What do you think is the biggest threat to humanity?

An interesting Question of the Day:

What do you think is the biggest threat to humanity? Disease, Asteroids, Nuclear War, or Climate Change?

Responses will obviously be affected by the big news of the day, and news of the year.

Post-Covid idealists may have to wait a while for the people to rise and fix the world

Obviously the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s wider effects on health and the economy are far from over, here in New Zealand and world wide. It seems unlikely our borders will reopen to Australia let alone the worlds will re-open this year.

We are yet to see the full economic impact here, with wage subsidies still propping up jobs for another few weeks but already there have been many lost jobs and business closures.

In Dunedin the Warehouse has announced the closure of their city store, department store H & J Smith have announced they will close permanently in January (when their mall lease expires), and K-Mart hasn’t opened since the lockdown. The latter two are the major tenants in Dunedin’s biggest mall.

But idealists still seem to think that Covid can be used as a catalyst to reforming and saving the world.

Anne Salmond: Life after the Pandemic

Around the world, millions of people are still in lockdown, trying to avoid the worst consequences of a global pandemic. It’s been a shocking, bizarre time, with people locked in their houses, unable to go to work (except online) or visit many of their nearest and dearest, even in the extremity of illness or death.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the suspension of life as usual has been short compared with many other countries, and the loss of life blessedly limited.

To be fair she may have written her column before this week’s debacle unfolded.

In our small, relatively close-knit island nation, over the past few months ‘the team of five million’ has been galvanised by the pandemic to work towards common goals. Fortunately, the idea that the lives of friends or family should be sacrificed for ‘the economy’ had very little traction in New Zealand, and the risks posed by self-serving individuals to others became stark.

There’s a sense that the ground beneath us is lurching. The global economy is fragile, with the climate crisis, mass extinctions and collapsing ecosystems looming like black clouds on the horizon. Around the world, leaders are being tested, perhaps as never before, and some are failing in spectacular style.

In New Zealand, we’ve been lucky. With the support of most people, our leaders took this small, remote country through months of isolation and sacrifice to eliminate Covid-19, at least for now.

As many commentators have observed, in many ways, Covid-19 is the least of our worries.

Many commentators? Or a few who keep repeating themselves?

After decades of fostering radical inequalities, and ravaging soils, rivers, forests and harbours in the name of profit, our life support systems are faltering, and the links that bind us together are being corroded. If our leaders fail to tackle these challenges head on, they will put the lives of their own children and grandchildren at risk.

Our leaders have failed to even do the basics in keeping Covid out.

It is my hope and belief that the same collective good sense and astute leadership that helped us get through the pandemic (so far) will shape our future in New Zealand. In the aftermath of Covid-19, its time for the team of five million (literally) to play the game of their lives.

But we are not anywhere near through the pandemic yet.

Rod Oram: Politicians still leaving it to us on climate

…But this Government, along with its predecessors over the past 20 years, has failed to deliver any meaningful complementary measures because the politics of them have been so dysfunctional.

Last July, for example, the Labour-led Government proposed a comprehensive policy to incentivise the purchase of lower emissions, more fuel efficient and electric vehicles. The policy would have also set fuel efficiency standards for New Zealand by 2025. We are the only developed country to lack them. But it dropped the plan in February because its coalition partner, NZ First, vetoed it.

Both NZ First and National attacked the policy, claiming it benefitted higher income and urban people while penalising lower income and rural people. Their argument was flat-out wrong, which was perfectly clear from the analysis on which the policy was based. Meanwhile, fuel hungry twin-cab utes retain their exemption from fringe benefit tax, which is an incentive to buy them.

Similarly, this Government’s Covid recovery stimulus spending is remarkably light on infrastructure projects that also deliver environmental and climate benefits. The ones announced this week were pitifully few and small.

The global revolution in food and farming is familiar to regular readers of this column, with my most recent update seven weeks ago.

I suspect that most people don’t care about global revolutions at the moment, just personal survival.

Politicians were just as disappointing this week, led by National voting against the ETS legislation. It said it supported the bill but Covid-hit households and business couldn’t afford the resulting increase in carbon costs.

They make a valid point.

If it wins the election and leads the next government, it says it will delay implementing the ETS reforms for a year. But if a dollar or two a week per household really is too much now, then it will always be and National will never agree to it. Yet with every year we delay, the cost of acting on the climate crisis, and repairing the damage it does, only escalates.

So, once again the only course for action for the public is to take personal responsibility and action on the climate, work with others, push politicians ever harder to act, and vote for the parties showing the least denial.

So Oram is basically campaigning against National here.

And he is probably out of touch with most of us who see some fairly big challenges right now. Taking “personal responsibility and action on the climate” is not likely to be high on most people’s priority lists.

Salmond and Oram may be financially secure enough to make token sacrifices, but many of us are more concerned about personal survival, health-wise and financially.

NZ climate change survey – most have some concern, 6% dismissive

An online survey of more than 2000 New Zealanders has found that most people have some concerns about climate change – about 70-80 per cent of the population believes climate change is real- with just 6% are dismissive, and they were more likely to be men over 55.

 

Stuff: Six New Zealands of climate change: Which one are you?

The survey confirmed what many middle New Zealanders will know already – often, people simply don’t think about climate change. While multiple studies have shown climate disturbance is already increasing severe drought, flood risk and fire risk, on average, people think any impacts on them are still 30 years away.

Boomers (aged 55-75) in the survey were six times more likely to dismiss climate change than New Zealanders aged 16-24 (Gen Z.

Gen Zers are 50 per cent more likely than Baby Boomers to consider the environment and/or climate change to be the most important issue facing New Zealand, but represent a cohort roughly half the size.

“That cohort (of Baby Boomers) is quite big and they vote a lot. They have a 90 per cent intention to vote, whereas for Gen Z, even when you only consider those who can vote, it’s more like 40 per cent,” says Winton. “That means there are roughly eight times more Baby Boomers who are likely to vote than there are Gen Zers, and they are six times more likely to vote actively against climate action.”

Women were less likely than men to be Dismissive, and more likely to be Alarmed or Concerned. That means the Dismissive are over-represented in the older male demographic that is most likely to be running company boards.

SIX NZs: WHICH GROUP ARE YOU?

Alarmed (14 per cent): Fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it.

Concerned (28 per cent): Also convinced that climate change is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged in the issue personally.

Cautious (8 per cent) and Disengaged (27 per cent): Average scores for Cautious and Disengaged people are almost identical, however the Disengaged have stronger belief in climate change and want stronger societal action, but display weaker behaviours and personal involvement.

Doubtful (17 per cent): Generally question climate change or don’t believe it is a problem, however their behaviours show they are not engaged in the issue.

Dismissive (6 per cent): Actively disbelieve in climate change and want a weak or no response from society. Actively oppose national efforts to cut emissions.

The online panel – polled in November and December 2019 – was modelled on the Six Americas survey developed by Yale and George Mason Universities. Polling company Dynata conducted a similar survey in New Zealand for a climate action start-up, the 1.5 Project. With the help of funding from fitness business pioneer Phillip Mills and the Tindall Foundation, the study took a sample of 3500 and whittled it to 2034 to get a representative mix of sex, age, location, ethnicity and income.

Respectful conversations between people with varying opinions are crucial on climate, but we often avoid them, says researcher Jess Berentson-Shaw, whose consultancy The Workshop studies how to have constructive conversations.

There is a hard-core group in opposition who are virtually unpersuadable, says Berentson-Shaw, but there’s also a huge majority in the middle who care, but don’t know what to do. This group steps back from issues they see as difficult and polarised, she says.

I don’t fit into those groups. I’m not alarmed, I’m concerned, but have taken some individual and some political action to address climate change and environmental issues generally. I guess that makes me out of step with a bunch of male baby boomers (who probably are over-represented on Kiwiblog).

 

Redesigning the economy and the climate change opportunists

We are experiencing major economic disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the actions of Governments around the world in locking countries and regions down. The effects of this will be felt for months and probably years. Some business and businesses will bounce back, but some, especially air travel and cruise ships (and tourism in general) – those that survive – will likely have a long and slow recovery. The numbers of unemployed have surged, the number of people going out of businesses is likely to also surge (we won’t find out until lockdowns ease off) and will drop only gradually.

Governments have been piling large amounts of money into financial support for personal and business and that looks likely to continue for a while at least.

We have had some minor murmurings for Ministers over future economic refocussing, but there’s no solid sign of what we have coming from Government, they are still in reactive rescue mode.

This is a very good opportunity to redesign the economic and social systems of countries, and the idealists and opportunists are already out pushing their favoured reforms.

Here are some suggestions being made by various lobbyists.

Russel Norman at Greenpeace: Climate change is harder to visualise than coronavirus, but no less dangerous

The Covid-19 Coronavirus has so far caused more than 145,000 deaths worldwide.

These are grim numbers from the World Health Organisation, the actual human suffering is impossible to measure.

By comparison, the WHO predicts that climate change will kill 250,000 people every year between 2030 and 2050.

A total of five million people. Starting in ten years’ time.

Given those figures, why does the global response to the climate crisis compared to Covid look like a tortoise versing a hare?

One of the crucial differences – Covid has been with us just over a hundred days. Climate Change became front page news more than 30 years ago.

The pandemic is much easier to see and visualise. It doesn’t affect us, it infects us. Watching those awful scenes of coffins piling up in Italy and mass graves in the US, you need little imagination to grasp the threat to you and your family.

By contrast we may feel that climate change is unlikely to kill us. A dangerous misconception.

The neoliberal argument against society acting collectively via the government is dead. As the Financial Times editorial put it recently: “Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table.

Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy.”

Transforming agriculture, electrifying transport, embracing wind and solar power. We can do this.

Best of all we can start now. If we are going to spend 20 billion dollars stimulating the economy, let’s spend a bunch of that money on a Green Covid Response – infrastructure projects that hasten us towards a zero carbon future – rather than landing us slap bang in the middle of another existential crisis.

That was posted at The Standard on Friday and only got six comments – does this suggest there isn’t a lot of public support for the climate change switch, or Norman or Greenpeace?

Associate Professor Janet Stephenson, Director of the Centre for Sustainability at the University of Otago: Covid-19 has nothing on what’s coming

Covid-19 and its aftermath will be the greatest disruption that New Zealand has faced since at least the Great Depression in the 1930s.  It is already causing untold misery and trauma and will bring both economic hardship and health consequences for some years to come.

Yet these impacts will be trivial compared to the likely economic and social disruption if we continue to destroy the environment. Climate action failure, biodiversity loss, extreme weather, human-made environmental disasters and water crises are five of the top 10 global risks identified by the World Economic Forum in 2020. Infectious diseases are just one more.

The sudden shock of the coronavirus pandemic has shown how quickly governments and societies can act to deal with an imminent existential threat. We’ve been able to make massive personal and business sacrifices to respond to this emergency. Lockdown is working and even greater costs, and deaths, are being avoided.

But at the same time, like frogs oblivious to a pot of heating water, we’re failing to take serious action to avoid the slow-boiling yet increasingly visible emergencies caused by human over-consumption, over-exploitation and radical destabilisation of natural systems. These are existential threats but, like the frogs, we are failing to make the leap.

This is our chance to kick-start a shift to a sustainable future. A chance to safeguard future generations, to re-design our direction, to define a new normal and make it our way of life. To re-lay our track unerringly to a sustainable future so that the young among us can face it with confidence and their elders can leave it to them without regret.

Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to re-set our direction to a sustainable future. But it won’t happen unless visions are translated into actions that align with all seven whetū, not just the one or two that seem easiest.

Allbirds’ Tim Brown: How Covid-19 will help us unite against the climate crisis

New Zealand has made solid progress towards declaring goals for developing a carbon zero economy but now has an opportunity to accelerate the urgency of that action. We can build on the collaboration between business and government in the face of Covid-19 to imagine closer partnerships to tackle climate change. The primary industries must be brought into that conversation not as a roadblock to progress but as a potential source of the solution with innovation and regenerative farming practices aligned around carbon reduction initiatives.

Let’s use the challenges of this moment to propel us not back to normal but forward to something better.

Rod Oram: A message for the timid, fearful and selfish

If we want a better future, we’ll have to fight for it. Better means for all people and the planet. Fight means to overcome, by all ethical means, those seeking a return to the pre-Covid status quo.

Many people hope such profound improvement is underway. The great rupture caused by the virus makes blindingly obvious the weaknesses of our economic, social, political and ecological relationships; yet it also shows us how people can come together to cope with the coronavirus epidemic in ways magnificent, creative and effective.

– From the Yunus Centre in the business school at Griffith University in Brisbane comes a model for developing a regenerative economy. “Stimulus and rescue measures will be critical to recovery. We have a choice about how to shape these measures however. We could apply rescue measures that seek to get us back to where we were and likely achieve a degraded ‘business-as-usual’ economy, with a significant fiscal hole to fill,” the Centre writes.

“Or, we could intentionally design these measures to reshape our economy for recovery plus regeneration. This would mean an economy in better shape to withstand the longer term effects of the pandemic, and also deliver a broader range of outcomes for people, places and planet into the future.”

– From Volans, the British sustainability adviser to global corporates, long-led by John Elkington, comes the Tomorrow’s Capitalism InquiryIt aims “to accelerate the emergence of a regenerative economic system where companies thrive because their business model – and financial value – is inextricably linked to creating social and environmental value.”

– From Kate Raworth, the British economist, comes a city-scale application of her work on regenerative business, economic, social and ecological systems. This draws on, and takes to a deeper level, her insights in her 2017 book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist.

The conversation between the three of them is essential watching for anyone wanting to help create our better future. Hopefully it might also persuade the timid, fearful and selfish that they too can contribute to and benefit from this vital project.

I don’t think that labeling people with alternate views as timid, fearful and selfish is a great way to gain wider support, but there could be a groundswell of public support for radical change that becomes unstoppable.

There’s obviously a lot of lobbying ramping up. The Government will be busy just dealing with Covid, but may also be able to be influenced in what they may do with their economic and social recovery plans.

I presume there are other lobbyists promoting other policy directions.

It’s important that if there are significant changes in policy directions being considered that the wider public are included in discussions and decisions, and there isn’t some sort of reform by stealth going on.

 

Emissions and Freshwater reports from the Beehive this week

One topic continues to dominate our lives, the news and Government at the moment, but what else has come out of the Beehive this week? Not much. Just two other media releases, one on carbon emissions which is a bit out of date (2017-2018), and another on a the Freshwater 2020 report just released.

Emissions report shows progress, and the work ahead

New Zealand is making limited progress to reduce its emissions, but not nearly quickly enough, the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, said today in response to the release of the latest annual inventory of New Zealand’s greenhouse gases.

“The report gives us the most up to date picture of how much we still have to do to solve climate change. Narrowing the gap between where we are now, and where we need to be, is the difference between handing our children a better world, or more crises in the future.

Net emissions fell by 3 percent in 2018 compared to 2017 levels. Gross emissions in 2018 decreased by 1 percent on 2017 levels. However, between 1990 and 2018, gross emissions increased by 24 percent.

Over the same period economic growth increased by 3.2% so it is possible to do more and pollute less.

But this isn’t very up to date, it doesn’t include last year and of course there’s major disruption this year so it’s hard to know what will happen.

Measures introduced by this Government to help drive down emissions include the Zero Carbon Act; the creation of the Climate Change Commission; reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme; the first set of emissions budgets; billions of dollars invested in rail, light rail, buses, walking and cycling infrastructure; a Joint Action Plan for Primary Sector Emissions; the Billion Trees programme; and the end of new offshore fossil fuel exploration.

In 2018, New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions comprised of 44 percent carbon dioxide, 43 per cent methane, 10 per cent nitrous oxide and 2 per cent fluorinated gases. The agriculture and energy sectors were the two largest contributors to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions at 48 percent and 41 percent respectively. Increases in emissions from dairy cattle and road transport remain the largest contributors to the growth in emissions since 1990.

The full inventory report and a snapshot here.

Freshwater report highlights need for continued efforts to protect and restore healthy waterways

Our Freshwater 2020, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, underlines the importance of government efforts to ensure healthy freshwater, protect native freshwater biodiversity, make land use more sustainable and combat climate change.

Environment Minister David Parker said the report will help inform the work already underway, to protect and restore waterways and the life in them.

The report highlights the inherent connection between people and the environment: our activities on land are having a negative effect on our freshwater ecosystems and the plants and animals that live in them.

Each catchment is different, so it is challenging to present a national picture of the state of our freshwater, but some conclusions are clear; our native freshwater species and ecosystems are under threat; water is polluted in urban, farming, and forestry areas; and the way we change water flows can have a range of impacts on freshwater ecosystems.

These issues combined, and with the impact of climate change, add up to significant pressure on our freshwater species and habitats.

David Parker said the Government has work underway to address the issues presented in the report.

He  noted that the Resource Management Amendment Bill is currently before Parliament, which will also benefit freshwater health and help mitigate climate change impacts.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said all the issues in the report are made worse by climate change and that is why this government is so determined to take strong action.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said the report highlighted the importance of law changes last year to protect native fish, and the work the Department of Conservation was leading to develop a new national biodiversity strategy.

“The freshwater report outlines well the pressures on native fish such as īnanga/whitebait and the importance of reducing sediment and nitrogen pollution and barriers to fish migration to ensure healthy fish populations,” said Eugenie Sage.

The Our Freshwater 2020 report is available here.

 

Curriculum encouraging climate activism and capitalism

Should the school curriculum be limited to bland academic subjects, or should it also encourage critical thinking, care about important issues and advice on capitalist activities?

Should kids be taught about dealing with outrage expressed on Twitter?

I did reasonably well at school academically, but was often bored and uninspired. I left after getting University Entrance in the 6th form to get a job, wanting to avoid another year of tedium and years of university.

One stand out period at school was when Grahame Sydney (who gave up teaching after a few years and took up painting) plaayed us Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.  We were too young to be potentially affected by being balloted into the New Zealand Army and being sent to Vietnam, it provoked thought about the a big issue of the time and got some interesting discussion going.

The Taxpayers’ Union put out a media release:

Climate change curriculum skirts close to taxpayer-funded propaganda

The Government’s new climate change educational material for year 7 and 8 students skirts close to taxpayer-funded propaganda, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The new taxpayer-funded curriculum promotes the campaigns of Greta Thunberg, School Strike for Climate, and even Greenpeace. Students are encouraged to reduce their feelings of climate guilt by participating in this kind of political activism.”

“Left-wing campaign groups would be spewing if the national curriculum ever promoted the Taxpayers’ Union vision of a prosperous low-tax New Zealand. The national curriculum should not be used to promote particular political groups or agendas.”

“A sensible climate change policy would focus on the science and policy options. But even on these points, the course is weak: it promotes a tax on carbon while failing to mention that we already have an Emissions Trading Scheme.”

“A major portion of the material is fluffy, condescending rubbish. Students will have to sit through five different sessions focused on their feelings about climate change, with activities including a ‘feelings splash’ and a ‘feelings thermometer’.”

The teacher resources even include a 15-page ‘wellbeing guide’ for teachers and parents, which warns: Children may respond to the climate change scientific material in a number of ways. They may experience a whole host of difficult emotions, including fear, helplessness, frustration, anger, guilt, grief, and confusion. When discussing the material, teachers may encounter students who cope through avoidance, denial, diversionary tactics, wishful thinking and a range of other coping mechanisms.

“This isn’t teaching kids how to think – it’s telling them how to feel.”

It would be terrible if schools dealt with feelings about important issues. (Actually schools do deal with feelings, especially when there are deaths and disasters that could impact on kids).

Should discussing the Australian bushfires and their possible causes be banned in schools?

Should anything that could be construed by someone as political be banned?

@GraemeEdgeler points out

And here is teaching resource encouraging students to become property developers, selling off and subdividing publicly-owned land.

https://t.co/eeSHElhKqB?amp=1

He asks:

Why are schools encouraging capitalism and not socialism?

Should schools stick to reading, riting and rithmetic, and ignore everything else in the world?

 

Just two choices, fossil fuels or ‘sustainability’? No.

We have problems with climate change.

We also have problems on both sides of the climate change debate.

On one side their are arguments like ‘it’s all natural’, ‘we shouldn’t do anything’, ‘we can’t do anything that will make any difference’. here are organised dissers and dismissers – I’m not sure what their actual motives are. Perhaps some are trying to protect status quo big business, or they fear change so resist change that may slow down change.

This side of the argument often tries to rubbish science they don’t like (while liking science and pseudo science that supports their argument or supposedly debunks the overwhelming weight of evidence). A lot of their arguments are fairly easily dismissed.

I think that some the other side of the argument is more of a problem – those who urge drastic change to mitigate climate change without giving any idea of how that would be done or what the possible consequences might be.

David Slack (Stuff): Is it hot enough for you yet?

We have just two choices, they both take us into the unknown, and we have to pick one: give up fossil fuels and move to sustainability, or remain unsustainable and live with the consequences.

We don’t have “just two choices”.

If we “give up fossil fuels” (and some go as far as saying or implying this should be immediate and total) the consequences would be enormous. Virtually no more flying. Virtually no more shipping. Drastically reduced private and public transport. Countries that rely a lot on on fossil fuels, like the US, China and Australia, would have extreme energy deficiencies, with no way of switching to electric transport to any degree.

The flow on effects of these changes alone would have a massive impact on our way of life – and would cost lives. We rely on fossil fuels for emergency services.

There would be massive impacts on food production and distribution.

Any sort of rapid change away from fossil fuels would cause far more problems than continuing on much as we are.

Slack has omitted the obvious choice – work towards alternative energy options as as quickly as we can – far more quickly than we are at present – but without putting civilisation on Earth at risk of catastrophic collapse.

The lack of urgency on some things, especially energy conservation, seems negligent to me. All homes and offices should be well insulated and double glazed at least, and this could be done quickly. It would cost quite a bit, but the risks are negligible, and I think we are better off not requiring as much alternative energy.

But if activists and journalists push for extreme measures this distracts what is do-able and what would actually be sustainable. One of the worst effects is that their demands are easily dismissed as extreme and unworkable, but this allows the other side of the argument room to dismiss all efforts to mitigate climate change effects.

Progress has been made in New Zealand this parliamentary term on a plan towards net zero emissions, this is a long term and fairly vague aim – the target is 2050, thirty years away.

We should be doing much more, starting this year.

I think that Jacinda Ardern may have made a mistake claiming that dealing with climate change is our modern ‘nuclear’ issue.

New Zealand made a symbolic stand against nuclear weapons in the 1980s (and i supported that) – but all we had to do is oppose some ship visits and protest against bomb tests a long way away from here. We didn’t need to change our way of life.

What we should be doing about climate change, and energy conservation, and pollution, requires actual significant change in how we live, now. Some will resist this, but I think most would get behind leadership on this and shift their way of living towards a more sustainable future.

A lack of significant action by the Government leaves rooms for people like Slack to propose stupid choices.

We should be radically changing our thinking about how we live, and we should become more environmentally aware.

We need a plan that is somewhere in between the extreme anti-change brigade and the extreme change/massive vague experiment proponents – closer to the latter, but a plan that reduces risks as quickly as possible without creating bigger risks.

 

Aussie bushfires – climate change versus arson claims

Corky commented:

Maybe the news should have reported concurrently with their CC extravaganza that 183 Aussies have be charge/fined for reckless activities that could contribute to starting fires.
24 are alleged to have started fires deliberately. These idiots obviously have been struck down with CC fever.

Guardian: Police contradict claims spread online exaggerating arson’s role in Australian bushfires

Victoria police say there is no evidence any of the devastating bushfires in the state were caused by arson, contrary to the spread of global disinformation exaggerating arsonist arrests during the current crisis.

A misleading figure suggesting 183 arsonists have been arrested “since the start of the bushfire season” spread across the globe on Wednesday, after initial reports in News Corp were picked up by Donald Trump Jr, US far-right websites and popular alt-right personalities.

The figure included statistics from some states covering the entirety of 2019, rather than just the current bushfire season, which began in September.

In Victoria, 43 alleged arsonists were counted among the 183 arrested “in the past few months” and “since the start of the bushfire season”. That Victorian figure was, in fact, the figure for the year ending September 2019, meaning it had no relation to the current bushfire season.

“There is currently no intelligence to indicate that the fires in East Gippsland and the North East have been caused by arson or any other suspicious behaviour,” a Victoria police spokeswoman said.

The reported figure of 183 also includes 101 individuals from Queensland who were “picked up for setting fires in the bush”. But a Queensland police spokeswoman said the figure included a broader range of offences than arson, including the breaching of total fire bans, and was not a total of arrests, but a total of “police enforcement actions”.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/08/police-contradict-claims-spread-online-exaggerating-arsons-role-in-australian-bushfires

Snopes: “Nearly 200″ Australians were arrested in late 2019 and early 2020 for deliberately setting bushfires” – false

The unprecedented fires, which have killed at least 24 people, have destroyed 1,400 homes and killed millions of animals; the fires have been facilitated by extreme weather linked to climate change, like drought and a prolonged wildfire season in Australia, which has also been experiencing extreme heat. The fires are so powerful they are creating their own weather and are expected to continue burning for months to come.

But some, including Alex Jones’ conspiracy site InfoWars that spreads climate change denialism, falsely reported that “nearly 200 people” were arrested in Australia for “deliberately” starting bushfires.

That would be a distortion of the facts. Police in New South Wales released a statement disclosing that since Nov. 8, 2019, 183 people, including 40 juveniles, have been charged with 205 bushfire-related offenses. Of the 183, 24 people have been charged with deliberately setting fires. According to police, of the 183, another “53 people have had legal actions for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban,” and an additional “47 people have had legal actions for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.”

Local press reports indicate that not all of the people charged committed acts that contributed to the raging brushfires. For example, a man in the Sydney suburb of Wallacia was fined for lighting a fire to make a cup of tea. That blaze was extinguished by firefighters. Another man was cited for lighting a fire to cook food in the town of Tarro. That fire was also put out by responding crews.

Were ‘Nearly 200’ People Arrested for Deliberately Starting Australia Bushfires?

Miranda Devine (NY Post):  Celebrities, activists using Australia bushfire crisis to push dangerous climate change myth

I’m sorry, but I lived in Australia through the past two decades of escalating fire crises and it’s not climate change that has caused today’s disaster, but the criminal negligence of governments that have tried to buy green votes by locking up vast tracts of land as national parks, yet failed to spend the money needed to control ground fuel and maintain fire trails.

Instead, they bowed to an ideology that obstructs necessary hazard reduction and prevents landowners from clearing vegetation around their own properties, all in thrall to the god of “biodiversity.”

Anyone referring to “dangerous climate change myth” has to be viewed with more scepticism than usual.

Guardian: Firefighters’ group that disputes climate link to bushfires has close ties to Shooters party

A small volunteer firefighting association that disputes the link between climate change and the current bushfires has close ties to the New South Wales Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party and diverted thousands of dollars from its meagre finances to bankroll a bid by its president to run as an SFF candidate in the NSW election.

The Volunteer Fire Fighters Association has been quoted extensively in the media during the bushfire crisis, particularly on Sky News and in the Australian, downplaying the links to climate change, attacking the group of ex-fire and emergency chiefs who have called for climate action, and placing blame for the fires chiefly on a lack of hazard reduction burning and poor land management.

The VFFA, which splintered from NSW’s main volunteer firefighting representative body in 2004, has repeatedly refused to say how many members it has, and recently drew the ire of the RFS commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, who called it a “highly politically-charged” group with unclear motivations that had failed to reveal “who they claim to represent, how many they represent, and how they operate”.

The Guardian can now reveal the group’s close links to the SFF party, whose leader Robert Borsak frequently disputes that humans are causing climate change and similarly blames the fires on a lack of hazard reduction burning.

Stuff (AP) – Australian bushfires: How climate change and other factors worsen fires

Experts say Australia’s unprecedented wildfires are supercharged because of climate change, the type of trees catching fire and weather.

“They are basically just in a horrific convergence of events,” said Stanford University environmental studies director Chris Field, who chaired an international scientific report on climate change and extreme events.

Q: IS CLIMATE CHANGE REALLY A FACTOR?

A: Scientists, both those who study fire and those who study climate, say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has been a big part, but not the only part, of the fires.

Last year in Australia was the hottest and driest on record, with the average annual temperature 1.5 degrees Celsius above the 1960 to 1990 average, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures in Australia last month hit 49.9C.

“What would have been a bad fire season was made worse by the background drying/warming trend,” Andrew Watkins, head of long-range forecasts at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said in an email.

Mike Flannigan, a fire scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, said Australia’s fires are “an example of climate change”.

A 2019 Australian government brief report on wildfires and climate change said, “Human-caused climate change has resulted in more dangerous weather conditions for bushfires in recent decades for many regions of Australia.”

Q: HOW DOES CLIMATE CHANGE MAKE THESE FIRES WORSE?

A: The drier the fuel – trees and plants – the easier it is for fires to start and the hotter and nastier they get, Flannigan said.

“It means more fuel is available to burn, which means higher intensity fires, which makes it more difficult – or impossible – to put out,” Flannigan said.

The heat makes the fuel drier, so they combine for something called fire weather. And that determines “fuel moisture”, which is crucial for fire spread. The lower the moisture, the more likely Australian fires start and spread from lightning and human-caused ignition, a 2016 study found.

There’s been a 10 per cent long-term drying trend in Australia’s southeast and 15 per cent long-term drying trend in the country’s southwest, Watkins said. When added to a degree of warming and a generally southward shift of weather systems, that means a generally drier landscape.

Australia’s drought since late 2017 “has been at least the equal of our worst drought in 1902”, Australia’s Watkins said. “It has probably been driven by ocean temperature patterns in the Indian Ocean and the long term drying trend.”

Stuff: Climate change led here, Australian PM Scott Morrison says amid bushfire crisis

“There is no dispute in this country about the issue of climate change, globally, and its effect on global weather patterns, and that includes how that impacts in Australia,” Morrison said on Sunday.

“I have to correct the record here, I have seen a number of people suggest that somehow the government does not make this connection. The government has always made this connection and that has never been in dispute.”

He said that “climate change has impacted on the world’s weather patterns [and] has led to where we are here today to some extent, combined with many other factors, the drought being the most significant”.

 

 

 

Bushfires and climate change

There have been over the top and unsubstantiated claims made about the causes of the Australian bushfires, but also some plausible explanations.

There is no doubt that drought conditions and very high temperatures are linked to the fires, and also quite possibly have links to climate change.

Climate apocalypse warnings unjustified and unhelpful

The more extreme warnings of mass extinctions and the collapse of civilisation due to climate change are not supported by science or common sense, and are likely to be more damaging to the important measures we should be taking too reduce emissions and pollution, and limit the destruction of important habitats and ecosystems.

There are reports that some young people suffer from anxiety over what apocalyptic events could happen, while it is likely that many people will turn off to the whole climate issue, to an extent at least.

The worst case scenarios that some are promoting as inevitable in the near future are likely to be wrong. Humans have had an impact on the Earth’s environment for a long time, increasingly as the population has exploded and industrialisation has introduced major adverse effects. But we have also been adaptable and resourceful. Most of us will likely survive climate change, and in some ways some of us will benefit.

It is still worth reducing energy consumption and food consumption and pollution, as we will benefit, as will our planet.

Michael Shellenberger (Forbes):  Why Apocalyptic Claims About Climate Change Are Wrong

Environmental journalists and advocates have in recent weeks made a number of apocalyptic predictions about the impact of climate change. Bill McKibben suggested climate-driven fires in Australia had made koalas “functionally extinct.”  Vice claimed the “collapse of civilization may have already begun.”  Extinction Rebellion said “Billions will die” and “Life on Earth is dying.”

The name “Extinction Rebellion” sounds as extreme as there warnings. They have protested in New Zealand recently, but failed to attract much support.

Few have underscored the threat more than student climate activist Greta Thunberg and Green New Deal sponsor Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The latter said, “The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.”

Says Thunberg in her new book, “Around 2030 we will be in a position to set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control that will lead to the end of our civilization as we know it.”

They have wider (worldwide) support but specifying years that catastrophe will strike or will become unavoidable seems like nutter territory.

Sometimes, scientists themselves make apocalyptic claims. “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that,” if Earth warms four degrees, said one earlier this year. “The potential for multi-breadbasket failure is increasing,” said another. If sea levels rise as much as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts, another scientist said, “It will be an unmanageable problem.”

They sound like vague but extreme guesses at best.

Apocalyptic statements like these have real-world impacts. In September, a group of British psychologists said children are increasingly suffering from anxiety from the frightening discourse around climate change.

In October, an activist with Extinction Rebellion (”XR”) — an environmental group founded in 2018 to commit civil disobedience to draw awareness to the threat its founders and supporters say climate change poses to human existence — and a videographer, were kicked and beaten in a London Tube station by angry commuters.

And last week, an XR co-founder said a genocide like the Holocaust was “happening again, on a far greater scale, and in plain sight” from climate change.

There was quite an adverse reaction to that.

Climate change is an issue I care passionately about and have dedicated a significant portion of my life to addressing. I have been politically active on the issue for over 20 years and have researched and written about it for 17 years. Over the last four years, my organization, Environmental Progress, has worked with some of the world’s leading climate scientists to prevent carbon emissions from rising. So far, we’ve helped prevent emissions increasing the equivalent of adding 24 million cars to the road.

I also care about getting the facts and science right and have in recent months corrected inaccurate and apocalyptic news media coverage of fires in the Amazon and fires in California, both of which have been improperly presented as resulting primarily from climate change.

Attributing single weather events like storms and hurricanes to climate change is common, and stupid. There’s no way of measuring long term effects against single events, which have had complex influences.

It’s as stupid to claim, as is common Kiwiblog and The BFD, that some snow somewhere somehow proves climate change isn’t happening (heavier snowfalls and worse cold storms are predicted effects of climate change).

Journalists and activists alike have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public.

There is good evidence that the catastrophist framing of climate change is self-defeating because it alienates and polarizes many people.

And it provides fodder to the ‘nothing is happening, we don’t have to change anything’ brigade.

And exaggerating climate change risks distracting us from other important issues including ones we might have more near-term control over.

I think that’s the biggest problem with overstating and scaremongering.

“I want the issues I’m about to raise to be taken seriously and not dismissed by those who label as “climate deniers” or “climate delayers” anyone who pushes back against exaggeration”

I feel the need to say this up-front because I want the issues I’m about to raise to be taken seriously and not dismissed by those who label as “climate deniers” or “climate delayers” anyone who pushes back against exaggeration.

With that out of the way, let’s look whether the science supports what’s being said.

First, no credible scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization much less the extinction of the human species. “‘Our children are going to die in the next 10 to 20 years.’ What’s the scientific basis for these claims?” BBC’s Andrew Neil asked a visibly uncomfortable XR spokesperson last month.

“These claims have been disputed, admittedly,” she said. “There are some scientists who are agreeing and some who are saying it’s not true. But the overall issue is that these deaths are going to happen.”

“But most scientists don’t agree with this,” said Neil. “I looked through IPCC reports and see no reference to billions of people going to die, or children in 20 years. How would they die?”

“Mass migration around the world already taking place due to prolonged drought in countries, particularly in South Asia. There are wildfires in Indonesia, the Amazon rainforest, Siberia, the Arctic,” she said.

But in saying so, the XR spokesperson had grossly misrepresented the science. “There is robust evidence of disasters displacing people worldwide,” notes IPCC, “but limited evidence that climate change or sea-level rise is the direct cause”

What about “mass migration”? “The majority of resultant population movements tend to occur within the borders of affected countries,” says IPCC.

It’s not like climate doesn’t matter. It’s that climate change is outweighed by other factors. Earlier this year, researchers found that climate “has affected organized armed conflict within countries.

However, other drivers, such as low socioeconomic development and low capabilities of the state, are judged to be substantially more influential.”

So should be getting more attention and resources.

Last January, after climate scientists criticized Rep. Ocasio-Cortez for saying the world would end in 12 years, her spokesperson said “We can quibble about the phraseology, whether it’s existential or cataclysmic.” He added, “We’re seeing lots of [climate change-related] problems that are already impacting lives.”

That last part may be true, but it’s also true that economic development has made us less vulnerable, which is why there was a 99.7% decline in the death toll from natural disasters since its peak in 1931.

In 1931, 3.7 million people died from natural disasters. In 2018, just 11,000 did.  And that decline occurred over a period when the global population quadrupled.

Also, far fewer people now die from medical epidemics. While the death toll from measles in Samoa is alarming and tragic, it is not anywhere as as bad as The 1918 influenza pandemic: “The total number of deaths attributable to influenza was later estimated to have reached 8500, or 22% of the population. According to a 1947 United Nations report, it ranked as ‘one of the most disastrous epidemics recorded anywhere in the world during the present century, so far as the proportion of deaths to the population is concerned’.”

What about sea level rise? IPCC estimates sea level could rise two feet (0.6 meters) by 2100. Does that sound apocalyptic or even “unmanageable”?

Consider that one-third of the Netherlands is below sea level, and some areas are seven meters below sea level. You might object that Netherlands is rich while Bangladesh is poor. But the Netherlands adapted to living below sea level 400 years ago. Technology has improved a bit since then.

What about claims of crop failure, famine, and mass death? That’s science fiction, not science. Humans today produce enough food for 10 billion people, or 25% more than we need, and scientific bodies predict increases in that share, not declines.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forecasts crop yields increasing 30% by 2050. And the poorest parts of the world, like sub-Saharan Africa, are expected to see increases of 80 to 90%.

Those predictions of increased food production may be affected by climate change – but those effects could be positive as well as negative.

Nobody is suggesting climate change won’t negatively impact crop yields. It could. But such declines should be put in perspective. Wheat yields increased 100 to 300% around the world since the 1960s, while a study of 30 models found that yields would decline by 6% for every one degree Celsius increase in temperature.

Rates of future yield growth depend far more on whether poor nations get access to tractors, irrigation, and fertilizer than on climate change, says FAO.

So more tractors could be more important than more electric cars.

All of this helps explain why IPCC anticipates climate change will have a modest impact on economic growth. By 2100, IPCC projects the global economy will be 300 to 500% larger than it is today. Both IPCC and the Nobel-winning Yale economist, William Nordhaus, predict that warming of 2.5°C and 4°C would reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by 2% and 5% over that same period.

IPCC reports are rubbished by some, but that is usually superficial dissing based largely on cherry picking and ignorance.

Does this mean we shouldn’t worry about climate change? Not at all.

One of the reasons I work on climate change is because I worry about the impact it could have on endangered species. Climate change may threaten one million species globally and half of all mammals, reptiles, and amphibians in diverse places like the Albertine Rift in central Africa, home to the endangered mountain gorilla.

But it’s not the case that “we’re putting our own survival in danger” through extinctions, as Elizabeth Kolbert claimed in her book, Sixth Extinction. As tragic as animal extinctions are, they do not threaten human civilization. If we want to save endangered species, we need to do so because we care about wildlife for spiritual, ethical, or aesthetic reasons, not survival ones.

And exaggerating the risk, and suggesting climate change is more important than things like habitat destruction, are counterproductive.

Scientists overwhelmingly warn of climate change risks, but some are concerned about the over-egging.

Climate scientists are starting to push back against exaggerations by activists, journalists, and other scientists.

“While many species are threatened with extinction,” said Stanford’s Ken Caldeira, “climate change does not threaten human extinction… I would not like to see us motivating people to do the right thing by making them believe something that is false.”

I asked the Australian climate scientist Tom Wigley what he thought of the claim that climate change threatens civilization. “It really does bother me because it’s wrong,” he said. “All these young people have been misinformed. And partly it’s Greta Thunberg’s fault. Not deliberately. But she’s wrong.”

And media who have promoted Thunberg as some sort of messiah should be more careful about the message they send.

Part of what bothers me about the apocalyptic rhetoric by climate activists is that it is often accompanied by demands that poor nations be denied the cheap sources of energy they need to develop. I have found that many scientists share my concerns.

“If you want to minimize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2070  you might want to accelerate the burning of coal in India today,” MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel said.

“It doesn’t sound like it makes sense. Coal is terrible for carbon. But it’s by burning a lot of coal that they make themselves wealthier, and by making themselves wealthier they have fewer children, and you don’t have as many people burning carbon, you might be better off in 2070.”

There have been similar ‘counter-intuitive’ arguments here about the problem with shutting down cleaner gas recovery which pushes is to rely more on dirtier energy from elsewhere.

Emanuel and Wigley say the extreme rhetoric is making political agreement on climate change harder.

“You’ve got to come up with some kind of middle ground where you do reasonable things to mitigate the risk and try at the same time to lift people out of poverty and make them more resilient,” said Emanuel. “We shouldn’t be forced to choose between lifting people out of poverty and doing something for the climate.”

Happily, there is a plenty of middle ground between climate apocalypse and climate denial.

Can our politicians put more focus and efforts in this middle ground?

And while our media has moved recently to not provide publicity to denialist cranks, they should apply the same sort of restrictions to apocalypse cranks. Neither are supported by most science, nor by common sense.