Category Archives: Climate Change

Intellectual Bravery

“Nobody’s that good. That’s why we need each other.” – Dr. Barry Bickmore

Anyone can back their own point of view. But real progress comes when you’re able to accept that the things you used to think and do weren’t good enough, that you can do better.

I was struck by this damascene account because not only had Dr. Bickmore accepted that he had been wrong about global warming, but had actually put together a presentation on why. Best of all, he identified the exact info that led him to accept the scientific consensus:

  • Scientific debate about human responsibility for global warming is over.
  • The models used to show changing global temperature are well-supported by a massive variety of evidence.
  • While there is uncertainty, this is normal in science, and global warming is probably higher than the usual estimates.

Beyond the science, though, Bickmore talks personally about how he once managed to avoid the truth. He talks about “me and people like me”, but the fallacies and fallabilities he talks about are human failings, not specific to global warming deniers. Because we all suffer from the tendency to filter information to support our own preconceptions, the ability and courage to change your mind is vital.

Even responsible mainstream media avoid responsibility for reporting the truth through the ideal of ‘neutrality’ or ‘balance’: reporting both sides of the story, even when one side is composed of “truth-challenged individuals”.

On a tangent, possibly more dangerous is the fact that big-R Reality is not limited to two sides – it ramifies in all directions. The media ‘norms’ issues when they claim to present ‘both’ sides. The truth, they imply, lies somewhere in between these two. But nonscientific media deliberately avoid establishing where the truth actually is! Telling two sides of a story implies there are only two sides: no shades of grey, only black and white. Reality is full-spectrum vivid colour (and spilling out beyond the two sides of that spectrum, too, into the invisible!)

Ahem. In the words of Frank Tyger, “Listening to both sides of a story will convince you that there is more to a story than both sides.”

In relation to global warming, for example, the most common prescription is to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade (the 350 parts per million atmospheric CO2 goal). However, not only is that target too high, but we are already producing more emissions than the IPCC allowed for in their ‘worst case scenario’.

The challenge is far-reaching. The International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook points out that the long lifespan of energy infrastructure means that our existing infrastructure will push us over the 350 ppm limit. Unless we radically change our construction habits by 2017, we will be committed to going above 450 ppm within the next half-century.

By building that unsustainable infrastructure, we are creating a future in which we face a bad choice: either turn the atmosphere into a sweltering greenhouse, or stop using CO2-intensive power stations – wasting the work and resources that went into them. Building sustainable infrastructure now means not having to make stupid choices later. And that requires us to admit that what we’re doing now is really, badly, wrong.

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Filed under Climate Change

Mapping your biking route easily

Google maps currently doesn’t let you go anywhere even when you’ve selected that you’re walking, but MapMyRide.com has solved this problem. You can not only go anywhere you want, but turn on/off an option to snap your route to the actual roads. This is great if you’re planning to bike along the road but also take a shortcut through a park or something. Mapping a new route is easy, and you don’t actually have to join. Also it seemed to detect automatically what city I lived in and put me in the city centre (it thought I was in America initially) although I think it helps if you already use Google Maps. You don’t have to be a member already, and it’s totally free to use. They have some sort of iPhone app as well if you’ve got something like that and you’re biking in unfamiliar territory. They are currently testing out their new map which makes it easier to change that setting for “snapping” it to the road or letting your go off road (it’s on the right). Here are some screen shots of a route I drew to get to the Regent on Worcester for the NZIFF:

At the top right it tells you the distance your route is so far. There’s the new beta version of the map. I played with the”hybrid” map type this time, which uses the satellite view overlaid with translucent roads and their names.

In the new beta version, all the view settings are in a handy box in the top left, which looks like this (you can hide it once you’ve selected the options you want by clicking on the little arrow by “map options”):

The marker thing is quite useful if you were going to do a long journey and wanted consistent breaks or something I guess. Or if you’re biking for fitness.

Then there are the route drawing settings:

The “follow roads” button is currently selected, which “snaps” any points you click on to the roads. For example, if I click on one street, then a street three blocks away after a corner, it will navigate itself around that corner. Yay. Clicking the button so it’s not selected will let you go anywhere off road. “Un” is short for “undo the last point” which is good if you accidentally made a point and want to get rid of it quickly. “Cen” centres your latest point drawn and zooms in on it. “Clear all” clears your whole route so you can start afresh.

Then there are helpful options for the points:

I think this could be more straightforward using the delete button on your keyboard once a point is selected. These options are brought up if you click directly on a point.

Go and have a play around! Basically clicking means you want to go to that point, and have a route drawn from the last point (or a line if you’re off roading). Dragging will move the map around. Scrolling zooms in or out. Pretty straightforward really. Personally I do prefer the newer beta version, except it’s not as good as the old one at automatically detecting your location.

PS: If you want to send feedback to these guys about the beta version, I’m sure they’d appreciate it!

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Story of stuff expands

The first time I watched Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” I almost cried with joy. Finally, someone was communicating the most important issues of our time with a clear, simple message which also didn’t bore. The cartoons in The Story of Stuff really do justice to the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words,” without leaving you scratching your head about what the pictures really mean, thanks to Annie’s succinct commentary, complete with excellent analogies that give her arguments a common sense vibe. Best yet, she anticipates a lot of the “but what about x” questions that people are likely to have, and offers practical solutions.

Recently I caught a glimpse of “the story of cosmetics” which was great for people who see cosmetics as a necessity because it didn’t just advocate complete boycotting. The story of cap and trade however is probably the most pertinent to all of us, in the US and NZ, because National has implemented the “free permit” scheme too.  Lastly there’s the story of bottled water, which really does present some alarming figures about how big the problem of bottled water has become, and looks at the wider effects of picking up that pump bottle.

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Filed under Climate Change, economics, Film/Documentary, media, Products

Facepalm-worthy

A few things from the Greens newsletter I received caught my eye, and made me want to move out of New Zealand even sooner than originally desired. When National was voted in, I don’t think most people voting for them realised how awful things could get. The recent protests against mining and the Ecan sackings are only a few examples of actions that not only enraged many sensible New Zealanders, but National voters at well (heheh…sorry, couldn’t resist). Then there was the idea to partly privatise prisons (now potentially in action), and now, ACC (you can also read the bill for arguments of the parties).  I don’t have time to fully give background on all these issues (doing an Honours year), but I think it’s important that people know what is happening in this country, and I don’t mean visits by some boyish teen sensation, but the disgusting and ugly side of the “clean green” image we purport to present to the rest of the world. Unfortunately for us, people the world over are catching on. Here are a few things that we, and the rest of the world, might want to know:

Secret and sorry animal experiments at GE trials, and the Q&A session with Minister of Research, Science, and Technology, on behalf of the Minster for Agriculture.

NZ Food Safety Authority finding illegal levels of lead and outlawed poisons in imported food, then doing nothing to alert the public or remove the toxic food from the shelves. Also, who eats Vietnamese catfish?! Well, I just did a little google, and apparently, the US does, but recently slapped a tariff increase on it because it was competing with the US fish market. The US accused the Vietnamese of “dumping” the fish at ridiculously low prices. Ah, the hypocrisy one can engage in when you’re the most powerful country in the world (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, it’s US corn and grain, except when the US does it, it’s “food aid” – and all this is being supported by the US taxpayer through subsidies to corn growers). Sorry, back to NZ…

The release of methyl bromide (bromomethane), a cancer-causing and ozone-depleting chemical used as a fumigant for exported logs, into the atmosphere, where workers are exposed to it without being properly informed of how toxic it is. The Wikipedia page notes the use of it in NZ and some of its properties, the health effects sections specifically mentions NZ. Read the Q&A with Environment Minister Nick Smith. He basically acknowledges that it is being released into the atmosphere, but seems to regard trading of the logs as less important than the health of the workers: “recapture technologies for methyl bromide are being trialled at my own port in Nelson. But if the use of methyl bromide was suddenly stopped, there would be a huge problem for New Zealand in terms of its exports of logs and timber products to key markets like Australia, China, and India, which require its use.” Ballsy, Nick, really ballsy.

If you have any other resources, even ones that don’t agree with the views expressed in the articles I’ve linked, PLEASE post in the comments!

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Filed under Climate Change, Current Affairs, Government policy

Anti-mining & Ecan sacking protests

The recent protests against mining in protected areas and the protests against the sacking of Ecan and their replacement by nationally appointed commissioners were somewhat heartening to hear about after the announcements. A Greenpeace video shows the huge groups that turned out to the former and Radio NZ mentioned the latter protest briefly (I can’t seem to find an mainstream media article about it though) during the protest itself, which they estimated about 300 people turned up to. They also have an article (via signon) with plenty of photos of the event.

Regarding the mining issue, John Key and Gerry Brownlee have tried to give the impression that NZ is divided “50/50”, which seems an obtuse statement considering the size and sophistication of the protests, both on the street and as expressed through social networking sites (there’s a Facebook group if you haven’t joined already, or you can “like” the “ours not mine” thingee). Brownlee noted that mining already happens on conservation land, as if that were somehow justification for further exploitation. Mostly though there are calls that it will benefit the economy, although what “economy” means in this context has not been elaborated on. Any guesses why?

Sadly, it looks like there will be no more election with regards to Ecan until 2013.

Links

NZ Herald article on the mining protests

Greens articles on the mining issue + submission

or…send a submission via “Don’t undermine NZ” (Greenpeace)

A discussion about the debate “To Mine or not to Mine” that was televised on Back Benches

Our water, our vote

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Filed under Climate Change, Current Affairs, Government policy

Impossible dreams

We will be using twice the planet’s capacity; that’s physically impossible. And that’s our collective dream.

Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of the Global Footprint Network.

Eternal growth is the central dream of capitalism. The promise of profit informs investment, invention, industry. It’s possible that it’s impossible to find the political will for any project that seriously threatens growth.

Today is Earth Overshoot Day – the day when humanity has used the total amount of resources that the Earth can regenerate in a year. All resources used beyond this point dig too deep, damaging the Earth’s ability to provide for us in future. Every year, Earth Overshoot Day comes a little earlier though this year, it came two days later than in 2008 – long may the recession continue >< ).

This is the price of dreams of limitless growth: you run past the very real limits, and then you pay the price.

In the early days of the 20th Century, there was the very real threat that the Western working class would rise up and overthrow capitalism. Hard to imagine these days I know. Thing is, they lived (by our standards) in abject poverty. The world had just gone through a period of economic liberalisation (sometimes referred to as the first round of globalisation), the welfare state didn’t exist. Unions were massive, militant, and revolutionary. Economic growth was an important part of the New Deal, which defused the tensions over class inequality by guaranteeing that all would benefit from a growing economy, with the extra value spread around through progressive taxation and a welfare system. In addition to being the source of economy-wide profit, economic growth also relieves the tensions of inequality in our class system.

So what happens when the economy has grown to fill all the space available? When all natural resources are fully exploited (or rather, overexploited: we already use more than the earth produces, and dump more than it absorbs).

The first thing to realise is that this is not an abstract question, nor one that sits safely in the distant future. It’s already happened countless times, though on a local scale far less disastrous than the present crisis. The Mediterranean, famous for thousands of years as a fertile cradle of civilisation, has suffered massive desertification. The ‘fertile crescent’, between the Tigris and Euphrates, the ‘historical garden of Eden’, is better known these days as the dust-blown, bomb-pocked desert backdrop of the occupation of Iraq.

This is not a drill. Exceeding the carrying capacity of one’s environment has brought down countless civilisations throughout history, and there is every sign it will end ours, too. Malnutrition alone already claims millions of lives each year, even leaving aside lack of other resources like healthcare. Now, you could say that this has nothing to do with the limits to economic growth, that it’s a problem of distribution. Yes, the USA throws away more than enough food to feed all of Africa. But this leads to the second point.

We live in a radically unequal society. Different people will run out of different resources at different rates, and unequal distribution will accentuate the burden on the humanity’s poorest. The system will eventually hit a wall, but rather than an abrupt twisting of flesh and metal it will be a prolonged affair. Most of our awareness of it will be awareness of the suffering of distant others.

This inequality produces all sorts of pressures, and once we can no longer hold out the promise of growth and improvement, many will find the pressure intolerable. In addition to civil unrest, we will see migration out of resource-starved areas (well, more: we already see a lot of this), wars over resources (again, I’m not actually predicting anything new here) and deepening class divisions (ok, I don’t have a single original thought).

Happy Earth Overshoot Day.

Links

A range of tools for approximating your ecological footprint.

Global Footprint Network.

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Filed under Climate Change, economics, Food

Paying twice for carbon emissions

As if it weren’t bad enough that citizens generally have to deal with most of the negative consequences of climate change, the current government wants us to pay twice for the outputs of big businesses. The current proposal on an ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) for New Zealand basically puts a limit on the price of carbon that certain businesses will have to pay. The rest of the bill (if prices fluctuate too much) is going to be footed by taxpayers through the government. Effectively, this lets key polluters carry on with business as usual and provides no incentive (in fact, subsidising carbon emissions is really an “anti-incentive”) to develop innovative ideas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Jeanette Fitzsimons put out a press release denouncing the plan, stating: “It would be easier and cheaper if the National Party just wrote some big cheques and handed them to our largest foreign-owned companies.”

To give an analogy, imagine you’re a kid called Sally. You share a room with your brother Bill. Bill is a messy kid, and despite efforts to try and keep your room tidy, Bill can and will, in a matter of minutes, destroy any efforts for cleanliness. You love him dearly, of course, and you rely on his humour for sustanence in the presence of your conservative parents. But truly, your room is not a pretty sight. It’s not just you being nitpicky and fussy – his untidiness is beginning to affect your life, because every time you need to head out, you need to spend twice as much time looking for clothes, and the moulding pizza under his bed probably isn’t doing you any good in the health department. Finally, you decide to ask your parents to lay some smack down. Not literally, of course. They decide that for every unit of mess Bill creates, he has to pay twenty cents. However, since he spends all his money on lollies at the dairy, if he can’t pay the bill, that’s ok, your parents will take the money out of your allowance. Unfortunately, this analogy isn’t just something the average New Zealander will be able to ignore as some nightmare-ish situation from a bygone era – this may be happening very soon, on a very significant scale.

The government is willing to fund the excesses of polluting industries, presumably funded from the savings it is making from cuts to funding elsewhere – including schemes that can improve the lives of every day citizens (check the post regarding the slashing of night classes funding). Strange priorities.

What makes this idea even harder to swallow is that while price caps on things like basic freakin necessities like food in developing countries would be considered unholy interventions on the operation of the “free market,” we’re allowed to put price caps on carbon (not just to protect only our own industries, either). Regardless of whether or not you think increased carbon dioxide or any other greenhouse gasses contribute to climate change, it’s pretty obvious that the only ones benefiting from price caps on carbon are the shareholders of the companies such a policy would apply to (that is, already relatively wealthy or lucky individuals). This seems to be, nay, is, a recurring theme with National, who recently also upped funding to private schools by 75%.

Links

Carbon price cap ‘could increase emissions’
National under pressure to strenghten ETS proposal
Cap-and-ban could kill carbon market, warns broker

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Filed under Climate Change, Government policy