Upton warns of a laughing stock

Simon Upton writes a good critique of New Zealand’s climate change situation in today’s Dom Post. It must be amazing for the former National Party Minister who got us involved with the Kyoto process in the first place to watch as once again, we go back to square one in terms of our response to climate change.

… with the first year of the five-year commitment period under the Kyoto protocol almost over, square one is looking increasingly untenable. It has also become a rather expensive piece of real estate. New Zealand is the only country in the world to have fully elaborated both a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme and implemented neither. That takes some doing.

He goes on to criticise Labour for failing to get a cross party consensus, and National for backing away from a cross party consensus when Labour moved towards their emissions trading policy. He also chides the Greens for discounting National in the lead up to the election.  The Greens offered before the election to sit down with National and work on fixing up the ETS, since a number of the objections in National’s minority report the Greens agreed with and were already trying to negotiate to fix. Alas, John Key refused to discuss the issue. I am pretty confident that the offer still stands, John.

Most striking in the article  is Upton’s criticism of ACT and the select committee.

What fresh insights can a select committee of New Zealand politicians add to a subject that has been exhaustively canvassed elsewhere? Anyone who has studied the issue in good faith knows that there are no certainties and that it is a risk management issue. Picking holes in computer models or climate data is a path to nowhere and would make New Zealand a laughing stock.

I couldn’t have said it better. Oh wait. I already have said it. Many times. So has Jeanette. Good on you Upton. Pull us all up on it and tell us all to pull finger. Sage advice. The risks of inaction are too great. Too great for the environment, for society and for the economy. Too great to risk becoming the laughing stock at Poznan, or Copenhagen for that matter.

23 Comments Posted

  1. npb – ‘digging and drilling holes in the only cradle we have ever known’

    nice turn of phrase. Makes me think of the tiny carved wooden coracles used as cradles by some Irish babies.

  2. Upton…? The Minister for contaminated blood?…..not af riend I’d be snuggeling up to Frog…..he was a dipstick then and it seems he’s still away with the fairys now..

  3. I still maintain if global warming is caused by us why hasn’t world wide population controls been introduced or at least talked about. Anyway they would be pretty impossible to implement. In my view I think this economic crisis that the world is going through now has changed the way people think about anything that is traded on any exchange so ETS is being put on the back burner until the world gets back to a sort of normal.

  4. I look at the problem four ways.

    1) Do nothing – AGW is a hoax – its costs us nothing

    2) Do something – AGW is a hoax – it costs us $$

    3) Do nothing – AGW is real – human catastrophe

    4) Do something – AGW is real – we win.

    Point 1, and 3 require too much risk

    Point 4 is the only option IMO – too much to loser otherwise.

    My view is that we should invest in renewable energies rather than digging and drilling holes in the only cradle we have ever known so point 2 is not a loss.

    Think about the generations to come rather than your own.

  5. There is always the possibility that National has opted for the enquiry after watching Labour’s failed attempts to get anything meaningful happening. When the committee inevitably confirms the strength of the AGW science the status quo proponent’s tactic of sowing seeds of doubt in the public’s mind by claiming there is substantial scientific dissension will cease to be effective. Then the government will be in a position to steam roller through the ETS or carbon tax that we should have had six years ago. After all Labour’s response to the electricity crises in it’s first term could have been an a billion dollar home insulation fund, but they chose to build thermal standby capacity instead. Which is a pretty good way to send the signal that efficiency initiatives don’t work.

    I am possibly being wildly optomistic that Key’s experience in the money markets has convinced him that the ETS as currently writ is worse than no ETS at all, but I have my fingers crossed that he wants something far more aggressive, far more inclusive and far more rapidly implemented to
    a) shift the burden of Kyoto compliance costs off the government’s books
    b) reducing red tape by simply treating every sector equally so compliance is simpler and cheaper, similar to the impact of having a single import tariff or sales tax instead of a myriad of different rates and qualifying critera like we used to have in the days of fortress NZ.
    c) make it more profitable for ETS traders in the long run.

  6. Icebaby

    I can show you evidence that it is mostly us and it is our CO2 that is doing it.

    I can show you evidence that it is bad… AND THAT WE CAN MAKE IT WORSE.

    I can’t prove that it WILL be catastrophic. I expect it to be, but nobody can prove it. There’s enough information out there about the effects of +2 and +3 degrees. Nobody can guess what happens at +4 and +5, but the last time the planet managed that sort of warmth our petrol was still reptilian. There are too many of us already to manage that sort of transition.

    What we can do about it is to stop emitting more carbon.

    You make a false argument that if it is already happening then we should abandon preventative measures and go all out to adapt. It isn’t that easy. If you accept it is happening the next question is where it may stop and it really WILL NOT stop until some fair time after we do. So action is still required even if we know it is happening, to prevent more and worse happening. We ALSO have to adapt… it is not something we do instead.

    We may not be able to stop it. We ABSOLUTELY can stop it from being worse.

    So we reach your last condition. Whether we in NZ can do anything about it.

    The answer, despite your certainty, is that we can. We can’t do all of it all by ourselves, but we CAN do something about our part of it. Moreover, based on our luck in having a lot of renewables, it isn’t all that hard for us to do.

    That we haven’t done ANYTHING in the past 9 years is why this thread and Upton’s article exist.

    Lomborg is doing two things wrong. The first is that he is taking a conservative IPCC estimate as the worst case… in scientific terms it is very nearly the best possible outcome for sea-level and a best-estimate as far as warming.

    The second thing he does is to argue likelihood and risks based on economics. Economically the planet is not worth saving. It’s a mess. His error is that some things are not measurable in terms of economics.

    I have never worked for the “values” party Icebaby, I worked for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I don’t always toe the party line perfectly. So I don’t “believe this because it fits into an agenda” I believe it because the science makes sense and there is a lot of it confirming the same results in experiment after experiment.

    We’re toast. Lovelock errs because he wants to quit trying entirely. The ability to make things worse is the part he seems to underestimate. Things can ALWAYS get worse. As Lee Majors said “It’s always darkest just before it goes completely black”. 🙂

    We’re dithering. We’re procrastinating. We’re doing what New Zealanders do best. I think we should do something instead. Hell, we’ve already got two fully developed options studied and ready for implementation.


  7. Here’s where I think the land lays, Frog.

    In order to decide what action to take, we need to understand the problem.

    For example, AGW could already be a catastrophic problem (James Lovelock). In which case, we’d be better adapting to the conditions, as opposed to trying to prevent it. We may be able to do nothing to prevent it.

    Is Lovelock right? I do not know. I don’t think you do either, but the difference is that I’m prepared to say so.

    I suspect the Greens are desperate to believe in AGW – the type we can do something about – because it fits neatly into the same agenda they’ve had since the Values Party. i.e. anti-capitalist, anti-industrialist, anti-big business, anti-oil, etc. It’s an opportunity to further a political agenda, not a scientific one.

  8. Frog

    >>Doing something about it now is the cheaper, saner option.

    Like what?


    “The EU’s argument is similar to advising a man with a gangrenous leg that paying $50,000 for an aspirin is a good deal because the cost compares favorably to the cost of inaction, which is losing the leg. Of course, the aspirin doesn’t prevent that outcome. The inaction argument is really terribly negligent, because it causes us to recommend aspirin and lose sight of smarter actions that might actually save the leg.”

    >>There’s that proof requirement again.

    You appear to be suggesting that proof is not required.

  9. There’s that proof requirement again. It’s not a matter of faith, Icebaby, but rational risk analysis. I thought you were a rationalist?

  10. There are many risk scenarios. One is you risk making an economy weaker, which will mean people will die, because there is less to spend on health and wellbeing.

    Funny you should mention such a risk scenario, IceBaby. That is precisely the scenario we are talking about here. Global warming makes the economy much, much weaker, many people die, etc. According to the risk analysis, continuing on our current trajectory will produce precisely this outcome, at great economic expense. Doing something about it now is the cheaper, saner option. No alarmist bells necessary. Just simple, rational risk analysis and mitigation.

  11. >>the proof in climate change

    I’m not arguing climate doesn’t change. Nobody is.

    >>The precise effect of pumping out more greenhouse gases is based more complex physics

    Indeed. And there are still too many arguments, on both sides, by people who know way more about the topic than I ever will. As a layperson, I await, with interest, to see how that debate progresses.

    >>Keep emitting as we have in the last few years, and we are on a road to at least 3-4 degrees warming, with likely catastrophic consequences.

    Yawn. There is no proof of that, only faith…..

  12. IceBaby, the proof in climate change is in physics. The basic effects of pumping out more greenhouse gases is based on pretty simple physics, and has been well established for over 100 years. That physics is proven. It has been proven in the laboratory, the historic record, present observations, and mathematically (using computers to run equations). You could deny any one of these (although you’d have no reason to, short of calling the scientists liars), and the others would still stand. Every day there is more evidence that falls into one of those categories.

    The precise effect of pumping out more greenhouse gases is based more complex physics. No precise outcomes can yet be proven, partly because working out equations that can explain clouds for example is particularly difficult, and partly because it is impossible to say with certainty what people will emit and when and how.

    At this stage you can only be willfully ignorant of the above. Keep emitting as we have in the last few years, and we are on a road to at least 3-4 degrees warming, with likely catastrophic consequences.

  13. There are many risk scenarios. One is you risk making an economy weaker, which will mean people will die, because there is less to spend on health and wellbeing. What do you gain? A pointless human sacrifice to the earth mother.

    We used to do it with volcanoes. Better to be on the safe side. Let’s throw a few more babies in shall we….

    I like what Bjorn Lomborg has to say:


    >>easier to deny it and keep doing the same old same old.

    I don’t “deny”. I look, read, and listen.

    Some people are alarmist, and that alarmist is politically motivated. I do not trust such people.

  14. Still avoiding talking about risk, by demanding proof. The proof won’t come Icebaby, until after the fact. Little late maybe? If you want proof you are lurking around the wrong blog. I am not likely to advocate the precautionary principle, I do advocate it. I weigh the risks, based on the latest available science, and I don’t like what I see. There is plenty of evidence that it will be catastrophic. Your “other direction” is a failure to even consider the risk. Easier to deny it and keep doing the same old same old. To me that is just plain lazy.

  15. But when you frame the debate that way, you’re likely to end up advocating the precautionary principle.

    I’m simply coming at it from another direction.

    a) prove it is happening and man is causing it (quite possibly, I’m open to it)
    b) prove it will be catastrophic (not much evidence of that)
    c) prove that we can do anything about it (even less)
    d) prove that we in NZ can do anything about it (it is certain we cannot)

    So many scenarios….

  16. Still avoiding the whole point Icebaby – that the risks are what matter. I am quite certain that Upton was referring to the time wasted poking holes in computer models rather than discussing the risk that they highlight. You really don’t want to face up to the risks inherent in climate change do you? Too risk averse to even discuss the risks?

  17. “Picking holes in computer models or climate data is a path to nowhere and would make New Zealand a laughing stock”

    Questioning theories – which are constantly being revised – makes us a laughing stock? With whom? And who cares?

    Laugh away….we’ll keep out billions and spend it on power generation.

    You can send yours to Russia.

    We’ll have the last laugh 🙂

  18. >>Here in New Zealand, anything new will be discussed, debated, shepherded through innumerable committees and referred to experts before nothing is done about it.

    Heh heh. Spot on! I didn’t fully appreciate it until I lived in Europe, and spent time in the US.

    We used to be quite innovative, but we no longer are. A nation of risk-averse state dependents.

    It would be interesting to know “why”….

  19. You mean (gasp) that National was rational ?

    I loved Upton’s piece. The bit about managing to develop BOTH policies without putting either in place simply echoes my principle criticism of New Zealanders.

    Given the opportunity to do something or talk about doing something they’ll talk. Given the necessity to do something, they increase the amount of time spent talking. If it is impossible to continue without doing it, they will ask for a Select Committee to make a recommendation and then talk about the recommendation. Finally they decide it is all too hard and give up.

    Then, when everyone originally involved has forgotten about it or died, something can be done.

    “Not to decide is to decide” – J.L.Peter (sometimes attributed to Cox)

    Here in New Zealand, anything new will be discussed, debated, shepherded through innumerable committees and referred to experts before nothing is done about it. It is passive-aggressive all the way. Never able to say “yes” or “no” and ignoring that delay is the deadliest form of denial.

    In Oz it is a bit more proactive…. “What would you want to do that for?” and you can argue the point more directly and get to a decision, but the negative reaction is ingrained in the psyche.

    I of course have the opposite problem, being an American.

    No matter how stupid an idea is, the first impulse of the American is to say “why not?” and to try to do it. (Explains a lot when you think about it)


  20. It demonstrates nicely how the current National party is a different beast to the nineties’ version.

    Can we have Jim Bolger back, please?

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