Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

On Resistance to Climate Change Politics

datePosted on 12:22, June 2nd, 2014 by Lew

Yesterday the Green Party released its Climate Tax Cut policy proposal comprising, mostly, a carbon tax offset by an income-tax-free threshold for individuals and a decrease in the company tax rate. There’s much to be said about the cleverness of the tax-swap policy and so on, but I’m more interested in the cultural differences I observe in Green supporters (who love climate-change mitigation policies) from the rest of the populace at large (who regard them as a necessary evil at best).

Seeing that this cultural gap results in an amount of criticism from greens directed at those less enthusiastic, this morning I put it into the form of a twitter-treatise, as follows:

This seems to me a pretty fundamental map/territory problem: people are cognisant of the threat of climate change and might be willing to do something about it, but are alienated by alarmist rhetoric, guilt-trips and castigation, and policies that might inconvenience them.

The Greens as an increasingly professional and mainstream political operation are, for the most part, pretty good at staying positive on this topic. But how are they to mobilise their activist base without bringing out the elitist and badgering tendencies that come so naturally when people are so convinced of their rightness that they genuinely can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t agree with them?


Dear ACT Party Leaders,

As you may know, I was brought up in Wanganui, and keep an eye on events there. So it was with great interest that I received the below letter, published in the Wanganui Chronicle on 8 July 2011.

ACT’s announcement of the second ‘Don’ in the ‘Don and John’ lineup today was well-received, and if I may be so bold as to say so, I think the author of this letter also has a lot to bring to their table. I quote it in full:

Taniwha real
In reply to Dusty Miller (letters, July 1), I’m not one of those experts, but I do believe the taniwha to be real, not imagined, and I’ll tell you why.

Perhaps the ancient Celts of New Zealand may never have known war or possessed weapons, as prior to Maori being brought here by Zheng He New Zealand had never been threatened internally nor externally and there was no need.

However, New Zealand was visited by Viking ships and Scottish birlinns (a birlinn is similar to a Viking ship) which used to trade with resident Celts. The sailors of these vessels were fierce, battle-hardened warriors with far superior weaponry and military discipline compared with Maori.

As the bow and stern design of these ships is similar to the head and tail of the taniwha, I could well imagine that the sight of them would strike paralysing fear into the heart of any Maori confronted by them, and for this reason I believe the taniwha represents these ships.

Believing this to be the truth of the taniwha, I would not think these ships could be found in a small creek or marshland because of their size.

Taniwha artwork is yet another example of Maori following the culture of those who came here before them, the Celts.


I believe Mr Brougham’s Qualifications for Candidacy are Strongly Evident in this Letter. It provides a striking yet unconventional Insight into New Zealand history, weaving back together the varied strands of the rich Tapestry of our origins which Revisonist Historians who hate their own Culture have spent hundreds of years unpicking. In particular, he illustrates comprehensively how Maori, far from being Indigenous, were simply the first wave of Hostile Asian Immigrants to these fair shores. He shows due respect for our Noble Celtic Elders, who were clearly Men who thought like Men, and he recognises their manifest superiority over the Maori, in Warfare, Navigation, Art, and undoubtedly in other Fields as well. Despite his modest claim to not being an Expert, he is clearly Learned, but this does not prevent him Sharing his bountiful wisdom with others, as Readers can see by his patient Explanation of what a ‘birlinn’ is.

Furthermore, Mr Brougham has confirmed himself to be of Sound Mind regarding other crucial policy topics of our Time — protesting strongly against the ‘h’ being forced into ‘Wanganui’ by those same forces of Revisionism, and against the Emissions Trading Scam, by supporting the Endeavours of that noble veteran of the ACT ranks, Muriel Newman — herself also a believer in the undeniable Truth of New Zealand’s Celtic Settlement, and who herself certainly thinks like a Man.

Moreover, Mr Brougham already has more than a Decade’s political experience, having stood under the mighty Equal Rights banner in local body Elections, and for the OneNZ Party (a Sister to the redoubtable One Nation party in Australia) at the National Level. Indeed, while the 0.67% of the Vote he received in the 2005 General Election is unjustly low, it is similar to what the ACT Party is presently polling.

As one final thing, everyone knows that to succeed in politics you need a strong Hand. With the unfortunate departure of John Ansell, ACT presently has Two Pair — Don Brash and Don Nicolson, John Banks and John Boscawen. As everyone knows, Two Pair is a strong Hand, but not strong enough to ensure Victory. Adding Mr Brougham would restore ACT to Full House status, giving the party a Hand that could only be beaten by Four of a Kind (which I think we can all agree is unlikely); or a Smith & Wesson which, as the lore of our American brethren confirms, even beats Four Aces (this is also unlikely because the Liberal Culture-Hating Revisionists are too afraid to permit Noble Celts from arming themselves against Tyranny). Mr Brougham would complete the Full House because, as you wise Celts of the ACT leadership are surely aware, “Ian” is simply a Celtic rendition of “John”.

Mr Ian Brougham is well Qualified to join the Great ACT party, and he has the courage to speak Truth to Power. New Zealand needs him to return it to Celtic Glory. Nevertheless I must state I have not Approached Mr Brougham to ascertain his Willingness to stand for ACT, an exercise I shall leave to the ACT Leadership.

Trusting that you will consider this Recommendation with all the Gravity it deserves,


The Big Wet

datePosted on 15:27, January 12th, 2011 by Lew

Having neglected my bloggerly duties these past six weeks (in fact, I’ve been neglecting all my duties which aren’t strictly in service of looking after my family and keeping my job), I had resolved to write something about one of the many momentous events which have taken place recently. There are many to choose from. Some topics (Pike River; Wikileaks; Foreshore and Seabed for instance) are no longer immediate; others (the re-emergence of Winston Peters, commencement of the NZ general election campaign and its forerunner the Botany by-election) are not yet sufficiently well-formed for me to quite know what to say about them yet. Yet others (notably the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, Wikileaks and the Urewera Terra trials) have been more ably dealt with by Pablo and/or so many others, such that anything I could say would be redundant. There’s already enough peoples’ two cents rattling around in the hollow urn of internet discussion. In the context of these events other things I was meaning to write about (such as the manvertising topic Pablo discussed before the break) seem a bit trivial.

Add to all of this, today there is really only one story; that an area twice the size of Texas — the canonical measure of a really big thing — is underwater in Queensland; including much of Brisbane. The coverage put out by the Australian media, and in particular the ABC, is first-rate, and the best I can do is commend it to your attention.

There is one point, however, that I don’t think has been made strongly enough: and that’s that events such as these are a consequence of climate change. While it is fashionable for climate change deniers to mock those pointing to the increasing frequency and severity of snowstorms, cold snaps, hurricanes and torrential rainfall events as evidence for ‘global warming’; implying that climate science proponents try to take everything as evidence of ‘global warming’, the fact is that the term ‘global warming’ was retired and replaced with ‘climate change’ because the thesis isn’t just that the planet will get warmer.

That’s part of it, but the events — snowfall and what not — being pointed to are not climate; they are weather. The relationship between climate and weather is a lot like the relationship between mathematics and arithmetic — indistinguishable if you don’t understand them, but fundamentally of a different order. Weather, like arithmetic, is by and large small, trivial, unarguable stuff — stuff which is more or less self-evident. It rained this much last week; 2+2=4 — whereas climate, and mathematics, are bigger, more open-ended and by definition less quantifiable. Mistaking ‘weather’ for ‘climate’ is an immensely useful rhetorical device, and one which I believe has not been sufficiently well guarded-against by those whose task it is to argue the climate change case. But even though it may not have been made clear to the degree necessary for broad public and political comprehension, this distinction is well understood by those working in the field and anyone who cares to acquaint themselves even scarcely with the material. And fundamentally the take-away is this: climate change caused by the increased quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, to the extent that it takes place, will have unpredictable flow-on effects such as increased frequency and severity of severe weather events, and not just heat waves and droughts such as ‘warming’ would suggest.

The XKCD comic above (of which some years ago, my wife bought me the t-shirt) shows the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation spectrum. This has nothing much to do with climate change, but it is a famous proof of the scientific method: a near-perfect agreement between theory and actuality which is pretty fundamental to our understanding of a bunch of stuff. Science’s only defence; the only thing which gives it any importance or makes it any use at all, is that it works. When properly applied, it predicts actual events. The Queensland floods, as well as other such events, are happening as predicted, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant, or having you on, or both. In Andrew Bolt‘s case, it’s both. Queenslanders — and others similarly impacted by such events — need neither.


Fighting like you mean to win

datePosted on 07:05, September 13th, 2010 by Lew

I had meant to write something substantive on the politics-of-not-playing-politics evident in all aspects of the Christchurch earthquake and its aftermath, but circumstances have conspired to prevent me from doing so. I also have two deadlines in the coming week. So just a quickie, via George Darroch: What climate activists need to learn from the NRA and the gun-control wars.


I’ve made the argument before that climate change, having as it does the weight of scientific orthodoxy behind it, should be an easy win in the battle of ideas. That it isn’t, I believe, is due less to the powerful business cartels and their conspiratist minions arrayed against it, and more down to poor strategy and coordination on the part of those responsible for ensuring that the findings of the science are adequately promulgated throughout society, and for ensuring the policy responses to the problem are appropriate.


As gun control advocate Robert Walker argues in the linked post, those people — both the scientists and the political actors — can learn an awful lot from the NRA. Despite being pretty far out on the lunatic fringes even in the US political context, the NRA has simply phenomenal support both among gun users and those for whom the specifics of the debate have no direct relevance. They have this degree of support largely because they have succeeded in propagandising that issue to the point where its symbolic aspects matter more than its functional, material aspects. Doing this — breaking your topic from being a policy matter to being a symbolic matter in the public consciousness — is hard and complicated work, and you have to fight as if you mean to win; to not underestimate your enemy or permit your campaign to be hijacked by incompetence and vainglory. But if the NRA can do it with an issue like gun ownership, arguing for which on rational policy bases is deeply problematic, then surely those responsible for climate science can do as much. How they might do so is sketched in Walker’s article.


Brief thoughts

datePosted on 09:03, August 16th, 2010 by Lew

No time for anything substantive, but here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:

  • This ad for the Aussie Greens, made by Republic of Everyone for the ABC’s election campaign showThe Gruen Nation, is political-symbolic advertising done right. George Darroch tipped me off to it and describes it as “a political-emotional cluster bomb”, which is about right. It frames up some current issues in an explicitly normative, socially aspirational fashion by posing a set of questions which essentially answer themselves. It presents these issues — particularly gay marriage and boat people — in a way which permits cross-ideological consensus, opening the door to support from Coalition-supporting classical liberals. It’s so good the party itself wants to run the ad on TV, and I would too.

  • If the Climate Science Coalition wants science decided by the courts, rather than by scientists, then they’re welcome to open that door. It speaks volumes about their relationship to science; as a chap on Morning Report said this morning, neither judges nor lawyers can make this determination; if they have scientific experts who can legitimately challenge the record, let’s see them do so. But I have one proviso: They must be bound by the court’s findings. If the court rules, as I expect them to do, that there’s nothing wrong with the NIWA record, then I expect the CSC to take their lumps with good grace. But I expect instead to hear shrill shrieks about activist judges and political-ideological conspiracies. By the same token, of course, if the courts rule against NIWA then I expect the same, and will want to hear some answers from them. Science welcomes scrutiny.
  • KiwiRail continues to fail horribly, this time citing ‘unexpected complications’. The only thing ‘unexpected’, as far as I can tell, is that they’re advising commuiters of the problems in advance now, rather than days after the fact. Just another reason I’m thrilled to be working from home at the moment.


Climate credibility fail

datePosted on 07:30, January 19th, 2010 by Lew


I’ve remained largely silent on the so-called ClimateGate thus far, mostly out of an abject lack of expertise to judge the whys and wherefores of it all. It’s science, I’m not a scientist. But given Poneke’s magnum opus on the topic, the likelihood of an IPCC Himalayan glacier retraction and a NZ Herald survey which found that New Zealanders harbour deep doubts about anthropogenic climate change, I thought it apposite to repost something I wrote the other day at the bottom of a very long (but interesting) thread (somewhat edited). It’s something I’ve argued many times in other contexts.*

Climate change is often couched as an important problem of the sort which democracies fail to address — along with things like the global credit crisis, and fascism. But the failure is not with democracy itself, but with the calibre of certain actors within it. Climate change is an issue which should have been hit out of the park by any political movement with any competence, because the magnitude of the stakes and the weight of both reasoned evidence and benign symbolic matter which it embodies yield raw material for the most profound and powerful sorts of political campaigns — the sort which fundamentally change peoples’ beliefs and allegiances and which, if properly conducted, can grant a political movement incredible license to implement far-reaching policy of the sort which reforms society at its most basic levels. The Great Depression was just such an event for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Michael Joseph Savage. The miners strike was for Margaret Thatcher. September 11 was for George W Bush. And so on.

And yet, the skeptics are winning the battle of ideas around climate change. The failure to convince the electorates of the free world of the need for urgent climate change policy, a matter of the most critical and immediate importance backed by the best science available, reflects an utter failure on the part of political and scientific elites whose most important job it is to provide such leadership. The political and scientific establishment has squandered a phenomenal opportunity, with the exception of Al Gore, who with An Inconvenient Truth did more to progress the cause of gaining electorate buy-in to the topic than everyone else has done since. They are struggling and failing, not only to implement reforms of the magnitude which are required, but even to maintain the credibility of the scientific establishment.

Some [including Ag, to whom this was originally addressed] argue that it was always impossible to sell climate change to the electorate due to the vested interests amassed against it, cognitive biases, lack of expertise, plain ignorance, etc. Those are important factors, but other factors are more important and more controllable to boot — after all, people in a liberal society can only really control their own actions, and must be prepared to defend their positions against others.

The scientific establishment failed by allowing a tiny minority of skeptics and raving moonbats and vested interests to frame their establishment as a corrupt back-slapping club funded by grant money; by evading and prevaricating and playing dirty when legitimately challenged on important matters of fact and procedure; most recently by covering up emails and giving the conspiracy theorists grist for their mills. In defending their failures, they blame the heterodox minority, the vested interests, the rapturists and the conspiracy theorists.

Politicians have failed mainly by couching their arguments in favour of urgent climate change policy in terms of hard facts and economic figures, assuming that people could connect the dots themselves rather than spelling it out in terms they could understand at a visceral or intuitive level as well as when they whip out their utility calculators. The politicians blame the same people as the scientists, ignoring the fact that a generation of failure on their part to adequately contest the battle of ideas and to safeguard the political process against the influence of vested interests has allowed such lobbyists to become entrenched.

Part of this is systemic — there are problems with the scientific peer review system which politicians can’t understand; there are ruthless and well-resourced lobbyists with vested interests which have been permitted to entrench themselves in democratic political systems. But none of that is any excuse. They should have been able to drive it home anyway, given the raw material at their disposal. This is not a failing of democracy, but a failing of certain actors within the democratic system: particularly, those who believe so deeply that they are right, so they need not prove their case. People who think that inherent truth of the position will simply shine through. If their position was that strong, then it should have been easy, right? This ignores a fundamental reality of a free society: that people are free to be wrong, and must be brought about by reason and persuasion or not at all. I think it is that strong, and should have been easy.

The world is going to pay for the failure of climate scientists to adequately protect their credibility, and for the failure of politicians and policymakers to adequately sell the most politically saleable concept of the past generation — that the planet is going to get inhospitable if we continue to pollute it, and we don’t have a fallback position — and it’s infuriating that those responsible for this failure want nothing more than to shift blame for their own incompetence.


* It should be clear, but nevertheless: I’m not arguing that AGW isn’t real; in fact, the opposite: I am arguing that the problem is real but that the credibility of much of the evidence and the policy agenda is critically undermined. I don’t really buy Poneke’s conclusions drawn from his analysis of the emails, although I do accept that they demonstrate severe systemic and credibility failures which call a lot of the evidence into question. But in order to believe that it’s all a hoax, you have to believe in a scientific conspiracy of unprecedented scale, with no credible payoff. I just don’t see it.

Hōiho trading

datePosted on 11:26, September 15th, 2009 by Lew

So much of Labour and the economic left’s criticism of the māori party and its conduct in government with National is little more than the howling of self-interested Pākehā angry that the natives aren’t comporting themselves in the approved fashion. But in this case, criticism of the māori party’s support for National’s amended ETS is entirely justified — not because it goes against the principles of the labour and environmentalist movements, but because it goes against the māori party’s own stated principles and demonstrated political strategy. Idiot/Savant has a thorough fisking of the differences.

Whereas previous criticisms have mostly been leveled at the māori party for trading away tactical gains against strategic gains (going into government with National; refusing to quit any time National capitalised on its majority; etc), this decision sacrifices the strategic for the tactical, swapping a few relatively token benefits to some industry sectors in which Māori have strong interests and to low-income people among whom Māori are strongly represented, against a huge intergenerational moral hazard by which the general populace will subsidise emitters, robbing the general tax fund of revenue which could otherwise have been channeled into targeted poverty relief and social services, of which Māori are among the most significant consumers. The upshot must surely be the Foreshore and Seabed; but this seems to me a very heavy price to pay for a concession which seemed likely to go ahead in any case.

While the māori party is not — and Māori are not — ‘environmentalists’ in the western conservation-for-conservation’s-own-sake sense, a core plank of their political and cultural identity is rooted in their own kind of environmentalism, and by acceding to an ETS which does not enforce carbon limitations on industry and society, they have put this role in jeopardy and severely weakened their brand and alliances.

There is a silver lining in this for Labour and the Greens, however. The māori party’s deal has prevented Labour from succumbing to a similarly tempting compromise on the ETS, and it can retain its relatively high moral ground. Labour and the Greens now have a clear path on which they can campaign for the 2011 and future elections, a definite identity around which to orient their policies, and the real possibility of significant strengthening of the ETS in the future. Where this leaves the māori party I’m not sure; no doubt those who shout ‘kupapa!’ will be keen to consign them to the annals of history, but I don’t think redemption is impossible — especially if the māori party shepherds the FSA review through to its desired conclusion, it will remain a political force too significant to be ignored.



datePosted on 23:21, August 10th, 2009 by Lew

Paint your roof white, Marty G urges, and save the planet:

Just painting the dark roof of a 100m2 house white offsets 10 tons of carbon emissions – over half of average annual emissions per person.

If only it were that easy. Partly it is, of course – some of the gain comes from the heat being directly reflected back, and that bit still holds. But the paper refers to carbon emissions saved from people in white-roofed houses not needing to run air conditioners. That might be fine in Texas or California, or Australia but in NZ the problem set is completely different. Most people don’t have aircon, beyond the windows. Those who do probably use it for a couple of months a year, at most. A much greater problem in NZ is heating – so in NZ we should be painting our roofs dark in order to save on heating, right?

Perhaps what we need is a switchable system which can be dark or light when needed. But the lesson is a much more elementary one – house design should suit the locale.

Eagerness, again, is no substitute for thought.


Passion and reason about climate change

datePosted on 22:15, August 6th, 2009 by Lew

While I agree with most blogging folks that John Key was a fool to try to smack down Keisha Castle-Hughes for her role in the Greenpeace climate change campaign, I do still have concerns about the specifics of how she fronts it.

BK Drinkwater posted on this recently, and then took it back after some criticism. I don’t think his first instinct was that far wrong, but it was framed poorly – in terms of expertise as granting a right to advocacy, rather than expertise as being necessary to meaningful advocacy. I don’t have concerns about Keisha’s views or her right to advocate for them, or about her position as a young mother concerned about the future of humanity rather than a scientist or a policy expert, or about her being exploited for a cause. The problem for me is that Keisha’s advocacy is apparently based entirely in passion, and not at all in reason.

Her breathless and slightly incoherent performance on Close Up (horrible flash video) the other night, while it may have been inspiring for some, left me in little doubt that she doesn’t know anything much about the topic. She completely avoided answering Sainsbury’s question (from about 01:50) as to whether she knew anything about it – saying (again and again) that she was passionate about climate change and wanted to know what she could do about it. This is the problem with celebthorities (actorvists, pseudo-experts, etc.) – they frequently substitute passion for reason, and in doing so they encourage the wider public to do the same.

While I don’t expect celebrities (or anyone, really) to be an expert before they’re allowed to advocate, their passion for a cause should be somehow proportionate to their knowledge of it. Keisha’s passion seems to far (far) outweigh her knowledge, and passion without reason is dangerous. It may be that she does know more than the first thing about it – any reasonably intelligent person can familiarise themselves with the scientific orthodoxy in a few hours and after a few days of reading will probably know more than 90% of the general population – but as a media person, having not prepared a convincing answer to that question of credibility gives me serious doubt that she has any, even as little as the average celebthority. The same goes for her published response to Key on the signon blog. At the very least she should demonstrate some knowledge of the subject matter. Perhaps she’s saving this for the proposed tête-à-tête. Extreme optimism if that’s so.

Don’t get me wrong – both passion and reason are necessary weapons in the campaign arsenal. Al Gore’s passion was instrumental in breaking the issue into the mainstream, which no amount of science or evidence could have done. But passion without reason is especially dangerous when the task, as with climate change, is to convince people to believe and accept science, reason and evidence instead of uninformed opinion, ‘I reckons’, conspiracy theories and convenient misinterpretations of the evidence which perpetuate a particular lifestyle to which they’re accustomed. The primary tactic of climate change denialism is to muddy reason with passion, and get people thinking with their gut rather than their brains, and by privileging passion so completely over reason Keisha risks weakening the strongest weapons the climate change environmental movement has – science and reason and evidence.

Advocacy is great – but let it be based on something.