Is this government's commitment to oil a bit like investing big in New Zealand Post? And what will our children make of the choices we're making now?

As deepsea drilling started off the Raglan coast this week, it's a good moment (finally) to look at the other side of the debate, as promised in my previous post.

Much of the protest is around the risk of drilling at such depths, and the evidence suggests that increased depth means increased risk. Yes, this is the deepest well drilled in New Zealand and the exploratory phase is the riskiest part of the process. And yes, as I wrote in the previous post, the risk of drilling for oil is that one single accident could cause immense damage across large chunks of our economy.

But the fact remains that the risk of a spill is tiny. And in truth, it's not the best argument against an expansion of our extraction industry. For me there are several stroger cases to be made than a less than one in a hundred chance of disaster.

First, there are the taxes and royalties generated from mining. Or the lack thereof. Combined they amount to 43 cents in the dollar. On one hand that's a large amount of money and more tax than we get from many industries. But by international standards it's woeful. Norway, which has done so well from oil, keeps around 75 cents in the dollar. In Alaska it's over 60 cents.

The government says the royalty and tax take is low by international standards because our basins are pioneer territory; find oil, prove there's more around and the take can be increased. But for now you've got to say it's a rubbish deal.

The assumption is that with billions of dollars to be gained, the economic arguments are all with the pro-drilling side. Not so. Cleantech is a huge global industry in its own right, already worth $4-6 trillion, depending on whose figures you believe.

Consider these nuggets. The Brookings Institution has found that the clean economy employs more people worldwide than the fossil fuel industry ... and growing. On a per job basis, businesses in the clean economy generate twice the export value of a typical job and that clean economy wages are 13% higher than the regular economy.

Pure Advantage here in New Zealand has found cleantech is the fastest growing venture capital investment sector in the US. It also talks about the potential for 30,000 jobs in geothermal and bio-energy sectors, which leaves the minerals sector, well, in a hole. Many in that industry happily conceed its days are numbered, but argue that for now we're so depdendent on oil and minerals that to stop now – or slow too rapidly – would cause immense economic and social harm.

So the obvious question: Why not do both? Drill and prepare for the post-fossil world. I'm yet to be convinced that we can't, but here are a couple of good arguments often made. First, in a country where we're so starved of capital we're selling shares in well-performing state assets in order to, amongst other things, stimulate our capital markets, it's pretty clear our economic resources are finite. Perhaps we can't walk and chew gum at the same time; at least by National's own assets sales argument it's a choice. So wouldn't you rather invest in the coming technology than the fading one? In a world where countries – rich and poor – are desperate for green technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, isn't that where NZ Inc should invest?

Because here's the second point: investing big in mining and drilling as we are now feels a little like putting your money into New Zealand Post and its mail service rather than Xero. Fossil fuels, while vital today, are increasingly acknowledged as a necessary evil; everyone's trying to move away from them, certainly in Europe and the US, even in China. Russel Norman likes to talk about the risk of New Zealand being left with "stranded assets", with big investment in coal and oil just as the world is turning away from those 20th century technologies.

And he's right, up to a point. Exactly how you react to that argument in part will be determined by how fast you think the transition from fossil fuels will be. If it's 10 years he has a case; if it's closer to 50, well, there's time to profit now and still adapt in decades to come.

However that leads us to two other final points. First, the pressure to transition faster is ramping up. Consider this speech by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría just last month in London. This isn't the head of Greenpeace talking, it's the head of the organisation representing economic cooperation between the world's richest countries. It's a speech about how "governments need to start taking action now to put us on a pathway to achieve zero net greenhouse emissions globally in the second half of this century". That's right, eliminate emissions.

Here are some extracts:

"... if we’re going to feed a further 2-3 billion people and limit temperature increases we cannot gobble up all the atmospheric space with fossil carbon. But that is what we are doing...

I want to be very clear that I haven’t come here to vilify fossil fuels. Much of what we regard as material and social progress has been built on the back of them. They are incredibly convenient. We’ve physically constructed our world around them, and to wean ourselves away from them will mean swimming against very strong tides...

Listed companies alone spent USD674 billion in 2012 on finding and developing new sources of oil and gas. The fact is that there are more than enough reserves to raise temperatures way above levels that even the most reluctant climate regulator would feel comfortable about...

The fact is that any new fossil resources brought to market – conventional or unconventional – risk taking us further away from the trajectory we need to be on, unless there is a firm CCS requirement in place or governments are prepared to risk writing off large amounts of invested capital...

The fact is that any new fossil resources brought to market – conventional or unconventional – risk taking us further away from the trajectory we need to be on, unless there is a firm CCS requirement in place or governments are prepared to risk writing off large amounts of invested capital...."

The language is ecnomic (can we afford to carry on as we are?), but the plea is also moral. And that's my last point, although it's as much a question.

If we know the trajectory we're on in our use of fossil fuels will raise the temperature of the planet – raising sea levels, forcing migration, diminishing resources, starting conflicts and imperilling our children and grand-children – what should our moral response be? Should we take the profits and jobs now? Do we, as with superannuation, housing, education and so many other problems just pass the cost onto another generation? Can we take what we need now and have confidence the inheritance we leave our descendants will not be tarnished?

Or do we, as people as diverse as Angel Gurría and Yeb Sano have said in recent weeks, have to leave fossil fuels in the ground and move faster in our quest to find other ways to power our industry and grow our economy?

I can see virtue in both sides of the argument but wonder if our children might curse us for our selfishness if we get this wrong.

Comments (44)

by stuart munro on November 29, 2013
stuart munro

The forward investment argument for green or light technology goes over this government's heads - no great altitude at the best of times.

The myth popularised by some agricultural interests, that removing NZ's agricultural subsidies did wonders for the efficiency of the sector is part of the anti-statist repertoire. Little consideration goes to sustained public investment in agricultural science going back over fifty years.  

Oil substitution technologies have similar forward potential - if, and only if, we are leaders or equals in such technologies, we can have a thriving export light engineering industry going into the future.

There is some potential in developing our marine oil reserves - but this government are at pains to demonstrate that they can secure the absolute worst bargain for NZ at every opportunity. Really, we need better negotiators if we mean to allow foreign companies access to such resources.

by Andrew Osborn on November 29, 2013
Andrew Osborn

...we can have a thriving export light engineering industry going into the future.

Stuart, maybe you haven't noticed, but in fact we already have a booming manufacturing sector.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10890700

The key point is that the sector has done it all on its own, despite a high NZD. No government was needed to 'pick winners' or prop up failures. Hopefully that was left behind in the 60's.

Same goes with oil. Although I am in general agreement with oil exploration I wouldn't want the government to gamble its revenues on it. Better to let offshore investors take that risk and consequently take a higher return.  

by Tim Watkin on November 29, 2013
Tim Watkin

Andrew, the government already "gambles" money on oil via subsidies, let alone under-writing the risk, changing legislation etc. And Norway's gone a lot further running most of its entire industry... and hundreds of billions of dollars later has done quite nicely, thank you.

by Andrew Osborn on November 30, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Hi Tim,

I wasn't aware of that so I did a little digging and found this:

http://www.wwf.org.nz/?10762/New-report-exposes-Government-hypocrisy-on-fossil-fuel-subsidies

The National-led government has significantly increased its support for oil and gas through indirect subsidies such as taxbreaks and support for exploration data and research – up from $6 million in 2009 to $46 million today. In total, support for consumption and production of fossil fuels has risen from $40.6 million to almost $85 million.

Firstly they're not subsidizing oil per se, they're funding geological research. Secondly a tax break isn't a subsidy and lastly it's chump change compared to the onerous taxes they apply to the use of petroleum products.

So all in all it's a bit of a political beat-up.

by Andrew Geddis on November 30, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Firstly they're not subsidizing oil per se, they're funding geological research.

Research that was explicitly stated to be a part of the Government's "Petroleum Action Plan".

Action 2: Developing a co-ordinated investment strategy to improve knowledge of New Zealand’s petroleum resources.

The Government has already committed significant resources to the provision of geo-scientific data through its seismic programme. Current and future expenditure needs to be targeted to ensure that it develops a greater understanding of our petroleum resource – both for the purposes of the strategic management of the resource and for maximising investor interest in exploration and development.

I mean, it's not like the Government just decided out of curiosity and sheer love of human knowledge to chuck some tens of millions dollars to the scientific community so that they can see what rocks we've got. Rather, the whole point is to gather the information that petroleum (and other mining industry) companies need in order to decide whether to go looking for oil. And if the Government didn't pay to provide this, then those companies would have to do it themselves.

Secondly a tax break isn't a subsidy...

Yes. It is. It really is.

This explains why.

... and lastly it's chump change compared to the onerous taxes they apply to the use of petroleum products.

Which is a complete non-sequiter. What does the tax paid by consumers of a product have to do with a government decision to pick "winners" by making it cheaper for the producers of that product to do so (which, remember from your first comment, is a bad thing that "hopefully was left behind in the 60s")?

by Andrew Osborn on November 30, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Fair point. The National govt is indeed fairly 'wet' in this aspect - I would prefer a cleaner, more libertarian approach to this industry (and others, including the movie industry) because in my experience as soon as the govt starts 'managing' things, that's when sense goes out of the window.

That said I would guess that 46 million is mostly going to 'geological research' which is likely mosty just funding GNS research - a crown research institute. But I can't find info on that on the web.

 

 

by william blake on November 30, 2013
william blake

Can anyone clarify please; if the oil industry is given a tax subsidy/concession to prospect for oil and gas off the coast of NZ, where is the income generated? Prospecting must be a cost and not an earning.

Is the NZ government paying Anadarco to prospect and rebating the income tax from that or is against future (potential) earnings?

by Andrew Osborn on November 30, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Struggling to find anything but political polemic on the www. But I did find this:

http://www.nzpam.govt.nz/cms/petroleum/permits

http://www.nzpam.govt.nz/cms/about

The NZP&M is a quango which tenders out exploration permits on a competetive basis. 

So it would appear that Anadarko and others bid for these rights, do it at their cost in the hope of finding oil or gas. Presumably their return is partial ownership of anything found, the details of which would depend on the deal struck with NZP&M.

by Alan Johnstone on November 30, 2013
Alan Johnstone

A field growing biofuels is a field not feeding a rapidly expaning world population. Can't use the same field twice.

The green approach is predicated on anthropogenic global warming existing and it being a bad thing. I'm not convinced on either point

by Andrew Geddis on November 30, 2013
Andrew Geddis

The green approach is predicated on anthropogenic global warming existing and it being a bad thing. I'm not convinced on either point.

Genuine question ... why not? Given the virtual consensus on this issue amongst those who have conducted empirical research into it, what is your reason for thinking that they are wrong?

Also, what would convince you on these points?

by Viv Kerr on November 30, 2013
Viv Kerr

Re the time it takes us to change from fossil fuels to a low/zero carbon society, what we should do  to try and avoid runaway climate change and what we  actually do are two very different beasts.  I’m in the camp that says that we must try to reduce fossil fuel use as quickly as possible, even though we know that will be incredibly difficult, we owe it  our children and grandchildren to at least bloody well try!

 I have letters from two National party MPs  that show they are in the opposing camp.  In August 2012 Nick Smith wrote “The reality is that New Zealand will still use a huge amount of fossil fuels over the next 50 years”. In October 2012 Michael Woodhouse wrote to me “I’m certain that a fossil fuel free society could be several generations away”.  

Those that do not understand, or accept, the seriousness and urgency of the problems of climate change and ocean acidification will see no problem with deep sea drilling for oil & gas. The rest of us are left in a similar position to the owners of an asbestos mine at the time the dangers of asbestos were being proven.  Shame about the money we might have made, but could we live with ourselves knowing the damage the product causes?

by william blake on November 30, 2013
william blake

" For the sake of humanity we've all got to change our tune. The profit motive has to play second fiddle. It's no use the band just playing on while the Titanic sinks. Somebody has to start rearranging the deck chairs."

Jonathan Coe.

by Alan Johnstone on November 30, 2013
Alan Johnstone

I never said they were wrong just that I want convinced on it, there's several reasons for this;

I don't think we have a  meaningful data set to extrapolate conclusions from, the time periods of measurements are too short. Temperature fluctuations have always happend, medieval warm period, little ice age (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Ice_Age). 

None of the models that scientists have produced have turned out to be true, warming has been as predicted.I recall the 70s and 80s and the hysteria about the onset of a new ice age. 

There are well documented process issues, East Anglia etc.

I accept the possibility that is true, on a good day I'll go as far as even probability, tell me again why is a problem?

 

 

by Alan Johnstone on November 30, 2013
Alan Johnstone

*hasn't been as predicted

by Andre Terzaghi on November 30, 2013
Andre Terzaghi

Alan (and other global warming "skeptics"),

Have you, of your own efforts, ever done any kind of open-minded attempt to discover what effects human activities might have on the climate? Or have you made up your minds, and then gone and cherry-picked stuff off the internet to support your pre-set beliefs?

In the 1980s I did my BSc in Physics and Mathematics. This wasn't long after the fluffy of popular press articles in the 70s (but very few serious science papers, note) about a coming ice age (sparked by scientists finally understanding the relationship between Milankovitch orbital cycles and ice ages, and that the orbital effects on climate suggest we should now be in a very slow cooling phase). When various topics such as heat absorption and radiation for solid objects and gases, orbital mechanics and so on came up in my course work, out of curiosity I spent about a week trying to figure what temperatures on earth "should be" given incoming solar radiation, absorption and emission of earth surfaces and the atmosphere and so on. What quickly became obvious (even to an undergrad in the 80s equipped with an Apple IIe) is that greenhouse gases have a huge warming effect on the climate. It is simply not plausible that we can increase the concentration of carbon dioxide from 280ppm to 400ppm without adding a overwhelmingly strong warming signal to anything else that might be pushing the climate one way or the other. Not to mention the other greenhouse gases we've been pumping out. This fact about the effects of carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapour was first discovered around the middle of the 19th century (not something invented by Thatcher to use against coal miners!?!), and has not been in any way refuted. This part of the science is absolutely settled, and has been confirmed by direct measurement and all kinds of indirect evidence such as animals and plants moving their habitats to higher latitudes and elevations, earlier flowering of trees and so on. Not to mention the near unanimous opinion of the experts that have dedicated their lives to studying climate. Frankly, if you are "skeptical" about anthropogenic global warming due to human activity increasing carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, you are a flat-earther or worse.

Where the science isn't settled is what the precise effects will be, in different areas of the planet. And given the number of variables involved and the size of the calculations required it's truly amazing that some of the better climate models are actually starting to show some predictive ability. It's vastly more complex than say, economic forecasting.

And climate change is just one of the global problems caused by fossil fuels. There's ocean acidification, as mentioned by Viv. Heavy metal poisoning across the US from coal power station emissions. Groundwater contamination (and not just from fracking). Ever visited Nigeria or Iraq or the Canadian tar sands? Spills. The list goes on and on and on.

As an engineer, though, I'm not as pessimistic as Viv about our technical ability to eliminate fossil fuel use for energy. There's plenty of energy all around us, that costs very little more to harvest and turn into electricity than digging up fossil fuels and burning them. And there's plenty of promising research on biofuels that don't displace food-growing, such as seawater algae, or biofuel from waste vegetable matter such as waste wood, or cornstalks. Some of these have developed as far as pilot production plants.

What's lacking is the political will to accept we need to change how we do things. All of us. Now. No matter how small the effects of our individual changes may be. The fact that we're a tiny fraction of the global problem is no excuse not to change. If we won't, why should anyone else? And the problem is compounded by obstruction from the fossil fuel industry (using many of the same tactics as the tobacco industry) and others that are doing very well out of the status quo.

And the sooner we get serious about making the transition, the easier and smoother it will be. If we leave it until the problem is obvious even to the likes of Alan and Andrew, the required changes are going to be a hell of a jolt.

by Andrew Osborn on December 01, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Alan, And given the number of variables involved and the size of the calculations required it's truly amazing that some of the better climate models are actually starting to show some predictive ability.

You glossed over that a little too quickly. To date none of the models (PlayStation Earth?) have successfully predicted climate. Every year the predictions have been scaled back. By 2010 we should've see 50 million climate change refugees. Didn't happen. We were also supposed to have seen a metre sea level increase. Didn't happen. The number of polar bears is increasing (ever since they banned hunting them in the 70's) and the northern hemisphere has seen some record-setting cold winters these last few years.

So by now credibility of the modellers is somewhere near zero. They cried wolf too many times. There is likely a grain of truth in AGW but I rebel against those who wish to stampede us into panic using extapolations, questionable assumptions and in some instances, lies.

One supervolcano and we're facing global crop failure followed by an Ice Age. So let's take a deep breath and accept what we cannot know.

The problem of course is the vast and complex number of feedback loops involved. Sure you can do a static model on your AppleII but as you very well know not even the best supercomputer can model a chaotic and complex Earth. You also know that correlation is not causality. So far we don't have much of either.

But before you sloganise me further, I too am a fan of bio fuels and alternative technologies simply because they reduce our dependence on an expensive & finite resource controlled by others but I'm not prepared to throw our economy under bus to make a point.

Sure, undertake projects to make our power generation 100% renewable (Fairly easy, we're already around 80%) and sure continue work on biofuel projects (there are several opportunities in NZ) but as yet we have a technology gap as regards renewable energy for transport. So unless you live in self sufficiency on a farm and travel only on foot (you'd need coal to make a bicycle) you're part of the fossl fuel economy too.

by Viv Kerr on December 01, 2013
Viv Kerr

"So by now credibility of the modellers is somewhere near zero”  No.

Previous climate modelling has been shown to have been accurate. This is from the Guardian

"The paper, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Geoscience, explores the performance of a climate forecast based on data up to 1996 by comparing it with the actual temperatures observed since. The results show that scientists accurately predicted the warming experienced in the past decade, relative to the decade to 1996, to within a few hundredths of a degree.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/mar/27/climate-change-model-global-warming

I’ve read a lot on this issue, but have never come across any predictions that there would be a 1 metre rise in sea level by 2010, where, when, who predicted this ? Not sure how a “super” volcano is defined, but in 1991 Mt Pinatubo released 42 million tonnes of CO2. New Zealand releases 70 million tonnes a year. The record cold winters in the Northern hemisphere have been attributed to changes in the jet stream due to the warming Arctic and are a consequence of global warming, not evidence against it. We can not continue to ignore ocean acidification.

We all know that we are currently part of the fossil fuel economy and I expect that those of us who are concerned about CO2 emissions are reducing our personal use as much as practical. A common line taken by those who argue against taking action on climate change is that those who are advocating for a reduction in fossil fuel use are hypocrites because they use fossil fuels. That doesn’t wash, the suggestion that one must exit the system to be able to comment on, or try to change the system, is ridiculous.

by Andrew Osborn on December 01, 2013
Andrew Osborn

You're right - it was one metre by 2100. I misremembered ;-)

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/5046/20131122/survey-experts-suggest-sea-level-rise-exceed-1-meter-2100.htm

As for the models, they all failed to predict the 'pause'

 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/qa-what-is-the-global-warming-pause-and-does-it-mean-were-off-the-hook-8945598.html 

Supervolcanoes? Pinatuba wasn't even popping corn. Try this for size:  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory

 This comment is a case of 'man bites dog': A common line taken by those who argue against taking action on climate change is that those who are advocating for a reduction in fossil fuel use are hypocrites because they use fossil fuels. That doesn’t wash, the suggestion that one must exit the system to be able to comment on, or try to change the system, is ridiculous. At no point did I even suggest this. In fact it normally goes the other way - try and question some of the more colourful climate claims and I'm sloganised as a 'denier'. Sure we should reduce our reliance on fossil fuels but the fact remains that we ARE reliant on them until we have solved some technical problems that have bedeviled us for decades. Meanwhile it is in our interest to prospect for oil around NZ.

by Andre Terzaghi on December 01, 2013
Andre Terzaghi

Andrew,

A metre of sea level increase by now? Said who, when? Just about every time I see a reputable new article that references sea level, it's rising faster than previously predicted. Yes, there have been a few howlers make it into peer-reviewed papers, such as Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035. There have been a lot more howlers reported in the popular press. But most changes are happening faster than the sober consensus predicted. I don't see any crying wolf from the consensus of serious scientific community. Quite the opposite in fact, since the serious scientific community generally uses conservative assumptions where there are gaps in data and theory. And yes, the Greens are quite prone to making and repeating exagerated claims. But there's vastly more misdirection, "baffle 'em with bullshit", and outright lies sponsored by fossil fuel industry vested interests.

One super volcano... Yes, and an asteroid might hit us next year. Or the Iranians might hack into US Defence computers and set off all their nuclear weapons in retaliation for Stuxnet. Or... The fact that there exist hazards greater than climate change, albeit at infinitesimally small probabilities, is not a reason to avoid confronting the real dangers posed by current patterns of fossil fuel use.

Using the best available proxies for historical temperatures there is very clear correlation between high CO2 and high global temperatures in the geological record. We have very clear measurements and theory showing the mechanism by which greenhouse gases allow most incoming solar energy (visible light) through to the earth heating the surfaces they strike, but absorb some of the re-radiated infra-red energy, resulting in a net warming effect. How much correlation and evidence of causation do you need before you accept they are linked? And that the anthropogenic greenhouse gas warming is happening on top of the other signals from other causes?

We don't need to throw the economy under a bus to get big changes in our fossil fuel use patterns. We've already established that people are pretty good at changing their habits in response to increasing fuel prices, and it seems we're in agreement that spending a net $8 billion annually off shore for oil is not a good thing economically. So where's the flaw in saying let's introduce a fossil carbon tax that starts low but steadily increases so that people are encouraged to find alternatives and have time to do so, and use the revenue raised to say reduce income taxes to encourage people to do things we like, such as earning a living? The likelihood that any government will use a carbon tax as a new tax grab without offsetting reductions elsewhere is a separate argument.

I'm relieved you're a fan of targeting 100% renewable electricity, and biofuels for energy independence. I agree we're stuck with liquid fuels for aviation and long distance surface transport for quite a while, from simple energy density reasons and that rail simply isn't viable for a lot of our transport needs. But a lot of our fuel use is for journeys that cover less than say 100km a day. So most of this fuel use for personal transport could be covered by plug-in hybrids or fully electric glorified golf carts.

I must say I'm disappointed we didn't take the opportunity to get awfully close to 100% renewable electricity by simply saying to Rio Tinto "So long sweetie, it's been a good time but you've become too high maintenance as a date".

Yes, I am part of the fossil fuel economy. And I should do more to reduce my part in it. Every time I look for changes I can make, I always see lots of ways we could reduce our carbon use without slowing the economy, in fact quite the opposite. Such as better definition and certainty around feed-in tariffs for micro-generation, setting a more sensible system of vehicle licensing, ACC and road user fees to encourage the use of small diesels, make it easier to install more efficient water heating, and the list goes on and on and on.

And there are alternatives to coal for steel-making. Process heat is process heat, and there are other ways to get the oxygen out of the feedstock going into the furnace. But for now, the alternatives are way more expensive than coal. To me the chemical uses of fossil fuel are only a small part of the problem, the big issues for now are transport, electricity, and carelessness in agriculture (such as over-fertilisation, or the utterly moronic bio-ethanol from corn industry).

by Alan Johnstone on December 01, 2013
Alan Johnstone

I'll repeat my question, if the world is heading up either due to natural cyclical reasons or anthropogenic factors, why is this a bad thing?

Sea levels have changed many times and will do so again, Tasmania was part of mainland Australia just ten thousand years ago. Why are today's levels somehow proper?

by Andrew Geddis on December 01, 2013
Andrew Geddis

I'll repeat my question, if the world is heading up either due to natural cyclical reasons or anthropogenic factors, why is this a bad thing?

Here's why.

Why are today's [sea]levels somehow proper?

Because today there are lots and lots of people living in areas that are at or close to sea level. If sea levels rise, then they will have to move. Not only will this cost lots (both at an individual and collective level), but there will be less land for them to move to.

Point being, in the past when sea levels moved around lots, there weren't lots and lots of people to get affected. Now there are. And people matter.

Here's what sea level change likely will mean for New Zealand. And here's a worst case scenario.

by Andrew Osborn on December 01, 2013
Andrew Osborn

I've got a bob each way on this one. My house is one street back from the beach. So when I'm 150 years old I'll have scored a beach front property. ;-)

In so many ways it would seem we are pushing the limits of the Earth's capacity to support us. We're eating all the fish, felling rain forest, causing species extinctions all around etc etc.

What we really need is to reduce the human population pronto.  Strangely that seems to be nobodies manifesto, least of all the Greens.

 

 

 

by Matthew on December 01, 2013
Matthew

What we really need is to reduce the human population pronto.  Strangely that seems to be nobodies manifesto, least of all the Greens.

The problem isn't that there are too many people. The problem is that the people who are currently on the planet, particularly those in the Western world, are consuming too many resources and harming the planet. I think you'll find that the Greens would be the party most likely to support reduced consumption now for future gains.

by Andrew Geddis on December 01, 2013
Andrew Geddis

I've got a bob each way on this one. My house is one street back from the beach. So when I'm 150 years old I'll have scored a beach front property. ;-)

Or this may happen to you, as it did to a lot of folks "one street back from the beach" in New Jersey.

I guess we'll find out down the track.

by Andrew Osborn on December 01, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Indeed we shall. Here's some good advice:

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

by Viv Kerr on December 01, 2013
Viv Kerr

Don't learn from the past, don't think about the future. Crap advice IMHO.

You still continue to ignore ocean acidification A Osborn, that is happening in the present moment.

 

 

by Rab McDowell on December 01, 2013
Rab McDowell

Whenever these kinds of debates breaks out the western liberal elites argue that that man must cut is use of fossil fuels or we will all perish and that anyone who questions that premise is a “denier” or worse. They may be right but they keep ignoring the reality that this is a large world and most of its inhabitants want to be better off in the short term.
This from the Economist, “between 1981 and 2010 (China) lifted a stunning 680m people out poverty—more than the entire current population of Latin America. This cut its poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to about 10% now.”
China could not have done that without massively increasing it energy supply and making that energy affordable. It is doing that with massive increases in coal fired power stations.
Every other poor nation looks at China and the west and wants some of that too. The rest have discovered shale gas and fracking.
It all adds up, no matter what we think or do in NZ, to fossil fuel being abundant for many years to come and to being used more, not less.
Wringing our hands about sea level rise, ocean acidification, CO2 etc is ultimately futile. We need to decide how to adapt to rising CO2,  not how to stop it because stopping it is not one of the practicable options.
Besides, the world in the past has had much higher CO2 concentrations, much more acidic seas, been much colder and hotter and is more resilient than we care to acknowledge.

by Tim Watkin on December 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

Alan, Andrew has made the point, but if the climate warms as much as the climate scientists fear then you're talking about tens of millions of people displaced. Here's what the IPCC warned in 2007:

Projected sea-level rise could flood the residence of millions of people living in the low lying areas of South, South-East and East Asia such as in Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and China (Wassmann et al., 2004; Stern, 2007). Even under the most conservative scenario, sea level will be about 40 cm higher than today by the end of 21st century and this is projected to increase the annual number of people flooded in coastal populations from 13 million to 94 million.


Imagine the refugees, the potential for conflict... And presumably you're aware of what would happen to several of our Pacific neighbours?

Andrew O is flippant close to the point of offensive in making jokes about what could cost many lives. If the projections are even partly right it won't be very funny to go stand amongst the suffering in Bangladesh in 60-odd years.

It's not a matter of the climate being right now or wrong then or later. It's simply this is what we're used to and what our lives are currently dependent on. With the world population what it is and the number living on so little, it will be much harder for humanity to adapt without catastrophe than it would have a few millenia ago.

by Draco T Bastard on December 01, 2013
Draco T Bastard

First, in a country where we're so starved of capital we're selling shares in well-performing state assets in order to, amongst other things, stimulate our capital markets, it's pretty clear our economic resources are finite.

But that's just it, we're not starved for capital (in this context you mean money). The problem is that it's all going into the bloody housing bubble and the only way to stop that and get it going where it needs to be is to stop the private banks creating our money and have the government do it. As soon as we do that we have all the "capital" we need to do everything we need to with our own resources and we won't even be in debt from doing it.

It's a speech about how "governments need to start taking action now to put us on a pathway to achieve zero net greenhouse emissions globally in the second half of this century". That's right, eliminate emissions.

And that is something we should be doing now and have it finished in 10 to 20 years. Massive investment in renewables and electric transport and we could actually do it. The rich would whinge though as a) their taxes would go back up to the 66% that Muldoon had them at and b) wages would increase. In fact I think we'd see the collapse of the trluy useless businesses such as McDs and Burger King, i.e, the service "industry" (really, wtf is that called an industry?) would take a big hit.

I can see virtue in both sides of the argument but wonder if our children might curse us for our selfishness if we get this wrong.

I'm already reasonably certain that our children and grand children will be cursing us. Still, we do need to change from being a fossil fuel burning society whether that's true or not as fossil fuels really are limited and we really have passed peak.

by Draco T Bastard on December 01, 2013
Draco T Bastard

The key point is that the sector has done it all on its own, despite a high NZD. No government was needed to 'pick winners' or prop up failures. 

You need to read The Entreprenurial State by Marianna Mazzacuto. You'll learn the really remarkable thing that most people don't know - almost all innovation and breakthroughs are the result of government funding and picking winners. That includes everything to do with computers upto and including the iPhone and iPad.

The private sector, quite literally, has only come in behind to siphon up the profits once the government has done the research. Then, of course, they use tax havens and loopholes in tax law to not pay the taxes that they should do.

by Alan Johnstone on December 02, 2013
Alan Johnstone

"it will be much harder for humanity to adapt without catastrophe than it would have a few millenia ago."

I fundamentally disagree on this point; Sure population volumes are higher, but we have greater levels of technology and resources.

I guess the thrust of what I'm saying is this, if sea levels are rising (for whatever reason, natural or man made); our resources should be focused of adaptation rather than (probably futile) avoidance.

Mankind can live perfectly well in a world that is slightly warmer, the sky sin't going to fall in because of a couple of degrees heat or 40cms more sea level. 


by Andrew Geddis on December 02, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Mankind can live perfectly well in a world that is slightly warmer, the sky sin't going to fall in because of a couple of degrees heat or 40cms more sea level.

Sorry, Alan, but your faith based approach to the future simply ignores what the science is telling us is most likely to happen. First of all, "a couple of degrees of heat" isn't the real problem we face. In fact, even if we began reducing (not slowing, but actually reducing) our emissions, we're most likely going to face a 2 degree temperature rise anyway (due to the lag effect of the gas that is already in our atmosphere). So, the best case scenario is the one you outline ... and even that isn't a walk in the park, as it will involve considerable dislocation and a lot of spending to cope with.

But if we don't take the steps needed ot reduce emissions now, then we're on track for temperature rises of 4 degrees or more. And that's not just a "slightly warmer" world. That's a completely different planet than the one on which humans evolved their civilisations. So to blithly say "she'll be right!" and assume we'll find some way to muddle through in circumstances that human beings have never faced before is to literally gamble the future on an untestable wish.

And that is pretty much the definition of magical thinking.

by Rab McDowell on December 02, 2013
Rab McDowell

Tim, In 2005 the UN Environmental Program, based on IPCC reports,  predicted that, by 2010, there would be 50 million climate refugees fleeing vulnerable parts of the globe because of climate change. Instead, by 2010, many of the identified risk areas had actually gained population. Amongst the islands marked as high risk with the possibility of disappearing completely were Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands. Faced with how glaringly wrong this prediction was the UN’s response was to remove the map from their website and blithely shift the forecast date to 2020.

Given the accuracy of this UN work, how much faith should we have in predictions of rising sea level?

by Rab McDowell on December 02, 2013
Rab McDowell

Andre - the simple answerrs are very rarely that simple "I must say I'm disappointed we didn't take the opportunity to get awfully close to 100% renewable electricity by simply saying to Rio Tinto "So long sweetie, it's been a good time but you've become too high maintenance as a date"."

We might have had  a theoretical 100 % renewable if we did that but it would all be in Southland. To get it where the people are would have taken a massive upgrade in transmission lines to get it to the North Island. That would take years. Thats one of the reasons we did a deal again with Rio Tinto.

by stuart munro on December 02, 2013
stuart munro

@ Alan, you're right that field growth of biodiesal is in most cases not a sensible strategy because of the loss of already productive land.

More promising biofuels are algal biodiesals, which can be grown in vertical columns on structures like high rise buildings, and butanol, which can be produced from cellulose waste, distributed through existing fuel supply infrastructure, and burnt in contemporary petrol engines with minimal modification.

NZ's high UV readily produces abundant celluose.

by Andre Terzaghi on December 02, 2013
Andre Terzaghi

Rab,

I vaguely recall Patrick Strange (head of Transpower) saying that the upgrade needed to use Manapouri for general use in all of New Zealand was fairly small - if I recall correctly basically just getting it to the Mackenzie basin and the existing grid would be adequate from there. The Cook Strait work has been done (and Transpower raised their charges to pay for it), the North Island transmission upgrades aren't far from completion if they aren't already done (more price hikes). The necessary work could easily be done in the notice period for Tiwai Point to shut down.

To get to 100% renewable electricity in New Zealand we're going to need to figure out how to knock the top off the evening spike in usage - that's people changing their habits and smart appliances such as freezers switching off for a few hours at peak times.

And finding relatively minor flaws in IPCC reports etc don't change the fundamental problem here - our fossil fuel usage is rapidly changing the planet in ways that are going to make it harder to sustain human population. And it's not just climate change and sea level rise. The science on this main issue is absolutely clear and settled, the questionable areas are really just minor details.

by Andrew Osborn on December 02, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Rodney sums up the hypocrisy so well:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11165161

as does Monty Python:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rdk-rHAndNc

Sorry for apearing flippant but I've seen it all before. As a student in the early 70's I was told by earnest folk that we had 5 years of oil left. Decades later I was accused of being a 'denier' for questioning Peak Oil. Isn't it about time flared trousers came 'in' again?

by stuart munro on December 03, 2013
stuart munro

@ Andrew O.,

That you have become completely cynical is interesting as a phenomena, perhaps a pathology, but does not resolve the serious issues involved in managing a valuable but unproven resource.

Run along and watch Monty Python and come back when you're up to giving these issues the quality of attention they deserve.

by Andrew Osborn on December 03, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Andre: Quite the opposite in fact, since the serious scientific community generally uses conservative assumptions where there are gaps in data and theory. And yes, the Greens are quite prone to making and repeating exagerated claims.

I missed your comment earlier but I think it makes a very fair point.

Quite often the humble sicentist at the bottom of the pile is doing his best with what he's got and his papers are quite conservative if read directly. The problem starts when the media machine, the IPCC and the likes Al Gore run with the ball, simplifying and exaggerating the claims in order to make a story or in the case of Al, make a few million bucks.

The other good point you make is about the howlers. One thing that the climate change issue has exposed is the inadequacy of the peer review process.

A point I disagree with you on is the implied conspiracy by the oil companies when sponsoring research. So far both the bulk of the research funding and the conspiracies have all been on the other side. It is a brave scientist who proposes a theory other than the 'official' one these days. I personally know of one geomagnetist who was treated very poorly for daring to buck the trend in this regard. THAT is not good science!

 

by Tim Watkin on December 03, 2013
Tim Watkin

Andrew, as I understand it I'd tend to agree about the oil compaies as they've been pretty clear in their acceptance of peak oil, climate change and are spending big money diversifying. But I fear the science will never be good enough for you. If the vast majority of experts in a certain field have come to a consensus that would to most people be a strong argument in its favour. But instead you say anyone disagreeing with them is "brave". So by definition if the best research points in a certain direction it's somehow a conspiracy?  

Alan, you're worrying me now. You must understand the risk of scarce resources and the fact of many millions living in homes that would be destroyed by "a couple of degrees heat or 40cms more sea level"... yet you just shrug and say we've got resources so we'll fix it. When has that logic ever prevailed? We have the resources and knowledge to end poverty and rid ourselves of nuclear weapons. We could even house more people in NZ if there was the will. But we don't, do we?

We've had political consenus around climate change for a decade, arguably longer. Yet little has changed. Why? The scale of the problem and so many competing self interests. When humans were typically tribal and often mobile and lived in small communities, they could run from the sea. It's not so easy with millions inside nation states, surely you can see that?

by Richard Aston on December 04, 2013
Richard Aston

I am sorry I have no patience with climate change deniers , the evidence is overwhelming now but there will always be a few who will deny it for their own personal reasons they reminds me of the flat earth people.  I admire the patience of those here who have valiantly tried to engage in the argument but frankly I think we are wasting time.

A cleantech future does look very appealing; whenever new technology arises new opportunities arise too. NZ has such a fantastic opportunity to grab on the cleantech brand. We have a long history of hydro power development that could be leveraged to export expertise to the world. Our depth in agri research offers the possibility to develop saleable expertise in bio tech.  

It is because we are small that we have a chance to be world leading in the cleantech market. It is because we are not dominated by coal/oil heavy industry that we have the flexibility to explore alternative energy options.

Why are our leaders not seizing this opportunity with both hands?

I’d be supportive of oil exploration and extraction in NZ if we haggled really good royalties and focused all those royalties on developing a cleantech industry in NZ.

by Tim Watkin on December 05, 2013
Tim Watkin

Thanks for that Richard, I tend to agree with on all those counts. That last par though, that's where I'm still torn. Is it best to clip the ticket while we can or has the moment passed? I wrote these two pieces to lay out the evidence I'd gathered for The Vote and to help me sort out where I stand on the issue, but I'm still not settled.

by Richard Aston on December 05, 2013
Richard Aston

Tim , yes there is a tension there in the ticket clipping decision. Perhaps we are well able to progress Cleantech sans oil money.

BTW sorry to hear your show will be canned for next year, it was a good thought provoking show.

.

 

 

by Andre Terzaghi on December 05, 2013
Andre Terzaghi

Tim, it's the coal industry that really plays dirty. Check out the Heartland Institute, as just one example.

Oil can see what's coming, where peak oil happens due to the remaining oil getting more and more expensive to get out of the ground until the alternatives become cheaper. When that happens, they'll still have a business dealing liquid biofuels and chemical feedstocks.

Coal by contrast, has access to vastly more cheaply accessible reserves and will not run out for any foreseeable future. So the end of coal will be from regulation or carbon tax or just social pressure. When that happens, they don't have an alternate business. So fighting on every conceivable front is a survival matter for them.

Andrew, the only "conspiracy" of climate scientists I'm aware of is the East Anglia stuff. That incident to me seems more like intemperate behaviour born out of frustration with outsiders misrepresenting their data to smear their conclusions. Not a conspiracy, not scientific misconduct, more about publicly-funded scientists losing sight of their obligations to be completely open about their data, methods, and conclusions. And they got a salutary reminder of those obligations. Any other conspiracies you've heard of and would care to point me to?

Well yes, research funding mostly does go to climate climate scientists who conclude that climate change is happening largely because of human activity. That's because there really isn't any other conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from the data. If you're someone who cares about public opinion and don't like that conclusion, you don't have to fund more research, you just need to plant doubt about the research, which is much cheaper and easier to do.

I have not and will not call someone a denier if they challenge a conclusion with actual data and scientific reasoning. But simply saying "I'm not convinced" or claiming a few peripheral mistakes invalidates a whole body of work and therefore we don't need to change, is that reasoning skepticism, or is it a passive-aggresive form of denial?

Should we clip the ticket while we've got the chance? For a mere few percent royalty and a few jobs? Let's say the wild fantasies get realised and oil production in New Zealand actually reaches $10 billion worth per year. How much of that money even passes through New Zealand, as opposed to the oil going straight overseas, sold overseas and payment made directly to the overseas based company? On straight economics the deal would need be to be sweetened a lot to tempt me, add the damage from fossil fuels and I really don't think I could ever swallow it. And on the very slim chance that the coming climate crisis doesn't happen, any oil and gas out there will still be there.

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