March 2023 CKM Newsletter
Welcome to the first newsletter for 2023. As usual there are a range of items for people to browse and choose anything they find of interest.
The major disruptive weather events that NZ has experienced this year are on the top of my mind as they no doubt are for most people. It is an unfortunate reality with human beings that we seem to have extreme difficulty making the big decisions when consequences of our actions seem far away in the future. It was inevitable that the time would come when we would be face to face with what global warming means in our daily lives. My heart hurts for those caught in the midst of these disruptive events and for the loss and suffering they are experiencing. Knowing that as a species we have prevaricated for so long largely due to politics and economics only amplifies that pain.
The simple physics of it is that for every degree warmer the atmosphere gets it can hold 7% more water. All the warnings that climate scientists and activists have been giving for decades now have not resulted in us making any really significant changes to the upwards global trajectory of GHG emissions. Our Finance Minister and now Cyclone Recovery Minister says we will be hearing two words much more often now - Managed Retreat. I highly recommend listening to this interview by Kim Hill on February 25th titled "How to manage managed retreat", if you have not heard it yet. She talks with Jonathan Boston, Emeritus Professor of Public Policy at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University, Boston and a contributor to the recently released working paper focussed on developing recommendations for the government's proposed Climate Adaptation Act. He is blunt in his assessment of the challenges we all face.
I have also taken a particular focus this time looking at the "Future of Food and Agriculture in a low emissions world," as this is a topic that has been recently discussed amongst some CKM members. This discussion also feeds into two of the other topics - Limits to Growth and Degrowth that are currently getting considerable attention in some circles.
1) Media articles written by CKM member Tom Powell since the last newsletter.
09/12/2022 - Opinion article: “Our Broken Electricity Market”
17/12/2022 - Opinion article: “What Does It Mean, Anthropocene?”
26/01/2023 - Opinion article: “High Noon in Aotearoa”
2) Climate Action Week -
Marlborough Climate Action week was organised by Catherine van der Meulen and the Action Week organising committee. It was held from February 13th -17th and "designed to create awareness, develop our Marlborough business community's knowledge by embracing education, and take action towards creating a low carbon emissions, highly productive, and thriving community, no matter what stage of the journey you are at."
Check out this document for further information about the week's activities and future planned activities.
Marlborough Express also published a series of Opinion pieces as a part of the Climate Action Week activities with a wide representation of views shared by a members of the Marlborough community.
Here are links to the different contributions if you haven't caught up with them yet.
Catherine van der Meulen - "Knowledge plus passion inspires collaborative movement "
Don Quick, CKM member - "Climate is central to Marlborough's rivers, forests and Sounds"
Kathryn Cannan, CKM member - "Enforceable policy needed for a green growth future"
Tom Powell, CKM member - "Will humanity's hubris cause permanent damage?"
James Wilson, CKM member - "Former farmer's 'trifecta' of reasons for a plant-based diet"
Ruihana Lewis, Te Hoiere Project Te Pou Hapai Taiao for Ngati Kuia - "Restoring the mauri to our special places"
Edwin Massey, New Zealand Winegrowers sustainability manager - "Wine centre keeps industry ahead of global trends"
Glen Proffit from Southern Water Engineering - "Preparing ourselves to weather the storm"
Amber McNamara, a business management consultant - "Collaboration is key for primary industry transition"
Tanya Pouwhare, NZ Ethical Employers chief executive - "Climate change is a human rights issue"
Jo Griggs, chair of the Cawthron Marlborough Environment Awards - "Good environmental care is good business"
Michael Wentworth, manager of sustainability and strategic projects at Yealands Wine Group - "Ambitious plans at Yealands Wine Group"
Matt Sutherland, Dog Point general manager - "The organic, biodiverse, native planted vineyards at Dog Point"
Edwin Massey from NZ Winegrowers - "Making sure future generations can still be winemakers"
Heather Donachie from Export Logistics - "Exporters urged to consider more sustainable ways"
Heather Keynton Turnbull from Awatere Valley Trust - "Healthy soils grow healthy food and people"
Sean Weaver from Ekos - "Imagine if the economy actually protected the planet"
Lee Watkins from MyNoke - "What worms can do for your company's waste"
Ailie Suzuli from Environhub Marlborough - "Nurturing nature is action against climate change"
Ben Leggett from Elemental Distillers - "Distiller shares his unique practices"
Alistair Schorn from Marlborough Chamber of Commerce - "What businesses need to know about emissions regulations"
Alec McNeil, MDC Solid Waste Manager - "Why should consumers pay for waste when producers could?"
Tracey Goss from Kaituna Sawmill - "Sawmill team seeks sustainability, finds opportunity"
Ruihana Lewis, Te Hoiere Project Te Pou Hapai Taiao for Ngati Kuia - "Restoring the mauri to our special places"
3) CKM submission to Natural and Built Environment Bill and Spatial Planning Bill.
If interested you can check out a copy of our full submission put together by Tom Powell. These two new bills are part of an important revision of the existing Resource Management Act (RMA).
4) CKM submission to MDC - National Policy Statement of Freshwater Management. (NPSFM)
In our submission we start with the following words - "We have an interest in how continuing climate and biodiversity degradation might impact the Marlborough community and how we can best prepare for the changing environment we all live in. The NPSFM has identified the four compulsory values, which are required to apply to freshwater management in Marlborough; ecosystem health, human contact, threatened species and mahinga kai. We agree with these values. Our main concern and focus is on and around “vision and values”. For us this relates primarily to ecosystem health, as we perceive the three other values to be secondary and totally reliant on the prioritising of that ecosystem health. Human contact and mahinga kai gathering need to be subservient so that the magnitude of these activities is governed by the needs of the ecosystem as a whole. Threatened species clearly have their threats reduced in a healthy ecosystem."
You can read our full submission if interested.
5) Firm that makes fence posts from soft plastics to build Blenheim factory.
"A New Zealand company that makes fence posts out of soft plastic will soon be manufacturing its products in the South Island. That means collection points for the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme are expected to be re-established across Nelson and Marlborough.
Future Post managing director Jerome Wenzlick said the company started making fence posts nearly five years ago in Auckland, using soft plastic waste. "We've built all our own machinery and figured out how to use all the different types of waste plastic that no one else can use and get our production up so we can make a post that's the same or better than wood, which is what we're up against."
It is now experiencing strong demand for its products across the country, particularly from wineries in the top of the South Island."
Check out the full article on the RNZ website. You can also learn more about Future Post on their website.
6) Huntley power station transition from coal to biomass.
Genesis Energy have just completed trials to demonstrate the technical viability for using 100% biomass as a renewable fuel option for the existing three Rankine units. The trial has been done using 1000 tonne of black torrefied wood pellets imported from Canada. Black pellets (often referred to as biocoal) have been chosen because they are essentially a drop-in replacement for coal. The biomass must be ground to a consistency like talcum powder so needs to be hard. The fuel also must be able to be left uncovered in the rain without degrading. Black pellets are both hard and non-hydroscopic so large fuel storage sheds don’t have to be built.
The pellets for the trial are not currently available in New Zealand but hopefully the success of these trials will encourage investment in a New Zealand based black pellet manufacturing facility. If black pellet fuel is available, the transition to biomass fuel will allow Huntley Power Station to remain in the electricity supply market providing a hydro firming insurance role which will allow greater sourcing of electricity from wind and solar resources.
Scott Westbury from Genesis Energy is running a webinar on March 2nd at 2pm. This webinar will outline the opportunities for investment in processing wood residues from forest harvest and wood processing, into a high value biocoal. Fonterra has joined with Genesis Energy to investigate production of black pellets from local wood residues. Additionally, there is interest from steel makers who wish to replace their coal use, and other power station operators in Asia who are also seeking sources of biocoal.
If you are interested you can learn more and register for the webinar here.
7) Environmental Law Initiative.
The Environmental Law Initiative (ELI) are a registered charitable trust whose mission is to ensure the effective protection of New Zealand’s natural resources. They are advised by a small team of experts in environmental law, policy, science, ecology and management.
I have been getting their newsletter and have been impressed with the successes they are having in the legal field. I am a strong supporter of using the legal system to challenge the powerful and the vested interests who too often put the needs of the environment low on their priorities list instead of at the very top where it must be if we are to retain a liveable planet.
Check out their website and subscribe to their newsletter if you're interested.
8) Forest & Bird "Room for Rivers" campaign.
Forest and Bird have recently launched their "Room for Rivers" campaign.
If you're interested you can download a pdf file with info about the campaign.
With increasing risk of extreme rainfall events associated with climate change it must be time to look seriously at this option being highlighted by Forest and Bird with a national campaign titled "Room for Rivers". Countries such as The Netherlands have successfully reduced flooding risks by taking this sort of action and giving their waterways more room to move during high rainfall events.
Following consultation with flood management experts and practitioners, Forest & Bird proposes the Government adopt three steps to kickstart improved river management in Aotearoa and better protect communities and wildlife:
9) IAG seeks three step plan for natural hazard prone New Zealand homes – commits to being part of the solution.
This initiative from IAG was launched back in August last year. With the recent devastating flood and storm events in Auckland and from Cyclone Gabrielle this topic will be getting a lot more attention now!
IAG is calling for three practical, collaborative steps to be taken which will lead to a real reduction in the flood risk faced by some of New Zealand’s most exposed communities. IAG New Zealand CEO Amanda Whiting says: “Climate change is a critical issue for our country and it’s already having serious impacts on the lives of New Zealanders through more frequent and intense storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and, in time, rising sea levels. “The most important thing we can do is ensure people are not placed in harm’s way and do not suffer the loss and disruption caused by a flood event. Avoiding the impact on lives and people’s wellbeing must be the priority."
The three steps are:
Check out the full article.
10) Government baulks at raising carbon price as cost of living bites.
Cabinet has rejected a move that would have raised petrol and electricity costs. But now big polluters can keep gaming the carbon system and banking cheap credits – potentially putting New Zealand’s climate goals in jeopardy. Under the Emissions Trading Scheme, big carbon emitters have to pay for every tonne of emissions – one of the Government’s major tools for doing its bit on global heating.
Cabinet papers show the Government has gone against the advice of both the independent Climate Change Commission and Climate Change Minister James Shaw. Shaw recommended following the commission’s advice and letting the price of carbon rise – and stopping pumping extra credits into the market so frequently. That would have given big polluters more incentive to rein in planet-heating emissions, as heat waves, floods and droughts keep worsening. Instead, Cabinet has chosen to allow only small, inflation-linked price rises.
Check out the full Stuff article.
11) The power of eDNA.
This article from Forest and Bird is about the son of a CKM founding member Pete Wilkinson. It is written by Jazmine Ropner and titled "Meet the man determined to change the face of conservation in Aotearoa one genetic "barcode" at a time."
"Hidden away among the beige warehouses where movies are made on Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula, Wilderlab scientists are testing an environmental DNA sample sent in from college students who sampled water from two streams in Fiordland National Park.
The results are exciting – the Fiordland College students have discovered a previously unknown population of a rare native fish – the Gollum galaxias! This information will help local efforts to protect and restore the population’s habitat (see right).
Environmental DNA is genetic material shed from living things into water, air, or soil. Samples can be taken from a local river, beach, or reserve and sent to a lab for analysis.
Over the past three years, eDNA has been quietly sparking a change in conservation – and Wilderlab has been at the forefront of making the technology more accessible to New Zealanders.
The company’s easy-to-use eDNA sampling kits and lab-testing service are allowing more New Zealanders to discover the full range of species living in their backyards.
At the helm of the operation is founder and principal scientist Shaun Wilkinson. He started his working career as a chef in Palmerston North before moving to Wellington and discovering a passion for biology while studying marine science at University of Victoria."
Check out the full article on the F&B website and more information on the Wilderlab website.
12) Environment Select Committee submission on the Sustainable Biofuels Obligation Bill.
This is a follow up to an item I put in the August newsletter last year. This submission from the group "Low Carbon Kapiti" gives an good analysis of the serious issues associated with introducing a Biofuels Obligation in NZ. It looks at issues that have already arisen in jurisdictions overseas where Biofuels have been mandated and raises very important questions about how realistic it is for NZ to be attempting to introduce a regime that appears to have failed in the US, the EU and Brazil.
Here is one example they highlight -
Biofuels obligations create subsidy-dependent industries that then lobby against reform, change or government U-turns on those obligations. There is no market for liquid biofuels without government mandates, and these mandates do not make biofuels more affordable in the long run – their price is locked to global commodity prices for the crops they are made from. So once fuel suppliers invest in infrastructure for biofuels (e.g. tanks and pipes), they expect a return on their investment, and the only way to get that is if governments keep the legal mandates in place. The EU, Brazil and the USA are locked into this trap. This makes avoiding establishing biofuels obligations or mandates, rather than trying to reform them once they are in place, critical.
Please note that the incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced that this policy was being canned for the time being giving the cost of living crisis as the main reason. Probably a good outcome even if for the wrong reason!
13) Food production in Aotearoa in a perilous state.
You may find this short interview from RNZ interesting if you didn't hear it back in late November. Among striking points - Southland has a collosal dairy factory yet all of Southlands milk is trucked from Christchurch! .... a bit of extra profit trumps the multifarious emissions associated with the overuse of trucks.
14) Heat and eat - The climate impact of food.
"The food system is responsible for up to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. It won’t show up on a supermarket docket, but the production, transport, packaging, refrigeration and distribution of food all add to the climate bill before it even makes it to our mouths. Some foods are much more emissions-intensive to produce than others, though, and that can change depending on where in the world you live and the production techniques used. Research devoted to working out the ‘cradle-to-grave’ emissions cost of all sorts of different foods is growing every day. Here in Aotearoa, researchers at Otago University published a New Zealand-specific food emissions database in 2020, that shows the huge differences between certain groups of food, and even items within those groups."
This article from Stuff is presented in a visual format with easy to read graphs showing the emissions intensity of the different foods we eat. The data comes from an Otago University research project.
This is a topic getting plenty of attention is some circles at the moment. Here are three items from two NZ authors and below a link to an Al Jazeera site.
Jack Santa Barbara from the "Our Climate Declaration" group has written a good article titled "Give progress a chance: Embrace degrowth."
"Continuing to prioritise economic growth is not a recipe for being a good ancestor. Nor is it a recipe for human progress. A large and growing number of scholars from many disciplines, are advocating for a reorientation of our social and political priorities by abandoning economic growth as our overriding priority. Even some progressive economists are making these arguments. This degrowth movement argues for prioritising genuine progress in terms of both human wellbeing and ecological sustainability. Indeed, these scholars argue that abandoning economic growth is essential for achieving these more important objectives.
While recognising the need for social and economic change, others, mostly economists and business leaders, argue that economic growth is essential to achieve human wellbeing and ecological sustainability. They cite examples of green growth with clean technologies as pointing the way forward. Obviously, both groups cannot be right; their views are mutually exclusive. Green growth and degrowth cannot both provide a guiding framework for a just and sustainable future. Which is most likely to be helpful?"
Dr Catherine Knight has written an article in The Spinoff titled "Why combatting climate change means embracing degrowth"
and another published on the Newsroom website titled "A pathway out of environmental collapse".
Here is an extract:
"The burning of fossil fuels and destruction of ecosystems through the extraction of resources has led to the precipice of a catastrophe. How do we step away from the precipice? Catherine Knight examines what 'degrowth' would look like in a New Zealand context. Many of us are aware by now that we are facing multiple crises: climate change being just one – warming and acidifying oceans, depleted soils, global habitat and biodiversity loss are among the others in this ‘polycrisis’. The Auckland floods have made us acutely aware of how vulnerable our cities are to the ravages of extreme weather, events predicted to become more extreme and frequent as the effects of climate change bed in.
We know that this is not going to get better any time soon. There will be more floods, droughts and other weather events that will cause destruction, economic loss and human distress on a scale that we cannot yet imagine. Even the issues that affect us day to day, such as the cost of living, have at their root the unsustainability of our current economic system."
The XR viewpoint is that "As 2022 comes to a close, it’s time to face some hard truths. 1.5°C is over, and intolerable suffering is on its way. COP has been co-opted by greenwashers and oil lobbyists, and cannot deliver the policies needed to minimise that suffering. Nothing less than total economic transformation is necessary now, meaning a move beyond the infinite growth model of capitalism to the sustainable model of degrowth. It is up to us, as part of a movement of movements, to normalise this idea, rather than the competing fantasy that technology and geoengineering will eventually save the day. Every day we wait, the suffering increases. We don’t have time for fairytales."
XR have provided a link to the Al Jazeera YouTube site "All Hail the Planet" which is a series delving into the social, economic and political forces undermining meaningful global action on climate change - In this clip Ali Rae speaks with economic anthropologist Jason Hickel, economic sociologist Juliet Schor, and development economist Ndongo Samba Sylla about the concept of Degrowth. Jason Hickel concludes by saying - "Until we are able to break free from these growth imperatives, then we're going to be in a situation where we watch continued failure over the coming decades, even as climate breakdown worsens before our very eyes. And so it's important that we understand that this failure to address the problem is not some kind of mistake. There's a structural reason for it. And until we start talking about the underlying economic system then we're going to continue making that fundamental error."
16) More info in the hydrogen debate.
Green Hydrogen: Why NZ's in the box seat.
This item may be of interest to some on the ongoing topic of hydrogen and especially in the NZ context. The inaugural New Zealand Hydrogen Symposium (NZHS-1) took place recently.
You can read about the event on the Otago University website and this report on the "Hereon" website after the event.
It was a multidisciplinary forum for the latest research on hydrogen, and involved local and international experts, iwi, universities, government research agencies, policy and industrial partners.
In this interview Kathryn Ryan from RNZ speaks with one of the symposium's convenors, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago, Sally Brooker, who says New Zealand should take advantage of making green hydrogen to produce chemicals, provide energy, and reduce emissions, and German engineer and professor at Hamburg University of Technology, Professor Martin Kaltschmitt.
Heat pumps ‘up to three times cheaper’ than green hydrogen in Europe, study finds.
“Green” hydrogen, made by splitting water with low-carbon electricity, is unlikely to emerge as a cheap replacement for gas boilers in homes across Europe, according to a new study. The research, published in the journal Energy Conversion and Management, concludes that a green hydrogen heating system would be roughly “two to three times more expensive” than one relying on electric heat pumps in the EU and UK.
Decarbonising heat is a key goal for governments seeking to hit their climate targets and end their reliance on expensive gas, amid a global energy crisis. Heat pumps have been widely accepted by experts as the primary option for cutting the sector’s emissions. However, gas-industry lobbyists and conservative politicians in the EU and UK have continued to make the case for hydrogen.
The new study explores a range of scenarios for cutting emissions from Europe’s heating systems. It concludes that a low-carbon transition that keeps costs down without causing excessive environmental damage is “only possible through electrification via heat pumps”. It found that “blue” hydrogen, which is made using gas with carbon dioxide (CO2) captured, would have been a cost-effective option for a small proportion of properties, based on gas prices at their pre-crisis levels. However, the high gas prices driving the global energy crisis would likely make heating buildings with “blue” hydrogen “less cost-competitive”, one of the study’s authors tells Carbon Brief.
Check out the full article on the Carbon Brief website.
17) Why restoring long-distance passenger rail makes sense in New Zealand – for people and the climate.
"The government has committed the country to decarbonisation targets that require significant cuts to transport-related emissions. But decarbonising long-distance travel is not part of the plan – the national rail operator KiwiRail remains focused on freight.
For those living in larger urban centres with good public transport and biking infrastructure or in 15-minute neighbourhoods, there is far less need to own a car. To make the necessary cuts to transport emissions in our larger cities, we need to re-imagine car ownership as an option rather than a necessity. It might be a lot to lay on the humble train, but civilisation is in a tight spot. We need to collectively halve emissions by 2030, while also laying the groundwork for a truly sustainable future. This means wise use of resources – long-lasting, economical infrastructure based on proven technology, combined with renewable electricity. Trains do that."
Check out the full article in The Conversation.
18) Could hemp be a key tool in fight against climate change?
In all the debates on how to curb climate change, hemp is hardly mentioned. Better known as cannabis, modern varieties of hemp are too weak to use as narcotics, but they are extremely efficient at absorbing and locking up carbon.
Hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world and can grow 4 metres high in 100 days. Research suggests hemp is twice as effective as trees at absorbing and locking up carbon, with 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of hemp reckoned to absorb 8 to 22 tonnes of CO2 a year, more than any woodland. The CO2 is also permanently fixed in the hemp fibres, which can go on to be used for many commodities including textiles, medicines, insulation for buildings and concrete; BMW is even using it to replace plastics in various car parts.
Check out the full article.
This associated research Paper is on "Carbon storage potential in natural fiber composites." The results in this study show that use of natural fibers in thermoplastics have great potential to act as sustainable ‘sink’ for atmospheric carbon dioxide and at the same time saving non-renewable resources. The importance and urgency to expedite research activities in this area can be further augmented by the fact that consumption of different kinds of composites is growing very rapidly in various applications.
19) COP15: Everything you need to know about the biodiversity negotiations in Montreal.
For anyone wanting to learn more about the COP15 Biodiversity Conference, which was held in Montreal last December I found this website very informative for gaining some background understanding. The organisation is called "Edie" and their website says they are a trusted and integral part of the workflow of more than 100,000 sustainability, energy and environmental professionals. The website delivers daily news and commentary, exclusive interviews and research, industry reports and business guides, videos, webinars and podcasts.
I was particularly interested in the proposal "to mandate nature-related disclosures for all large businesses this decade." The opportunities for "greenwashing" will of course be there but the intention seems good.
In their report they say -
"Global collaborative initiative Business for Nature has convened more than 330 businesses and financial institutions from 52 countries to engage with policymakers on matters relating to the private sector’s impacts on biodiversity. It wants to see a strong mission statement for a nature-positive world. Ahead of COP15, it is specifically campaigning for a strong agreement for the treaty to require nations to mandate nature-related disclosures for all large businesses this decade. This call to action is being made through the ‘make it mandatory’ campaign, whose supporters include Ikea, Nestle, Unilever and H&M Group. The mandate, the group argues, should cover all large businesses and financial institutions and should be coupled with a target for these actors to at least halve negative impacts.
‘Make it mandatory’ is part of a broader set of recommendations from Business for Nature, which can be seen in full here. edie recently interviewed Business for Nature’s executive director Eva Zabey to find out more about these recommendations, including why there is such strong business support and what the final treaty would look like in an ideal situation."
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) website provides a summary of the outcomes of the Conference.
Here is an extract:
The Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) consists of four overarching global goals to protect nature, including: halting human-induced extinction of threatened species and reducing the rate of extinction of all species tenfold by 2050; sustainable use and management of biodiversity to ensure that nature’s contributions to people are valued, maintained and enhanced; fair sharing of the benefits from the utilization of genetic resources, and digital sequence information on genetic resources; and that adequate means of implementing the GBF be accessible to all Parties, particularly Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director, Inger Andersen, emphasized that implementation is now key: “Success will be measured by our rapid and consistent progress in implementing what we have agreed to. The entire UN system is geared to support its implementation so we can truly make peace with nature.”
The GBF also features 23 targets to achieve by 2030, including:
20) Addressing Climate Change Will Not “Save the Planet”.
A group of conservationists took up the question of climate and extinctions last year in the journal "Conservation Letters", warning that “threats to biodiversity are increasingly seen through the single myopic lens of climate change.” The authors, who titled their article “An inconvenient misconception: Climate change is not the principal driver of biodiversity loss,” included Joel Berger, a wildlife biologist at Colorado State University; evolutionary biologist Andrew Dobson, who teaches at Princeton; and Tim Caro, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of California, Davis. “There is an assumption,” they observed, “that climate change is now the most important ‘horseman of the biodiversity apocalypse’” — despite this being “at best premature.”
When it comes to effects on wildlife, climate change is more like a mule, slow and plodding. Yes, a warmed atmosphere is projected to be a significant factor in the extinction crisis in future decades, but what’s destroying species today is habitat fragmentation and loss, overhunting and overexploitation, agricultural expansion, pollution, and industrial development. It isn’t climate change that caused a 69 percent loss in total wildlife populations between 1970 and 2018, according to a World Wildlife Fund study published this year. The cause is too many people demanding too much from ecosystems, or human overshoot of the biophysical carrying capacity of the Earth.
Overshoot is a product of both excessive numbers and rising affluence. Access to the things that create what we call quality of life, like indoor lighting and temperature controls, especially air conditioning; more diverse dietary choices, especially meat; and greater access to transportation, especially air travel — all signs of rising affluence, all delightful if you are a human, yet all demand more energy and material inputs that involve scouring and denuding more wildlands and animal habitat to feed, clothe, house, and energize burgeoning humanity.
According to the co-authors of the Conservation Letters piece, we are “dangerously ignoring” this reality and instead doubling down on the “distortion” that climate mitigation is all that matters to protecting wildlife. Over the last 30 years, the proportion of scientific papers closely tying climate change and global warming to changes in patterns of biodiversity has “steadily increased,” according to their analysis. Media coverage of climate change in relation to biodiversity has followed suit, repeating and compounding the error. The net result of this “misguided focus on climate change” has been the undermining of conservation science “as an evidence-based scientific discipline.” As Dobson put it to me, “If conservation biologists don’t take a balanced look at the evidence, they can’t claim to be evidence-based.”
The crux of the problem is that mainstream environmentalists have siloed climate change as a phenomenon apart from the broad human ecological footprint, separate from deforestation, overgrazing of livestock, megafauna kill-off, collapsing fisheries, desertification, depleted freshwater, soil degradation, oceanic garbage gyres, toxification of rainfall with microplastics, and on and on — the myriad biospheric effects of breakneck growth. Climate change is “but one symptom of an environmentally dysfunctional system of constant growth of economies and populations,” ecologist William Rees, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, told me. “The meta-problem that we need to keep our eyes on,” Rees said, is ecological overshoot. Modern techno-industrial culture, he writes, “is systematically — even enthusiastically — consuming the biophysical basis of its own existence.” Rees describes this as a malignant process, humanity as cancer.
Check out the full article on The Intercept website.
21) The Future of Food and Agriculture in a low emissions world.
This is a topic with a wide range of views. I wanted to do my best to provide any interested readers with a range of information from different sources. Agriculture, especially animal farming is a significant contributor to global emissions and we have to face up this fact if we seriously wish to achieve living in a carbon zero world by 2050.
The first report is one published by Rethinkx. I have included material from this organisation in a previous newsletter and this report from 2019 is titled "Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030 - The Second Domestication of Plants and Animals, the Disruption of the Cow, and the Collapse of Industrial Livestock Farming." It presents a convincing case for the disruptive potential of Precision Fermentation (PF) for producing food protein and in particular animal protein both meat and dairy. I have also come across a counter perspective that provides an equally convincing case arguing that the Rethinkx report has misrepresented the energy and input costs of producing protein in this way. For those who are interested in the growing interest in this technology and the big claims being made by some I recommend reading further.
You will have to make up your own mind about the different claims being made.
Here is an extract from the Executive Summary of the Rethinkx report:
We are on the cusp of the deepest, fastest, most consequential disruption in food and agricultural production since the first domestication of plants and animals ten thousand years ago. This is primarily a protein disruption driven by economics. The cost of proteins will be five times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins, before ultimately approaching the cost of sugar. They will also be superior in every key attribute – more nutritious, healthier, better tasting, and more convenient, with almost unimaginable variety. This means that, by 2030, modern food products will be higher quality and cost less than half as much to produce as the animal-derived products they replace. The impact of this disruption on industrial animal farming will be profound. By 2030, the number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50% and the cattle farming industry will be all but bankrupt. All other livestock industries will suffer a similar fate, while the knock- on effects for crop farmers and businesses throughout the value chain will be severe. This is the result of rapid advances in precision biology that have allowed us to make huge strides in precision fermentation, a process that allows us to program micro- organisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule. These advances are now being combined with an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software, in which individual molecules engineered by scientists are uploaded to databases – molecular cookbooks that food engineers anywhere in the world can use to design products in the same Food&Agriculture way that software developers design apps. This model ensures constant iteration so that products improve rapidly, with each version superior and cheaper than the last. It also ensures a production system that is completely decentralized and much more stable and resilient than industrial animal agriculture, with fermentation farms located in or close to towns and cities. This rapid improvement is in stark contrast to the industrial livestock production model, which has all but reached its limits in terms of scale, reach, and efficiency. As the most inefficient and economically vulnerable part of this system, cow products will be the first to feel the full force of modern food’s disruptive power. Modern alternatives will be up to 100 times more land efficient, 10-25 times more feedstock efficient, 20 times more time efficient, and 10 times more water efficient. They will also produce an order of magnitude less waste. Modern foods have already started disrupting the ground meat market, but once cost parity is reached, we believe in 2021-23, adoption will tip and accelerate exponentially. The disruption will play out in a number of ways and does not rely solely on the direct, one-for-one substitution of end products. In some markets, only a small percentage of the ingredients need to be replaced for an entire product to be disrupted. The whole of the cow milk industry, for example, will start to collapse once modern food technologies have replaced the proteins in a bottle of milk – just 3.3% of its content. The industry, which is already balancing on a knife edge, will thus be all but bankrupt by 2030. This is not, therefore, one disruption but many in parallel, with each overlapping, reinforcing, and accelerating one another. Product after product that we extract from the cow will be replaced by superior, cheaper, modern alternatives, triggering a death spiral of increasing prices, decreasing demand, and reversing economies of scale for the industrial cattle farming industry, which will collapse long before we see modern technologies produce the perfect, cellular steak.
Chris Smaje who has a blog in the UK called Small Farm Future has published a critique of the Rethinkx report written by a guest writer he called Steve L. and titled FOOD MANUFACTURED IN FACTORIES VS. FOOD GROWN ON FARMS. Steve challenges the ReThinkx claim that - “Our analysis uses sugar (glucose) as the main feedstock, with efficiency trending from 3kgs of feedstock per 1kg of protein produced (a conversion ratio of 3:1) toward a ratio of less than 2:1 by 2030. There is also scope for other carbohydrates to be used for feedstock.” (page 65 - “Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-2030”)
In Steve L's report he outlines the topic as follows "There are apparently two main approaches to these manufactured foods: biological and chemical. The biological approach includes ‘precision fermentation’ and cell-based meat, and the chemical approach (including ‘power to food’) typically starts with the electrolysis of water to obtain hydrogen which is used to make tryglycerides or other edible compounds."
In his report he references a variety of reports and analyses the Rethinkx claims, essentially arguing that they are not supportable by the evidence, and quoted “David Humbird, a UC Berkeley-trained chemical engineer who spent over two years researching the report and found that "the cell-culture process will be plagued by extreme, intractable technical challenges at food scale. In an extensive series of interviews with The Counter, he said it was “hard to find an angle that wasn’t a ludicrous dead end.” Humbird likened the process of researching the report to encountering an impenetrable “Wall of No”—his term for the barriers in thermodynamics, cell metabolism, bioreactor design, ingredient costs, facility construction, and other factors that will need to be overcome before cultivated protein can be produced cheaply enough to displace traditional meat.”
If you wish check out Steve L's full report.
Below is an extract from another article challenging the claims being made for Precision Fermentation etc. This is a long and thorough analysis of the issues associated with producing lab-grown meat and the very real challenges likely to be faced by those planning to radically scale up production of these products. It is written by Joe Fassler from The Counter website. He quotes Paul Wood, a former pharmaceutical industry executive with extensive experience in precision fermentation processes used to manufacture vaccines and other scientists with experience in the PF field. Wood knows from his experience how extremely technical, resource-intensive, and expensive the processes are and doesn't understand how costly biomanufacturing techniques could ever be used to produce cheap, abundant human food.
Joe Fassler says:
"But the truth is this: For cultured meat to move the needle on climate, a sequence of as-yet-unforeseen breakthroughs will still be necessary. We’ll need to train cells to behave in ways that no cells have behaved before. We’ll need to engineer bioreactors that defy widely accepted principles of chemistry and physics. We’ll need to build an entirely new nutrient supply chain using sustainable agricultural practices, inventing forms of bulk amino acid production that are cheap, precise, and safe. Investors will need to care less about money. Germs will have to more or less behave. It will be work worthy of many Nobel prizes—certainly for science, possibly for peace. And this expensive, fragile, infinitely complex puzzle will need to come together in the next 10 years. On the other hand, none of that could happen." and “It’s a fable driven by hope, not science, and when the investors finally realize this the market will collapse.” and
"But Renninger finds it “frustrating” to see so many resources going into cultured meat.
“It is a zero-sum game, to a certain extent,” he said. Money we spend chasing cultured meat is money we can’t use on converting coal plants to biomass, or scaling solar and wind, or modernizing concrete and steel. There’s a reason that the U.S. government employs people like Humbird to do rigorous due diligence on attractive new ideas. When billions are spent on science that doesn’t come together, the biggest losers aren’t really the private companies and trade associations, or the class of professional investors who get rich on speculative tech. Instead, the public loses out—and we lose time we don’t have.
As Humbird put it, “If society pays for it and it doesn’t work out, then society’s left holding the bag.”
The environmental ravages we face are vast, destabilizing, and encroaching on our real lives right now. The fires, the floods, are already at our door. In all this, it would be so good to know we have a silver bullet. But until solid, publicly accessible science proves otherwise, cultured meat is still a gamble—a final trip to the casino, when our luck long ago ran out. We should ask ourselves if that’s a chance we want to take."
Check out the full article from The Counter website.
22) Lab-made milk: getting the creaminess without the climate pollution.
Here is an extract from another article where claims are being made that large scale production of lab-grown dairy products are inevitable.
For 10,000 years, we’ve done the same thing to produce a drink of milk. Farms have cleared land to grow grass, raised cows, impregnated the animals, taken the calves aside, and milked their herds. Over that time, consumers developed a considerable appetite for cows’ milk, which appears in everything from yoghurt and cheese to biscuits, chocolate and sports shakes. But in the past 50 years, we’ve spotted something going very wrong with the climate, and now we’re left with limited time to avoid catastrophic consequences. And the source of dairy milk – methane-belching cows – is a significant contributor to that problem, particularly in Aotearoa.
That knowledge led dairy experts, food scientists and biologists – including a number of Kiwis – to invest in a different way to produce milk. Instead of using a large, sentient mammal to make dairy, Matt Gibson uses microorganisms. The resulting food offers an appealing climate benefit: zero planet-heating methane being belched into the atmosphere.
You can check out the full article from Stuff and another article titled "Is precision fermentation the future for food?" offering a counter view in the NZ context.
23) Vertical Farming Has Found Its Fatal Flaw.
Europe’s energy crisis is forcing companies to switch strategies or close down. The industry’s future hangs in the balance. Just six months ago, the vibe from Europe’s biggest vertical farm company was unrelentingly optimistic, so what changed? According to Cindy van Rijswick, a strategist at the Dutch research firm RaboResearch, several pressures that have always existed for vertical farms have really come to a head in 2022. For starters, the industry is extremely vulnerable to increases in electricity prices. Powering all of those plant-growing LEDs uses a lot of electricity, and between December 2020 and July 2022 consumer energy prices in the EU went up by nearly 58 percent. Eighteen months ago, European vertical farms might have spent around 25 percent of their operational costs on electricity, but that might have gone up to around 40 percent, estimates van Rijswick.
You can check out the full article on wired.com
24) Is There Enough Metal to Replace Oil?
This item looks at trying to address some of the big unanswered questions about just what quantities of minerals we have to access to make a transition from a fossil fuelled to a renewable energy world and what economically accessible reserves we currently know about.
In the article they say in answer to the question "Is there enough metal to replace oil? -
The short answer: No, not even close! Nations of the world are only too aware that fossil fuels need to be phased out for two reasons. First, oil is a finite commodity. It’ll run out in time. Secondly, fossil fuel emissions such as CO2 are destroying the planet’s climate system. However, a recent study puts a damper on the prospects of phasing out fossil fuels in favor of renewables. More to the point, a phase out of fossil fuels by mid century looks to be a nearly impossible Sisyphean task. It’s all about quantities of minerals/metals contained in Mother Earth. There aren’t enough.
Simon Michaux, PhD, Geological Survey Finland has done a detailed study of what’s required to phase out fossil fuels in favor of renewables, to wit:
“The quantity of metal required to make just one generation of renewable tech units to replace fossil fuels is much larger than first thought. Current mining production of these metals is not even close to meeting demand. Current reported mineral reserves are also not enough in size. Most concerning is copper as one of the flagged shortfalls. Exploration for more at required volumes will be difficult, with this seminar addressing these issues.” (Source: Simon P. Michaux, Associate Research Professor of Geometallurgy Unit Minerals Processing and Materials Research, Geological Survey of Finland, August 18, 2022 – Seminar: What Would It Take To Replace The Existing Fossil Fuel System?)
THE PAST – “An industrial ecosystem of unprecedented size and complexity, that took more than a century to build with the support of the highest calorifically dense source of cheap energy the world has ever known (oil) in abundant quantities, with easily available credit, and unlimited mineral resources.” (Michaux)
THE PRESENT – “We now seek to build an even more complex system with very expensive energy, a fragile finance system saturated in debt, not enough minerals, with an unprecedented number of human population, embedded in a deteriorating environment.” (Michaux)
Current mineral reserves are not adequate to resource metal production to manufacture the generation of renewable energy technology, as current mining is not even close to meeting the expected demand for one generation of renewable technology.
The article highlights how easy it is to make big plans and claims for how we could phase out fossil fuels without asking the critical questions about what resources Papatuanuku can actually realistically provide for us. We have to face up to the fact we all live on Spaceship Earth with a finite quantity of resources available to us and somehow learn to live within our means.
They provide the following figures. No doubt some new reserves will be discovered and maybe new ways of accessing minerals like lithium will be developed such as extracting it economically from geothermal fluids but it still appears as if there are some major obstacles ahead looking at these figures.
The total metals required for one generation of technology to phase out fossil fuels is listed by Required Production followed by Known Reserves for all metals based upon tonnes, as follows:
Copper 4,575,523,674 vs. 880,000,000 – a serious shortfall -reserves only cover 20% of requirements.
Zinc 35,704,918 vs. 250,000,000 – adequate reserves.
Manganese 227,889,504 vs 1,500,000,000 – adequate reserves
Nickel 940,578,114 vs. 95,000,000 – huge shortfall – reserves 10% of requirements.
Lithium 944,150,293 vs. 95,000,000 = huge shortfall – reserves 10% of requirements.
Cobalt 218,396,990 vs. 7,600,000 – huge shortfall – reserves 3.48% of requirements.
Graphite 8,973,640,257 vs. 320,000,000 = huge shortfall – 3.57% reserves of requirements.
Silicon (metallurgical) 49,571,460 – adequate reserves
Silver 145,579 vs. 530,000 – adequate reserves
Vanadium 681,865,986 vs. 24,000,000= huge shortfall -3.52% reserves of requirement
Zirconium 2,614,126 vs.70, 000,000 – adequate reserves.
Check out the full article on the Countercurrents.org website.
This website has useful information and a graph showing historic lithium production up to 2021.
Here are a couple of other relevant articles well worth a read in my opinion if you're interested in the subject of Limits to Growth. They are from the Australian "Pearls and Irritations" website. The first is headed "Reduce consumption, or face reality of civilisational collapse" by Mark Diesendorf. The second is titled "The dilemma of economic growth" by Jan Bruck.
25) Richard Heinberg - The renewable energy transition is failing.
This article provides additional information about challenges we face transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables.
“The transition from fossil fuel to renewables faces an uphill battle. Still, this switch is an essential stopgap strategy to keep electricity grids up and running, at least on a minimal scale, as civilization inevitably turns away from a depleting store of oil and gas. The world has become so dependent on grid power for communications, finance, and the preservation of technical, scientific, and cultural knowledge that, if the grids were to go down permanently and soon, it is likely that billions of people would die, and the survivors would be culturally destitute. In essence, we need renewables for a controlled soft landing. But the harsh reality is that, for now, and in the foreseeable future, the energy transition is not going well and has poor overall prospects.We need a realistic plan for energy descent, instead of foolish dreams of eternal consumer abundance by means other than fossil fuels. Currently, politically rooted insistence on continued economic growth is discouraging truth-telling and serious planning for how to live well with less.”
They make the interesting statement that - "A French preliminary analysis of the energy transition that assumed maximum possible recycling found that a materials supply crisis could be delayed by up to three centuries. But will the circular economy (itself an enormous undertaking and a distant goal) arrive in time to buy industrial civilization those extra 300 years? Or will we run out of critical materials in just the next few decades in our frantic effort to build as many renewable energy devices as we can in as short a time as possible?"
Check out the full article on the resilience.org website.
26) The call to put ‘a price on nature’ can be appealing – but it misunderstands what’s at stake.
In this Guardian article Jeff Sparrow says -
In a piece for The Conversation, the academic John Henneberry explains how when we price nature: "We apply numbers to those features that we consider important, or that are measurable, or both, and we ignore or exclude other features that don’t meet these criteria. […] As a result of it, nature appears more fragmented because we have to slice it into categories and dice those categories into bits before we can value bits of those bits. The sum of these parts is far short of the whole and does not capture the interconnectedness and holism of nature.”
In a context in which we don’t even know how many unique species exist on the planet (estimates range from 5.3 million to 1 trillion, with only 1.6 million of them identified and named), the author Adrienne Buller describes as an extraordinary fantasy the notion that “the biosphere can be readily segmented and ‘unbundled’ into discrete units which can subsequently be individually valued, speculated upon, and exchanged, abstracted entirely from the specifics of time and place.”
It’s a point also made in the open letter, which insists:
"The monetary values being produced do not represent the value of nature’s ecological functions, not even a proxy. Yet misleading figures are not better than nothing but worse than nothing, as they can lead to wrong policy decisions with irreversible consequences. The monetary valuation of nature’s ecological functions can also give a dangerous and misleading illusion of substitutability between critical ecosystemic functions, where one assumes incorrectly that as long as the total monetary value remains stable, nature is in good shape.”
Substitutability is invariably the point of environmental pricing: by transforming the unique components of a biosphere into abstractions as exchangeable as dollars or Euros, it facilitates processes like offsetting, so that destruction in one place can be “compensated” by investment elsewhere.
The NZ website "The Conversation" published another good article by John Henneberry on this topic in 2018 titled "How the neoliberal obsession with valuing nature changes our understanding of it".
27) Carbon Brief.
I have been getting regular summaries from the organisation Carbon Brief. They provide some excellent up to date material on a wide range of climate and energy related matters. You can subscribe on their website if you're interested.
Here is a brief description from their website. - "Carbon Brief is a UK-based website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy. We specialise in clear, data-driven articles and graphics to help improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response. We publish a wide range of content, including science explainers, interviews, analysis and factchecks, as well as daily and weekly email summaries of newspaper and online coverage."
28) 2022 Climate Data summary from Carbon Brief.
Carbon Brief recently published its now-customary January deepdive into the key climate data from the previous year. Dr Zeke Hausfather, our climate science contributor, examined and explained all the latest metrics from across the oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere and surface temperature of the planet. His “state of the climate” review showed that 2022 was the warmest year on record for ocean heat content (chart above) and that the past eight years at the planet’s surface have been the warmest since records began in the mid-1800s.
Last year also saw a diverse range of extreme weather events across the globe, as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide levels all reached new record highs. Antarctic sea ice also set a record for its lowest extent. Looking ahead, Zeke predicted that global average surface temperatures in 2023 are most likely to be slightly warmer than 2022 – but are unlikely to set a new all-time record given lingering La Niña conditions in the first half of the year.
Check out the full article for their complete 2022 "State of the Climate" report.
29) A plan for human survival.
Julian Cribb is an Australian science author and author of six books on the human challenge. His latest books on the human future are “Surviving the 21st Century” and “Food or War” and his most recent publication "How to Fix a Broken Planet."
If, like me, you believe we have reached the point where we are living on a Broken Planet that is in urgent need of some major repairs and you have reached the end of this newsletter then you may be interested to read the following article from Julian.
Here is an extract published recently on the Australian website Pearls and Irritations.
"The existential emergency in which all humanity now stands has been building steadily for over half a century. Our capacity to inflict mass harm on ourselves through our own actions has increased exponentially since the end of WWII.
We’ve wiped out two thirds of the world’s large animals, we’re losing water, topsoil, fish and forests at appalling rates, we poison everyone and everything on the planet every day; we’re constructing weapons able to obliterate ourselves many times over. We’re shaping a climate that can render the Earth largely uninhabitable within a few generations. We’re building dangerous technologies over which society has no control. We throw away half our food and ruin the planet trying to grow more. We unleash new plagues every few years and spread them worldwide like wildfire. And we lie, constantly and continually, to ourselves about it all.
These are not the actions of a wise species. Or even, maybe, an intelligent one. Our governments and corporations seem paralysed, unable to grasp the magnitude of the overwhelming, interlinked risks that are engulfing us. The ten megathreats are: extinction and ecological destruction; resource scarcity; global poisoning; a hothouse Earth; new nuclear arms race; pandemic disease; food insecurity; overpopulation; uncontrolled technologies and a global deluge of misinformation about them. Because they are all connected, none of these threats can be tackled on its own. They must all be tackled together.
All of them are consequences of the sheer scale of the human enterprise – overpopulation, overconsumption, overpollution and money are the chief drivers. Mostly, they stem from the 101 billion tonnes of resources we now devour every year to support our ‘lifestyle’ – 12 tonnes each – and the damage this process unleashes on the planet and ourselves.
The good news is that solutions to all these threats already exist."
Check out the full article on the Pearls and Irritations website.
Nga mihi nui, Budyong.
These newsletters are put together by Budyong Hill in an attempt to help keep Marlborough people informed of issues both global and local. The aim is help raise awareness of the myriad challenges facing the essential life support systems that our amazing planet provides for us every day.