Analysis: Rodney Hide is wrong on climate change

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Last week I made a comment in response to a Rodney Hide opinion piece in the NBR (Global warming myth offers cold comfort). This week his opinion piece responds (Crying wolf) responds to that comment.

It’s pointless to argue with climate change deniers, but let’s rebut some of the more obvious points. Rodney Hide is stating three things – that models don’t work, that the warming since 1998 is low or even getting cooler, and that we are making future generations poorer by reacting to the climate crises.

Is it fair to call out Rodney Hide as a climate change denier? He is certainly using “the rhetorical form of legitimate scientific debate, while not adhering to the actual principles of that debate”, (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_denial), but why is he doing so? Digging into it on NBR Radio is appears that he views this at least partially through the lens of tax and government spending. He has a consistent record on being anti-tax during his time in parliament, and yet it this very short term thinking malicious? Who knows. I’m sure he won’t enjoy that Barack Obama is unafraid calling deniers what they are though (see: www.barackobama.com/climate-change-deniers/#/)

There are information sources set up for communicating with people like Rodney Hide  a quick search away, including “How to talk to a global warming skeptic” (see grist.org/series/skeptics and https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php)

Here’s the first has to say about Rodney Hide’s first point, that the temperate rise is flat from 1998 (grist.org/climate-energy/global-warming-stopped-in-1998/)

Objection: Global temperatures have been trending down since 1998. Global warming is over.

Answer: At the time, 1998 was a record high year in both the CRU and the NASA GISS analyses. In fact, it blew away the previous record by .2 degrees C. (That previous record went all the way back to 1997, by the way!)

According to NASA, it was elevated far above the trend line because 1998 was the year of the strongest El Nino of the century. Choosing that year as a starting point is a classic cherry pick and demonstrates why it is necessary to remove chaotic year-to year-variability (aka: weather) by smoothing out the data. Looking at CRU’s graph below, you can see the result of that smoothing in black.

The image is well worth looking at: grist.files.wordpress.com/2006/10/cru_2005.gif

It shows an obvious curve  trending upwards, a super spike in 1998, and then the resumption of the curve. And last year was the warmest on record.

Next he argues that the models don’t work. They do, and they reflect continuingly evolving theory and facts based on measurement and research by tens of thousands of scientists. I would draw an analogy to the models that we use to forecast business results – they are pretty close to fiction when a business is founded, but get increasingly accurate as the years go by. Scientists are finding more and more data for create longer and more complete time series of information, and also developing deeper understanding of how the climate mechanisms work. The most recent large piece of work is the behaviour of the oceans, and Otago University's Gary Wilson a key ocean expert.

But while it might seem obvious to the rest of us that the models work, for completeness here are two articles – the first was written back in 2006, nine years ago (grist.org/climate-energy/climate-models-are-unproven/) and the second, Skeptical Science’s article, is more up to date and just as compelling: www.skepticalscience.com/climate-models.htm.

Finally let’s turn to cost the cost of combating climate change. Rodney Hide does not want to spend money, but it’s pretty easy to see that if we don’t invest now in combating and mitigating change, then we will be passing an ever-increasing burden on to the future. We advise people to start saving early for retirement because of the compounding effect of interest, and it’s the same with action on climate change – as CO2 emissions increase the job we all have to combat the crises gets harder and harder.

So we should also start work now. But the best approach, a multilaterally applied carbon tax, is also very hard to get through politically.

It’s easy to see that a carbon tax would increase costs for some industries, and that some of that cost would be passed through to consumers. But a carbon tax will not just correctly price the cost to society of emissions, but also provide the right incentives to companies to reduce those emissions. Reducing emissions almost always reduces other costs, because it’s a sign of increased efficiency, even in cows (which is to do with their digestion process in the rumen).

A carbon tax will also help accelerate viable alternatives to Rodney Hide’s beloved internal combustion engine and to fossil fuel power generation. While I like a good motor as much as anyone (boxer twins and huge diesels are my favorites), and believe that a lot of problems can be solved with more horsepower, it’s increasingly clear that electric vehicles are the future for most people. In the USA the Tesla cars are faster and better than most of their IC alternatives, and with time electric cars will get even faster, cheaper, longer range, and sell in huge volumes from all car makers.

Meanwhile power generation at the home and work, using solar mainly, is just now cheap enough to justify for many locations, and will be clearly cheaper for everyone over the next few years. Combine solar power with batteries at the home and the overall need for grid supplied power drops a lot, perhaps to or beyond zero. With this future in mind, the need for oil will fall, making one pause before investing in exploration in expensive and sensitive areas.

All this change is accelerated by a carbon tax, and the end game is that not much carbon tax is paid.

A carbon tax gives government the ability to juggle other taxes and benefits, ideally delivering a combination of reduced income and business taxes so that the net effect is neutral on almost all business. Surely Rodney Hide can agree that’s a good outcome.

The climate damage is done, and we also need to invest to make sure that we are ready for the impacts of climate change - the greater chances of large storms, sea rise, and the increased potential for droughts. New Zealand won’t fare too badly, the models predict (now would be a good time to choose to believe them), but we are heavily dependent on the ocean and there are emerging issues there with temperature and acidity that are frightening. 

So what’s the worst that could happen if we work together to reduce carbon emissions? More business efficiency, lower emissions of the other nasty pollutants and power generation that is driven by free resources. That’s a future I’d like to live in. 

Punakaiki Fund co-founder Lance Wiggs blogs at LanceWiggs.com.

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