Zero Carbon Dioxide Emissions – 100% Possible or 100% Pointless?

A new youth-led organisation,  'Generation Zero', has formed in New Zealand to pursue a carbon zero Aotearoa.

In Hamilton on 29th July they held one of several presentations in a road show traversing the entire country asking the question: What’s the hold up?

This article is my observations of that meeting.


There was an excellent turnout of approximately 100-120 of all ages, not just generation zero.

The presentation was introduced by local councillor Daphne Bell from the Sustainability Working Group who lauded the young people for their initiative and passion, and urged all to vote for Sustainable Waikato candidates in the forthcoming local elections. Acknowledged were attending Hamilton Councillor Martin Gallagher, and Waikato Regional Councillor Paula Southgate.

A video montage was shown featuring the President of the World Bank, David Attenborough, President Obama, Gordon Campbell (Premier of British Columbia) movie personalities and Anne Salmond trotting out the usual climate change alarmist meme.

And, we were told, this view is shared by 97% of scientists (without mention to Cook et al, or other dubious origins of the figure) who say we need to keep temperatures to 2o to avoid ‘catastrophe’.

Keeping below 20 translates to a 20-40% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and an 80-95% cut by 2050. So this is the genesis of the idea of 100% reduction being  the goal, packaged as 100% Possible (campaign slogan) and the rest of the presentation focused on what the current sources of carbon dioxide emissions are and how they might be eliminated in order for New Zealand to be on the “right side of history”.

The current government’s various actions or inactions were listed to illustrate their backsliding on climate change action. Principal amongst these was the disastrous Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) crash in prices to $0.15 per tonne.

Comment: I am sure the warmunists have been seeking a delicious irony in crippling the capitalist system with capitalist system tools, but they seem to have overlooked the “free” part of free market  and the widespread scepticism that these carbon indulgences were ever of any actual value whatsoever, other than as a rort. Tax is tax, however it is cut from your wallet and this is similar thinking to the twisted idea that the lack of a penal tax on things they don’t like is a subsidy.

Generation Zero’s analysis of the current situation rightly concludes that with 77% of New Zealand’s electricity generation coming from renewable sources (Hydro, Geothermal and wind – with a tiny biomass component) only the transport sector is of any significance, being 40% of NZ CO2emissions.

Comment: However, for context, New Zealand’s annual 30+ MT of CO2 emissions is roughly 1/1000th of the global total, of anthropogenic emissions. So no matter how successful the 100% Possible campaign is, it will still be 1/1000th of anything . What’s the hold up? A better question is:  what’s the point?

I had an interesting discussion later with one of the presenters who thought that anthropogenic emissions must be much more than around 5% of total CO2 emissions and when asked why these could be classed as “pollution” but were the same as “natural” emissions, explained that people didn’t understand concepts like emissions and “pollution” was easier to grasp.

Rod Oram gets radical

New Zealand journalist Rod Oram urged everyone to “get radical” over the climate change issue and related how his experience at the recent Rio conference demonstrated that the community delegates were much more vociferous and committed than the politicians.

Comment: It might be that the community delegates have all care and no responsibility.

He described a number of case studies of individuals and organisations who are doing their bit: Lanzatech algae ethanol, individuals converting their cars (as he did with his Toyota Prius) with a do-it-yourself battery kit bought over the Internet for $10,000, and “social enterprises” such as who finally persuaded NZTA, Auckland Council and  Infratil to pursue a walkway/bicycle path across Auckland Harbour bridge (SkyPath).

He also raised the question of management of New Zealand’s economic zone suggesting that we do not have the capacity or expertise to manage this ourselves and that we needed other countries to ‘collaborate’.  My mind boggled.

His theme was 'grassroots protest gets results'.

The Plan

Louis Chambers (Rhodes Scholar shortly off to Oxford) and Paul Young took up the story asking  “can NZ be completely free of fossil fuels?” Their model is Denmark where climate change is a priority and extreme green policies are being pursued.

Their plan is to shift car transport journeys to 10% being on public transport, 10% on bicycles, and shifting “all remaining light vehicles” to electric cars. An “electric cars only” policy would require an increase in total electricity generation of 15%, but since this is already heavily renewable it is a preferable alternative to fossil-fuelled vehicles. They realise that it would take a long while, even a generation, to achieve.

Fossil-fuelled public transport vehicles would be subject to the EU 2020 emissions standards.

Comment: There is considerable controversy currently with Germany trying to backpedal on these regulations since it is already harming its automakers.

Commercial vehicles and airplanes would use biofuels from the one million hectares of ‘energy forests’ required to produce sufficient ethanol. (They estimate there are 3.6M Hectares of “productive land unsuitable for pasture or crops).

Comment: This is also a topical area where Australia (like NZ) is wrestling with tax-incentivised tree planting where the commodity prices and emissions credits have collapsed. This Australian ABC article relates how these rorts have left farmers who rented their land for these schemes with trees on their properties they get no income from, since the schemes have gone bankrupt, and cannot cut them down since they don't own them. Nor is it viable to harvest them given the market price. The land therefore is wholly unproductive. Perhaps in NZ we will forest all our national parks?

Freight would be forced onto rail and coastal shipping but it is unclear what choice or direction would apply to whether you use ethanol-fuelled commercial vehicles, rail or coastal freighters.

Comment: No doubt the central committee would have a five-year-plan. /sarc

Of course in order for public transport to be efficient (or even get close to 10% of travel) urban densities will have to increase.

Comment: I can feel the gentle breeze of Agenda 21 urban settlement zones policy.

The funding for these policies would come from abandoning the “roads of national significance” program which the presenters consider a gross waste of monies. We will only need the local roads once all the trucks have been banished to rail and coastal freighters and everything else is a bus or a bike. Just for good measure we are treated to an inane comedic bus advert from, you guessed it, Denmark.

During this section of the presentation the contrary arguments were introduced by “sceptic the dinosaur” with a titter from the audience before being slayed by the brilliant plan from the presenters (as described above).

The electricity sector was covered but only fleetingly since, as noted earlier, NZ is already 77% renewable. But a fascinating explanation of the problem of peak loads highlighted that we all take showers at the same time, and I waited with bated breath to find out what time I would be allowed to shower……but the solutions are “smart meters” (where you only get electricity when the central authority deems it necessary) and shifting water heating to night time.

Comment: I was under the impression that ripple switching was already a significant factor in NZ but I am willing to be corrected. Wikipedia says “New Zealand has since the 1950s had a system of load management based on ripple control, allowing the electricity supply for domestic and commercial water storage heaters to be switched off and on, as well as allowing remote control of nightstore heaters and street lights”

The other major component is pumped storage, where electricity is used to pump water back into storage lakes at night when there is unused capacity to be used at peak times.

Comment: The only concern I have about this is that the sizeable increase in wind generation will add substantially to intermittency and probably negate all of this effort to avoid peaks. Peaks, of course, are likely to require fossil fuel power stations. The 100% goal is starting to appear obsessive, and idealistic. Needless to say all of this sounds a bit expensive? Well even more so if the market price of carbon dioxide emissions is $0.15 per tonne.


The Call to Action

So then the pitch. Ryan Mearns and Sam Blood reiterate the dinosaur thinking theme and point to the Australian “price on carbon” without mentioning that the latest prime minister is doing his best to dismantle the tax to replace it with an ETS so that he can REDUCE the price on carbon that is killing his chance of re-election.

A long list of inspiring events was extolled: JFK shooting for the moon because it was hard; nuclear free New Zealand; various protests around the world which successfully influenced policy, especially with youth at the forefront of the barricades.

Generation Zero wants to build a popular movement based on their plan but recognise that actual influence comes from the ballot box and that they must use their movement to gain votes for their agenda. We were extolled to “vote for a future that is not shit”, I kid you not, and were given cards to sign up to join the movement.


Questions and Answers.

One of the slides included a figure of 47% of methane from cows and was asked about from the floor. Of course there isn’t a great deal that can be done about this issue, but the effects of methane (CH4) being a more potent greenhouse gas was explained. At this point someone shouted “rubbish” and pointed out that the cycle of cows and methane simply recycled carbon in the earth to the atmosphere and back again and that the presenters should explain the whole truth not just a part.

Needless to say this person was shouted down and asked to identify himself and his credentials and authority to speak. He refused and said he was not prepared to be intimidated. I spoke with him afterwards and discovered he has two science degrees (including chemistry) as well as an engineering degree.

There was very little other discussion.

I subsequently spoke with Sam Taylor, one of the masters of ceremonies to make sure she was aware that despite attending, she should not assume that everyone who attended agreed with their pitch. I for one did not. During the discussion she asked if I knew of the IPCC. I said I did and she told me that they have a “very rigorous process”. I suggested she read Donna Laframboise's book The Delinquent Teenager which found that their process was anything but rigorous. I followed this up with an emailed reference to this material as well as evidence of the carbon cycle showing that anthropogenic sources are around 4% of total CO2. Despite her politeness this was totally blanked with a reference to the IPCC’s standard process, which we know is ignored by the IPCC in practice.

I also engaged in conversation with a few others and it was clear that this was a low information crowd. None was aware of any contrary perspectives on climate change.

One fellow berated the sale of Mighty River Power based on the handsome returns citing the massive difference in generation price versus sales price. I pointed out that occasional spot price difference does not an annual profit make and that for the previous two years MRP had returned around 3% on assets employed to the government; not even a reasonable dividend. These concepts appeared to perplex him but he clearly didn’t want facts to corrupt his righteous indignation.

I spoke with Martin Gallagher (Hamilton Councillor) and it became clear he was unaware of the intermittency of wind power and various other aspects of the climate change debate which piqued his interest in my identity, my background, position, etc.

All in all the only way forward is to keep pointing out the nonsense, half-truths and outright lies but recognise that climate change is a political issue and for the hard left portion of the potential audience truth is not something they want to hear or could reconcile with their world view. There may be some on the fringes that might listen.


Ken Methven