vikings sailed in arctic waters that are now covered with sea ice, and farmed Greenland soil that is now too cold for agriculture.”

De Freitas is apparently as ill-informed about the history of Viking Greenland and its agricultural systems as he is about the rest of climate science. The rapid warming that Greenland is currently experiencing is bringing about amazing changes in what can be grown there as the growing season warms and lengthens. The Independent went into much more detail in March:

Sten Erik Langstrup Pedersen, who runs an organic farm on a fjord near Nuuk, first grew potatoes in 1976. Now he can plant crops two weeks earlier in May and harvest three weeks later in October compared with more than a decade ago. He grows 23 kinds of vegetables, compared with 15 a decade ago, including beans, peas, herbs and strawberries.

7: “From the results of research to date, it appears the influence of increasing carbon dioxide on global warming is almost indiscernible. Future warming could occur, but there is no evidence to suggest it will amount to much.”

Indiscernible! A big word, and the very opposite of the truth. Once again, CdF claims there’s “no evidence”, when there’s evidence available aplenty — from the rapid reduction in Arctic sea ice and global glacier retreat, to shifts in ecosystems and weather patterns.

There’s more that I could pick apart in de Freitas’ feeble attempt to argue that black is white, but that would be to give a propagandist more than his due. The big question is why the Herald continues to give him space. Here’s a line from that editorial about the NZ CSC’s failed court case:

Too often, the claims of unqualified people have been able to cast doubt on the view of the majority of active climate scientists who are certain human industry is contributing to global warming.

De Freitas demonstrates his lack of qualifications as a climate scientist by his denial of the existence of the peer-reviewed literature. His opinions carry no credibility with his peers, and bear no relation to the truth. He serves a different master — an ideology that would see this planet fry sooner than cut emissions.

Shame on the Herald for giving him a platform to spout lies, for in doing that — however good the rest of their climate coverage may be — they feed the pathetic little campaign to do nothing to address the problem that will shape all our lives over the next century and beyond. High time that the paper took to heart the old adage that every man is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts1. The Herald seems to think that De Freitas is entitled to both. He is not.

  1. Commonly attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but James Schlesinger or Bernard Baruch might have claims to prior art.

Climate of complacency: NZ Herald lazy and irresponsible Gareth Renowden Jan 14

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Saturday’s New Zealand Herald carried an astonishing editorial on climate change — remarkable enough to prompt me to tweet that it was “crass, complacent and so very wrong“, despite it being ostensibly in support of action on climate change. The piece begins by riffing on the wildfires in Australia, before observing:

With Australia having its two hottest days on record this week, and New Zealand enjoying a hot summer, it feels like climate change has arrived. But most scientists are wary about attributing any particular weather to global warming. To cite this summer as evidence would enable sceptics to recall last January’s washout.

“Most scientists” are being anything but wary about discussing the link between the Aussie heatwave and climate change. Australia’s Climate Commission released a special report on the heatwave at the end of last week. Here are the first three “key points” from the report:

  • The length, extent and severity of the current Australian heatwave is unprecedented in the measurement record.
  • Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and longer heatwaves and more extreme hot days, as well as exacerbating bushfire conditions.
  • Climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse.

Straightforward enough, you might think. Climate change is making the heat and fires worse. But if the Herald editorial writer might be forgiven for missing a major report from the Australian body tasked with informing that nation about the realities of climate change, he or she cannot be forgiven for the astonishing complacency evident in the next few paragraphs.

In a review of climate study this week, we reported that New Zealand might fare quite well under the predicted 4C increase in average global temperatures. Here the expected rise is 3C.

That “review” doesn’t appear to be available online, but it appears on the basis of those numbers to have been a reasonable, if somewhat gloomy appraisal of where we might be heading. But then…

Victoria University’s Dr Jim Renwick, a lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel’s next report, said the North Island’s climate would be closer to Queensland’s and the South Island would have the North Island’s conditions. It does not sound so bad.

Not so bad? Only if you ignore what a three degree temperature rise would mean for the ecosystems in which we live. Human systems might be able to cope reasonably well — if at considerable expense — but the New Zealand environment would be transformed beyond all recognition. And while NZ might fare better than much of the planet, the reality of four degrees warming elsewhere would be nightmarish. Australia’s heatwaves are already being pushed into record territory by a mere 0.9 degrees of warming. How much worse would they be in four degree world?

Without these important caveats, that paragraph amounts to ridiculous complacency.

The editorial then moves on smoothly to introduce geoengineering as a possible solution.

The next IPCC report will examine engineering responses to climate change, such as extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sending sun-reflecting particles into the stratosphere.

It is something to ponder as we bask in another hot, sunny weekend.

Apparently, the newspaper wants us to ignore the bad stuff, look only the bright side, and believe that we can fix the problem by applying technologies yet to be invented. No need to sweat the hard stuff. No apparent necessity to reduce emissions. Let’s all lie on the beach and ponder that wonderful world.

The editorial closes with one sentiment I can wholeheartedly endorse :

If this is a symptom of global warming we are all in it together.

No need for the if: we are undoubtedly all in “it” together, but if we are to have any hope of reaching the sunlit uplands of a world where climate change has been restricted to manageable proportions, we will need to take the problem seriously, and work hard to achieve a solution. Sadly there’s no sign of that wisdom to be found in this lazy, risible and irresponsible Herald editorial.

[Update 15/1: The Herald article including NZ climate projections can be seen here.]

NZ Herald’s turn to offer propaganda as opinion – De Freitas’ links to cranks hidden from readers Gareth Renowden Sep 12

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The new “compactNZ Herald has taken a downmarket tabloid approach to informing its readers by running an opinion piece about the recent courtroom defeat for NZ’s climate cranks by prominent climate sceptic and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas, without explaining de Freitas’ long history of association with the cranks he’s defending. In the article, de Freitas overstates the uncertainties associated with temperature records, even going so far as to imply that the warming trend over the last hundred years might be “indistinguishable from zero”1. He also overplays the importance of temperature series to policy-makers — a line straight out of crank litigant Barry Brill’s playbook, and self-evident nonsense.

Despite this transparent partiality, the opinion editors at the Herald credit him like this:

Chris de Freitas is an associate professor in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland.

But, as the Herald opinion team well know, de Freitas is much, much more than a mere associate professor in the School of Environment. He has a track record of activism against action on climate change that stretches back two decades. Here, for the poor misled readers of the new Herald‘s opinion pages is a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to de Freitas’ long history of climate denial activism.

This long list is far from complete — not least because it doesn’t include all the sceptic nonsense he’s presented as opinion at the NZ Herald and National Business Review over the years3, but it should serve to give a flavour of the man that Herald readers might think was a humble and respectable geographer at the University of Auckland.

The Herald has no excuse for failing to explain de Freitas’ interests in this issue, and should print a clarification as soon as possible. Carrying a good piece by Brian Rudman may “balance” CdF’s effort in some eyes, but the paper really needs to do better. What next? An opinion piece criticising the Labour party by prime minister John Key, where he is described as “a retired banker”?

[Updated 13/9 to add CEI link, and CdF's publication record.]

  1. “Temperature trends detected are small, usually just a few tenths of one degree Celsius over 100 years, a rate that is exceeded by the data’s standard error. Statistically this means the trend is indistinguishable from zero.”
  2. It didn’t.
  3. A rough count suggests that since 1990 he has published around 77 opinion
    pieces about climate change – with 32 in NBR and 27 in the Herald – partial publication record here.

Offshore wind: a huge resource Bryan Walker Aug 28

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Two wind energy items arrived in my inbox in close proximity recently. One was from the NZ Wind Energy Association (NZWEA) congratulating Meridian Energy on turning the first sod at Mill Creek wind farm in the Ohariu Valley north-west of Wellington. It’s a 60 megawatt farm of 26 turbines. The project will cost $169 million and is expected to be commissioned by mid-2014. It will increase NZ’s installed wind capacity from 623 megawatts to 683 megawatts.

NZWEA’s chief executive made appropriate remarks to accompany the announcement, reiterating the expectation that at least 20% of NZ’s electricity will be generated from wind by 2030 and noting the technology advances in harnessing wind which is now one of the lowest cost options for new generation in New Zealand.

It’s good to see the steady progress in the development of wind energy in NZ, although it seems to arouse little excitement in Government circles who reserve most of their interest for further  fossil fuel development. And a report in Saturday’s NZ Herald was a sobering reminder that the $7 billion invested in the oil and gas sector over the past five years puts it far ahead of any other local sector when it comes to investment in new productive capacity. NZ is hardly on the brink of transition from fossil fuels, hardly, it seems, even interested in the possibility while there’s money to be made from exploiting them.

The second item was from the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), and reported that offshore wind development is picking up pace. Globally wind power now has 238,000 megawatts of capacity installed. Most of that is land-based, but the focus of the article was on the rise in offshore wind capacity, which has expanded nearly six-fold since 2006 to currently stand at 4600 megawatts. The article provides a useful overview of the prospective future development.

More than 90% of the offshore wind installations are in Europe, where the UK leads the way with 2500 MW, over half the world total.  Outside Europe, only China and Japan have operational offshore wind farms. Although its first offshore project was not installed until 2010, China already ranks fourth behind the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Belgium, with 260 megawatts. And China is poised for big development. The government’s goal is 30,000 megawatts of offshore capacity by 2020. This could generate the equivalent of roughly one fifth of China’s current residential electricity consumption. Elsewhere in East Asia, South Korea has big plans for offshore wind, targeting 2,500 megawatts by 2019.

The US by contrast is moving only slowly in offshore development. It trails only China in land-based wind generating capacity but has yet to install a single offshore turbine. After a decade of fending off opposition a proposed 470-megawatt project off the coast of Massachusetts aims to begin construction next year, as do two other East Coast projects. A proposed offshore “transmission backbone” of highly efficient underwater high voltage direct current cables financed by Google and other investors would stretch some 300 miles from New York to Virginia, and could connect around 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind to the Mid-Atlantic’s population centres. It’s now under environmental review and complete construction would take approximately 10 years. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that wind turbines installed in the shallow waters of the Mid-Atlantic region could add up to nearly 300,000 megawatts of capacity—enough to power 90 million U.S. homes. For the entire Atlantic Coast, including deeper waters, the resource is estimated at 1 million megawatts.

The EPI report claims that nine of the top ten carbon dioxide emitting countries in 2010 have more than enough offshore wind energy potential to meet all their current electricity needs. (Iran is the exception.) Russia’s offshore wind resources, for example, exceed its current electricity demand by a factor of 23. Canada’s current electricity needs could be met 36 times over with domestic offshore wind energy.

It’s clearly an enormous resource, albeit not one that all the countries concerned are racing to exploit. Current leaders in offshore wind are expected to remain the principal sites for deployment, with China, the UK and Germany accounting for more than 70% of new installations.

Lester Brown is founder and president of EPI. His well-known Plan B, to which this article is one of many updates, called in 2009 for a crash programme to develop 3 million megawatts of wind generating capacity by 2020, enough to satisfy 40% of world electricity needs. There’s little in what is reported here to suggest we are on track to that sort of figure. Indeed, this update merely concludes: “As interest grows and technology advances, offshore wind appears headed for a prominent position in the world’s renewable energy mix.”

It’s not difficult to see the promise in renewable energy, but it is difficult as yet to see sufficient development to suggest we are serious about decarbonising our economies. It can even seem a little foolish to make much of the promise of renewables, given the political strength of climate change denial and the determination of vested interests to hold on to fossil fuel industries. It’s easier to lament the apparent incapability of the world’s political leadership to challenge the disastrous route we are on than to paint hopeful prospects for clean energy. But there is movement, either with or without government support, and it’s important to publicise that and to say over and over again that we do not need to burn fossil fuels to obtain reliable and abundant power.

Nick Smith: another fossil fuel fail Bryan Walker Aug 15

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MP Nick Smith in a NZ Herald opinion piece this week uses the fracking debate to advance the cause of fossil fuel mining. He claims that fracking is important in the development of geothermal energy and then moves seamlessly to the notion that we are desperately in need of unconventional natural gas in order to save us from falling back on coal, which we will otherwise “inevitably burn”. In defending fracking he manages to nicely couple the fossil fuel natural gas with a renewable energy source, geothermal.

It’s not my purpose to argue here about fracking as a technology. What is dismaying about Smith’s article is the complacency with which he advances the cause of natural gas. Writing enthusiastically of the huge unconventional shale gas resources in the US, he claims gas emits one-third the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. I know its emissions are lower, but it was news to me that they were as low as that. I could find no source to substantiate that figure. A little over half is the best figure I have been able to locate, and there are big questions about methane leakage in the fracking process. However let that pass. The real issue is the unrestrained pursuit of unconventional fossil fuels, which as James Hansen has reminded us often enough will mean game over for the climate.

The argument that natural gas is better than coal from a climate change perspective is increasingly made. It is true enough. But it does not mean that natural gas is somehow benign in relation to global warming. I’ve written on this question before and I repeat here a quote I used then from Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA:

“While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables and nuclear, particularly in the wake of Fukushima. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change.”

Nick Smith’s urgent advocacy of fracking for natural gas, albeit hedged by some precautions, completely ignores the challenge to replace the use of all fossil fuels with renewable or nuclear energy. It appears to be either natural gas or coal in his book, and he works up a lather of indignation about how opposition to fracking “halts the development of industries offering significant economic and environmental benefits” to the country.

There may or may not be immediate environmental concerns about the process of fracking. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is undertaking an enquiry and will report by the end of the year. But the overarching environmental concern is much greater than the fracking technology. That concern is the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, a matter which Smith addresses only to the extent of hurriedly claiming the superiority of natural gas over coal. If that is as far as Government thinking goes, it is nowhere near far enough.

Smith in his final paragraph, in the context of an assertion that he is passionate about New Zealand’s natural environment, urges the need for “a rational and science-based approach to our natural resources and risk management”. Is there anything more rational and science-based than the warnings of climate scientists that we are putting humanity in grave danger by continuing to explore and exploit fossil fuels? Certainly we can’t make the transition to other fuels overnight. But it would be good to see a politician of Smith’s background saving his insistent advocacy for the necessary goal of developing energy sources that do not add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The Government’s preference for short term issues is a sad avoidance of responsibility.