Posts Tagged RNZ

Citibanker: the age of renewables is here Bryan Walker Apr 17

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Kathryn Ryan’s interview earlier this week with Michael Eckhart, Managing Director and Global Head of Environmental Finance and Sustainability at the giant investment bank Citigroup was arresting. He was in New Zealand as a keynote speaker at the Wind Energy Conference and Ryan asked him about a recent report from Citi, Energy Darwinism: The Evolution of the Energy Industry, which claimed the world is entering the age of renewable energy and explored the consequences for generators, utilities, consumers and fossil fuel exporters. There’s a good exposition of the report on this blog post.

Eckhart explained the three big costs in producing electricity – the fuel, paying off the loan for the plant, and operational maintenance. In the case of coal and natural gas generation all three costs are involved and there’s no way of knowing what the cost of the fuel will be in the future. With wind and other renewables “there is no fuel cost at all: none”. Once the loan for the plant is paid off there are no further costs other than operational.

Ryan asked why investment in renewables is dropping as the costs are coming down. Eckhart in reply spoke of an anomaly:

“We had a very successful industry emerging coming out of the United States, Europe … manufacturing these solar cells, these solar panels, and  along  came China, and China just produces things at a lower cost and China made a priority – this became a priority industry under the government of China … and they came out with panels costing half as much.”

Investors in Western companies consequently took a hit and investors in the new Chinese companies did very well “and it’s all a big mix now”. The surviving Western companies are still there and very successful though many companies have closed. The industry has a new profile. Japan and the Middle East are also now part of the picture. The industry is evolving all the time.

Ryan then mentioned the difficulties wind energy is facing in the US with the emergence of cheap shale gas and the withdrawal of subsidies leading to a real hit to investment.

In response, Eckhart spoke in general terms of the world being 40 years into a 100-year transition to clean energy. Renewable energy is on a large scale around the world. “It’s a 250 billion dollar per year industry – that’s how much capital’s being invested in it”.  It’s a big industry competing with conventional power “better and better all the time”. In the US right now low-cost natural gas is gaining some share against renewables, but that’s not going to be a long-term trend. He spoke of the big forcing functions like climate change, environmental protection, human safety and stabilisation of energy costs. He stressed that stabilisation is one aspect of renewable energy that is often overlooked. Once a wind or solar project is built and financed the cost of its electricity is fixed for the life of the plant. Stabilisation of energy costs is important for countries.

When Ryan pressed the question of subsidies for wind and the pressure they are coming under in some countries Eckhart replied that subsidies are better seen as incentives, or compensation for public benefit. Non-pollution from renewables is a public benefit. But there’s nothing in the market to pay for that.

Solar presently counts for a quarter of a percent of the US electricity supply. How, asked Ryan, do you get a big transition moving from that small base?

Eckhart instanced Bill Gates making a fortune from the point when PCs were at only two percent of the computing power in the world. It’s the future that matters. He distinguished the three layers of the industry. First, the technology and manufacturing companies who produce the equipment to harvest the natural energy. Second, the developers, owners and operators of the renewable power plants. Third the utilities that buy that electricity to sell it to us. The profitability of the manufacturing layer might for the present be bad because of the Chinese dominance of the space. However the drop in prices has benefited the developers who are buying the panels and putting them to service. That’s where the fortunes are currently being made. The utilities have been taken somewhat by surprise and are still figuring out how this impacts their business.

Market adjustment is called for. Those who adjust fastest are going to benefit. Those who stand still might be impacted negatively. The world is changing. We are in a century of massive technology innovation and adoption.

I appreciated Eckhart’s forthrightness, all the more because of the investment banking environment from which it comes. But the question the interview left me pondering was whether the forcing function of climate change that Eckhart refers to will be felt strongly enough to speed up the process that he sees as inexorably under way. Forty years into a hundred-year transition doesn’t sound far enough from a climate change perspective. Our own government is happy enough to look forward to fully renewable energy in the long run, but only after as much profit as possible is taken from fossil fuels. The remaining sixty years of Eckhart’s hundred need to be condensed to thirty before we can safely take heart from the kind of analysis he makes.

Sunday morning Antarctica, and the future of transport Bryan Walker Aug 28

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Chris Laidlaw interviewed the new Director of the British Antarctic Survey, Professor Jane Francis, in his Sunday Morning programme on National Radio in the weekend. I thought the discussion worth drawing attention to as an exemplar of the kind of thoughtful interviewing climate science deserves but only occasionally receives. The listening public also deserves such interviews from the media if it is to understand the weight of the scientific consensus on climate change. Respect is due to Laidlaw’s understanding of the basic thrust of climate change and its implications, making him well equipped to elicit from Professor Francis a very clear account of her work on Antarctic forest fossils and more generally on the threatened sea level rise from melting in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Francis has a fascinating story to tell of her work on fossil plants in the Antarctic and the evidence from the fossils that the continent some 100 million years ago was forested in a period when the globe was in a warm period sufficient to melt polar ice. She discussed with Laidlaw the ways in which trees probably coped with the months of cold but not freezing darkness each year by moving into a kind of dormancy.

Melted polar ice meant much higher sea level and Laidlaw was obviously keen to include some discussion of the current prospect for ice melt in the region. Francis spoke of the huge amount of effort by many nations currently being put into trying to understand what’s happening to the big ice sheets in Antarctica, the changes that are going on, the reasons for them and what’s likely to happen in the future.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, she explained, is only pinned in three rocky places and is otherwise floating on the water where it is vulnerable to melting by the warming oceans: 


… climate modellers have been modelling the West Antarctic ice sheet, there’s lots of glaciologists studying the West Antarctic ice sheet, and they really do think that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds about six or seven metres of sea level rise across the world, is beginning to melt – and climate models do show that there can be a pivotal threshold point where the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might melt very fast.  So I think that’s something that really deserves a lot more research

At this point Laidlaw commented in terms with which I am entirely in sympathy:

The implications of that are sort of Armageddon, aren’t they?

Francis preferred something a little more prosaic:

Well the main implication is that sea level will rise by several metres around the world. I mean it’s equivalent to the Greenland Ice Sheet. The Greenland Ice Sheet is also melting but mainly from the top. But, you know, that few metres of sea level rise would affect a huge huge number, a huge population in low-lying areas around the world. So it really has a global effect          

We should hear or read many interviews of this kind in the media. They ought to feature regularly if the general population is to be properly informed of the range of science which supports an issue which should be a dominating feature of public life, not sidelined as it currently is. Perhaps the forthcoming IPCC report will usher in a new and abiding level of media engagement with the science. One hopes that there is a body of journalists sufficiently informed to take on the task.

Listen to the full Jane Francis interview

Talking of the IPCC, in the same programme Laidlaw also capably interviewed Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University in Perth and a lead author for transport on the IPCC. Newman is well aware of the climate change challenge in the transport area, but he also lays weight on the synergy provided by cultural shifts and the dawning realisation that successful cities centre on public transport, not automobile dependence. He says the cultural revolution of younger people getting out of cars is well under way and speaks of the demise of automobile dependence.  It will be no surprise to hear that New Zealand is one of the last places in the world to be continuing the tradition of car dependence, which is out of date.

“The days of building motorways in cities are over. Increasingly money is going into public transport.”

I won’t go further into the substance of the discussion here. It’s full of interesting detail and repays twenty minutes of listening, though I’m not sure that Steven Joyce or Gerry Brownlee would think so. Particularly cheering is the optimistic tone in which Newman speaks of the developments he sees as under way. While I was listening to him I recalled similar claims about declining car use by younger people in a piece by Lester Brown which I reviewed over three years ago. I checked back and realised how closely his conclusions mirrored what Newman has to say. For example, Brown wrote:

In contrast, many of today’s young people living in a more urban society learn to live without cars. They socialise on the Internet and on smart phones, not in cars.

I wondered in conclusion to my review whether Brown, ever the optimist, had been too quick to discern a trend. In Newman’s view he was evidently spot on.

Listen to the full Peter Newman interview

Listening to people like Newman one is reminded that much may be going on under the radar in fighting climate change, and that we are not entirely in the hands of lumbering politicians who can’t or won’t see any way forward from fossil fuel dependence. If the need to reduce emissions is undergirded by clearly sensible economics there’s nothing to prevent the transition to clean energy other than the rearguard action of vested interests.

Gluckman gets it wrong: being alarmed is not alarmist Bryan Walker Aug 13

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On Sunday morning, Radio NZ National’s Chris Laidlaw interviewed the PM’s science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman regarding his recent report on the likely future impacts of climate change on New Zealand. In an intelligent interview it was good to hear the report being given more prolonged and thoughtful attention than the initial news items about it afforded. It’s not my purpose to comment on the report other than to welcome it and hope it carries weight with the government. But in the course of the interview Gluckman made a couple of comments which I want to challenge. I’ve transcribed, I hope accurately enough, the section of the interview in which they occurred.

Laidlaw: The report is remarkably restrained …you say in the introduction that the most probable future scenarios are cause for concern. But unless there’s some sort of political miracle we’re going to be looking at an average temperature increase of somewhere between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees centigrade over this century. This is rather more than cause for concern I would have thought. It’s going to be a catastrophe.

Gluckman: I would agree personally.

Laidlaw: Yet your language is very restrained in this

Gluckman: I don’t think the scientific community has done its case well by becoming emotive on this issue. I think that my role as science adviser is to collate the scientific information from experts and put it out there for the political and public processes to reach the conclusion you’ve just reached.

Laidlaw: Do you think that we have and that scientists themselves also have sort of overdosed on alarmism?

Gluckman: I think so and I think …scientists need to distinguish whether they’re being a knowledge broker and putting the knowledge forward to everybody or whether they’re advocates for a cause. And I think in the climate change area, for understandable reasons, a large number of scientists have acted more as advocates where I think what is needed is knowledge brokerage and that’s what I’m trying to  demonstrate and do  here.

I’m not a scientist but I’ve been following climate science as well as I’m able for several years now and have seen no sign of any climate scientists swapping science for advocacy. Indeed I’ve been struck by the caution and careful delineation with which their findings are typically presented. I’m not sure what Gluckman means by advocacy, or whom he is thinking of when he makes the accusation. Let us imagine he has James Hansen in mind.  Hansen certainly advocates action to lessen the impact of climate change. But he does so from the solid base of a distinguished scientific record which he has continued to build along with the advocacy role he has increasingly assumed in the later years of his career. Nor did he rush into an activist role. It was only after he became a grandparent and realised that the issue was mired in denial in the political world that he took up a public role of advocacy.

I have come to value such scientists as Hansen highly. I became deeply alarmed by the climate change issue six or seven years ago, all the more because the media, the world of government and the public at large seemed in denial that there was much to be concerned about. I wrote columns for my region’s newspaper for some time, trying to communicate some of the scientific findings I was reading about, but the arrangement was discontinued because of editorial anxieties about “balance”. In the apathy and ignorance which has long seemed the dominant public mood it has been important that at least some clearly well-qualified scientists have been prepared to voice publicly the alarm they feel at society’s failure to move away from fossil fuels to the abundant sources of clean energy. Who is better placed to communicate the message of innumerable peer-reviewed studies or the massive summaries of the IPCC? Certainly not retired English teachers like me.

I acknowledge the claims that the political world where policy is formulated has more to take into account than the scientific facts of the matter alone. But the voice of alarmed science needs to be heard as part of the mix with which policy makers are concerned. Otherwise it’s all too easy for governments like our own to settle for the gradual emergence of new energy sources while remaining determined to extract wealth from what remains of fossil fuels. Someone has to say that slow gradualism will not work, that the remaining fossil fuel reserves cannot all be burned without causing profound damage to the climate and the ecology on which human society relies.

Too emotive?  Overdosed on alarmism? Not at all. It’s the blunt reality of the science and it would be odd if scientists held back from saying so out of some anxiety that they might be thought to be compromising their science by their advocacy. One can be both knowledge broker and advocate. The two are not necessarily at variance. I can understand the PM’s science adviser avoiding advocacy in his report, but cannot agree with his judgment that that’s what climate scientists should generally be doing.

Monckton misfires on Radio New Zealand: a baker’s dozen of errors and deception Gareth Renowden Apr 19

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Last night Radio New Zealand’s Nights programme — a show with a long-standing commitment to excellent coverage of science and scientists — for some strange reason decided to broadcast an interview with Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. Quite why they bothered to give him a platform remains to be seen, but as you might expect, [...]

Stuff and nonsense (ministerial condescension and media fossil fools) Gareth Renowden Dec 11

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A select few politicians have the ability to make me (and others) shout at the radio. New Zealand’s minister of climate change issues Tim Groser is one such. On Radio New Zealand National’s Morning Report this morning he gave vent to his feelings on NZ’s Colossal Fossil winning performance at Doha. It was an “absurd and juvenile prank”, apparently, put together by “extreme greens and youth groups”. He definitely had it in for the youth groups, referring to them twice. His extreme condescension to young people who think that his policies are at best wrong-headed, at worst disastrous for the country they will inherit, caused me to interrupt my tea making to shout at the radio, much to the dog’s surprise. Hear the full interview here, and see if you are immune to Groser’s aggressively smug assumption that only he holds the key to climate action:

Tim Groser on Morning Report

And then, over the now brewed cup of tea, Google’s morning newspaper presented me with a news item from the Dominion Post (via Stuff) about a new paper in Nature Climate Change co-authored by Dave Frame of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute. The basic news item’s straightforward enough: Frame and co-author Daithi Stone, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have looked back to the IPCC’s 1990 projections, and found that they were remarkably close to what has actually happened over the last 20 years — bad news for climate deniers who insist that model projections have failed and that warming has stopped. (See also VUW press release,, The Conversation). Perhaps that’s why the journalist, one Tom Hunt, chose to close his piece with a quote from physics denier Bryan Leyland (cue coughing and spluttering):

But Bryan Leyland, from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, said science had shown global temperatures had not risen in 16 years and the world was more likely to get cooler.

Leyland, as we discussed at Hot Topic recently, is now happy to align himself with the über cranks who deny the reality of the greenhouse effect. Quoting him on climate research is about as meaningful as seeking the flat earth society’s opinion on orbital mechanics.

For that stupid piece of false balance, Tom Hunt and the Dom Post win my inaugural Media Fossil Fool award. Anyone care to design a nice badge they can wear with shame?

Hansen in NZ: first reports Gareth Renowden May 13

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James Hansen’s tour of New Zealand is off to a flying start, with an appearance on TVNZ’s Close Up, coverage in the Herald (they got his age wrong) and an interview with the Dominion Post‘s Kiran Chug, followed by a business lunch (or a lunch with business) and an evening talk to a packed room at Auckland University. Jim Salinger reports:

Jim Hansen’s lecture last night was great. The lecture room held 250, and there were 350 stuffed in sitting on the floor and standing room only, with an overflow room full and buzzing.

The talk was recorded, luckily, and can be seen here. Blogger No Right Turn was at today’s Palmerston North session and tweeted: It was a good talk. The thrust: “think of the grandchildren”. No surprises there. Hansen will be interviewed on Kim Hill’s show on Radio NZ National on Saturday morning at 8-15am, and although my sources suggest Kim may want to push a sceptical line, it should be well worth a listen. For a little amusement, Facebook users might want to check out the tour Facebook page, where a couple of NZ’s more incorrigible denialists — Steve Wrathall and Andy Scrace — have taken it upon themselves to post stupid comments. No surprises there, either. Meanwhile, plans are afoot for GR and The Climate Show to interview Hansen next week in Christchurch. Watch (and indeed listen) to this space…

[Update 14/5: Full report on Palmerston North talk at No Right Turn here.]

Something for the weekend: poles, podcasts and Chomsky Gareth Renowden Feb 12

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Casanova - 1996Something for everyone this weekend: a few podcasts to grab, ice news from both ends of the planet, interesting reading, and a great interview with Noam Chomsky. Audio first: Radio NZ National’s Bryan Crump interviewed Prof Jean Palutikof, Director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University in Queensland at the beginning of the week. It’s a wide-ranging discussion: Palutikof is an engaging speaker and frank about the dangers we confront. Grab the podcast now, because it’ll disappear from the RNZ site on Monday.

Matthew Woods’ Journeys to the Ice blog (part of the Sciblogs network) recently featured a two-part podcast on “the Greenland ice sheet in a high CO2 world” — an extended interview with Canadian ice modeller Jeremy Fyke. It’s interesting both for the light Fyke’s work sheds on possible futures for the ice sheet, but also a fascinating insight to the process of building and running complex climate models.

At the other end of the planet:

  • Aussie researchers working on the Lambert Glacier ice stream have discovered evidence that the huge East Antarctic ice sheet may respond to warming rather more quickly than had been thought. Oh dear.
  • Antarctica New Zealand has finished provisioning a new camp at Roosevelt Island, 700 km East of the NZ and US bases on the western edge of the Ross ice shelf for the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project, a seven nation collaboration between NZ, the US, Denmark, Germany, Britain, Australia, and Italy. Drilling starts next summer with the expectation of producing a high resolution core that will shed light on the stability of the Ross ice shelf and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the transition out of the last ice age.
  • The BBC looks at the secrets of Antarctica’s fossilised forests — how gingkos survived the long night (the long summers more than made up for the dark, apparently), and how the local dinosaurs adapted.

On the big island to the north of Tasmania, the government’s chief climate adviser Ross Garnaut has begun releasing updates to his 2008 report: three in the last ten days. I’m waiting with interest to hear what he has to say about the state of the science (due on March 10), but he wasn’t afraid to draw the obvious conclusion about weather extremes when releasing the first update, Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action. One point seemed well made: “the presence of uncertainty in the range of possible climate outcomes strengthens the case for climate change action” — something that every politician needs to understand.

On the subject of extremes, Reuters has a long feature on how the US insurance industry is responding. “It’s a tough time to be in the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business. Storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.”

Some good new web sites:

  • NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) has relaunched its web presence with a very good looking and informative site. Plenty of material on ocean acidification and the oceanic carbon cycle, with excellent graphics. Worth having a dig around there…
  • If you ever get confused but all those acronyms for ocean/atmosphere interactions — PDO, ENSO, NAO, SAM and so on, UCAR has the page for you. Good clear explanations and nice illustrations.
  • The Carbon Brief is a new UK climate news site. It’s a professional effort, with good news coverage, excellent background articles and profiles of key players. Keep an eye on their Twitter or RSS feed.

A prominent scientist is fighting back against the libels slung around so freely by the denial campaign. Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver is suing “freelance climate change denier” Tim Ball. DeSmogBlog and the New York Times have the details, but it looks like an open and shut case. Ball went too far, and picked on the wrong person…

And finally: Noam Chomsky. Many years ago, in a classroom far, far away, I had to parse a page of Chomsky (writing about grammar) as part of the entrance exam to a well-known university. It was damn near impenetrable (but I got in). In this interview, he’s anything but. In some senses, his views are old fashioned — you don’t hear many people (especially not in the US) talking about class issues — but even if you don’t agree with everything he says, the man talks sense. Discussing the election of so many Republican climate deniers he says: ’If this was happening in some small country it wouldn’t matter much. But when it’s happening in the richest, most powerful country in the world, it’s a danger to the survival of the species.’ I fear he’s right [via Energy Bulletin].

[The Divine Comedy]

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