Coal ‘keep it in the hole’ Network wrong on climate

There’s a lot to write about at the moment, so forgive me if I occasionally ignore important topics. They’ll have another turn in due course.

This is rather a sideshow, but we have the Coal Action Network (CAN) agitating with alarmist zeal against Fonterra to bully them into limiting their carbon dioxide emissions for no practical purpose and I don’t know of anyone who is opposing their stupidity. Let me briefly show how this will make no difference to the climate and will simply impede the efficiency of one of New Zealand’s best companies. CAN’s latest post says:

But while Fonterra may have bailed out on their Studholme plans, they are still the company most responsible for keeping the New Zealand coal industry afloat. That’s why the CANA Summerfest, January 2017, is being held in Ashburton in mid-Canterbury, right in Fonterra’s heartland, where the connection between dairying’s rampant appetite for water, its rampant appetite for coal, and its contribution to the alarming growth in methane emissions is very evident.

Really—an alarming growth? That claim is linked to Eurekalert which comments on a paper just published in Environmental Research Letters. But the claim is false. Have they read their own reference? It clearly doesn’t support these alarming statements.

Eurekalert itself admits: “The reason for the spike is unclear but may come from emissions from agricultural sources and mainly around the tropics — potentially from farm sites like rice paddies and cattle pastures.” Eurekalert claims, “It’s a stark contrast from the early 2000s when methane concentrations crept up by just 0.5 parts per billion on average each year.” But I don’t see such a slow rise and they don’t cite their source. The increase in 2005 (from the paper mentioned next) seems to be in the right range (0.5–1.0 ppb) but the following year it was 6 ppb.

The paper which Eurekalert links to, The growing role of methane in anthropogenic climate changeSaunois et al., 2016, claims: “atmospheric methane concentrations are rising faster than at any time in the past two decades,” but doesn’t state the rate of rise. From their graph of atmospheric concentrations from 2013 to 2015, the rate of rise appears to be about 11 ppb/yr, or 0.6%/yr. Over the whole period since 2005, the rise has been 58 ppb (3.2%), or 5.8 ppb (0.32%) per year. Though the trend rises somewhat, you cannot on any pretext call it a spike. See for yourself (p.2 of the paper, p.3 of the pdf).

This is scare-mongering

1. They admit they don’t know where the methane comes from. The <a href=””>paper they cite</a> contains this <a href=””>graph of emissions since 2005</a> which shows a slow rise but no acceleration. The authors of the latest methane inventory suggest the increased emissions might come from agricultural sources (not just from dairying) and mainly from the tropics (where there are very few dairy farms and none of Fonterra’s). Total atmospheric methane now is about 1850 parts per billion by volume, which is the equivalent of 1.85 ppmv—insignificant when CO2 levels are 400 parts ppmv.

2. They don’t know how much warming methane causes—nobody knows. I found it impossible to locate a figure for how much the various greenhouse gases actually heat up the air, which is kind of the point, don’t you think? It’s not a battle against the atmospheric concentration of methane, it’s a battle against global warming. If methane doesn’t cause warming, there’s no reason to care. And methane’s contribution to warming is certainly infinitesimal. The warming from human-generated CO2 (the so-called ‘greatest threat’ to mankind) is in the range of one third of a degree Celsius since 1950, and methane forms a much tinier fraction than CO2, so it is impossible for methane to dangerously warm the atmosphere. Did I mention scare-mongering?

Other alarmist statements in these documents include: “surge in methane emissions,” “methane emissions seem to be soaring,” “recent rapid increase in methane,” “results for methane are worrisome,” “this runaway pace.” Yet the data describe the entire methane budget, not just anthropogenic sources, and the rate of rise is very low, at only 0.6%/yr in the last two years—when, they claim, it was surging.

Unknown sources of methane: trees, ocean microbes

Remember that we must focus on man-made methane, not natural emissions. Methane is emitted naturally by termites, wetlands, tundra and, recently discovered, trees and ocean microbes. I haven’t found an up-to-date list of all sources, but in the old one, dating from 1997, man-made and natural sources were in a ratio of about 70:30, though the paper quotes 60:40. With the discovery of the involvement of trees and the ocean, one would expect the natural fraction now to be even higher than 40%.

Another thing to remember about methane is that almost every flame consumes every molecule of CH4 that falls into it. It’s disappearing every second, taking two oxygen molecules and reacting to form a carbon dioxide molecule and two water molecules.

Crucially, science observes that Fonterra’s effect on the climate with CO2 emissions (much less methane) is undetectable; indeed, the whole nation’s output of carbon dioxide does not register. China, in 2014 (the last year with full statistics) consumed just under 2 Gt (billion tons) of coal, which represented about 50% of global use. The whole of New Zealand got through about 1.5 Gt, which was less than 0.05% — just a footnote in the BP report. Fonterra? They consumed 0.0005 Gt. Perfectly infinitesimal. It had not the slightest effect on the climate. Of course, they did much productive work with it—why else would they use it?

Executive Summary for Coal Action Network

To chastise the honest, hard-working people at Fonterra for efficiently producing food for society is not understandable. Please give them a break. It is entirely reasonable to ask that you follow scientific principles to show the harm carbon dioxide actually causes to the climate, because you haven’t yet done so.

Using coal is entirely legal. Using coal is immensely useful. Using coal with appropriate safeguards against real pollution does no harm. Remember that you’re actually fighting to disadvantage, not Fonterra, but their customers (who probably include your good self, your relatives and your friends). Fonterra produces food, and you would restrict their output—now, whom would you say should be deprived of that food? You choose.


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14 Thoughts on “Coal ‘keep it in the hole’ Network wrong on climate

  1. Andy on 16/12/2016 at 12:56 pm said:

    It is also none of Coal Action Network’s business to have an input in the makeup of the Tonkin and Taylor peer review of the Christchurch coastal hazards report, but they did.

    If you recall, they issued a press release demanding that “deniers” be excluded from the review

  2. Gary Kerkin on 18/12/2016 at 10:32 am said:

    It is a puzzle isn’t it, or in the expression of Yul Brynner in “The King and I”, a “puzzlement”. What exactly is CAN saying? Do they mean that burning coal will produce the additional methane (which is rubbish), or that the additional coal will enable more milk to be processed and that will cause more methane from the additional cows (which is dubious)? Either way it is an attack on a company which makes a very important contribution to the New Zealand economy. Is this tantamount to treason? (Well, if they can call me a “denier” I can certainly accuse them of “treason”).

    RT, like you I read the the Eurekalert article, and the Saunois et al paper and very quickly concluded that they are heavy on speculation and light on fact. It occurs to me that one of the more egregious side effects of the AGW hypothesis is not appalling papers alleging to be scientific, but appallingly written papers which appear more like propaganda (and, no! I haven’t just discovered this!)

    Curiously, I just happened to be involved in the early stages of the development of NZ Dairies at Studholme, investigating the economics of the plant and developing cost models for the principals. I didn’t stick around because I felt decidedly uncomfortable with the direction some of the principals were heading. In retrospect I was correct and I wasn’t at all surprised that ultimately Fonterra had to bail the plant and suppliers out of the hole they had created. I was disappointed when the High Court ruled against Fonterra for the payment schedule it proposed for the suppliers of NZ Dairies that it took on board following the collapse of the company. The ruling effectively compensated the suppliers for a bad business decision the cost of which was carried by the other suppliers to Fonterra.

    Whether Studholme is the right location to expand milk production is moot. After all, Clandeboye is not very far away, and Fonterra is not averse to transporting milk over long distances, especially to, say, Edendale, which is now one of the largest milk processing sites in NZ, if not the world. But wherever Fonterra decides to build new plant, economics dictates that coal should be used. Milk processing is energy intensive, especially where it involves dried powder products, and the cheapest source of energy for such production is coal. To argue that Fonterra should not be fulfilling its obligations to its supplier/shareholders by using more expensive energy is little short of criminal in my opinion.

  3. Dennis N Horne on 19/12/2016 at 11:02 am said:

    “His daughter Ivanka appears to be establishing a role as the one person who might prevent the Trump administration from undoing all of the progress made by the Obama administration in cutting US carbon pollution, and instead establishing policies that will maximize the country’s burning of fossil fuels. According to Politico, Ivanka Trump wants to make climate change one of her signature issues. She recently coordinated meetings between the president-elect and Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio.

    “DiCaprio in particular wisely focused his presentation on the fact that a shift to clean renewable energy would create millions of jobs. The best way to help a businessman like Donald Trump appreciate the importance and benefits of cutting carbon pollution is to focus on the economic opportunities presented by the coming green technology revolution. It’s an opportunity that China is poised to seize upon, as UCLA Law School’s Alex Wang noted:

    “Climate change regulation is seen as an economic tool aimed at moving China’s economy toward the low-carbon, high-tech, and clean energy industries of the future. China would like nothing more than to have the U.S. retreat from clean energy innovation and allow it to step into the breach.”

  4. Dennis N Horne on 19/12/2016 at 6:45 pm said:
    Science and Economics, Not Politics, Will Strand Fossil Fuels
    Most of the world’s coal, oil, and natural gas will remain buried underground forever. Technology, economics, and state policy will increasingly force fossil fuels to remain where they belong: in the ground.
    December 16, 2016

    “Energy efficiency and clean energy costs are dropping below fossil fuels, making the free market a growing tailwind in our fight to save the climate. Businesses have developed product plans and manufacturing lines for super-efficient technologies, and they loathe to change. Many of America’s flagship companies—Google, Levi’s, Starbucks, Walmart, and hundreds of others—are building or buying renewable energy. Neither their CEOs nor employees are eager to change this.

    “The coal industry is discovering how these forces strand fossil assets, as all but one American coal company is now bankrupt. Coal-dependent European utilities have seen their market capitalization drop by 75 percent or more. Coal is getting whipped in the marketplace by stunning cost drops of efficiency, solar, and wind over the last five to 10 years.”

  5. Brett Keane on 19/12/2016 at 9:07 pm said:

    Obviously Denis, Truth means naught to you. The rising insanity of failed fanatics. We may need to re-open Cherry Farm…..
    But all the same, Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year to you and all your brave opponents….

  6. Dennis N Horne on 20/12/2016 at 8:54 am said:

    @Brett Keane, your view of the world does not correspond with reality.
    Prof J Kroth: The Coming Disaster – November 17, 2015
    The Psychology of Climate Change Denial
    Dr. Judith Anderson speaking in 2014 at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Summit, organised by the Oxford Centre for Sustainable Healthcare.
    Climate change & the psychology of denial
    Shifting the Psychology of Climate Change Denial
    A Depth Psychology Exploration of Climate Change — Dr. Jeffrey Kiehl

    And no best wishes from me. The oil billionaires and their useful idiots have meant we’ve ignored global warming. If we’d addressed the problem 25 years ago we would have been well on the way to much reduced emissions by now.

    The conductors of this orchestrated campaign of lies and obfuscation may one day be held to account. Others will be found “not guilty” on the grounds of insanity. No need for you to worry, then.

  7. Richard Treadgold on 20/12/2016 at 9:23 am said:


    The oil billionaires and their useful idiots have meant we’ve ignored global warming. If we’d addressed the problem 25 years ago we would have been well on the way to much reduced emissions by now.

    This is self delusion. In the last 25 years, the temperature has hardly moved. It’s gone up about 0.2 °C (say 0.8 °C/100 yrs, which is about the same as the last 100 years) and all of that was from 1993 to 1998, there’s been no warming this century. The big El Nino has vanished. So there’s actually no problem, is there? Look for yourself at

    If by ‘we’ you mean New Zealand, then the climate wouldn’t have noticed what we reduced despite your efforts to pretend that we cause global warming—we do not, we’re too small, we cannot; if you mean China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, et al., your self-delusion reaches new heights, because they’re not about to reduce their emissions. High-density energy is the only way for their impoverished multitudes to improve their situation. They’ll say whatever the foolish westerners want to hear, but they’ll go on building their coal-powered generating stations and foundries all the same. Even as you close your eyes to it.

    I don’t care if you’ve decided we’re causing dangerous global warming, but I will certainly point out factual anomalies that raise questions about what you say. Stop giving us a hard time and calling us deniers. Email Xi Jinping and check out his plans.

  8. Dennis N Horne on 20/12/2016 at 10:00 am said:

    Richard Treadgold, greetings.

    I am quite content to let global warming continue.

    Warming the whole planet is an amazing crazy experiment. But truly exciting!

    I have joined a walking group; watching my diet. I want to be around for the indubitable results. A real denier will go down with his ship… (What will you do? Please don’t die like Bob Carter!)
    Soaring Arctic temperatures ‘strongly linked’ to recent extreme weather events, say scientists at cutting edge of climate change research
    The northern ice cap has been shrinking since the 1970s, with global warming driving the loss of about three-quarters of its volume so far. But the recent heat in the Arctic has shocked scientists, with temperatures 33C above average in parts of the Russian Arctic and 20C higher in some other places.

    In November, ice levels hit a record low, and we are now in “uncharted territory”, said Prof Jennifer Francis, an Arctic climate expert at Rutgers University in the US, who first became interested in the region when she sailed through it on a round-the-world trip in the 1980s.

    “These rapid changes in the Arctic are affecting weather patterns where you live right now,” she said. “In the past you have had natural variations like El Niño, but they have never happened before in combination with this very warm Arctic, so it is a whole new ball game.

    “It is inconceivable that this ridiculously warm Arctic would not have an impact on weather patterns in the middle latitudes further south, where so many people live.

    “It’s safe to say [the hot Arctic] is going to have a big impact, but it’s hard to say exactly how big right now. But we are going to have a lot of very interesting weather – we’re not going to get around that one.”


  9. Andy on 20/12/2016 at 10:04 am said:

    In my “denier” travels recently, I visited Scotland, England and Norway.

    Everywhere I met with settled and cold weather.

    That’s the problem with “denial” though.Observing nature can play tricks on our minds, when in fact we should listen to experts and comedians who understand these issues much better than us mere mortals

  10. Dennis N Horne on 20/12/2016 at 10:57 am said:

    Andy, holiday reading for you.
    Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
    Paperback – August 18, 2015 by George Marshall

  11. Andy on 20/12/2016 at 11:14 am said:

    I have no intention of reading anything you recommend Dennis
    I hold you in such utter contempt, anything you say or write goes straight into the trash

  12. Dennis N Horne on 20/12/2016 at 11:48 am said:

    Oh, Andy! I am heart-broken. [Sobs]

    But so pleased I am getting under your skin. [Smiles]

    I was worried what I have been saying was going over your head. [Laughs uncontrollably]

    One question, though. Are you really as effing thick as you seem?

  13. Andy on 20/12/2016 at 11:58 am said:

    Dennis exhibits the classic troll behaviour, of insulting and abusing people in the hope of a reaction.

  14. Andy on 03/02/2017 at 2:57 pm said:

    Meanwhile, super-Green Germany gives the go-ahead for a 1.1Gw coal fired power station

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