Climate change and human psychoses – seeking, genuinely, a National-Green dialogue

It has been a week of climate change.

A quarter century, actually, since the US Senate and the Brundtland Report put the issue on the international agenda.  We’ve had, since then, Rio and Cairo, Kyoto and Marrakesh, Copenhagen and Cancun and Durban, and Rio again.

But the past week has been especially intensive, and this for two reasons.  The NZ Parliament is conducting hearings on the Government’s bill to amend the ETS, in response to the Advisory Panel’s report of 2011.  And, concurrently and with no strong causal link, the latest scientific findings of climate change are reported in.

So, in the past week, I have asked two questions of the Government on climate change.  Taken together, they traverse the range of the issue – the NZ Government’s domestic instrument for combating climate change, and its appreciation of the global reality out there.

The first questioned the Government on what the Green Party critiques as a weak emissions trading scheme, ‘subsidising polluters’ and incurring considerable net fiscal cost to the taxpayer.  The second queried whether, in drafting the latest amendments to the ETS, the Government had sufficiently taken into account the latest scientific findings.

In short, the Government’s response was as follows:

–          The amendments defer any strengthening of the ETS because we live in fragile economic circumstances and it is ‘not a stellar time’ to increase charges and taxes.  The changes did not amount to ‘subsidies’, and indeed New Zealand was on track to more than meet its five-year Kyoto obligations.

–          The Government had, indeed, adequately accounted for the latest scientific findings, but it has to take into account a whole range of factors such as the global developments and employment levels in New Zealand.

This is as close as it gets to a meaningful exchange in the NZ Parliament on the future of the planet.  I acknowledge that Ministers Groser and Bridges are well-meaning and competent.  I count them as friends.  Tim Groser, in particular, has huge international experience and reputation.

That does not make them necessarily right in what they are doing. It is possible for such people to be egregiously wrong, fatefully, fatally.

Effectively, the ministers are acknowledging that the amendments weaken the ETS in the sense of deferring sectoral obligations, and seek to explain why – protection of jobs, firms and investment at home against risk competitiveness during tough global economic times.

That is circular logic, and it rests on an erroneous premise.   We are entering the Global Ecological Crisis.  An ecological crisis means an economic crisis.  They are one and the same thing.  You do not defer measures to combat an ecological crisis because you are in an economic crisis.  You deal with them as one crisis, and seek to resolve ‘it’ immediately.

The latest scientific findings are alarming.  They possibly portend a new era for humanity – one where dangerous anthropogenic climate change may arrive within half a decade out, not half a century.

–          Arctic ice extent, as measured this month by the US Snow & Ice Data Center, is 49% below the past 30-year average.  Between 2007 and ’11 it has dropped from 4.17 m. sq. km to 3.41 m. sq. km., an 18% drop in four years.  The different trends in Antarctica, where there is some cooling and ice-accretion, is understood by scientists to be consistent with an increase in average global temperature.

–          Russian scientists on the Viktor Buinitsky research vessel have found methane fields in the Laptev Sea of 1 km. in diameter. Methane deposits in the seabed near Spitzbergen are effervescing to the surface.

–          This has been described by Cambridge University scientist, Prof. Wadhams, as ‘terrifying news’. It facilitates the release of potent methane gas from land-based tundra and seabed floor, reducing Earth’s albedo effect, risking a positive feedback loop on temperature increase that can breach unpredictable tipping-points.  While we must await the IPCC’s 5th assessment report in 2013, the latest specific findings are of far-reaching concern.

I confess I experience my share of surreal moments in the NZ House of Representatives when I ask these questions and receive the answers I do.  It is as if we truly are, my National MP colleagues and I, on different planets.

For I am asking questions, in as measured tones as I can,  of what appears to me to be about the future of the planet and humanity, and they are answering as if (a) it is just another problem and (b) I am something of an irritant.

No-one will be more relieved than I shall, if the science proves to be wrong or excessively ominous.  I shall simply look stupid.  That will be my preference, since my grand-children will have a decent future.

But I do not see how that can be the case.

35 Comments Posted

  1. Owing to the development of industry, various companies wholesale wedding dresses rapidly to satisfy people’s great demands. And with the change of global climate, we should highlight ecological civilization more and more.
    The generation of ecological civilization is based on the reflection of material civilization in the human society. And the limitation of natural resources determines the limitation of people’s material wealth. So human beings should pursue rich spiritual life to realize the all-around development.

  2. bj: Very pertinent, fair comment; thankyou. I can see the point about the need for a precise focus.

    Never mind….I have a feeling a LOT might change on or about Dec 21st – being touted as the end of the world; but actually, it seems, the end of a cycle and beginning of a new one, in terms of the Mayan Calendar. On that date, Bolivian officials are planning to end their dealings with Coca Cola, “as a celebration of the end of capitalism”!! Who knows WHAT changes might take place across the world??!! The need for huge changes in outlook and in practice is unquestionable, and, I think, they will inevitably happen.

  3. Much as it pains me to say it, we can’t look at the methane produced by our livestock as being much different from growing and burning and growing wood. There is a very small net effect.

    The other pollution caused by the farms is fair game, and the subsidies of CO2 emissions that our misleaders demand for their never ending growth, the illusory game of economists and gain for bankers, cannot be tolerated… but we have to keep the natural cycle in mind and the fact that we aren’t actually adding anything to it.

    The emissions of gas that is torn from the rock through fracking, and the emissions of the gas used to create the fertilizer used for the farms… those ARE problems we must address… but we have to make our position a fine-drawn one if we are to succeed in any way here. The methane from the livestock isn’t a controllable thing. Everything else you discuss is, and I agree with you, and the farmers have to put in some very hard yards to keep NZ produce sustainable.

    We won’t be getting tourists. In time thought, we will be getting refugees.

    Tourism cannot sustain an industrial economy and for a country that consumes industrial goods there is no such thing as a post-industrial economy.

    We have to be able to build things here, and yet we surely DO have too much road building and too much reliance on cars… and too much infrastructure within a couple of meters of mean high water.

    Sorry for the hurried post but it is important to draw the line as finely as possible.

  4. “subsidising polluters..”,,,

    If only Tourism were to be developed to the point of overtaking beef and lamb etc. in export earnings, perhaps then we could see a reduction in stock-numbers and METHANE; and the Government treating the farming industry with the same yardstick as other industries. ( Oh, and an associated decrease in citizens suffering from such as effluent-infiltrated waterways/e.coli; fewer “boil-water” notices; less bronchial effects from air-borne anti-fungus sprays in damp weather; and not least, fewer piles of wee bodies waiting under sacks for collection, at farm gates, leaving grieving ewes (yes, they DO) because of a bit of extra lucre gleaned by raising lambs too early, to satisfy the Christmas and New Year dinner-plates of some revellers in Britain etc.

    And, given all this pollution, – from farms, various industries, overuse of cars and determined building of more motorways, etc. – how long will tourists want to come here, to experience only what they already have at home?
    New Zealand , and especially Christchurch, has such a unique opportunity to be DIFFERENT – However, commercialism, having crept into every aspect of life – typified by cold-hearted concrete slab and glass –
    must collapse, in its present headlong rush….for what?? profit in the pocket..

  5. I agree Tony in that I do not think an ETS will really be effective for anything, except being just another way for the finance industry to clip the ticket.

    Aiming towards a goal of 95% renewable for power generation and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels for transport, paid for by a tax on emitters, in the short term, would be a good start.

    There are good economic reasons for reducing dependance on fossil fuels.
    The gap in our balance of payments, in the 70’s, was mostly due to high oil prices. Just for those who do not believe in AGW.

    New Zealand, as one of the larger per capita emitters, could be an example, as we have been on other issues in the past.

  6. Actually, Kerry, “do nothing” is an option, since that is exactly what we’re doing. It will continue to be an option until the effects of climate change (and other environmental stresses) overwhelm us. We don’t really “need” ETS legislation, Ryan, what we need is to stop using fossil fuels, among many things that we need to stop doing. Even strong ETS legislation will barely slow our emissions and environmental destruction, if at all.

  7. Unfortunately the ETS will just be yet another way of transferring money from National economies to Wall street.

    I hope we end up with genuine tax and redistribute scheme. (Redistributing to subsidies for clean energy would be my choice. Miners to setting up windmills?) Which gives polluters a financial incentive, fart tax, but is otherwise economically neutral.

    Doing nothing is not an option.

  8. Perhaps this news item may convince a few more people about the urgency – if frogblog’s spam filter doesn’t reject this post:
    One estimate is that climate change will knock 2% off the GDP of the US by 2030, and developing countries will be hit harder.

    “Climate change is not just a distant threat but a present danger – its economic impact is already with us.”


  9. Kennedy,

    You are right. But pointing out the peril of severe climate change over and over again is not good enough.

    You recognize the urgency in this matter. All else – fragile economic circumstances, labour laws, asset sales, smacking bills, whatever – must take a back seat. As you say, your colleagues appear to be on another planet, and so your only course of lawful action at this point is to negotiate. Trade Green party votes in exchange for real, binding and meaningful ETS legislation.

    It is utterly disappointing that your colleagues cannot see the urgency of climate change for what it is. But I don’t hold an idiot in contempt for being stupid.

    On the other hand, if you recognize the urgency of the matter, and do genuinely want your grandchildren to have a decent future, then your only honorable course of action is to negotiate.

    Negotiate, damn you, negotiate. And get the ETS legislation we need.

  10. I think that one of the points I should be making here is that the scientists who participate in the IPCC work do so on a volunteer basis and the funding for their activities is actually partly borne locally by the research establishments and Universities that they work for. How many are simply not paid at all for this work I could not say.

    That is a sort of interesting question. I know a couple of places I might float it and get more knowledgable answers.

  11. UN has a system of dues paid by the member states, in the case of the US, on those rare occasions when the moon takes on a cobalt blue color. Overall it is not exactly flush with cash.

    The UN does not control the conclusions. That is one of the jobs of the scientists as they control the editing and conclusions of the various sections. I do NOT know who does the “summary for policymakers” offhand, but I have never seen any complaint that it mis-stated the results in the various sections.

  12. bjchip,

    Thank you. I’m more interested in who controls the conclusions (editing) from the scientific contributions, which appears to be the UN? Do you know off hand how the UN is funded?

  13. The IPCC is funded by regular contributions from its parent organisations WMO and UNEP, the UNFCCC, and voluntary contributions by its member countries.

    Authors of the IPCC process do not receive payment from the IPCC for their time spent working on IPCC reports or participation in meetings. However, experts from developing countries and countries with economies in transition (those countries that were created after the break-up of the former Soviet Union) receive funding from the IPCC Trust Fund to assist with the direct costs associated with attending lead author and other expert meetings, which take place in various locations around the world. Participants from developed countries generally obtain travel funding from their governments or through their institutions.

    So the scientists don’t get any real money out of this. The administrators and the administration costs are covered by the organizations listed.

    Is that what you wanted to know?

  14. Spam – if you read BJ’s Guardian link (to a George Monbiot article), you will see that the Tobacco companies gain credibility for their front “Institute”s, “Foundation”s, “Centre”s and “Coalition”s to make them appear like genuine scientific and grassroots organisations and “thinktanks”.


  15. Spam

    If you weren’t paying close attention you might have missed where they found new employment.

    Short form:
    The Tobacco companies hired PR people who became CEI and their ilk, to do their lying for them. When Tobacco finally succumbed to reality, these well trained “consultants” found employment with the oil companies and other 1 percenters who see climate science as a threat to the BAU that has made them rich.

    It was never about oil, it was always about money, and the fact that ExXon has lots of money compared with most of us is not affected by the amount of energy supply they control. That is an irrelevancy.

    I identified the Koch Brothers and Scaife, there are others.

    The only HELPFUL thing that is happening is that the folks who provide Natural Gas are lobbying and funding research to knock out the coal industry… so they can replace it. I’m not turning that down, but it does not leave me with great confidence.

  16. So what exactly do the Tobacco industry have to gain from funding climate realism?

    …and in case you lot haven’t caught-up, “big oil” (which only accounts for about 5% of global supply, because it’s the National Oil Companies that control by far most of the oil, but I digress) are now actively promoting climate change and responses to it.

  17. Uh Andrew? Do you understand that the Koch brothers and Scaife and ExXon fund the CEI and Heartland and other denialist entities, that ExXon-Mobil has been donating to denialist sites for decades?

    Do you understand that Rupert Murdoch who owns entities like Fox and the Wall Street Urinal (rhymes with journal but bears no relation to one in this case) has ensured that the misinformation remains the rule rather than the exception… and what news entities does he control here in NZ?

    Do you perhaps suspect that without these tireless efforts on behalf of obfuscation and outright lies the issue might have been left with the public, the scientists and the politicians, and would have had a very different trajectory of action?

    The liars are in fact, very organized and quite professional. It IS an industry, started back when the Tobacco lobby was struggling to keep on selling its addictive poisons into the market without so much as a warning label.

    Their lineage is impressive, as is their utter lack of ethics. I have no doubt that if there were a hell, a special place would be reserved just for them, for their notable treasons against the human race.

    I think you need to examine the actual professional conspirators involved in this… if you dare. Understanding the truth often gives rise to a cold murderous fury with the perpetrators of the lies.

  18. What we need to do is to show the average voter that climate change is real and the denial industry is funded by the oil and tobacco companies. NACT got in because too many people believed that climate change wasn’t an urgent problem. Labour didn’t do a very good job of selling some of their moves, such as the moratorium on new fossil-fueled generation, and to some extent, the Green Party must share that as well. NACT took the opportunity to add FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) into the gap and were able to sell their message of “gone by lunchtime”.

    Education is the key, including exposing the myths and manufactured lies.


  19. Not doing the right thing left National more tools to do more harm than otherwise.

    I don’t blame Labour as much, but they had many more years than the last 3 months of their last term, and it isn’t like there wasn’t an understanding of the need to act. We knew.

    So far the liars are still ahead of us.

    Mother Nature has whacked them in the head, but the US Senate and House, and National and ACT, have collectively not the intelligence of my pet rock.

    We’d best look to keeping the infrastructure we build at least 20-30 meters above sea level, and work on plans to move/maintain our information repositories the full 80 meters, because the rich pricks who run this scam aren’t going to give up until they’ve guaranteed the full 6+ degrees or the rest of the people on the planet rise up and kill their sorry asses.

  20. I am not entirely sure that Labour can be blamed for our current position, given that they were moving in the correct direction. National on the other hand undid almost everything Labour had done and then tried to take the credit for our high level of renewable generation.

    On the other hand, Labour moved only slowly because public opinion was divided, and they could have done more to educate the public on AGW and peak oil while they were the government.


  21. its a big ask to say we should trash our economy to “set an example”

    That WOULD be a big ask.

    It isn’t what is asked for though. The goal is to CHANGE our economy.

    Which would, besides making it more sustainable, also make it more robustly independent of the errors being made on the rest of the planet.

    As for the ETS, people SHOULD be in the position of paying US, not the other way around. That we are not in that position has a lot to do with the lack of leadership at the top of both Labour AND National… because it is a place we could have been. Moreover, if you conflate cheaper chinese imports with a good economy, you are forever doomed.

    Do understand though, that the one thing that cannot continue, either on purely economic grounds, or with respect to the environment, is business as usual. That ends. Depending on what we do in terms of taking control of our own money and economy, it ends badly or much worse. You don’t actually have a chance, given the continued obstinacy of the powers that be in other nations, of a good result. Just something that falls short of catastrophe FOR US… and that only if you stop listening to the shills and tools of Wall Street (including John Key).

  22. mrfebruary: I don’t know whether Amy Adams used the term to mean we are good at “punching above our weight”, or that we shouldn’t be (i.e.too big for our boots), but I do like the comment attributed to Nelson Mandela: “It is not our Weaknesses we are afraid of….We are afraid of our POWER; and we are POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE…” Certainly the Power of Thought, including ‘picturing’ that which we want to achieve, can contribute to amazing results..! Of course with the requirement that the power absolutely must be used with WISDOM, for the good of all.

  23. If we lose lots of land for growing food because the big bad sea comes and gets us, then it will drive up the cost of food. This will lead to the starvation of much of the third world. This will make the problem self-rectifying. Less people – less need for food.

    So who cares?

    Ps: Change your Photo, Kennedy. That look on your face is incredibly annoying. (sorry but you need to be told).

  24. Labour has a bill which has been drawn from the ballot to halt future expansion of thermal (meaning fossil fueled) electricity generation.

    (I tried including a link to the news item but this caused my post to disappear – again. What is it with the spam filter and nz-news-yahoo-com?)

    I assume that this bill would allow peaking plants.

    I hope this can be put in place before the electricity assets are sold, although it could push up the sale price of our existing thermal plants.

    We need to keep our natural gas for other purposes as the oil supplies run down.


  25. “genuinely” – and they should do exactly what you want, right?

    Maybe if things like the stupid ETS were changed so the taxes collected weren’t just sent overseas to developing countries to buy cars and build gas power stations, I might be more enthusiastic about it.

    And with the rest of the world ignoring climate change as well, its a big ask to say we should trash our economy to “set an example” and wear our hearts on our sleaves.

    It would get even more people moving to Australia though – does that count as reducing our emissions if nobody is left in NZ except hunter-gatherers.

    Only two more years and then you can have your go.

  26. Kia kaha Kennedy.

    Its the ecological/climate/governance crisis
    just another environmental problem thats a lower priority than GDP above all else.

    As you explained so well that time at the Jonathan Boston-hoted Victoria University talk where you requested Amy “Acolyte” Adams to “desist” from using the cliche “punching above our weight”.

    I hope Mr Bridge’s descendants look back in 40 years time at his speech and that he is still around for them to say “Kennedy Graham explained it to you…and you just fobbed it off with business-as-usual”.

  27. An ecological crisis would certainly lead to an economic crisis but they are most definitely not the same thing, Kennedy. Our ecological crisis is causing the sixth extinction event and humans may be one of those species that doesn’t survive. An economic crisis just means that a lot of humans will be hurt.

    The ETS is almost insignificant in doing anything to mitigate our converging environmental problems, nay predicament. However, you’re right that your questions are bearing on the future of humanity and our planet. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to accept that most people don’t seem to understand the seriousness of our situation and are happy to fiddle while Rome burns.

  28. The government is saying that it is not a good time to increase taxes. Therefore any move to decrease taxes would probably be a good thing. Changing the ETS so that those releasing greenhouse gases pay more would reduce the amount that the government would have to pay for Kyoto credits (or potentially increase the governments earnings if we actually do reduce our emissions enough), so that would allow the government to reduce the amount they need to find from other sources such as taxes.

    It seems they do not understand the economics of their own ETS.


  29. 25 years ago the WCED told us that our survival was “conditional on decisive political action now”. I looked up the word “now” in every dictionary I can lay my hands on, and not one of them defines “now” as being synonymous with “maybe one day” or “never”. Could it simply be that your National party colleagues use a different dictionary to you and I?

  30. Hmmm… yes I did fail to say that.

    Well Done Kennedy.

    You probably need to be as irritating as you can possibly manage to be with these guys… not because THEY will get the point or change their ways. They won’t. They are bought and paid for in many ways.

    The important thing is to make them look as bad they actually are so they wind up being un-elected as soon as possible. So by all means make them angry, make them spout nonsense, catch them denying reality and serving up false solutions.

    For all their efforts they have NOT fixed the economy, and not only have they not done so, any increased activity in the next year or so will be owing to rebuilding Christchurch… which had to be destroyed first, costing us a fair chunk of change. The “broken window” effect on the GDP needs to be uncounted before they can take credit for it.

    No matter what they do their efforts will continue to FAIL to fix the economy because they haven’t a clue how to actually do that. The proper corrective actions all center on their ideological blind spots, they could not admit to them even if they DID understand them.

    But on the whole… yes. Well done. I hope you can continue to sting them, and goad them into publicly visible error. I would probably not be as good at this as you, because I am from New York, and tend to call people the names I think they deserve.

    So probably would not last long in chamber


  31. Society





    Society changes the environment through the actions of its economy.

    It is not direct. We cannot regulate/change the environment directly, we can regulate/change the economy directly and that changes the environment.

    So if there is a distortion in the way the economic system works, the environment suffers, and eventually everything breaks beneath us.

    I submit that there is indeed such a distortion – our monetary system and our resulting dependence on foreign banks and bankers who control OUR monetary system.

    I further submit that FIXING that system will allow us to do the things we actually need to do as a nation. It will not necessarily change the world, but it WILL change our position in it, and it is entirely possible that providing a counter example, a workable alternative, to what every nation now understands is a broken economic system (the PERMANENT global economic crisis)… will in fact give others the ability to change.

    The revolution can start here. Which is good, because it has to start somewhere. We’re here.

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