Lukewarming – A Consensus on Global Warming?

I have blogged on global warming in Jan 2016 and continue to follow the subject with interest. So I was very interested to hear what Viscount Ridley had top say in his lecture to The Royal Society on 17th October. The full text is here, and I strongly encourage you to real all of it.

The central thesis of his talk is that Global Warming can be real but not dangerous, saying:

Suppose they do indeed experience carbon dioxide levels of 600 parts per million or more, but do not experience dangerous global warming, or more extreme weather, just a mild and decelerating increase in global average temperatures, especially at high latitudes, at night and in winter, accompanied by spectacular global greening and less water stress for both people and crops.

He does not even mention “the pause” in global warming – no increase in global temperatures from 1998 to 2016. Instead he says:

I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is.

I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is.

I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is.

I am not saying the climate does not change; it does.

I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is.

And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950.

The implications for energy policy are huge.

Also, I was delighted to find a piece of relevant science that was completely new to me. CO2 is proposed to have a direct effect and an indirect effect in raising global temperatures. Matt Ridley accepts the former and reject the latter. There is supposed to be threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes. However, NASA’s CERES data shows that there is a strong and significant, negative correlation: that higher temperatures lead to more cloud cooling.

There is so much more in this article, and I hope you will take the time to read it.

New Zealand Rugby – Crisis?

The BBC has today posted an article asking if New Zealand Rugby is in crisis? The BBC asserts that “these are dark times for New Zealand’s national sport, that has become mired in scandal”. This will be news to rugby fans in New Zealand, which is to say most of the nation.

The immediate spur for this article is presumably the recent release of video footage showing the starting All Black scrum half, Aaron Smith, entering a toilet cubicle with a woman who was not his partner.

They back this up by citing three other possible indiscretions:

  1. Members of a Super Rugby club, The Chiefs, were accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a club function.
  2. A teenager with the Wellington Lions was accused of assaulting four people.
  3. A former All Black, Dan Carter, is accused of failing a drugs test.

In none of these three cases has anyone been found guilty. The first two are history now, and Dan Carter denies the charge and will defend himself at a forthcoming hearing.

The BBC went on to say that it ” has asked New Zealand Rugby (NZR) how it maintains discipline and ensures that players remain role models”, noting sniffily that “NZR has yet to fully respond to our inquiry”. I very much doubt if NZR have any intention of indulging journalism as desperate as this.

Maybe there will be lots more of this leading up to The British & Irish Lions tour here next year, and through to the next World Cup. Because, just now, there is no sign of anything on the field of play that is going to upset this imperious All Blacks squad.

Or, maybe it was just a [very] slow news day in the UK.


Local Elections – Results

The results of the local elections here in New Zealand are in, and . . . Not much really. I asked a few people at a barbecue last night and they were unanimously uninterested. One thing they did share with me was that directly electing members of the Health Board was a nonsense. Over such a huge area, and with candidates running without party labels, voters have virtually no information to inform their vote.

Scanning the demographics of the mayoral election results did surprise me. Out of 67 Mayors, district council Chief Executives, elected there were:

48 White male.

13 White female.

3 Result not yet in.

3 Other.

Judging from the names and mug shots the three other were, all male, and; 1 Indian, 1 Chinese, 1 Maori.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe the non-white population have more sense than to spend their time in local politics?

Oh, and there is a consensus on the main challenge facing these mayors, which will be familiar to UK electors. It is . . . the availability of affordable housing.

Local Elections in New Zealand

We have local elections coming up here and there are some striking differences from the UK, as well as similarities. There are actually three elections in this region; for Tasman District Council mayor,  Tasman District Council councillors, and for the Local District Health Board members.

The main differences:

  • The geography is enormous.
  • Voting is [almost] entirely by post.
  • Clearer understanding of council/board responsibilities.
  • Candidates run as individuals, not under any party banner.

And the similarities:

  • Mayor (Council Leader) is a full time post. Others part time.
  • Similar ratio of applicants to posts.
  • Limited knowledge of candidates amongst voters.

The geography is striking by UK standards. For comparison Tendring District Council (Clacton, Frinton and surrounds) covers 340 square kilometres and 140,000 people. Tasman District covers 10,000 square kilometres and 47,000 people. The Health Board, including three districts, covers 227,000 square kilometres and 145,000 people. Those zeros on the square kilometre figures here are not typos. The Health Board area here really does cover about the same number of people as Tendring District Council, but over an area nearly 1,000 times as large, or twice the size of Wales.

Possibly as a result of the geography voting is entirely by post. Papers were received in this household a week ago and the voting closes in a fortnight. You can vote in person, up to the closing date, but this is primarily for people who do not get their postal voting papers for some reason. There are concerns here, as in the UK, about fraudulent perversion of postal votes, though the long term solution here is seen as electronic voting. “Real Me”, a single point of eContact with NZ government already exists.

The relatively simple governance structure, in Tasman District, of [just] local council and central government makes it relatively clear what the responsibilities are. There is a Motueka town council, but its powers are minimal. The Health Board covers; hospitals, primary care and pharmacy. The District Council covers; planning and recreational facilities as well as water, sewage and roads. Schools are run nationally. That has to be better than the dogs breakfast of; European [currently], national, county, district, mayoral layers of government, plus the confusion between hospitals and local government of care of the elderly, plus the [increasing] range of different schools (Grammar, free, academy, faith, comprehensive . . .). I think it is fair to say that the electorate here are much clearer than in the UK, over what the people they elect are going to be responsible for. In most other parts of New Zealand there is Regional Council above the District.

The numbers of candidates / positions for each election are:

  • Tasman Mayor – 3 candidates for one position.
  • Tasman Councillors – 5 candidates for the three Motueka seats on Tasman District Council.
  • Health Board – 15 candidates for 7 positions.

This compares with the six candidates for two positions in the ward when I was elected as a local councillor in Clacton. There are similar rumblings here about the quality of some candidates, but it seems than in NZ as in the UK there is an adequate supply of adequate candidates for the system to work effectively. That may be helped in NZ by Councillors receiving NZ$38,000 pa (c £20,000 pa), compared to £5,000 in the UK. Each  district decides its own voting format, which means here that the Health Board uses Single Transferable Vote (STV) and the Council (Mayor and Councillors) uses First Past The Post.

And then we come to some familiar problems. The candidates a simply not well known. Voters do get an official list of candidates, including a short statement from each. And they run as individuals. No party affiliation to guide the voter here. Despite this turnout for local elections here is around 50%, compared to 35%-40% in the UK (for elections not coinciding with a national election).

The lack of knowledge seems to arise from a lack of media coverage of how these locally elected politicians are performing, which is strikingly similar to the UK. And, by and large, that reflects the general lack on interest amongst residents. Some issues raise the political pulse; TPIP, mineral extraction in national parks, but not many. Clearly it is that much easier in the internet age to do some research into the different candidates; though inevitably people do ask people they know, who they regard as more informed. That is not necessarily a bad thing as at least their vote is “informed”, when some votes in the UK might be criticised for being cast after consulting little more than their prejudices. The turnout does seem to indicate that more voters feel able and interested to vote than in the UK.

Is there anything the UK might learn from Tasman Council, about local elections. Maybe that clarity over responsibilities does facilitate effective democracy.


Racial Tolerance

Dame Susan Devoy recently launched a campaign to encourage New Zealander’s to identify and talk about racist incidents in New Zealand, as a way of ensuring that New Zealand remains a beacon of racial tolerance. You can read her open letter here.

As an incomer to New Zealand the lack of any racial tension is certainly something that you notice. The two main racial types are European and Maori, and the country is genuinely bi-cultural. There is an ongoing process of restitution to Maori communities over breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) by European, essentially British, settlers. Elsewhere in the world I am sure such a process would be controversial. In New Zealand it commands, as far as I am aware, universal support.

The letter does not mention “migrants” or “immigration”. However, the press conference to launch the campaign seems to have developed a life of its own. I cannot find a verbatim transcript or video of the event, but many newspapers report that Dame Susan said, amongst other things, the New Zealand “must not become as racist as Australia”! She also aid that “she did not want migrants being blamed for every issue and problem”. Maybe these outrageous comments are simply designed to raise the profile of the campaign launch.

However, it would be very sad if Dame Susan really was confusing concerns over immigration with racism. Clearly immigrants will sometimes come from a different racial type. However, if UK residents object to immigration, that relates to pressure on low-skilled jobs, education, healthcare, housing and social services; with no distinction as to whether the migrant is Nordic, Germanic, Latin, Slavic or indeed Eskimo.

I cannot help but feel it is rather sad that New Zealand should achieve global visibility over a program to combat racism, when race relations in New Zealand must be amongst the best in the world. I would also point out that Dame Susan is NOT an official of the New Zealand Government. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission, that Dame Susan sits on is an “Independent Crown Entity”.

New Zealand is indeed a wonderfully tolerant place and that is something that New Zealanders quietly get on with making a reality, with or without a news conference to launch a[nother] campaign.

Funding Conservation

This post is not just another plug for the wonder that is New Zealand. It is a suggestion about how we, in the UK, might make a greater contribution to funding conservation worldwide. What if the 0.7% of GDP that is currently a protected budget within UK government spending, was to be spent entirely on conservation?

I have just watched the third of the recent BBC series on the natural world of New Zealand.  The series may look, to anyone who has not been there, as though it should have been part funded by the New Zealand Tourist board. However, trust me, it really is that wonderful.

The genetic diversity of this planet is a precious treasure trove. The human race is morally its guardian, to preserve and enhance; not its owner, to plunder and degrade. Also, on a more prosaic, self-serving level, the genetic diversity of the planet is a gold mine of potential benefits for the human race. Think of the foods and medicines that have been developed from nature, and we have barely begun to explore the possible benefits. If you throw a 1M quadrant on the tropical forest floor, only some 1% of the species you find are already known to man. Of course the other 99% are not large, fluffy, endearing mammals. They tend to be plants, insects, worms, fungi and microbes – and we know absolutely nothing about them.

To preserve genetic diversity, and discover what those genes can actually do, requires the conservation of species, which requires the conservation of habitat. Large areas of habitat!

Developed nations have substantially degraded the natural habitat that they govern, so the most valuable habitats tend to be governed by poorer nations. And there are the oceans and poles not governed by any specific nation. Two particular problems arise with expecting poorer nations to bear the cost of the conservation effort that is required.

1 – There is no moral or intellectually coherent case to be made for denying less developed countries the habitat degrading path to development that was followed by developed nations.

2 – The wealth required for the scale of conservation effort required is [obviously] in wealthier countries rather than poorer countries.

The protection of the overseas development budget by the UK government is widely resented by UK tax payers. My suggestion here is that not only would spending 0.7% of UK GDP on conservation be a wonderful thing for the planet and future generations, but also that it could be politically popular. I for one would welcome this expenditure on conservation of habitat, species, and genetic diversity.

The NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) performs heroically, as the BBC program highlighted in the case of the Kakapo, but it is facing budget cuts as New Zealand struggles to find the funds that it considers necessary. New Zealand is indeed poorer than the UK, and “Yes” I would have some of this money going to projects in New Zealand. But also to projects in India, Africa, South America and the Pacific.

If we are going to ring fence the UK overseas development budget, surely this is how it should be spent.


Educating Immigrants

I have just spent ten days in Germany and was very struck by the approach to immigrants. I found no interest in assessing whether Angela Merkel was right to take in so many immigrants in the last year. There is more than just interest in the integration of immigrants, there is genuine enthusiasm.

An infant teacher that I spoke to has finished the four year cycle with her class and has just received the list of names for the class she will have for the next four years. Of the 26 names, just 9 are recognisably German. Clearly names are not an infallible guide to cultural identity. To give just two examples; Mesut Özil is thoroughly German and Shoala Ameobia is Geordie through and through. However, whether the 17 non-German names, actually predominantly Muslim names, are German, Muslim or Eskimo is not the point. The point is that this teacher believes she is getting a class loaded with Muslim immigrants. And she is delighted!

She will not just be cranking the handle one more time – doing what she has done many times before. Here is a chance for her to use her skills to really benefit children who are at a particularly difficult time in their lives.

Also, she points out that it is wrong to place too much emphasis on the fact that immigrants often do not have a fluent grasp of their new host language. She is expecting that many of her new class will be struggling with their German. However, they will also be struggling with a fluent grasp of their native language. They have not been in school, possibly ever, and they have been outside their native country, possibly for years. She makes the point that not having a fluent grasp of any language undermines a child’s confidence. Educating these children presents many complex challenges – what a great opportunity!

Implementing Brexit

Clearly there is a “do nothing” option when it comes to a trade deal with the EU. WTO rules would apply, which has hardly restrained China, USA, India, Brazil and many, many others from trading with the EU from outside the single market.

NOTE:- The Single Market is NOT free trade, it is the very opposite.

However, there is almost certainly a win-win for the EU and the UK if a deal can be struck. And it is good to see that New Zealand has offered to help. They have experienced trade negotiators that the UK no longer has and they have offered their services.

There are those in the EU who have stated publically that “there must be consequences” to the UK for Brexit. They wish us ill, which is in stark contrast to so many around the world outside the EU. In 1982, New Zealand lent us a frigate during the Falklands war. We had no such support from Europe: France supplied Exocets to Argentina, and Belgium refused to sell us ammunition.

With Korea, New Zealand, Australia and the USA (excluding Barak Obama) all expressing interest in arranging trade deals with the UK, than goodness we are unshackling ourselves from the EU.

EU Referendum Result

So, there we have it. Against all expectations the UK has voted to leave the EU, and you will all have your views on that.

I am in the UK just now, and indeed voted “Leave”, but I have had feedback from European emigrants to New Zealand, especially German emigrants. They are not just surprised, they are upset.

There are among many who feel that for all its faults, the EU is an excellent forum for international cooperation. The challenge for the UK political leadership, extending beyond any next general election, is to show that cooperation can be enhanced by Brexit. I, for one, did not vote to leave Great Britain to live in Little Britain.

Misunderstanding Brexit

The poll last weekend, showing Leave ahead convincingly, has roused some interest over here. However, it is all rather bemused. All along the lines of “what is it that the British don’t get, about all the riches that flow from EU membership?”

The best instance I can give of this kind of thinking actually comes from an article in Der Spiegel about EU payments to projects in Cornwall. The article states [correctly] that “money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has been flowing into Cornwall for more than 20 years”. However, it goes on, with a sense of complete bewilderment; “But it hasn’t done the EU much good. According to opinion polls, even in the Cornwall subsidy paradise a majority will vote on June 23 in favor of leaving the EU”.

The author is not completely daft. He does acknowledge that; “The sum was anyway transferred to Brussels in the form of membership contributions. “It’s our money,” is the conclusion.” He even notes that; “When auditors recently examined the grant money flowing into the region, they arrived at a disappointing conclusion: The program has fallen short of all of its benchmarks.” Then he completely ignores these striking nuggets.

He even concludes that “In Newlyn many fishermen are likely to follow their hearts on June 23. But some might also follow their noses.” By “noses” he means money, implying that EU payments may sway their vote. Fishermen! Has he no understanding at all. Fishermen of all people. Fishermen, whose livelihood has been devastated by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

I probably do not need to tell you that the UK pays more into the EU than it receives back. So, post Brexit, the UK government could continue ALL EU payments, and still have £350million a week (or whatever is your chosen number) left over.

The debate in the UK finally seems to understand that there is nothing to fear about “Project Fear”. That emperor has no clothes. Outside the UK, the debate about Brexit still has a very retro, 1970’s feel to it.