Fact or Fearmongering?

New Zealand Centre for Political Research

The New Zealand Centre for Political Research is a web-based think tank that takes a research-based approach to public policy matters and encourages the free and open debate of political issues. www.nzcpr.com

If New Zealand is currently experiencing one of our coldest winters. Temperatures in some parts of the country have plunged to the lowest levels ever recorded.

Chilling temperatures however, have not stopped the media and politicians repeating their mantra about the dangers of man-made global warming and the urgent need for action. In fact, our government has just announced a stringent new target to reduce New Zealand’s production of human-induced greenhouse gases to 11 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2030. This will be presented in December to the 21st Conference of Parties for signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris.

According to the Climate Change Issues Minister, Tim Groser, New Zealand produced 400 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per unit of GDP in 2013, of which 48.4 percent came from agriculture and 21.9 percent from transport. Since 80 percent of our electricity is generated from renewable sources, and almost half of all emissions come from livestock – there are few opportunities for New Zealand to substantially reduce emissions. However, by spending almost $100 million on research to reduce livestock emissions, the government is hoping for a breakthrough by 2030, which, if combined with an expected increase in the use of electric cars, will enable the country to meet our target.

But the question that really needs to be asked is whether it is prudent for our government to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on policies based on a theory, since man-made global warming is still unproven.

As New Zealander Dr Michael Kelly, Professor of Technology at Cambridge University and a Fellow of the Royal Society, recently wrote in a British newspaper, “Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise, but since 1998 there has been no statistically significant rise in global temperatures at all.”

In 2009, Professor Ian Plimer, a geologist at the University of Adelaide, outlined some facts: “This century temperature has been decreasing, yet CO2 has been increasing. Over the last 150 years, temperature has increased (1860-1880, 1910-1940, 1976-1998) and decreased (1880-1910, 1940-1976, and 2002 to the present), yet CO2 has been increasing. If CO2 has been increasing, how can CO2-driven warming have driven cooling? Over historical times, there were the Minoan, Roman, and Medieval warmings, when temperature was a few degrees higher than at present. Sea level did not change. Over archaeological time, ice cores show that temperature peaks some 800 years before CO2 peaks, hence CO2 could not have driven temperature rise.

“In geological time, there have been six major ice ages. During five of these six, the CO2 content of the atmosphere was higher than now, and for two of these six, the CO2 content has been up to 1,000 times higher than now. If high atmospheric CO2 drives warming, then how could there be an ice age during times of high CO2?”

Dr Matt Ridley, a Member of the British House of Lords and former Science Editor for the Economist, believes it is now time to question the theory: “the length of the pause is now past the point where many scientists said it would disprove the hypothesis of rapid man-made warming. Dr Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said in 2009: ‘Bottom line: the no upward trend has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.’ It now has.”

While recorded data is clearly at odds with man-made global warming modelling, the mainstream media has been reticent to challenge the theory. However, news outlets around the world, including New Zealand, recently reported on a new study from the University of Northumbria in England, which contradicts global warming by predicting that in 15 years time, the earth will enter a “mini ice age”.

As Professor Valentina Zharkova explained, solar researchers have found that two waves of fluid movements within the sun are expected to converge and effectively cancel each other out, causing dramatic temperature falls in the 2030s. They say their estimate of a 60 percent reduction in solar activity has an accuracy of 97 per cent, and will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’ – a period of extremely low sunspot activity that led to the freezing conditions of the Little Ice Age between 1645 and 1715, when England’s River Thames froze over and frost fairs were held.

So, while global warming advocates like to tell us that the science of climate change is settled, it’s clearly not. Our understanding of the earth and the climate is improving all the time – as the mini ice age prediction shows. In fact, just last month a new report was released that explained that what is threatening the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is geothermal heating from within the earth’s core, rather than human-induced global warming.

The reality is that a huge multi-billion dollar industry has now been built up around the theory of man made global warming, and it is understandable that those benefiting will not waiver from their faith. But what is inexcusable is the behaviour of politicians, who prefer to swim with the tide rather than challenging the theoretical assumptions upon which their decisions are based. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars is being wasted on public policy responses that are not only totally inappropriate, but are causing gross disruption to the economy and people’s lives.

A case in point is the use of extremist projections of global warming sea level rise by local authorities: “The Ministry for the Environment recommends planning for future sea-level rise of at least 0.5m, along with consideration of the consequences of a mean sea-level rise of at least 0.8m (relative to the 1980–1999 average) by the 2090s”. When the Kapiti District Council ignored local data showing a long-accreting shoreline to follow that advice and put coastal erosion risk profiles onto Land Information Memorandum reports, property owners challenged the Council in court and had them removed.

Now, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is about to make the situation worse by hiring NIWA to draw up coastal hazard lines for the whole country – based on the UN’s exaggerated claims of rampant sea level rise. If their report, which is expected to be available later this year, is used by the government to determine coastal policy, widespread controversy will result.

The former Director-General of the DSIR, Dr David Kear, warned about the folly of forcing local authorities to prepare for this “nonexistent threat”, in a report for the NZCPR last year. He explained that “many regions have vast quantities of sand transported by rivers to their coast, released by the erosion of hills and mountains. Their coastlines extend seawards steadily. Citizens in such regions have long noted that the coastline has a net seawards movement. It contrasts with many councils belief in landwards movement or ‘inundation’.”

Dr Kear quoted an example from Ohope Beach, where a council-appointed Commission of Enquiry backed the council’s view of landwards inundation, rejecting a report from its own consultants which showed that based on every coastal survey for which records were available, the sea had retreated by 0.30-0.94m/yr over 130 years – and was still retreating.

Just as the Ministry for the Environment’s flawed coastal hazard guidelines have impacted negatively on property owners – who face a loss of property values, increasing insurance premiums, and higher building costs – so too have the Ministry’s faulty air quality regulations, which have been used to ban open fires and wood burners from New Zealand homes.

In 2004, at the behest of the Labour Government, the Ministry for the Environment introduced air quality regulations based on the United Nations World Health Organisation’s computer models, rather than using New Zealand health and hospital data.

The ambient air quality standards set maximum levels for the amount of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and ozone in the air. Guidelines were also provided for fine particulate matter of less than 10 microns in size (PM10), that is generated by natural sources, as well as household fires, motor vehicles, outdoor burning, and industry.

The Updated Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand study, sponsored by the Ministry for the Environment, claimed that PM10 exposure killed thousands of New Zealanders a year: “More than 2,300 New Zealanders are estimated to die prematurely each year due to exposure to PM10 pollution”. The study stated that of the reported 2,315 premature deaths a year from exposure to PM10, household fires were responsible for 655 deaths, motor vehicles for 256 deaths, outdoor burning for 140 deaths, industry for 123 deaths, with the remaining 1,141 deaths due to natural particulates, primarily sea spray and windblown dust! This absurd claim reinforces the danger of using overseas computer modelling as a basis for domestic public policy.

Claims that hundreds of premature deaths a year are caused by inhaling smoke from fireplaces and woodburners, has been used by councils to enforce bans in many parts of the country. But the claims are based on the Ministry’s faulty data.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Christchurch-based Pat Palmer from the Association for Independent Researchers, has been challenging the legitimacy of these claims for years:

“In Christchurch, over the past 15 or so years, by putting out log burners, the Canterbury Regional Council has reduced the concentrations of PM10 in the air from about 30 to less than 20.  Calculating in the same way as the Ministry for the Environment, Canterbury Regional Council science advisers claimed that this has resulted in about 65 fewer deaths each year, a reduction of about 20%. The official statistics show however, that the deaths from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease have not decreased. They have remained stubbornly the same. Putting out log-burners has not improved our health.

“This has been a very expensive experiment for Canterbury people, probably costing us, upwards of half a billion dollars. It has denied us, and is still denying us, the comfort of sitting by our own home fire and being economically warmed.”

No doubt as a result of the sterling efforts of Pat Palmer and his colleagues, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has now admitted that short term exposure to PM10 – the basis for the ban on fires and woodburners – is not harmful to public health; it is the smaller PM2.5 particles that are more problematic. But while the suggestion has been made that the restriction on the use of fires and woodburners should be lifted, to date there has been no action from the government.

Poorly designed regulations based on junk science, are a real problem in New Zealand. For a government that campaigned on reducing bureaucratic red tape and ill-advised regulation, National has made little progress. In fact, they appear to be as negligent as the former Labour government – which found it easier to be seen to be dealing with a problem by making a new law, rather than trying to establish whether a real problem exists at all.

The least National could do is to urgently lift the ban on fireplaces and woodburners, so that families living in areas caught up by these faulty regulations can at least afford to keep themselves warm in winter. Not only that, but they should also reject the notion that the science behind global warming has been settled, putting on hold all laws and regulations based on this vexed area of public policy, until the matter is properly resolved.

THIS WEEK’S POLL ASKS:

Do you believe it’s time the government questioned the science behind the theory of man-made global warming?  

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