Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Piled in bins like summer fruit

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  • Simon Grigg,

    One went shopping with my mother-in-law and noted that butter and cheese prices for the same New Zealand branded products were substantially higher here than in Singapore.

    Not in my experience and I'm in Singapore every few months. Dairy products are rather pricey throughout Asia, apart from that horrible a Australian chocolate milk which seems to be everywhere.

    Now Durian is another matter.

    Incidentally, this is written from a cyber cafe in Ghangzhou where I'm able to happily access CNN, BBC and pretty much every bit of international news I want.

    It worked in the hotel so I thought I'd try in a public area..and here you go.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    the carbon neutrality of ethanol made from maize is a myth.
    the process of growing the maize involves operating machinery and applying synthetic chemicals generally derived from fossil fuels.

    the process of making the ethanol is not carbon neutral either, in terms of energy usage.

    as mr. haywood has probably pointed out, the energy return on energy invested (EROEI), or net energy yield, is very marginal if not negative.

    in other words, it's mainly a U.S. ag subsidy scam.

    and similar to dairy farming in canterbury, it's not sustainable either. they are going to run out of water and their topsoil is going to all end up in the gulf of mexico.

    wrecking soil fertility and draining acquifers can be pretty profitable for some people. but you cannot keep doing it for decade after decade without causing a major collapse in yields sooner or later.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Steve: the benefit of biofuels is that (__if__ produced by sustainable methods - i.e. not in the US) they're carbon neutral. The CO2 you emit when you burn them simply replaces the CO2 sucked out of the atmosphere when they grew. They're not a carbon sink, and its a mistake to pretend they are. But to the extent that they displace fossil fuel burning, it is a net reduction in emissions (which is different froma carbon sink - a temporary storage of carbon).

    Biofuels are not a magic bullet. They're a transitional fuel which allows us to continue using current technology until we can develop something cleaner or change our behaviour and lifestyle (depending on whether you're bright or dark green). There's a promise there of a future sustainable fuel supply, but it would be much smaller than the current petrochemical industry, and so if we want to maintain our current lifestyle, we need to use the time they give us to develop the technology to get us off carbon forever.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    There has been huge internal migration since then, but you're talking about hundreds of millions of people seeking better lives and jobs in the cities. It's a simply incredible problem, and not trying to control migration flows wouldn't work out well.

    Agreed, and Indonesia has the same problem..if they were able much of the country would likely uproot and move to Jakarta.

    I spent some time last year with a UN population analyst (correct job title unsure) and he was saying that they believed that the population of China is under-counted by some 100-200 million (!), they being the second and third kids, or the female children, and their offspring who simply slipped out of the system and were unregistered in the past two or three decades of population control.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    No, I'm quite well aware of the regime's less appealing features. But we're trading with them already, we're not going to stop, and doing so as part of a rules-based system seems the right thing to do.

    You made a similar point to me earlier, and I forgot to say that's perfectly fair. But would it also be fair comment to say that China's track record when it comes to operating within a 'rules-based system" is rather spotty and when you're "China's 51st biggest market" (as the huge graphic under the OUR NEW BEST FRIEND banner in today's Herald informs us) your leverage may well be somewhat limited? Serious question, because I'm sure no expert in international trade policy or politics. But it sure strikes me as pretty obvious questions the media should have been asking, and haven't.

    I've also got a larger concern: Part of operating within a framework of laws and regulations (which I would argue is essential to any genuinely free market), is a regard for scrutiny and criticism. I don't think its Sinophobia to feel a little uncomfortable about the level of secrecy around this FTA until it was a done deal (at Chinese insistence, AFAIK), or Wen Jiabao ducking a scheduled press conference because he anticipated even being asked uncomfortable question about human rights. Just a wee bit ironic at a time when we're beginning to demand more transparency and accountability from corporates and regulatory agencies, and seeing what happens to so called 'Mum and Dad' investors who, perhaps, buy into PR hype with little basis in sound practice or reality.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • InternationalObserver,

    (And farmers all over the country curse me)

    It's worse than that Kyle. As we speak they're grabbing their pitchforks, climbing aboard their tractors, and they're coming for you Kyle.

    Dunedin is a small place, they know where you live ...

    Since Jun 2007 • 909 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    hundreds of millions of people seeking better lives and jobs in the cities. It's a simply incredible problem, and not trying to control migration flows wouldn't work out well

    India has never needed to do this, with almost as large a population.

    Plus they let everyone vote in regular and (more or less) fair elections.

    Or are we now going to be shown a cute little diagram showing how Chinese people are different and have to be locked in their home district and not allowed to vote, ever.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    i/s wrote:

    the benefit of biofuels is that (if produced by sustainable methods - i.e. not in the US) they're carbon neutral.

    the trouble is, there are very few large-scale examples of biofuels being produced sustainably. Even ethanol from sugar cane (Brazil) is causing more destruction of rain forest, which is hardly sustainable or carbon neutral. In SE Asia, you have a similar thing happenning with palm oils. All of the sustainable stuff is only really possible on a relatively small scale, as far as i have seen.

    nz has potential with animal tallow and trees, but the liquid fuels produced are just not going to replace the amount of fossil fuels we burn at the moment. algae is interesting, but the scaleability is seriously questionable. which is not to say we shouldn't try and reduce fossil fuel use by developing biofuels, but to me it is just avoiding the elephant in the sitting room.

    if we want to maintain our current lifestyle

    to me, this is just not going to happen. a fantasy even. the affluent lifestyles on this planet are based on a 100-year petroleum bonanza--a one-off boom, followed by the inevitable bust. as more and more people on this planet demand to have their own fossil-fuel slaves, we are going to end up either changing to a radically less energy intensive way of living or have even more wars over ever-decreasing energy supplies.

    the kind of happy story our MSM and politicians love to discuss. not.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Kyle: Ok, I see how the carbon sink element would work as opposed to oil. Using that idea, trees that take a generation to grow before being used for fuel would make more sense than corn. Corn would reach its maximum level of carbon sequestration in only a few months and retain it for for merely days or weeks. On an annual basis the net effect would be close to nil as the fuel thus produced was released while the next crop grew. Unless plantings expanded on an exponential basis, ther would be little net benefit over time. Never mind the land management issues and consequencs for food supply.

    Well I know very little about corn, except that it's an incredibly inefficient replacement for oil.

    But the radio show I heard was talking about algae farming. Something about the sea having more green mass than all the landmass, at any point in human history, though I was only paying half attention to the radio show.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    __hundreds of millions of people seeking better lives and jobs in the cities. It's a simply incredible problem, and not trying to control migration flows wouldn't work out well__

    India has never needed to do this, with almost as large a population.

    And yet with massively better starting conditions and civil infrastructure, and without having to suffer disastrous economic reforms in the 1960s, India regards it as a major problem too:

    The large metropolitan cities are growing very rapidly in India, unfortunately with slums growing many times faster. Poverty, agony, misery, exploitation, humiliation, insecurity, inequalities, and human unhappiness are also multiplying tremendously in the recent decades. These are indeed manifestations of our iniquitous society and faulty planning. These crucial problems will aggravate many times in the early part of the next century, specially when aided by population explosion and increasing migration. These crucial human problems need our urgent attention and immediate redress.

    Only a fool would claim China is anything like a democracy, but many Chinese do get to vote at a local level. Foreign Affairs magazine has a lengthy essay on when, if ever, China might start to look like a western democracy. Opinions vary.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    to me, this is just not going to happen. a fantasy even. the affluent lifestyles on this planet are based on a 100-year petroleum bonanza--a one-off boom, followed by the inevitable bust. as more and more people on this planet demand to have their own fossil-fuel slaves, we are going to end up either changing to a radically less energy intensive way of living or have even more wars over ever-decreasing energy supplies.

    There has definitely been a bonanza on oil, but there's no way I believe that's it for humanity, that from now on we're heading towards energy depletion. There's still huge amounts of stored energy in nuclear and coal, and various ways of tapping solar power are constantly improving. Not to mention improved efficiency of energy usage.

    Biofuel seems cool to me on exactly one score - that we can make liquid fuel with it. The efficiency of doing so now makes it pointless compared to oil, but oil just won't last forever, and unless technology makes huge strides, it will still remain the most space efficient and convenient method of portable energy storage, which will always have some applications. It is difficult to see how aircraft could operate any other way.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Stephen: sustainable production requires not just low-energy agriculture, but also good policy settings around land-use change. Obviously, some poorer countries don't have them, or can't enforce them, or both, so we ned to help them fix their problems.

    In NZ, we have potential for tallow and waste to supply the initial target of biofuels sustainably (and we need the Biofuel Bill, or something very much like it, to make sure it happens). In the longer-term, our prospects are very good indeed. We have the technology now to run the entire country's transport network off celulose ethanol from trees (Scion has a report on it last month). It would require roughly doubling our current area of exotic planted forest, but we have plenty of marginal land to plant, and the result will be sustainable transport. The trick is getting there, setting the policy framework so that it encouages the investment required to make that change.

    On the broader question, not everyone is as lucky as us on the sustainable energy front, and not everyone is going to be able to do this. Some countries are goign to have real problems coping with decarbonising their energy supply. I'm a technological optimist - there are obvious technologies we can use to replace liquid fuels at least for land transport (e.g. hydrogen and electricity, though each has its own challenges) - and the trick is getting there. But there's no question that decarbonisation, whether voluntary or due to peak oil, is going to radically alter the world energy map, and lifestyles and living standards with it. New Zealand is well positioned to cope with these changes, if we make the right choices. Other countries could face real problems.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    India regards it as a major problem too:

    However, the paper you quote doesn't advocate internal migration control, preferring amongst other things a mixture of improvements in both cities and rural areas. I suspect that's partly because an Indian politician wouldn't get the vote of a Gujerati by telling them they had to get special permission to move to Delhi.

    I suspect there will have to be some sort of revolution before the Chinese get any sort of freedom. Hopefully this will be reasonably quick and involve limited loss of life, but the elite (who own most of the companies we're so pleased to trade with) won't give up their power and privilege easily.

    I'd be surprised if when China does finally get democracy, its people will be keen to honour "agreements" with the friends of their previous oppressors.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I suspect there will have to be some sort of revolution before the Chinese get any sort of freedom.

    Let's hope not. They cost a hell of a lot of lives. Communist Russia managed to switch over without full blown revolution.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Communist Russia managed to switch over without full blown revolution.

    Well: there were peaceful but forceful revolts throughout Eastern Europe - only in Romania was there significant violence. Then there was the attempted coup in '91 against Gorbachev, which was defeated by popular force.

    Plus, of course, there was Yugoslavia, which was never part of the Russian Empire - but the various nationalities had to fight (in the case of the Kosovans and Bosnians with Western help) to get rid of the Serb autocracy.

    I think the longer the Chinese ogligarchs (they are not any kind of communists) stay in power the more likely the ending is to be messy.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Dykes,

    I/S:

    New Zealand is well positioned to cope with these changes, if we make the right choices. Other countries could face real problems.

    Does this mean house prices in NZ are undervalued?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 76 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    why is being able to vote touted as such a godsend?
    who funded both sides of the most recent Taiwanese election?

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Sorry to come in slightly late to this conversation. Just to mention that from an ex-energy engineer's perspective, I/S is exactly right in his comments with respect to NZ (and the rest of the world) in terms of energy.

    Russell Brown wrote:

    In part, the crop switch to biofuels is to blame. The cost of petroleum for transport adds some more.

    This rather underestimates the role of petroleum products in setting food prices, dude.

    For animal protein in the USA, it requires about 28 joules of fossil fuel energy for each joule of food energy produced. For grain it's about 3 joules of fossil fuel energy for each joule of food energy produced. The fossil fuels are in the form of fertilizer, heating, transport, processing, etc. (These approx. numbers have been known for some time -- see this old press release on the subject from Cornell.)

    In other words, when you think you're eating food in the USA (or, to a lesser extent, in western Europe), you're actually mainly eating fossil fuels.

    All of which means that food prices are incredibly determined by fossil fuel prices (and in particular petroleum prices). So when oil prices go up, then food prices must follow.

    New Zealand's agriculture is far more energy efficient than that of the USA, but nevertheless NZ producers are now able to obtain higher international prices because rising fossil fuel costs means that their competitors (in North America and Europe) have to charge more for their food products.

    All of this stuff is blindingly obvious to energy engineers, but no one ever listens to us...


    P.S. And, by the way, the economic woes in the US are also easily predicted from energy prices, and will be no surprise to anyone who has read the work of Prof Robert Ayres at CMER.

    P.P.S. Oh, and I can also tell you why house prices will fall and mortgage rates will go up over the next 5-10 years.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    Ben if we burn even a fraction of the known coal reserves we are going to hell in a handcart unless you fancy the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet that is.

    Then there is the shortage of uranium, the quality ore that is making nuclear even dodgier.

    There is NO suitable energy technology that can even possibly support our lifestyle on anything but the long-term radar. We cannot afford to burn the fossil fuels we know about and can economically exploit without crossing various tipping points that will take eons to come back if they ever do. The ONLY choice we have is to curb our lifestyles. We only have one planet and at the moment we are using it at far too fast a rate. This is a quantifiable fact.

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    All of this stuff is blindingly obvious to energy engineers, but no one ever listens to us...

    You've got a blog, you nong. Millions of people get their thoughts from you. People's teenage daughters think you're quite cool. Go for it!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • InternationalObserver,

    P.P.S. Oh, and I can also tell you why house prices will fall and mortgage rates will go up over the next 5-10 years.

    Please do ... I have to refix my million dollar (tax deductible) mortgage next month and I'm wondering whether to do that or sell off my share portfolio (thereby realising a paper loss of 25-30%). The bank want 10.95% interest and I kinda figure property isn't going to return that for a while ...

    Since Jun 2007 • 909 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    We only have one planet and at the moment we are using it at far too fast a rate. This is a quantifiable fact.

    So we had dam well hurry up and find another one.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Can you tell? Iv been eating words. I'm doing my bit.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Tristan,

    Thanks for the pass to media 7 last night Russell was great fun! I like your econmoist he should be on TV more!

    Feel free to invite me back, I could never keep a beat so make a great random appluse maker.. :)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 221 posts Report Reply

  • Tristan,

    Crikey my spelling is bad before 9!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 221 posts Report Reply

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