Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Climate, money and risk

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  • Che Tibby,

    If you're wanting to read some established work debunking common denier myths, i.e. the sort Hide trotted out, I can heartily recommend Skeptical Science.

    They talk on the Climate Show when the guys get it together to podcast.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    “Political leaders, including many in the United States, refuse to accept short-term costs to address long-term dangers even though the future costs of responding to disasters after they occur will be far greater,” said their report, published this month.

    Or accept the costs of clear and present dangers. Everyone might be rather busy at the moment, but it would be interesting to see how budget cuts and Tea Party ideologues have affected the response to those polar vortices.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    they might respond better

    I've had occasion to be engaged in both debates and seen similar behaviours. There does indeed seem to be a point where some people will adhere to a position in the face of any and all evidence. From a people-watching perspective it is really interesting and a little frightening if for no other reason than it makes me question my own firmly held opinions.

    A couple of things seem to be common to both denial groups. Both see some kind of conspiracy. For anti-GM, it is a conspiracy of big business and most of my discussions of late in that debate have evolved into a discussion of the evils of big business, frequently supported by data gathered on Android/Google or Apple devices. For climate change deniers, it's a conspiracy of the politicians. Yes I know that sounds odd given our current government but the discussions seem to come down to evil politicians using climate change to control the liberties (and money) of everyone else. To what end it is not clear but something to do with political power.

    I have tried to become more relaxed about both debates - sure I'll chime in with data when I can - but I don't have any expectation about changing opinions. That's the other thing the extremes in both groups have in common - they are now firmly fixed in their position.

    But away from the extremes there are a lot of people who are willing to see new data and are willing to change their stance. Every time I've argued futilely with a denier I've ended up having side conversations with moderates who really are happy to see new data and accept that what they were told by their brother's girlfriend's co-worker was not quite right.

    It is worth the effort to bring the data.

    The concerning thing is that at present NZ law and political policy supports the deniers. Both the deniers of climate change who want more coal and oil and less regulation of cow burps (although to be fair, crippling our biggest industry to make an insignificant change to global warming is dubious). And the anti-GM lobby who have succeeded in crippling NZ research in this area and preventing our economy from gaining any benefit. NZ law and policy at the moment is in opposition to the consensus of scientific opinion and data on both issues.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • steve black,

    Alas, the mainstream news media don’t understand statistics and data analysis (as you well know) and years ago they to put about a major piece of spin by talking about “global warming” rather than “global climate change”. That one piece of spin did the trick for years. Rodney still uses it here.

    Breaking news for mainstream media (and Rodney Hyde): a change in variation may be more important than a change in some central tendency like the average. If the climate becomes more variable (both place to place in one country, and in the way variation happens over the seasons) you could EXPECT MORE WEIRD WEATHER. You know…CHANGE? Like maybe the wettest month ever, the driest month ever, the most ice in one particular place where a ship gets stuck in summer? Like the concern insurance companies have with how to set risks?

    An interesting recent post on NZ Statschat:

    http://www.statschat.org.nz/2014/01/06/in-the-deep-midwinter

    sunny mt albert • Since Jan 2007 • 116 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    It really does come down to smearing the people who make this science (tens of thousands of them) as hopelessly naive or horrifically deceptive, in some combination. The best film on the subject I've seen is Thin Ice, the work of a New Zealand scientist and amateur filmmaker. Surprisingly hopeful, even given the context.

    The basic science is irrefutable, in any practical sense. Carbon warms the atmosphere very effectively. Humans are producing more of it. Humans are warming the atmosphere.

    The only reason this is up for debate, unlike plate tectonics or photosynthesis, is that it produces a problem that is upsetting in its implications. I have long found that an emotionally unpleasant fact will be buried and replaced with ones that present less harm.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    regulation of cow burps (although to be fair, crippling our biggest industry to make an insignificant change to global warming is dubious)

    I thought the only way of tackling climate change was for everyone to contribute? And for companies to have to pay for environmental costs as part of their total cost of production? I've seen no evidence that this would cripple NZ dairying, which remains immensely profitable.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    and less regulation of cow burps (although to be fair, crippling our biggest industry to make an insignificant change to global warming is dubious).

    How viable is it to talk about replacing pastures with grasses (GM or otherwise) which will reduce the emissions of our ruminants? And if not now, at some point?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to George Darroch,

    It really does come down to smearing the people who make this science (tens of thousands of them) as hopelessly naive or horrifically deceptive, in some combination.

    I once sat in a room being addressed by a Watt’s Up reader who pretty much filled the whole bingo card – including claiming that Niwa scientists were basically corrupt and falsifying results. The poor guy from Niwa next to me was quietly getting really upset.

    I went into bat for him and his colleagues, but I was astonished at the number of apparently intelligent people in the room (it was at Kiwi Foo) who were lapping it up, regardless of the logical contortions the speaker was expecting people to accept. It was quite an eye-opener.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • John Madden,

    There is a discussion on Linked In in a Kea (“New Zealand’s Global Network”) Group on the subject, in particular that New Zealand could and should do better.
    The thrust seems to be that these ex-pats are dismayed that a country that relies on a clean green image can be so disinterested in meeting its obligations. That seems an obvious problem to me but if nobody actually in the country can fire up the issue then people in France and Hong Kong and the UK have no chance. One contributor suggests James Shaw is a “returned” Kiwi who is trying to do something useful. Sadly James ( http://www.jamesshaw.net.nz/ ) is a Green party member.

    United Kingdom • Since Mar 2012 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Sadly? I think it's a good thing that there are smart and determined people who are making an effort to address this problem through politics. The pity is that they are not evenly distributed.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Dave Chowdhury,

    Naturally enough Antarctic sea ice came up while sitting round a campfire in South Marlborough during the hols in the company of a NIWA scientist - who explained the link between the ozone hole and the polar vortex (a region of powerful stormy cyclone winds in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean) that has led to a massive increase in sea ice. There's a good explanation of this here:

    http://frontierscientists.com/2013/11/antarctic-sea-ice-is-growing-heres-why/

    The gist of it is:

    Since 1980, the strength of the polar vortex has intensified by about 15 percent due to ozone depletion. The related storms and sustained freezing temperatures play havoc with Antarctic ice [and this could] explain up to 80 percent of the increase in Antarctic sea ice volume in the last three decades.

    Note to media: this info ain't hard to find, just type "Antarctic ice pack buildup" into a search engine.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2010 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Hmmm, the edit function has been disabled. I am of course a Green Party member myself, and quite supportive of the mainstream of science regarding GMOs. Indeed, disputing the science makes it harder to have the conversation we really need about ethics and ideals.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Shaun Lott,

    If anyone is interested, I would recommend Nate Silver’s great book on the use of Bayesian statistics in prediction, ’The Signal and the Noise’. His chapter on climate change points out that the observations of global warming are clearly demonstrable facts, with a well understood causal mechanism. However, the models that predict the consequences of the warming have a lot of uncertainty in them. So the real challenge here is to respond to a certain prediction of a threat of uncertain magnitude. Will the sea level rise in my lifetime be 2cm, 20cm or 2m? Personally, I’d choose to build my house a little further up the hill…

    Waitakere • Since Aug 2009 • 113 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to George Darroch,

    Hmmm, the edit function has been disabled.

    It shouldn't have been. Is anyone else seeing this?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    (although to be fair, crippling our biggest industry to make an insignificant change to global warming is dubious).

    And beyond the level of lobbyist hyperbole, is the dairy industry really in any danger of being knee-capped by those awful Greens? Serious question, because if anything they’ve gotten a remarkably free ride compared to a lot of industries that have had to adapt or die, and stop whinging about no longer being able to pollute at will in the process. Perhaps I’m just a free market crank, but the rural sector has a quite remarkable -- and ill-founded -- sense of entitlement to nationalize the consequences (and costs) of its activities, and privatize the profits. If nothing else, its really insulting to those who are innovative and playing the long game with science rather than politics.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I was astonished at the number of apparently intelligent people in the room (it was at Kiwi Foo) who were lapping it up, regardless of the logical contortions the speaker was expecting people to accept. It was quite an eye-opener.

    at the start of this debate, a generation ago, so was i.

    then i realised that some smart people just have a vested interest in maintaining their opulent lifestyle - they just like it and don't want to change, and bugger the consequences.

    *says che, with his two mobile devices and recent overseas holiday...

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Shaun Lott,

    So the real challenge here is to respond to a certain prediction of a threat of uncertain magnitude. Will the sea level rise in my lifetime be 2cm, 20cm or 2m? Personally, I’d choose to build my house a little further up the hill…

    Quite. It should be straightforward thinking to assess the risk and determine it is such that doing nothing would be very unwise. Modelling will always be uncertain but when the models say what they're saying it actually doesn't matter if they turn out to be somewhat over or under.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Regarding the creeping-into-news, it's notable that one member of the BSA thought Seven Sharp needed more 'effort to present significant alternative points of view in an item which discussed a highly controversial issue' here. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1312/S00238/mcmillan-and-television-new-zealand-ltd-2013-025.htm

    Thought of that when (as I gather) the "Climate" "Science" "Coalition" show up on TV3 last night.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Quite. It should be straightforward thinking to assess the risk and determine it is such that doing nothing would be very unwise.

    And considering our economy isn't the only one fundamentally dependent on functioning sea ports -- and moving them "up the hill" isn't really an option -- perhaps none of us call really afford to stick our fingers in our ears, then try sticking our whole heads up our arses while we pray Rodney is right.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • steve black, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The Edit function is only available for a certain number of minutes after you make a post. Naturally, I find my typos just after whatever that number of minutes is set to.

    Maybe you need to remind us how long the ability to Edit lasts?

    sunny mt albert • Since Jan 2007 • 116 posts Report Reply

  • David MacGregor,

    Politicians are commissioned by the electorate to have confirmation bias. The facts don't matter much if they will upset the fundamentalist mob that elected you. Objectivity has no place in adversarial politics.

    The scientific community is also riven with political in-fighting for scarce resources and patronage. I know one CSO who thinks Gluckman shouldn't have have his role with the government because his science is no good. Word is that funding is determined (or pre-determined) by cronyism. The PM told the BBC that Mike Joy is wrong and that he could always buy a scientist with a view that aligned with his own politically motivated biases.

    We're probably doomed. Or not. Depending on who you choose to listen to.

    Auckland, New Zealand • Since Feb 2007 • 41 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lilith __,

    I thought the only way of tackling climate change was for everyone to contribute? And for companies to have to pay for environmental costs as part of their total cost of production? I’ve seen no evidence that this would cripple NZ dairying, which remains immensely profitable.

    There are a lot of issues in this. First up, no, for climate change to be controlled we don't need everyone to contribute, but we do need a significant portion of those who produce greenhouse gasses to contribute. New Zealand produces an insignificant amount of greenhouse gasses, not zero, and certainly more if you count the coal we ship to other places to be burnt. And our dairy industry (and sheep) is only a fraction of that. So if we completely eliminated emissions from dairying it would change nothing, equally if we do nothing about emissions from dairying it we have no impact.

    BUT

    The same folks who argue we shouldn't bother reducing the emissions from dairying frequently argue we should maintain a defense force. The logic being if we want others to behave a certain way then we should also behave that way. So yeah I agree with you that as "part of a global community" we should reduce emissions.

    But it is worth noting that without the dairy industry we would be royally F'd. Without the dairy industry we couldn't afford the health system, or welfare, or much of anything. The dairy industry for all it's faults is the difference between our current reasonable lifestyle and real depression. That MUST change or we are F'd in the future. So while I really want the very real harm the dairy industry does to our environment to be reduced I am cautious about how we go about doing that and simply slapping a large carbon tax could do very real long term harm to the NZ economy.

    There are real low cost changes to dairying that the industry (not individual farmers) is stupidly resisting but it is really important to understand just how much NZ relies of dairying for our lifestyle. Hence I'd be cautious about how we try and improve emissions from dairying.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Has Rodney Hide ever visited Australia lately? Temps reaching close to 50 celsius in parts, 3-minute showers and all that.

    A lot of Kyoto-sceptics seem to be part of a wider culture war movement that still thinks the Soviet Union never broke up.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    How viable is it to talk about replacing pastures with grasses (GM or otherwise) which will reduce the emissions of our ruminants? And if not now, at some point?

    It's hard to express how frustrating this is.

    The moment we change our attitude to GM these things will become realistic. I'm not being annoying here and trying to tie one good thing to something some folks still believe is bad.

    YES it is entirely likely that by changing grasses we can reduce emissions from cows and sheep, but realistically only by making GMO grasses. But nobody in NZ can do the work because we can't make GMOs and even if we could figure it out in the lab and test it in field trials there is no foreseeable way under our present laws that we could grow the grasses in New Zealand. And since it would have no benefit to New Zealand we can't get funding for it so we can't even do the research in the first place.

    Please read the above paragraph while visualizing me jumping around and shouting in sheer frustration.

    We have a really good idea about what components of grasses cause more burps and there are a bunch of strategies for reducing them.

    Even more interesting is the idea of changing the bacteria in the ruminant's guts to allow them to process grass without producing burps, but again it's pretty much silly to try and do any of this without GM methods and again because of the regulations any advance you made would be nigh on impossible to implement in NZ and hence you'd be making this amazing improvement to dairying that would only have value outside NZ, which means the government won't fund it. Yes I'm aware that was one sentence.

    Even if we just made the research easier it would help because maybe we could get plant variety rights or intellectual property that could be used elsewhere. But it wouldn't help the NZ industries - and has every chance of giving a competitive advantage to other countries - sigh.

    So much ARGGGGHHHHH!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    But it is worth noting that without the dairy industry we would be royally F'd. Without the dairy industry we couldn't afford the health system, or welfare, or much of anything. The dairy industry for all it's faults is the difference between our current reasonable lifestyle and real depression. That MUST change or we are F'd in the future. So while I really want the very real harm the dairy industry does to our environment to be reduced I am cautious about how we go about doing that and simply slapping a large carbon tax could do very real long term harm to the NZ economy.

    Indeed, diversification is the keyword. So why does it seem so hard to do? I suspect NZ's tradition of anti-intellectualism is a big part of it. Case in point: I remember not too long ago when former FedFarm president Don Nicolson remarked that diversification is a 'waste of time' and that 'every NZer is a farmer'.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

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