What have we done?

While we may argue the causes of the unpredictable and unseasonal weather patterns that the world has been experiencing over recent years, we are united in the obvious need to prepare for the floods and landslips that are occurring with greater frequency. Our previous Mayor’s vision that cycleways would resolve our climate challenges appears not to have worked.

So now we have this young, confident Mayor Hawkins elected with the high expectation that he would start putting in the sort of focus, energy and innovative thinking that he has been telling us we will need to protect our city from the encroaching ocean and the high risks of floods and slips. He was the Councillor who, in 2019, successfully proposed the motion to declare a state of emergency over the threat of rising seas and floods. A state of emergency requires immediate action to put up the defences to mitigate damage. 

So we all looked forward to his priority #1 project following his election as Mayor. Surprisingly it was not, as expected, some innovative weather-related strategy like investing in more leaf sweepers or coastal groynes, but rather a project to establish what was referred to as ‘The Octagon Experience‘. His most urgent and highest priority, was to make the Octagon a “vibrant and bustling hub” for residents and visitors.

The Octagon was, given our population, already a reasonably vibrant and bustling hub for residents and visitors so it was difficult to follow the rationale for this urgency. We already had a long established programme of special events in the Octagon over the summer, for which we already close off traffic to allow the crowds who attend the event to safely utilise the whole of the Octagon. The rest of the week it has been business as usual in the Octagon. As a balance of work/play it seemed to have been very successful. But the DCC strategy was announced to permanently remove traffic from the Octagon and surrounding streets for a two month trial period to make it even more vibrant and bustling. The DCC theory must be that it is the absence of traffic that draws the crowds to the Octagon rather than the event itself.

“That won’t work’ cried the commercial residents of the Octagon.

Trust us, they replied. We have consulted and so we are right. We will turn back the tide of the traffic with cones and thus pedestrians will come in their hundreds and thousands all days of the week to embrace what we have branded ‘The Octagon Experience’ and it will, thereby, permanently be a space of bustle and vibrancy.

I used to visit the Octagon regularly, but now a tribe of traffic cones keeps sending me away from the direction that I was trying to go and, being aware of the environmental impact of being stuck in traffic jams while slowly circling our central hub, I have given up.

But from a distance I could see bright lights changing colour in the Octagon and, knowing we had collectively spent a bit of money setting up this vibrant and bustling community space, I decided that I would make the effort and visit the Octagon to bustle with my community and our visitors.

So as lunchtime approached on a mid-summer’s Valentine’s day with the students flowing back into town and the DCC Cruise ship schedule telling me there were not one but two ships in town that day, the Pacific Princess and the Europa, I set off to circle the Octagon until I found a park within walking distance. My i-phone camera tells me my first photo was taken on Friday (14th Feb) at 11:33 am. Let the research begin:

This was my first welcome to the Octagon Experience. Well I have to say this didn’t look particularly welcoming. There was a security officer looking decidedly unwelcoming; almost challenging me to enter. A visitor might be forgiven for thinking this was just a construction site. And just in case any vehicles managed to sneak past the vigilant security guard on the first barriers, they have more cones to prevent anything on wheels getting into the inner sanctum.

My first ‘experience’ was of a couple of abandoned table tennis tables. Table tennis? Outdoors? What about the breeze? I don’t see anyone remotely interested in giving me a game.

Next I saw a pink table and chair set sitting, randomly, all alone in the middle of the road.  And what on earth is going on with those plain wooden troughs? They appear to need weeding and painting,

Ok so this is where all the bustle and vibrancy is supposed to be taking place. I note that I have now found another two pink tables from where to sit and  watch the seagulls bustling about. But I must have a different idea to our Mayor and his urban planning team of what a bustling and vibrant Octagon Experience looks like. My I Phone now tells me my last photo was taken on Friday at 11:38am. I have managed to fill in almost five minutes looking around and I have already seen all there is to see of the Octagon Experience. What I did not see, as promised, was any sign of bustle and vibrancy. Time to leave. 

I checked on the DCC website to see if there were any activities being organised that I should wait for; but no, nothing planned in the Octagon at all for today or any day this week, apart from the regular and pre-planned Thieves Alley and Pipe Band contest on this weekend. This will have the area bustling and vibrant on Saturday, but that has been happening for years. But, for today, not even a morris dancer.

The point of the Mayor’s initiative in a total traffic ban seven days a week was that the Octagon would be bustling and vibrant seven days a week. And to that end, what I saw is all we get. A couple of useless table tennis tables, a couple of randomly placed pink bits of cheap patio furniture, a few bean bags up on the top grass and a row of very underwhelming wooden garden troughs with an equally underwhelming selection of shrubbery planted in them. 

Can you imagine having visitors from overseas staying with you and asking to visit this “Octagon Experience”  so that they can embrace the ‘vibrant and bustling hub of Dunedin?’ You would just have to explain it away as being closed for repairs. 

So that is it, Octagon and all the businesses therein; I may see you again in the winter when this Octagon Experience is finished. Unless of course the trial is declared a  ‘great success’ and made permanent.

But meanwhile, what about the Mayor’s ‘state of emergency’ regarding rising risk of floods and land slips?

An ODT article (Dec 23 2019) regarding the Government Productivity Commission’s 2019 report on climate change adaptation stated that some areas, including South Dunedin were already experiencing the effects of climate change and warned that over time some existing communities will ultimately become unviable. When communities become unviable, a managed retreat of people and infrastructure will be necessary.’

That should set off all sorts of alarm bells in the minds of Dunedin citizens. But Mayor Hawkins did not seem at all alarmed. After all he was in Council when previous Mayor Cull had expressed the same ‘abandon south Dunedin’ sentiment a few years ago (but they still built a multi million dollar cycleway through it). When asked by the ODT to comment on the issue Mayor Hawkins is reported as replying that there was no doubt councils faced significant financial challenges from climate change adaptation and were ill-equipped to handle them alone. “There’s no question in my mind that central government do need to be far more involved in this, in the same way they are dealing with earthquakes,” 

From that I conclude that he is quite prepared to do nothing until disaster happens and then just wait for Central Government to arrange the managed retreat of people and infrastructure “in the same way they are dealing with earthquakes”. Perhaps he sees his only job only as one of  arranging the traffic cones to divert us away from the disaster zones. 

Then Mayor Hawkins went on his Christmas holiday leaving us to enjoy our pink patio furniture and table tennis tables while his urban planning team put the final designs together for extending the Octagon Experience right through George Street in a $60+ million project. The pink patio furniture maker will be so pleased. What have we done?  

Footnote: Just to check again that my last visit was not an unfair assessment, before pushing the ‘publish’ button I visited the Octagon again today, 11am with the students now flooding the city in search of bustle and vibrancy before starting their studies. If anything it was more dismal than my last visit. No one availing themselves of the pink tables, nor the fake grass bench seats. But lo, in the distance (click to enlarge), the only two people in the whole plaza appear to be tentatively engaged with the table tennis table.

As Borat would say “Great success for glorious state Octagonistan. “

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If "cycleway" was the answer, what was the question again?

As we conclude the second decade of the 21st century, let me review Dunedin’s major project of the decade, the great cycleway network. 

Background: In line with a national and international trend, increased use of bicycling was being strongly promoted by the cycling fraternity in Dunedin as a preferable alternative mode of transport to private motor vehicles.

The rationale behind the cycleway project was in three parts: a) Increasing cycling in Dunedin will help reduce the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution as our contribution to the global fight against the greenhouse effect and sea rise.

b) That the existing situation which integrates cyclists and motorists is so dangerous for cyclists that it discourages recreational cyclists from using their bikes for commuting. A safer cycleway would, in the DCC calculation, lead to 10% of residents (13,000) choosing cycling as their primary means of commuting.

c) The central SH1 carriageway should be for the passage of traffic, not for stationary parked cars. Removing the parked cars on one side of the SH1 provides ample space for a cycleway thereby safely accommodating all moving traffic. Car park buildings are a far more efficient design for parking than along the SH1 route.

I am not a cyclist (hills and weather) and consistently challenged the logic behind the project but, in the end, the politicians managed to get their ‘public consultancy’ process to agree with them and they did what they always intended to do. Now that the cycleways are well up and running right through the centre of the city it is appropriate to review. So as I recall :

In Dunedin city, the elected councillors began with a cycleway network around the southern suburbs of Dunedin city. The objective being that within ten years, 10% of residents would choose cycling as their primary mode of travel.

The next priority of this plan was to create a separated cycleway along both of the one way streets in Dunedin which are also the State Highway 1 bypass for heavy transport vehicles and cars avoiding the main street. This is now done and as a bonus the recently introduced e-scooters were allowed to share this space, a privilege denied to the mobility scooter users.

At the completion of the project (at least I hope it is the end) I would like to review the situation:

a) It is far too simplistic to put forward cycling as a solution to pollution. The Netherlands is the planet’s poster-country for cycling with a total of 16,500,000 bikes representing an exceptionally impressive 98% of population. And yet on Yale University’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index ranking  for average exposure to PM2.5 (dangerous fine particles in the air) the Netherlands ranked 152nd worst out of the 178 countries; New Zealand ranked #1 for clean air in the same survey. If our cycleway logic was based on being a contribution to the planet’s reduction in carbon in the atmosphere, then it was a pathetic gesture in the true sense of the word.

b) The need for investment in cyclist safety quoted the three cyclist deaths over the last 16 years which have occurred on the State Highway 1. Two were in collision with large trucks, one of which was at the intersection of Anzac Ave with SH1 another was a cyclist swerving to avoid a collision and the third was when a motorist mistakenly turned the wrong way at an intersection. The cycleway was proposed as the solution to avoid accidents. Three fatal accidents in sixteen years, while tragic for those involved, is hardly an epidemic; and nothing will ever prevent genuine accidents.

Subsequent to the completion of the city inner city cycleways, a 2019 survey published in the ODT 14/12/19 showed that cyclists are the largest source of vehicle accidents presenting at Dunedin Hospital ED, with e-scooters, the other user of cycleways as the second highest category. If safety was the objective, the cycleway solution has been a failure and the reason was always obvious. As with the Dunedin experience, the national statistics show that over 70% of cycling accidents occur at intersections where safety is dependent on all road users obeying the road rules.

As for the assumption that the cycleway would result in 10% of commuters (13,000 people) adopting cycling for commuting, that is as wrong as it could be. The official NZTA cycleway statistics, published in August 2019 showed: a) Great King St,  the jewel in the cycleway crown running through the heart of the university precinct, recorded a zero increase. b) The Victoria Rd cycleway, the ‘visionary’ concept of linking south Dunedin to the city by cycleway: a 7% decrease. c) Daily average cycle count in July was 130 from six different counters around the city; that of course does not account for the same cyclist being recorded on two or more of the six counters on the same day. And with all cyclists at least making a return journey, lets be generous and say there were 65 cyclists on average a day during that month.

c) The DCC observation that car park buildings are a more efficient parking option than roadside parking on SH1 may be valid, but that is purely academic since the DCC have not built, nor do they have even preliminary plans to build, any car park buildings to replace the parking space conceded to the cycleway. The impact has only being to push commuter parking further out from the city and create a new residential parking problem. 

So the Dunedin cycleway ‘project of the decade’ has made zero impact on both local and global carbon levels; has not increased use of cycling nor made it a safer option; and it has not provided more efficient parking solutions for motorists. All of these outcomes were predictable and publicly predicted at the time that we were being ‘consulted’. So as we sign off the decade, we can only ask,’if cycleway was the answer, what on earth was the question?”

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Build it and they will come.

The Dunedin City Council is betting another $60 million on the gamble that nearly half of us will switch from cars to buses and bikes within five years. But is that sending good money after bad?

The DCC 2013 Transport Strategy document sets their goal that, by 2024, 40% of us (51,000 people) will be commuting either by bike, bus or on foot as our main mode of transport (P.30 Strategic Approach-Overview). The proposed $60 million conversion of the Central Business District’s main thoroughfare into a single lane for motor vehicles and a dedicated cycle way to allow a larger pedestrian zone is the next stage to prepare the city infrastructure for this target(click to enlarge).

On foot realistically means those residing in the inner city, mainly students plus a few inner city apartment dwellers. Cyclists would primarily be those living on the flat suburbs and connected by the cycleway network from South Dunedin to North and around the harbour. The bus network has the greatest catchment area of all the hill and outer suburbs of the city.

The DCC transport survey of 2013 found that 14% (18,000 people) walked to the city as their main mode of transport. That is unlikely to change without a major jump in student population.

DCC Cycleway proposal had a target of 10% (13,000) using bikes for commuting. So that leaves a balance of 16% (20,000 people) as the DCC target for bus commuters.

In August 2019, after the route changes were made and bus hub completed, ORC General Manager Operations Gavin Palmer issued a media release stating patronage on the Dunedin network number of trips was now 2,500,000 pa for the year ended June. Converting that to equivalent regular commuter numbers you have to halve the figure because it includes the return journey for the same passenger. When we divide that by 260 (5 days a week for a year) we currently have 4,800 full time commuter passenger equivalents pa. That figure reasonably aligns with the DCC 2013 transport survey above that says 4% (5,142) use the bus to commute; however it also shows that no growth has been made in the past five years).

Also in August 2019 NZTA released the results of the cycleway usage. The jewel in the cycleway crown, Great King St running right through the heart of the university precinct records a zero increase. The Victoria Rd cycleway, the ‘visionary’ concept of linking south Dunedin to the city by cycleway recorded a 7% decrease. The daily average cycle count in July was 130 from six different counters around the city; the peak day in the survey was 236. That of course does not account for the same cyclist being recorded on two or more of the six counters on the same day. And with all cyclists at least making a return journey, let’s be generous and say there were on average 65 cyclists in July rising to a peak of 120 cyclists on the best day of the survey. NZTA concede that these results are ‘not startling”; that is an understatement.

Apparently the DCC is still confident, despite these actual results, of achieving their Transport Plan Goal since they have recently committed to the pedestrianisation of the CBD project. So we need to review the logistics they face in this challenge.

With the bus target of lifting from 4,800 current regular commuter equivalents to 20,000 within five years, most of those passengers will have to be transported from their suburb to the city during the 7:00 – 8:30am peak departure times. With an average 20 minute trip from terminus to CBD, that would have around 200 buses on the road during that peak time service. And again on the afternoon return journey. The good news is that they would have to be running convenient 5 minute departures to achieve that volume; the bad news is that the CBD bus hub which has only ten set-down bays. Congestion there changes all the ‘best scenario’ logistical plans.

And with cycling, the DCC still have to achieve a growth from around 120 cyclists on the best day of the current survey to a regular daily figure of 13,000 by 2024. And in addition to the increased usage, they would have to build bike parks to accommodate these 13,000 bikes within convenient walking distance to their individual destinations. And in addition the streets would still have to cope with the other 60% of residents in cars as well as delivery vehicles, emergency service vehicles, work vehicles and out of town vehicles.

The redesign plan for the CBD area is so the DCC can have the appropriate infrastructure in place for when the 13,000 cyclists and 200 buses carrying 20,000 people start arriving daily into the CBD Bike Park/ Bus Hub. The current Councillors are so convinced that this 2024 vision will be realised that they have now endorsed a budgeted $60 Million project to convert our main street to a town plaza in preparation for it. That is a big gamble based on the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy.

The DCC people involved are betting their jobs and their reputations on it, but of more concern is that they are using ratepayer money to buy the chips.

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A cosmic indian summer

Is the average temperature on earth higher today than it was a century ago when industrialisation expanded throughout the globe to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population? It is actually not as easy as you might expect to find the answer amongst the plethora of press releases from the climate alarmists. From all the micro data that the climate alarmists are extracting, analysing and dispensing, why is it so hard to find a simple list of actual seasonal temperature recordings over the last one hundred year period in any given location? Instead we get charts of variations of temperature from the norm (although rationalising what ‘the norm’ is and when the norm supposedly happened seems to be just ignored). They provide charts of ‘moving averages over years’ with the years selected to ‘prove’ a trend entirely at the writer’s discretion. And while the internet is absolutely overwhelmed with alarmist headlines, basic, actual temperature data over 100 years, separated by season is very, very hard to find. But I eventually did find one. It was from Britain. Have a look at these actual seasonal temperatures over the last hundred years in the country that birthed and led the industrial revolution and tell me where you see any temperature trends that would alarm you.

So as a brief scan, in Central England in 1912, the year the Titanic sank and the coal miners went on strike, the average winter temperature was 5.36, spring 8.53, summer 17.55 and autumn 10.39.

At the start of the ‘Boomer’ generation in 1948, winter was 5.13, spring 8.75, summer 17.50 and autumn 11.15.

In swinging 1965, the year Gen. X was born, winter was 3.28, spring 8.43, summer 15.71 and autumn 10.40

In 1981 the year the ‘Millennials’ arrived on earth, winter was 4.33, spring 9.17, summer 15.06 and autumn 10.12

And at the dawn of the 21st century winter was 5.35, spring 9.49, summer 16.45 and autumn 11.57.

I could take three summers spread over this period of 2000, 1948 and 1912, draw a connecting line and claim that the climate has since cooled by 1 degree over the century.  I would not do that of course, three points over a 90 year span does not make a valid data base. Yet the alarmists fill the media and internet with no more than micro data snippets to make their claims. So just look over the above 100 year chart as a total group or a random handful and just ask yourself, do these temperatures alarm me? 

According to the best astrophysics information we have, our temperatures are, unsurprisingly, linked with the natural orbit of the earth around the sun, which is a changing environment and by no means a perfect circle as we might have assumed. Milutin Milankovic, a contemporary of other mathematics and physics geniuses Einstein, Minkowski and Tesla, demonstrated the way our solar system works. Milankovic’s calculations remain valid today having been constantly reviewed with all the computing support to which modern astrophysicists have access. 

In brief, there are three cycles contained in the way earth orbits the sun: tilt, precession and elliptic; and the elliptical plane changes quite dramatically every 100,000 years. Not surprisingly, the glaciation of our planet also works on this 100,000 year cycle. 

During a glacial period the planet cools as the heat of the sun moves further away, the air dries out and water levels fall as liquid is transformed to ice. Land bridges start to become available and islands appear where before they were part of the sea bed.

If we just look back 400,000 years we have scientific consensus from both sides of the climate debate on the temperature cycles as per the chart below. And all agree that the cycle started to cool down again about 6,000 years ago. What we don’t have consensus on is ‘where to from here?’ As below, the alarmists little arrows project, with no mathematical base that I can see, that the temperature heads rapidly due north towards a hell on earth scenario. They state that the cooling of the planet over the previous 6,000 years suddenly u-turned just 100 or so years ago when industrialisation, motorised transport, steam ships and smoke belching trains started to take hold around the globe.

They ignore, of course that even today, with a population passing 7.5 billion compared to 2.5 billion in 1950, human generated C02 represents only 3% of total C02 which was confirmed in this EPA document (click to enlarge). 

As a brief history of our climate in this current ‘inter glacial’ period, when the last glacial episode officially ended Canada was still under 2+ kilometres of ice and it was possible to walk across the Bering straight from Eastern Europe to North America. Aborigines could also island hop from South East Asia to Australia as could the Celts cross from Europe to Britain. Our planet had been in that ice age for the previous 100,000 years. Over the first 6,000 years of this inter-glacial phase the ice mountains melted  and the oceans rose dramatically, submerging islands and causeways and possibly even a small continent if the legend of Atlantis has any basis in fact. The sea height has levelled out since then. 

Basing projections on historical patterns, which are linked to the orbit of the earth around the sun, we are in fact right now coming towards the end of a cosmic Indian Summer and we will gradually move back towards a much cooler planet and in about 90,000 years we will again have Canada, Northern Asia and Europe all underneath kilometres of ice sheet.

The reason for the heightened anxiety of the alarmists is that today our scientists are micromanaging data and constantly tweeting bite size doomsday headlines that simply are not supported by the bigger picture trends. The climate works in tens of thousands of years, not in months. The last time humans went through this climate cycle they were blissfully unaware of the fact that there even was a cycle; it was a pleasant and warm time and they probably just enjoyed it; a few hundred generations later the climate was comparatively much colder, but they did not know it was colder because they had no records to analyse; it just was what it was. Too much micro analysis of climate data on a month by month basis is just creating hyper anxiety and panic.

But ‘getting it wrong’ is not the reason I speak up against the climate alarmists. It is because they have the right problem for the wrong reason and that makes them counter productive to solving our environmental challenges. It is because, even as they march on their Friday strikes and fly around the globe in their thousands to attend conferences and draft resolutions, they are just plucking temperature levels and deadlines out of the air about when we may reach the point of no return which target seems to be a  shifting landscape. In 2008 the tipping point was predicted to be 1 August 2016; in 2016, following the Paris Agreement which set 2 degrees as the tipping point, IIASA (science institute) policy brief said we had until to Dec 31 2020 to keep warming under 2 degrees; as that date approaches the 2019 climate summit in September says we can still get under the 2 degree tipping point within 12 years so that takes us out to 2031. Prince Charles is a little more optimistic and thinks we have until 2050. And now there is another big pre Christmas conference in Madrid, delegates from 200 countries, they apparently need to tidy up some details from the 2015 Paris Christmas party, oops I mean conference, and maybe review the next tipping point date.

Fossil fuel over-use is not a problem of climate, it is a problem of health. Instead of talking about the ‘invisible demon’ C02 and the inevitable ‘Mad Max’ scenario, all because of the industrial sins of our forefathers, we need to be talking about investing in better technology to reduce lung-damaging air pollution in our cities. We need new technology to prevent pollution of our farming soils and our waterways that poison our food and water sources. When we get rid of the climate doomsday message and focus on health solutions then we might start making some progress. Right now the climate alarmists are only creating a climate of doom and hopelessness. And that carries the risk of being a self-fulfilling prophesy.

 

References:

1) Vostok ice core: a continuous isotope temperature record over the last climatic cycle (160,00 years): Jouzel, J., C. Lorius, J.R. Petit, C. Genthon, N.I. Barkov, V.M. Kotlyakov, and V.M. Petrov. 1987.

2) Extending the Vostok ice-core record of palaeoclimate to the penultimate glacial period.: Jouzel, J., N.I. Barkov, J.M. Barnola, M. Bender, J. Chappellaz, C. Genthon, V.M. Kotlyakov, V. Lipenkov, C. Lorius, J.R. Petit, D. Raynaud, G. Raisbeck, C. Ritz, T. Sowers, M. Stievenard, F. Yiou, and P. Yiou. 1993.

3) Climatic interpretation of the recently extended Vostok ice records.: Jouzel, J., C. Waelbroeck, B. Malaize, M. Bender, J.R. Petit, M. Stievenard, N.I. Barkov, J.M. Barnola, T. King, V.M. Kotlyakov, V. Lipenkov, C. Lorius, D. Raynaud, C. Ritz, and T. Sowers. 1996.

4) Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica.: Petit, J.R., J. Jouzel, D. Raynaud, N.I. Barkov, J.-M. Barnola, I. Basile, M. Bender, J. Chappellaz, M. Davis, G. Delayque, M. Delmotte, V.M. Kotlyakov, M. Legrand, V.Y. Lipenkov, C. Lorius, L. Pepin, C. Ritz, E. Saltzman, and M. Stievenard. 1999.

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You’re ok, boomers

 I watched Greta Thunberg, millennial poster child for the climate alarmists, speaking at the United Nations. What anger and venom was in that face and in the words she spoke. And the new darling set the stage by so publicly promoting that she sailed to the UN Conference on a multi million dollar carbon fibre yacht so that she not make a carbon contribution to the climate. Oh how they cheered, the irony lost on the cheering audience that they had all flown first class to listen to her. And many of them possibly also numbered among the 28,000, the equivalent of 70 jumbo jets, who had travelled to the Poland climate alarmist conference the previous year and also among the 40,000 alarmists who had travelled to the earlier Paris alarmist conference. But they applauded the example that this child showed us by travelling on a yacht that not even the reasonably wealthy boomer, whose ‘wealth’ they despise, could ever hope to afford.

I didn’t really think there was any significant animosity between the elders of the 1950’s and 60’s and the younger generations, but someone certainly is trying to create a lot of animosity. The “Boomers” seem generally to be very happy with the way Gen X have taken up their responsibilities, despite not understanding their music; but the problems appear to be with an ‘alarmist’ sub-category of the millennial generation; these are 18-34 year olds born from the mid 1980’s to the early 2000’s.

I have started noticing how many of these millennial climate alarmists have started referring to my generation most disrespectfully with the dismissive phrase: ‘ok boomers’, which they see as a more clever version of patting granddad on his deluded head (and I use the word ‘clever’ quite incorrectly). We have apparently earned that disrespect because we are accused of being the generation that has left millennials with the unbearable anxiety and stress of having to inherit ‘our mess’. That we Boomers cannot fathom what it is like for these young people to live with such anxiety. I don’t want to take the bait, wade in and fuel the animosity, but we do need to do a bit of a fact check on the charges made by the alarmists against us as boomers. It seems such a silly attack because generations are not fixed date separations. The generational transfer is quite fluid and while there will be evolving cultural footprints exactly when they started and when they ended is very difficult to define. But let us look at a few key trends over the relevant decades:

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Coal burning, one of the big contributors to C02 in the atmosphere, accelerated dramatically in the decade 2000 to 2010, and primarily in China. This was entirely as a result of China becoming an economic ‘powerhouse’, building massive factories to feed the new breed of “superstores”. The economic powerhouses of the boomer generation were Europe and the USA whose coal consumption was comparatively very modest. The boomers were the ’boutique’ generation, millennials have become the ‘superstore’ generation. Boomers repaired appliances, millennials discard and buy new. And the flow on effect are the landfills and oceans clogged with discarded waste.

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Look at the trend in passenger air travel kilometres graph. No sign of the millennial generation trimming down on demand for air travel. Scheduled services have in fact accelerated 80% in just 8 years from 2004 to 2012. Those planes today are not filled with ‘Boomers.’ The Travel industry have their business antennae set for the the millennial market. A report by industry giant by Travelport says young people ages 18 to 34 are most likely to spend more money on vacations than other age groups. An Expedia poll shows also millennials travel the most; 35 days each year to be exact.

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But it is not just the airline industry that the millennials consume with voracious appetites. By 2010 the average boomer was 50-60 years old and had a limited demand for mobile phones and their contribution to mobile phone use is displayed in the left side of the graph attached. Shift along to 2015 – 2018 and just watch the impact on i-phone consumption by the millennials.

Every i-phone is a handful of rare earth elements (as are the mechanisms of wind power generators and electric motors, but that’s another story for another time). Rare earth elements are separated from the rest of the earth by a highly toxic chemical process. The millennials consider mobile phones to be disposable items to be discarded and replaced every time someone tweaks a camera setting in a new model. The very visible and tangible consequence of this vast consumption of mobile devices is, in a word, Baotou. That is a city in Mongolia that has grown to a population from under 100,000 when the boomers were born, to 2.5 million; based on the mining and processing of rare earth elements to satisfy the demands of the millennial consumers.

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One of the many waste pipes creating toxic lakes across China and Mongolia
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Baotou rare earth element mine

While Baotou is one of the major sources today of these rare earth minerals, and China has, up until 2013, supplied 90% of the world supply of REE, as demand has grown massively since 2013 other countries are getting in on the market. India, USA, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Russia and Brazil are all now mining rare earth elements. What started hidden away in ‘out of sight out of mind’ Mongolia and Northern China is now coming to a country near you, and all to satisfy the insatiable demand of the millennials to discard a 12 month old phone for the latest model.

The millennials are also the generation that has brought in the Uber Eats mentality because they do not think they should have to cook their own meals. Paying for cars to drive around and around the block, pouring emissions into the atmosphere so a car is always on hand to pick them up a burger when they feel the whim.

The alarmist millennials are spreading anxiety around the world like a virus all because the temperature has warmed by 0.8 degrees C since 1880 and the seas are rising at 1 – 2 mm pa. The reality is that the planet has been warming annually, and sea levels rising, consistently since the last ice age ended. In fact scientific ice core analysis shows that Antarctica warmed about 20 degrees in the years from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago (while the rest of the planet warmed only 4 degrees over that period), the ice age was coming to its natural end. That was a process of nature and processes of nature extend over tens of thousands of years, not over decades. Of course no alarmist is still reading because the official stance of millennia-controlled media is now to refuse to debate the issue. That decision exposes them as propagandists rather than journalists.

If you want to know how to handle global anxiety, you could do worse than talk to a boomer. We boomers grew up knowing that two men who represented two super powers that lived in constant paranoiac fear of each other, each carried a suitcase around with them everywhere they went in which was a button that could launch enough nuclear rockets to destroy the planet several times over in a matter of hours. When I was 12 we had the Cuba standoff crisis between these two nations that had us all just waiting for the minute that life-ending nuclear war started.

Technology development in the previous generation had introduced nuclear power. Nuclear power was seen as a clean and highly effective alternative to fossil-burning coal power. As indeed it is, in theory. The phallic atomic bomb came as a very unwelcome side product driven by the ambitions of Hitler, just as viagra was initially developed as a medicinal treatment for high blood pressure.

So we protested to our elders in our youth, as youth will do. We were the “Make love not war” generation and when we assumed our own democratic influence on the world we actually did something about the situation and we made the changes. The graph shows the dramatic decline in battle deaths from the 1970’s, the decades of the boomers in control.

And if the alarmists want something else to get concerned about, in the decade when boomers were approaching adulthood, well over ten million people had died from famine. Boomers were the “Live Aid” generation. We cared about the plight of the poor people of the world. The dramatic reduction in death by famine during our watch is demonstrated in the attached graph.

But the millennial alarmists, rather than get on and do something about the state of the world, just want to fly around the globe from one conference junket to the next. And they skulk in the background, grooming their “Gen. Z’ children to demand that their grandparents start doling out their life savings, that they believe is their entitlement, to further feed their indulgences. So if you millennial alarmists just keep playing the blame game as the only contribution to humanity you are capable of, and if the 20/20 Generation do experience what your millennial poster child is predicting, either by natural means or as a result of your out of control consumerism, it won’t be the boomers that Gen. 20/20 will be pointing the finger of shame at, it will be the self indulgence of the millennial generation and the impotence of their alarmist sub category.

I stated at the outset that I did not want to take the bait and fuel the animosity and then I proceeded to swallow the bait whole and throw gasoline on the debate (if you will excuse the awfully clumsy mixing of metaphors) with graphs, pictures and commentary.

In reflection, with my indignation appeased, I do have to accept that the millennial generation is not too dissimilar to we baby boomers in our youth. They are genuinely frightened of catastrophic pollution and the impact on their generation just as we were equally genuinely frightened of catastrophic nuclear war and the impact on our generation. Eventually we just learned to live with the threat of nuclear holocaust and got on with life. We just had to have faith in the survival instinct of humanity.

And today, when ecological fear permeates the environment, there is a beacon of hope; and hope brings faith. A young man who is as fearless and creative as Greta Thunberg is frightened and helpless. His name is Boyan Slat. As a teenager, this young Dutch engineering student witnessed the state of the sea while diving in Greece and decided to do something about it. Today at age 25 he is CEO of an organisation called Ocean Cleanup that has attracted over $30million in funding from Silicon Valley and European corporations to develop the technology to both extract plastic from the ocean  and to intercept plastic waste at their river sources. The challenges were huge but after 6 years of research, development and trialling, in late 2019 the system has now started successfully collecting plastic waste from the ocean. Their next stage is the development of products made from this recycled plastic. His is a story we all should follow closely. He is the Steve Jobs of this young generation, with the intelligence and attitude to create real life solutions to, and opportunities from, our economic and environmental challenges. 

What a pity Greta Thunberg did not talk about Boyan Slat when she got the chance at the UN. Greta Thunberg’s speechwriters, who made such a big point about her sailing to that conference across the ocean as her ‘save the planet’ contribution, did not once promote Boyan Slat’s impressive entrepreneurial work to clean up the ocean that she had just sailed on. On the contrary she proclaimed, on behalf of the millennial generation, that solutions were nowhere in sight.

Boyan Slat is a beacon offering the alternative path. He offers faith in the survival instinct and creativity of home sapiens to do what homo sapiens have done for 200,000 years. Solve the problem they face, clean up the oceans, clean up the rivers.

Boyan, from an old boomer, ‘I love you, man.’

 

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Throw another virgin on the altar

Once again, following the “Peace in our time” success of Paris three years ago, “Climate Change” has been adopted as the theme for this year’s global bureaucratic Christmas party with Poland, of all places, the host. 

Never mind the carbon footprint of the twenty thousand plus people who travelled from all over the globe to have a ‘conversation about climate change”. Never mind the irony that it was being held in the heartland of Europe’s largest coal-producing region. The important thing is who hosted the best party of the week?

Once again we are told that the high priests had a resoundingly successful conference as the chairman was able to announce at the Grand Galah dinner that sacrifices have been made and the gods of the climate have been appeased. A signed charter will save the planet from global warming. As if we had not heard that all before. Those who believe climate change is a process of nature, including the most powerful people in the most industrialised countries, just ignore them; the hand wringers say it is far too little, far too late, we are all going to fry.

Here’s an interesting climate change footnote: we are currently deep in the depths of an ice age.

Yep, it’s a fact. There have been five known ice ages over the last 4.5 billion years that our planet has been in business and we are still deep in the fifth one. The study of the chemical structure of ancient polar ice cores, fossilised plant matter and lake and sea bed sediments has enabled scientists to accurately map the climatic changes over the eons.

And here is another really interesting climate fact: C02 levels have absolutely zero correlation with temperature. No idea how the alarmists managed to convince everyone that our C02 levels are causing our climate change, but the climate scientists own published research tracking the earth’s climate over hundreds of millions of years show conclusively that C02 change has no connection with temperature change.

As you can see, (click image to enlarge) the earth itself, and life on it, have survived both temperature and C02 levels significantly higher than anything we are currently experiencing.  The temperature has only been as low as it is now at the coldest point of three of the previous four ice ages.

C02 levels at the beginning of the chart (600+ million years ago) were seriously high. They dropped and bounced around for two hundred million years before coming right down and then again the levels bounced around quite a bit for another 360 million years before settling and stabilising over the last two million years to the level we hominids know as normal.

The temperature also bounces around an awful lot but if, as the high priests of climate change claim, the temperature changes are in sync with the dance moves of Carbon Dioxide, it is very hard to identify exactly what dance they are doing.

At the start of the chart the planet is in the depths of an ice age while the C02 levels are at extremely high levels. The correlation between the two is non-existent. And while there are two apparently matching spike and falls, on one of them it is the temperature that leads and the C02 that follows and on both occasions the movements are millions of years apart, not the 200 years that today’s ’cause/effect’ scientists are claiming. 

But look at 440 million years ago and see the temperature plummet to ice age levels while C02 levels spike. Then 320 million years ago the reverse happens C02 levels fall dramatically while the temperature soars to the hottest levels in earth’s record. Exactly the opposite of what today’s hand-wringers claim is proven fact.

Again have  a look at the above chart at the line of 200 million years ago. There you see a big spike in C02 levels having no effect on temperature. 146 million years ago we see the anomaly of a massive temperature drop at the same time as a massive increase in C02 levels. Then as the C02 levels drop dramatically over subsequent millennia, the temperature begins to rise even more dramatically, quite against the theory that there is a correlation between the two. Then around 50 million years ago, between the Paleocene and Eocene epochs, we see one of the most dramatic global warming periods in earth’s history at a time when C02 levels were falling significantly.

So I am not a ‘climate change denier’. The point I raise from the above chart is not whether there is climate change, but in fact why would we ever think that climate change, the warming and cooling of the planet and the raising and lowering of C02 levels, are anything other than normal natural processes that have continued throughout the eons. 

The issue for us is that our ancestor, homo erectus, evolved about 2 million years and our sapiens species is only 200,000 years young; so an ice age with low C02 levels is the only climatic condition our species has ever known. So let’s not be barraged into accepting a doomsday panic and giving the ‘end of the world is nigh’ high priests a blank chequebook to fund global conferences for their ‘conversations’. Let us only consider what impact the current climate observations and speculations might practically have on the lifestyle of our ice age species. 

When I say climate change, what do you think that means? The scientists work, of course, off average mean temperatures when they get into this global warming issue. You might be surprised to know (I was) that the global mean temperature today is about 14-15 degrees celsius. That, for reference, is the average mean temperature of Wellington, New Zealand or Milan, Italy.  When they talk about the global warming over the past 30-40 years, they are talking about a rise of 1 degree celsius. Back in the Miocene epoch at the last major global warming spike, the global mean temperature was another 4-5 degrees celsius higher than today, or an average of around 20 degrees C (or the current mean temperature of Brisbane Australia, but much cooler than Montego Bay, Jamaica which now averages 27 C).

And there is the misleading result of talking about ‘averages.’ A region that has a summer average of 40 degrees followed by an autumn average of 15 degrees, a winter average of minus 10 degrees and Spring of 15 degrees actually has an annual average of 15 degrees which sounds pleasant enough but in reality has 3 months of blistering heatwaves and 3 months of sub zero conditions which is a dreadful climate. And while our climate scientists at Paris and Poland go on about the C02 emissions creating a greenhouse effect which warms the planet, the reality is quite different. We have regions experiencing exceptionally hot summers at the same time as they are experiencing record breaking cold temperatures in winter across Europe, Asia and the USA. What we are experiencing is not a gradual warming from C02 gas in the atmosphere like we are living in a glasshouse, but in fact the weather become more extreme at both ends of the temperature gauge. And those extremes are not explained by C02.

 In fact if we look at the period of the last 10,000 years we can see temperatures rise and fall quite notably even within the ice age condition, while C02 levels remain very stable throughout. So over this whole period, within the reasonably modern era of homo sapiens, temperatures rose and fell with no change in the C02 levels.

It just puts a little perspective into the debate and perspective is what the current climate hand-wringers seem to be ignoring. Man has been through these climate changes before with C02 having no part to play. Life goes on in those climates. Yes we would probably want to improve our air conditioning systems and some of us may end up with a beachfront property where once we had a main road between us and the sea, but we can adapt. 

Having emerged from the forests 200,000 years ago, we have built our great cities and civilisations because of the ‘sapiens’ gene. We have done so through notable periods of climate change with ice caps expanding and retracting, sea levels rising and falling. We have had the imagination to adapt to our ever-changing conditions and challenges to improve our experience of life on earth.

We now need to focus our energies on more intelligent and imaginative use of resources, recycling and re-engineering to meet the climate challenges that nature and our own activities present us today. Yes we need less air polluting sources of power than fossil fuels and less ground polluting sources than nuclear power. Yes we need to regenerate forests and natural habitats. Yes we need to prepare for higher seas and more extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.

Let’s get on with it and stop wasting time with King Canute conferences that just clog up the process with hand-wringing, progress-stalling bureaucracy. And stop blaming humans as though we created carbon dioxide. For whatever caused the high levels of C02 in the atmosphere in the eons before 1800 ad, we are reasonably sure it wasn’t humans and engines. And the evidence is pretty convincing that there is no direct correlation between C02 levels and temperature.

As a footnote, we are also becoming aware that the magnetic field is on the move with North / South preparing to switch places which is something they have done quite a few times before in Earth’s history. In recent years the magnetic north has been moving 55km a year. I wonder if that change in the electrical magnetic field that surrounds our planet is effecting our winds, storms and weather patterns? To a non-scientist it certainly seems a likely culprit, but that can’t be blamed on us humans and there is not a global conference opportunity in something we cannot explain so the hand wringers are just not interested in investigating that potential cause. 

 

 

 

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The empire sneaks back

I was watching Winston Peters announcing from the London meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers that Britain was now keen to resurrect the glory of the British Empire by putting together a trade deal between we proud members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth

Pub quiz night: name the 52 members, outside Britain, of the Commonwealth of Nations. Did you get to 10? If so I think you are well above average. Did you get Lesotho, Tuvalu, St Kitts & Nevis, Belize, Malawi, or Swaziland? This Commonwealth has 19 African members, 7 Asian, 13 Caribbean & American, 3 European and 11 from the South Pacific.

The total GDP of these 53 nations is $US11 trillion which sounds impressive until you note that China on its own has $US12 trillion GDP and the USA has nearly $US20 trillion GDP. But if there is anything ‘common’ about them it is certainly not ‘wealth’.  The top 4 countries in the group (UK, India, Canada and Australia) account for 75% of the total group’s GDP. The top 11 (where New Zealand is #11) account for 95% of the whole group’s GDP. So 42 countries out of 53 (79%) bring in only 5% of the total group’s GDP. The Commonwealth includes the three poorest countries on the planet. In the same pub quiz, name them! Answer = Kirobati, Nauru and Tuvulu. Bet you didn’t know any of them.

This Commonwealth alliance that today has little practical reason for being, has also bugger all chance of ever being a trading bloc especially when you consider that Commonwealth members Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia already belong to TPP bloc; India and South Africa already belong to BRICS; Cyprus and Malta are in the EU and the African nations have their own trading blocs.

We, the Commonwealth of Nations, are the largely-abandoned urchins of the British Empire who were left to fend for ourselves after Lady Britannia decided to go back to her Eurochums’ social circuit after their two little W.W.s were all forgiven and forgotten. Yes we do meet up for family games every few years, and play a bit of cricket together which is jolly good fun, but thats as far as it goes. If we ever go to visit mother England we will stand and wait in the foreigners’ queue while the Germans are welcomed through lovers’ lane.

But now there are spats in the Euro love nest, mainly about Angela the Hun letting riffraff in through the back door (not intended as a euphemism, but with Germans who knows?). But Britain is committed to leaving the European Union and so, whatever eventually happens with Brexit negotiations, Britain will be short of a few quid for a while and that is likely to make the rabble a bit restless and looking to bring back the guillotines. And like many an absentee parent finding themselves hung over, short of a few quid and debt collectors knocking, she remembers the forgotten family and reminds them that we are still family. So last week the Queen called a meeting of all the heads of their global families, perfectly timed right after the fun of the family games in Australia and immediately before her grand birthday party to which they had all been invited. She told them that she thought that we, as the family of the British Empire, might like to setup some sort of a trade thingy between us and, since she was getting a bit wobbly on her pins, perhaps we should put Charles in charge of it all. Did she really mean all 53 members of the Commonwealth? That would be an enormously daunting prospect for a trade deal, particularly given the disparity in populations, locations, cultures and economies. The EU only has 28 members and our Trans Pacific Partnership has twelve members. Is Charles the man with the experience and charisma to pull together the biggest trading bloc on earth? Especially given that 79% of the members account for just 5% of the wealth.

But perhaps I am being cynical? Maybe its not all about the size of your GDP. One thing Charles would bring to the leadership of any trade alliance would be a focus on ecological sustainability. You have to admit he was all over this ecological crisis way back when we could still swim in our rivers and drink tap water. And he has approached the challenges in a far more practical way than all the attention-seekers floating around in little boats with banners. Since buying Highgrove, a 15-acre estate, in 1980, the Prince has personally overseen its transformation from pasture land to what is now regarded as one of the most important gardens in the UK. His rejection of chemical pesticides and promotion of species once considered weeds attracted criticism in the 1980s long before the boom in organic gardening. His estate even includes an innovative sewage treatment system, using only reed beds to cleanse waste water from the house. The reed-bed waste system is an artificial wetland that converts sewage back to clean water, while allowing the solid matter to be returned to the soil in the form of manure. He has even built a biogas plant in Dorset to supply gas from food waste to 56,000 homes.

Is the Prince of Wales now girthed, girded and ready to lead the CommonWealth, re-named as the CommonHealth of Nations, in a global eco-war reminiscent of the Crusades? Fifty three disparate nations united under the banner of King Charles the greenheart, re-inventing trade within the commonwealth with a war cry of ‘sustainability before profit’. Is this the Royal intent?

I would love to think so, but I am quite sure the tragic reality is that Britain really does think they can resurrect the old bones of their 19th century trade Empire, or at least the ten biggest of us, and have us committed to all buying British solely to help balance their books after Brexit. In the words of Daryll Kerrigan, Australia’s only philosopher, “tell ’em they’re dreamin’.”

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