The Mahurangi Magazine

Select Page

Wasting storms of the grandparents

by 25 Sep 2018Climate mobilisation, Sea-level rise, Zero-carbon energy0 comments

A Pit Head, Quinten McAdam

Pitifully Slow to Respond: Today’s world is largely the result of the intensive fossil fuel use precipitated by the harnessing of steam rather than animals—in the early stages, when this circa 1775–1825 pit-head scene was captured. A meaningful move to create a zero-carbon infrastructure has yet to begin, yet, without the ongoing—indeed, increasing—use of carbon-rich fuels, there is nothing, short of nuclear, to power the rapid transition needed to avoid precipitating a hothouse climate, if indeed that is not already in train. Coal is still providing nearly 28% of primary energy, and with photovoltaic providing about 1%, there is no plausible strategy for achieving the zero-carbon world that is already decades late in being built. image Walker Art Gallery

When Dr James Hansen published Storms of My Grandchildren nine years ago this December, he lambasted governments for greenwashing while doing nothing meaningful to curtail fossil-fuel use.

But despite, by that time, having already seen his warnings wasted for more than two decades, even Dr Hansen could presumably not have envisaged that fully three decades after his Senate testimony, the United States’ largest not-for-profit news media organisation could publish a 589-word article on the super-typhoon Mangkhut, without a single reference to climate.

Washington-based National Public Radio, with its more than 1000 syndicated stations, might reasonably be expected to be unsqueamish when it comes to connecting the dots between increasingly larger and more intensive storms and higher storm surges, and climate. In contrast, corporate mainstream media can be excused for purveying its fossil-fuel-friendly pro-growth, pro-consumption content. Whereas, for npr keep its head down invites the conclusion that the public has a limited appetite for listening to items about anthropogenic global warming.

And if there is little appetite for envisaging the consequences of losing a largely benign climate, there is almost no discernible interest in considering what are probably now the only two measures remaining for defusing a fossil-fuelled Armageddon: a global breeding moratorium, followed closely by the largest nuclear power buildout since the oil-shock-induced Messmer Plan. When a halfway literate country can fake-news itself into believing that the judicious use of 1080 poison by its Department of Conservation is criminal, it bodes extremely poorly for the prospects of citizens of democracies doing other than vote for early Christmases for their indigenous fauna. Similarly, for themselves, rather than rationally evaluate of options for meeting the enormous challenge of re-engineering civilisation to be zero-carbon—with zero energy-budget with which to do it.

Officials celebrating Paris Agreement

Paris Epitome of Climate Inaction: Held in the capital of the country that has made the greatest real-world contribution to climate action, by weaning itself off oil-generated electricity in short order, the Paris agreement, in the words of the world’s preeminent climate scientist, Dr James Hansen, was “just bullshit”. Green politicians are happy to quote Dr Hansen, just not his advice that nuclear power is indispensable. Fortunately for the chances of a survivable climate, former president of the French parliament François de Rugy has been appointed to replace an energy-and-environment minister hellbent on prematurely shuttering the French nuclear-power industry, which, incidentally, hasn’t had a nuclear-power-plant-accident fatality in four decades of operation. image United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Paris pedalled a line that the countries of the world each had a carbon budget. Aside from the fact that the United States, true to form, promptly pulled out, and aside from the fact no democratic country possessed a plausible plan to respect its carbon budget, the notion that a known budget existed was premised, at best on incomplete data. Within months, fresh studies were published drastically revising the budget downward, to below that which could be achieved with even rapid decarbonisation.

For those who adhere to a first-principals approach, unarguably the place to start is population, and the 2018 projection for 2050 is for humanity to number 9.9 billion—significantly more than three times the sustainable level of population. The most obvious means of throttling back fossil fuel use is a breeding moratorium. The few daring to mention lower breeding rates invariably offer up the economic-growth-results-in-lower-breeding-rates get-out-of-jail-free card. But as China’s stela economic growth amply demonstrates, rising economic activity quickly translates into rising fossil-fuel use, and in environment-destroying consumerism generally.

Ten years ago, the planet was presented with the perfect excuse for stepping off the growth-at-all-costs treadmill, when the growth-at-all-costs financial sector demonstrated both its greed and the speciousness of neoclassical economic theory. And President Barack “Yes We Can” Obama demonstrated a decided lack of audacity, by bailing out big business and allowing poor and black communities bear the brunt of the losses. As Professor John T Harvey puts it in his bailout 10th-anniversary, four-lessons-not-learned piece:


Vibrant Alternative to Capitalism: While the notion that viable alternatives to capitalist authoritarianism could exist is widely portrayed as risible, Spain, ironically, boasts probably the best example of why the planet should be seen as more important than the banks. Founded in 1956, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation consists of 102 federated cooperatives employing more than 73 000 employee-owners. image Richard Hobbs

If you are going to bail someone out, bail out the debtor and not the creditor.

When Australia and China sneeze, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will likely emulate Obama and back the banks, but if she truly is more than stardust, she will choose to save the planet ahead of saving capitalism. Even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the received wisdom was that there was no realistic alternative to the three-hundred-year-old capitalist system. But despite 2007–2008, the system has proven to be incapable of self-regulation in self-interest—much less, in reform—to make itself battle-ready for the climate action that will need to be fought for at least as long as the sea level rises its full, inexorable 66-metre rise. Dr James Hansen’s seminal Storms of My Grandchildren spells out the ephemerality of the ice sheets and persistence of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Even if no further carbon was added to the atmosphere, most of that which has been put there since the inception of the Industrial Revolution will long outlast the 30-odd quintillion litres of water previously, within human timeframes, thought to be safely locked up as ice.

Because the rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases has been so rapid, no close paleoclimate analogy exists by which definitive projections can be made as to how soon the planet will be ice-sheet free. Meantime, in a communication today titled Global Warming and East Coast Hurricanes, Hansen and Sato remind:

…we conclude from multiple lines of evidence that a 21st century slowdown of [the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation] is underway.

Even an outside chance of thermohalinic-circulation shutdown should be sufficient to immediately mobilise civilisation’s resources for radical climate action. And just as in World War II, young people are needed to fight for their future, not play house. Each new baby born in the developed world adds an estimated equivalent 58.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s deceptively skinny atmosphere—whereas a flight from Auckland to London adds only 4.56 tonnes, and living car-free avoids 2.4.

Ucab mine post Typhoon Mangkhut

Disaster Waiting to Repeat: With studies confirming that anthropogenic global warming will result in more intense and more frequent severe rainstorms, wholesale soil loss will not be confined to places subject to typhoons, much less those destabilised by the desperate diggings of small-scale goldminers. The Mahurangi Harbour is already staggering under an average of 46 000 tonnes of sediment per year, which is why improving the resilience of the watershed is axiomatic. Green-lipped-mussel-reef establishment, demonstrating how barren, muddy seabed can, within a year, become thriving snapper nursery, is key to recruiting support for that long-term work. image abc News | Brant Cumming

Auckland epitomises the stark challenge. Its leaders are preoccupied with supporting growth, fueled by people seeking to escape increasingly uncivilised locales through to billionaires complete with survival pods, but including the utterly deserving, driven from their at-sea-level homelands. Housing the climate-dispossessed is beyond the capability of blokes-in-utes building million-dollar ticky-tacky homes. And building unrelocatable concrete-and-steel-based houses on land arrogantly recontoured with no regard for either the fossil fuel expended or its vulnerability to extreme rainfall events is to flip the bird to Dr James Hansen’s grandchildren, and everybody else’s.

Much of today’s narrative has been shaped by economist high priests of money, and but collectively their pseudo-science missed the fact that energy was core to everything, but certainly to modern civilisation. As “slayer of bullshit” Professor Vaclav Smil seminally states:

From a fundamental biophysical perspective, both prehistoric human evolution and the course of history can be seen as the quest for controlling greater stores and flows of more concentrated and more versatile forms of energy and converting them, in more affordable ways at lower costs and with higher efficiencies, into heat, light, and motion.

It is almost impossible to cite a review of Energy and Civilization: A History that doesn’t refer to Bill Gate’s reverence for Professor Smilpronounced “smeel”. Sadly, being respected by the world’s greatest philanthropist will be sufficient to turn off many who might benefit from Smil’s insights, including probably every last renewable-energy proselytizer. Replacing the world’s fossil-fuel-based infrastructure with zero-carbon alternatives, without the heavily fossil-fuel-derived energy on which virtually every human endeavour depends is practically impossible:

That epochal transition from the fossil fuel– dominated global energy system to a new arrangement based solely on renewable energy flows presents an enormous (and generally insufficiently appreciated) challenge: the ubiquity and the magnitude of our dependence on fossil fuels, and the need for further increases of global energy use, mean that even the most vigorously pursued transition could be accomplished only in the course of several generations.

Energy and Civilization: A History, book cover

Turning Point: Tantalisingly unattributed, at least in the digital edition of Energy and Civilization: A History, the painting that adorns the cover captures the point at which fossil fuel extraction became fossil-fuelled, initially performing the crucial task of pumping water from ever-deeper mines. Energy, meanwhile, was missed by economists, despite it always being central to the economy of everything. The 2018 unearthing of a map of John Anderson Brown’s 0.5-kilometre millrace on the northern bank of the Mahurangi River, combined with Professor Vaclav Smil’s data on undershot waterwheels, will help provide a local interpretation of the lengths necessary prior to the universal use of fossil fuels. publication mit Press

Humanity, having painted his fossil-fuelled self into a corner, can now only countenance rigorously strategic climate action, without drastically increasing the number harmed and the severity of that harm. But, to mix metaphors, the witless painter has also nail-gunned one foot to the floor, in respect to preparedness for the privations—much less, pestilence—brought by an increasingly unbenign climate, particularly in developing countries.

Although the lives and livelihoods lost are still being counted from the Cordilleras to Guangdong, such costs can only increase, adding to fossil-fuel demand, whilst subtracting from the work of building a zero-carbon world. One year on and counting, Puerto Rico has far from recovered from Hurricane Maria. That a territory of the United States within half the distance of Hawaii can suffer ~3000 deaths and be voted less than a quarter of the estimated US$139 billion needed to rebuild is stark demonstration of how poorly the poor—who disproportionately bear the brunt of global warming—will likely be treated as the climate crises deepens.

New Zealand’s artifice in increasing its annual refugee quota, in two years’ time, by 500 is greenwashing at its most cynical, given that meantime, 144 times that rate of less deserving immigrants will be accepted—more than 72 000 each year. That it took the National Party to raise the refugee quota after nine-years of cold-hearted resistance by Helen-Clark-led government is instructive as to how averse politicians are to political risk. The fatal flaw of all implementations of proportional representation is the loss of the people’s power to determine the makeup of governments. As the manoeuvrings of Winston Peters have serially demonstrated, without the people having the power to compel parties to govern in coalition, determined blocs of politicians put their respective party interests ahead of those of humanity.

Lagging well behind Australia—but without Pauline Hansen as an excuse, Aotearoa would do well to study Scotland, which is settling substantially more and happier Syrian refugees than the balance of the United Kingdom. Sweden, meantime, which was once able to shame New Zealand with its 47 times greater per capita embrace of refugees, has just elected a parliament as horrendously hung as New Zealand’s last year. But whether the impasse will provide the impetus for Sweden to evolve beyond bloc-based governments, as challenged to do by Stefan Löfven, or whether it cobbles together a barely democratic, Jacinda Ardern-style regime, is yet to play out. The claim that New Zealand’s current government is mmpmixed-member proportional is to accept adversarial party politics as the pinnacle of democracy, and, along with it, the uncivilised notion that 49.63% 2017 other-than-Green-Labour-New Zealand First party popular vote of voters deserve to be represented only in opposition, or not at all.

NuScale reactor aboard barge

Climate Action Liberty Shipping: Seventy-six years after the first of 2710 Liberty ships slid down the slipway, small modular nuclear reactors need to be rolling off the production line, or the climate action war will extract a toll far more savage than the world wars and influenza pandemic combined. Or, to return to the theme, the grandchildren better be hearing the trombones playing long before the Liberty-ship centennial. rendering NuScale

Without deeper democratisation, the climate emergency—and the refugee emergency to which it is inextricably linked—will increasingly be exploited by the ilk of the xenophobic Sweden Democrats, supported, in this month’s election, by a mere 17.53% of the popular vote.

Unless humanity dodges a bullet, the cohort of Dr James Hansen’s grandchildren will feel exceedingly little sympathy for today’s politicians paying lip service to global warming as this century’s slavery shame, whilst failing to abolish fossil fuel use. They will find it difficult to understand why growth and capitalism were sacrosanct, but a survivable climate wasn’t. They will be staggered that a generation had such a poor grasp of the scale of challenge of replacing fossil fuels, imagined that a technology that had taken 179 years to ramp up to 1% was going suddenly provide more than 157 000 terawatt hours of energy required each year and rising. Meantime, an immediate youth-led voluntary breeding moratorium would ensure that fossil fuel use was prioritised for climate action, and not for accommodating a population that is already probably three-times unsustainable.

Small modular nuclear reactors are clearly the most quickly deployed zero-carbon producers of industrial heat and electricity on offer, and NuScale has just obtained regulatory approval for its 50-megawatt model. Although about 270 000 would be required to supplant oil, gas and coal, the United States alone, in the last 4½ years of World War II built and launched 2710 Liberty ships. Today, China, France, India, Russia and the United States, could conceivably build 100 times that number of reactors between them, within a similar time frame. If that sounds far-fetched, consider that that the Liberty ships were a small part of the United States’ total wartime manufacturing, which included 295 959 aircraft—indeed, the bulk of current, record-breaking 1740-commercial-aircraft-per-year manufacturing effort must be immediately redeployed building zero-carbon energy infrastructure. And if Germany’s Greens put humanity before defiant ideology, their country’s famous manufacturing prowess could be put to an infinitely more intelligent purpose than building luxury coal-powered carsWikipedia: In 2008, [electric] power generation from coal contributed 291 TWh or 46% to the overall production of 631 TWh. Germany remains one of the world’s largest power producer from coal besides China.

When climate-action-emergency coalition governments begin ordering Liberty-ship scale production of small modular nuclear reactors, grandparents will know that their representatives are finally putting something more important ahead of their own political survival.

Have-One-Fewer-Child graphic

Nuclear Option: While it is clearly not in corporate-mainstream-media’s self-interest to talk about the limits of growth, even giant not-for-profit media outlets such as npr are reluctant to challenge their readership. Aotearoa is uniquely placed to demonstrate meaningful climate action, in action, by ordering its first small modular nuclear reactor and explaining why New Zealanders now understand that nuclear-free should never have been nuclear-power-free, and belatedly show some desperately needed world leadership, not to mention solidarity with Canadian cousins. But none of this can occur without drastically deepening democracy. (Air-flight carbon-dioxide-equivalent values based on premium economy direct return flights, Carbon Footprint.) graphic Mahurangi Magazine, adapted from Guardian | Wynes & Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters, IOPscience

The now inevitable increasingly savagely-wasting extreme weather events will test even the most determined, epochal, climate mobilisation.
1080 Antidote For a quick-acting antidote to the venom that has recently been released attacking the use of 1080 poison, read Dr Alison Campbell’s succinct So What Does the Actual Science Say About 1080? or the courageous Christine Rose column Talking About 1080 & Dispelling the Ignorance of Science, or last but not least, Hayden Donnell’s When Anti-1080 Activism Grew Noisy, and Got Ugly, and Separating Fact from Fiction in the 1080 Debate. And in the 2017 general election, the Ban 1080 party received 0.12% of the popular vote.
Somewhat Underrated When rating his improved steam pump, James Watt is said to have deliberately overstated the power of the horsepower yardstick he also invented, so as to give mine owners little ground to complain about the performance of his engine. A 1-tonne horse can produce a pull in excess of 1 horsepower850 watts. 1 horsepower = 745.699 watts, but while the all-time heaviest, Sampson, weighed more than 1.5 tonnes, Watt would not have been embarrassed by many mine owners possessing outliers of such magnificence.
George Monbiot must-readWhile Economic Growth Continues We’ll Never Kick Our Fossil Fuels Habit:

Electric vehicles have driven a new resource rush, particularly for lithium, that is already polluting rivers and trashing precious wild places. Clean growth is as much of an oxymoron as clean coal. But making this obvious statement in public life is treated as political suicide.


Receive Mahurangi Magazine updates

Join the mailing list to be notified of new pages.

Thank you for subscribing to Mahurangi Magazine!