Opinion – The Global Warming Equation

by Tony Orman

In the local body election in Marlborough climate change was a hot topic at candidate meetings. Probably it was elsewhere. I strongly suspect the world has a major problem, but in the much bigger picture of the total environment. The symptoms are there in sharply declining insect, freshwater fish and bird populations. Global warming due to human influence, is just part of the potential catastrophe.
Noticeable at Marlborough candidate meetings was the fervour with which people genuinely concerned with climate change, displayed when candidates replied. As happened with one mayoral candidate, when he opined that he was unsure, there were loud groans and calls of ‘denier.’ He really never had a chance to explain the reason for his doubts.
I’ll digress at this stage to hark back in time, not just the ‘blink of an eye’ of a human life but millions of years.
If ever it falls your lot to travel up Marlborough’s state highway to the West Coast, alongside the Wairau River, the almost imperceptible climb will be interrupted by a sharp hill and then descent to the Branch River bridge. That hill marks the morainic debris of a glacier that existed some eight million years ago.
When the Wairau glacier advanced to just downstream of the Branch River bridge, the climate must have cooled. When it retreated the climate warmed. The cooling and warming was just part of the normal dynamic cyclic nature of the earth’s climate.
Shift south to Central Otago and in particular the St Bathans area. Reading scientist George Gibbs’ comprehensive and fascinating book “Ghosts of Gondwana” (published 2016) the reader is confronted with the astonishing tale that about 15 to 20 million years ago, there was a large freshwater lake ecosystem that by evidence of fossils, had crocodiles, turtles, eucalyptus trees and other warm species. “Their presence is indicative of a sub-tropical dry climate,” wrote George Gibbs.
The climate must have warmed to allow sub-tropical species to not only exist but thrive. Then it cooled to its present day climate of cold winters and hot summers – again proof of the dynamics of climate change.
Therein lies the big flaw in the raging opposing extremes of today’s global warming debate. Natural, dynamic climate change tends to be ignored.
To revert to basic mathematics, the equation is represented by Natural Climate Change plus or minus Human Induced Climate Change equals the  Actual Climate Change.
In the frantic debate that currently ensues the factor of “natural climate change” is mostly missing. Even scientists disagree on the human factor. For politicians it’s a populous bandwagon to hitch a ride on to popularity and power. Even the proverbial butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker, even scientists, cannot agree on global warming. And when “the tumult and the shouting dies and the Captains and the Kings depart” there remains one rarely debated factor – people. 
Indeed, politicians and bureaucrats blame animals both farmed and even wild. In 2007 the Department of Conservation’s director-general Al Morrison bizarrely blamed wild deer for farting and belching.  They need to be exterminated he ranted.
Animals are an easy target. They cannot argue back in defence, but people can. The reason? Deer and cows do not vote but people do. Yet ironically it is people that are the cause of the problem – or more particularly numbers of people. 
People fart and belch just like cows and deer. Furthermore people drive cars which belch emissions and fly regularly on jet planes that fart “gases and particles  — which contribute to climate change.” Humans demand resources, flush toilets, use chemicals and throw away garbage. Deer, sheep and cattle don’t.
The more people the greater demand for resources, more cars and planes, more sewers, more rubbish and more emissions.
Climate change through ice ages and warm periods, has always been.
But true extent of a climate change crisis is not in the natural dynamics but in that induced by people as outlined in the simple equation.  That’s what we need to calmly and rationally assess.
Controversial author Paul Erlich warned about the people problem in his 1968 book “The Population Bomb”  And in New Zealand about the same time – almost 50 years ago – a few enlightened environmentalists  such as “Save Manapouri” conservationist and New Zealand Deerstalkers Association president John B Henderson publicly warned about the folly of “further proliferating the hordes of humanity.”
True the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) briefly acknowledged that “Globally, economic and population growth continued to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.”  But it was a brief and rare comment and went unnoticed. 
But in New Zealand, politicians’ emissions of hot air reach hyperbolic heights. Decades of politicians have blithely boasted of GDP and population growth rates seeming oblivious and unconcerned New Zealand’s population is now nudging five million.
Five million is significant for John B Henderson 50 years ago said “it is high time New Zealanders set themselves an upper limit — I have no hesitation in tabling my own estimate – it is 5 million people.”
New Zealand is on the verge of 5 million now.
But New Zealand still has no population policy. Government pursues GDP growth with a maniacal passion and no control. Serious regional imbalances exist, most graphically illustrated by Auckland busting at the seams, demanding more taxpayers’ money for roading and motorways, upgrading of sewers and stormwaters etc., and sprawling outwards over fertile soils. Tauranga, once an attractive modest city, is in danger of becoming a clone of the Auckland conurbation as its urban sprawl in cancerous fashion engulfs productive farmland.
Hypocritically New Zealand exports coal for other countries to burn and add to the human contribution to global warming. Coal production in 2015 was 3.4 million kilotonnes, almost half of which was exported. The biggest markets for New Zealand coal are Japan, India, China and Australia. 
Numerous newspaper travel articles urge the public to travel overseas by air, yet jet planes are strangely exempt from carbon emissions calculations. Politicians fly at will around the world. And New Zealand internally builds more and more highways for more and more cars to make more and more emissions while ignoring long term, public transport needs.
Meanwhile politicians blame farmers’ stock.
Bizarrely the government’s ETS ignores the carbon sequestering of pasture and indeed any trees or shrubs under 5 metres tall. Yet many native plants are even at maturity, under 5 metres in height.
People remain the growing problem and the greatest cause of emissions.
But the sharp reality is more people and more consumers equal more resource  demand, force more costly infrastructure demand and make more emissions. More and more emissions.
The planet cannot tolerate infinite growth in numbers of people. That is the crux of global warming and environmental problems within individual countries. Human population increase is the crisis.
Footnote: Tony Orman is a former town and country planner and author of outdoors related books.

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