Year of extreme reporting was pretty bad

APTOPIX California Wildfires

This is a response to an article in the NZ Herald on the 30th Dec 2017 by John Roughan titled ‘Year of extreme weather was not too bad’.

Dear Mr. Roughan,
It seems that you have not been following the climate change issue too closely. This puts you in good company here in New Zealand. I felt that the problem was so under-reported in this country that I elected to study it myself: reporting on my findings and sharing them. I became an amateur blogger and podcaster.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have a profession of my own, and I would take a pretty dim view of anyone without experience jumping in and expecting it to be easy. Articles like yours certainly encourage me, however. Typos and grammar aside, your piece entitled ‘Year of extreme weather was not too bad’ was so entirely devoid of useful content that would be hard for me to do worse. Your attempt to convince the reader not to worry about climate change provided no references and included uninformed observations that would normally make me question your credentials. You appear to have been writing for the Herald for some time, so I can see they are quite sound.
The issue of Global Warming celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. You’ve been writing for longer than this and yet seem to know close to nothing about the subject. I suggest you give Professor James Renwick a call. He is a climate scientist at Victoria University and is the person most likely to appear in the media when a specialist on this subject is sought. I found him to be generous with his time and he is superb at providing the information in an easily digestible format.
Before you do, you might even read a book on the subject. James recommends ‘The Sixth Extinction’ by Elizabeth Kolbert, and I recommend Naomi Klein’s ‘This changes everything.’ Another you might consider, if you prefer to save time, is the New Yorker article ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ by David Wallace Wells.
All of these provide views of the global warming situation that are so unrelentingly grim that you may prefer to assume they are the rantings of extremists. You would not be alone in taking such a view. James Renwick does not. He confirmed that Klein, Wells, and Kolbert are pretty much on the money.
The fact is, after thirty years of massive increases in carbon emissions around the world, the situation has progressed from alarming to dire. If you press them, many in this field will tell you that there’s not much chance for us as a species. They are pretty sick of being labeled ‘scaremongers,’ and many have reverted to pretty dark humor. Since the oil companies fessed up, many sceptics have started down the stages of grief. You appear to be entering the bargaining phase.
Now let’s talk about the specifics of your article. Yes for the most part people in this country are enjoying a warmer summer this year. You rightly note that there were some floods this year and that we expect to see some sea level rise. You tell us that from what you have read a sea level rise of 53-97cm by next century are the worst we can expect to see here if we do nothing. I’d love to know where you obtained that information. A search on your paper’s site for the words ‘coastal report’ provides 2960 results, many of which refer to Coastal Hazards and Climate Change guidance 2017 document buried by the previous Minister for Climate Change Issues. Here are some articles from a paper I prefer to the Herald:
You’ll see there that the posts have moved. Currently, 0.5m is the baseline: the least we can expect this century no matter what. We could now anticipate 2m of sea level rise in this century if the Antarctica shelves start to collapse. Since this report appeared, it seems that this is what they are doing.
It turns out that up to 3.35m of sea level rise could be caused by the melting Antarctic ice alone. More will occur due to thermal expansion: where water occupies more volume as it heats. The oceans have been much warmer lately. Even the Herald has reported on the recent marine heat wave. Nature has a scientific report on this event that states that ‘it was very likely to be (>90%) and virtually certain (>99%) that anthropogenic climate change increased the likelihood of an event of this intensity in the 1982–2005 and 2006–2020 periods, respectively’.
You also noted, somewhat bizarrely, that the weather was ‘not too bad’ in 2017. Perhaps it wasn’t in New Zealand if you ignore Whanganui and Edgecumbe, anyone affected by the Port Hills fires, or slips (1000 in Wellington alone), or the farmers who had an unusually wet season (search for ‘Wet Season 2017’ in NZ Herald’s site – 2270 results).
I know what you’re about to say – that wildfires and wet seasons are local anomalies and probably have nothing to do with climate change. I only mentioned them first because you seem to be unaware of the extraordinary wildfires and wet seasons across the world in 2017.
You probably did hear about the 2017 hurricanes: two category fives, two category fours, and two category threes. Intense hurricanes happen every three years on average, but their intensity is increased: due to rising ocean temperatures they can carry more water.
I would like you to reflect on this last point. We are currently at just over 1C of global warming. The Paris Accord was intended to keep below 2C and would only work if all the participants keep their commitments. We never came close in NZ and failed to include our biggest emitters anyway. Many of the most significant emitters, the USA, Russia, and China are miles away from keeping to theirs, so there’s just no hope of staying within 2C. Once we sail beyond that seriously catastrophic changes can be expected. We are enjoying this pleasant summer in much the same way someone falling from a precipice might enjoy the view.
You might try attending the Pacific Climate Change Conference this coming February in Wellington. This will provide you a terrific opportunity to catch up on the subject. I hope you do. I believe that the most verbal climate change naysayers are the very people that could make the greatest difference soon while we try to stave off the worst of the worst. If, before you disappear into the background as most of them do, you could come out and announce to your audience that you have discovered that you were wrong, you might change opinions where nobody else could. You could make a valuable, lasting contribution to this problem.
Either way, you will be remembered. We in New Zealand have access to some of the best people in the field. Talk to them and think about your legacy.

Uneasy Piece 5: The reading list.

There was a message written in pencil on the tiles by the roller towel. This was it:

“What is the purpose of life”

Trout plundered his pockets for a pen or pencil. He had an answer to the question. But he had nothing to write with, not even a burnt match. So he left the question unanswered, but here is what he would have written, if he found anything to write with:

To be
the eyes
and ears
and conscience
of the Creator of the universe,
you fool.

— Kurt Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions

One reason I didn’t do a normal episode this time was that I felt the direction of the podcast change. Ms Ardern had taken my warning to heart, that day in the New Plymouth shopping mall, and had decided to treat global warming with the utmost seriousness. She and James Shaw had bonded over a game of badminton, as per my instructions to him, and the good luck charm that was Gabe and Bryans combined victory on court meant that politically everything was going to be on track. So, you know, job done. The government will do the thing. You’re welcome, New Zealand.

All that is left is to lead the other four million people towards the swirling tempestous light. Another reason was that I didn’t have enough followers and needed to think about attracting some. I tried stand-up comedy; leading with the podcast about climate change and how it couldn’t use the title ‘I think we’re screwed now’ because that had been taken by the National party’. But like all the things they laughed at that night, people assumed they were to absurd too be true. So it goes.

The final reason was this. So much stuff happened in the world of carbon emissions and you probably missed out on most of it because you were foolishly following the news. To my chagrin, I am now well behind the play in that show where people marry strangers before agreeing on a safe word. So you have that on me.

Bonn Climate Change Conference 2017.

James Shaw signs up to eliminate coal by 2030. Merkel recognises that Germany is way behind on coal and cars. California ahead on its commitment to renewable power (10 years).

Fonterra signs with MFE plan for becoming carbon nuetral by 2050, phasing out coal for wood and electricity, getting biodiesel into the tanker fleet and 100 EVs into car fleet. Rod Oram points out how far short of the mark this all falls.

IPCC announces carbon emissions are increasing after 3 years of no change. Studies at Antarctica showing that methane release is coming from fossil extraction and fears over massive natural releases are premature.

James Hansen talks about the need to use courts to hold goverments to account, since they are less likely to be corrupt.

Scott Pruitt (US head of EPA) does not attend, however the US does send a delegation to talk about (among other things) the importance of coal. The room fills up for this talk, with people in hallways unable to get in. Partway through the presentation they get up, sing a prepared piece about the problem with coal, and walk out, leaving behind a mostly empty room.

These are the links I discovered since the last episode. I’ve broken them into sections for you. The sections are:

  • Good News
  • Bad News
  • Books
  • We’re so dumb
  • The US is screwed
  • Really bad news
  • Some radical plan
  • Whitebait

Before we start, here’s a handy emissions tracker to help address questions later:

Good News

We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane

This was a presentation about solar power and battery storage at Victoria University. Solar generation is already very competitive but the advances are still coming. At Vic they are experimenting with a kind of thin film solar panel that can be produced in rolls. There are also two important advances in storage – one a new battery chemistry using aluminium instead of lithium. This is promising because the aluminium is far more plentiful and we’d need to make a lot of batteries to switch all vehicles to electric. The other advance was in batteries for use in fixed locations, like power facilities. This kept the anode and cathode parts in separate vessels, meaning the power could be retained for longer and the battery was safer.

China is a huge player in global emissions. They have hit their Paris target a full decade early. India has also make great advances in the last couple of years, and much of this comes off the back of plummeting prices for renewable energy. This means a falling demand for coal, which could in turn help kill off the Adani coal mine project in Australia.

Sarah Thomsen won in court and now James Shaw, the minister for climate change issues, will stand accountable.

No new coal mines in department of conservation land.

The Guardian produced a piece on the big trends that can cause change.

Syria and Nicaragua are now signatories to the Paris accord, meaning every country on earth is in on this now. Of course Trump has declared that the U.S. will pull out as soon as they are able, which is at the end of his current term as president. Notably at the State and municipal level large parts of the country have annouced that they are still in and like many things Trump, people will find a way to work around him.

Synthetic meat looks to be close. While this affects our exports it promises to reduce emissions radically, and, because it will use less resources, will likely wind up killing a lot of livestock farming on price alone. Economically, this promises to be like solar to coal.

A newsroom article on our new government.

A study on how to change people’s minds on climate change.

Signs of emissions peaking in 49 countries around the world.

A bit about planes. There is currently not good solution for the aircraft problem. Some short range electric planes are in the works now, and it may be possible to manufacture liquid fuels for longer hauls, but this will be expensive for some time.

Also in the news last week. Telsa has presented its new electric truck. This can run 600kms on a charge and will come into production in 2019.

Some more about getting away from dairy and livestock. I know, New Zealand, that this is inconceivable, but the world around us may well view this as a viable survival mechanism. And, to repeat, no it did not appear the our governments have taken climate change seriously for the last twenty years. They really should have. << enteric fermentation

Bad News

The emissions from livestock farming are bigger than we thought. Now that there are competitive, proven large scale solutions for the creation of electricty thoughts are turning to the other huge problem.

Australia’s performance is absymal at the federal level. Much like the States, the story is quite different at the State level, still they are still close to signing off on the Adani coal mine, which is pretty catastrophic.

Recent reports from the IPCC and elsewhere show that events could be overtaking us already. While India and China pulled some rabbits out of the hat last year, we’ll need to see a series of such bunnies to save ourselves.

Tar sands. As oil gets harder to extract the carbon released and damage done during extraction multiplies. We’re not digging shallow wells in Texas any more.


Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order instead

Here are some manuals to get you up to speed.

Released in the last month, this short New Zealand volume is well overdue. Its a manual on what citizens in New Zealand could do about climate change.

Written and released in haste after the 2016 U.S. elections, this is the manual on resisting the toxic politics that gathers around global crisis.

A much longer and deeply researched piece by the same author, this is a wide ranging guide on the problem, from the science to the politics. If you read one book on the subject, I would suggest it be this.

This is not about climate change at all. Instead it describes the way humans extract and use energy, noting that it is never about conservation, since the more we extract the more we can make. Chillingly, the more we extract the more we also use in the extraction process. By ignoring climate change as a problem it is able to shine a light on what might be the key to the Anthropocene – that from the planets point of view we were put here by the creator of the universe to do one thing: kill ourselves buy burning up all the underground carbon.

Sarah Thomsen directed me to this one. It is about using the legal system to press on the issue of global warming. This is the approach urged by James Hansen currently as well; he argues that judicial systems are less corrupt than governments so they are better tools to employ.

This goes into the psychology of denial. Its investigates the ways in which we manage not to think about the problem.

This was a favorite of mine, though I can’t say I understood all of it. This is a philosophical text around the concept we reduce into the term ‘Elephant in the room’. It is truely mind expanding and it turns out the author is a huge fan of the band My Bloody Valentine.

A shorter piece recommended by James Renwick, this covers the extinction events surrounding the end of the Holocene.

We’re so dumb

“There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on earth.”

Do I complain that the media is riddled with terrible information about the environment? All the time.

The US is screwed

“Don’t matter if you care,” the old miner said, “if you don’t own what you care about.”

The Trump administration is like a cultural revolution inside the working of the government. It started with the dismantling of the state department and the appointment of heads whose aim was to destroy their departments. And it continues now with an attack on science and scientific data that will take years to reverse. << Kathleen Hartnett White

Really bad news

Sigh. Just look for yourself. << emissions gap alarmingly high

Some radical plans

So now we can build an unselfish society by devoting to unselfishness the frenzy we once devoted to gold and to underpants << what is the ETS


Meanwhile, back in New Zealand. From burning tyres to make podcasts about psychics I can’t help but think we’re somehow wired to do everything backwards.


Democracy you can touch.

Teall Crossen worked on climate justice issues in New York for the Pacific. She returned home to be part of changing the government with the hope NZ could step up show some real leadership on climate change.

She came by for a chat not long after the new government was formed. Teall described New Zealand’s democracy as something you can reach out and touch. Certainly its starting to seem that way to me now.

A sight for sore eyes.


We have a new Government. One like no other before it. We have a young attactive woman in charge and a coalition party full of them. Large parts of the country are currently losing their minds over the result for a variety of reasons but this is one of them.

From the farmer bearing a banner stating that he felt conflicted by the fact that he was ideologically at odds with Labour’s leader yet felt an attraction to her nonetheless, to the talk show host ignoring his producer’s looks of horror while speculating on the sexual tension between older man and younger woman as they came together to plan the country’s future, we men appear to have some growing up to do. I’m a good deal older than the new round of female politicians and I can concur that I too find them attractive.

Its more than skin deep. They are warm, thoughtful, tolerant and disarmingly funny. Golriz Ghahraman’s quip “This is what meritocracy looks like” is one of the most delicious moments of the election. Yes that implied that women appeared to be better than men by a ratio of three to one. That’s a sweet burn right there. And its a turning point.

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After Winston’s decision Marama Davidson soothed David Seymour’s fears that she would bring the government down by pointing out she was in fact on the bus. This was followed by posters loving everything from the comeback to the lipstick.

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 8.31.54 am

We’ve had women in government for years but this moment feels brand new and I’m very glad to be part of it. I’ve just found our women leaders to be a bit terrifying lately, but that’s partly because I was only seeing two (or three) of them. Marama Fox called me out in Twitter recently and I was taken by how gently she did it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 8.32.18 am

I never did find the reference, so that makes it hearsay for now, and reminds me I should take better notes.

In the last couple of weeks right leaning pundits have abandoned Twitter in a tiny drove, starting with Matt Hooten and followed by Sean Plunket and Duncan Garner. The latter two were rage-quits, complete with media releases. To me Twitter is equivalent of the school playground. Everything happens there at once. Its very hard to control for good or bad, but its where the people are.

Listening to Garner and Plunket complain makes me glad they had retired to the staff room. I can’t hear the intercom from my corner, unless someone retweets it. No doubt they did get called a few names, but I saw many reasoned discussions about the lines they were both crossing. To see them so hurt by this makes me wonder whether they have ever spoken truth to power. It seems that real threats still come the old fashioned way. There is no shortage of men and women on the left that can explain this to them.

I posted a link to Bob Dylan’s ballad ‘I want you’ the day after the election. No song seemed to capture more perfectly that wistful, lonely feeling that the three years ahead were going to be lost, and with it our chances of avoiding catastrophe.

Surely the world in general would not take it to mean that I wanted the Labour leader to myself, that just I wanted her to win the election. Later I looked at the video with the clip I’d posted and it was from Cinema Paradiso – the one with all the kissing. Doh.


I’m telling you all this because I feel confident that this new breed of politician will be fine with our awkwardness so long as we can own it. I want them to know how very badly we’ve needed them and how extraordinarily glad I am to see them now. Teall Crossen of the Green party joined me for a talk yesterday and I will share that episode in the next few days.

Affordable Electric Cars – (Climate Change in NZ)

Sigurd Magnusson is a software developer turned EV advocate in Wellington, New Zealand. He and I talked about our hopes for the growth of Electric Vehicles here where we live.

While EVs have been seen as too expensive and not practical enough for some time now we both believe they have recently hit a point where they can pay for themselves.

We’re both shameless fans of the Nissan Leaf, and we do go on about it a bit. We’ve been talking with someone from about doing EV reviews and look forward to seeing more about them in the future.

Next episode we’ll likely have a government again and I’ll be talking to Teall Crossen of the Green Party about the three years ahead.

Thanks to Sigurd for coming by and putting up with the recording mistakes and over-cooked Oato-bahn cookies. The doom and gloom has been getting a bit much lately and having his relentless positivity in the room was a treat for me.

If you’re thinking about getting an EV yourself jump into the EV facebook group for your area and make yourself known. They’re a mighty helpful bunch.

You can learn enough in high school to know these things:


(Note: Next podcast episode contains a talk with Sigurd Magnusson. No dummies, not the Norwegian nobleman from the Battle of Florvag, he’s dead now. This is the one about Electric Vehicles)


Evolution is slow. You don’t need to be attached to animals to be alarmed by rapid species extinction.


Global Warming is very simple; you can demonstrate it in a school lab. Global climate modelling and prediction is really, really hard.


People are resources just like trees, cows and oil.


The amount of carbon increase in atmosphere is proportional to the amount of carbon extracted and released by human activity.


Grapes of Wrath captures the plight of millions whose lives were crushed by the failure of crops and financial systems. It showed the indifference of those who profit from disaster. It awakened the nation’s comprehension and compassion.


Just saying this now because:

  • I used to think most people saw things this way and now I’m not so sure
  • There is a good reason for the Greens combined environmental + social agenda
  • Pointing out that scientists disagree on the outcomes doesn’t remove the problem
  • I don’t care what you thought of Finding Nemo. The dying Barrier Reef is a massive warning.
  • You will find yourself caught up in this eventually. Maybe read some Steinbeck.