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PERSONAL BLOG - updated 18 August 2017

New Zealand Minister of Energy & Resources Clanger in Question Time - 18 August 2017

I have been following the New Zealand Parliament Question Time for some years now and the following clanger by Judith Collins, Minister of Energy and Resources, in response to questions by Julie Anne Genter, Green Party Member of Parliament has prompted me to save the video and transcript of this 16th August 2017 exchange. The video can be seen on the YouTube link here
Judith Collins justified continued oil and gas exploration in New Zealand because “the International Energy Agency forecasts that oil and natural gas will account for almost half of the world’s needs until at least 2040”.  At the end of her questions Julie Anne Genter sought to “leave a table of an analysis that 80% of all existing coal and gas fossil fuels in the ground cannot be burnt.” It is a shame that the format of Question Time does not allow a proper debate which would more clearly demonstrate to the New Zealand public the full extent of Judith Collins’s fallacious justification. If all nations were to burn more than 20% of the current known reserves of fossil fuels, then they would be abrogating their responsibilities to curb greenhouse gas emissions and escalate the extent of climate change. International refereed journal publications that address this issue are listed below followed by websites and a 2015 article in The Guardian.

‘The Geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2°C’ by Christophe E. Mcglade and Paul Ekins, 2015 – ResearchGate link here
‘Review of Fossil Fuels and Future Energy Technologies’ by Naeem Abas, Anam Kalair, and N. Kahn, 2015 – ResearchGate link here
‘Depletion of fossil fuels and anthropogenic climate change - A review’ by Mikael Hook and Xu Tang, 2013 – ResearchGate link here
Why we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground’ – 350.or link here
‘Which fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change?’ – link here
‘Leave fossil fuels buried to prevent climate change, study urges’ – The Guardian link here

Another theme which appears time and again in Question Time is the fallacious claim that the New Zealand economy is improving because GDP is growing. GDP is an indicator of economic activity which includes both positive and negative contributions to the welfare of the nation. For example, the needs to rebuild after an earthquake, clean up the devastation of floods, and clean up our drinking water supplies – recent major events in New Zealand - are not a positive. Undertaking long overdue upgrading and maintenance of infrastructure is an indictment against past mismanagement and planning. Education of the general public is the key against the “emperor has no clothes on” deception, hopefully unwittingly, by those who implement national policies on our behalf.
As an aside, I have made the observation a number of times that the term “sustainability” has been hijacked and bastardised – e.g. “sustainable economic growth” which is an oxymoron.  The term “green growth” is now also commonly used. In Question Time the term “resilience” has been used out of context time and time again, another example of semantic distortion. It is a battle against obfuscation that the genuine sustainability movement needs to confront head on and oppose.

An Example of the Folly of Wishful Thinking - 12 August 2017

Have a look at the New Zealand Pure Advantage website and its About page - link here

Comprised of business leaders who believe the private sector has an important role to play in creating a greener, wealthier New Zealand, Pure Advantage is a not-for-profit that investigates and promotes opportunities for green growth.
Against a gathering storm of population, climate and resource pressures, sustainable living has become an urgent challenge for everyone.
There is, however, a silver lining to this cloud – a growing awareness that environmental sustainability and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, and that significant opportunities await those who meet the challenge with speed, creativity and firmness of purpose.”  (My highlighting)

The First Law of Sustainability

Population growth and/or the growth in the rates of consumption of resources CANNOT BE SUSTAINED!  

Economic growth cannot be sustained because growth of the economy (growth in economic activity) cannot be totally decoupled from growth in the consumption of resources.

Have a look at Richard Heinberg’s publication “There’s No App for That” which can be downloaded for free from the link here

One of Richard Heinberg’s major conclusions on pages 51 and 52 advocates that the environmental movement should return to first principles in order to become more effective. The Pure Advantage website and its underlying philosophy is an example of why the genuine environmental movement needs to return to First Principles so as to oppose the folly of wishful thinking.

Earth Overshoot Day - 2 August 2017

Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the day in this year of 2017 when we have already used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year. Have a look at France’s Minister of the Ecological Transition addressing his nation on Earth Overshoot Day (YouTube link here with English subtitles). His statement and commitment to addressing Climate Change makes a  striking contrast to our own New Zealand Minister for the Environment. Our independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, has issued a rallying call to to all Members of all parties in the New Zealand Parliament to come together to tackle climate change. Dr Wright has recommended “... a new Act that is similar to the UK Climate Change Act. This is a law that was passed with overwhelming cross-party support in the House of Commons in 2008. At least nine other countries have since passed similar legislation, including Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland.” New Zealand is currently lagging far behind in terms of serious comittment to addressing Climate Change. Dr Wright’s publication ‘Stepping stones to Paris and beyond: Climate change, progress, and predictability’ can be downloaded here

World Population Day - 11 July 2017

The issue of population growth is the elephant in the room which many people ignore. If we want to address the issue of climate change by reducing our CO2 and equivalent contributions to the atmosphere, then it is the product of the number of people on planet Earth and their individual consumption rates of fossil fuels etc. that impacts on our climate. To ignore population growth will forestall the best of our intentions to address climate change.

In the 1970s my wife and I took the Zero Population Growth cornerstone of sustainability very seriously and we subsequently restricted our family size to two children. We were lucky – we had a daughter and then a son.  Some 40 years later the right to have as many kids as you want in New Zealand is still regarded as being sacrosanct. Even in more enlightened sustainability circles, I have encountered people who have been offended when I point out that one of the most effective ways of reducing our ecological footprint is to restrict the size of our families. For example, see the following publications and YouTube video:

‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’ edited by Paul Hawken - link here
‘The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions’ by Seth Wynes and Kimberley Nicholas published in the Journal Environmental Research letters 2017 - download link here
‘Sustainability 101: Exponential Growth - Arithmetic, Population and Energy (Full - Updated)’ - Al Bartlett - YouTube link here

To suggest that all countries, including under developed countries, should restrict population growth by reducing the size of families is regarded as being politically incorrect. Common responses to a call to curb population growth include accusations of right-wing fascist coercion and a knee jerk assumption that the call to curb population growth is based on the politics of eugenics. Along with rights come responsibilities. We all have a responsibility to our current and future generations to leave our planet Earth in a no less worse state than when we were born into it. Education, and not coercion, is the key to families deciding for themselves to restrict the number of children they have. Families in underdeveloped countries need assistance from richer countries to both improve their standard of living, level of education, and to make a transition to a sustainable economy.

A realistic Approach to Future Urban Transport - 9 July 2017

This is a realistic approach to future urban transport compared to putting electric motors and batteries into the same old, same old, 5 seater, bulky and heavy car for urban commuting with no passengers. I just can’t wait to buy one to replace my 1994 670 cc three cylinder Suzuki Alto. It will get me over the hill from Green Island to the city, keep me protected in all inclement weather, store my groceries in the back, and feel more safe than riding an electric bike or electric scooter in traffic. Focus should be on this type of approach and technology than on the misdirected same old, same old, driverless cars.

Climate Change and Peak Oil: What Now?  - 26 April 2017

With regards to climate change and peak oil, I am an optimistic pessimist. I want there to be and hope for a smooth and peaceful transition to a stable steady state economy for all nations with greater equity between and within all countries. However, given the multiplicity of information and data from diverse and what seem to be the most reliable sources of information, I fear that the future before 2050 will be strife for millions around the globe. Society has ignored warning signals about both climate change and peak oil over the past 40 years and tends to respond only to emergencies. I suspect that even now insufficient action will be taken in New Zealand and other countries to address the issues of climate change and peak oil. If so, then ensuing problems and strife will continue to multiply and escalate. In the extreme, there could be a Third World War where nuclear weapons are used.

New Zealand is naturally endowed with hydro and geothermal resources and is currently able to generate 80% of its total electricity demand using these renewables including wind power. So long as current global strife does not degenerate into World War III, New Zealanders should fare OK in the long term on a lower than current total energy consumption per capita using solely renewable energy based electricity generation. Hopefully we will add sufficiently more renewable energy based electricity generation, but there are likely to be teething pains on the way. In order to retain a national rather than a village society, we need to invest now rather than later in the necessary infrastructure for an electricity based railway system linking cities otherwise each and every town and city will need to achieve greater self-sufficiency. Multiple duplication of manufacturing in each town and city would result in a greater cost for each town and city. If the additional costs cannot be met, then the consequences would be a much simpler lifestyle than what we could achieve otherwise. The same applies in terms of renewable based energy transport systems between countries and self sufficiency within each country. For example, are we able to manufacture computers in New Zealand without importing necessary components? If not, then what form of renewable energy will be used in the future for transport of desirable if not essential components and resources between countries? Provision of transport between countries using only renewable energy is far more problematic than providing electricity based transport systems linking cities within a country.  

The Comalco aluminium smelter at Tiwai point in Bluff currently uses 13% of New Zealand’s total electricity generation. A related decision to New Zealand investing in an electricity based transportation system linking cities is the decision of when and whether to scrap Comalco entirely or to downgrade the level of production of aluminium for domestic use only. New Zealand currently uses non-renewable energy to generate 20% of its total electricity. The argument that aluminium can be produced more efficiently here in New Zealand than in another country because its production uses solely renewable energy sources doesn’t hold water because New Zealand doesn’t have a surplus of hydro and geothermal energy that can be earmarked as being used by Comalco. The energy currently used by Comalco could be diverted to use by an electric railway system linking cities which would in turn enable a reduction and eventual elimination of fossil fuels currently used by trucks transporting goods between cities.

The question as to what are the true benefits and costs of continuing to supply Comalco with electricity needs to be addressed and debated, especially given New Zealand’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and the more recent Paris Agreement.  Do the benefits of employment for New Zealanders working at Comalco outweigh the costs of using non-renewable energy that is needed in order to match the total electricity demands of New Zealand? It may be that the benefits of employment currently do outweigh the costs, but this cannot continue forever under conditions of peak oil where not only the rate of energy supply continually declines and can no longer match the previous rate of demand at the peak, but the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI) also continually declines, a double whammy. The true benefits and costs of continuing to supply Comalco with electricity need to be established and monitored on a regular basis and appropriate decisions need to be made.

One other hope I have is that New Zealand does not degenerate into a totalitarian society should problems ensuing from climate change and peak oil multiply and escalate. It dismays me when one third of our voting population do not vote at national elections. It would be a disaster if discontent of voters in New Zealand should result in a majority support of a demagogue by default. Everyone entitled to vote in New Zealand should vote so as to ensure that we maintain a democracy.  

An Example of Misinformation and Propagation Over the Internet - 19 February 2017

The website provides the following synopsis of the book "Ecoscience" which is listed as being authored by John P. Holdren:  
"In [sic]1977 book, John Holdren advocated forced abortions, mass sterilization through food and water supply and mandatory bodily implants to prevent pregnancies"
The book ‘Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment’ was first published in 1970. I purchased the 1977 publication in 1978. From memory the book did not advocate “forced abortions, mass sterilization through food and water supply and mandatory bodily implants to prevent pregnancies." To double check this, I downloaded the PDF version of the book and did a search of the keywords "abortion", "sterilization", and "pregnancy". The book provides comprehensive and detailed histories of birth control, abortion, and sterilisation that have been carried out in various countries. The book does not advocate “forced abortions, mass sterilization through food and water supply and mandatory bodily implants to prevent pregnancies." Instead, the book addresses the serious issue of over population growth and advocates the ultimate need for zero population growth by way of voluntary birth control because any form of growth cannot continue forever.
The 1977 publication of Ecoscience was co-authored by Paul R. Ehrlich, Anne H. Ehrlich, and John P. Holdren. In 1977 Paul Ehrlich was a Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, Ann Ehrlich was a Senior Research Associate in Biological Sciences at Stanford University, and John Holdren was an Associate Professor of Energy and Resources at the University of California. Paul Ehrlich wrote the chapters on population which addressed birth control and not John Holdren. The claim "John Holdren advocated forced abortions, mass sterilization through food and water supply and mandatory bodily implants to prevent pregnancies" is incorrect and libelous.
The above website invites readers to write book reviews and claims that reviews would be vetted before being posted on the website. I wrote more or less the same text as the above blog finishing with advice to remove the libelous statement. To my surprise my advice was posted as a book review. The above website is an example of how lack of proper vetting and double checking of information content can not only lead to propagation of misinformation over the Internet, but also a continuation of misinformation.
A PDF copy of the above website page as of 19 February 2017 which includes my “book review” can be downloaded here

Oil Exploration in New Zealand Waters - 14 January 2017

According to the New Zealand Greenpeace website : "The word's biggest seismic blasting ship - known as 'The Beast' - is exploring for oil in the seas between Kaikoura and Napier. Despite the climate crisis, the risk of catastrophic oil spills and the immediate harm done to marine life, Statoil and Chevron are exploring for new oil at the invitation of the NZ Government".
The New Zealand government does not understand or ignores that in order to avoid climate change above 2 degrees, 80% of current known oil reserves must stay in the ground. Carbon Tracker  warns that fossil fuel firms risk wasting $2 trillion on uneconomic projects in the next decade if they pursue business as usual strategies. A COP21 Carbon Asset Risk conference was held in 2015. In a Youtube video of one of the proceedings, fund managers of major pension funds demonstrate 57 minutes 53 seconds into the video that they are well aware of Carbon Asset Risk and have subsequently disinvested in the fossil fuel sector. It is shameful when a government charged with acting on behalf of the Public Good lags behind the private sector.