Southerly by David Haywood

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Southerly: A Tale of Two Iceblocks: Part 1 (Or How Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in New Zealand Can Cause Us To Do the Wrong Thing)

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  • David Haywood,

    For nigh on 20 years I’ve been attempting to explain this point to people outside the field of energy engineering—with almost zero success (which I’m sure is down to my limited communication skills, alas). I’m hoping that by discussing this in terms of something that all humanity loves and understands—viz. iceblocks—then I might finally manage to make a breakthrough.

    Apologies to those already familiar with the problem (of accounting for New Zealand’s GHG emissions according to the UNFCCC guidelines) if I have made this explanation overly simplistic.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Atmospheric Injury and the Blockheads
    I think you have the problem licked!
    But there is one sticking point…
    the stick: plastic or wood?
    - where is the wood sourced?
    and is it not also sequestered energy and carbon?
    and to wrap up..
    the wrapper – plastic or paper?

    I am glad that these considerations had no impact back in my youth, raised as I was in Sydenham – a mere two blocks from the Tip Top factory (next to the railways goods sheds) – it was a regular thing to call by after school to see if there were any broken or damaged ice-creams, coming back on the delivery trucks, that needed to go back into the energy cycle – best stoked by feeding to growing children rather than throwing out!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    I'm very happy to have a civil discussion on this topic, but -- it just occurred to me -- for some people anthropogenic climate change is a rather emotion-laden issue.

    Could we possibly avoid a stooshie (sp?) about whether the climate scientists and atmospheric physicists are right or wrong -- and concentrate purely on the subject of aligning price signals in New Zealand with desired behaviour in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions?

    Many thanks for your anticipated co-operation!

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    I only buy Nice Blocks - from a New Zealand company which pays a living wage to its employees. Can you factor that into the equation? And what if you make your own in your own fridge?

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3226 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    But there is one sticking point…
    the stick: plastic or wood?
    - where is the wood sourced?
    and is it not also sequestered energy and carbon?
    and to wrap up..
    the wrapper – plastic or paper?

    Yes, you're quite right, Ian -- I just didn't want this to get too complicated! My main point at the beginning of the piece was to demonstrate that no matter what attention you invested in calculation, the GHG emissions of the "foreign" iceblock were not included in NZ's total (and therefore could lead to exactly the wrong outcome if a price is implemented on New Zealand's "official" emissions).

    The energy/GHG sequestered in the wooden stick is also an interesting issue. I'm willing to believe that a new forest (that will remain on that site forever) is genuinely sequestering carbon dioxide. I'm not very convinced about some of the creative GHG accounting in terms of iceblock sticks and similar...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    I only buy Nice Blocks – from a New Zealand company which pays a living wage to its employees. Can you factor that into the equation?

    Yes, there are, of course, ethical issues in terms of buying an iceblock from abroad so as to avoid paying health & safety costs, etc. that you would demand in your own country.

    I'm now wondering if my choice of example was excessively delicious, and will (understandably) distract the minds of readers onto the earthly pleasures of iceblocks -- rather than the fact that our current system of accounting for GHGs can lead to an increase in GHGs (from well-intentioned efforts to reduce them).

    Nice Blocks are my favourite, too...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to David Haywood,

    stooshie (sp?)

    Stoush: a brawl or other fight...
    :- )

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to ,

    I’m surprised the NZ electricity generator and lines company’s haven’t pointed out that Solar panels and battery’s cost lots of carbon to make, so putting solar panels all over the roof rather than using the hydro dams, isn’t as cosmic as it looks.

    It's all very headache-inducing, Steven. The short answer: because someone might point out how much carbon dioxide was released when making the concrete for the hydrodams, not to mention the methane released by the anaerobic decomposition of the original vegetation under the dam waters!

    To evaluate this stuff you can work out a GHG payback period, i.e. when the renewable energy from the manufacture of the dam or solar set-up “pays back” the GHG that would have been released from the dirty electricity that the hydrodam or solar set-up displaces. (Hopefully this period is considerably shorter than the life of the dam or solar set-up!)

    Much as I like the storage of hydro, it does have its problems in New Zealand. Only after the Alpine Fault goes off will we be able to evaluate the true cost of those dams.

    It’s enough to give you a terrible headache, quite frankly…

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    stooshie (sp?)

    Stoush: a brawl or other fight…

    Sorry Ian, I had momentarily lapsed into Scottish! It would be interesting to figure out the directionality of development of those words: was stoush or stooshie (sp?) first?

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to David Haywood,

    was stoush or stooshie (sp?) first?

    It seems that the word ‘stoush’ applies primarily in New Zealand and Australia and appears to be derived from the Scottish word stooshie. And your spelling was correct David.

    While appreciating your desire for ice block simplicity, surely the Chinese block travelling thousands of kilometres to market whilst remaining frozen also increases its total emissions?

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1438 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Alfie,

    It seems that the word ‘stoush’ applies primarily in New Zealand and Australia and appears to be derived from the Scottish word stooshie. And your spelling was correct David.

    Thanks, Alfie – very interesting!

    While appreciating your desire for ice block simplicity, surely the Chinese block travelling thousands of kilometres to market whilst remaining frozen also increases its total emissions?

    Yes, you’re quite right, of course – although the actual transport by ship doesn’t add much in the way of emissions (small in comparison to transport via land in trucks). There’s also the effects of storage in NZ (manufacturing all year but selling mainly in summer, etc.). Not to mention the differences in shipping distances for the sugar and so on. That’s why I decided (as stated) to only consider cooling of the water and neglect transport and anything else. Turns out you could just about write a Ph.D. on GHG emissions from iceblocks alone.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to ,

    There’s the modern idea to mitigate some of the cost.

    There are certainly some fascinating plans along these lines, Steven (a case where I had underestimated human ingenuity in the past)…

    My own memory of the Hoover Dam relates to my intention for an un-American walk along the top. A policeman with a gun stopped me by saying; “You may think you can walk that far without collapsing, but I’m here to tell you that you can’t”. It was 45degC from memory, so he may have had a point.

    If you rode a bicycle in Las Vegas then you have me (partially) to thank for not having to wear a helmet.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    Alfie wrote:

    … surely the Chinese block travelling thousands of kilometres to market whilst remaining frozen also increases its total emissions

    Yes, of course. But as David keeps re-iterating in his comments, the details of the ice-block are irrelevant. The ice-block is merely an example, to show how taxing carbon for goods manufactured in NZ will send the wrong price signal to the market, so it would favour the worse outcome for the world.

    Edit: I'd just like to re-assure you, David, that at least one person out here understands what you did, and is pleased to have been educated on why taxing carbon is a tricky problem.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 620 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    I’d just like to re-assure you, David, that at least one person out here understands what you did, and is pleased to have been educated on why taxing carbon is a tricky problem.

    Cheers, Brent! I think that brings my total to about four people in maybe 18 years (I suppose on an annual basis that's not too bad -- nearly 1/4 person per year)!

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Attachment

    I didn’t really want to post these charts since the one on the right is very approximate. This is a ball-park analysis that I did in 2009 quickly updated for the 2014 year. The intention of the analysis was to show a ballpark figure for GHGs embodied in imports, and to explore the probable(-ish) upper limit for agricultural emissions.

    The key point is that by using the standard UNFCCC “production” methods you get a very different analysis than the more correct “consumption” approach.

    For example, in the standard accounting system agriculture (the blue area) is about 50 per cent of all emissions. But because all that embodied methane & NO is exported out of the country then it’s (guessimated here) to be actually no more than 25 per cent.

    Looking at the first chart some might say there was little point in doing anything about NZ’s GHG emissions because of the difficult-to-fix methane. Looking at the second chart you can see that there’s lots to be achieved via the easier-to-fix area of energy (the red area).

    Hopefully this will further explain my point (though don’t quote or rely on these numbers)…

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    I know that there was a team looking at exactly my example above for NZ before the earthquakes 2009. But I'm on a very old computer here (with actual brontosaurus damage, I think), and I can't find the results.

    If anyone can locate them then I'd be grateful if they could post them here...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    To address the policy issue: it wouldn't be a problem if the countries we imported from also put a price on carbon. Then the cost would be built right in.

    For imports from countries without such pricing, a border carbon tax is justified.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    I think you’re onto it Ian. Part of the point of a carbon tax is to signal to the world that we are serious about reducing carbon – so hey, how about you? Price signals to consumers* are one part of the project – but only one part. International signalling is important too.
    Clearly to have any chance at a decent impact, taxing carbon needs to be global. Trade agreements in future will almost certainly work along these lines (unless the world sees a Trump presidency. In which case, all bets are off. For pretty much everything!)
    [*A carbon tax isn’t just – or even primarily? – aimed at consumers, but at producers, too, of course. Isn’t it possible that the NZ iceblock manufacturer will (in response to a carbon tax) even further reduce their dirty energy consumption, install a wind generator, avoid any carbon tax at all and end up doing ok – especially as dirty energy gets phased out in China?]

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    I don't recall hearing the import side but various Act leaders and farmers have made the argument about sending production to dirtier climes offshore. So David has not been alone here all this time.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    To address the policy issue: it wouldn’t be a problem if the countries we imported from also put a price on carbon. Then the cost would be built right in.

    Exactly.

    For imports from countries without such pricing, a border carbon tax is justified.

    That's the appeal of modifying GST into a PGST (Polluting Goods and Services Tax), which therefore wouldn't be violating the conditions of any of our trade agreements.

    The important thing is not to implement any policy that would have the effect of unintentionally increasing global GHG emissions. There's a whole bunch of genuine emissions from New Zealand that we can relatively easily do something about (and that will genuinely reduce global GHG emissions). Let's actually work on that...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Alfie,

    It seems that the word ‘stoush’ applies primarily in New Zealand and Australia and appears to be derived from the Scottish word stooshie. And your spelling was correct David.

    Apologies - Och! My Caledonian ancestors will be rolling in their graves and tumbling in their tumuli - I see 'stushie' is an acceptable variant as well - one learns summat new every day...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    [*A carbon tax isn’t just – or even primarily? – aimed at consumers, but at producers, too, of course. Isn’t it possible that the NZ iceblock manufacturer will (in response to a carbon tax) even further reduce their dirty energy consumption, install a wind generator, avoid any carbon tax at all and end up doing ok – especially as dirty energy gets phased out in China?]

    This is a complicated area. The problem is that GHG emissions have a genuine cost, which will be paid by people in the future. If manufacturers can avoid this genuine cost (by passing it onto future generations) then -- generally speaking -- they can undercut competitors who don't.

    Yes, the carbon tax is ultimately aimed at the "manufacturers" who produce the GHGs, but it seems to me that this is most effectively done via the consumer, i.e. so that the price of a product signals the true cost (including GHG emissions). Then consumers will be incentivized to purchase products from manufacturers who can minimize prices by minimizing their GHG emissions.

    Of course, purchasing decisions are not based wholly on price, but -- all other things being equal -- it will be an extremely important determining factor.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    a C O' grief...
    Local taxes only make sense if the damage done can be kept local – as the atmosphere is a global phenomena a globally uniform solution is required and tax ain’t the answer, a massive paradigm shift is…
    I recommend Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut novel The Windup Girl for a glimpse into the world our present course may leave behind…

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Lyndon Hood,

    various Act leaders and farmers have made the argument about sending production to dirtier climes offshore.

    Yes, although unfortunately their arguments are usually accompanied by the “New Zealand is too small to make any difference, so let’s not do anything” fallacy.

    Ultimately anywhere can be broken down into an area that’s too insignificant to matter (I heard the same argument from a neighbour when I lived in Berkeley: “Why should Berkeley bother with a scheme to reduce emissions when it’s too small to make any difference”). And hence everyone has an excuse to do nothing by this logic.

    ACT and I differ in that I would say that every individual has a logical responsibility to do what they can. If everyone did then we could solve practically all of society’s problems.

    I shall be leading all readers in a chorus of Kumbayah later this evening…

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson, in reply to David Haywood,

    If everyone did then we could solve practically all of society’s problems.

    Imagine

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 620 posts Report Reply

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