Saturday, 15 August 2009

Talk about a conflict of interest ...

Peter Gluckman, the government's chief science adviser, has prepared a paper on climate change (1).

It is in tune with proper scientific thought, which puts it wildly at odds with the government's current position. Gluckman provides an excellent summary of the issue, and surely not even Don Nicholson of Federated Farmers will dispute his scientific credentials (2).

This part, in particular, should be read out aloud by anyone offerring an opinion on climate change, as a preface to the usual railing, gimmickery and tilting at strawmen that passes for debate on the denierist finge:
... the collective wisdom of the scientific community is that action is needed now. It is inherent in the time scale by which emission targeting can affect temperatures that action sooner will have a greater ameliorating effect. This means making decisions in the absence of absolute certainty. Certainty can never exist regarding the precise magnitudes of temperature, rainfall and sea-level changes in advance of the periods you actually make the measurements. We are dealing here with probabilities, and indeed dealing with probabilities is the normal business of science. Science has done its best to reduce the uncertainty and now has a high level of confidence that something must be done now, and that if nothing is done we will all suffer as global temperatures rise.

There is a remote possibility that if we did little or nothing then the temperature would not rise to unacceptable levels. But we cannot gamble the future of the whole planet on the low probability of that occurring. We do many things in life that are based on the balance of probabilities, for example we think it prudent to insure our houses and wear seat belts in our cars not because we plan to have a fire or a crash, but rather because we are weighing the cost of the insurance premium or the minor inconvenience of putting on the seat belt against the significant risk of damage to our finances or ourselves if those events were to happen. It is the same with climate change – the collective wisdom of the scientific community is that action is needed to address global warming because without action the potential risk to the planet and ourselves is too high. (1)

I imagine that "remote possibility that if we did little or nothing then the temperature would not rise to unacceptable levels" will be seized on and regurgitated by deniers at every opportunity, rather in the form of "The governemnt's chief scientific advisor said we could do nothing without catastrophic consquences," which is, unfortunately, what happens when fundamentally honest and reasonable people debate fundamentally unscrupulous, dishonest people with vested interests to protect.

Gluckman, rather rudely, identifies the economic problem New Zealand has to face up to - either fewer cows, which isn't acceptable to the 'protein industry,' or a lot less of everything else, which probably insn't going to be acceptable to the rest of us:

The problem that overlays all of this is one of economics. To reduce emissions and to protect forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, has costs. The greater the degree of emission reduction required, the greater the cost. There are no easy and economical ‘silver bullet’ solutions to prevent the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by human activity from ending up in the atmosphere, so substantial reductions in emissions are required.


New Zealand has a particularly unusual situation because about half of our emissions are derived from our farming industry ... We are a long way from being able to reduce emissions from sheep and cattle unless we reduce herd size, which would affect the heart of our economy. Active research is starting to look at ways to change ruminant biology so they expel less methane; however while the research is promising, it is still some way from application. So if we commit to reducing emissions by a certain percentage, say 20%, and we cannot change livestock emissions much we would have to have a 40% reduction in other emissions to meet that target. (2)
Which is the debate we need to be having. But without proper leadership from the government, and the like sof Don Nicholson trying to smother any debate, it isn't going to happen.
1 - "Climate change," by Professor Peter Gluckman, published on the website of the Government's Scientific Advisory Committee, 14th of August, 2009. (
2 - As described previosuly on lefthandpalm:
3 - Gluckamn, op. cit.

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