Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Climate, money and risk

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  • Che Tibby,

    personally, i've long thought the ETS is a scam. the principle is sound, you put a cost on carbon, which in turn changed behaviour to low-carbon energy.

    but it wasn't ever intended to address the tonnes of carbon already in the atmosphere, and was never going to move quickly enough to limit blowing the carbon budget completely.

    at its base it's a policy based on quack science* and a reliance on the same market that gave us the GFC.

    (more trees = less carbon in the atmosphere, which ignores that you could cover the entire globe in trees and it won't be enough to take out the carbon we've already put up there. at best it is a way to change behaviour, but it waaaay too slowly to stop the change already underway. at best it's a finger in the dike).

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

  • Lilith __, in reply to Russell Brown,

    she looks at real examples of what can be done to reduce dangerous run-off and improved productivity at the same time.

    I look forward to reading it. But my basic attitude to dairying in Canterbury is that it's not dairy country. It can't possibly be sustainable in the medium to long term, we just don't have the water.

    Such an irony that Fonterra's big earner is milk powder. Milk with the water removed.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • mccx, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    First up, no, for climate change to be controlled we don’t need everyone to contribute, but we do need a significant portion of those who produce greenhouse gasses to contribute. New Zealand produces an insignificant amount of greenhouse gasses, not zero, and certainly more if you count the coal we ship to other places to be burnt. And our dairy industry (and sheep) is only a fraction of that. So if we completely eliminated emissions from dairying it would change nothing, equally if we do nothing about emissions from dairying it we have no impact.

    NZ as a country does produce an insignificant amount of greenhouse gases, but per capita New Zealanders produce a significant amount –– well more than the per capita volumes in keeping with meaningful emissions targets. Therefore NZers and the NZ government have an obligation to reduce NZ's emissions. And wouldn't every country want to protect their golden egg as you suggest NZ do with dairying? Where does that leave the global aggregate ability to do something serious about emissions reductions?

    There's decent evidence that NZ dairying could reduce its emissions without suffering any significant shock to either the sector or the national economy. That there's no progress on at least slowing the growth of NZ's emissions has more to do with the influence of the ag sector in NZ politics and the political orientation of the current government than any real pragmatic or economic issue.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 36 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    New Zealand produces an insignificant amount of greenhouse gasses, not zero, and certainly more if you count the coal we ship to other places to be burnt. And our dairy industry (and sheep) is only a fraction of that.

    Let's not forget the carbon emitted from all the imported tellies, computers and what not, cars, white ware, the clothing, all the consumer goods we buy at the mall. Just because the emission happened in China means we can blithely ignore it; we can't. We should own up to all the carbon emitted from our imported consumer goods, and repatriate it, if only to see just how much carbon we really do emit.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Che Tibby,

    "(more trees = less carbon in the atmosphere, which ignores that you could cover the entire globe in trees and it won’t be enough to take out the carbon we’ve already put up there. at best it is a way to change behaviour, but it waaaay too slowly to stop the change already underway. at best it’s a finger in the dike)."

    This is mistaken. According to FAO figures on mean forest carbon storage, reforesting approximately 35% of what humans have deforested would return atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels.

    If NZ established just 9% more of its land area in plantation then we could be the first nation on earth to be completely greenhouse gas neutral for between 60 and 100 years. We could do this on eroding land.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Myles Thomas,

    Between Rodney Hide and Bob Jones the Herald opinion pages must be pretty right wing (aka centre right) and miserable with it. Surely they provide balance in their opinion pages? Journalists pride themselves on balance! Or all those tens of thousands of readers are being pounded over and over with misinformation, like your kiwi foo mates, and we will never develop the political will to tackle climate change.

    I know I keep banging on about it... But it comes down to media.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 130 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Lilith __,

    ignoring how dependent we are on grass and cows is not wise either

    I can’t see where anyone is doing that Bart, this is a straw person.

    Prior to 1970 you couldn't buy table margarine in NZ, and outside of the few specialty delicatessens olive oil was sold in tiny containers. To express an interest in any kind of alternative to the great yellow Fernleaf butter god was treated as some kind of economic treason. Today everyone has the freedom to make an informed choice to lessen or even eliminate their dependence on dairy.

    Meanwhile in mid-and South Canterbury a vast amount of the old agricultural infrastructure is being demolished as shelter belts that took decades to establish are removed to make way for centre pivot irrigation. In the face of this kind of extractive and unsustainable goldrush it's a sick joke to be told to lie back and think of the economy.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Export industries aren't inherently more virtuous. Industries which substitute for imports are just as good from a foreign-currency point of view. (And they are arguably better if you believe in certain theories of economic development.) Likewise large industries are no more inherently virtuous and are probably worse because they increase national exposure to shocks.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Mike O'Connell, in reply to Christopher Dempsey,

    Let’s not forget the carbon emitted from all the imported tellies, computers and what not, cars, white ware, the clothing, all the consumer goods we buy at the mall

    That's right, this is embodied energy which can in turn be calculated as embodied carbon (dioxide). It's significant. And NZ is in the top ten per capita emitters; in data released in April 2013, we were 5th - see this Ministry for the Environment data.

    China is probably exporting consumer goods to most if not all nations on the planet. It's scary to think that as China marches on (and its energy demand growing, adding purportedly a coal-fired power station to it's national grid every 1-2 weeks), there are other nations in the region snapping at its heels: e.g. Vietnam, Burma and Bangladesh, whose total emissions are comparable to ours but with populations a good order of magnitude larger. Greenhouse gas emissions won't stop, won't even plateau any time soon,

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 385 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    NZ dairying has already been through one recent massive upheaval, and came out of that in rude health. I suspect any other supposedly huge changes would also be quietly absorbed and adapted to.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Mike O'Connell,

    Greenhouse gas emissions won’t stop, won’t even plateau any time soon

    As soon as all the trapped methane under the artic tundra starts escaping as the permafrost melts, shit is going to get extremely real.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby, in reply to Euan Mason,

    According to FAO figures on mean forest carbon storage, reforesting approximately 35% of what humans have deforested would return atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels

    so let's work that thru for a second. this implies that reforesting >35% of what humans have deforested could return CO2 to below pre-industrial levels.

    but the problematic atmospheric CO2 is primarily taken from subterranean sources.

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

  • Che Tibby, in reply to Rich Lock,

    As soon as all the trapped methane under the artic tundra starts escaping as the permafrost melts, shit is going to get extremely real.

    already happening. google reports of "arctic sea methane bubbling". example

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

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Che Tibby,

    “so let’s work that thru for a second. this implies that reforesting >35% of what humans have deforested could return CO2 to below pre-industrial levels.

    but the problematic atmospheric CO2 is primarily taken from subterranean sources.”

    There is roughly twice as much carbon in the biosphere in organic form than in the atmosphere. If we chose to then we could largely solve the problem by increasing organic storage. It’s likely, however, that the best financial solution will be an increase in organic storage coupled with changes in our emitting behaviour, with the latter ultimately predominating.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to mccx,

    There’s decent evidence that NZ dairying could reduce its emissions without suffering any significant shock to either the sector or the national economy.

    There is, and I'm not disagreeing with that. Where I differ is that I don't see the ETS or even a blunt carbon tax as the solution for NZ. Partly because as Che and others have pointed out the ETS is stupid and creates both problems and opportunities for corruption. And partly because I do believe NZ is different in that it's major greenhouse gas producer is one quarter of our export economy - that is pretty much unique. And finally partly because NZ's emissions are so small as to be irrelevant to the planet.

    I'm not arguing we do nothing but instead arguing we should do smart things and do them carefully so we don't screw up our (unbalanced) economy at the same time.

    To my mind we could do more for the planet by figuring out how to make dairying (and any ruminant farming) low emission than by trying to look good by putting a tax in place.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Rich Lock,

    I suspect any other supposedly huge changes would also be quietly absorbed and adapted to.

    Weirdly enough, industries do that. I know Made In Dagenham isn't a documentary, but folks were seriously arguing that equal pay for women would send the global economy screaming into the void. As it turned out, there were larger problems.

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

  • Che Tibby, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    the ETS or even a blunt carbon tax as the solution for NZ

    yeah, totes legit.

    for the doubters here's a question: how much would a carbon tax put up the cost of fuel or fertilizer? 3%? 5%?

    how much is that actually going to change behaviour? households absorb that cost every year with minimal grumbling.

    so to really drive behaviour you need to either make carbon-based fuel unaffordable, or provide a cheaper alternative. i heard someone say one time, "we didn't leave the stone age because we ran out of rocks"

    and those projections for CO2 absorption are estimates. the last i read, scientists actually aren't all that sure how much CO2 the biosphere can sequester. so the policy is largely based on assumptions. worse, it's based on scientific assumptions strung in a causal chain to behaviouristic assumptions!

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

  • Che Tibby,

    and here, ignoring the slightly elevated rhetoric, is an example of the problem

    there is a sliver of hope the world could stay near a 1°C goal if there were a bilateral agreement between the US and China—the world’s two biggest carbon emitters. Such a deal would need to immediately implement a gradually escalating carbon tax, rebate the revenue to its citizens equally per person, and place trade duties on any other country not willing to join in. That could quickly shift the world to a low-carbon economy, perhaps with enough cushion to prevent the most dangerous aspects of climate change. However, the authors dismiss this possibility as extremely unlikely.

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

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Che Tibby,

    "for the doubters here’s a question: how much would a carbon tax put up the cost of fuel or fertilizer? 3%? 5%?

    how much is that actually going to change behaviour? households absorb that cost every year with minimal grumbling."

    The point is that any tax or ETS requirement that provides enough value to those who reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere will ultimately change behaviour. A carbon price of around $15/tonne, for instance, would see a substantial increase in afforestation in NZ. That same carbon price would have a tiny impact on dairy gross margins, but the trees would still get planted if dairy farmers were required to purchase credits.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Che Tibby,

    so to really drive behaviour you need to either make carbon-based fuel unaffordable, or provide a cheaper alternative. i heard someone say one time, “we didn’t leave the stone age because we ran out of rocks”

    I think this is the bit I've been failing to communicate. So far all the solutions to greenhouse gas emissions have been economic, taxes effectively. What these do is make producers pay. But it's simply a cost, unscrupulous people will evade, delay or simply cheat to avoid paying that cost.

    A technology change however is likely to be a gain. Perhaps not for the current producers but overall. Make cows burp less by making them more efficient (better grass or better bacteria) and the farmer gains. Make renewable energy sources easier and cheaper to install and people will switch to them rather than being chased from old technologies.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    yeah, i'm convinced that technology will save us, but only if it's focus is shifting behaviour away from, as opposed to mitigating, the bad.

    the ETS is at best a mitigation strategy, and at worst a papal indulgence. the sort of strategy politicans love because it has the appearance of action, the somewhat dubious validity of economic theory to underpin it, and the can kicked so far down the goddamn road you'll need a telescope to see it.

    now, moving the entire transport fleet to electricity powered from our low-CO2 electricity network... maybe.

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

  • Sacha, in reply to Che Tibby,

    powered from our low-CO2 electricity network

    Let's sell that off, eh

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    NZ’s emissions are so small as to be irrelevant to the planet

    Our customers overseas are unlikely to buy that argument, nor our trade competitors who would be delighted to win their business.

    As we move past the neolib 'consensus' that has plagued our politicians, there are options other than just carbon markets to invest in sustainability, yes. Must be examples from places like China for one.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth,

    Great post, Russell. Thanks for taking the time to give Hide's nonsense a seeing to - and for putting the real risks into perspective.

    I disagree, however, with your view that the Herald should continue to run this sort of crap (they have a long history of giving Chris de Freitas space to lie about climate too). You can sum up my position as "everyone's entitled to their opinion (and the newspapers should be free to print them), but no-one is entitled to their own facts." Hide includes (at least) two quite deliberate factual errors in his piece (no warming for x years etc), and a self-respecting newspaper of record should ensure that doesn't happen.

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

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Che Tibby,

    moving the entire transport fleet to electricity powered from our low-CO2 electricity network

    I heard somewhere that if all the cars (not trucks) in NZ were electric it would make only a few percent difference to our total electricity usage.

    The only issue I have with electric cars is I am uncertain whether the environmental cost of making the cars and batteries is actually better than the cost of burning petrol. At some point their manufacture and maintenance will be better but it may make more sense to run with 5-10% of the fleet electric to build capacity and establish the technology/infrastructure before switching completely.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

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