The lost episode: A bad week for the skeptics.


Salvaged from a high tide somewhere round the end of August 2017.  
The memory stick appeared to come from a mac laptop. 
Presumably one using OSX Yosemite.

Welcome back to the we might be screwed podcast.

The day the 45th US president assumed office the White House’s climate change web page was removed. It contained the nation’s plan for addressing the problem. Soon after the president appointed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency in that country. Mr Pruitt does not believe in climate change and referred to himself as a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda. The president also appointed Rex Tillerson, a former head of Exxon Mobil as State Secretary. Mr Tillerson presumably did believe in climate change, since his company had studied it for some time, however he and his company devoted a lot of energy to downplaying or covering up the issue so that profits would not be affected.

This is old news and I’m only bringing it up now because not thinking or talking about climate change is still a very popular activity. Back here in New Zealand the Ministry for the Environment delivered a report back in April detailing 43,000 homes, 130,000 people, 2000 kilometres of road 46 kilometres of rail and 5 airports that are currently at risk from increased flooding and coastal erosion. That was never officially released either.

Now I don’t want to be too hard on the climate change skeptics, they’ve had a tough week. Half of Bangladesh went under water, while flooding there and across Nepal and India affected 16 million people and killed 1200. 500 people died in landslides in Sierra Leone and 44 in Houston, Texas, where 48,700 homes were flooded. That last one was caused by Hurricane Harvey which was described in the Washington Post as a one in 1000 year event. So that’s bad timing. They had to come up with new colours to use on the map. Its also described as the third 500 year flood to hit Houston in the past three years. So if climate change is not a real thing then they won’t have another big flood for 1500 years. Which is great. Of course climate change might be a real thing. Then it could happen again next week.

Oh. Did I mention. There’s another major hurricane already on the way. Its name is Irma, and it could make landfall in the Carribean or U S in the next fortnight.

This week the prime minister told Morning Report that Kiwis don’t wake up thinking about climate change. He’s usually very solid on his facts and not prone to hyperbole, so I must assume that the GCSB has extra powers these days.

You know, this admission that he now knows what all kiwis think of when they wake up in the morning is really quite something. I’m not even angry, I’m impressed. He ought to be told that there’s a glitch in the system somewhere since Kieran frequently wakes up thinking about climate change. Kieran doesn’t want to share this with Bill since on the rare moments when he wakes up thinking about something else it’s usually a very private time and one of the few remaining occasions when he is actually happy.

Surely spying on the private thoughts of citizens to this level is a little draconian. But that’s also where we’re at right now. Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett said this week that some people had “fewer” human rights than others and Prime Minister Bill English said it was good that New Zealand lacked a written constitution as it gave them flexibility to make it happen. The Universal Declaration of Human rights was a product of the Second World War and came about through a U N committee headed by Eleanor Roosevelt.

She said this about the Declaration. That without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. Wish she were here today to have a sit down with Paula. I’m sure one would call the other sweetie eventually.

Also in the last week Al Jazeera released a documentary on the state of New Zealand waterways, showing that they are among the most contaminated in the developed world.

So its turning into quite an election. Did I mention that the head of NASA has now been replaced by someone with no training in engineering or science? In 2013 he accused President Barack Obama of a “gross misallocation” of funds, saying the administration spends 30 times more on climate change research than on weather research.

So NASA will soon lose its position as an authority on the subject of climate change. Which is quite the circle since it started there with James Hansen in 1988. Thankfully, he has a job at Columbia now.

Australia has also taken the path of getting away from bad news by removing the scientists. Its climate change authority lost its last climate scientist in July, they removed the science portfolio from the government all together and removed its climate research arm, axing 110 science jobs, and moving 350 climate staff into unrelated roles.

They said they did this because the science is settled. Also, presumably, it gets in the way of mining.

Speaking of mis-information, how about this tasty nugget from the Federated Farmers official statement on river quality.

“Nitrogen is organic and essential to life.”

Can’t argue with that. Unless you’re implying that you can dump as much of it into a river as you like with no effect. Water is also organic and essential to life. But try telling that to a drowning man.

Dear lord I hope the skeptics are right. These greens and their conspiracy theories about politicians pulling the wool over our eyes. Its not like the bad old days when lobbyists tricked everyone into thinking smoking was good for you and now 6 million people a year die from it. Its not like that where vested interests devote huge resources to protect their income at the enormous cost to the human race. Its not like people go from working for tobacco giant Phillip Morris into the arms of the National Party. Except maybe for Christopher Bishop, their candidate in Hutt South. And Todd Barclay. Just those two guys. For now.

So lets wrap this up.
The executive branch of the US government took another important step in preventing people around the world from learning about climate change. At the same time weather events never seen before killed thousands and displaced millions. Here at home the government announced some rolling back of human rights in the efforts to solve the drug problem and reminded us that we don’t have a constitution to prevent it.
They’re not bothered about climate change, and some of them were pretty chill about promoting tobacco as well. They also claimed to know that no one woke up thinking about climate change, putting Kieran in a difficult ethical dilemma.

Does he come out and state that he wakes up thinking about climate change all the time, exposing himself presumably to the scrutiny of a prying government, or does he keep silent?

Are you laughing New Zealand? With all the shenanigans in Australia and the U S you could be forgiven for thinking you’re doing a better job than them on this subject. But you’re not. According the the climate action tracker you’re beating the Ukraine, who due to some political instability, really struggled to come up with a plan at all, and Singapore which just ran out of space to make anything.

As some say in this country: the sky sheds tears in sympathy with the grief of man.

Its going to be shedding a lot more, by the looks. We’ll all be waking up thinking about the same things eventually.

There there.

This episode was recorded in Wellington, New Zealand. Solomon would like to report that he got to meet Sarah Thomson in Auckland and that they are besties now. Kieran reports that Solomon seemed a bit star struck and failed to wake up at all when they were there. Neither of them get out much and after the 23 hour battery car trip to Auckland. Kieran spent some time imagining he was some latter day Jean Batten. There’s a real episode coming out soon so you can hear Sarah laughing at Kieran’s jokes. She’s really quite a sport.

NOTE:  The stick also contained a python script that appeared to generate the voices and perform this little piece.  To try it yourself in OSX select the text and hit Option+Esc. Go to System Preferences / Dictation & Speech to set the voices.


Sarah sues the government. An NZ view on climate change and the Paris accord (New Zealand)

Finally – the talk with Sarah Thomson in Auckland. We talk about floods and denial and curious fact the NZ does not have a constitution. I’ll try and catch up with Sarah briefly in the next episode. Remember this conversation happened early in August. With from statements about denial during floods to the need for a constitution, it all seems eerily prescient.

Thanks again to Sarah. Every day I discover someone else working hard to turn this mess around. I’m excited about getting to talk with them.



9 Bar Blues

Where two men and a Gen 1 Leaf with not much juice do the Wellington to Auckland run in less than a day. Take regular breaks when driving.


I pick Gabe up from Miramar. The night before I calculated the hours it would take, and the number was bigger than I expected. Still, no point in bringing that up now. The road trip has started!

Porirua. I thought we’d get a quick top-up at Serlby Place to repay the sprint we took up Ngauranga Gorge. Someone destroyed the charger plug overnight. Now wishing I’d taken my time and skipped the turn-off. Called ChargeNet who told me they knew about the damage and that all the other chargers looked OK.

South of Otaki (15km). Damn. Really should have taken it easier. I can make it to Otaki in one go when I do, but this time we’re a bit low. Pull over and start up the generator. Wasn’t expecting to use it quite so soon.

Otaki New World car park. Now we’re cooking. The run to Palmy is a little tight because its quite a climb. The road through Shannon is quiet enough and we’ll make it OK but we need a full top-up here. Pull out at 9:15.

Palmy. The run to Mangaweka is also a stretch. Plenty of hills. Off to the mall! Back on the road at 10:42.

Damn (again). That Palmy charge looked a little light. We only picked up 11kWh. We’re on a hill top trying to play badminton in a breeze while the generator runs in the background.

Now we’re in a car park looking at a rail viaduct and running the generator again. Time to open up the laptop and watch the adventures of Karl Pilkington.

Damn (some more). We’re really not getting much juice out of that generator and I don’t know why. Decide to make a run for it and see how we go. We slam smack into a huge climb and at the top of it the battery has flatlined. Then we get some luck. A cafe on the left, just where we need it, and it has some caravan sites. We are maybe 5km from the fast charger so we don’t need long here, but we would have been well stuck without it. They make a pretty decent pie too.

Mangaweka! They make a terrific eggs benedict. While we’re charging a guy from Petone with a plugin hybrid starts talking with us. He’s next in line but happy enough to wait. He’s talking about his grandchildren and the soaring carbon levels. Preaching to the choir of course. Its not a cheerful conversation because its dawning on us all that EV users are laughably small minority and we look absurd to the rest of the world. Which I wouldn’t mind if only climate change really was a conspiracy by the Chinese. I pray for this to be true every single day. Pull out at 15:37.

At last we get a break. The run to Taupo is a breeze since the fast chargers are more closely spaced. Too late for the army Museum (its cold up here) but we get to climb on some tanks. Pull out at 16:49.

Turangi. Maccas. Yes we are participating in the climate chaos that is the fast food industry. Bite me. Roll out at 18:08.

Taupo. Free charger at the fire station. I learned on the last trip that there are two kinds of fast chargers. The ones we see around Wellington are thin plastic fascimilies of petrol pumps. They work just fine but are surprisingly minimal. The other kind are solid metallic pill boxes with touch screens. They are more common as you head North, and many of them are free. Both work just fine, though the metallic ones put on a better show. They whirr and hum and vent heat out the back. I have no idea why they are so different, but any variety on a trip like this is sort of welcome. As long as we get the juice.

Damn (some more). The hills from Taupo were huge and we’re 26km short of Rotorua with 11km worth of juice in the car. And its dark. We just passed the Waiotapu tavern (they provide a wall charger) but they’re not answering the phone. And the generator won’t start. We might be stuck here overnight. And who knows what we’ll do in the morning. The laptop is dead now so we can’t even watch Karl Pilkington to take our minds off the problem. I start to futz with the generator. Its very low on oil. Using a torch and a used coffee cup we pour increasing amount of oil into the generator. When we try again it coughs for a while then generates huge plumes of smoke. The irony is not lost on us. We wait for them to clear, but they just get worse. I describe the time I thought my Camry had blown a head gasket, since it looked the same way. Then the penny drops. That was because they put too much oil in at the garage. We drain most of the oil back out into Gabe’s spirulina bottle. Now it works. We get the sleeping bags out and watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force on his cellphone.

Rotorua. We’re going to need a big charge to make it to Cambridge. The Kaimai’s are waiting. I discover that by reloading the fast charger after completion I can convince it to go to 100%. Pull out at 00:06.

Made it with a few kms to spare. Cambridge. Loads of big retail outlets that look open because all the lights are on. But nothing is open because it’s one in the morning. We stroll around a bit and leave a 01:52.

Hamilton. Free pillbox charger so I can’t be sure of the time.

Te-Kauwhata. Google leads us down an abandoned road to a warehouse. Weirdly, there is a free pillbox charger waiting for us. We have run out of conversation, which oughtened be a surprise.

Greenlane. Another free pillbox, this time in the Maccas car park. We learn later that Hobson street is the same, so, fast food bill aside, driving around will be free for us in Auckland.

Annouce our arrival to anyone back home who has trouble sleeping. Feel like Jean Batten. We’re returning in a week and already I’m figuring out how to manage things so we make better time.

It was a bit of a marathon, and most electric vehicles would have an easier time of it. This time next year it will be easier too, since new chargers are appearing all the time. Still, it seems a little mad. Sarah Thomsen, the woman suing the government over its tepid response to the Paris accord, told me about appearing on The Project where David Seymour baited her on the point that she drove to the studio from Hamilton in a petrol car. So either way you kind of look like you’re doing things the wrong way. We’re not. We’re purposefully trying to swim against the tide. There’s a difference.

Yes some of the electricity is created by releasing CO2, and yes the processes to create the car and its batteries release CO2 as well. Which just means they also need to change. We burned a couple of litres of petrol too. That’s because the privately run charging network is still in its infancy. Thanks again for nothing National.

The battery-electric car is the best alternative we have for roads now, and to argue that they aren’t good enough is to miss the point that not trying to reduce emissions is the one thing we’ll look back on in anger and regret.

The difficult journeys along the way are a different story all together. The point is not to do them alone, if you can help it. If you’re going to be stuck on a freezing hilltop in the middle of a night with broken equipment and fading hopes it helps to have someone with a sense of humor by your side. These are the moments you wind up telling stories about.


That’s not a conversation


Congratulations. You are living proof that you now live in the time of hyperobjects. Why? You can no longer have a routine conversation about the weather with a stranger.

— Tim Moreton, Hyperobjects.

Lets start with this one point, because there’s every chance you haven’t heard it yet. Global warming, or climate change, or the anthropecene era, whichever name you prefer, is moving at full pace. Partly because we have not reduced carbon emissions globally, but also because the increase in warming has triggered the release of naturally occurring carbon sinks around the world. There are no serious credible arguments anywhere that refute this. The only arguments left, among those qualified to make them, are around the size and the scale of the catastrophes to come. Some will tell you this is completely wrong, and other will tell you its overstated, yet if you deliberately and carefully go to the sources that are the most reputable this is what you will find.

There is no time left to avoid catastrophe. Heat waves in the 1980s were proven causes of the affect nearly 30 years ago. If the work to reduce emissions started then, we might have averted disasters. Now we will not. We have not. 2300 people died in a heat wave in India 2 years ago. Parts of the planet are already becoming uninhabitable. Every year that passes become the hottest on record. As the oceans rise Louisiana is losing land at the rate of one football field per hour. The science was right, and since it was, we should pay attention to the predictions. They are very, very bleak. This crisis is just getting started and soon the deniers will drift into irrelevance. Or die off. Most of them are very old.

If you live in New Zealand your climate change minister is not a credible source of information on climate change. Nor is your prime minister, your minister for energy, or transport, or environment. That is simply a fact. It is possible to find well considered, peer reviewed, sound information on climate change here, but none of it appears to affect the workings of our government. I’ve covered some of this already, and will cover it some more in the future, but only enough to establish that it is undoubtedly the case. Past that, what is the point. You’d elected to do nothing, you are now doing nothing. You’re not even having the discussion. So I should really move on.

The media appears to be about the same. The news show with the highest ratings contains a man who denies the importance of climate change all together, while his co-host shrugs the issue off as something that might need to be considered at some future time when we’ve all made our minds up about it. This strikes me as incredibly stupid and damaging, yet what I really need to take from it is the fact the they remain popular. People are still listening to this and accepting it to be true. Continuing to follow the work of Mike Hosking would seem as pointless as following a drunk man waking up in a strange town as he tries to get home. Plenty of comedy potential, but nothing that might resemble insight.

Meanwhile, local council officials have begun to speak openly about the effects they can see now, and the likelihood that their own people will become climate refugees, and that entire towns may need to be moved.

People like to alarm each other. People know that by alarming others they can sometimes get changes in culture to occur. Older people are particularly weary about alarmist behavior, particularly when it comes to truly dystopian scenarios, because they remember Y2K, the Ozone layer and the cold war. They don’t want to be fooled again. If they weren’t fooled by those things they are probably less likely to get alarmed this time, since it looks like they were proved right then.

But here’s the thing. Those problems were real, and were averted, or reduced, thanks to serious commitments of time and money. No serious commitments were made, on returning from Paris, to change the the use of energy or the release of carbon in New Zealand. Instead, a plan was created to pay billions of dollars in carbon credits to the carbon market. This will prove to be enormously unpopular, and once it has become fait accompli in New Zealand, it seems likely that demands will be made to renege on the deal. Mike Hosking, a vocal if somewhat unofficial arm of the National party has sowed the seed for this discussion already. There is nothing in this piece that can be regarded as news:

The carbon market, I hear you saying “What the hell’s that” … its this invented scheme

Where ‘invented scheme’ is a code for ‘something I haven’t tried to understand but reject completely’. You could call Superannuation an invented scheme. You could call a recipe for jam an invented scheme. This piece astonishes me because when you look at what he’s saying it turns into this: ‘here is something I heard about but don’t completely understand. It appears to address a problem I expect to be trivially easy to fix. In fact I assume the problem is so trivial that you should only act on it if you happen to be interested in it. No one else need bother. This problem, which, I must remind you I have spent no time considering but expect to amount to nothing, should not in any way result in all of us having to share the cost of preventing. Any attempt by others to engage us in this ought to be seen as a scam. Even though we don’t understand the proposed solution, even though we don’t even understand the problem, we have let you know we are too smart to fall for this. Its all a trick. A ruse’.

One thing that might activate the right in all of this is the consideration that our greatest trading partners are taking the accord seriously. I suspect they see China they way I see the climate. As a huge and indifferent entity that keeps us alive and which we need to appease, where we can. It seems reasonable to me that as this crisis progresses the countries that have worked to solve it will apply sanctions on the countries that have not. Top of our list at that point is China, India, the EU. They are all pouring billions into switching to clean energy. As part of their own nations become unlivable they can be expected to find ways to apply pressure where is will be needed.

And climate change is so alarming, it might seem like a ruse. Its just all the mountains of evidence that get in the way. I think the people who like to alarm you hate it the most. They are so used to scaring you about immigrants, or vaccines or cell towers that they hate climate change for getting in on their turf. I think this. If someone makes a living looking for ways to get you enraged about one thing after another, they are not the people you ought to be listening to. If someone has spent their days avoiding sensation, if they have spent their time learning and teaching and being curious and sharing their wonder, and they start using alarming language its time to be alarmed.

I’m pivoting on this blog. I’m starting to think that there’s less point in following the government’s response to the Paris accord while it refuses to do anything. In particular, if the government continues to do nothing and the people approve of that inaction by voting for them, its time to step back and talk to the people.

At this point I started to look a little at the people talking against climate change. I also started to talk more to the people around me. I started to think about the way the conversations worked. I realized that the political environment was becoming as toxic as the physical one. You can’t talk about the physical environment without being dismissed by the right as a lefty. Which means half of the people will ignore you because you represent something that doesn’t concern their side. Even though its literally as big and important as life itself. I will ignore you because you are speaking from the other side and using this as a way to scare me or wind me up.

It might be very, very hard to have sane conversations about this subject. Certainly, I’m finding it so. Particularly when I talk to people who have enjoyed more than their share of privilege. I’ve had more than my share myself, so I run into them all the time. The prospect of getting into a troll war with the right is also depressing. The perilous nature of this moment has made me more aware of the passing of time. I’d like to spend it in the company of people who are able to look at it, not arguing with the ones to want to take me down for trying. Most of all, I want to spend it doing the most human thing we can do – connecting. Whether or not someone agrees with me I want to spend this time having real conversations. Where one side presents a big idea, and the other takes a while to think about it. Where a pause in the conversation is not lowering of the defenses. Where both parties are open to the idea that they might be wrong about any of the things that they say. Where they came together in the first place to share. To pass something on. To get somewhere together.

So I want to make this a conversation about climate change. Where a particular moment ceases to be a conversation, and where it becomes apparent that there is no hope for it to be one again, I will likely pull away. In the faith that most people don’t work like that and I need to move on and find them.

So from here I expect to start recording real conversations. Some will be committed to this cause, and some will not. Either way, we will attempt to share. If we start from the point of view that our very ability to converse needs work we might get somewhere together.