Guest Post: We need less “Woe is me” and more action over global warming.

A guest post by Sean Devine:

We cannot hope to make any progress in adapting to human induced global warming if the opinion makers in the media and in Government focus on how bad the situation could be.  Panic will achieve nothing, what society needs is to be able to discuss what can be done and the trade-offs that need to be made.  In simple terms, any project or action to address global warming needs to be articulated in terms of whether the project increases the carbon dioxide burden of the globe, or reduces it. I.e. a sort of carbon dioxide cost benefit analysis. Take the proposed cycle bridge across Auckland Harbour as an example.  It is not the cost of the $700 million bridge that is the critical, but whether the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (produced by manufacturing the concrete and steel for the bridge) is more than offset by the decrease in vehicle emissions over say the next 10 years.  I would think it is very unlikely that sufficient cyclists, many of whom will be recreational cyclists, will have any impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.  That such a carbon dioxide cost benefit analysis seems not to have been done, or is buried in piles of paper, indicates our lack of capability to make reasonable decisions. 

Another issue is that natural gas, as is well known, emits half the carbon dioxide as fossil fuels for the same energy.  The US, despite President Trump, has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by using natural gas generated from the fracking process. Much of Europe is also reducing its fossil fuel emissions with natural gas from Russia.  But New Zealand, without a proper analysis, has curtailed natural gas exploration and use.  Because of this, and because there is insufficient renewable energy to cope with peak electricity generation, there has been an increase in greenhouse gas emissions as coal and oil have replaced natural gas.  What is the point of increasing the number of battery-powered electric vehicles when the batteries are being charged using coal? Until the infrastructure is in place for the power used by the Tiwai smelter to become available, the increased power needed to charge vehicle batteries will come from increased fossil fuel use. Surely we need to know this?

But there is more.  In the 1970s, natural gas became a major vehicle fuel in New Zealand and we already have the technology to use natural gas instead of oil. We could perhaps halve our motor vehicle emissions reasonably quickly, rather than waiting many years to introduce a significant number of battery-powered vehicles which, from a carbon dioxide cost benefit analysis, may not be as effective.  The point is that currently, most vehicle batteries are not recyclable and battery manufacture is energy intensive.

Unless we can learn to discuss the issues and proving me wrong if that be the case, we will make little progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the near future.  Instead of beating our breasts and shouting “Woe is me” and relying on some elite to deliver us, we must learn to journey together to find a credible path forward.

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