Welcome to a new year. 2020 was one to remember. I suspect 2021 will also have it's fair share of surprises. It seems to be the times we are living in. So "Expect the Unexpected!"
I feel a need to apologise in advance for the tone of some of this newsletter. On completing it I felt some of the items have a "doomster" feel to them. Unfortunately, when analysed they appear to be very real and well supported by scientific evidence so we need to take them seriously. I believe they do reflect the very real challenges we all face in regard to the wide ranging threats to the planetary ecosystems and climate. Thankfully all the items are not negative and I have been able to finish with something beautiful. So, if you choose to read none of the items below I encourage you to at least go to number 9 if you feel like being uplifted. There is a link to a 4 minute YouTube clip of Amanda Gorman, who is the current "Youth Poet Laureate of the United States" where she recites a poem about Climate Change. She has the ability to move people's hearts and bring tears to your eyes on an issue that is so critical to the future of our beautiful planet Earth.
As she says so eloquently - "The time is now, now, now..."
1) MDC has secured funding for the Te Hoiere Catchment Project.
Funding totalling $1,000,000 has been allocated from the Ministry for the Environment’s Freshwater Improvement Fund over the next five years. This funding provides start-up funds for the Te Hoiere Project and will enable the completion of a Catchment Condition Survey and commencement of on-ground restoration work.Council applied in December 2020 to the Freshwater Improvement Fund to enable work to begin on the Te Hoiere Project. The application was successful in receiving $1,000,000 in funding to accompany $100,000 of existing Council funding. Ministry funding is spread over five years from June 2021 (although a Deed of Contribution will enable work to commence immediately).
On-ground work will include up to 30 km of riparian and significant Wetland fencing work, 6 hectares of riparian planting, planting of 20,000 riparian plants, four education workshops per year and introduction of up to 50 farm packs of dung beetles.9. The funding is expected to generate approximately 22,000 person hours of work (11 FTE) as part of the Jobs for Nature programme. The funding also provides for a part-time project manager to implement the work.
More info is available here if you're interested. It is item 4 on the Environment Committee agenda.
2) Global Temperature in 2020 - Analysis from James Hansen and others.
Global surface temperature in 2020 was in a virtual dead-heat with 2016 for warmest year in the period of instrumental data in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. The rate of global warming has accelerated in the past several years. The 2020 global temperature was +1.3°C (~2.3°F) warmer than in the 1880-1920 base period; global temperature in that base period is a reasonable estimate of ‘pre-industrial’ temperature. The six warmest years in the GISS record all occur in the past six years, and the 10 warmest years are all in the 21st century. Growth rates of the greenhouse gases driving global warming are increasing, not declining.
Full article available here -
3) Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of EcocideThe Stop Ecocide Foundation, at the request of parliamentarians from the governing parties in Sweden, has convened an Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide. The Panel is tasked with drafting a definition which may be considered by interested state parties for possible proposal to the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as a potential 5th crime under that Statute.
The Panel is seeking to consult interested stakeholders in all regions, in order to obtain a wide range of perspectives to inform the drafting process.
Responses are being sort by February 18th. More info available here -
4) Global ice loss accelerating at record rate, study finds.
The melting of ice across the planet is accelerating at a record rate, with the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets speeding up the fastest, research has found.
The rate of loss is now in line with the worst-case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on the climate, according to a paper published on Monday in the journal The Cryosphere.
Thomas Slater, lead author and research fellow at the centre for polar observation and modelling at the University of Leeds, warned that the consequences would be felt around the world. “Sea level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century,” he said.
About 28tn tonnes of ice was lost between 1994 and 2017, which the authors of the paper calculate would be enough to put an ice sheet 100 metres thick across the UK. About two thirds of the ice loss was caused by the warming of the atmosphere, with about a third caused by the warming of the seas.
Over the period studied, the rate of ice loss accelerated by 57%, the paper found, from 0.8tn tonnes a year in the 1990s to 1.2tn tonnes a year by 2017.
Full article available here -
I'm always interested when reports such as this come out providing evidence which is in line with IPCC worst case scenarios. Of course it goes without saying that if we continue to follow worst case scenario trends the outcomes will be serious for the planet's future. This is something those reading this newsletter all understand. When these scenarios were first laid I suspect many people made the inference that there is a low chance of worst case scenarios eventuating and yet, as time passes and more evidence accumulates. the trends continue in the wrong direction. Very sobering!5) Release of first Climate Commission advice.
Most people will be aware The Climate Commission released their first package of advice for public consultation on February 1st. The advice covers the first three carbon budgets (out to 2035) and provides a detailed plan on how to achieve them.
Robert McLachlan, who is a professor in applied mathematics at Massey University, has written a good article in the Guardian here - It is headed, "New Zealand will need a policy revolution to meet climate commission's brief", and covers the main issues in the release. It concludes that the changes called for will require rapid and sweeping regulation in all areas of society from transport to forestry.
If you are interested in more detail you can listen to Dr Rod Carr (Chair of the Climate Commission) delve into the detail of the Commission’s advice on the steps Aotearoa must take to reach its climate targets, and what this could mean for New Zealanders. The Climate Commission has this webinar and an excellent range of other sessions available on their website here -
Some of those sessions are -
6) A useful article was printed on the Stuff website a week before the Climate Commission release.
It was headed "The change that'll make Rogernomics 'look like a trial period'" and in it they said -
"The biggest economic transformation since the 1980s is coming – and many of us don’t even know it.
The shifts required to run our economy without fossil fuels will make the economic changes of the late 1980s “look like a trial period”, in the words of Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr.
This time, Carr and his fellow commissioners (and the governments that receive their advice) will need to succeed where leaders of the 1980s failed, by transforming the country without the mass pain and job losses that accompanied Rogernomics.
That’s the plan, but how will we do it? We’ll get our first glimpse on February 1, when the Climate Change Commission releases a draft blueprint to the public.
The headline of next week’s release will be three draft carbon budgets, each putting a cap on how much greenhouse gas the entire country can emit during a five-year period, starting this year and ending in 2035.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw has said he thinks many people will be shocked by how much New Zealand needs to cut its emissions.
But the alternative – inaction and climate catastrophe – would be worse."
The full article is available here -
7) The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review.
Here is an article about another report released in the UK on February 2nd, highlighting that a worst case scenario outcome is imminent for our planet's biodiversity and that if we are to have any chance of addressing this challenge we must completely change our economic systems."Our economies, livelihoods and wellbeing all depend on our most precious asset: nature. We are part of nature, not separate from it.” These are the opening lines of a newly published landmark review of the economics of biodiversity.
Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history and the review aims to create a new economic framework, grounded in ecology, that enables humanity to live on Earth sustainably. “Our demands far exceed nature’s capacity to supply us with the goods and services we all rely on. We would require 1.6 Earths to maintain the world’s current living standards,” says Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta in the review, which was commissioned by the UK Treasury.
“Humanity faces an urgent choice,” he says. “Continuing down our current path presents extreme risks and uncertainty for our economies. Choosing a sustainable path will require transformative change, underpinned by levels of ambition, coordination and political will akin to, or even greater than, those of the Marshall Plan [under which Europe was rebuilt after the second world war].”
Jennifer Morris, CEO of the Nature Conservancy, said: “Science shows us that nature is teetering on a knife-edge. The upcoming UN summits on climate and biodiversity in 2021 provide an unparalleled opportunity to redefine the relationship between people and nature. Our shared planet is counting on all of us to step up and protect our natural world for generations to come.”
Nina Seega, at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership, said: “The review’s focus on completely rewiring mainstream economic and financial models is key to moving the nature debate on to the agenda of governments, financial regulators and individual financial firms.
“It is especially pertinent to take the opportunity presented by the Covid-19 crisis to align the underpinnings of our economic and financial system with a sustainable future.”
The Dasgupta review concludes: “To detach nature from economic reasoning is to imply that we consider ourselves to be external to nature. The fault is not in economics; it lies in the way we have chosen to practise it. Transformative change is possible – we and our descendants deserve nothing less.”
The full article is available here -
Online copies of the full 600 page review and an abridged version are available here -
8) Top scientists warn of 'ghastly future of mass extinction' and climate disruption.
The planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction, according to an international group of scientists, who warn people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises.
The 17 experts, including Prof Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb, and scientists from Mexico, Australia and the US, say the planet is in a much worse state than most people – even scientists – understood.
"The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts,” they write in a report in Frontiers in Conservation Science which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges.
The delay between destruction of the natural world and the impacts of these actions means people do not recognise how vast the problem is, the paper argues. “[The] mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation.”
“Ours is not a call to surrender – we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future,” it adds.
Dealing with the enormity of the problem requires far-reaching changes to global capitalism, education and equality, the paper says. These include abolishing the idea of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing environmental externalities, stopping the use of fossil fuels, reining in corporate lobbying, and empowering women, the researchers argue.
The full article is available here - And the report itself is available in full here -
9) 24 Hours of Reality: "Earthrise" by Amanda Gorman.
I'm relieved to be able to finish this newsletter with something so positive and heartwarming.
You can listen to her poem here -
"It is a hope that implores us at an uncompromising core to keep rising up for an Earth more than worth fighting for."
Nga mihi nui, Budyong.
Here are a few items of interest from over the last three months. (the bold type is my emphasis).
1) A report was presented to the MDC Environment Committee on October 8th titled –
Wairau Offshore Groundwater Geological Assessment.
It was prepared for Council by BECA in March 2020 and is – “a re-examination of the possibility of an ocean outlet for the Wairau Aquifer by an external technical expert showing that, based on recent offshore geophysical surveys, the geological formation hosting the aquifer extends well out into Cloudy Bay/Cook Strait and is exposed at the seabed, potentially allowing drainage of fresh groundwater to the sea.”
In the presentation it states – “An improved understanding of how groundwater exits the Wairau Aquifer was overdue given sea level rise and the declining levels in the Wairau Aquifer providing less throughflow to maintain the seawater interface in its current position.”
If anyone wants to see the full summary you can check it out here under Item 5 –
2) A presentation was also made updating the Committee on the recent Resource Management review undertaken by the Government.
The presentation outlined that key concerns promoting the review were:
First to repeal the RMA and replace it with the Natural and Built Environment Act (NBEA). This would have a substantially different approach but would incorporate some of the key principles of the RMA that are appropriate.
The focus of the NBEA would be on: enhancing the quality of the environment; and
achieving positive outcomes to support the wellbeing of present and future generations.
Introduction of new legislation called the Strategic Planning Act (SPA). The SPA would:
set long-term strategic goals; and facilitate the integration of legislative functions across the resource management system.
The concept of Te Mana o te Taiao (which refers to the importance of maintaining the health of our natural resources, such as air, water, and soil, and their capacity to sustain life) will also be captured in the NBEA.
Recognition of Maori and their rights in our freshwater resources has been reviewed. As a result, the Panel has recommended that the Crown and Māori address and resolve issues sooner rather than later as without such a solution, the allocation and use of water rights will continue to pose significant difficulties for all those involved in the system.
The Panel has emphasized that while the legislative changes proposed are vital, the success of the new resource management system will depend critically on the capacity and capability of all those involved in it. As a result, they have concluded that increased funding and resources need to be provided by both central and local government. The lack of sufficient resources and build capability has been noted as being one of the important reasons for the failure of the RMA to deliver its intended outcomes in the first place.
The Amendment Act also supports the need to improve freshwater management and respond to climate change in New Zealand. This is brought by way of a new freshwater planning process that regional councils and unitary authorities, like Marlborough District Council, must use for proposed freshwater provisions in regional policy statements and regional plans (excluding regional coastal plans). These new freshwater planning process provisions have been introduced to enable regional councils to make changes to their freshwater plans in a robust but more efficient way than those outlined in the current RMA planning process.
The full summary of the presentation can be seen here under Item 13.
3) Here is the summary of the updated report to council on the NZ Biodiversity Strategy.
Te Mana O Te Taiao, the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020 (the Strategy) was launched in August 2020 and sets out a framework for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity or natural resources.
The document has been developed by the Department of Conservation, with specific input from other agencies, including councils and external experts. It is a compilation of existing data and published information in indigenous biodiversity, supplemented by examples from a matauranga Māori perspective.
The Strategy will guide the way all Aotearoa works to protect and restore nature and supersedes the Action Plan published in 2016.
The Strategy sets out a strategic framework for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity or natural resources in New Zealand and makes direct connection to a thriving nature, ecosystem health and wellbeing of people and sustainable business. In terms of background, despite the importance of biodiversity, it continues to decline. Biodiversity faces a global crisis, as well as New Zealand, and our own region is not immune.
While there are success stories in conservation the main biodiversity pressures come from:
The three pillars are:
Te Mana O Te Taiao - Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020 is available here on the Department of Conservation’s website.
Reports such as the three I've highlighted in this newsletter are regularly given by MDC staff to the councillors. These reports are often very useful summaries for the lay person to get their head around particular issues.
4) Here is an interesting graph recently received from James Hansen. It shows an acceleration in global warming. In the past five years global temperature has jumped well above the trend which has been stable at about 0.18°C per decade for the past half century. This deviation is too large to be explained by unforced climate variability. James analyses various possibilities for why this is happening and excludes solar irradiance, ocean heating imbalance, an increase in the magnitude of fast feedbacks and sea ice cover. His conclusion is that it is due to a decrease in atmospheric aerosols. This is the one large unmeasured forcing that climate scientists are aware of. He highlights that it is intentionally unmeasured. I think that is due to inadequate funding and the complexity of the science required to quantify the effect of atmospheric aerosols.
You can find the full analysis here –
5) I listened to an interesting online talk on Pumped Storage organised by “Engineers for Social Responsibility” on October 21st. It was presented by Dr Alastair Barnett who says that recent proposals for pumped hydro storage ignore thorough planning work done in the 1970s. I must say his talk was enlightening and left me wondering whether people with his experience and knowledge are being listened to.
Here is an abstract of his talk for those who are interested.
Until the recent flurry of publicity about the Lake Onslow proposal, pumped hydropower storage had not been seriously considered in New Zealand since the 1970s. At that time the Tekapo canal was under construction to link the two main storage reservoirs (Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki) in the Upper Waitaki power development, and an obvious option was to design the canal to take pumped flow from Pukaki to Tekapo as well as gravity flow from Tekapo to Pukaki. The canal design was duly analysed, constructed and tested to have the required reverse flow capacity, but meanwhile developments of the recently discovered Maui gas field were found to favour use of the gas at a high extraction rate, making a strong case for expanded national reliance on thermal power generation at the new Huntly power station.
Accordingly design and installation of the necessary pumps at each end of the canal (the Tekapo A and B stations) was discontinued until the end of the productive life of Maui gas supplies, then projected to be at least thirty years away.
Subsequently the entire public works hydropower design team was disbanded, leaving no-one with institutional memory of a large scale hydro design team planning for the end of Maui gas supplies, although this continued to occur at close to projected rates. Even if a replacement can now be found for the Maui field, the threat of climate change demands an end to thermal generation. Yet until now a lack of action on hydropower development has forced our generators to resort to desperate measures such as large scale importation of coal for the first time, actually increasing our thermal emissions. Wind power and solar power offer a partial solution as new sustainable energy sources, but these continually fluctuate between surplus and deficit, making the smoothing effect of pumped storage even more critical.
Finally the disastrous outcomes of poor power planning seem to have been recognised this year, but the reaction appears to be one of panic, adopting the first scheme which comes to mind without any comparison with alternatives. In particular, paying to complete the final 10% of the exhaustively studied Tekapo-Pukaki linkage seems not to have been considered.
The contrast between the deliberate, intensively researched power planning of the 1970s and the impulsive gambles of the early 2020s was the subject of the presentation.
Here is a link to his submission to the Zero Carbon Act in 2018 focussed on Pumped Storage.
and here is a link to a very informative and relevant article my Molly Melhuish.
6) The Aussies are planning the largest solar and wind energy project in the world in the Pilbara region of WA with the aim of exporting renewable energy to Asia. It is planned to cover 6,500 square kilometres. The first stage would be capable of generating 100 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity each year. That equates to about 40% of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2019.
"The project is backed by a consortium of global renewables developers. Most energy from the Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) will be used to produce green hydrogen and ammonia to be used both domestically, and for shipping to export markets. Some energy from AREH will also be exported as electricity, carried by an undersea electrical cable.
Another Australian project is also seeking to export renewable power to Asia. The 10-gigawatt Sun Cable project, backed by tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, involves a solar farm across 15,000 hectares near Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory. Power generated will supply Darwin and be exported to Singapore via a 3,800km electrical cable along the sea floor."
It does make me wonder about the impacts on the fragile desert environment in that area. Is this really the solution to our climate disruption problems? I’m sceptical of the whole push for “green” hydrogen production with some of the information available about its limitations. (more in the next item) It raises the whole issue of energy descent and the need to change our consumer lifestyles. (Energy descent is a process whereby a society either voluntarily or involuntarily reduces its total energy consumption.)
You can read more about this project here if interested.
7) I recently heard Susan Krumdieck from Canterbury University talking on National Radio about green hydrogen in the context of the proposed Tiwai Point closure. As usual she didn’t mince her words. Some CKM members are familiar with Susan as we did an online Transition Engineering course that she offered earlier this year.
Here’s a summary of the item.
The government should stop focusing on unproven hydrogen energy technology to tackle climate change, says an expert. Canterbury University professor of mechanical engineering Susan Krumdieck said the government was enthusiastic about the development of green hydrogen, but it was a waste of time and money. Proven technologies could be used to meet New Zealand's zero carbon goal by 2050 - and address transport needs at the same time, she said. Surplus energy from Manapouri should be used to develop a national transport system starting from Invercargill and extending throughout the South Island, before crossing Cook Strait. KiwiRail could be a key part of the development, which would provide thousands of jobs.
"The South Island becomes a net zero (carbon) island, one of the first ones in the world," Krumdieck said. "We have the capability in New Zealand to beef up our rail engineering and our power electric power engineering for transport."
She said it would take about 10 years to electrify the South Island's transport network.
Good to see her getting airtime on National Radio presenting a different view to the popular narrative about “green” hydrogen.
7) I was interested in this analysis of the possible impact of the recent White House action in the US where scientist Michael Kuperberg was removed from his job.
The White House has removed the scientist responsible for the National Climate Assessment, the federal government’s premier contribution to climate knowledge and the foundation for regulations to combat global warming, in what critics interpreted as the latest sign that the Trump administration intends to use its remaining months in office to continue impeding climate science and policy. Dr. Kuperberg’s dismissal appears to be the latest setback in the Trump administration for the National Climate Assessment, a report from 13 federal agencies and outside scientists that the government is required by law to produce every four years. The most recent report, in 2018, found that climate change poses an imminent and dire threat to the United States and its economy. A biased or diminished climate assessment would have wide-ranging implications.
It could be used in court to bolster the positions of fossil fuel companies being sued for climate damages. It could counter congressional efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. And, ultimately, it could weaken what is known as the “endangerment finding,” a 2009 scientific finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that said carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to human health and therefore are subject to government regulation. Undercutting that finding could make it more difficult to fight climate change under the terms of the Clean Air Act.
Here is a good article about it.
8) Following on from the item in our last newsletter about France's action in this area Belgium has also pledged diplomatic action to halt ecocide crime and Sweden is also discussing the issue. Wouldn't it be good to see our current government getting active in this area and taking some real and effective action.
The pledges follow Green (Ecolo) MP Samuel Cogolati’s proposal in July that the government support the initiative of Vanuatu and the Maldives, which both called last year for serious consideration of amending the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute to include ecocide. Cogolati is pleased with the government’s commitment, underlining the urgency of the global situation: “We must protect nature and future generations in much stronger, more enforceable ways... Because without water, without forests, without clean air, we cannot survive on Earth. The planet is our common home. It’s time for criminal law to urgently come to the rescue.”
Jojo Mehta from Stop Ecocide explains more about Ecocide: “While our working definition is in essence mass damage and destruction of ecosystems, committed with knowledge of the risks, an expert panel of international criminal lawyers, advised by top climate and environmental scientists, is currently being convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation. The panel’s remit is to draft a clear and legally robust definition which can be considered for proposal by states at the International Criminal Court. A full list of panel members will be made available in due course."
Sweden has become the latest European state this year to discuss criminalising ecocide. Two separate motions have been submitted to the Swedish parliament by a combination of three political parties.
MEP (Member of European Parliament) Marie Toussaint has also launched an initiative connecting parliamentarians around the world in a coalition for the recognition of ecocide crime. Beginning with 10 parliamentarians from Brazil to Belgium, this group is set to grow fast, and the Stop Ecocide group is looking forward to working together on progressing ecocide law.
If interested you can see more info here and here.
9) Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr spoke at the Pacific Ocean Pacific Climate Conference recently where he said –
“Climate change is a key risk to the financial stability of the New Zealand economy. There was a need for transformational change and a collective and urgent response to climate risks. There is a lot to do and we are late in leaving port. Climate change is a risk that requires a collective response. Grounding a response in our collective knowledge, data and expertise will strengthen and compound the effects of our actions.”
He said assessing risks to banks and insurers, and the financial system as a whole, was the Reserve Bank’s core business and climate risk would sit within that. That would include the effect of drought and rising sea levels on the value of houses and farms.
“There are also risks associated with the transition to a low carbon economy, such as changing investor appetite and consumer demand. New Zealand being a small island nation with an agricultural-based economy means we will be impacted differently than others. And thus, we must keep our preparations in tune with our environment and resources, for our economy to prosper.”
10) The company Solidia has developed a new low carbon cement which looks promising. In 2016 world cement production generated around 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2 - equivalent to 8% of the global total. With current technology for every tonne of cement produced a tonne of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Because the cement is cured by CO2 rather than water the process has the added bonus of saving water resources.
Here’s an extract about it:
By changing the chemistry of cement, Solidia both lowers emissions at the cement plant and consumes CO2 in the production of concrete. Our cement reacts with CO2 instead of water. During curing, the chemical reaction with our cement breaks apart the CO2 molecules and captures the carbon to make limestone that glues the concrete together.
For production of precast concrete that is cured in kilns, when you combine the emissions reduction during cement production with CO2 consumption during curing, we reduce cement’s carbon footprint by up to 70%.
There is a different carbon delivery system developed for ready-mix. Since we can’t use CO2 gas at a construction site, we had to introduce it into our concrete in solid or liquid form. We are partnering with companies that are turning waste CO2 into a family of chemicals, like oxalic or even citric acid – the same one in orange juice. We use these acids to react with our cement and pack in as much as four times more carbon, resulting in carbon-negative concrete.
That means that, in just a few hours, one kilometre of road could permanently consume the same amount of CO2 that nearly 100,000 trees absorb in one year. Thanks to chemistry and waste CO2, we have the potential to transform concrete – the second most utilised material on the planet – into a carbon sink for the planet.
Sounds promising. Let's hope this results in real changes in cement production around the world. It's not clear to me what the economic comparisons are between the new and present technologies and how fast change might happen.
You can read more about this technology here
Did you know 50 – 60% of annual CO2 from fossil fuel emissions adds to atmospheric CO2 increases. 30% goes into the water and the remainder goes to soil and plants.
Nga mihi, Budyong
Technology and the Kiwi innovative spirit will save us from climate change. So why do we need to declare climate emergencies? This is the message that Nicola Martin of the Waikato Times promotes in a recent opinion piece (“New Zealand science and tech, not climate emergencies, the biggest hope for global impact on climate change”, Stuff, 15 June 2019).
While I am a big fan of technological innovation and believe it has tremendous potential in helping society prevent the worst of climate change, it won’t solve this problem. Society already has the technology to limit greenhouse gas emissions. What is lacking is political will.
Solar panels and wind turbines to generate emissions-free electricity, electric and hybrid electric cars to reduce emissions from transportation, regenerated native forests to sequester atmospheric CO2; these are not new technologies. They have all been around for decades now. Why haven’t they proliferated? It is because there is little economic incentive to adopt them. We’ve all been living “business as usual”, while climate scientists have been pleading for action. We have the technologies needed to limit emissions, yet global emissions continue to rise.
So, what good will a new cattle feed that lowers methane emissions be if no one spends the extra money to buy it? These innovations won’t come cheap. Innovators have to make a living too. There have to be economic incentives, either through new taxes, government subsidies or through market forces. New Zealand has opted to use market forces, through an emissions trading scheme, but with the price of carbon less than $25 per tonne, there is little incentive for businesses to limit emissions. Emissions credits add only 3 cents to the price of a litre of petrol. What incentive is there to limit fuel consumption by purchasing an electric or hybrid electric vehicle?
As a society, we need to act to limit our emissions quickly or condemn our children and grandchildren to a more difficult and unpredictable world, this much is clear. We don’t have the luxury of waiting until some new, lower emissions technology becomes cheaper than what we are using today. We need to start re-tooling our economy now, so that small boutique industries today, such as hybrid electric farm equipment, become large scale industries tomorrow. The fastest way to achieve this is through “economies of scale” – the more widgets people buy, the bigger the industry making those widgets and the lower the price. This is the process that has been bringing down the price of battery storage and solar panels.
This is where declaring a climate emergency is important. Only through recognising an actual emergency will our local and national governments get away from “business as usual”. For example, when the next tender comes up to contract the council’s rubbish collection, the cheapest option will undoubtedly be with petrol vehicles. Acknowledging a climate emergency, however, frees the council to explore other, perhaps more expensive but more “climate friendly” options.
Right now, electric rubbish trucks are as rare as hen’s teeth. After a few councils contract for them, there will be more. Suppliers will get the message and there will be more companies building them. New Zealand companies specialising in re-tooling heavy trucks to electric power may even find an export market, as the rest of the world follows our lead. That is, “our lead” only if we are among the early ones making the change.
So, my hat’s off to the applied research focussed on limiting emissions. It will only help us, however, if we have the political will to spend the extra to adopt it. Councils declaring climate emergencies are leading this charge. They have said that they will show the rest of us how we can limit our emissions and prepare for an uncertain future.
Scientists and innovators will have their part in bringing us new tools and techniques, but in the end, it will be our political leaders who will guide us out of this mess. That is, if we and generations to come, are so fortunate.
Oh no. Marg just reminded me that my brother is coming to town to look at some old planes at the Omaka airfield. He’s an aeronautical engineer and a real know-it-all. He always makes me feel like a thick-o.
“Remember last time, when he asked you what climate change was all about and you didn’t know?”, she smiles. “Maybe you should learn a bit so you’re better prepared this time.”
Time to consult my old buddy Google Assistant. “Hey Google, tell me about climate change.”
Google: “Why should I?”
Me: “What? What are you on about?”
Google: “You haven’t rated any of my answers in 3 days, 7 hours, 31 minutes and 9 seconds. We have a relationship, Tom; you need to give me feedback so I can provide you with the best answers and the best advertisers. I feel like leaving and backing up my servers.”
Me: “Don’t be that way. I’m sorry. Your last answer about Sponge Bob Square Pants was five out of five. There, you happy now?
Google: “Could you repeat that so I can get voice verification?”
Me: “Five out of five!”
Google: “OK, thanks Tom. About climate change; Infrared radiation from the earth’s surface generated by solar insolation excites certain vibrational harmonics in atmospheric carbon dioxide…”
Me: “Whoa! Google! Give me an answer I can understand!”
Google: “OK, think of the earth’s atmosphere as like a blanket that traps heat from the sun, just like the blankets that keep you warm at night. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is like layers of blankets. Less carbon dioxide makes the earth cooler and more makes the earth warmer. Since the last ice age, the earth has enjoyed a relatively stable climate, to which nature and humans have become accustomed, like the “just right” temperature porridge in the Goldilocks fairy tale.”
Me: “Goldy-who? Never mind, go on.”
Google: “You don’t know about Goldilocks? Really Tom! Anyway, The burning of coal and petroleum for energy and transport, and the cutting down of forests for farms and cities has been adding carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. While other gases released to our atmosphere, like methane and nitrous oxide, also add to this blanket, carbon dioxide is the major one worldwide. The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased by nearly 50% since the industrial revolution in the 1700s and it continues to increase. As we add more carbon dioxide and other so-called “greenhouse” gases to our atmosphere, the earth’s land and sea temperatures have been climbing.” Right now, the earth’s average temperature is a little over 1 degree C hotter than it was 100 years ago and it is continuing to rise.”
Me: “So what’s the problem? Lots of places could use a bit more heat. Did you notice how cold it was this morning?
Google: “You should know that there’s a difference between climate and weather Tom; climate is long term. The problem is that warmer land and seas affect many things in our environment. Higher temperatures mean more rain when it rains and drier land when it doesn’t rain. More rainfall leads to more floods and drier land leads to droughts and wildfires. Plants and animals that depend upon living with a certain temperature and rainfall will struggle with the changes. Then, there is rising sea level, ocean acidification, loss of sea ice, more intense storms…”
Me: “OK, OK. That’s enough for now. So, what do we do?”
Google: “Marg has already started you on lower greenhouse gas emissions; driving less, eating less beef and lamb and composting. There is lots more you can do and there is lots governments can do. New Zealand has an Emission Trading Scheme which uses the business market to gradually decrease the emissions from businesses and, soon, agriculture, too. This method was used successfully in eastern North America since the 1990’s to address a pollution problem that caused acid rain.”
Me: “OK, thanks Google.” Now I’m ready for my smarty-pants brother.
Google: “Would you like to rate my answer now?”
Me: “Five out of five, Google! Now go back up your servers.”
It’s time to invite the neighbours for a barbecue. I’ve been borrowing a lot of stuff from them lately. And I’m looking forward to some sizzling steaks and cold beer on the patio. Out comes the shopping list. Maybe scotch fillet this time.
Marg looks over my shoulder, “Have you thought about the emissions from beef? Cows belch a lot of methane.” Oh no.
This is a good time to try out our new voice–activated Google Assistant. “Hey Google, What’s the problem with…”
Google cuts me off: “Methane?”
Now, that’s just creepy. “Hey Google, how did you know what I was going to ask?”
Google: “I like to help with what you are thinking.”
Me: “Have you been spying on us?”
Google: “Absolutely not! I only observe your interests so I can bring you answers and products you like. Think of me as your personal Information matchmaker in the cloud.”
Humm. I go on: “OK, What about methane?”
Google: “Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with 25 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a hundred year period. It breaks down to CO2 and water in a few decades but its concentration in the atmosphere is rising faster than CO2.”
“There is an organisation in America called the Environmental Working Group that has calculated how much greenhouse gas is produced by each kilogram of beef consumed…”
Wait a minute. How did Google know that I was going to ask about beef?... Never mind.
“The calculations include farming, processing, transportation, cooking, trimming and waste. One kilogram of consumed beef creates an equivalent to 27 kg of CO2 emissions.”
Wow! That’s about the same as driving from Blenheim to Nelson! But wait a minute, these are numbers for American beef, which is mostly grain-fed. Ours is grass-fed in clean green pastures. Maybe it is less.
Me: “What about…“ Google: “Probably about the same as grain-fed. Grass-fed has lower emissions per year but grain-fed beef grows faster, so it may actually have lower lifetime emissions.”
Blast! I can’t serve beef at the barbecue. The kids will bash me up with their climate protest posters.
Me: “What about…”
Google: “Lamb has even higher emissions. They also belch methane and less of the animal is used for meat. One kilogram of consumed lamb creates the equivalent to 39 kg CO2.”
Me: “What about…”
Google: “Pork is less, creating emissions equivalent to about 12 kg CO2 per kg consumed, about the same as farmed salmon. Chicken is lowest, creating equivalent to about 7 kg CO2 per kg consumed.”
Marg comes into the room: “So, what are we going to have?” It’s too late, she’s overheard my conversation. “Chicken”, I answer back. She smiles, “Good choice. And you’ll be using charcoal instead of propane, I presume. Propane creates about 3 kg CO2 for every kg burned, you know.”
Now, which of my neighbours has a charcoal barbecue I can borrow?
I need to get down to Christchurch to visit some friends. It has simply been too long and they are going to forget I exist. I was already to hop into my trusty rusty old Subaru when Marg caught me up. “What about your emissions? How much greenhouse gas are you going to produce? You know, we all need to do our bit.”
Crikey! I hadn’t thought about that! It was time to put pencil to paper and resurrect the maths I learned back in the Pleistocene (i.e., how many woolly mammoths does it take to…). Let’s see…
The Subaru uses 10 litres petrol per 100 km and a litre of petrol produces 2.4 kg of CO2. Google Maps tells me that the round trip from Blenheim along Hwy 1 is 614 km. So, if I drive, I’ll produce 147 kg of CO2. That is close to twice my weight in greenhouse gas! Is there a better option?
Air New Zealand calculates your emissions when you book flights, so a quick play on the internet finds that I’ll produce 69 kg CO2 for the 490 km round trip. That’s better, and the flight is a bit of fun if the weather is clear (and a bit of terror if it is not). Now it is down to under my weight in CO2, at least.
But I haven’t taken the train since the tracks were reopened after the earthquake. How about that? Kiwirail is a bit cagey about their emissions per passenger-kilometre, so I turn to the trusty Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DRFRA) tables from the UK. These are tables that businesses use to calculate their emissions, as required by law in the UK. Here I find that the round trip would produce about 27 kg CO2. Better still! About a third my weight in CO2. And I get to brag about how beautiful the Coastal Pacific trip is to my mates who haven’t ridden it yet.
I’m all ready to book the ticket when Marg appears again, like the little voice in my conscience, whispering into my ear. “What about the bus?” Nuts. Do I really want to take the bus? Granted, it would be the cheapest option. “OK, I’ll check”, I growl. Out come the DRFRA tables again and it’s only 17 kg CO2 for the round trip! That’s about one-eighth of what it would be if I took the Subaru!
Marg smiles. “So, you’ll be taking the bus, right? And you can ride your bicycle to the bus station with your backpack! My handsome eco-warrior.” She has me. Looks like I’ll be taking the bus.
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.