A few dates short in the scone department

The above title is from Claire Browning’s great response to Gerry Brownlee on the subject of mining. It’s a clean and precise rebuttal. Read it. (I found it via the Dim-Post.)

I was talking to Dale yesterday about this and we shared our confusion at this whole situation. As Dale said, how can they not see this as a big vote-loser? Where are the gains to balance that out? Claire expresses similar feelings down in the comments, with the post title above being one of her explanations for the behaviour on display. I am no wiser. I’ve heard some conspiracy theories that it’s about controlling the media while other changes get pushed through, or about putting this or that MP over, and the govt will pull back and say “sorry folks we listen love us!” but I don’t have any faith in the present govt’s ability to run that kind of disciplined strategy, and Brownlee has totally nailed his credibility to this endeavour so I don’t think an elegant backdown is possible any more.

Insanity. So I’m intending to get to the protest today at Parliament, 12.30 to 1.30.

Stewart Brand on Green

Just listened to Stewart Brand‘s Oct ’09 seminar for the Long Now Foundation, “Rethinking Green” (link to mp3). In it he gives a short overview of the key arguments in his new book Whole Earth Discipline.
Brand’s book pushes four ideas that run distinctly contrary to general green thinking:
Cities are green.
Nuclear power is green.
Genetic engineering is green.
Geoengineering is probably necessary.

His presentation in the seminar is very interesting, and makes some convincing points and some impressive claims. I’m on board with the first two, but I have a long way to go to be convinced of the second two.
Cities are green is a fascinating message, but let’s face it – it better be true, or we’re in trouble. The story of civilization is one of increasing urbanization, so if that doesn’t also push in a green direction then there’s no hope for humanity! Brand is mostly talking about the intense resource management happening in impoverished urban environments, particularly slums, and the hidden economies that operate there, but I would extend the point – cities have every chance of being highly green if they are properly managed. To take just one example: huge suburban sprawls, not so much. (By “managed” I mean mostly that economic/environmental signals are delivered cleanly to decisionmakers; urban planners have a place, but Jane Jacobs has described the perverse outcomes that result from management without understanding.)
Nuclear power is green is likewise fascinating, particularly here in nuclear-free New Zealand. In the seminar Brand says that there’s a new generation of green thinkers for whom nuclear is a solution, not a problem, because their world is dominated by climate change and not the cold war. I guess I’m sitting right on the cusp of that generational shift, but I am increasingly siding with the younger crowd. It seems to me that the problems and risks of nuclear (and they are many) are dwarfed by the climate change problem and the difficulty of addressing climate change through renewables and other energy sources. Nuclear is coming, in a big way; in the next decade or so, NZ is going to have to have a conversation about what that means for us.
Genetic engineering is green – here I wasn’t convinced. Brand enthusiastically talks about how much is possible with genetic engineering, even states that allowing it for impoverished countries is a moral imperative. He does have some good points to make here. However, he doesn’t address what to me is the overwhelming problem with GE, and that’s corporate control of the processes. In a world where Monsanto is already using GE technology to create a seed monopoly, there’s no reason for optimism. GE will – and already is – overwhelmingly used by corporations to maximise their revenue streams and their control over those streams, and the many other benefits for humanity won’t make it far out of a lab. I just can’t see a way for GE and GM to do anything other than perpetuate social inequality and put enormous control over human life in the hands of profit-driven companies. If someone can show me a way around that, then I’ll be happy to have a conversation about all the great things GE can do for us.
Geoengineering is probably necessary. This is talking about large-scale adjustment of the earth’s ecosphere to resist climate change. I retain an open mind on this, but the scale of these efforts, the potential consequences, the international co-ordination necessary (in his talk Brand himself references the lack of governance structures to handle countries using geoengineering against each other), and the sheer variety of scientific opinion mean I am unconvinced that it’s needed or that it’s doable. There are definitely people working furiously in this area, though, so in the next decade I expect this debate to develop hugely.
Overall, a stimulating talk that gave me much to think about. Recommended, including the Q&A at the end.

It’s not the thinking, it’s how we’re thinking.

(with apologies to ALAC)
Things aren’t working as they should.
Everywhere you look there are systems that don’t deliver what we as a society want them to deliver. Law enforcement, workforce management, politics, education, media, to name five that come to mind for some reason.
Why is everything broken?
Answer: it’s not. These systems work perfectly. Keep a system running and it will inevitably trend towards finding the smoothest, least complicated way it can do what it does.
The systems fail us not because they’re broke, but because they have to interact with something that they cannot control and that we did not design: us.
We resist change. We resent uncertainty. We fear difference. We desire status. We react emotionally not logically. We interpret the world as stories. We construct for ourselves a self-identity.
Everything that doesn’t work comes from the way we think.
We break the world for ourselves.
And this means we can fix it.

[mediawatch] *Sigh* DomPost does it again

In today’s DomPost, an article by Paul Easton about John Key’s decision to go to Copenhagen, as blogged extensively here last week.
Boxout section headed “Tackling The Environment”, in its entirety:

Lucy Lawless, actress: “There is no planet B. Let’s go about the business of tackling climate change. Our Government needs to sign on to a 40 per cent reduction target by 2020.”
Gerrit van der Lingen, New Zealand Climate Science Coalition: “I hope no agreement will be reached. After all, there is no scientific evidence human greenhouse gas emissions are causing dangerous global warming. Actually, the planet has been cooling for the last 10 years while CO2 levels kept on increasing. I call it the greatest scam in human history.”
Joe Milne, 19, shoe salesman, Wadestown: “It’s going to be a problem for my kids, and their kids. It’s good that Key’s going; you need the top figures there.”
Angelica Vestin, 27, mother, Tawa: “Hopefully it will not just be talking, and it will lead to some real action. Climate change does have an effect on the Earth, and it’s something that everyone can do something about.”

Why did Paul Easton feel the need to invite comment from the Climate “Science” Coalition?
Why did Paul Easton think it was fine to include that comment without any contrary scientific voice?
Does Paul Easton understand the implicit messages that result when you balance the concerns of three laypeople against the contrary views of someone identified with science?
Just… for heaven’s sake. Paul Easton – or, of course, the subeditors/editors who achieved this result – you get a big fat FAIL for this.

Key is going

Prime Minister John Key has done a U-turn and confirmed his intention to fly to Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change conference.
I am pleased, and surprised, and pleased, for all the reasons discussed here (including comments).
Congratulations are due to the Greenpeace crew who really drove this campaign – although there was certainly some high-level pressure as well, e.g. at the Commonwealth Heads of Govt talks, the grass-roots definitely got the message out enough that Key heard.

Climate Change Seminar

Climate Change: How do we Deal with Complex Science and Growing Urgency?

Speakers: Peter Barrett & Martin Manning, NZCCRI
Attended this yesterday. Peter Barrett gave an overview of the process for the next IPCC assessment, a lengthy process indeed, currently at the stage of gathering authors for the various chapters. I was interested to see that the open ocean is being treated as a distinct region for this report, for the first time – it’s pleasingly indicative of a step away from an anthropocentric framing of the problem. Sea level change is also a particular focus for this report; Peter took us through the findings of previous assessments, where sea level change estimates have been roughly constant but with what seemed to me a steadily rising upper limit.
What struck me most about Peter’s section was the sheer scale of this enterprise. It’s a global effort, driven by and through governments but populated by scientists. It’s massively multidisciplinary, spanning immense fields and sub-fields of knowledge and application. There’s never been an enterprise on this scale before, in any field. It’s humbling to consider the effort that goes into these assessments, in particular the drive for knew knowledge that underpins them.
Martin Manning, who was until recently the head of the Technical Support Unit for the IPCC’s Working Group I, spoke next, giving a picture of the projections for emissions and emphasising that carbon dioxide is just part of the picture. He also noted that the political maneuvering around emissions in the different countries is mostly based on what is produced in those countries, but does not reflect what is consumed; tracking by consumption produces a different picture. Should the emissions cost of a side of beef be applied to NZ because it was prepared here, or to the UK where it ends up being eaten? That’s a political question with no clear answer, but it’s important to be aware of the question.
Ultimately, Manning didn’t present a positive picture. A 2-degree warming target is seen as increasingly unlikely; a 3.5-degree target might be what we’re in for. Either way we’re headed for massive lifestyle changes, either self-inflicted to achieve the 2-degree limit, or forced by an unruly planet as we head north of 3 degrees.
Rough time ahead. One of Manning’s slides caught my attention though, saying that “climate scientists are increasingly pessimistic” about achieving the target. To me, that’s the wrong framing. We’re not talking about impersonal processes that will happen regardless of human action. I would swap out that word “pessimistic” for another – in my perspective, it should say “climate scientists are increasingly active“. As I’ve said over and over, the political ground is changing quickly, and great advancements are still possible. The political world is made up of people, and people can be convinced that urgent action is necessary; if enough of them are, then even sluggish global systems can be hauled on to a different course.

Key Should Go

Greenpeace has been doing great guns here with their “Sign On” campaign, fronted by a mix of celebrities, businessmen and scientists, and representing a range of political views. They’re at over 160,000 people as I write, which is pretty good for an NZ campaign. If you’re a Kiwi, you should go Sign On too.
Their latest angle has been to push NZ Prime Minister John Key to go to Copenhagen – it’s been a bit of a goofy campaign, raising money through cake stalls and sausage sizzles up and down the country, and then turning up at Parliament with the princely sum of $5000 to pay for his travel. Key didn’t acknowledge their publicity stunt offer, but they’ve done a good job of getting the idea out there that Key should go. And I agree, he should go. Seriously, what is bigger than Copenhagen? This is more than likely the single most important international meeting that will happen during Key’s time in office, so why would he skip it? (Unless it’s because he knows our climate change position is indefensible, and he’s afraid to front up? We certainly didn’t earn any favour at the Barcelona talks, with Geoff Keev reporting that NZ’s statement was met with undisguised derision. And Fred Pearce in the UK Guardian came out guns blazing at our hypocrisy over environmentalism and climate change. We deserve the pummelling, quite frankly. More of it would probably help us start to do a better job, because we care what other countries think of us.)
I’ve been arguing for a long time that high-level movement on climate change will ultimately be driven by social connectedness. Change will slip in quietly as politicians and business leaders have conversations with their children’s friends, or see their neighbours recycling and taking a bus instead of driving. Getting John Key and other leaders together at Copenhagen is that process writ large. Political talk is always distinct from political action, of course, but I believe the experience of a wide representation of global leaders talking about the real threat of climate change will have an effect on those same global leaders. This isn’t a wrangle over the Middle East or Darfur – here, everyone will be agreeing on the same bottom line, that this is an urgent, global crisis requiring co-ordinated collective action. It will be powerful stuff.
But, of course, it only counts if it’s the head of state. If it’s a lackey – even a very high-up lackey, as high as Nick Smith, our Minister for the Environment – then it doesn’t work, because responsibility rests with someone who’s out of the room.
So I want John Key to go. But he doesn’t want to.
Even though expectations for Copenhagen have been downgraded, Al Gore has been pushing an optimistic line, saying that Copenhagen is step one and will start something around which momentum will build. And I think he’s right. Action on climate change comes from a social feedback loop; as political actions are taken, the electorate’s demand for action grows, so more action is taken. The political ground on climate change is shifting quickly. Its only three years (almost to the day) that I wrote a Now We Have Won post, saying that the argument is over and it’s time for action. The international consensus that now exists is a huge development from then – for example, Obama and Aussie PM Kevin Rudd have both fiercely attacked those who deny the science and seek to delay action – this from the two countries who didn’t sign the Kyoto agreement. Gore, it seems to me, has the right view on things, that Copenhagen should start things moving, and we can build on it once it’s on a roll.
(Rudd’s speech is a humdinger – there’s a good summary here.)
(And while I’m talking about positive action, shout out to beloved Scotland, which is seriously doing the business and putting other developed nations to shame. Nice one team!)
Greenpeace’s SIgn On campaign is now looking ahead to December 5, where it will hold a huge “Planet A” event in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to put some pressure on Copenhagen. (“Planet A” as in, “There is no Planet B”.) My favourite part is that a huge haka is being planned for Auckland, challenging the negotiators to pull finger and make something happen. (Oddly enough when this was in the early planning stages I was contacted via friend-of-friend links to give some advice. So I swapped a few emails discussing marketing and flashmobs and twitter with early Greenpeace-er Susi Newborn, who was part of the team who first bought a ship and named it ‘Rainbow Warrior’. New Zealand is a small place!)
(By the way, I hope like hell someone in Copenhagen turns up to demonstrate with a giant puppet Reptilicus. I mean, Reptilicus had to be released from its frozen tomb and thawed out before it could terrorize Copenhagen. Climate change might deliver a whole horde of Reptilici to feast upon the world!)

Oh, also: heard yesterday that a friend who contacted the Sustainability Trust to volunteer for them was immediately asked, “Are you the person acknowledged in Morgan Davie’s thesis?” So it is being read by at least the odd person, which is pretty cool.

350: Day of Action

Saturday was the global day of action for the 350 movement, which aims to pressure decision-makers at Copenhagen to agree on a limit for atmospheric carbon (350 parts per million – we are currently at around 390).
It was a big day, globally. The front of 350.org is cycling through images from all around the world of citizen-initiated actions, often from places that seem wildly distant to me – three mongolian guys on horseback holding up a banner, for instance. The 350 blog featured a lot of photos with short explanations as they came in from around the world across the day.
Movement originator Bill McKibben guest-blogged over at Climate Progress, pointing out “here’s the thing that impresses us. There wasn’t a rock star or a movie star or a charismatic politician in sight. It was ordinary citizens and scientists coming together around a scientific data point.” (emphasis in original)
350 was a big thing in NZ, and particularly in Wellington. Building on Bill’s local appearance (which I blogged about here) and driven by a group of activist youth who sprung out of the local university environmental group, we had a full day of local events including the event that launched the day globally, a sunrise celebration/demonstration on Brooklyn Hill at the wind turbine (picture above). I made it along to the tail end of the public event, lots of people dancing and signing petitions and generally showing up and being counted. It was pretty neat.
Just around the corner was a big display of cars, all parked up outside our national museum, with a lot of people checking them out. Some motorsport club, clearly. As I walked past them on my way to the 350 events, I couldn’t help thinking that these guys were part of the problem. But I caught myself – because no, really, they’re not. They are the people who need to become allies in working to resolve climate change. The real sign of the opposition that was set against the local events was the stock ticker on the building alongside, remorselessly sliding gains and losses and signifying the restricted valuation system that constrains decision-making around the world. I really wanted the thing to blow a fuse for the day. That woulda been cool.

A Poor Trend

This is our electricity usage for the last couple years. Each vertical bar represents one two-month period, which is the frequency at which our power meter is actually read. It took a while to accumulate enough data points to say anything meaningful about our power usage; the thing that it says is “ouch”. I know it’s been a cold winter, but we’ve jumped up 20% in our power use over the same period in the last two years. We’re above the period where we had three people living here, not two. I’m not quite sure what to make of this, but I know that my shower times have crept up; I’m going to be more diligent from now on.
(I would, in fact, be curious about running temperature numbers alongside this graph – if anyone can put their hands on temperature data that I can use, that would be great, the only way I’ve found is by contacting NIWA and asking an actual human to quote me a price for the data I want, which seems a ridiculously old-fashioned way of doing things.)