Cunliffe on science

October 3rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader e-mails:

Thought you might be interested in this. I am a labour supporter, but I can’t let basic scientific illiteracy like this go unpunished, so could you please do the honours? 

 The speech is at Cunliffe.co.nz/speech-forward-growing-good-jobs/

At the very start of his speech he launches into an analogy about how we need to have an economic system with more examples of win win symbiosis, like that between plants (who breathe out oxygen and breathe in CO2) and animals (who breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2). He concludes that “the green plants and I need each other”. 

 As any third former will tell you, yes WE need plants for the oxygen they produce during photosynthesis. But THEY don’t need us for the CO2 we produce during respiration in which we burn up the fruits of their photosynthesis. They also respire and produce CO2. That is why they photosynthesise in the first place. So they can make and store food and then use it later to produce energy and CO2. 

 Scientific progress is the main reason why the economy has grown so much over the last 200 years. When an aspiring PM doesn’t know or care enough about science to get it right then this is not good. He needs to be called out on this.

The reader is of course quite right. Plants enjoyed life on earth long before us humans turned up. Scientists think photoynthesis started around 3.5 billion years ago and diverged from chimps around 5 million years ago.

To be fair to DC, plants benefit from us humans, as the CO2 they produce is not the same as what they consume, but they certainly don’t need us. His words were:

The green plants and I need each other. We trade what we produce, and both sides survive and prosper as a result of our necessary partnership.

Sadly for us, the plants can survive and prosper without us. They find us useful, not not essential!

Hopefully DC’s economics are better tested than his science :-)

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29 Responses to “Cunliffe on science”

  1. Pete George (22,866 comments) says:

    The green plants and I need each other. We trade what we produce, and both sides survive and prosper as a result of our necessary partnership.

    Is that an analogy on how he sees cooperation with the Green Party?

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  2. Agent BS (10 comments) says:

    Pete George, unfortunately it would appear so.

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  3. annie (537 comments) says:

    He sounds about right for a Labour Minister of Education.

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  4. willtruth (245 comments) says:

    You are being too fair to DC, when you say “plants benefit from us humans, as the CO2 they produce is not the same as what they consume”. If animals hadn’t evolved and weren’t eating the plants all the time then the plants wouldn’t need to produce surplus food. They would produce just as much stored food as they needed and the amount of CO2 they consumed during photosynthesis when they make the food would equal the amount they produce during respiration when they “burn” it. And even if plants did produce a surplus of food in the absence of animals, they don’t need animals to release the CO2 stored in that surplus food back into the atmosphere. Ever heard of rotting? Micro-organisms will do the honours.

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  5. greenjacket (418 comments) says:

    David Cunliffe: “A good farmer ploughs the soil to create the conditions for healthy growth.”
    Chauncey Gardner: “In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

    Now we know where David Cunliffe has got his brilliant insights into economics.

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  6. Paul Williams (877 comments) says:

    Wow, this is a blunder. So much so that it should knock the Dotcom disaster clear of the front page, along with the screw-up over the closure of Chch schools and the appalling mis-management of school data. How could Cunliffe be so silly as to make an analogy that wasn’t entirely correct and verifiable through peer-reviewed articles. Luckly the “Labour supporter” drew this to our attention. Presumably the same supporter told Shearer too and, like the PM did with Banks, Parata et all, Shearer will demote or sack him.

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  7. trout (904 comments) says:

    Agri reseachers are now telling us that “ploughing the soil’ may be harmful because it releases nitrogen and exposes useful bacteria. Drilling is the now recommended as a superior alternative (circumstances permitting).

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  8. Steve Wrathall (243 comments) says:

    Plants do not need us directly, however the extra ~100 ppm CO2 we have released is having an enormous positive fertilization effect on plant growth almost everywhere.

    http://www.fao.org/docrep/w5183e/w5183e06.htm

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  9. Pete George (22,866 comments) says:

    trout – does that mean I shouldn’t dig my garden?

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  10. willtruth (245 comments) says:

    Steve. That’s true, but DC was talking about plants needing the CO2 that we (and other animals) breathe out. They don’t need it, and they don’t really benefit from our release of it in any way at all. It returns to the atmosphere (mostly) regardless of whether it passes through an animal first.

    You’re talking about the CO2 released by humans when we burn fossil fuels. That’s completely different. This REALLY IS CO2 that today’s plants wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Their ancestors lost it underground millions of years ago – mostly in in the Carboniferous period – and that’s where it would have mostly stayed if we hadn’t found it and burned it.

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  11. Bullion (74 comments) says:

    Prior to the evolution of animals, plants and organisms that used photosynthesis used CO2 that was derived mainly from Volcanic activity. Prior to terrestrial plants CO2 concentrations were 20 times higher than today. As plants evolved, increasing size of leaves and ability to tolerate greater conditions, the level of CO2 reduced. Plants themselves do no generate enough CO2 to sustain themselves, measuring stations in Amazon show that CO2 intake far outweighs output.

    Though it is all about balance, the reduction of carbon sinks and increased carbon output has seen atmospheric carbon levels increase 35% since industrialisation.

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  12. KevinH (1,132 comments) says:

    Cunliffe is also responsible for Economic Development and is also Associate Finance spokesperson and is completely missing the boat pushing innovative Green technologies whilst the most pressing concern facing the marketplace and economy presently is the high kiwi dollar.
    As alluded to by @Paul Williams (715) Labour is missing in action on the school data blunder and are not running the Dotcom scandal hard, therefore the question has to be asked, is Labour’s leadership imploding?

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  13. willtruth (245 comments) says:

    Paul. If you are sceptical that this will be treated as a major blunder then you are right. It might lose him votes if he didn’t know who the spice girls were, but most people don’t care whether their politicians are scientifically literate. It is bad enough that DC clearly does not understand basic biology. But he actually chose to open with a scientific analogy and then didn’t bother to think whether he should check whether his facts were right. And neither did any of his advisors.

    But Paul, do you care about it? Or do you think it doesn’t matter?

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  14. Paul Williams (877 comments) says:

    As alluded to by @Paul Williams (715) Labour is missing in action on the school data blunder and are not running the Dotcom scandal hard, therefore the question has to be asked, is Labour’s leadership imploding?

    Your kidding right Kevin, I know folks around here can be partisan, but you’d have to be really dim to not… actually, forget it.

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  15. Lance (2,461 comments) says:

    Good old Ronnie Reagan once delivered a speech blaming increased CO2 on trees.

    Buy a chainsaw, save the planet

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  16. thedavincimode (6,539 comments) says:

    greenjacket

    Heh. Vote Chauncy Cunners and all will be good in the garden.

    Unfortunately for Chauncy, he hasn’t heard that “the good farmer” he refers to appears to go minimum till these days so as to not release all those naughty carbons into the atmos and improve sustainability thru preservation of his soil structure.

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  17. MH (635 comments) says:

    I can’t blame this entirely on women teachers (so don’t hold your breath) and I doubt whether an “apology/correction” will be coming soon,be like waiting for a consumer report on female vibrators the pros and cons,those that tested best and by whom. If we can’t seed by ploughing and the Greens won’t allow us to drill will plant Fracking do? All we need now is a re run of the Young Ones.DC must have used up his bonus points from his ETS

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  18. insider (1,003 comments) says:

    The other myth he repeats is the “80% of businesses fail in the first two years” meme (“four out of five Kiwi business start-ups withered and died in the first two years.”

    Debunked years ago by Massey University researchers. ‘Failures’ include companies that still operate but are sold, or companies that change their name.

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  19. hj (6,374 comments) says:

    it was a poor example of symbiosis.

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  20. Psycho Milt (2,269 comments) says:

    When an aspiring PM doesn’t know or care enough about science to get it right then this is not good.

    The current PM thinks science is a matter of opinion, so the level of “not good” is already extremely high.

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  21. trout (904 comments) says:

    @ Pete G: no-dig gardens have been the go for some time.
    http://www.nzwomansweekly.co.nz/health-home/gardening/no-dig-gardens-complete-guide/
    I recall John Lennie (not sure of exact name) (photographer and fitness freak) being an advocate for planting veges in layers of decomposing compost.

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  22. PaulL (5,875 comments) says:

    The current PM thinks science is a matter of opinion

    Must have missed that one. Is it a global warming story? In which case I don’t think there’s any suggestion it’s a matter of opinion, it’s just that there are some primary measures of warming that are relatively low, and some models that say the warming will accelerate. And a lot of divergence of views on whether those models accurately project the future, particularly in situations where they don’t accurately predict the present.

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  23. Kevin (1,122 comments) says:

    Part of the carbon cycle is for dead material to be subducted at plate boundaries and re-released as gas. It is the plants dont need animals for CO2 full stop. Of course some animals are useful such as worms creating soil but even that is not symbiosis.

    OMG though did anyone see Hekia on TV tonight telling teachers to pronounce kids names properly? What a tosser. Apart from the fact its impossible for teachers to pronounce all names properly….Bloody rediculous PC bullshit I cant believe National has come to this (well eerrr we know they are th biggest iwi sycophants around).

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  24. James Stephenson (2,040 comments) says:

    @Pete – if you don’t dig your garden, there’s no point in having it maaaan.

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  25. RF (1,272 comments) says:

    Simple as ABC. DC is way off course with his science. Back to school.

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  26. Anthony (768 comments) says:

    Hey insider, when Ralph (Ngatata) Love taught me Business Organisation at Massey 30 years ago he repeated that statistic about 80% of businesses failing in the first five years – but then one of his lectures was basically taken straight out of a Time Magazine article.

    I heard later how some of the female students could get good grades from him …

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  27. V (668 comments) says:

    The more subtle point is that biological processes and relationships are more complicated than often assumed to be.

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  28. Liberal Minded Kiwi (1,563 comments) says:

    Oooh you missed it, DPF was trying to get a nibble from our resident crazy christian readers there with this statement:

    “Scientists think photoynthesis started around 3.5 billion years ago and diverged from chimps around 5 million years ago”

    And not a peep about how the world (and universe) was created by an almighty god that nobody has seen, a few thousand years ago… The god botherers are getting lazy in their old age!

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  29. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    he will smite you heathen

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