Stop me and buy one

by Gareth on November 18, 2009

An item of minor import to the world, but some significance to the writer: the PDF edition of Hot Topic is now available for a mere NZ$10 (all the words and pictures, none of the paper, half the original price) from the “Buy” tab in the menu at the top every page. Traditional paper copies are also available, signed, direct from the author for NZ$25 (NZ residents) or NZ$40 (including airmail shipping) for overseas readers. Copies seldom take longer than a week to reach the furthest corners of the world…

[Grand Union Morris]


Time for an update on Aquaflow, the Blenheim algae company we have frequently covered on Hot Topic this year. Things continue to look promising for it in the world outside NZ. Its discussions with overseas companies have resulted in a contract with Greenleaf Environmental of Chengdu City, Sichuan Province in China to investigate suitable sites in China for Aquaflow’s technology.

It’s quite a breakthrough. Sichuan is a leading clean technology centre and Aquaflow thinks it is the first company of its kind to move into the region. Greenleaf for its part is impressed by the two-fold function of the Aquaflow technology —  remediating contaminated water, and producing green crude oil from the algae which infest the waters.

Aquaflow director Nick Gerritsen reports ‘amazing’, unsolicited interest in recent months and the company is now evaluating more than 40 project opportunities across four continents, not including license and manufactured sales interest.

“The level of interest is ‘mind boggling’. We believe it’s because Aquaflow sits slap-dab on the cusp of two of the most fundamental issues that the world faces – fresh water and renewable fuels and chemicals.”

So far as the fuels and chemicals’economics are concerned, the advantage for the Aquaflow process is its use of naturally-occurring wastewater algae which require no introduced elements such as extra CO2 and the fact that it uses existing infrastructure rather than building high rate ponds or intensive bio-reactor systems.  The yield is lower but so are the costs.

The initial Hot Topic post on Aquaflow is here. Updates followed here, here and here.

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Hot Topic is pleased to join with Scoop and Celsias in launching a new series of articles with the theme of Imagining 2020. We want New Zealanders, as Scoop co-founder Alastair Thompson explains in this introductory post, to imagine what a low carbon future might be like:

The idea is to provide a platform for a collective long-term forecasting effort which considers the impacts of economic transformation on each sector in the NZ economy. If we start by dreaming and imagining our futures, then perhaps we can effectively gain some control over them.

Imagining 2020 will be what Al describes as “a creative commons online discussion festival in which individuals and businesses are invited write about how a low-carbon future affects their individual circumstances”. As the project progresses, we hope to get contributions from a wide spectrum of opinion in NZ, with (I hope) a focus on the positive aspects of the transformation we will inevitably have to make. This is your invitation to take part — email (address below) for details. Over to Al:

In recent months the climate change debate has all too often been framed as a matter of what level of sacrifice we as consumers and businesses are prepared to bare to save the planet. Domestically and internationally various economists have produced econometric models which show the likely negative impacts on GDP growth – extrapolated to household income – of climate change mitigation measures.

On the other side the public is berated by doomsayers who tell us the question is not what the cost of change is, but what the cost of not changing will be in the future. However as many commentators have since pointed out, the reality of climate induced economic transformation is infinitely more complicated than either these perspectives indicates.

A sacrifice approach to the issue of climate change induced economic transformation is a wrong headed – as our international trading competitors such as Japan and China have already clearly recognised. There is huge opportunity for economic growth in transformation.

Meanwhile the “fear the future” approach is a giant turn off. It is defeatist for one thing. If we are doomed anyway – say the cynics – then why not enjoy the view while the ship goes down. And while the argument may be true – until we actually start to smell the fear personally, it is hard to comprehend what threats global warming really poses to us.

Therefore a group of New Zealand websites has decided to get together and encourage discussion of the positive side to climate change mitigation. After all — how many of us really believe that the way the world is currently run is optimal – both for our personal lives as well as for the environment.

So let us think about what opportunities and benefits are present in the coming transformation to a low-carbon future for NZ and global economy. How can our lives be improved by a reorganisation of the economy? How can we use this opportunity for change to fix many of the obvious wrongs in the current consumption driven trading and economic system?

[now read on…]

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Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate CrisisAl Gore hasn’t been resting on his laurels since An Inconvenient Truth. His substantial new book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis has grown out of the more than 30 lengthy and intensive “Solution Summits” he has organised to enable leading experts from round the world to share their knowledge and experience in subjects relevant to solving the crisis, as well as the one-on-one sessions he has had with others. 

The expertise shows. The discussions of energy sources are focused and packed with useful information and judgments. Electricity from the sun is the first. Concentrated solar thermal (CST) power and photovoltaic power are both explained and evaluated. Each has a future, photovoltaics perhaps more so than currently recognised as it develops new chemical processes and fabrication technologies. Indeed some conclude that photovoltaics are near a threshold where they will have a cost advantage over CST and soon even over fossil fuel generation.

[now read on…]


Rage against the machine

by Gareth on November 15, 2009

Before I begin the onerous task of catching up with the posts left undone by a fortnight of tourism and hospitality (old friends, in NZ), I’d like to draw your attention to a most interesting piece by Naomi (No Logo) Klein in the current Rolling Stone. Titled Climate Rage, it’s a thorough examination of the issue of climate debt — the need to recognise two things in any climate deal: that the developed world got rich by using up and exceeding the atmosphere’s “headroom” for greenhouse gases, and that the ones who suffer first and most severely will be the developing world, who played no part in creating the problem.

“If we are to curb emissions in the next decade, we need a massive mobilization larger than any in history,” [Angelica] Navarro [climate negotiator for Bolivia] declared at the end of her talk. “We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth. This plan must mobilize financing and technology transfer on scales never seen before. It must get technology onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people’s quality of life. We have only a decade.”

Klein reviews the calls for climate equity coming from the developing world, and the inadequacy of the responses currently on offer. She highlights the frustration felt:

The developing world has always had plenty of reasons to be pissed off with their northern neighbors, with our tendency to overthrow their governments, invade their countries and pillage their natural resources. But never before has there been an issue so politically inflammatory as the refusal of people living in the rich world to make even small sacrifices to avert a potential climate catastrophe. In Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bolivia, the Arctic, our climate pollution is directly responsible for destroying entire ways of life — yet we keep doing it.

If you read nothing else today, read this.


And so it begins: the rest of the world is starting to notice the major disconnect between New Zealand’s much advertised “clean and green” image and the National-led government’s piecemeal demolition of sensible climate policy. In yesterday’s Guardian, one of Britain’s leading quality newspapers, Fred Pearce devotes his “greenwash” column to New Zealand:

…my prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as “clean and green. [...] To rub our noses in it, last year New Zealand signed up to the UN’s Climate Neutral Network, a list of nations that are “laying out strategies to become carbon neutral”. But if you read the small print of what New Zealand has actually promised, it is a measly 50% in emissions by 2050 – something even the US can trump.

Pearce fails to draw the distinction between the policies of the last government — which were for carbon neutrality — and the stance of the current government — which has stopped all work on plans for carbon neutrality — but is spot on about the marketing problem NZ now faces:

Check the UNEP website and you will find an excruciating hagiography about a “climate neutral journey to Middle Earth”, in which everything from the local wines to air conditioning and Air New Zealand get the greenwash treatment.

After extolling the country’s green credentials, it asks: “Have you landed in a dreamland?” Well, UNEP’s reporter certainly has. He cheers New Zealand’s “global leadership in tackling climate change”, when the country’s minister in charge of climate negotiations, Tim Groser, has been busy reassuring his compatriots that “we would not try to be ‘leaders’ in climate change.”

This is not just political spin. It is also commercial greenwash. New Zealand trades on its greenness to promote its two big industries: tourism and dairy exports.

And there’s the crunch. Pearce goes on to point to research that suggests tourism would be badly hit by a loss of the clean green image. To make matters worse, environmental tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the market. Our agricultural exports also depend on that image — but Tim Groser and the audience of farmers he was addressing seem to have been blissfully unaware of the pit they were digging for themselves.

It takes years to build a good image and establish what marketing people call positive brand attributes, but it can take only a few newspaper articles to damage or destroy it. Tourism NZ’s British campaign just took a major blow. How long before the news spreads, tourist numbers fall and exports are hit? Will our Minister of Tourism rush to defend our brand? And just how are you going to do that, John? It’s your systematic demolition of sensible climate policies that is doing the damage.

[See also: Bernard Hickey this morning.]

[Hat tip: Sam Tobin]


National’s ETS: the kids can pay

by Bryan Walker 12 November 2009

The report released today by the Sustainability Council on the Bill to amend the Emissions Trading Scheme hits hard, and rightly so. It’s straightforward reading over 20 pages if you have the time, but I’ll pull out some of its main points here:
Originally the design of the ETS was to face polluters with the [...]

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10:10 on its way to NZ

by Gareth 10 November 2009

The 10:10 emissions reduction campaign launched in the UK earlier this year is likely to arrive in New Zealand soon — perhaps before the end of the year. Speaking on Chris Laidlaw’s RNZ Sunday Morning show [mp3], organiser Daniel Vockins confirmed that discussions were underway with interested parties(*) in NZ, and promised that if 1,000 [...]

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Wind more welcome some places than others

by Bryan Walker 10 November 2009

Good and not-so-good news on wind energy.  First, a report that Spanish windfarms set a new record for wind-generated electricity over the weekend when for a few hours they provided 53% of the country’s total electricity needs. The winds were high and in previous years turbines would have been turned off because they were providing [...]

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by Bryan Walker 8 November 2009

“The future of our planet can be found now, on the frontiers of climate change.”     That’s how freelance journalist Stephan Faris frames his new book Forecast: The Surprising – and Immediate – Consequences of Climate Change. He visits and talks with people in regions already experiencing some of the early effects of a changing climate [...]

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