Welcome to a baby born at 416ppm CO2 and overshoot

Welcome to a baby born at 416 ppm CO2 on the day of COP26 in Glasgow. This is the last chance to turn around runaway climate change. Mind you they said that last time and the time before.

Newborn baby

You were born on the first day of COP26 –the 1st of November, 2021. I am sorry to say this, but this is what you are likely to see during your lifetime.

If you live in Auckland, New Zealand the number of hot days in summer is increasing. And I guess you will be glad you are not in remote Oodnadatta, South Australia which spends its summers in the late 40s and has a record of 50.7 degrees. It’s impossible to go outside or work outside there. The maximum temperature if you were born in Death Valley, California was 54.4 degrees last July.

Or you might live in Brisbane which got up to 37 and 38 degrees in 2017 and 2018. You have to stay inside and have air conditioning. But don’t try living in a place vulnerable to sea rise. Those marinas house a lot of fancy houses and they will face bigger storms and higher seas. Maybe they will be gone by the time you are an adult. And you will see a lot of bush fires in your life. And your hail stones will be big. This year they had one in the Sunshine Coast that was 16 cm wide.

Overshoot

But life isn’t all about heat waves, bushfires, coastal erosion and extreme storms. Let’s talk about the economy, about buying things and having enough food and shelter and essentials of life.

You have been born in a time when the whole world has had a Covid-19 pandemic for nearly two years. It’s given the global economy a heart attack. Mind you the global economy was very vulnerable even before Covid.

The fact is we have had a just-in-time global supply chain where goods get shipped and trucks all over the world and it’s worked up till two years ago. But now things are different and there is little hope it can be fixed any time soon.

So when you are a child, countries and communities all over the world will be scrambling to manufacture essential goods as near home as possible. I hope they make clothes and grow good food near you. Please don’t waste good land grazing all those animals to feed. They use too much water and pollute it, as well as using too much land. Besides eating animal protein is no good for your health. I only just found that out when I was 80 but you might as well know now.

The other thing, sorry to say, you have been born as the world faces up to the fact that the flammable fossils we found in the ground 250 years ago have been harder to get. Yes, we used to call these fossil fuels –oil, natural gas and coal. In fact your state of Queensland has had a lot of high grade coal mines and up till a year ago you shipped it to China. But human beings have binged big-time on these flammable fossils. Sorry about that.

I don’t suppose you will get to see much of the coral reefs, but hopefully they will be around in some form for a few years.

The global economy

I mentioned before that oil, gas and coal have been used. They have helped your parents, grandparents and great great grandparents live in an age of huge expansion. We have used up the easy to get oil, gas and coal and now we are at the stage where it is taking so much energy to extract them that we don’t get the return we used to get a century ago.

We are digging more wells deeper into the sea and going for the oil sands and hard to extract stuff. Darn!! They were so useful. In fact they still are. When you were born, 84% of the energy used came from this magic stuff. We run our diesel trucks and ships on them and we rely on them.

But they also, when burnt for driving or heating furnaces, sent a huge amount of gases high up into the air and this blanket round the earth is making it warmer. That is causing all the storms, rising seas, melting ice, extra big hail, extra heavy rain, prolonged droughts and bushfires. Yes you will see so much of that and I am sorry I was part of a generation that was complicit in this awful situation.

Several scholars have written now that we have reached the peak of world oil extraction. Nate Hagens and White wrote in their 2021 book Reality Blind that the peak in oil extraction was in October 2018. That means there will be less every year now. Mind you the prices will still fluctuate but it is resulting in high inflation because we have relied on cheap oil for two centuries now.

And natural gas and coal are dearer too, resulting in power cuts in many places like China, Germany, US and UK. You will grow up with power cuts in Australia I am afraid because the solar and wind power won’t be regular and you will be frantically trying to buy enough metals to rebuild them before long.

And if you try using hydrogen you will soon learn you get less out of it than you put in and the plants will be abandoned. In fact if Morrison and his government stay in, they will put their faith in other unproved technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) that are either going to make things worse or will waste money or both.

You see we have an economic system that is reliant on having more energy. It can’t grow without more energy every year and it is set up to grow. That way it works. If it doesn’t grow there are employment problems that have to be solved So you will grow up in an age of contraction of the world economy and because it will be unplanned, it will be fast and steep. You won’t be able to buy everything you want. There will be shortages. It will be the age of resourcefulness.

So make friends with lots of skills. Train as an electrician, a plumber, an organic farmer, a person who mend things, a person who is practical. Surround yourself with people who know things and can help each other and the community around them. Surround yourself with people who don’t drain you of energy. Make friends with kind, compassionate people, people who understand how nature works and that human beings are a vulnerable species with huge potential for compassion, innovation and heroism.

You will see a lot of sadness. Tragedies will be common.

Now suppose you are my great grandchild. Challenges will abound, but you are bred for it. Your grandfather has been skilled with his hands all his life and has made do with little. Your great grandfather John was a doctor and his father was a fabulous gardener. John’s grandfather was a skilled bricklayer. His grandmother and great aunts were humorous and alert, always aware of who is doing what.

On our side you get me, then my mother who cooked, sewed, knitted and gardened to care for her six daughters. . My father was a minister on a small salary who learned things from books and was wise. My grandfather and grandmother came to New Zealand with three little children. When my grandmother was young, she wheeled her pram into town with a toddler in front and bought stuff for her meals every day because they didn’t have a fridge and were poor. 

I am sure your mother will fill you in with her side of the family and then there is all your father’s side to enquire about. Find out about their lives and how they struggled. You will struggle, but in a different economy and a different climate completely.  So remember all these people came before you. Think about them. 

Food

Don’t expect to live in a city all your life. There will be many more going to the country to grow food and live in small communities. Be a leader in a small community.

Eat vegetables, fruit, grains, beans
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New Zealanders eat 94.6kg of meat per capita according to Beef and Lamb NZ

On this topic there is nothing better than referring to Beef and Lamb New Zealand website itself from which I quote:-

How much red meat are Kiwis currently eating? Based on working estimates, New Zealanders currently eat (carcass weight equivalent) about: 17.2kg beef, 5kg lamb and 0.7kg mutton per capita. In addition, 23.9kg pork and 47.8kg chicken per capita (2017-18 BLNZ Ltd Economic Service) resulting in a total red meat intake 46.8kg (beef + lamb/mutton + pork)

In the last 10 years to 2017-18, per capita figures have changed:

  • Beef down 38%
  • Lamb down 45%
  • Mutton down 72%
  • Overall reduction of beef/lamb/mutton = 42%
  • Pork up 15%
  • Poultry up 40%
  • Overall reduction all meats = 0%

I find this interesting that even though we reduce our red meat, we are so obsessed with getting our protein from animals that we increase pork and poultry (note they don’t mention fish).

I also find interesting the fact that they have classified pork as red meat, which I don’t think is the public perception. I may be wrong.

So we each eat 46.8kg from red meat and 47.8 kg from chicken or 94.6kg meat.

I am not sure this tallies with the world figures quoted for our country. And all this without dairy consumption to add to our animal protein.

Clearly someone is eating my share!

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What if New Zealand farmers grew less meat and dairy for the climate’s sake?

In New Zealand we all know that agricultural emissions are the second biggest sector at 48%. We have a big beef and dairy sector, the latter having expanded into dry regions once irrigation became available. These areas are entirely unsuitable for dairy conversions.

Since the New Zealand government announced in October 2019 that it would not include farm emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme just yet, I have been wondering how farmers will adapt during this initial trial period. The scheme aims to cut emissions by charging companies a price for each unit of greenhouse gas produced and farmers will be exempt till 2025 while they adapt. Under the scheme, farmers would be responsible for collecting data, reporting it, and paying directly for emissions. If the government doesn’t think they are moving fast enough they will legislate earlier.

People seem to think it is just their farm practices that will have to change. So is it just their farm practices or is it something else as well?

It’s not just about adopting good water management practices. Emissions come from burps.

In a significant study by a 37 experts-strong EAT-Lancet commission called Food in the Anthropocene, published in The Lancet in January 2019, there is this astounding statement:  “We estimated that changes in food production practices could reduce agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions in 2050 by about 10%, whereas increased consumption of plant-based diets could reduce emissions by up to 80%.” Well, it looks like experts from our agricultural colleges might quibble with that factor, but nonetheless the potential is huge. Even the 11,000 scientists who recently declared a climate emergency wanted us to eat less meat and dairy.

So while we may be the first country in the world to include agriculture in our emissions pricing scheme, the future is in the hands of farmers. The government wants methane emissions down 10% by 2025.

And of course it’s not just methane emissions that have to come down. According to Professor James Renwick (email 2 Nov 2019) “The key thing to do is limit CO2 concentrations as they decide the long-term change in climate. How important methane reductions are depends on what’s happening with CO2 concentrations.
Reducing methane emissions will buy us decreases in methane concentrations over just a few years, but it’s pretty much wasted effort if we continue to let CO2 continue to build up.”

Feed lots in New Zealand are becoming more common

The main agricultural greenhouse gases (GHG) are methane and nitrous oxide. Methane is produced in the rumen of the cows by certain microbes and are naturally present in all ruminant animals. … Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is emitted from soil when urine, faeces and fertilisers are broken down by microbes in the soil.

The EAT-Lancet study, which had 357 references at the end, and was done by an international team of experts from health, agriculture, climate change and politics, puts methane as 56 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas as carbon dioxide over a 20 year period and nitrous oxide as 280 times as powerful. (It also recommended that protein be just 10% of the daily calories)

It’s fairly horrifying to find that over a period of 55 years (1961-2016) there has been a worldwide 89% increase in agricultural emissions (not CO2). That is methane and nitrous oxide mostly. But on that same climatewatchdata site, we have agricultural emissions being only 11.5% of total emissions. That, of all estimates, is the lowest, the highest being from the consultants that Worldwatch commissioned in 2009, at 51%. The FAO in 2006 estimated 18% and revised that down later to 14%. Goodland, one of the Worldwatch Institute’s consultants noted that by then FAO had ‘partnered with international meat, dairy and egg organisations so was no longer objective.’

Wise Response, an environmental organisation comprised mainly of academics, said in their submission on agricultural emissions, “While CO2 is the dominant greenhouse gas, keeping global warming less than 2°C or 1.5°C clearly requires control of all greenhouse gases and in particular of methane (CH4) that is the second most significant. As noted in a recent and very detailed comparison of different pathways consistent with the 1.5°C target, “early mitigation of CH4 emissions would significantly increase the feasibility of stabilising global warming below 1.5 °C, alongside having co-benefits for human and ecosystem health”.

They also state that because of New Zealand’s knowledge from agricultural universities to date, “In terms of dairy emissions reduction, anything up to 24% can be done without any drop in farm profitability (i.e. zero marginal cost of abatement). ”

The good thing about this is this. The Interim Climate Change Committee said, “Innovation in the agricultural sector has reduced its emissions intensity (emissions per unit product) by about 20% over the last 25 years. But overall agricultural emissions have increased 13.5% since 1990. The improvements farmers have made have helped keep agricultural emissions relatively stable since 2012”

While Wise Response referred briefly to the benefits of eating less meat and dairy, the sad thing is that as the Western world reduces its meat intake, the developing world is increasing. And that means China and India. Our exports are going increasingly to China and in fact China is New Zealand’s top market for red meat now. It’s just no good for global emissions for a few developed countries to reduce meat and dairy products because they have heard the health message and the environment message. China and all the other developing countries  must stop their demand for animal products.

And that is something we can’t control. If we grew less beef and dairy, what would we replace our exports with? A tiny movement is detectable I believe which is reported on by Country Calendar on TVOne and by Country Life from RNZ of farmers experimenting with growing pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts as well.

 

 

 

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Economic reality strikes – growth is ending

Of late the Opposition has been pointing out that business confidence is declining. NZIER had released a survey saying business confidence is at a seven year low. The Government has been quick to dismiss it as a political bias by business – as something they always opine when a Labour Government comes in. And the Asian stockmarkets are currently looking wobbly. RNZ’s long term economic commentator Patrick O’Meara talked of softer demands, slower growth, lower investment intentions. He talked of the looming US-China trade war has attributed that to the fact that on Saturday Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods begin. It may also affect markets in Europe, Canada and Mexico.

The trend started well before Trump appeared.
But because of declining net energy, worrying trends happened decades before Trump’s tariffs kicked in. Let me explain declining net energy. Whereas in the mid 20th century if you spent one unit of energy to extract oil, you would get 100 units of energy back, nowadays because it takes more energy to extract fossil fuels from deep sea wells and from fracking, the energy left for the economy is progressively declining. Since net energy available is closely correlated with economic growth we would expect economic growth to decline. Moreover productivity will decline. Productivity is an economic measure of output per unit of input and input includes energy.

Is it time for Nafeez Ahmed to be taken seriously?

British investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed has written a great article explaining the gradual decline of both economic growth and productivity in the UK economy. He concludes, “In other words, trying to keep the growth machine growing when the machine itself is running out of steam is precisely the problem — the challenge is to move into a new economic model entirely.”

He quotes from a piece of research for the government by Professor Tim Jackson giving graphs of declining economic growth and productivity. Jackson says, “In 1996, the trend rate of growth in the global GDP was 5.5%. By 2016 it was little more than 2.5%”. From 1971-2016 productivity growth dropped from over 3% to just 1%.  We must have similar graphs in New Zealand.

Economist Michael Reddell says on his website “Over the last five years there has been only about 1.5 per cent productivity growth in total.”

Ahmed himself is well ahead of others in the way he puts together and explains the connection between many serious global issues –fossil fuel depletion, climate change, finance, geopolitics, terrorism, food security, political instability.

Trump is just a symptom

Trump’ regime is picked to promote business as usual
Ahmed wrote on Inauguration Day 2017  that “Trump is not the problem. Trump is merely one symptom of a deeper systemic crisis. His emergence signals a fundamental and accelerating shift within a global geopolitical and domestic American political order which is breaking down.” He talked of the elephant in the room being the global net energy decline that drives all this.

Less than a month later he penned  a chilling analysis of Trump’s regime.   Half of them are now gone, having resigned or been fired by Trump.  He grouped them under five headings – money monsters, fossil fuel freaks, black ops brigade, Ku Klux Klan and the guru gang  – saying that was the perfect combination required to keep the old model working. Business as Usual must proceed. Drill baby drill.  Increase funding for the military. If things look bad financially try riskier and riskier financial instruments.

Never before has there been such an environmental crisis where our emissions are making our habitat more and more inhospitable with floods, fires, droughts and the accompanying food insecurity. Never before have we seen governments like ours desperate to solve child poverty throwing money at them. We have even got a superannuitants winter energy payment. Yet homelessness and poverty continue.

The tragedy is that while the current government has its heart in the right place – to end poverty and preserve our environment – it is hamstrung. It is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. Political instability is becoming inevitable. Will New Zealanders after the hope of Jacinda Ardern be doomed to see in a Trump like government within five years? Nigel Farage is coming to our country soon. If we don’t find a new economic model that is not dependent on growth, we will come nowhere near a just, sustainable economy. That is the tragedy.

 

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