Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I have to say that young Keisha Castle-Hughes is a fine wee actress. She's one of three kiwi actresses brought on TV lately by Greenpeace to convince New Zealanders that we need to sign up to cut GhG emissions by 40% by 2020. Right at the end Keisha gives us a bit of pure Magnum to get our attention.

Greenpeace is showing a bit of muscle. They've had Keisha in the islands to promote the concept of 40%. Amusingly while Greenpeace was happy to imply Keisha had sailed in by protest ship Keisha herself spilt the beans on the Greenpeace email network by saying she was surprised everyone thought she had sailed in, instead of flown.

And that of course is the problem. Keisha seems like a nice girl but she has no idea what impact reducing New Zealand's emissions by 40% in 11 years would do to the country. I am sure she likes driving to the airport and flying to LA. uh-uh. I'm sure she likes warm showers and keeping clean. uh-uh. I'm sure she likes living in a country that competes in world markets by offering affordable food, so it can import the things we can't make ourselves. uh-uh.

New Zealand's emissions have grown 12% since 1990 for one simple reason. We added 800,000 more people to the population. That means more demand for electricity and more oil. The cows are still farting and belching away as they always did and that's still our major income earner and still 50% of our emissions.

The problem really is 40% is just a number. It isn't a plan. Anyone can say they are going to save 40% of their income but that doesn't make it a practical possibility. Nore does it mean they are really willing to go without all the things they are currently spending that 40% on. In the end the answer is in practical changes to the way we live our lives, not signing up to notional numbers that don't really mean anything.

Can we make more electricity without burning fossil fuels? Of course we could. Unfortunately the Green Party killed Project Aqua and the Makara Guardians held up the wind farm there for decades. The very laws that the green people use to "Save the [your cause here]" are the very laws that prevent us achieving the climate goal.

Could we make more cheese without cows? No. Three generations of dairy cows later they will fart and belch same as they ever did. So if agriculture can't make huge cuts then to achieve 40% who would? Guess. Go on.

Of course details like this don't bother the likes of Greenpeace. Its problem is not actual solutions. Its problem is sales. Stunts are good for sales. Getting NZ to sign up to 40% is just an international stunt. It would be good for sales.

So too are celebrities and endorsements. As Bjorn Lomquist pointed out in "The Skeptical Environmentalist" Greenpeace is just a big corporate that sells green good will to people who live in cities and chow lattes all day.

That is not to say Greenpeace is not problematic. I don't see so called big business funding any ads on climate change. The simple reason being that big business doesn't get any sales from such things. That leaves Greenpeace all alone, and unchallenged in the media, largely because most journalists with any brains left the profession years ago. The rest are unshaved wonders who were working for Greenpeace for nothing until a few years ago.

In the big wide world of reality committing to rip our guts open on the altar of green-ness so Greenpeace can praise us to the world is not actually a very sensible strategy. Greenpeace will not pay for our kids education or our parents medical care. They are only interested in sales.

There is no doubt that the election of Barack Obama and the colossal recession in the US have changed global politics significantly since Al Gore invested in making movies instead of Tobacco. On the one hand there is more willingness to discuss the issues in a vaguely serious manner. On the other there is less capability to actually take economic pain.

What is for certain is that Kyoto must be seen as what it was. A half-baked, absurdly ambitious con job. If the world is going to take climate science seriously enough to actually allow it to reshape the global economy it will need to do a number of things.

First it must let science be science and stop gerrymandering with it via ideology. Both sides have been guilty of this. The world wants good honest science, not an agenda set by Greenpeace ( which as I may have mentioned is only interested in sales).

Second, it must adopt policies that can actually be implemented via international agencies. Many of these will be about technological specifications and standards. Standards for electric vehicles. Standards for packaging. Others will be about marketing standards and claims such as ISO 14000 etc.

Third it must not attempt to interfere with the taxation rates (effective or otherwise) in sovereign nations. There is simply no way this can be fairly done across a world which includes nations as diverse as America and Zimbabwe.

Fourth, and most difficult of all, something must simply be done about sustainable land management, and in particular tropical rain forests. Unless the rich world can pay the poor world to keep rainforests as rainforests rather than burning them down, we are all going to be in big trouble. This will not be easy because the people who do the slashing are often not the people pocketing the money.

Fifth a world voluntary carbon exchange to support the marketing claims standards needs to be developed.

Unfortunately I suspect that what will happen will be the normal kind of chaotic politicking that usually attends these events. And the result will end up like Kyoto, half baked, unworkable and a giant con job.

The only good news: there will be scope for new sales for Greenpeace!

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