Robert McLachlan

Robert McLachlan FRSNZ is Distinguished Professor in Applied Mathematics at Massey University and is an advocate for stronger action on climate change.

A New Zealand household emissions calculator - Planetary Ecology

Jul 05, 2019

The New Zealand company Enviro-Mark Solutions, a spinoff from the Crown Research Institute Landcare, is a global pioneer is greenhouse certification. Founded in 2001, they now have hundreds of clients in seventeen countries. Their most popular certification, CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme) audits companies’ emissions and their emissions reduction plans – typically reductions of at least a few percent a year are required. Numerous large New Zealand companies are CEMARS certified and there are some amazing success stories. A higher level is CarboNZero, which certifies that the client’s entire operation is carbon neutral. (Some residual emissions can be offset, where there is a plan to eventually eliminate them.) Now they have a new tool that allow individuals to assess (and, if they want, offset) their emissions: the Enviro-Mark Household Calculator. It’s extremely easy to use and, … Read More

100% renewable electricity: A classic kiwi stoush in the making - Planetary Ecology

Jul 01, 2019

There’s an old joke set variously in Maine, in Scotland, and probably in any number of other places, about some city folks asking directions from an elderly local. After several lengthy, confusing false starts at directions, the local finally concludes, “You know, you really shouldn’t be starting from here.” This, to me, is the central joke of climate change mitigation. If only we were starting from somewhere else, say from twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, or if our economic, social, and political systems were set up slightly differently, things would be so much easier. The problem is particularly acute in New Zealand where we haven’t really begun the actual work of cutting emissions yet, and where the range of allowable strategies is unreasonably restricted. There are many actions that have been tried and tested in most other … Read More

The tragedy of climate change - Planetary Ecology

Jun 06, 2019

Why is there pollution? Why is there an ecological crisis and why has it been so hard to deal with? There is certainly no shortage of culprits – people have blamed neoliberalism, capitalism, consumerism, economic growth, overpopulation, evil corporations, greed. But underneath all the many aspects of this difficult problem lies one fundamental phenomenon: the Tragedy of the Commons. This states that self-interest will lead to the depletion of an unmanaged, freely available resource, against everyone’s long-term interest. In an unmanaged fishery, each fisher has an incentive to catch as many fish as possible; if they don’t, another fisher will. Without cooperation between all parties, the fishery will be destroyed. It is one of those ideas that, once learned, you start to see everywhere, even in areas that are not purely economic. Voting, taxes, vaccination, rubbish, labour laws, health and safety, … Read More

Green electricity: Is it for real? - Planetary Ecology

May 26, 2019

Stop flying, cut out red meat, switch to an electric car or, better yet, a bike.  Newspapers and websites are full of stories of people who have made the switch to a low-emission lifestyle. The stories are inspiring, to me anyway, and they are definitely newsworthy. But, at least judging from the online comments (‘Not gonna happen!’), they can be irritating to others. Nevertheless, there are other more serious arguments that individuals should not be the main focus of climate change action. The strongest point is that climate change is a global problem that can only be solved by collective action, the main vehicles for which are state regulations and international agreements. A focus on individuals, goes the argument, feeds the neoliberal cover story that people make entirely free choices and hence, if they’re choosing to burn fossil fuels, they … Read More

NZ introduces groundbreaking zero carbon bill, including targets for agricultural methane - Planetary Ecology

May 09, 2019

New Zealand’s long-awaited zero carbon bill will create sweeping changes to the management of emissions, setting a global benchmark with ambitious reduction targets for all major greenhouse gases. The bill includes two separate targets – one for the long-lived greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and another target specifically for biogenic methane, produced by livestock and landfill waste. Launching the bill, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: Carbon dioxide is the most important thing we need to tackle – that’s why we’ve taken a net zero carbon approach. Agriculture is incredibly important to New Zealand, but it also needs to be part of the solution. That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane. The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill will: Create a … Read More

A long time between drinks: Mercury will build the Turitea wind farm - Planetary Ecology

May 02, 2019

We know what we have to do to beat climate change: electrify everything, and stop investing in things that burn fossil fuels. In New Zealand, that has been hard to do. Thirty years of climate policy have left us with only two main tools: the Emissions Trading Scheme, and an ‘aspirational’ target of 90% renewable electricity by 2025. The ETS has failed to reduce emissions. Although the carbon price has now risen to $25/tonne, and a 50% discount for large emitters gradually unwound, the price is not high enough to have an effect. It’s adding 5c/l to petrol, and in theory it’s adding 2.5c/kWh to coal-powered electricity and (and 1.25c/kWh to gas). Gas peakers, which can be turned on every evening when the spot price is high, are still being used and even built. The short story of new electricity … Read More

Farms, forests, and fossil fuels - Planetary Ecology

Mar 28, 2019

That’s the title of the new report from Simon Upton, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. In a pattern we’ve become used to, James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, immediately released a statement to say that the report’s main recommendation – that forests not be allowed to offset fossil emissions – was not on the table. But the same day on the radio, the interviewer Guyon Espiner appeared to put Shaw on the spot: Espiner: [Apart from the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Zero Carbon Bill] What are you doing to bring down emissions? Shaw: Well, I mean, there are things right across the economy that we’re doing… Espiner: Just name a couple of big ones Shaw: OK, we stopped new exploration of offshore oil and gas… Espiner: The advice was that that wasn’t going to … Read More