Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Language of Climate

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  • Russell Brown,

    From Glenn Williams, Jen's partner:

    I think Jen summed it up well in that people aren't really talking about this stuff. There's no climate of concern.

    I was fairly wound up about the smog last week but if my co-workers are anything to go by, I don't think too many people were actually bothered by it. It definitely was a big media event and the Saharan Dust was the big star player. The dust was the emerging story early in the week but by the time the air quality was really bad on Thursday with lung-clogging micro pollutants from diesel cars and heavy industries, the public's understanding of the situation was that it was a novelty weather scenario whipped up in Africa. I hated it. It had an evil chemical smell and caused a slight burning to the back of the throat. For most though, I think life went gone on in an unconcerned fashion.

    I think the reaction to the smog event last week reflects the reaction to extreme weather events in general - it's a great media story but if the waves aren't lapping at your door on a regular basis or the roof hasn't blown off year after year people just put these things down to one-offs. The breeze arrived on Thursday afternoon and blew it all away. It seems that interest in these events is only for as long as the news cycle allows and until the sun shines again.

    I get the impression that there's awareness the climate is changing and that it will get more extreme in our lifetimes, but until it has a sustained impact on our quality of life it is not something that most people will be actively concerned about.

    Hope that helps. I guess I could summarise it by saying that people aren't really feeling much about it all. My impression anyway. If they're not continuously living with the result of a bad event (flood/Beijing smog/Christchurch quake) then it's not something to be concerned about.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22817 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I don't talk about climate change anymore. I'm inarticulate with rage.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
    As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea
    Contagious fogs, which falling in the land
    Have every pelting river made so proud
    That they have overborne their continents.
    The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,
    The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
    Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard.
    The fold stands empty in the drownèd field,
    And crows are fatted with the murrain flock.
    The nine-men’s-morris is filled up with mud,
    And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
    For lack of tread are undistinguishable.
    The human mortals want their winter here.
    No night is now with hymn or carol blessed.
    Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
    Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
    That rheumatic diseases do abound.
    And thorough this distemperature we see
    The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
    Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
    And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
    An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
    Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
    The childing autumn, angry winter change
    Their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world,
    By their increase, now knows not which is which.

    I recall reading the weather was actually like this at the time (A Midsummer Night's Dream, II,i). And Terry Jones talks about coming out of the cold periods in the little ice age - I was left with the impression the climate is never so cruel as when it's changing.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Actually, what follows is relevent:

    And this same progeny of evils comes
    From our debate, from our dissension.
    We are their parents and original.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Rowan Crawford,

    The Bugle addressed the IPCC report, and I believe summarised the response from world leaders accurately. From 6:45. Contains language, obviously, because it's The Bugle.

    https://soundcloud.com/the-bugle/bugle-265-cup-em-and-cough

    Auckland • Since Oct 2008 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth,

    Climate change hasn't really been about science for at least 20 years. We've known enough to know that we need to act to reduce emissions since the mid-90s - after all the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997.

    People campaigning against emissions reductions have done their damnedest to make it seem like a scientific debate, but it has never been more than a smog-blowing exercise on their part.

    The reality is that dealing with climate change is about managing risk - and that's why the insurance business is on the case. But how do you build a political case for risk management when it is expedient for politicians to do little or nothing? That's really hard... (cf Roughan in the Herald talking about govt "climate catastrophe")

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    And believe it or not, ExxonMobil, a major sponsor of climate denialism, has basically shifted its stance to defeatism. (via Twitter)

    Climate change hasn’t really been about science for at least 20 years. We’ve known enough to know that we need to act to reduce emissions since the mid-90s – after all the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997.

    As far as the Mike Hoskings of this world are concerned, science isn’t science if they think it means confiscating their McMansions and Maseratis.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5429 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth, in reply to Gareth,

    Bugger: ...Roughan talking about "sensibly relaxed" govt policy re CC

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • Dan Salmon, in reply to George Darroch,

    Yep.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 39 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    the people with real money to lose ... are taking account of those changes

    I don't think it's that straightforward. There is a huge amount of change involved in dealing with climate change and most of that change occurs in the business world. It is a fact that implementing a sensible response to climate change will cause significant financial loss to many businesses. For those in those businesses delaying that loss by even a short period of time can mean millions in profit.

    There are also huge opportunities for gain, but those gains will be made by somebody else.

    Our problem in NZ is that interests that stand to lose seem to hold great sway with the National Party. The other problem is that we only focus on possible losses eg limiting dairying. That leaves possible gains ignored.

    In short, technology will dramatically change worldwide as a result of climate change, that creates huge opportunities for new ways of doing things and selling those methods around the world. By denying climate change we stifle that opportunity. We are so focused on minimising loss that we are ignoring the opportunity to shift from a primary produce economy to a technologically advanced economy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Thomas Beagle,

    I'm going to quote myself (because no one else will do it!) from something I wrote in 2008 ( http://thomasbeagle.net/2008/06/03/a-climate-change-manifesto/ ):

    "That humanity would rather ride the spiralling corpse of the current ecosystem down into the abyss than voluntarily give up the modern consumer life style."

    The sad thing for me personally is that I've had a kid since then and when I contemplate their future I feel our collective failure even more keenly.

    New Zealand • Since Nov 2007 • 48 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari,

    I see the solution (management of) to our climate concerns and many others as being linked - its how we're living thats the root of so many of humanities problems, all of which seem pressing

    We need to address the fact we live under economic and political systems not designed for our times, populations and core human values - endless growth, rising levels of inequality, wholesale destruction of our environment for short term gains etc etc.

    We've advanced to the point where maybe we need to slow down, take stock of what benefits us most as a species and work on creating a sustainable and quality of life focused world where we all benefit and as such the planet will too

    Needless to say we're a two generations late on making a start on this sort of adjustment and probably won't do much constructive until its too late for so many...

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 540 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Thomas Beagle,

    I’m going to quote myself (because no one else will do it!) from something I wrote in 2008 ( http://thomasbeagle.net/2008/06/03/a-climate-change-manifesto/ ):

    That only reinforces my comment above about Hosking et al - that crass materialism is the real driving force behind climate denialism/defeatism.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5429 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    For those in those businesses delaying that loss by even a short period of time can mean millions in profit.

    And, more importantly, that they get their bonus for this quarter.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    In short, technology will dramatically change worldwide as a result of climate change, that creates huge opportunities for new ways of doing things and selling those methods around the world. By denying climate change we stifle that opportunity. We are so focused on minimising loss that we are ignoring the opportunity to shift from a primary produce economy to a technologically advanced economy.

    I agree.

    Also, I actively welcome GM grass that reduces ruminant methane emissions becoming enough of a real prospect to have a debate about. Because that will be an interesting debate. How real is that right now, Bart?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22817 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    For those in those businesses delaying that loss by even a short period of time can mean millions in profit.

    It's a pretty funny definition of profit that privileges grabbing as much as you can for yourself now over long-term, broadly-distributed wealth. But I'm preaching to the choir...

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Bennion,

    For goodness sake, it would really help a lot if some people in authority could give up all non-essential air travel (which are the highest personal emissions by far) and tell the world about it. Hundreds of us are doing it, but there are very few high profile people. Examples are the late Iain Banks, George Monbiot, and, most recently, Eric Holthaus, US meteorologist (see him on twitter).

    It makes a huge difference in moving opinion among your peers, because you are reflecting the urgency of the current situation and the size of change in personal habits that is required. You also immediately step into a low carbon world, and realise that lots of other people live there right now (for example people who take the overnight Auckland-Wellington bus). Lets turn our efforts to growing that part of the economy.

    Wellington Region • Since Nov 2006 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    How real is that right now, Bart?

    There are a few different answers to that question.

    The most optimistic is that yes it is totally feasible, just not right now, it would take a few years effort.

    BUT
    Sorry, long post follows ...

    It would require a few things to happen. First we'd need to change our regulatory system to make the research feasible, at present the regulations and the enforcement of those regulations would make the research almost impossible to do. That is eminently doable and without any risk at all.

    Then we'd have to set aside enough money to make the project run, something like a National Science Challenge but funded fully. No pissing around with half arsed measures, as a wild guess I'd say $5 million a year for the first 3 years and then increasing to maybe $10-20 million a year for a decade after that. Hopefully towards the end of that industry would stump up some of that money.

    That funding probably wouldn't cover all of the cost but I'd expect satellite projects to develop around the challenge as you went along.

    Then you have to actually do the science. Bear in mind that we haven't actually tried anything like this yet so we don't know what would work and what won't work (that's what the research money is for). That said my guess (wild and speculative as it is) is that you'd want to engineer both the bacteria in the cow rumin and also engineer the grass. Yes GMOs, get over it.

    You'd want to reduce the compounds in grass that are hard to digest, which is metabolic engineering and full of surprises. With a dedicated effort it is certainly possible. You'd have to make sure the grass still grows as well in the field but that is probably all doable.

    We know a lot about ryegrass in this country so we wouldn't be starting from scratch but this is not something that would be easy - but it wouldn't be so much fun if it was easy.

    You'd also want to see if some of the bacteria in the animal rumin can be altered to either make less methane or take the methane and turn it into something the cow can process. I know much less about the feasibility of that part but my gut feeling is that the balance of bacteria in the rumin might be quite hard to alter. That said lots of folks believe they alter their own gut bacteria with a simple dose of brewers yeast :). Seriously a lot of testing would be needed.

    Then you'd have to say to everyone in NZ that yes we are going to grow GM grass here and we are going to grow GM cows here - because we believe that the incredibly low risk from GM is more than balanced by the improvement to the environment by eliminating methane.

    Yeah doable. But it would take a huge amount of spine on the part of the legislators to change the laws and some considerable guts to commit the funding. On a cynical day I'd say it would be totally ruined by all the hangers on who would steal the money from the science, on an optimistic day I'd say it would be something great we could do for our economy and the world and we wouldn't let anything stop us.

    Oh and as a final note - in the process of doing this we'd become the world's experts at this kind of engineering - countries would come to us to figure out how to use biological engineering to solve major problems - our kids would see the scientists doing this and all want to be a part of it, lifting the talent and skills of the next generation. So um yeah can we please let our imaginations really stretch and do this?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    So um yeah can we please let our imaginations really stretch and do this?

    +10000000000

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Would a more likely political compromise be that we'd fund and own the research, but it wouldn't actually physically happen in NZ? Then the research could be conducted to the ridiculously high biosecurity standards we already have?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    Then the research could be conducted to the ridiculously high biosecurity standards we already have?

    No the problem is the ridiculously high biosecurity we operate under makes it too hard to even do the research properly any more. We regulate everything, even things that have been used safely for 40 years and we are threatened with closure if we fail to keep records of everything.

    At present compliance (not safety) is adding a huge cost in time and money to any research – if we seriously wanted to make cows stop burping methane we couldn’t even do the research here with current regulations and the interpretation of those.

    That is NOT the fault of those doing the enforcement they are simply doing what they’ve been told to do. It needs new legislation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • JWT1, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Rumen bacteria produce methane as an end product because of the highly reducing (anaerobic) environment in the rumen. Methane production is the penalty paid in return for the ability of ruminants to obtain some of the energy available from cellulose, which humans cannot digest. Feeding less cellulose to ruminants will probably not solve the problem as the rumen has evolved to provide the anaerobic conditions and non cellulose carbohydrates will also be utilised anaerobically in the rumen and result in methane formation. Several species of insects (termites) also can digest cellulose anaerobically with the concomitant production of methane. I have not seen any estimates of how much this contributes to global methane production.

    Manawatu • Since Aug 2010 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    slight threadjack - after 30 years of watching this debate unfold, be explored, be proven in favour of one side, and slip gradually beneath the waves of momental public apathy, my response for the past decade has been simple: just don't be part of the problem. do all the things that you want everyone to do to save the world, so if they ever start to catch up you're already showing the way. and if need be you can help them.

    and most importantly. when that day comes that an angry young tibby stands up in front of me and demands to know, "WHAT DID YOU DO?!" while the world was being poisoned, i can look him in the eye and say, everything i could.

    including teaching you to survive it.

    (which kind of makes me a latter day jane connor)

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    At present compliance (not safety).

    OK, so you're saying that compliance related to making sure the stuff can't get out of the lab/test farms accidentally is not a particularly significant part of the overall compliance?

    Sure sounds frustrating.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch, in reply to Che Tibby,

    just don’t be part of the problem. do all the things that you want everyone to do to save the world, so if they ever start to catch up you’re already showing the way. and if need be you can help them

    Agreed. But it's okay to drive to an anti-oil protest.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

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