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If it’s not the cars, it’s the cows

Opinion Piece

Climate change: for many an issue too big, too complex, too controversial/divisive, too abstract, too depressing, too inconvenient . . . too hard.

Climate change provides an opportunity to reshape our communities to be safer, healthier, more equitable and resilient all while decarbonising, but it will require real conversations about what might happen and what we might do.

First the basics. Assistant Professor John Cook from George Mason University summarises a complex topic wonderfully in 10 words: It's real. It's us. It's bad. Experts agree. There's hope.

The surface temperature of the Earth is around 1C warmer than pre-industrial times and this has been validated independently many times. This warming is caused by humans through the release of greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide and methane. If we keep emitting greenhouse gases the planet will keep warming.

There is no debate about any of this in the climate science community. Several reviews of academic literature and thousands of journal articles supports this. Unfortunately there has been a well-funded misinformation campaign, akin to what the tobacco industry ran in the sixties to cloud the link between smoking and lung cancer, that has thrown a veil of confusion over climate science and delayed action.

The continued warming of the Earth will be bad in many ways. Weather events will be more extreme, there will be more floods and droughts, our crayfish and shellfish will struggle to grow shells as the sea's chemistry changes. We'll get new diseases. The Ministry for the Environment says “Parts of the North Island are likely to become receptive to populations of the major mosquito vector of dengue fever”. The changes are here today. Water bubbling up through the drains during a king tide in Thames wasn't part of the plan.

The impacts of climate change won't be felt equally either. The New Zealand Medical Association has said, “Those at greatest risk from the impacts of climate change in New Zealand include the most vulnerable population groups, eg Maori, Pacific peoples, children, the elderly and those on low incomes.” Communities in Tairawhiti will bear the brunt of this change if we allow it to continue.

But there is hope and we can avoid the worst of climate changes' impact by contributing fairly to global efforts to reduce greenhouses gases. New Zealand can't do it alone but then neither can any other country.

The passing of the Zero Carbon Amendment in 2019, whose purpose is to contribute to keeping global warming below 1.5C, means that, in the words of James Shaw The Minister for Climate Change, “. . . global CO2 emissions need to at least halve in the next 10 years”. This is transformational in ways that are generally poorly understood.

Reducing greenhouse gases by at least 50 percent in a decade is a lot, but it is possible and will see us better off. How to do it?

There are many ways we could reduce our emissions and some are less hard than others. But they're all pretty challenging. Our analysis suggests the least hard path for New Zealand is the almost complete decarbonisation of road transportation by 2030. If that sounds pretty radical that's because it is. The scale of change required globally to avoid the worst of climate change is large and has not been well communicated by governments, including our own because, in the words of one New Zealand politician, “it is not a vote winner”.

Decarbonising our fleet is possible by changing the way we travel. Less cars, more active and public travel. If the Gisborne fleet moves to electric vehicles supported by government policies, up to $60m every year would stay in the pockets of the people of Gisborne and much of the rest would flow back to the region for community-owned electricity distribution, rather than being paid to oil and gas companies. Other parts of the world are doing this, to the health and wealth benefit of their communities.

If we chose not to largely decarbonise transport by 2030, other sectors will need to take the load and the two big candidates are ruminant animals, that account for half New Zealand's emissions, and forestry which soaks up about a third.

The forestry and agriculture sectors should now be screaming from the rooftops for policies to decarbonise the New Zealand transport fleet, to allow them time to rethink and evolve their business models. Their lack of voice and support for transport decarbonisation policies is a risk to their jobs and communities.

Climate change will transform New Zealand and Tairawhiti whether we act or don't act. If you want a say in how the transformation looks then you need to engage now.

So what can you do? Start by talking constructively to someone about climate change today. Get petrol and diesel out of your life and business. And come September, vote for climate action like your lifestyle and that of future generations depends on it. Because it does.

■ Dr Paul Winton is an investment adviser who has specialised in climate change issues.

Dr Paul Winton.

  1. Peter Jones says:

    I would only take his investment advice if I wanted to go broke. Try smelting metal using solar power or windmills. This must be hood wink July because the same taki is being spread down at the Emerald hotel next week.

  2. Bob Hughes says:

    Vote for climate action like your lifestyle and that of future generations depends on it. Because they do. Thank you Dr Paul Winton.
    I will be voting Green, the party that sees climate change action as the No.1 priority.

  3. S. Williams says:

    Former climate activist Michael Shellenberger – who has been invited to be an expert reviewer to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – maintains that climate change is occurring but says it is not a “catastrophic threat”.
    He says the science has been hijacked by a “handful” of activist scientists who are spreading “science fiction”.
    “The majority of scientists are not activists, there are actually only a handful of scientists who feel the need to terrify people,” he said.
    “I don’t think this is really that complicated, we need to lift everybody out of poverty, and we need to do our best to preserve natural places and things have just spiralled out of control.
    “This climate change thing has just got too crazy.”
    Shellenberger said he had noticed a “dark tradition” of anti-human rhetoric spilling from climate change activists, including views that humans were a “cancer” or a virus.
    The life-long environmentalist has given Sky News host Chris Kenny a lengthy interview about his decision to speak out against the alarmist rhetoric which he says is creating anxiety in young people.
    Reformed climate activist condemns ‘terrorising school children’ with false science

    Footnote from Ed: As the Guardian notes in an article on this “apology” last week, Shellenberger has been a contrarian voice on environmental issues and a critic of aspects of environmentalism for more than 15 years. His op-ed was first published by Forbes but then removed, it says, “because it violated our editorial guidelines around self-promotion”. The Australian then gave it front-page treatment, followed by the interview on Sky News referenced above. The “apology” op-ed heavily promoted Shellenberger’s new book, Apocalypse Never.
    While the Sky interview makes clear that Shellenberger does not deny that human activity is causing climate change, his claim that it is not making natural disasters worse is counter to abundant evidence. He also says “I know that climate change is not a catastrophic threat” early in the interview; he should tell that to the Bangladeshis who will soon lose a chunk of their country, or people in multiple other areas of the world where their homes and livelihoods are threatened by rising seas, rising temperatures and more severe weather events.
    See: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/04/the-environmentalists-apology-how-michael-shellenberger-unsettled-some-of-his-prominent-supporters

    1. S. Williams says:

      Michael Shellenberger’s original article can be found here:
      On behalf of environmentalists everywhere, I would like to formally apologize for the climate scare we created over the last 30 years. Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem.
      I may seem like a strange person to be saying all of this. I have been a climate activist for 20 years and an environmentalist for 30.
      But as an energy expert asked by Congress to provide objective expert testimony, and invited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to serve as Expert Reviewer of its next Assessment Report, I feel an obligation to apologize for how badly we environmentalists have misled the public.
      Here are some facts few people know:
      • Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”
      • The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”
      • Climate change is not making natural disasters worse
      • Fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003
      • The amount of land we use for meat — humankind’s biggest use of land — has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska
      • The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California
      • Carbon emissions are declining in most rich nations and have been declining in Britain, Germany, and France since the mid-1970s
      • Netherlands became rich not poor while adapting to life below sea level
      • We produce 25% more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter
      • Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change
      • Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels
      • Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture
      I know that the above facts will sound like “climate denialism” to many people. But that just shows the power of climate alarmism.
      In reality, the above facts come from the best-available scientific studies, including those conducted by or accepted by the IPCC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other leading scientific bodies.

  4. S. Williams says:

    We were told (Gis Herald July 4th) “Dr Winton has a PhD in mechanical engineering and was an investment consultant before creating the non-profit 1point5 organisation that aims to focus and amplify the voices of those working towards a 1.5C degree world.”
    ”For the past year he has been working on identifying the most pragmatic path for New Zealand to meet its obligations under a 1.5 degree scenario as outlined in the Zero Carbon Act of 2019.”

    Who is paying for Dr Winton’s research and his organisation? Does he need to declare any conflict of interest? Did he use petrol or diesel to get to Gisborne? After all, he is telling us: ”Get petrol and diesel out of your life and business.”

    He is calling for “decarbonise transport by 2030” and he is promoting electric vehicles. Electric vehicles have major environmental issues of their own.
    Dr Vernon Coleman (UK) in this article “Why Electric Cars Are Bad for the Planet” (www.vernoncoleman.com/badfortheplanet.htm) addresses some of these issues:

    “But I wonder if the fans of electric cars realise that some petrol fuelled cars have been proved to be `greener’ than electric cars? Some electric cars actually have higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than petrol driven vehicles.”
    “The main problem is that electric cars won’t save the planet from anything. Making electric cars (and the batteries they need) requires vast amounts of energy – far more than is needed to produce a non-electric car.
    “Electric cars are called `zero emission vehicles’ but that is only true if you don’t count all the pollution created by the burning of coal and diesel to make the electricity in the first place. The fact is that electric cars are worse for the environment than diesel fuelled cars.”

    “Apart from the obvious question (where do they think the electricity comes from?) electric car batteries require lithium, cobalt and other rare earths which require massive mining investment and much despoliation of the earth. Digging up the metals for the batteries uses up vast amounts of energy – and does irreparable damage to the planet.”

    “It has been proven beyond doubt that electric cars use up more energy than ordinary cars – and are, consequently, worse for the planet.”

    “Here’s another problem no one talks about. In a few years’ time we will have to deal with all the dead batteries taken from the electric cars on our roads. The cars sold in 2017 will produce 250,000 metric tons of battery pack waste.”

    You can also watch Dr.Coleman talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1__klB-PdPk . Unlike Dr Winton, he didn’t use any petrol or diesel to make this video!

    Footnote from Ed, supplied by Paul Winton:
    The 1point5 Project is a not-for-profit project supported by several parties. Cash support for the Six New Zealands survey and content has been provided by Sir Stephen Tindall and Phillip Mills (https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/300003806/six-new-zealands-of-climate-change-which-one-are-you). Temple is providing time pro-bono and a number of other people have provided expertise and time free of charge. Temple has advised businesses and investors across the spectrum of sectors in New Zealand including forestry, agriculture, electricity (generation, distribution and retail) and adjacent sectors over the past 15 years. No clients are funding or involved in The 1point5 Project. For further details refer https://1point5.org.nz/the-project/

    On the use of petrol and diesel, one commentator suggested, “Embrace the hypocrisy” for now. We live in a world that makes fossil fuels and greenhouse gases all but unavoidable in many cases, hence the need for a rapid, global and structural shift, led by government action, in the creation and use of energy and foods. Where possible one should also eliminate greenhouse gases from their life, eg cycle rather than drive.

    1. Anti-Woke, Whatatutu says:

      Michael Moore’s latest doco lays bare the folly of green energy – you’d do well to promote a balanced view Ed rather than the biased one you seem keen to follow.