Friday, March 18, 2022

Climate Change: Stuff, denialism, and net-zero

Back in 2018, Stuff finally took a sensible stance on climate change, recognising the need to save the planet. part of this was a commitment that they would no longer publish climate denial:

we won't include climate change "scepticism". Including denialism wouldn't be "balanced"; it'd be a dangerous waste of time.
Four years later, they're back publishing climate denial again, in the form of an op-ed calling for the net-zero goal to be dumped. The author is a fossil industry shill (their partner is general manager at an oil company), and they're doing this in a context where the people who pushed Brexit have now taken a hard turn to pushing climate inaction (the author also pushed Brexit, so it looks like she's the local troll in Farage's network). You might expect a media organisation to be aware of these facts, it being their job to follow the news and all. But I guess that expectation is about as realistic as expecting them to keep their promises.

As for the merits, the troll's argument is basicly that net-zero is "unrealistic", "will never be delivered", and "incremental and ineffective". In other words, the standard "its all too hard" that climate deniers have fallen back on now that they can no-longer deny the physics. Which is simply bullshit.

The current net-zero target gives us 30 years. Its perfectly realistic and achieveable to decarbonise over that length of time - after all, we carbonised over that timescale. The Maui gas-field was discovered in 1969, and NZ gas use peaked in 2002. Farmers doubled the size of the dairy herd between 1991 and 2019. New Zealand's first car was imported in 1898, and 30 years later horses were confined to farms (we mass-motorised even quicker, in the short period from the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge in 1959 to the oil shock in 1973. And we moved to multi-car households and dirty inefficient utes and SUVs over a similar period in the 2000s). So decarbonising energy and transport, eliminating the fossil fuel industry, minimising industrial emissions and culling the dairy herd is perfectly do-able over a similar timeframe. Yes, we need to do all of these things all at once. But its definitely do-able.

Early long-term climate targets were recipes for delay and inaction. But the framework of the Zero Carbon Act means the 2050 target gives shape and focus to our short-term goals, ensuring that our incremental progress stays on track. The problem with the 2050 target isn't that its "unrealistic", its that its not ambitious enough. The climate data is suggesting that we need to decarbonise even faster to avoid catastrophic damage, and countries like Germany are already bringing their (all-gases) net-zero targets forward from 2050 to 2045. And Putin's war and the increased public understanding that carbon bankrolls tyranny is likely to give them a strong incentive to push that process harder. Aotearoa will need to do the same.

How fast we decarbonise is largely a matter of how fast the government pushes it. And as we've seen from Covid, the government can push very hard indeed when the chips are down. Articles like Pagani's are there to do the opposite, to lay the groundwork for further footdragging. They are simply propaganda for civilisational suicide. And a responsible media outlet like Stuff, which proclaims that it will no longer publish climate denial, should not publish them.