Southerly by David Haywood

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Southerly: A Tale of Two Iceblocks: Part 1 (Or How Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in New Zealand Can Cause Us To Do the Wrong Thing)

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  • David Haywood, in reply to M Thomas,

    How so?

    Oh Lord, why did I mention this (an even touchier subject than anthropogenic climate change)…

    So one of the state legislators in Nevada was keen on encouraging cycling in Las Vegas so as to reduce fossil fuel consumption, local emissions, traffic congestion, etc. as well as the public health issue of fighting obesity, etc.

    As part of the deal they thought that compulsory (or mandatory, as they say over there) cycle helmets would be a good idea. Unlike the NZ parliament they decided to do some research before enacting the legislation (unusually the NZ parliament didn’t do this when they passed our cycle helmet laws).

    I merely pointed out that there was no evidence that compulsory cycle helmets in NZ had encouraged non-sport cycle use. Also that for adults it appeared to have made no statistical difference to the head injury rate per kilometre of travel by cycle. To my surprise they literally went: “Oh okay, we won’t do that then.” And that was it.

    This was all some time ago and I don’t have the details of the literature that I consulted at my fingertips (nor do I want to derail the discussion of GHG accounting, of course).

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Lilith __,

    coasting to barbarism...

    Are we grown-up enough to work together to save ourselves?

    ...and there lies the tipping point question for humanity's choices 'going forward' - it dwells at the heart of 'Trump or Clinton?', 'National or Labour/Greens'?, 'Help or Hinder?'...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7881 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to David Haywood,

    “Oh okay, we won’t do that then.”

    Las Vegas is a town built on betting, especially when the odds are stacked towards the 'House'.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7881 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Las Vegas is a town built on betting, especially when the odds are stacked towards the ‘House’.

    That may explain it!

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to David Haywood,

    Oh Lord, why did I mention this (an even touchier subject than anthropogenic climate change)…

    To bloody right, helmets law has no place in science or accountancy.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4163 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to David Haywood,

    Alas that – obviously – you can’t just drop sunlight and wind as replacement fuels in a coal thermal plant (or even to directly replace coal thermal plants with wind and solar). So there are billions upon billions of dollars of equipment and grid connections worldwide that can’t be replaced quickly or easily. Not to mention transport infrastructure and so on and so on…

    Which is all true. We could not have switched instantly. But we could have said we need to switch as fast as we can so here's how long it takes to replace powerplants with hydro/solar/wind/nuclear, we stop building any more coal and gas plants at all and everyone has this long to replace their transport fleets with mass transit and electric.

    The engineers and science wonks could have come up with numbers for reasonable timeframes and got it done. By now we'd be worldwide all renewable.

    Instead we got an economic solution that would encourage everyone to change behaviour. The outcome was we got a bunch of politicians and lawyers and accountants who combined to figure out how to subvert the system and now we still have all those coal and gas powerplants and most of the world transport is still powered by gasoline and our atmosphere is getting worse all the time. The lesson is economic solutions don't work, someone always cheats.

    There is nothing about the economist's solution that has worked. And yet we still let the accountants and economists into the room whereas it's clear the only time they should be allowed into the room is to deliver the coffee and doughnuts.

    While I understand the point of your popsicle example, that the economics is wrong, I disagree with the solution.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to steven crawford,

    To bloody right, helmets law has no place in science or accountancy.

    Next you'll be asking us to believe in statistics

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    While I understand the point of your popsicle example, that the economics is wrong, I disagree with the solution.

    Thank you for expanding on your earlier comment, Bart.

    I don't think we disagree on the solution: I agree that the best solution would be a binding global agreement as per the ozone depletion response.

    Given that such a global agreement appears impossible in the near future, I think the next best thing is to reduce New Zealand's genuine GHG emissions -- but making sure we do so in a manner that also reduces global GHG emissions (i.e. that doesn't cause an even bigger problem elsewhere).

    That being said I don't think we should give up on working towards a binding global agreement.

    This may be a case of engineer's pragmatism vs. scientist's idealism...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to David Haywood,

    Given that such a global agreement appears impossible in the near future, I think the next best thing is to reduce New Zealand’s genuine GHG emissions – but making sure we do so in a manner that also reduces global GHG emissions (i.e. that doesn’t cause an even bigger problem elsewhere).

    Something I learned as a side effect after sobering up from my alcoholic lifestyle it the mid 1990s, is that abstinence has got to be fun to be sustainable. I was lucky to move from the sticky carpets of the public bar to the more ascetically dynamic coffee shops, which have the big espresso machines, and less shouting. It was less about stoping something than starting something new. The new thing had to be better than the old thing.

    I know that’s a bit irrational, considering how the old thing was killing me, just like eating ice blocks made from burning coal. Sorry, I’m still upset about the helmets law. Mabe there’s a cultural solution – and I don’t mean prehistoric culture! Sorry still pissed off about helmets law. So what about if we start by having a go at something different, like doing without say – cheap stuff. And replace it with quality stuff. We might be seen by people from other places as people of quality, then they might also do a stock take of there own stuff.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4163 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to David Haywood,

    Ultimately a system of international GHG traceability on goods and services would solve numerous problems. This would work in a similar manner to the

    ... contamination tracking that dairy already use. We already have a system that allows annoyed customers or their next of kin to find out exactly where that block of cheese came from, down to the farm(s) involved, so those responsible can pull the rest of that run of cheese before too many people are affected. Or so goes the theory.

    The problem is "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" at a whole range of levels. As you point out, the incentives to cheat exist at every level and the benefits accrue to society at large. Alternatively, a lot of people are standing round saying "I would rather die"... than be the first to make a sacrifice for the greater good. Unfortunately we lack the services of a Cohen the Barbarian (via Pratchett) to help those people realise that particular ambition.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to steven crawford,

    abstinence has got to be fun to be sustainable

    This is something I struggle to understand. To me, living in a warm, comfortable house is a good thing, and it's something I'd be willing to pay for. The idea that I can have a warm, comfy house that's cheaper is mind-blowing. I am, above all else, a tight-arse (also literally, as I also cycle everywhere). But instead I see people everywhere paying a premium to make their houses less comfortable and more expensive to operate. It's weird.

    Much the same applies to a whole range of stuff. Our neighbours mostly mow their lawns. With two stroke mowers. We use a silly little electric mower that you just put the battery in and it goes, because most of our formerly-lawn is growing veges. Or fruit trees. Instead of spending time trying to start the mower, I spend it harvesting the survivors of whatever random stuff I planted. I'm a darwinian gardener... I plant whatever seeds are cheap, and a lot of it dies. What grows, I eat most of and let the rest go to seed. I like wandering round the garden eating stuff. I mean "gathering stuff to take inside and make dinner with". Ooops.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    On the bike helmet law – even if no statistically proven effect on adult safety, there are subtler effects to consider, e.g. are children more or less likely to wear helmets if adults have to too? vs. other behavioural factors like the tendency for riders wearing helmets to feel safer, so be a little more careless, than riders not wearing helmets (which tends to minimise any actual safety benefits to adults).

    I may be slightly biassed, as I’ve personally walked away from a few cycle vs. car [and subsequent tarmac vs. head] crashes, partly thanks to wearing a helmet. (I say walked away, because the bike was munted.)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1886 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    My version of fun normally involves building stuff, ideally building stuff to solve a practical problem. Put me in the workshop, ask me to make something, I'm happy. Sustainability in the workshop generally means having someone who's covering the costs and more importantly, taking away whatever I make. Otherwise it just piles up until I can't get into the workshop any more.

    Speaking of fun, can we talk about cars?

    One relevant example is the 10-odd years I spent "saving up to buy a car" before deciding that I didn't really need a car, which was good since I couldn't imagine ever having so much money that I could justify wasting some on a car. Cars cost a fortune to run, regardless of how much they cost to buy (did you know you can often get more than one utterly awesome bicycle for the price a of a car?) Then you have to park them, and clean them, and worry about which bits are about to break, and how you're going to get from A to B in them, and where to buy fuel for them and geez, just get on your bike and point it in the general direction you want to go, already. For me travelling means: get my stuff, get on my bike, go. Not wait for people, wait for the scheduled service, wait for peak hour to end... just "I'm ready, go". That's not "make sustainability fun" that's "OMG, how do you stand all the crap that goes with anti-sustainability (FFS I would be there by now if you'd let me ride my bike) and please for the love of god stop faffing about and get in the car".

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to linger,

    I may be slightly biased, as I’ve personally walked away from a few cycle vs. car [and subsequent tarmac vs. head] crashes, partly thanks to wearing a helmet.

    Helmets are another population issue, not a personal one. It is almost certainly true that if you are someone who will ride regardless, the helmet makes you safer. Cycle planners have the "four types of cyclists" and it's the 50% in the middle who are "interested but concerned" that matter for the helmet debate. If half the crashes involving the the 10% who already ride can be mitigated by helmets that's kinda nice... but if it comes at the cost of another 10% of the total not riding at all, that's a net loss. Unfortunately the evidence is that mandatory helmet laws have exactly that effect. The overall result is that more people die or suffer injury/disability by being fat and unfit than are saved by not getting head injuries. But that benefit happens at a population level, while some of the benefits of a helmet happen at a personal level (the others happen at the idiotic "fewer cyclists in my way, more money for roads" level that only people who perhaps would have benefited from wearing a helmet can understand).

    Amusingly, more brain injuries could be prevented by "shower helmets" or pedestrian helmets in general, than by bicycle helmets. Buy a non-slip shower mat, it'll do you more good than a bike helmet.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • Mike O'Connell, in reply to Lilith __,

    then load them on a ship and send them for vast distances across the ocean to India and China. How is that even viable?!

    Lilith, it isn't! As David has outlined with the iceblocks, the emission counting system will count those burnt coal emissions in the GHG profiles China, India etc.So we're off the hook. Though as you say, they are in the same atmosphere and over time will (largely) mix evenly. A more highly vegetated and forested northern hemisphere does soak up some of the emissions but can't keep pace - the Keeling curve keeps climbing!

    Also, the West Coast coal being exported - anthracite - is at the high end of the range of coals in terms of its calorific value – burns v hot and ideal for steel making - especially in countries which are rapidly developing. I Japan has bought a lot of our high-grade too over the years but stockpiles it in its harbours for ‘rainy days’. Japan of course being increasingly dependent on energy imports with its nuclear system way down in its operating capacity post-Fukushima.

    The very same coal, you'd think could be used here but our coal-fired power stations, actually (power station singular now – Huntly – though we used Meremere until 1991), were designed that they could burn only middle or lower coal grades, pretty much of what's located in the Waikato.

    In recent times, I understand Genesis Energy was importing dirty Indonesian-sourced coal, as much as a third, to make up the deficit in local stocks. Our GHG emissions profile would have taken a hit in those years if they were accounted for accurately – and our % of renewable electricity would have dropped down into the 65-70 % range.

    For the technically minded, the 3rd Edition of the New Zealand Energy Handbook is a good resource describing our country’s energy resources

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 379 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    I’m struggling not to engage with the helmet discussion, but I might just point out that the whole issue of safety is fraught with surprises and counter-intuitive results. You can make an intersection safer by reducing visibility; workers can have accidents because they’re wearing safety vests (and therefore think that vehicles see them when they don’t).

    Does forcing everyone to wear a helmet send a message to non-cyclists (including children) that is cycling is abnormal & dangerous and therefore discourages them from doing it? If helmets reduce cyclist numbers (as seems very possible) does that reduce the safety-in-numbers effect for the remaining cyclists and therefore make them more likely to suffer an accident?

    Cycling has enormous health & environmental benefits. We don’t explicitly see these benefits in a way that allows us to mentally link them with cycling; but we do see cause & effect in traffic accidents in a very dramatic manner. No one ever sees a diabetic and blames the helmet laws.

    To drag the discussion back to GHG emissions, I don’t think that governments should force people to do stuff unless they’re pretty sure it will produce the intended result. If the government has no idea of the health effects then let people choose whether or not to wear a helmet. If the government hasn’t thought through whether or not a carbon tax will actually reduce global GHG emissions then don’t impose it on the country.

    EDIT: Help -- in the last paragraph here I'm starting to sound like my anarchist Glaswegian grandfather! Stop me when I start suggesting a bicameral legislature in New Zealand (one house that requires a two-thirds majority to propose laws, and another house that requires a one-third majority to strike them down).

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Mike O'Connell,

    For the technically minded, the 3rd Edition of the New Zealand Energy Handbook is a good resource describing our country’s energy resources

    Cheers, Mike -- I should have thought to mention that myself...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Moz,

    “shower helmets”

    lol

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Two phrases I find myself saying more and more often are

    unintended consequences
    and
    confirmation bias
    and
    unconscious biases
    and
    mathematically challenged

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7881 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Two phrases I find myself saying more and more often are {1} and {2} and {3} and {4: mathematically challenged}

    QED?

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to David Haywood,

    in the last paragraph here I’m starting to sound like my anarchist Glaswegian grandfather!

    It's OK, we'll notice if you start calling for the imprisonment of all dry-cleaners.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Shaun Barker, in reply to David Haywood,

    In response to the question asked by Steven Crawford, above - the analysis of the net benefit (or otherwise) of solar power (photovoltaics) in NZ has been done – in it’s current form solar has little or negative GHG benefit in NZ if a lifecycle analysis is done (published by Luke Schwartfeger and Allan Miller, EEA Conference & Exhibition 2015, 24 – 26 June, Wellington, available here. The long and the short of it is that geothermal (300 MW consented currently) and wind (more than 1 GW consented) are both around 10x better (3-5 g CO2/KWh) as far as GHG emissions than solar (~ 50 g CO2/KWh, taking into account the carbon in a lifecycle analysis). Unless we can crack the storage problem (electric vehicle fleet which is connected to the grid during the day and drawn down at night??) solar is essentially pointless from a GHG perspective in NZ. This will likely only change in NZ moves to a fully electric fleet which requires consistent delivery of energy on a daily basis which only solar can relatively reliably provide (along with geothermal).

    Since Jul 2016 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Shaun Barker,

    analysis of the net benefit (or otherwise) of solar power (photovoltaics) in NZ has been done

    How does that compare with solar thermal? I'm guessing the storage problem is the same, but are the manufacturing issues any better?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Lilith __,

    How does that compare with solar thermal? I’m guessing the storage problem is the same, but are the manufacturing issues any better?

    With solar thermal the energy is stored as hot water in your tank -- it's a whole different kettle of fish (a much better kettle) from an energy engineering perspective, and I would have thought (though I may be proven wrong) from a GHG perspective.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

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