A Layman’s Case for Climate Change

Posted 20 February 2017 by Richard Gardiner

I formed our company in 1999, with the energy part of our business covering both procurement (a commercial focus) and energy use optimization (a technical focus). Both are designed to minimize the expenditure of our business clients.

The energy sector where we operate has been significantly affected by the climate change debate. Knock-on effects of which have included the introduction of the Emissions Trading Scheme (a significant new tax) and the closure of various fossil fuel-based power stations in North Island.

The purpose of this blog is to step back from some of the partisan attitudes on this issue and hopefully take a balanced pragmatic view.

The Weather Machine

Let me emphasise from the outset that I have a background in economics and energy – not climatology. Climatology has however interested me since reading Nigel Calder’s book, The Weather Machine, in 1974. It is a subject that all of us should be concerned about for a raft of very obvious reasons.

Calder’s book was triggered by fears at the time of possible global cooling which could trigger another Ice Age within as little as a century. Fast forward 40 years and we are now living in an era of rising sea levels, record high average temperatures globally and deepening concerns about man-made Climate Change. This may ultimately prove to have been a relatively short-term ‘blip’ like the mini Ice Age in Northern Europe during the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Or we may be living through the early stages of a very ominous long term climatic trend.

Scaling population and energy trends

To put this in broader context, we are also living in a world where the global population has increased to 7.405 billion in 2016 – 2.7 times higher than when I was born (2.713 billion). If anything is unsustainable it is that! This population is increasingly urban and industrialised. The third world proportion of the global population is also growing rapidly for various reasons.

My personal feelings on this issue are that views on both sides of the ‘global warming’ fence are clouded by political ideologies. We need to be objective. Scientists though are apt at times to doing U-turns, as current scientific wisdom is undermined by new research findings and the prevailing scientific wisdom changes accordingly.

On the assumption that the ‘environmentalist’ lobby is right however it is an absolute no-brainer. We need to take effective action NOW worldwide to mitigate the effects of human induced Climate Change via rising carbon dioxide levels etc.

Developing capacity in developing nations

The overriding problem here is that climate change is associated with the rapid industrialization that has taken place since the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Those countries that didn’t industrialise then, can hardly be expected to refrain from doing so now and hence set in concrete their position as permanently Third World (poor) economies.

The resultant knock-on effect though is that every 1 kg of reduced First World carbon emissions due to switching to renewables-based electricity generation is projected to be replaced by 2 kgs of new Third World carbon emissions due to new fossil-fuel based power stations.

Increasing the cost in New Zealand

On the other hand, here in New Zealand we live in a prosperous, advanced First World society that accounts for just 0.06% of the world’s population. Our electricity generation is +/- 85% renewable, yet some businesses have been forced by cost pressures to migrate their manufacture overseas to countries like Australia and China where the proportion of renewables-based electricity generation is far lower.

Put another way, if manufacture goes overseas it will increase not decrease global carbon emissions. Yet there is a view in some circles that New Zealand needs to lead by example – even though it hits us economically and increases global carbon dioxide emissions accordingly.

If conversely, the environmentalist lobby is wrong and man-made Climate Change eventually proves to be a myth, then we should still in my view take practical steps to reduce pollution (including carbon emissions) both nationally and worldwide.

Pollutants and climate change

We cannot continue to poison the air that we breathe and our oceans, seas, lakes and rivers, chop down forests indiscriminately and generally treat our planet as a gigantic public convenience to the long term detriment of humankind and all other life forms.

Either way, we need as a nation to ‘do our bit’ in terms of carbon emissions (and other pollutants) without shooting ourselves in the head economically – to the detriment of employers and employees alike.

In this regard, the projected growth in NZ electric vehicle (EV’s) sales (1000 in 2015, 2500 in 2016 and the Government’s target of 21000 by 2021) has the potential to make a significant dent in automotive-based carbon emissions and also reduce our exposure to future global oil price hikes (where much oil and gas production is located in politically volatile parts of the world).

 

Read more electric car analysis in the New Zealand/Australia context, or take a look at these electric car reviews.

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