Thursday, 29 July 2021

Holes in the Tundra: Why Burping Cows Are the Least of Our Worries.

The Great Escape: If the Eurasian permafrost mantle melts, then the gigatons of stored Methane released will trigger runaway global warming. Basically, we – and just about all the other animals on the planet – will be cooked. And, guess what? The permafrost is melting: at an alarming rate and in the most spectacular fashion. For more than a decade now, huge holes in the tundra have been appearing all across Siberia – evidence of massive methane eruptions.

THE GREENS would like to see New Zealand’s dairy herd diminished … substantially. Not only would this go a long way to reducing the farming sector’s excessive methane emissions, but it would also assist mightily in cleaning up New Zealand’s waterways. Fair enough. Just so long as those same Greens are willing to tell the voters that a policy of reducing the number of cows is, at the same time, a policy of reducing their living standards. Now, it’s possible that upwards of 10 percent of Kiwis are happy to wear that – for the planet. Much more likely, however, is that upwards of 50 percent are not.

New Zealand’s dairy herd has increased substantially for a very good reason. More dairy cows were needed to compensate for the falling revenues from meat and wool. The year-on-year increases in New Zealand’s dairy production bear testimony to the energy and skill of her dairy farmers who, in the space of barely 25 years, have transformed the New Zealand countryside to accommodate their industry’s phenomenal expansion.

Did they know this would come at a huge environmental cost? You bet your life! As did successive governments. Did they go ahead anyway? Of course! Had they not, this country would be a lot poorer, and its people considerably unhappier. Unhappy voters may be acceptable to the Greens, but as far as the other political parties are concerned, courting the voters’ displeasure is a less-than-optimal election strategy.

Herein lies the problem with Climate Change. Everyone knows it should have been stopped. Everyone knows it could have been stopped. Everyone knows it’s not going to be stopped. Or, rather, no one’s going to make a serious effort to stop Climate Change until its far too late. And it’s already far too late.

In Norway, just a few days ago, in a little town well north of the Arctic Circle, the temperature topped 30 degrees Celsius. Temperatures even more extreme have been recorded in Northern Siberia. What’s that drip-drip-dripping sound? Well, yes, it’s what’s left of the Arctic ice shelf melting away. More ominously, however, it’s the sound of the Eurasian mantle of permafrost turning to slush. Now if you think cows pose a methane problem, then the methane problem arising from melting permafrost is just going to ruin your whole day.

Not to put too fine a point upon it, if the Eurasian permafrost mantle melts, then the gigatons of stored Methane released will trigger runaway global warming. Basically, we – and just about all the other animals on the planet – will be cooked. The melting of the permafrost would, therefore, constitute an extinction level event – essentially, it would be unsurvivable. And, guess what? The permafrost is melting: at an alarming rate and in the most spectacular fashion. For more than a decade now, huge holes in the tundra have been appearing all across Siberia – evidence of massive methane eruptions. And that’s just for starters! Eurasia has barely begun to belch!

So, please forgive my guffaws when the likes of Andrea Vance start lecturing New Zealand’s farmers on Climate Change. As if the burps of our cows are in any way comparable to the vast methane burps already wafting up from the Siberian tundra. Do these folk not realise that we could slaughter every last dairy cow in New Zealand and the world’s climate scientists would struggle to measure the effect? Don’t they know that New Zealand contributes just 0.17 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? Are they unable to grasp that the ever-increasing frequency of extreme weather events is proof that humanity is already in the grip of a planetary crisis from which it cannot extract itself? Certainly not by purchasing electric cars and embracing a vegan lifestyle? Why do we applaud this kind of empty virtue-signalling? It’s nuts.

Just how nuts is demonstrated by the fact that New Zealand is now importing dirty Indonesian coal to keep the Huntly Power Station’s furnaces glowing. Yes, that’s right, having shut down our own coal mines, we are reduced to loading the stuff onto huge ships and sailing it across the ocean. When, finally, it reaches our shores we transfer it into specially designed railway wagons and transport it to the Waikato, where Genesis Energy sends the fatal by-product of its combustion up two mighty chimneys and into the atmosphere. According to the hapless Energy Minister, Meagan Woods, we are going to have to keep on doing this for at least the next ten years – by which time a vast hydro project in the South Island will apparently be ready to take up the slack.

Not good enough for Forest and Bird. Its Director, Kevin Hague (a former Green MP) is insisting that burning coal is just plain immoral, and that Huntly be decommissioned immediately. New Zealanders, he says, will just have to make do with less electricity.

Huh! That means when the hydro lakes are too low; when there’s insufficient sunlight to power-up the solar panels; and when the wind’s not blowing hard enough to turn the big turbines; the lights will go out. The stove won’t work. And, if we’re in the grip of a heatwave like the one frying western Canada and the United States, the air-conditioning will stop keeping us cool. Since keeping the lights on, and the air cool, is the very least we expect from our politicians, those deemed responsible for plunging us into an overheated darkness are bound to get a real electoral kicking.

Which pretty much brings us back to where we started. Coming to terms with the fact that Climate Change is a bit like Heaven. Everybody wants to get there, but nobody wants to die. We know the planet must be saved, but we are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to save it. When the American Vice-President, Dick Cheney, fresh from his secret 2001 conclave with the big oil companies, declared: “The American way of life is not negotiable.” He knew what he was talking about. It would be foolish to think that New Zealanders are any different.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 27 July 2021.


CXH said...

Thanks for one of the first realistic opinion pieces on the subject. We are wasting both time and money trying to turn the tide. It is time we took a sensible approach, look into how we can adapt to live with what is coming. Pretending we can make a difference is just hubris.

Barry said...

Nuclear energy. Nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy. Nuclear energy.

Nick J said...

Barry, do the reading about the energy inputs used to fuel and construct nuclear plants. Then ask who will store the spent fuel for several millennia?

Nice try. Cold fusion, its been attempted for a century.....

Tom Hunter said...

Even the methane thing from NZ cows is overcooked. As Professor Woodford has pointed out - Why methane is different - NZ's gross methane emissions plateaued three decades ago and the cycle time of 12.4 years means our net emissions are effectively zero.

And that's before we get into the incorrect way that Methane GHG effects are converted into CO2 GHG effects.

Fortunately for the Greens and unfortunately for NZ dairy farmers, the useless National Party has simply gone with the flow on tackling these dreaded methane emissions. Were it not for their inclusion into our GHG plans - I think the only nation that does so - we'd look pretty good on GHG emissions simply because of our low industrial base and high proportion of renewable energy that we already had thanks to all our hydro power.

Also, Huntly was built precisely because it had been known since at least the 1950's that the South Island hydro power there would suffer bad droughts ever few decades. This was known from the geology and the dams were still worth building there, but sooner or later a backup, especially one close to Auckland, would have to be built. Huntly was it and nothing - especially the addition of wind farms - has changed that equation. I see that the fanatical idiot at No Right Turn ran some calculation that simply building a few more wind farms would mean Huntly could be switched off. Utterly ignorant of the physics and engineering of electrical grid power.

In any case, as I pointed out in these two posts - Energy Realities and Energy Charades - despite nice words about dealing with climate change, China is adding GW of coal-burning power stations now and well into the future. India and Africa are following the same path.

Simon Cohen said...

Why are our politicians not talking like this. The Prime Minister banned all oil and gas exploration but refuses to answer why we are importing nearly 2 million tons per year of the dirtiest coal in the world. And she closed all the West Coast coal mines which produced some of the cleanest coal in the world. She is the champion of virtue signaling !!

greywarbler said...

I read an article recently relating to nuclear power that changed my view of it from all negative to thinking I needed to know more. Here is a good New Yorker article on one environmentalist's opinion about it, who has relevant university certification.

In the meantime, can the government start two travelling road shows, looking at climate change, holding discussions about it and different ways of managing and attempt to get a 'groundswell' of positive groups going. These, putting forward ideas, getting small funds to carry them out, feeding results through to other similar groups all registered under a large green umbrella giving each a sense of purpose and recognition and inspiring others.

A lot of people I know and meet are resistant to any new ideas about anything, and follow the usual line that we pay a lot of taxes to governments to know about this stuff and do something about it. Let them get on and do their job, and probably there isn't anything to worry about, it's all a beat-up! Houses designed by BRANZ model plans to utilise the sun, yet keep the house cool etc. And established speculators not to get first cut on projects. People able to build their own, or get help from certified young builders. Let's bring in staggered shopping hours, with most shut on Sunday afternoons, and make time for them to work on their projects. Security cars going round making sure that the dissolute aren't nicking or setting fire to anything also, paid by government.

There is so much distraction in our lives, the current immoral economic ideas are based on giving us a sense of unease anyway to make us work harder, and not be complacent (at the lower ends of the income class mainly). Though many middle-class people are also hassled now by the housing shortage that was foreseen, must have been foreseen as it is a world-wide trend. But the response has been 'What Me Worry' the catch-cry for Mad magazine's Alfred E Neuman. It requires a heruclean attempt to stick to the knitting that needs to be done, and not get unravelled! Perhaps we can award special NZ gongs annually for a person in the North and the South Islands who is elected from those in his/her town as having done sterling work in climate change activities from the groups aforementioned. And the towns will get work for themselves doing the activity - double the pleasure. Also there should be a plan of 'What You Can Do' drawn up for the public, and a website where you can record some achievement from the list, that runs a counting note with the person's name and town. That produces a sense of urgency and action and acknowledgment and pride.

And the governments can be phased out gradually as being past their use-by date, and be replaced by leaders of teams around the country in areas that match roughly the present DHBs which could provide useful boundaries. We have come to a time of emergency and our 100 year old political system has us in leg-irons, along with the administrators that often come in from business and have no feeling for public service at all. As well as reps from teams we need a group of 'elders' who can keep an overview, to do terms of two years, perhaps repeated and replaced in order so there is always a balance of mainly older, and a third newer say. They would be chosen by a draw from a sorting hat, on tv so people can see their faces, take an interest. The elders group would contain people with wide knowledge and hands-on experience in this country, a few from the wider world, with at least a complete or near university degree, and known to be good thinkers and both practical and ideas people.

Geoff B said...

Shizer Chris....keep up this sort of column you'll need to be sent to a 're-education' camp !
Seriously however, the Grand Poobah Ardern needs to be personally questioned on this . I doubt however she has the intellectual grunt to understand the thrust of your article...we're buggered :-(.

Odysseus said...

The human contribution to climate change, which is continually occurring, is negligible. Humans generate an estimated 3 percent of CO2 emissions - the rest arise from natural processes. Methane is a short-lived gas. Water vapour is by far the most significant "greenhouse gas" and solar radiation is the principal driver of climate. All that being said, if the government was truly serious about reducing New Zealand's emissions it would undertake a crash program to install sufficient nuclear power generation to meet our needs. But they won't because of Helen Clark's Voodoo powers.

greywarbler said...

We need someone of Churchill's stature to lead us into the future. Otherwise we can get caught up in the minutiae. He gathered a War Cabinet, good idea, our governments would still be arguing beyond the point of survival with our wealthy oligarchs who are matey with other country's ogs, on their tail.

The words of one of his famous speeches offering only blood, sweat and tears are precise I think (condensed).

...On Friday evening last I received His Majesty’s commission to form a new Administration. It is the evident wish and will of Parliament and the nation that this should be conceived on the broadest possible basis and that it should include all parties, both those who supported the late Government and also the parties of the Opposition. I have completed the most important part of this task. A War Cabinet has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Opposition Liberals, the unity of the nation. The three party Leaders have agreed to serve, either in the War Cabinet or in high executive office. The three Fighting Services have been filled. It was necessary that this should be done in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigour of events. A number of other positions, key positions, were filled yesterday,...The appointment of the other Ministers usually takes a little longer, but I trust that, when Parliament meets again, this part of my task will be completed, and that the administration will be complete in all respects...

To form an Administration of this scale and complexity is a serious undertaking in itself, but it must be remembered that we are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history,..I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make allowance, all allowance, for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act. I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering... You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised;... no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”

The man himself I think (actors have also spoken it).

Nick J said...

How to respond? Humans have known that they live upon a finite planet of finite resources yet have insisted that this is not applicable. Those that warn are pariahs and Cassandras. This one however is beyond comprehension.

Twice in our planets history there are known to be events that caused mass extinction. Latest research indicates that they were very rapid and involved massive amplification of inputs to atmospheric carbon causing acid seas and big temperature jumps. Life then took millions of years to evolve and adapt.

Will these events recur? Highly likely. Will humans take the precautionary approach? Highly unlikely based upon our track record.

John Hurley said...

I joined the Green Party (for one period) in the 90's but soon found we weren't on the same page.

I disagreed over immigration and tino rangitiratnga (WTF). The best explanation I have seen of them (Woke) is that they are a religion detached from reality.

Shane McDowall said...

"I hope you Green bastards freeze to death in the dark' - Ancient Maori Proverb.

And nuclear powered electricity is a logical choice.

For the technology we need look no further than Finland.

Shane McDowall said...

New Zealand accounts for 0.063% of the human population but 0.17% of greenhouse gases.

Clearly we are punching above our weight.

sumsuch said...

Certainly we need to keep one or two coal mines etc going.

Nick J said...

Shane and Barry, I have no wish to be a killjoy on nuclear, it would be an amazing "fix" but sadly it doesn't meet muster.

This outlines why.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It ain't NECESSARILY so, although I'm no expert – still neither are you. And if you weren't so lazy as to never check your sources, you realise that this was published in 2015 – things have moved on a little since then. Oh ... you'd also realise that your "physicist" who analyses elections in fact isn't – more of a real estate agent.

Nick J said...

GS, no expert indeed you are not. Myself I dont claim to be, but I can claim an understanding of the science. Thorium and salt you point me at... lot of noise, plenty of problems yet to be overcome. If you were to suck on the waste products, you'd never get to tell me how it feels.
The article I relayed may be old, truth doesnt however conveniently age for the benefit of GS. Bit like statistical sampling, that too follows mathematical formula. You might rubbish the results, well done, very scientific.

I cant let you go one that jibe on real estate salespeople, they have a certain intellectual honesty that you appear to lack. Are you so full of loathing of people trying to do a job and make a buck?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Got no objection to people making a buck. What I have an objection to issue categorising me as lazy when you can't be bothered checking your own sources.
You have about as much intellectual honesty as someone who will believe anyone as long as they write something you agree with. Which isn't much.
And how honest is it to describe someone as a "physicist" and therefore imply that they have some intellectual authority (although what authority a physicist would have over an investigation into election fraud I have no idea) when they actually have about as much knowledge of this sort of thing as the "Cyber Ninjas".
While I have no objection to the man making a buck, what I do object to is him describing himself as a physicist and making pronouncements in areas where he has no expertise at all. If you have bothered to check a little more widely – using that Google thing you purport to despise – you would realise that he's never characterised as anything but a "self-proclaimed physicist" except in extreme right circles where they too will believe anyone as long as he tells them what they want to hear.
As far as the nuclear power thing goes, what part of "ain't necessarily" do you not understand. Do you believe that scientific progress is at a standstill?

Molten salt reactors potential has been recognised since the 1960s. Https://

And they are getting better all the time.

Nick J said...

I berate myself for being stupid GS. That is defined as engaging with a fool several times and expecting sense. Worse is that the fool is only capable of malicious ad hominem attacks. And stupid statements like "potential getting better all the time". Silly me.

sumsuch said...

This is why I suggested you take your money from your fans. So you could speak your truth without fear or favour. Instead of your frequent jumping on the next thing. Understandable in the last 37 (!) years. But you were our trumpeter.