Thursday, 12 March 2009

Fiddling with small change while the planet burns

An revealing combination of stories. The first one is from The Independent:

Sea levels are predicted to rise twice as fast as was forecast by the United Nations only two years ago, threatening hundreds of millions of people with catastrophe, scientists said yesterday in a dramatic new warning about climate change. Rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are likely to push up sea levels by a metre or more by 2100, swamping coastal cities and obliterating the living space of 600 million people who live in deltas, low-lying areas and small island states.

Low-lying countries with increasing populations, such as Bangladesh, Burma and Egypt, could see large parts of their surface areas vanish. Experts in Bangladesh estimate that a one-metre rise in sea levels would swamp 17 per cent of the country's land mass. Pacific islands such as Tuvalu, where 12,000 people live just a few feet above sea level, and the Maldives, would face complete obliteration.


It is the accelerated melting of the vast, land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, caused by rapidly rising temperatures at high latitudes, which is now speeding up the increase beyond anything previously forecast. The Greenland ice sheet, in particular, is not simply melting but melting "dynamically" – that is, it is collapsing in parts as meltwater seeps down through crevices and speeds up its disintegration. Critically, the four scientists said, this process was not taken into account in the AR4 report, leading to estimates of sea-level increase which were far too low.

They revealed remarkable figures showing just how fast it is now happening. Professor Steffen said Greenland was losing 200 to 300 cubic-kilometres of ice into the sea each year – about the same amount as all the ice in Arctic Europe. This on its own is causing the global sea level to rise by more than a millimetre a year, he added, whereas a decade ago Greenland's contribution to sea level rise was non-existent.

Dr Church said that the most recent satellite and in situ data showed seas were now rising by more than 3mm a year – more than 50 per cent faster than the average for the 20th century. (1)

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, the NACTional have other things on their mind. This from the Dominion Post, courtesy of Stuff:
Flagship schemes to "green" the public service are the latest casualties in the Government's cost-cutting drive.

The Environment Ministry confirmed yesterday that it was ditching the Labour government's goal of a "carbon neutral" public service and several other green schemes as it looked to contain costs. These include a programme to help households become more energy efficient.

Ministry chief executive Paul Reynolds confirmed government ministers had decided on Monday to axe three programmes, saving $13 million over two years and affecting 18 to 20 jobs. The ministry was also trying to find a further $1.8 million in savings. But he hoped to avoid redundancies by assigning staff to different jobs.

News of the cuts come as a Government razor gang conducts a "line-by-line" review of its spending. (2)

Get that? The problem of climate change is likely to be worse and more rapid than we had realised. And the New Zealand government is blithely cancelling commitments to offset its own emmissions, cancelling envoironmental programmes and even a bloody helpdesk which gives people advice on how to live in a more energy efficient manner. Even though, back in December, Gerry Brownlee was complaining about demand for energy outstripping supply (3). Clearly, the NACTional solution doesn't involve limiting demand through sensible, energy efficient action on the part of the consumer - Brownlee's moaning prefaced the repeal of the ban on Thermal generaltion and the scraping of the bio-fuels commitment (4).

Which tells you pretty much all you need to know about NACTional's commitment to combating climate change. Fiddling about with a few million dollars - small change, but it generates another 'Nats Cut Bureaucracy and PC Silliness' type headlines.

It is short sighted, small minded, driven by ideology and shameless political expediency. Inspite of their mealy mouthed comments that they "must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions" and are their commitment to a "50% reduction in New Zealand's carbon-equivalent net emissions, as compared to 1990 levels, by 2050," (5) they have no policies in place to reach that goal, no obvious plan and what they have done with regards the environment and climate change has been retrograde.

Basically, they are making the right noises, but haven't shown any inclination to back them up with policy. Given the indecent haste with which they moved to their 90 Days 'Fire and forget' law, nixed the Electoral Finance Act, put the Resource Management Act out to be filleted, surely they could have found some time to live up to their pledges of action on the environment and climate change.

Instead - and aside from the environmental sacrifice implied by the review of the RMA - the Emmissions Trading Scheme is put on hold (6). The ban on incandescent lightbulbs is cancelled (7). As mentioned arlier, the commitment to bio-fuels and the ban on thermal generation are thrown out the window.

The message is clear, even if not plainly stated. NACTional don't care for the environment. They don't really think climate change is real. They are still loked in a 1950s - or perhaps even 19th century - paradigm when people thought that human activity had no lasting impact on the planet, resources llasted forever and had been put there to be exploited and could be consumed without consequence.
1 -'Sea levels rising twice as fast as predicted,' by Michael McCarthy, published in The Independent, 11th of March, 2009. (
2 - 'National takes axe to green schemes,' by Tracey Watkins, published in The Dominion Post, 11th of March, 2009. (
3 - 'Government steps in over power struggle,' by Brooke Donovan, published in the New Zealand Herald, 16th of December, 2008. (
4 -
5 - From a speech by Bill English, delivered to the Cliamte Change and Business COnference, 20th of August, 2008. (
6 - 'Climate Change: Back to square one,' by Idiot/Savant, posted on No Right Turn, 16th of November, 2008. (
7 - 'Brownlee turns the old lights back on,' unattributed NZPA artcle, published in The New Zealand Herald, 17th of December, 2008.

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