Thursday, November 20, 2008

Change don't mean progress

Ditch fruitcake views on climate change
4:00AM Wednesday Nov 19, 2008 (NZ Herald)
By Brian Rudman

For those speculating on whether Act leader Rodney Hide will be adding tanning studio sessions to his return of election expenses, I can suggest a possible explanation.

He wants to hide the blushes when Winston Peters unearths the small print in Act's marriage contract with National.

Having mercilessly mocked the New Zealand First leader's quest for the "baubles of office" when he was on the outside looking enviously in, Mr Hide has been indecently quick to get his snout into the public trough now he's replaced Mr Peters in the Beehive.

As part of the coalition deal, National has agreed that: "To enable Act to make a substantive contribution to the Government's programme, it will have adequate access to funding, in a bulk form or for specific projects, to enable it to commission contract research or other consultancy assistance."

Talk about jobs for your consultant mates courtesy of the all-suffering taxpayer, and at a time when he's banging on about wasted expenditure in the public sector. But there's more.

Act has also scored a seat on the exclusive Cabinet committee on honours and appointments, the body that hands out whatever it is these days that passes for knighthoods and all the other lesser gongs. This committee also fills the boards of SOEs and many other government bodies with people of like mind. Not a bad haul for a party that got just 3.7 per cent of the party vote.

Obviously new Prime Minister John Key felt he had to toss these trinkets to Act to ensure its support in propping up his Government.

Of more concern is his indulging Mr Hide in his fruitcake views on global warming. As part of the deal, Mr Key has agreed to a climate change select committee.

Attached as first appendix to the coalition agreement is Act's terms of reference, top of which is a requirement that the scientific case be relitigated.

It reads: "The committee shall hear competing views on the scientific aspects of climate change from internationally respected sources and assess the quality and impartiality of official advice."

The small print of the coalition agreement says these "terms of reference" are "an initial basis for discussion", but the fact that Prime Minister Key is happy to give official credence to this nuttiness risks making New Zealand, and him, a laughing stock.

He must know there's more chance of finding an internationally respected flat-earther, or apostle of intelligent design, or even a Holocaust denier than there is of finding a peer-reviewed case against human-assisted global warming.

That Mr Hide has chosen a jury of politicians speaks volumes. With the science against him, it's the only sort of tribunal where the sceptics would have a chance.

In May 2005, Mr Key stood up in Parliament and said "even if one believes in global warming - and I'm somewhat suspicious of it ... " But by November 2006 he'd caught up with the modern world, declaring, "I firmly believe in climate change and always have."

By May last year, it was "the biggest environmental challenge of our time ... the scientific consensus is clear: human-induced climate change is real and it's threatening the planet."

Mr Key said the National Party "will ensure that New Zealand acts decisively to confront this challenge".

On September 7 this year, he launched National's environment policy by declaring global warming "the most serious environmental challenge of our time" and pledging that under National "New Zealand, as a responsible international citizen, and as a country that values our clean, green environment, must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions".

While critical of Labour's methods of meeting Kyoto Protocol obligations to reduce New Zealand's emissions, National "is committed to honouring" our international commitments.

But now, a week after being elected on this policy, he's signing a document which has him taking seriously a call to put the whole issue on hold so Mr Hide can drag in so-called experts to relitigate the science.

Hide argues the earth has been warming almost continuously for 18,000 years and "the warming is not dangerous". To Act faithful in Christchurch in September he joked that "dragging New Zealand temperature-wise closer to Australia's would be a good thing".

He said, "A new New Zealand that was one or two degrees warmer would be a better place to live and better for agriculture".

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells a grimly different story, noting that 11 of the past 12 years to 2006 rank among the 12 warmest years since global recording began in 1850.

Global average sea level has risen since 1961 at an average rate of 1.8mm/yr and since 1993 at 3.1mm/yr.

"There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming." Increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the "very likely" culprit.

The British Government Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, published in March, was blunt.

"The scientific evidence is now overwhelming; climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent global response. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms."

The review warned that "our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes".

And these are the cautious, official pronouncements. Many scientists are much more apocalyptic. Alongside this overwhelming consensus, Mr Hide's flippant naysaying was easy to laugh off when he was a gang of one. But for Mr Key to now give these views credibility risks making New Zealand a laughing stock as well.

National campaigned on reviewing the way New Zealand meets our Kyoto treaty obligations to reduce our carbon footprint. That's fine. Act's global warming denial policy was not part of the deal. Mr Key should spell this out pronto.

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