Bester knows best, uh?

The Herald let Denise Bester loose on us the other day. She made me feel I’d been mugged by a cuddly toy. Not rigorously scientific, just echoing allegations from the global warming orthodoxy, and so naively confident in proposing ineffective, feel-good solutions incapable of affecting the climate that she must have a vested interest in the solutions. Right at the end we find out she does. She sells them.

It seems hard to believe that even with the mountain of evidence indicating that, yes, (emphatic nodding), human actions are to blame for the accelerated rate of climate change, the debate over this inconvenient truth goes on.

But it goes not on here — Denise is not debating; this is a sermon. Anybody thinking about what Denise has said must wonder what mountain of evidence she refers to and how, in the presence of a mountain of evidence, anybody could remain unpersuaded and thus become the target of emphatic nodding in a demonstration of the meaning of ‘yes’. Yet Denise intends to persuade without disclosing evidence — perhaps it’s confidential — for there’s just the nodding.

Climate change? Or global warming? Which one is it, Denise? And what is the evidence for change? The most significant change was, of course, the name — from global warming to climate change. Global warming wasn’t happening, as it hasn’t warmed for about ten years. There’s only one way for warming to go, and that’s up. Nobody’s interested in cooling. You can’t sell that. You can’t sell carbon credits for cooling. But change the name to climate change and you get instant success. Since climate always goes up or down, it’s changing. That’s what climate does! It has always changed, on all time scales — instant proof. How satisfying.

After you’ve given evidence of global warming, we must ask for evidence of an accelerated rate of change. Look at this graph of global temperature anomalies over the last 30 years, Denise, and tell us if you can see any acceleration.

UAH global temperature anomalies to June 2009

(Click for larger image)

If the temperature hasn’t gone up much, the question becomes, what “climate change” could it be responsible for? The answer is, “not much”.

While some in the scientific community are still denying the facts, the truth is that, regardless of who’s to blame, the climate is changing and if we don’t do anything about it we could soon end up in deep water — literally.

It’s easy to say, Denise, that some are “still” denying the facts, but without saying who and which facts they have been denying and for how long, it’s quite impossible to refute your statement. Which simply means that you’re not saying very much.

Then you have the temerity to say “regardless of who’s to blame”, as though any of us could seriously (i.e. measurably) affect the climate of the mighty Earth. Saying the climate is changing is akin to reminding us the Sun rises each morning and sets each evening. It’s nothing new. It’s what it does. To assert that we could do anything “about it” repeats the first mistake of assigning the climate change “blame” to us.

Some of us are thinking about what you’re saying, Denise.

Surely we can all agree that any changes made for the sake of climate change won’t be wasted if it turns out it was never in our control anyway?

That depends on the changes, and what they’ve cost us. The easy, feel-good changes you mention are all right: insulate your house, eat organic food and use vehicle transport less. They’ll do no harm and they might make people feel they’re making a contribution. But they won’t change the climate! They will have no measurable effect on the world’s temperature.

You might be interested to know that, if New Zealand instantly stopped using all fossil fuels tomorrow, the difference that made to the global temperature would be insignificant. For the next year, the next decade and the next century, we would look to see the results of our sacrifice in vain.

Of course, the cost would be horrendous. Can you imagine a society without the internal combustion engine? We’d regress to the Victorian era. Economically, we’d be ruined and our incomes become minuscule. Our electricity production would be more than halved. The potlines at the profitable Bluff aluminium smelter would go cold, but we might just stay alive with the smelter’s consumption redirected to our homes. But we’d have few exports and fewer tourists. Our birth rates would plummet, our death rates would soar. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

That would be the largest contribution we could make in the fight against dangerous anthropogenic global warming — to burn no more fossil fuels. It would cost more than we could possibly afford and it would have no effect.

So, in answer to your question, no, we cannot all agree that any changes won’t be wasted. It would be terrible to make harmful changes for no result.

* Denise Bester is from sustainable living web site


Surely Denise Bester, “from” a sustainable living web site, cannot be trusted to tell us the truth about global warming? She’s making money from it! Just like the fossil fuel companies.

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2 Thoughts on “Bester knows best, uh?

  1. Denise Bester on 13/06/2009 at 4:12 pm said:

    Thank you for paying attention to my world environment day column in the NZ Herald. In response to your critique, I have a few points I would like to clarify.

    The NZ Herald column I write is limited to a maximum of 450-500 words. It is neither possible to provide a balanced and convincing debate within such a limit, nor is the column intended to tackle complicated arguments. My article did not pose itself as expert knowledge in anyway. I was stating my own opinion, to which I am as entitled as you are to yours, based on my interpretation of the knowledge available to the public at the moment.

    It intrigues me that you are confident enough in your knowledge of who I am to make bold statements about me and what I gain from what I do. That I have “vested interests” in the solutions to climate change? I sell them? I feel I should point out that I make no money from my involvement in writing and other sustainability pursuits. I do them because I have a belief and a passion for sustainable, healthy living and I feel that as a citizen of the world I have a responsibility to work for positive change.

    I have to disagree with you that the “solutions” I suggested are either “harmful” or “ineffective”. The changes I recommend, if, as you claim, not effective in mitigating climate change, certainly would be beneficial in reducing pollution levels and improving health. So then, how could that be considered a wasted effort?

    I certainly did not endorse giving up all uses of modern conveniences in my article: that would contradict the understanding of “sustainable and healthy living” and “best of both” which I advocate. I don’t expect anyone to “drop out” and live under insufferable conditions. It is my belief that it is possible live life as well, if not better, by making wise decisions and living more responsibly, as well as lightly on the resources we have available to us.

    A comment on a few of your statements:

    “Can you imagine a society without the internal combustion engine?”

    Yes I can, it would be clean and healthy.

    “We’d regress to the Victorian era.“

    Would we? Do you mean to imply that after creating such amazing technology we wouldn’t be able to do better? Didn’t the steam engine evolve into the electric train? The wheel to the space-craft? Computers the size of a room to computers the size of your watch? Analog to digital? Mankind evolves. And nothing helps us evolve faster than a crisis.

    “Economically, we’d be ruined and our incomes become minuscule.”

    You underestimate human ability. People strive to succeed no matter what circumstances we are faced with. Environmentally-friendly economies can be prosperous. It just takes political will and innovative focus. Even in the recession green sectors are growing. In the US they have grown annually by 7.3% in recent years and are still growing now, in the midst of the recession.

    I regret if my article offended you in some way, but I believe the nature of it was entirely benign.

    I would also appreciate it if you posted your name with your article, for the sake of transparency.


  2. Denise,

    Thanks for pointing out that my name wasn’t on the post; I assumed it was visible somewhere, but I hadn’t looked properly; it’s not even on the front page. If you click on “About” you can see who I am and something about the site. I’ll make sure posts are signed in future.

    It wasn’t offence that motivated me, it was disagreement.

    I know nothing about you, Denise, save the occasional column in the Herald. My reference to making money was a deduction from reading that you are “from” a sustainable living web site. If you are not making money from that, it’s not obvious and you should say so. If you were “from” Shell Oil, similar deductions would be made and you ought to be aware of that possibility, else why tell us? Perhaps you should spell out your volunteer status in future.

    Your heading, given the present climate of opinion, in which climate change is a euphemism for dangerous anthropogenic global warming, raises the topic of our emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

    I agree with what you say about living lightly, reducing pollution, man’s likely response to a crisis and his boundless creativity. The changes you suggest would be slightly (though unmeasurably) beneficial in reducing pollution levels and improving health, but crushingly ineffectual against the climate change of your headline. Hardly surprising — it is a whole planet!

    My point about the internal combustion engine was poorly made, but was based on reducing our GHG emissions by 50% to 80% (as advocated by green groups) by 2020 or 2050. Such scenarios would necessitate the removal of huge numbers of engines in a short time, and yet we have nothing ready to replace them with — or at least replace the fuel, in the quantities we now use. In the absence of a suitable replacement fuel, the only alternative would be to shut down the engine. Of course, large numbers of external combustion engines, the steam boilers used for industry and power generation, would also be shut down to comply with the ruinous reductions. The needs the engines meet would go unmet. The consequences for our present society would be calamitous.

    If, as you say, “green” sectors are growing in the U.S., good on them. But 7.3% of nothing is a very small number. How many jobs depend on the use, supply and maintenance of fossil fuels and the engines using them? The green sector is entirely unready to use so many people, nor are the people trained yet for new jobs.

    But all of this misses a crucial point. There are two different and distinct topics: global warming caused by man’s carbon dioxide and pollution caused by lots of other substances. Why are carbon dioxide and pollution considered the same subject?

    The warming alarmists now conflate the two of them. They seem to want to segue from global warming, which isn’t occurring, to ordinary pollution, which of course is occurring.

    Our emissions of carbon dioxide don’t measurably influence the planet’s temperature, which is right now similar to what it was in 1979. That can be seen from the graph in my post.

    If people want us to clean up the environment, they should talk about something that needs to be cleaned up, not a substance that everybody agrees is not just substantially advantageous, but actually vital, for life itself!

    By the way, if there is evidence that our emissions of carbon dioxide have dangerously raised or will dangerously raise the temperature, why don’t we hear what it is? If it existed, you can be sure that we would all know it by now by heart.

    I oppose the repetition, in your otherwise inoffensive little article, of inaccuracies that support popular misconceptions that are leading to serious consequences against our welfare.

    Richard Treadgold.

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