Five Uneasy Pieces

The ground has been changing around us so quickly in the last few weeks that its been impossible to keep up. As Tim Moreton pointed out, this issue sticks to everything it touches. I took a break from the normal interview format to share some of the happenings and to come up with a bit of a position.

The five uneasy pieces in this episode are me reading the blog posts in that order.

Uneasy Piece 5: The reading list.

There was a message written in pencil on the tiles by the roller towel. This was it:

“What is the purpose of life”

Trout plundered his pockets for a pen or pencil. He had an answer to the question. But he had nothing to write with, not even a burnt match. So he left the question unanswered, but here is what he would have written, if he found anything to write with:

To be
the eyes
and ears
and conscience
of the Creator of the universe,
you fool.

— Kurt Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions

One reason I didn’t do a normal episode this time was that I felt the direction of the podcast change. Ms Ardern had taken my warning to heart, that day in the New Plymouth shopping mall, and had decided to treat global warming with the utmost seriousness. She and James Shaw had bonded over a game of badminton, as per my instructions to him, and the good luck charm that was Gabe and Bryans combined victory on court meant that politically everything was going to be on track. So, you know, job done. The government will do the thing. You’re welcome, New Zealand.

All that is left is to lead the other four million people towards the swirling tempestous light. Another reason was that I didn’t have enough followers and needed to think about attracting some. I tried stand-up comedy; leading with the podcast about climate change and how it couldn’t use the title ‘I think we’re screwed now’ because that had been taken by the National party’. But like all the things they laughed at that night, people assumed they were to absurd too be true. So it goes.

The final reason was this. So much stuff happened in the world of carbon emissions and you probably missed out on most of it because you were foolishly following the news. To my chagrin, I am now well behind the play in that show where people marry strangers before agreeing on a safe word. So you have that on me.

Bonn Climate Change Conference 2017.

James Shaw signs up to eliminate coal by 2030. Merkel recognises that Germany is way behind on coal and cars. California ahead on its commitment to renewable power (10 years).

Fonterra signs with MFE plan for becoming carbon nuetral by 2050, phasing out coal for wood and electricity, getting biodiesel into the tanker fleet and 100 EVs into car fleet. Rod Oram points out how far short of the mark this all falls.

IPCC announces carbon emissions are increasing after 3 years of no change. Studies at Antarctica showing that methane release is coming from fossil extraction and fears over massive natural releases are premature.

James Hansen talks about the need to use courts to hold goverments to account, since they are less likely to be corrupt.

Scott Pruitt (US head of EPA) does not attend, however the US does send a delegation to talk about (among other things) the importance of coal. The room fills up for this talk, with people in hallways unable to get in. Partway through the presentation they get up, sing a prepared piece about the problem with coal, and walk out, leaving behind a mostly empty room.

These are the links I discovered since the last episode. I’ve broken them into sections for you. The sections are:

  • Good News
  • Bad News
  • Books
  • We’re so dumb
  • The US is screwed
  • Really bad news
  • Some radical plan
  • Whitebait

Before we start, here’s a handy emissions tracker to help address questions later:

Good News

We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane

This was a presentation about solar power and battery storage at Victoria University. Solar generation is already very competitive but the advances are still coming. At Vic they are experimenting with a kind of thin film solar panel that can be produced in rolls. There are also two important advances in storage – one a new battery chemistry using aluminium instead of lithium. This is promising because the aluminium is far more plentiful and we’d need to make a lot of batteries to switch all vehicles to electric. The other advance was in batteries for use in fixed locations, like power facilities. This kept the anode and cathode parts in separate vessels, meaning the power could be retained for longer and the battery was safer.

China is a huge player in global emissions. They have hit their Paris target a full decade early. India has also make great advances in the last couple of years, and much of this comes off the back of plummeting prices for renewable energy. This means a falling demand for coal, which could in turn help kill off the Adani coal mine project in Australia.

Sarah Thomsen won in court and now James Shaw, the minister for climate change issues, will stand accountable.

No new coal mines in department of conservation land.

The Guardian produced a piece on the big trends that can cause change.

Syria and Nicaragua are now signatories to the Paris accord, meaning every country on earth is in on this now. Of course Trump has declared that the U.S. will pull out as soon as they are able, which is at the end of his current term as president. Notably at the State and municipal level large parts of the country have annouced that they are still in and like many things Trump, people will find a way to work around him.

Synthetic meat looks to be close. While this affects our exports it promises to reduce emissions radically, and, because it will use less resources, will likely wind up killing a lot of livestock farming on price alone. Economically, this promises to be like solar to coal.

A newsroom article on our new government.

A study on how to change people’s minds on climate change.

Signs of emissions peaking in 49 countries around the world.

A bit about planes. There is currently not good solution for the aircraft problem. Some short range electric planes are in the works now, and it may be possible to manufacture liquid fuels for longer hauls, but this will be expensive for some time.

Also in the news last week. Telsa has presented its new electric truck. This can run 600kms on a charge and will come into production in 2019.

Some more about getting away from dairy and livestock. I know, New Zealand, that this is inconceivable, but the world around us may well view this as a viable survival mechanism. And, to repeat, no it did not appear the our governments have taken climate change seriously for the last twenty years. They really should have. << enteric fermentation

Bad News

The emissions from livestock farming are bigger than we thought. Now that there are competitive, proven large scale solutions for the creation of electricty thoughts are turning to the other huge problem.

Australia’s performance is absymal at the federal level. Much like the States, the story is quite different at the State level, still they are still close to signing off on the Adani coal mine, which is pretty catastrophic.

Recent reports from the IPCC and elsewhere show that events could be overtaking us already. While India and China pulled some rabbits out of the hat last year, we’ll need to see a series of such bunnies to save ourselves.

Tar sands. As oil gets harder to extract the carbon released and damage done during extraction multiplies. We’re not digging shallow wells in Texas any more.


Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order instead

Here are some manuals to get you up to speed.

Released in the last month, this short New Zealand volume is well overdue. Its a manual on what citizens in New Zealand could do about climate change.

Written and released in haste after the 2016 U.S. elections, this is the manual on resisting the toxic politics that gathers around global crisis.

A much longer and deeply researched piece by the same author, this is a wide ranging guide on the problem, from the science to the politics. If you read one book on the subject, I would suggest it be this.

This is not about climate change at all. Instead it describes the way humans extract and use energy, noting that it is never about conservation, since the more we extract the more we can make. Chillingly, the more we extract the more we also use in the extraction process. By ignoring climate change as a problem it is able to shine a light on what might be the key to the Anthropocene – that from the planets point of view we were put here by the creator of the universe to do one thing: kill ourselves buy burning up all the underground carbon.

Sarah Thomsen directed me to this one. It is about using the legal system to press on the issue of global warming. This is the approach urged by James Hansen currently as well; he argues that judicial systems are less corrupt than governments so they are better tools to employ.

This goes into the psychology of denial. Its investigates the ways in which we manage not to think about the problem.

This was a favorite of mine, though I can’t say I understood all of it. This is a philosophical text around the concept we reduce into the term ‘Elephant in the room’. It is truely mind expanding and it turns out the author is a huge fan of the band My Bloody Valentine.

A shorter piece recommended by James Renwick, this covers the extinction events surrounding the end of the Holocene.

We’re so dumb

“There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on earth.”

Do I complain that the media is riddled with terrible information about the environment? All the time.

The US is screwed

“Don’t matter if you care,” the old miner said, “if you don’t own what you care about.”

The Trump administration is like a cultural revolution inside the working of the government. It started with the dismantling of the state department and the appointment of heads whose aim was to destroy their departments. And it continues now with an attack on science and scientific data that will take years to reverse. << Kathleen Hartnett White

Really bad news

Sigh. Just look for yourself. << emissions gap alarmingly high

Some radical plans

So now we can build an unselfish society by devoting to unselfishness the frenzy we once devoted to gold and to underpants << what is the ETS


Meanwhile, back in New Zealand. From burning tyres to make podcasts about psychics I can’t help but think we’re somehow wired to do everything backwards.