Is Anyone Out There? Failure on Climate Change at Durban

In Durban, the Kyoto Protocol is kept on life support.

Kyoto is, of course, the only binding climate instrument with specific emission targets. It compels the world’s worst emitters to reduce emissions. But it has always been inadequate in itself – a first step to greater things. And it terminates within 12 months.

The 194 nations at Durban cannot agree on the details of the second Kyoto commitment period, from 2012-2020, or on how to implement a ‘roadmap’ to a global agreement beyond 2020.

As Minister Groser has pointed out, New Zealand has been playing its part in this:

  • – We have been holding other Parties to ransom.
  • – We have demanded the excessive transfer of emissions units beyond 2012.
  • – We have opposed any binding obligations beyond this date.

The message we are sending to the world is this: do not let humanity’s greatest crisis get in the way of national opportunism – of making a quick, unsustainable, income.

There is increasing evidence of dangerous, possibly catastrophic, climate change approaching. The latest science leads to the conclusion that limiting climate change to a 2⁰C increase in average global temperature is now not possible. There always was, after all, only a 50% chance. Now it has become a question of which year the threshold will be breached, how high the temperature will rise, over what time period, and what the consequences will be for the planet.

Twenty years after Rio – after the legislative framework for effective global coordination to combat climate change was set in place – we arrive at deadlock. The capacity of the global community to solve the over-riding global challenge has proven to be inadequate. As I said last week, the global interest has been torn to shreds by the mindlessly competitive pursuit of excessive national interests.

The talk will now turn to ‘transition periods’, to ‘preparatory phases’, ‘voluntary targets’, ‘coordinated action’, and ‘bottom-up approaches’. Our national leaders will spin positively into 2012. The ‘realistic expectation’ will focus on the possibility of global agreement by, or after, 2020.

The realistic prescription, from the UN and research institutes, is that global emissions need to peak between 2015 and ’17.

Historians, assuming sufficient social stability for dispassionate analysis a half-century from now, will search for reasons for our collective failure during the critical twenty-year period, 1992 – 2012. They will conclude that human technology outpaced human institutional capacity for rational decision-making. National leaders responded, as constitutionally and politically obliged, to national interest.

There were no global leaders. While individuals could identify the global interest, while nations, through the UN, could also identify it in theory, they could not break it down into legitimate national interests, and enforce these.

Should national leaders be held to account in any way, and if so how? Electoral judgement is palpably insufficient. Elections reflect a multitude of issues and considerations. They focus on the minutiae of local politics. They are bound by the short electoral cycle.

Is this failure a criminal matter? Not yet; and even if in the future, probably not in time.

There is a gathering movement to make ‘ecocide’ – the mass destruction of the natural environment – a crime in international law. Friends of the Earth have suggested that, “ecocide law may be the only way to make climate criminals rethink crimes of commission and omission”. A leading campaigner, Polly Higgins, toured New Zealand earlier this year. But ecocide might be more pertinent to corporations or individuals – it’s a stretch to capture national leaders criminally on climate change.

In the US, a group of children (Kids v. Global Warming) filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government in May to compel it to take action. “The generations before us … just kind of thought of the world as limitless,” says Glori Dei Filippone, 13, a plaintiff in the case.  “My generation and the one after it are going to have to work hard to fix this mess.” Comparable action has been tried, and further contemplated, here in New Zealand. But the courts interpret weak law with rigorous conservatism.

Recently Palau announced an intention at the UN to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on, “whether countries have a legal responsibility to ensure that any activities on their territory that emit greenhouse gases do not harm other States.” That is pretty much within the reach of existing law, but it is unlikely to move national leaders before 2017.

Then, of course, there is mass civic protest. Much of this has been happening for a while. It is likely to intensify. In the US, James Hansen, in his 70s, has transmogrified from leading scientist to protest activist – to allay, if not avert, the approaching storms of his grandchildren. Jeannette Fitzsimons, in her 60s, has surrendered parliamentary activity for similar civic action here in New Zealand. She, too, cites her grandchildren. It is not just Generation Zero.

I too, am deeply concerned for my own grandchildren. Mia is aged 7, Khali is 5, Mala is 4, and Oshani is 2. My first grandson, Sal, was born a few days ago – while the Durban conference was busily failing. I shall devote my efforts to parliamentary debate and questions – committee work here, a member’s bill there. It is where I am at, in the here and now. It is what I can do.

The 50th Parliament opens next week with the Speech-from-the-Throne. Will the Prime Minister devote more than a passing line or two to climate change? Will we, in response to the existential human challenge of all time, do more than chant our willingness to play our part in what has proved to be an inept, and inadequate endeavour?

We need an Urgent Debate in the NZ Parliament. The discussion needs to be of a new kind. It must not be the usual adversarial partisan game that passes for free and robust debate within healthy parliamentary democracy.

We need a new approach. Something has to be done. Fast.

 

 

115 Comments Posted

  1. Brian

    The US will change when nothing else is left for it to do. As was once said “They can be relied on to do the right thing… when all other possibilities are exhausted”.

    The US Economy teeters but has not yet fallen, the climate hasn’t forced the general public to understand the who was actually lying to them yet. Companies like CEI still rule the roost and neo-liberal “Chicago School” economics control the minds of the masses.

    Underneath the problems are two major issues. The first is the debt-based fractional-reserve fiat currency. The second is the increasing automation and efficiency of production. These things require growth in consumption at any cost, and guarantee that the people who control the money will control the government.

    One of them is easier to fix than the other. We could fix it. Little New Zealand could change ITS currency. With a single example of how to do it properly, the entire international monetary ponzi scheme would pop like a soap bubble.

    The control by corporations in the USA is a function of the corporations having the money. There are some other minor difficulties, like the fact that they have the rights of individuals but not the responsibilities and not the clinical diagnosis, that they are psychopaths, that would attain to any PERSON with their particular mix of motivations and behaviour.

    Meh… it will take Mother Nature to stuff the neo-cons in the USA into a barrel. They deserve it, but the one’s living now and doing the damage will likely not see it. One of the great problems of Atheism is being unable to be assured that truly evil people will wind up in hell.

    🙂

  2. The US is controlled by big corporate America. They decide what is good for our planet. The government is financed by these corporations and nothing will ever change while the country remains status quo. We can’t even get the gas prices down right now when our oil companies are reporting record profits every single quarter. Someone has to take a stand at some point, but who is it going to be? I don’t see anything changing anytime in the near future. Until the government decides that they won’t be influenced by these corporate lobbyists nothing will ever change. Unfortunately, the government is in the pocket of these lobbyists and I don’t see that ever changing.

    Brian

  3. Good post, BJ. I’d only comment that most people don’t have those frontiers and, by and large, seem to do OK. So we’ll see whether we need our frontiers, at least in the way that you perceive them.

  4. Other limits will apply to those left on earth – limits that have always applied, even if some are eased by importing resources from off-world. We will still be depleting aquifers, eroding topsoil, overfishing oceans, destroying habitats

    This is exactly right. Quite a few of hard limits get eased, but overfishing, habitat destruction, topsoil erosion… those will all still be with us… and quite possibly some will be worse given the amount of warming we’re locking in and the effects of pushing that much more water into the atmosphere.

    …and yes, there will be different sorts of limits on each enterprising soul who goes off to adapt another ecosystem to support human life. Yah… twisted some words around on that, but there WILL be limits of some sort on each such venture… and some people will die before they figure out how to deal with them. That’s what happens at frontiers.

    For almost as long as humans have been here, there have been frontiers, new places to go and great things to accomplish. Only in the past two decades have I seen what I regard as the effects of “boredom” on the younger generations. Not something THEY are apt to notice, but their ambitions are foreshortened. In time this is going to become more visible. We NEED our frontiers.

    “Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible” -?

    Watch what happens to society as this becomes more prevalent. In 50 years nobody will care… and the suicide rate will climb, or we’ll legalize drugs and stay permanently stoned.

    Neither is a valid approach to species survival.

    you seem to think we can go on being a high tech civilisation and be green

    Hmmmm… depends on the definitions used for “high tech”. I like local production and less emphasis on hopping on jet planes to gallivant around the globe. There are economic reasons to adopt those ideals too.

    However, you can’t have the social and intellectual benefits of civilization without the ability to concentrate a population in a fairly big city. There is nothing at all like the synergy of ideas bouncing off other people in real-time. That means that we’d still have transport systems in country that use energy and move goods quickly.

    If we expect to defend our resources from others, we’re going to have to have other systems that are supplied with copious amounts of energy as well.

    you aren’t prepared to consider that you might be wrong.

    … oh I might very WELL be wrong, but not for the reasons of some hard physical limits such as you are ascribing to the environment. Our limitations are almost all related to our failure to evolve our social intelligence as fast as we’ve evolved our scientific cleverness. That’s a VERY real problem. Kyoto fails because we can’t agree with one another, or trust one another or manage ourselves well enough to cope with collective action, in groups larger than about 200. We aren’t equipped to do it. Ants are equipped to do it.

    So we have problems doing the things we SHOULD be doing.

    We have to survive long enough to work out how to manage ourselves. Might need another million years on current form… but our population and energy consumption leave us with a likely remaining span of less than 500.

    My answer is that we have to play to our strengths, we have to survive until we figure out how to “all just get along” and THAT is an evolutionary hurtle. Have a gander at the “sci-fi” book called “Darwin’s Radio” for a discussion of that need/requirement.

    If we fail to survive it won’t be because we could not have done so. It will be because we could not handle having to do it together.

    BJ

  5. BJ,

    If you think the article is misrepresenting the scientist, then read the scientist’s paper, instead of wasting time complaining about the article.

    Limits? We’ll we’ve just been discussing some but you seem to think you know all there is to know about how much renewable energy we can safely and practically harness to continue your hi-tech civilisation that will go to the stars. Other limits will apply to those left on earth – limits that have always applied, even if some are eased by importing resources from off-world. We will still be depleting aquifers, eroding topsoil, overfishing oceans, destroying habitats. New limits will apply to those trying to find another home in the vastness of space, in an ecosystem that they weren’t evolved for.

    At least you’ve acknowledged that there are ecological problems that need responses but you seem to think we can go on being a high tech civilisation and be green. You may be right but the fact is that you aren’t prepared to consider that you might be wrong. You also seem to think that a future that doesn’t have your whizz-bang devices and launch vehicles isn’t worth living in, despite the fact that humans have done just that for almost as long is humans have been here, and most still do.

  6. maybe everyone should just ask you.

    It would save everyone a lot of trouble if they did. 🙂

    It is you who are being silly for refusing any consideration that there might be limits to your dreams of a green space-faring civilisation.

    You show me a limit and I’ll consider it. You never do. You simply assert that everything is unsustainable and we have to cut back.

    The funny thing is that for the most part I agree with the need to cut back. We haven’t moved into space…. yet, we are mucking up the planet quite thoroughly, and we remain at the bottom of a pretty steep grav well. Which means that we SHOULD be looking to reducing population, energy demands and the like. I am right behind those things, but… unlike you, I understand the potential that comes from hauling ourselves out of the well.

    So you go right ahead and explain what limits apply to a “Green space-faring civilization”.

    Sun burning out? Is not a limit. Interstellar void? Is not a limit. Limits apply to those who stay here but the “free energy” use explained by the scientist only applies to the “closed” earth model. Space gives us access to vastly more “free energy”… the trade off is that there is less mass to stand on or use or re-use.

    That isn’t silly, it is a fact. Just as the lack of limits once we are out of the well is a fact. The only limits here seem to be in your imagination and your willingness to impose those limits on our children’s children.

    BJ

  7. Some readers felt the original headline (Wind and wave energies are not renewable after all) was misleading

    I am not assuming things. The author of that piece had an agenda. Not sure what he was on about but he definitely didn’t write anything like the whole truth.

    Axel Kleidon of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, says that efforts to satisfy a large proportion of our energy needs from the wind and waves will sap a significant proportion of the usable energy available from the sun. In effect, he says, we will be depleting green energy sources. His logic rests on the laws of thermodynamics, which point inescapably to the fact that only a fraction of the solar energy reaching Earth can be exploited to generate energy we can use.

    That statement is wrong. It is so vastly and comprehensively wrong that I have to wonder what the scientist ACTUALLY said. Clearly there are some issues with someone’s comprehension of the laws of thermodynamics here. Buchanan’s probably. I note that the scientist is NOT quoted directly. I note that wind and wave is conflated with global free-energy, and that the solar input is perversely ignored.

    This corresponds to roughly 5 to 10 per cent of the free energy generated by the global system.

    I have to wonder how this number is arrived at. What are they calling “Free Energy” ? First discussing wind and wave, WITHOUT I note, any analysis of reductions of wave energy, much less the practical side of extracting that energy anywhere but near the shore. Then making the mistake that solar is photovoltaic only. Buchanan (the author) did not do a very good job. Actually a really really poor job.

    That we have more than enough available to us is quite clear, and doubling or tripling our power consumption overall would be seem excessive in any case.

    However, considering the reality on the ground, of needing (by his calculations) at least 17 more Terawatts of renewables to replace fossil fuels , or taking 70 Terawatts out of the wind systems, is a bit unrealistic compared to the 220 Gigawatts (where DID all those zero’s disappear to) of installed wind capacity, and we’re only building on the “good” sites. What he wants to worry about is NOT important anytime soon… and even his Free-Energy numbers give us a civilization using 10x more than we do now.

    Much of the rest is dissipated as heat, which we cannot harness.

    This is utter bullshit. Yes it IS ultimately dissipated as heat which cannot be harnessed… (all energy does that) but it does not come in that way and in the form it DOES come in, we can use it. I suspect that this is Buchanan’s misinterpretation of something the scientist said.

    Engineering is applied science. It is the Engineer’s job to find how science can be applied, and one of the issues with wind is that there is stuff-all ability to install it over more than a two-thirds of the surface of the planet. We cannot extract 70 Terawatts from the wind to lead to the denouement predicted by this research.

    I have little respect for scare-mongers like Buchanan.

    BJ

  8. For crying out loud, BJ, I’ve said that science has only just started looking at this. You think scientists are silly for doing so because you magically know everything there is to know about the subject so maybe everyone should just ask you. It is you who are being silly for refusing any consideration that there might be limits to your dreams of a green space-faring civilisation.

    To find such assumptions and ideas as yours on a green forum is quite incredible but at least I now know to discount much of what you say. Shame. For a while, last year, you sounded almost plausible.

  9. Tony

    You noticed the upper limit was for wind only. Didn’t you?

    Was there any discussion of the problem of reducing the energy in the waves? Not a word. Nor is there any. All he describes is that there would be less energy in them, but there is no climate consequence as that energy is no longer contributing anything to climate.

    Did it occur to any of the benighted authors to consider solar-thermal instead of photovoltaics? Not once.

    170 Petawatts makes the rest of that an argument about a butterfly fart in a hurricane.

    I stand corrected, a particularly silly scientist did have a look at the wind capacity of the planet. Given the installed wind capacity and accessibility, as well as the difficulty of extracting energy from the middle of the oceans and Antarctica he managed to do something exceedingly meaningless.

    The 170 Petawatts is Radiant with high energy potential as it comes in
    this statement

    Much of the rest is dissipated as heat, which we cannot harness.

    … is peculiarly stupid. It doesn’t turn into heat until it is absorbed by the ground and re-radiated. There is NO impediment to using it before it turns into heat except that he (or the author of the article itself) is pushing a barrow, as is clear from the original naming of the article.

    I don’t know where this guy is from but degree or not, he IS an idiot.

    I didn’t make an “assumption” Tony. I stated a fact of nature.

    There is more than enough solar available HERE ON THIS PLANET to deal with human power requirements of our current civilization many times over. It is inconvenient and expensive compared to fossils, and that is its only problem.

  10. Trevor,

    I didn’t expect it to alter your view, nor BJ’s view. However, it shows that maybe science is starting to think about these matters (counter to BJ’s view that no scientist would bother), which is long overdue. Assumptions are great until they’re shown to be false. Hurtling down one path because we assume that there will be no adverse impact is just plain silly, in my view, and a continuation of our behaviour that has led us to our current predicament. I’d like to see all renewables, including geothermal, be the subject of serious analysis about the impacts and practical limits.

    By the way, that was just an article in a popular science magazine. The paper can be obtained on-line (I think there was a link in the article).

  11. Tony – the article that you just linked to mentions the heat generated by the inefficiencies of the wind and wave powered generators, but fails to mention the heat generated by the wind and wave energy that isn’t harnessed by these generators. In addition, it suggests that tapping into the available wind energy could affect the Earth’s energy balance but doesn’t mention which way. If daytime cloud cover is increased, the effect could be to reflect more sunlight directly into space and therefore cool the Earth.

    And while it mentions wind and wave power and photo-voltaic generation, it doesn’t say a word about solar thermal generation, which could be the best option available as it includes storage and can therefore generate at night.

    This article doesn’t alter my thinking at all – we need to harness a variety of renewable energy sources and take care to minimise our impacts as we do so, and we need to start ASAP so we minimise the effects of burning fossil fuels. When we no longer need fossil fuels for base load electricity generation and direct heating, then we can decide how much extra renewable resources we need to harness, although we can work on that question in parallel, along with working on energy conservation.

    Trevor.

  12. Can you provide links to the research, or is this purely a guess on your part?

    Here is what the input is.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth's_energy_budget

    Note that it ALSO equals the output.

    You don’t seem to want to actually think about it. Wanting me to cite some scientists. No scientist would bother.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power
    http://www.claverton-energy.com/how-much-wind-energy-is-there-brian-hurley-wind-site-evaluation-ltd.html

    You should know by now that I don’t “guess” without labeling the guess as such. I knew the roughly 170 Petawatt number already. The 70 to 100 or so Terawatts we need to do everything we do now is like a butterfly farting in a hurricane.

    BJ

  13. Trevor,

    My apologies. Quite right. I was thinking in broader terms, as the thread with BJ had been broader, but the post you were responding to was not clear in that regard.

    Sorry.

    Tony

  14. Tony said:
    “Try reading the post before responding.”

    I did. I was responding to your post. You described the Satellite Solar Power Systems as behemoths. If you meant the other things as well, you should try harder to write what you mean.

    Trevor.

  15. BJ,

    All we have to do is…

    Click our fingers and magic happens.

    How much can we use [divert]?

    We don’t know. Science is only just starting to look at that kind of thing (e.g. recent study put a limit on wind energy that we can safely extract). All life forms and energy systems (OK, most energy systems) are driven by the sun.

    careful not to crowd out organisms we need

    Unfortunately, we don’t know what “organisms we need”. So the precautionary principle should probably be applied. Utilise only what we have to on a daily basis. If we want extra, try and disturb as little as possible. In nature, you can’t do just one thing.

    the limits to what we CAN extract are so high as to be meaningless

    Can you provide links to the research, or is this purely a guess on your part? Civilisation has been built up through assumptions, assumptions of no limits. We can clearly see the outcome of living by those assumptions. You want to continue that but in a way that YOU think is green. Sorry if I’m not overwhelmed by your wishful thinking argument.

  16. Tony

    We don’t have to launch most of that from Earth. All we have to do is move the resources we need from the moon, or the asteroid belt and build what we want out there.

    BJ

  17. 100% of the solar energy that is retained on earth is currently used, in some way, by life and earth’s energy systems. We may be able to divert some for our own additional use but science hasn’t told us how much.

    How much can we use?

    100% of the energy that falls on the planet HAS to get re-radiated, or we get warmer. All it does is pass through.

    The only entities that actually use it directly are plants, and us… and everything but the reflected light (albedo) is turned into heat to be re-radiated.

    All living things do is accelerate the process of turning more useful forms of energy into heat, adding to the entropy of the universe.

    Within our environment we have to be careful not to crowd out organisms we need ( phytoplankton, trees, dogs, other humans etc.) which is why I referred to the space we take up. That is not a function of energy usage. Could be in some extreme scenario, but we aren’t talking about shading the planet with solar collectors.

    Since the energy ultimately and simply becomes heat which provides us all with a usefully warm environment to live in before it re-radiates, our net effect, by turning it into heat ourselves, is not distinguishable from zero. It is only where we would displace some other living creatures from being able to do that, where we could have some conceivable effect.

    Taking energy out of ocean waves? No other creature does that. No POSSIBLE primary effect. Taking energy out of the wind? Similar considerations apply. Tidal flow? In this we can affect nutrient flows along the tidal currents… similar considerations to those with rivers we might put dams on , this goes to the displacement of other organisms. Solar arrays? Since they are primarily designed and installed in deserts there isn’t a lot of plant life to shade with them. Some animals may find the shade welcome.

    Basically the limits to what we CAN extract are so high as to be meaningless in terms of total human consumption.

    BJ

  18. That’s not really the point, Trevor. Those behemoths aren’t just space based solar power, they are all the things BJ is imagining will keep growth going without any negative impact for the life forms that actually live on the earth. Remember he was writing about mining systems, manufacturing systems and waste disposal systems, not just your massively thin massive solar panels and CATS infrastructure. Try reading the post before responding.

  19. …as we put those behemoths (Satellite Solar Power Systems) into space…

    You seem to think that the Satellite Solar Power Systems will be massive. They will be assembled in space, where there is no weight, so they will be large but they won’t be massive. They will be thin and light, just strong enough to hold their shape – essentially just very large sheets.

    The launch effort will not take massive resources either. We are talking about CATS – that is CHEAP Access To Space – using reusable launch vehicles, not discardable totem poles. One likely approach starts with air launching the space vehicle from a very large plane at >30,000 feet, so the manufacturing effort is comparable to manufacturing two-three 747’s and the fuel costs for the first stage similar to a return flight across the Atlantic of a 747.

    The likely propellant for the space vehicle is a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, both made from water and energy. These can be made using off-peak power or surplus power from intermittant renewables – or the first of the Satellite Solar Power Systems.

    Trevor.

  20. BJ,

    the sun is constantly putting in massive amounts of energy… most of which we very foolishly waste

    It’s not really “our” sunshine, is it? That’s a distinctly human-centric view. This doesn’t surprise me. Of course we should do what’s best for us – that’s what it’s all about – but if that degrades the environment, it isn’t best for us. 100% of the solar energy that is retained on earth is currently used, in some way, by life and earth’s energy systems. We may be able to divert some for our own additional use but science hasn’t told us how much.

    Growth is unsustainable. It doesn’t need a qualifier, since we are effectively in a closed system (the solar input turns it into a constrained system but not an open one).

    Only the “insane” TRY to stop living

    Pointless remark.

    You appear, almost always, to WANT to shut down civilization… to retreat to a simpler era of isolated human enclaves on a planet gone back to nature.

    I want to start a conversation about how we live sustainably on the only planet we know for sure that can support us, even if we could get to other ones. Even if we could get to other planets, those that remain would have a hard time if not living sustainably, so that’s the conversation we need to have. I think it would be simpler and I think it would be more respectful of nature but we don’t even have the conversation. I certainly don’t expect to have it with you since you’re besotted with the idea of space-faring.

    You previously appeared to insist on cutting back on energy usage until we no longer can and only then expanding our supplies to meet some minimal measure of requirement.

    No, that’s not what I’ve said. Certainly, conservation will be a key part of what I think we need to do but we need to have the conversation, as I’ve said. Then we can figure out what energy level we NEED to live a sustainable, satisfying life. We don’t reach that point simply by cutting back continuously until we can’t cut back any more. We need to figure out how to live sustainable happy lives.

    We build 20 Satellite Solar Power Systems and shut down every coal mine and coal powered power plant on the face of the planet and we don’t halt or steady the human impact?

    IF, IF, IF we built those systems and THEN stopped using coal (I’m surprised you left out the other fossil fuels), then the impact growth would certainly be decreased, maybe even, for a short time, turn negative (though probably after an period of increased impact as we put those behemoths into space), but CO2 is long lived and if humans just continue with all of their other unsustainable practices, then the impact would continue and continue growing. However, it isn’t going to happen like that, even if you get your systems built, so, as usual, your point is moot. Note that I never said the rate of human impact wouldn’t change, only that it would continue to grow if we continue having economic growth (which I think, in the past, you’ve agreed is undesirable).

    We’re not even having the conversation because people just don’t want to change. I guess nature will have its way with us (which is inevitable anyway).

    Tony

  21. growth is unsustainable
    You leave out a key condition. In a closed environment growth IS ultimately unsustainable, no matter HOW slow it is.

    Technically we aren’t even in a “closed” environment because the sun is constantly putting in massive amounts of energy… most of which we very foolishly waste and we have exceeded the limits of what we can collect today. We can collect more, as well as cutting back on what we use.

    Each individual stops growing

    True that to stop growing is to start dying, but individual humans have genetically determined limits and we each fight hard against the dying of the light.

    Only the “insane” TRY to stop living… and the fact that we cannot live forever is a reality we fight all our lives to defer. We “insist” on living until something kills us. It is so seldom our choice that we regard it as a sign of serious mental illness. At the end of a lifetime it may be a rational escape from pain when hope has fled, but it is never a lightly taken escape.

    Tony. You appear, almost always, to WANT to shut down civilization… to retreat to a simpler era of isolated human enclaves on a planet gone back to nature.

    the kind of lifestyle changes I see involve relocalisation, living with as little energy as possible and taking only from nature what we need. Becoming less unsustainable doesn’t seem like a great plan, to me, except where it is on a clear path to sustainable.

    Relocalization is fine. I have economic reasons to prefer it in any case. Using as little energy as possible while maintaining capabilities is good… sacrificing capabilities? That is not so good.

    You previously appeared to insist on cutting back on energy usage until we no longer can and only then expanding our supplies to meet some minimal measure of requirement.

    How do you decide “what we need” Tony? I think we need CATS and you’ve often argued against the expenditure of effort and energy to obtain it yet IT changes the equation entirely. The system stops being closed. It becomes… “sustainable”.

    Getting even all of your resources from outer space, and manufacturing everything there, isn’t going to halt or steady the human impact, only reduce its growth.

    Right…

    We build 20 Satellite Solar Power Systems and shut down every coal mine and coal powered power plant on the face of the planet and we don’t halt or steady the human impact?

    We build a Solar ore processing plant and shut down the steel mills and don’t change the polluting results?

    We build a vacuum wafer fab and build our electronics out there…. we create foamed steel sandwich panels… we could beam power to ships at sea. Burning almost no fossil fuels for major transport.

    …and yes, we needed a new economic system anyway.

    I reckon you just have a misanthropic streak.

  22. The bottom line, BJ, is that growth is unsustainable. What is nonsense is to somehow think the fact that people actually live is proof that my statement is false. Each individual stops growing, so that growth is unsustainable also.

    It doesn’t matter whether the products we use to grow are manufactured and disposed of off world (your argument adds another unlikely development in order to bolster your assertion, but we’ll let that go for now). Growth means an increase in the production, use, maintenance and waste of goods and services, as well as the infrastructure, probably accompanied by increased population and increased living standards (well, maybe not that last one but most people dream it’s true). This all adds to the human impact and will affect the environment and the habitats of other earth users. You can’t get away from it. Getting even all of your resources from outer space, and manufacturing everything there, isn’t going to halt or steady the human impact, only reduce its growth. You’re dreaming.

    It simply isn’t that difficult.
    And yet it hasn’t been done. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that kind of phrase…

  23. I like your insistence. However, as an engineer I see a LOT of things that insist on happening that have nothing to do with volition 🙂 , and it still doesn’t change the fact that I insist on living and the human species collectively does the same. You can oscillate between the different atoms of the hairs you are splitting but you can never make that statement of yours anything but nonsense.

    Even if resources come from another world, they will be used/consumed in this world, growing the economy and the impact.

    You specify an impact of resources from ANOTHER planet being used to support us here… noting that those resources can be transformed into finished products before they reach us, and discarded by dumping them in a crater on the moon when we are done with them. The whole point to going off planet is to allow the Earth to become less of a “resource” and more of a place we live.

    It changes the game.

    The only question is who gets it first.

    If you build a decent spacecraft that only needs refueling to reach orbit (no throwing away stuff), it will make it pretty cheap. If you do a proper orbital accelerator with a requirement only that you reach altitude ( not velocity ) with your vehicle it becomes REALLY cheap.

    We, who can fine tune a laser to compensate for atmospheric distortion in fractions of a millisecond, can do that sort of thing… and use a lot less fuel to orbit. It simply isn’t that difficult.

    BJ

  24. No, BJ, insisting is a conscious decision, so your point is invalid.

    Even if resources come from another world, they will be used/consumed in this world, growing the economy and the impact. Growth destroys the environment no matter where the resources come from, it’s just that the resource extraction impact is decreased (but not eliminated unless we get ALL resources off world).

    Nah, the US (if such a creature exists), can’t be counted on to do the right thing. I’m not sure why you have that belief, especially as you abandoned that country. Your belief is strong but it doesn’t amount to an ability to see the future. CATS is very unlikely, in my opinion, but very likely in yours. I hope you’re not counting on it, though.

  25. We don’t insist on living. Our species has evolved, as just one of millions of others and living is what life does; it’s not really a conscious decision that the collective “we” insist on.

    Don’t be silly. NOW you are changing the discussion to the life of a species… not the lives of individuals? Doesn’t matter. We individually and collectively insist on living, just as every other organism on the planet insists on it. You were talking nonsense then, you continue that same meme now. It doesn’t matter if the reason we insist is instinctive or logical, we DO insist.

    Growth, if the energy and resources for it come from off-planet, can take place without environmental damage (apart from the space we physically occupy on the surface of the planet).

    As for CATS, I have every reason to believe it WILL come eventually, if only because “the US can always be counted on to do the right thing when all other options have been exhausted”. I think the Chinese will beat them to it on current form, but it WILL, in some form, arrive.

  26. I’m not sure if that is really you, BJ, because your post was very poor and completely missed or misinterpreted most of the points I raised.

    We don’t insist on living. Our species has evolved, as just one of millions of others and living is what life does; it’s not really a conscious decision that the collective “we” insist on.

    Growth destroys the environment, our environment. You may not care about the environment of some asteroid but I sure as hell hope you care about our environment. We haven’t done a very good job of caring about our environment up to now and I doubt we’d do much better just because some of our resources are coming from off earth.

    Get over CATS, it ain’t coming.

    Tony

  27. Tony

    Completely ridiculous comment. A) We don’t insist on living.

    Bullsh!t. Most countries have laws against suicide… and almost all religions regard it as “sin”… and almost every (surviving) culture frowns on it… and trying it is regarded as a sign of severe mental illness. Which it generally is. We certainly don’t die easily or willingly as a rule. Maybe the fact that you have to ridicule reality should be a clue you have strayed from the tenable portions of your arguments.

    “Sustained growth” is an oxymoron. You’d have to attach a time limit for that to make any sense.

    We’d have to set limits on the Universe and what is in it, to be able to set a time limit.

    There is no guarantee that we will, or can, colonise other worlds

    Who says we want to? Cheap Access is to Space, not another gravity well trap.

    Not “once” we have CATS, but “if” we get CATS. However, growth destroys the environment, so an ambition to start mining other worlds for resources doesn’t really help, does it?

    Sure it does… “destroying” the environment of an Asteroid instead of the environment of Earth is a GAIN for the people on the Earth and completely meaningless in terms of the life on the Asteroid, or the Moon, as there is none.

    Since we could have it in a decade if we decided we WANTED it (it is an engineering problem… NOT a scientific problem), the only question is whether some nation will make the effort.

    I am sure that someone will do so. Probably someone who speaks Chinese.

  28. Trevor,

    Not “once” we have CATS, but “if” we get CATS. However, growth destroys the environment, so an ambition to start mining other worlds for resources doesn’t really help, does it?

  29. Tony – once we have CATS, we will be close to being able to access the Moon and the asteroids. We don’t need to go to other solar systems or down to other planets to find the resources needed for further growth. Since BJ’s comment was conditional on being able to get into space (and not just to Low Earth Orbit), it is a statement of fact, not faith. However as you say, there is no guarantee that we will do this just because we can, but BJ never said that we would, only that there are very few limitations should we choose to.

    Trevor.

  30. bj,

    But growth is unsustainable, as we know.

    By such standards, so is life. Yet we insist on living.

    Completely ridiculous comment. A) We don’t insist on living. Check out some theories on how life might have evolved here and on genetics. B) Growth is unsustainable.

    Moreover, sustained growth once we’ve broken the shackles of the gravity well of this planet, is subject to very few limitations.

    “Sustained growth” is an oxymoron. You’d have to attach a time limit for that to make any sense. There is no guarantee that we will, or can, colonise other worlds, so your statement is merely one of faith, not of fact.

  31. But growth is unsustainable, as we know.

    By such standards, so is life. Yet we insist on living.

    Moreover, sustained growth once we’ve broken the shackles of the gravity well of this planet, is subject to very few limitations.

  32. Tony – you seem to have a blinkered view of what CATS (Cheap Access To Space) will lead to.

    Yes, in the very long term it could lead to a small number of people establishing a settlement on some local or distant planet, but this is never going to be enough to reduce population pressure on Earth.

    More importantly, CATS gives us the ability – should we need it – to put mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight away from Earth and counter global warming. (Think a number of Echo balloons perhaps.) It also gives us a potential source of non-polluting electrical energy, and the option of performing certain industrial operations in zero gravity and with access to a very hard vacuum (and plenty of available energy). I see pharmaceuticals and electronics being the most likely industries to take advantage of these resources.

    Trevor.

  33. bj,

    Most humans get by without the ambition that you exhibit, so don’t lump us all into one. Yes, some will be disappointed by being put into what they might regard as a straight-jacket but most would simply get on with it and live quite happy lives.

    Yes, life-forms grow but then stop growing and eventually die. You ascribe life-ness to civilisation and also define what is meant by growth, to suit your ambitions. But growth is unsustainable, as we know. You want to try to avoid that cruel (for you) reality for as long as possible.

    No, renewables aren’t sustainable by any measure. If renewables are consumed too rapidly, or in a way that degrades our environment then that is unsustainable. Science is only starting to grapple with the question of how much renewable energy can be diverted for our own use without degrading our habitat. Unfortunately, most people seem to ignore what science tells us.

    We differ not only on priorities but on the likelihood of humans ever being able to export our particular brand of unsustainable living to other planetary systems and other galaxies. I like your ideas on changing money but, to me, you are a captive of your own ambition. Ambition is great if there is a chance of achieving it but there is no chance that your ambitions can be realised. Nor is there any chance that a sustainable way of life will ever be planned though I suspect that some element of future generations will live sustainably for a while. Humans are pretty stupid, though, so I doubt it will last more than a few thousand years.

    Climate changes gives us a dose of reality, I think. Despite every country officially declaring that human induced/assisted climate change is a problem, none have done anything about it (except maybe some small island nations planning for adaptation). If we get to 2020, I’m sure nothing will be done about it then. I know sustainability will not be on the agenda of any government here but I think it’s an idea worth supporting, given its clear advantages for humans here and now. Ideas that merely push out the limits a bit more are not worth supporting, whilst we live unsustainable lives.

  34. You’re probably the only person on this planet who would say that I “can’t think outside the box” :-), but it fits because the only box here is the one in which you would bury the human spirit.

    You seem to think that living within our means is necessary but don’t want to think about that if it conflicts with your particular dreams that you impose on your kids.

    Living within our means is necessary, but that does NOT place any constraint on our means. There is plenty of energy falling on this planet. There is much much more available when we leave it.

    You keep talking about “changing our lifestyle” as the only answer, when it is only one part of the answer, and we have discussed your notions about sustainability before. The rule for living things in this universe is grow or die. We can discuss the rate, but the growth – in knowledge – in energy controlled – is not negotiable. Talk to the diseases, the wild animals, the weather and the foreign invaders about it.

    If you don’t think that a sustainable existence can be satisfying, then that’s up to you

    One strength of the human species is its curiousity and its innovation. That drive of so many individuals within it to explore find new frontiers and go where no one has gone before is not “my opinion”… it is human history for any and all to see. We push against every boundary. Those imposed by other societies give us conflicts. Those imposed by nature give us frontiers for people and for science. Like it or not, that exploration and growth is what we humans WILL do… so we’re going to have to find and develop enough energy to do it.

    Our weakness is that we do not work together well. Groups of more than 200 tend to fragment, need artificial structures and concepts, lead to corruption and become inefficient. So any plan that entails getting all 7 billion of us to do something together, to change together, needs to have some potent persuasions built into it.

    Sustainable has to do with living in the budget of the energy that the sun provides on a daily basis and not destroying our ecology. No reason that cannot be satisfying… but it is not limited by what happens to be conveniently within reach. It can be a much bigger budget than current renewables.

    To get us to start using less energy, travelling less and making more things locally we have to change the basis of our economic system. That IS a fundamental change, yet we could effect it here, becoming the seed in a supersaturated solution. We COULD show the world a way out of the economic mess and just incidentally destroy the rule of bankers, the oligarchy, and the requirement for growth that is built into the current system. There would still be a requirement for growth, but it would no longer be amplified by economic fraud and augmented by generational theft. It can be far slower and still work for us.

    Where we always come to disagree is priorities. You would have us cut usage as much as we can and then bring up supply to match needs at that point. I would cut usage as fast as we can and bring up supply as fast as we can, and any overshoot is bonus… and I would include space exploration in the budget. Renewable energy sources are sustainable in any time frame of interest, and Cheap access to space pays for itself in terms of energy and resources within a decade.

    That is the best strategy for the human species if it opens frontiers and hope for a much longer term future… and it plays to our strengths rather than relying on us overcoming our weaknesses.

  35. BJ,

    Yes, I have kids, which is part of the reason I’ve made the comments I have. I want them, and any grandchildren I may have to actually have a future, and a future worth living. You’re fixated on maintaining a civilization akin to what we have now (or had up to a decade ago), which is why you can’t think outside the box. You seem to think that living within our means is necessary but don’t want to think about that if it conflicts with your particular dreams that you impose on your kids.

    If you don’t think that a sustainable existence can be satisfying, then that’s up to you. I happen to think that community and doing it yourself, locally, can be a happy life. But you think that we need to have ladders that we can get our children onto the first rung of. You will be a sorely disappointed human.

    Trevor,

    I criticise ideas that don’t appear to be sustainable, but I’m open to argument. It should be pretty obvious that the kind of lifestyle changes I see involve relocalisation, living with as little energy as possible and taking only from nature what we need. Becoming less unsustainable doesn’t seem like a great plan, to me, except where it is on a clear path to sustainable.

    Trevor and BJ,

    I don’t see much hope that, collectively, we’ll realise the terrible destruction we’ve brought on ourselves and future generations to be able to engineer a relatively soft landing. Even so-called Greens don’t really get it. However, that won’t stop me criticising ideas that don’t cut the mustard, in terms of a path to sustainability.

  36. Nah, 40 wasn’t old, BJ. Perhaps you’re confusing hypothesised average lifetimes with actual lifetimes.

    Right Tony… the lower infant death rate and child death rate and better trauma care and medical advantages that our civilization supports would still exist in your scenario? You think that the tribal level of society that your version of civilization devolves into won’t fight?

    I don’t think so.

    I think you are offering us the worst nightmare the human species has ever faced. A loss of hope for the future.

    You clearly want to maintain an unsustainable civilisation, with just enough of the attributes you’d like to see, so you can feel that your dream of humans colonising the universe can remain a possibility in your eyes.

    No Tony… it is simply that civilization comes AHEAD of sustainability because without it there is no point. One gives up enough of the pure sustainability to maintain that civilization, or the human species gives up hope.

    Give that up and the death of civilization will follow more quickly than even our worst energy shortage could guarantee.

    I want my children to have dreams of the future, not dreams spawned of drugs and blasted hopes. That is what we are getting now at the lower end of our varied societies as the GINI rises and the first rung of the ladder gets pulled further and further out of reach of the poor. The difference between that and what you imagine is that you imagine it for the entire human race.

    Energy IS in a very real sense, Wealth.

    (The particular assets that this government is planning to sell are the worst possible choice of ALL the assets they could have chosen to auction off)

    Living within our means is as necessary in terms of energy as it is in terms of money.

    Current civilization depends in a very large degree on spending energy (money) that is drawn from the planetary savings bank, not from our income (renewables). We can reduce the demands of our civilization considerably, particularly with respect to transportation and habitat, but that is not the only approach to living within one’s means. The other part of it is working harder to increase our income.

    NZ in isolation is vulnerable to resource warfare. We need the global community to work together. They have to be able to maintain something like civilization for that to be possible.

    Do you have children Tony? … because I can’t tell my kids “no, you don’t have anything more to look forward to”.

    We can climb to the stars or become the mud that gave us birth.

  37. Tony – I’ve yet to see any specific ideas from you as to what we should do. “Changing our lifestyle” isn’t specific enough, and a few people might change but not many. Do you have anything else to offer, or are you just going to sit back and try to shoot down any suggestions?

    Trevor.

  38. Indeed, Trevor; too little, too late. These little tweaks that might help keep our lifestyles going a bit longer don’t alter the essential fact that it is those lifestyles that are destroying habitats and polluting our environment (among other things). Destroying habitats a bit more slowly and polluting a bit more lightly doesn’t really help in the long term

  39. There is still some hope – rising energy prices are spurring the development of more efficient appliances. LED lighting is now effective enough with sufficient light output to be competitive for commercial lighting. Hornby Mall (west Christchurch) replaced their dichromatic halogen downlight bulbs with LED downlights which consume 1/5th the power (10 Watts rather than 50 Watts) and with an expected life 8 times longer (25000 hours rather than 3000 hours), and expect a payback period of under a year. (The fittings didn’t need to be changed, so no wiring costs were involved.) One of the advantages of the LED lighting cited was the reduction in load on the mall’s cooling system. Another was the reduction in the number of electrician callouts to replace blown bulbs – and the associated emissions from that travelling.

    Eventually the costs of LED lighting will come down enough to be competitive for domestic lighting as well.

    However it all seems too little, too late.

    Trevor.

  40. Nah, 40 wasn’t old, BJ. Perhaps you’re confusing hypothesised average lifetimes with actual lifetimes.

    I took your statements badly, BJ, because they were garbage. You clearly want to maintain an unsustainable civilisation, with just enough of the attributes you’d like to see, so you can feel that your dream of humans colonising the universe can remain a possibility in your eyes. To that end, you happily rubbish any notion of sustainability by characterising it as a boring, tedious, struggling existence that you want no part of. If you don’t want sustainable societies that’s up to you but don’t misrepresent the position of those who do.

  41. Gosh, BJ, what miserable lives our ancestors must have lived before they discovered civilisation. I’m surprised they didn’t all slit their wrists and have done with it.

    They didn’t have to. Forty was OLD and life was brutal and generally quite short.

    I’m surprised you took my statements so badly… since all of them were actually TRUE.

    I challenge you to justify putting human development in such a stasis… to even show how you could manage it. Going to shoot all the clever ones? Going to give the curious to the river? I don’t see how you COULD do it in fact, much less justify it in theory.

  42. “…that humans could live quite happily on a tenth of the energy we now consume.”

    Was the author of this statement American? A tenth of the energy that Americans consume may be more than 35% of the energy that New Zealanders consume, so we may need more renewables after all.

    Trevor.

  43. I recall hearing or reading a comment recently (sorry, can’t recall the actual source) that humans could live quite happily on a tenth of the energy we now consume. Not sure if that’s right but living off just NZ renewables, as they exist now, would only entail living off something like 35% of our current energy use, not going all the way down to 10%.

  44. Gosh, BJ, what miserable lives our ancestors must have lived before they discovered civilisation. I’m surprised they didn’t all slit their wrists and have done with it.

    I don’t often use such language but what you wrote was unconsidered garbage, probably due to your deep beliefs.

  45. Tony – I don’t disagree that some fundamental shifts will be required. However it takes time to evaluate just what will be needed, and more time to make those changes. We can’t tear down and rebuild immediately what has taken decades or centuries to build up. But we don’t have much time, hence the need to start making those changes that we can make, including building more renewable generation now, before we know what the other required steps might be. We just need to avoid some solutions that make things worse, such as ill-conceived hydro projects.

    One of the things that takes time is convincing the general polulation of the problems and the solutions, which takes education. The denialists have done a lot of damage in this regard – and still do.

    Trevor.

  46. “you take an opposite approach of let’s just move towards “more sustainable” activities”

    Problem is with the word just… and with the notion that your vision can give people satisfying lives with no real prospect of anything but more of the same through the millennia until the Sun swallows the earth.

    Given our current energy requirements, not just here but all over the planet, the appetite for additional renewable energy is insatiable and will remain so until our population is reduced. NZ is not (of itself) in that same position, but COULD be one of the few places on the planet with surplus … assuming we worked at it.

    As for the energy budget, the vast amount of energy that falls on this planet from the Sun would be ample even for our excesses, if we harvested more diligently.

    However, we prefer the cheap fossil-fuels to the more expensive sustainable options, and the cheap stuff keeps us hooked because the more expensive options would cause us to work harder on insulation and power usage and local production and not worshipping consumption.

    The thing is that we should not do “just” anything. We need to work on ALL the things that can address ANY part of this problem.

  47. Trevor,

    I’m not sure what kind of sustainable society you think I envisage but I don’t really care what form it takes provided it is sustainable and can give people satisfying lives. I think the problem is that you believe that a lot more is technologically possible than I do, in a sustainable society. Consequently, I think you take an opposite approach of let’s just move towards “more sustainable” activities and see where that gets us. Personally, I think that living off the annual budget provided by the planet (and the sun), without degrading our only home, will necessitate a rethink of every aspect of a society (including the rejection of some aspects). It will take a fundamental rethink; not a baby steps approach hoping we can get there somehow before too many people suffer.

    Yes, IF plastics are truly needed, we need to make them by sustainable means, but it needs to be part of a strategy for sustainability and I don’t believe (but I may be wrong) that that is what you’re talking about.

    However, I think this is getting away from the topic now so feel free to answer but I probably won’t respond.

  48. Meanwhile here is the web site of a company aiming to develop cheap access to space (CATS):
    http://stratolaunchsystems.com/news.html

    And to do this, they need the world’s largest plane (and some of the world’s longest runways).

    Cheap access to space could provide us with both the means to harness more renewable energy reliable, and the means to combat global warming (but not ocean acidification).

    Trevor.

  49. Tony – I don’t believe in the same substainable society that you seem to want us to head towards. But I hope that you agree that we should be looking for sustainable ways of making plastics – e.g. by recycling the plastics that we have made and developing sustainable sources of new plastic – which probably means processing biomass. Both take energy, preferable from renewable sources. Both approaches take time to develop, and until we have developed them, we will need fossil fuels as feedstocks for our plastics industries, so we need to conserve our fossil fuels for that. This means cutting back on our consumption of those fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, which means both reducing demand and substituting where we already know how, such as by developing renewable energy resources.

    However substituting fossil fuels with other fossil fuels such as lignite is a dead-end, and will contribute to further AWG and ocean acidification. Our substitutions need to be renewable, such as turning wilding pines into transport fuels and plastic feedstock.

    Trevor.

  50. Trevor,

    I know all that but you are missing the point. Conserving fossil fuels so that we can make a few more plastic things is not really a great strategy. They will run out anyway, then what will you do? If you think plastics are vital to your society then you should be pushing for sustainable ways to make the quantity of plastics that you think is necessary.

    But thanks for confirming that you don’t believe in a sustainable society. I just hope you realise what unsustainable means.

  51. Tony – plastics are used to make more than garbage. As I get older, I may need artificial heart valves and a hearing aid. I already benefit from glasses and the computers that I use for work and recreation have a lot of plastic in them. The very wires that power these computers and the rest of my house and place of work are insulated with plastics.

    It is your sustainable society if your describing a society that no one else believes in. I accept the need for a sustainable society. However I am pragmatic enough to know that the fastest, cheapest and most likely to succeed method of getting to a sustainable society is to work on both developing renewable resources and improving our efficiency and taking other steps to reduce the resources that we need. In both areas, there is a law of diminishing returns. It will be cheaper to improve efficiecy rather than to harness the last kiloWatt of renewable energy, but it will also be cheaper to harness another kiloWatt of renewable energy instead of trying to achieve that last 0.1% efficiency improvement. Your idea of a society where we use the bare minimum of energy is just as unachievable as trying to maintain our current society with its current levels of waste and inefficiency.

    Trevor.

  52. Trevor,

    It’s not my sustainable society, unless you, and everyone else, don’t want to live in a sustainable society.

    No, harnessing more renewable energy is not the most important thing. You seem to think life can go on pretty much as it is, only using renewables. That’s fantasy. Also, conserving fossil fuels so we can churn out a few more plastics to increase the oceanic garbage patches is not a particularly great ambition.

  53. Tony – don’t worry if we build more renewable generation than needed to power your sustainable society. By the time we get to that point, a significant amount of the renewable generation that we have already built now will be nearing the end of its life and we can simply opt not to rebuild some of it.

    The important thing is to get on with harnessing more renewable energy (in an environmentally sensitive way) now and also working to conserve energy, so we don’t need to burn fossil fuels, and so we can conserve the last of the oil for more important uses such as plastics manufacturing and lubrication.

    Trevor.

  54. Trevor,

    You needn’t worry, almost no-one is even considering moving to sustainability, so this is all hypothetical. Hypothetically, I think you’re dead wrong that it’s likely we don’t have enough renewable capacity already to power a satisfying society. Remember that a sustainable society will look nothing like what we have today.

    I don’t think substitutes are always inferior but they will tend to that. At some point we will always hit on the best resource for any use (or the best value, or the most easily obtained), after that, substitutes will be inferior.

  55. Tony – if we stop working on increasing the amount of renewable energy that we harness because we might have enough, but it turns out that we don’t have enough (as is very likely), then we will have to continue burning fossil fuels for even longer until we can increase the amount of renewable energy that we use. Therefore we should continue developing the renewable resources and work on cutting down our energy needs until we reach a sustainable society. Your approach will just make things worse. By all means try to work out whether we are close to having enough and show us your plan when you have it all calculated but the real effort needs to go into reducing our fossil fuel usages now.

    And your attitude to substitution is just crazy. The first choices are those available at the time and place that do the best job or which are the cheapest. As we use up those choices, we develop others, which may or may not be better or cheaper. Technology advances in different areas at different rates. Cars have been swinging (back?) to diesel motors but could go back to spark-ignition motors if CNG becomes a more cost-effective fuel – or alcohol. And if you persist in thinking substitutes are always inferior, just remember that many race engines use methanol for a reason.

    Trevor.

  56. Tony – I said “ammonia, nitrates or urea”, i.e. nitrogen fertilisers. I didn’t say “nutrition”. However the fact that you “certainly wouldn’t want to export our nutrition to other nations” is telling.

    Trevor.

  57. Trevor,

    If you don’t put the bottom line somewhere, you’ll always be wanting a better life than that, where “better” is something that will be defined in different ways by different people and advertising agencies. That you think I need to prove that we don’t need more energy than the renewable energy we already have suggests that you’re not yet willing to consider a different lifestyle. I get that. Which is why I don’t hold out much hope that we’ll avoid a collapse.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to export our nutrition to other nations.

  58. I don’t know what you mean by “real wealth”, bj, but energy certainly allows us to do anything, whether it’s food energy or whatever. If it’s truly sustainable, that’s fine. However, we seem to equate, incorrectly, renewable energy with sustainable harvesting of that energy.

    I’m not talking about restricting energy, I’m talking about figuring out what we REALLY NEED, to live happy satisfying lives, and then only harvesting that amount of energy. It’s a different way of looking at the world.

  59. Tony – maybe we could get by with the renewable energy that we are currently harvesting. If you can prove that, then maybe we will consider not trying to harvest more, but not until. I don’t just want to “get by” – I’d rather have a better life than that.

    However there may be ways of cutting down on our energy use, by much better insulation, super efficient light bulbs, careful optimisation, watching every Watt, etc. The effort to save that last Watt probably isn’t worth it. At some point, the cost – in effort and materials – to save another Watt is higher than the cost of harvesting another Watt of renewable energy, and that optimum balance of effort in efficiency versus development of extra renewables is a better target.

    And if we exceed that target then we can export some surplus, possibly in the form of ammonia, nitrates or urea. The rest of the world will need nitrogen fertilisers.

    Trevor.

  60. Tony – Energy is the real wealth. The more work we as a nation can sustainably produce and use the better off we are. That is ALWAYS true. The problem boils down to the absence (in National Party circles) of the word “sustainably”. They don’t care how it is obtained or how much damage is done to the environment to get it.

    However, the value of work of this nature is invariant up to very high levels of availability. The notion of restricting its availability when we don’t have to is not something I’d accept… but the real problem for us is that we use every available erg and would have to double our renewable production (WAY easier said than done) to be able to explore the notion of having a surplus and what to do with it.

    Tthere are plenty of people with ways to use it that benefit NZ and the world as a whole.

  61. But, Trevor, in this country, we already have quite a lot of renewable energy. Maybe we don’t actually need any more to live happy fulfilling lives? Why expend more resources and time on something we may not actually need?

    We don’t “need to work with what people want” because what people want is unsustainable. We do need to educate people in what is sustainable and what isn’t. The lifestyles we have now are unsustainable. The money system is unsustainable. Environmental destruction is unsustainable. We need to be smarter – and live up to our species’ name.

  62. Tony said:
    ‘…I’m saying let’s start thinking in a different way. Don’t just say “how are we going to get the energy we use”, rather “how can we arrange our lives to tread as lightly as possible”’
    and I don’t disagree. But then he said:
    “…and only then figure out the energy source for a much lower energy requirement.”
    and I disagree strongly. We need to do both, and we need to do them concurrently. We are not going to be able to fully answer either immediately. As knowledge and experience grows, we will be better positioned to answer both questions, but we need to start acting in both areas now, based on what we do know now.

    The solutions that are most likely to be adopted are those that have least negative impacts on quality of life. These include solar water heating, use of LED lights in traffic signals and later general lighting, electric trains, wind and solar power generation, better building insulation, etc. Solutions that will always be resisted (to a greater or lesser extent) include asking people to take shorter showers, sit in colder (or hotter) rooms, walk to work in the rain, giving up certain foods, etc.

    We need to work with what people want, rather than always (appearing to) oppose it.

    Trevor.

  63. Perhaps we are in denial no less than climate-change deniers.

    How many nations will sacrifice short-term interests? Few to none.
    Why not accept this reality, proven by decades of failure?

    We might lead best by preparing proactively to live in the warmer world with its higher sea level, more common weather extremes, and many other challenges. That might demonstrate real conviction, besides being a self-serving move understood by even the most selfish as possibly worth emulating.

    There’s more than one way to save lives in this situation, and the way we’ve been trying has by now failed quite convincingly.

  64. Trevor,

    Yes, all energy ends up as heat but so-called renewable energy does other work in the meantime and the rate of that transformation to heat is usually much smaller than we need for our lifestyles. In nature (which is everything) you can’t do just one thing, there is always a consequence.

    I’m not saying don’t try, I’m saying let’s start thinking in a different way. Don’t just say “how are we going to get the energy we use”, rather “how can we arrange our lives to tread as lightly as possible” and only then figure out the energy source for a much lower energy requirement. All we (or at least those who are concerned about either climate change or depleting fossil fuels) seem to do now is panic about replacing one energy source with another.

    A belief in substitution is a mug’s game. At some point (which may already have past, in most cases) we will utilise the best resource for any particular use. Substitutions will, thereafter, just not cut it. We have to be clear; our time here was always resource constrained but it just hasn’t seemed like it until now. We have to figure out how to lead happy lives without impacting the only home we have, by living within the annual budget of this planet, as closely as possible, but without degrading it (from our perspective).

    Tony

  65. @Tony

    as I said “time to take the blinkers off”.. means broaden the horizons & ‘think outside the square’

    Fossil-fuels are artificially lower in price, because the industrial giants have put all their time, effort & resources into ensuring the success of this poisonous, polluting ‘filth’ is maintained & other options are ‘not worth considering’.. even if its killing the planet & every form of life on it !!

    “Yes it is time we took the blinkers off.. right here, right NOW”

    Kia-ora

  66. From your post, it seems as if you assume that any resource that is unharnessed by humans must be otherwise going to waste, perhaps to some invisible sink that just turns it into nothingness.

    As far as humans are concerned, this is true… and the sink is 100% there all the time… whether we sip from the stream of entropy or not.

    Entropy flow is accelerated by life. That is what life relies on, and if it is not used by us, it MAY be used by some other life form, but the energy flux through the planet is massive and can support many more life forms than currently pack into it… life is limited by other considerations.

  67. Tony – most potential sources of renewable energy if not harnessed will release the energy as heat. Harnessing it merely affects where that heat will be released and to a lesser extent when. In addition, the amount of energy under our control is a small fraction of the energy falling on the earth as sunlight and rising up from the ground in the form of geothermal energy. I accept that care is needed in choosing which forms of energy to harness and how to harness them – and there have been some howlers in the past. However I don’t accept that this is a reason not to try.

    If we don’t use our technological capabilities to harness renewable sources of energy, then we are dooming many in the world to a very poor quality of life – and likely a short life at that. This is a recipe for wars or civil war. I’d rather do my best to keep a decent level of civilisation.

    And as for fossil fuels – yes they have other uses. We can find substitutes for many or all of them. However the sooner we stop wasting them the better. I have suggested increasing our electricity generation from renewables to save our natural gas – both by reducing the amount used for electricity generation and by moving away from gas-fired water and space heating. The natural gas is more useful as a transport fuel in the short term. Over the longer term, we can generate some natural gas from biomass and cut down on our transport fuel usage by switching to electric vehicles and electric trams and trains.

    And before you say that that isn’t going to be enough, I’ll say it for you. However it is a practical start.

    It takes a long time to change a civilisation. Unfortunately it doesn’t always take as long to destroy it.

    Trevor.

  68. Trevor,

    Fossil fuels have a variety of uses, electricity is only one of them.

    When ever energy is removed from the earth’s systems, there is an impact. Science is only just beginning to do research into this aspect but I certainly wouldn’t be so foolhardy as to assume that we can harness whatever we like and convert it to heat without there being an impact. Also, the harnessing takes resources.

    Fossil energy and resources are used for other things also, so even if our electricity could be safely generated from renewables, that doesn’t cover all use of fossil fuels. That’s partly the reason for my “bold claim”. Though there are many other aspects.

    From your post, it seems as if you assume that any resource that is unharnessed by humans must be otherwise going to waste, perhaps to some invisible sink that just turns it into nothingness. If we are to live sustainably (and that is, of course, not a given as some people don’t seem to mind being unsustainable), then we have to think in different ways. Everything on this planet isn’t just waiting for humans to make use of.

  69. Tony – you are making a very bold claim by saying that we cannot find a substitute for fossil fuels. There are a number of renewable energy sources.

    For example, in New Zealand our unharnessed wind potential could meet at least twice our total electricity generation. Our wave potential is of a similar level. We have 1-2GW of geothermal energy that we have not yet harnessed. And if this is not enough, we can turn to solar power. We could easily become net exporters of energy – in the form of aluminium and nitrogen fertilisers.

    Some other countries are not so lucky. Japan, Singapore and a number of other countries will always have to import some of their energy, but not necessarily in the form of fossil fuels.

    Trevor.

  70. Zedd,

    Sustainable and renewable (can sustainable be not renewable?) options are best but can never be a substitute for fossil fuels. Getting onto a sustainable footing means a very different society. Just so we’re clear on that.

  71. The truth is that the fossil fuels are not unlimited..
    sustainable & renewable options are the best alternative.. the sooner the better !
    Henry Ford built a car from Hemp based plastics & proposed that it be used as a viable alternative to make bio-fuels. (1940s) BUT the world-wide BAN on its alterego (MJ) saw the hemp industry face a similar fate.. time we took off the blinkers & took another look.. before its TOO LATE !!!

    Kia-ora

  72. DBuckley

    The size of the project is large enough that only a few corporations or nation might do it… but the timeframe is such that only a nation or group of nations can. Some few individuals could do it perhaps ( Gates? Buffett? ) but if we wait for a person or corporation we lose.

    My point here is that the notion of reducing CO2 is pretty well shot for another decade… and that we humans are more clever at tech than at social engineering… so we should play to our strengths. CATS would give the nation that got it a huge economic boost. World domination stuff… and it isn’t pursued with anything like the intensity that one would expect with that as the prize.

    Which is just another indication that Homo “Sapiens” is a really optimistic name to have given ourselves.

    BJ

  73. BJ, it seems we have to go over it again because you clearly aren’t on the same wavelength. I never said anything about hair shirts.

    The idea that we can replace millions of years of concentrated solar energy, used up in a couple of centuries, with what falls on our planet (or above our planet) each year will take some convincing.

    Regardless of whether it is theoretically possible, it’s not going to happen. Get over it and move on.

  74. We just can’t do it with the sustainable sources we are limiting ourselves to

    Error.

    You cant counter a real problem with an imaginary solution.

    You may know how to save the world, but it doesn’t matter a jot until some person or corporation is willing to put that solution on the table.

    This is another of my criticisms of the Green Party and the environmental movement in general. The use of imaginary solutions as though they are viable and available alternatives.

    For example: A power company wants to build a hydro scheme. Greens and/or “environmentalists” oppose and state that we could do (something) instead. Trouble is, the (something) is always an imaginary solution, it isn’t on the table. So what happens is the amount of (real) CO2 going up the stacks at Huntly increases.

    Imaginary solutions will not get us any further forward, unless some person or corporation takes them on and makes a sucess of them.

  75. Tony – Do we HAVE to go over this old ground? Of course we can do it with sustainable sources. We just can’t do it with the sustainable sources we are limiting ourselves to… I know how we could build Cheap Access To Space… and Satellite Solar Power Systems are available if we had it.

    It is NOT necessary to put on the hair-shirts.

    BJ

  76. zedd,

    “The whole thing needs to be turned from fossil-fuels to sustainable energy sources & bio-fuel (from Hemp) “

    Yes, so long as it is understood that today’s lifestyles cannot be powered with sustainable energy sources. That is, a substantial change in our society and our lifestyles is needed.

    As for Durban, every country except the most threatened is in denial. The change ain’t gonna come from the top. The only thing left is change from the bottom. Do what you can, and everything you can.

  77. Im all for putting targets on green-house gases.. but as long as the biggest polluters are either exempt or still in-denial about it.. will it really have any teeth to make substantial differences..

    The whole thing needs to be turned from fossil-fuels to sustainable energy sources & bio-fuel (from Hemp)

    Kia-ora

  78. frog,

    The fiscal plan attached to the Green party green job initiatives has income at $7.8B and an outgoing of $4.1B

    Why gather more tax revenue then reguired?

    Why take an extra $3.7B out of the economy and where will it be spent?

    Is it required because some of your figures such as 2000 new housing units at $335K each will be WAY under actual land aquisition, land subdivision, installing services (roads, water, sewerage,etc.), material and construction costs?

    or are they planned to be built in Invercargill where the cost will low but not the people the Green party wants to house?

    There is very little land available in South Auckland for 2000 new housing units unless one builds high density on existing state housing estates.

    Surely the Green party is not planning high rise estates that have been such massive failures ALL over the world?

    The devil is in the detail.

  79. dbuckley should distinguish between “the ‘green’ lobby” and “the Green Party”. Those objecting to Project Hayes may call themselves ‘green’ without having to be members of the Green Party.

    I’m being very specific about the Green Party. I have whined on this many times.

  80. frog said:
    “It is worth noting that climate change, energy and related concerns are indirectly addressed through the Green Jobs plan – http://www.greens.org.nz/greenjobs – one of our three main priorities.”

    I have to agree with this, but believe that it would have been worth noting under the issues headings “climate change”, “ocean acidification” and “peak oil”. Having dedicated pages to each of these topics would also have been a chance to reveal a bit about the stand taken by other parties and whether they are serious about these issues, which leads to why the Green Party would support Labour in preference to National.

    Trevor.

  81. dbuckley should distinguish between “the ‘green’ lobby” and “the Green Party”. Those objecting to Project Hayes may call themselves ‘green’ without having to be members of the Green Party.

    Trevor.

  82. Matt says “Look at Project Hayes – where is the greater good in decision-making? Turbines for 50 years or a stuffed up planet? ”

    The Greens seemed to be completely absent from BOTH sides of the Project Hayes debate.

    My guess is that they’d been advised to stay silent.

  83. What really annoys me is that some other ‘values’ are seen as being more important than climate change. Look at Project Hayes – where is the greater good in decision-making? Turbines for 50 years or a stuffed up planet? The ‘green’ lobby needs to get priorities right and let renewable projects get priority over landscape values. It’s time for hard decisions – no one said that this would be easy.

    Absolutely. The Green Party get this wrong almost all the time.

  84. I do confess to having been a bit put off by that apparent lack of emphasis… I accepted it because there wasn’t any significant bill or initiative to put the emphasis on, but it still IMHO, needs to be put up as a headline goal for the party. Always. Until it is no longer a problem.

    BJ

  85. Trevor: The issues page on greens.org.nz was commandeered for the recent election and hasn’t been changed back to be less election-y yet.

    It is worth noting that climate change, energy and related concerns are indirectly addressed through the Green Jobs plan – http://www.greens.org.nz/greenjobs – one of our three main priorities.

  86. A number of good points above. Mitigation and adaptation need to go hand in hand. There is actually a very good economic case for tackling carbon emissions … they are a waste product and hence point towards inefficient processes. Methane is a good example, more efficient digestion will reduce the amount of gas produced and lower emissions for the sector. to me it’s a win-win … reduce waste, increase efficiency and reduce emissions. This is what green growth is really about.

    Our future energy supply is clearly going to be a game changer. There is no short-run solution to petroleum products powering our cars, trucks, buses and trains. So let’s look at stationary energy in a distributed way.

    We need a variety of energy sources, hydro, geothermal, solar, wind and some carbon-based fuels. What really annoys me is that some other ‘values’ are seen as being more important than climate change. Look at Project Hayes – where is the greater good in decision-making? Turbines for 50 years or a stuffed up planet? The ‘green’ lobby needs to get priorities right and let renewable projects get priority over landscape values. It’s time for hard decisions – no one said that this would be easy.

  87. Trevor,

    Absolutely. I wouldn’t advocate only adaptation; we clearly have to also change our lifestyles and cut down emissions to zero. But we must be clear, 2 degrees of warming, at least, is certain, so we will have to adapt to that, at a minimum. I don’t see even that being taken seriously (e.g. where are the plans to move cities?).

  88. Kereopa – Actually Kyoto had the option of bringing in China, as in China asserted that they would agree to cuts on the condition that the US had to cut first. They wanted to see if we were serious. We weren’t.

    Same condition applies with them today. If the US agrees to cuts the Chinese will follow. The problem is NOT China . The problem is a group of US Senators who cannot, for ideological reasons, admit that the science is real.

    Compare the 0% emissions target NZ has to meet under Kyoto rather than the 40% reduction by 2020 that the UN and yourself are calling for.

    Yeah.. Kyoto was 12 years ago, with preliminary negotiations starting 20 years ago after the formation of the UNFCC which is the UN organization that worked to create it. So if we’d actually followed the Kyoto requirements we’d actually not have to ask for so much more now.

    Of course we didn’t.

    More to the point… “world’s worst emitters” here’s a clue.

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

    Hmmmm… not on a per capita basis. China doesn’t even register.

    Historically?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/co2-emissions-historical

    Only recently growing… and overall the clear implication of your rant is that rather than the developed world cutting back AND paying for the destruction they’ve already done, the developing world must be told “no, you can’t improve YOUR lot, we’ve already emitted all the CO2 the world can allow”.

    Inequality and unfairness so thick that it matches the curd-for-brains that is typically associated with the National Party.

  89. The thing to remember about adaption-only strategies is that if we let CO2 levels rise further, the global temperature will rise further, and adaption will be even more expensive – and more lives will be lost.

    We need to continue pushing for reductions in emissions even if the 2 degree target is unachievable. Part of this will be pushing for measures that are good for New Zealand anyway, like better energy efficiency and conservation, and better pest control in our forests.

    We also need to continue educating the general population about global warming and in particular showing up the denialist arguments for what they are – lies and distortions.

    I had a look at the “issues” page of the Green Party web site:
    http://www.greens.org.nz/issues
    but did not see any mention of AGW, peak oil/gas/uranium/etc, or ocean acidification. I believe that these need to be highlighted, along with how various Green Party policies will help to solve or mitigate these issues.

    Trevor.

  90. I think the natural extension of the ETS approach within Kyoto nations (the burden taken on by developed nations) is via a carbon tax on international trade goods – this tax funding programmes to provide clean energy to developing nations. This tax would ensure developing nations, not part of Kyoto, would develop internal regimes to reduce carbon use intensity/per production.

    In our case it would effectively reward our exporters for having a power supply that uses relatively low levels of carbon – compared to competitors overseas.

    One issue would be whether the carbon charge would be set according to the most free of emmissions method of production available (this being the zero rate) – which would please farmers.

  91. Scary as it sounds, I think Tony’s post most accurately reflects the future we face.

    In my humble opinion, Kyoto is a lost cause. It was a least unacceptable compromise at best. Turns out its not even that good.

  92. Kennedy, you’ve made a fundamental mistake regarding the Kyoto Protocol. You claim that it “compels the world’s worst emitters to reduce emissions”. That’s totally incorrect. You should know better.

    Kyoto is an agreement between developed countries (i.e. The West) to reduce emissions. It doesn’t include countries like China, India or Brazil which are some of the world’s worst emitters – both in proportion and growth.

    An international agreement without these huge emitters is redundant. It will cost developed countries, like NZ who has relatively minor emissions, and not do a single thing for the world. Climate change is a global problem, it needs to be solved by everyone, not just the rich countries.

    Its also ironic that you uphold Kyoto as some sort of Golden Calf, but Kyoto has weak emissions reduction targets. Compare the 0% emissions target NZ has to meet under Kyoto rather than the 40% reduction by 2020 that the UN and yourself are calling for.

    I’d also like to see references to where Groser “has pointed out” the three bullet points you noted. Sounds like nothing more than slanderous bollocks.

    That you’ve made such a fundamental error call re Kyoto calls your whole post into question. I suggest going back to Kyoto 101 and get the basics right.

  93. Well, the “good” news is that emissions may well peak by 2017, but not through deliberate action. The global economy is struggling to stay afloat rather than accept that growth is over. Can even minimal growth continue until 2017? It’s looking increasingly unlikely. We’ve reached peak conventional crude oil and governments are creaking under the debt load, with the only actions being to increase the debt load (go figure). If economies almost miraculously keep bumbling along for a few more years, they might turn to dirtier forms of energy, though how long they will be able to is anyone’s guess, without societies imploding as they seem to be doing already.

    So we might get a peak in emissions sooner than we think, though that won’t stop 2+ degrees of warming. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

    To the kids against global warming: good on them but this mess ain’t fixable; they’d better get used to the idea of a warmer world and figure out adaptation strategies, not solutions.

  94. Without the US you don’t get China and you can’t get the US without a 2/3 majority in the Senate. It isn’t going to happen.

    Come back in 10 years when arguments about the science have been settled by Mother Nature and the denialists have been booted by a population that has become sick of the lies THEY tell.

    I wish I could recommend a better course of action. Too much will have to be done too fast… and we’ll have wasted 3 precious decades.

    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/12/08-8

    I am trying to cut the anger out of this post.. and so far it is rewritten 3 times over. The people behind this are the ones who lied about the effects of Tobacco and they KNOW they are lying. They think it is fine… that it is amusing to be able to disregard the rights of others… even the unborn.

    It is times like this that I wish to believe in hell, so that they might get what they truly deserve… and that is the sad thing about being an atheist. One cannot have faith in real justice over time, for those who trespass against us all.

  95. Todd stern of the USA was not there to assist in a binding agreement As rep of thge only country not signed in Its obvious he was there to disrupt.
    Looks like it truly is up to people who have not been brainwashed by the corporated supported deniers. It is Up to us –you and me the people of the world TO ACT.

  96. Being that John Key recently claimed that the increased tax on flights from the UK was four or five times the cost to offset the carbon created:

    “With the tax for New Zealand-bound passengers set at four or five times the costs of offsetting the carbon emissions produced, this logic is without basis,” Mr Key said.

    When in fact the British government is subsidizing the APD by £3 per flight, it’s unlikely that we will hear anything but the usual rhetoric from John (climate change denier) Key.

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