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Climate change change vs scaremongering

Written By: - Date published: 1:19 pm, December 11th, 2016 - 31 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment - Tags: , , ,

I’ve been arguing for a while that Guy McPherson is as much a problem as Climate Change deniers. I won’t read his work now for a number of reasons. It is scaremongering at its worst and I don’t need to be more alarmed about CC than I already am. My time is better spent talking and writing about what we can do. McPherson is essentially proselytising the end of the world and how we should enjoy it, and the danger in that (a serious danger IMO) is that it encourages people who are finding change too difficult to just give up, or worse, have a party that makes the ship go down when we might still have a chance to save it. I also object to his position because he states his opinion as fact. He doesn’t know that the world is ending, he believes it is. It’s dishonest to confuse those two things.

Let me be clear, the situation we are in is very serious and we should be doing everything we can to mitigate and then adapt to CC. It’s the most important issue of all time. So please don’t take my views on McPherson as a statement that everything is going to be alright. I’m instead pointing to the damage that can be done when we scare people too much and they stop acting.

I also have to say that I don’t particularly care about the maths, because personally I’m already convinced we are in serious shit and arguing about the maths is like trying to measure the temperature of the house fire while there are people still inside. I’m sure some will debate that in the article below Renwick is too conservative, with an intentional or unintentional implication that McPherson must be right. My concern here isn’t so much with the maths, as what gives us the best chance of mitigating the worst effects of CC? Is it telling people we’re all going to die? Or is it giving people the information, skills and pathways they need in order to proactively effect change? – weka.

The following is a post from Hot Topic by climate scientist James Renwick, who attended one of McPherson’s recent lectures in NZ. It puts McPherson’s claims in the context of current climate science, and makes some points about where McPherson is getting it wrong.

Guy McPherson and the end of humanity (not)

Is climate change going to wipe out humanity over the next 10 years? Prof Jim Renwick doesn’t think so…

Ecologist Guy McPherson has been touring New Zealand for the past couple of weeks, explaining why humanity has only 10 years to live (a kind-of Ziggy message that has immediate appeal to me). After his appearance on the Paul Henry breakfast show, I was called by TV3/Newshub for comment. Based on my understanding of climate change science I said that though the situation is very serious — dire even — extinction in 10 years is not going to happen. When I gave my remarks to Newshub, I knew little about McPherson but I understood that he is a very knowledgeable biologist who should not be dismissed lightly.

So, what’s the story? Is McPherson right? Is the IPCC woefully conservative and keeping the truth from us all? I had the opportunity to hear Prof McPherson speak in Paraparaumu on Saturday (Dec 10th) to get more insight into what his views really are. It was a very interesting presentation, and a very interesting discussion with the audience of 50-odd Kāpiti coasters who showed up to hear him. As the old saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What we heard was extraordinary for sure, but was not too convincing in terms of evidence.

McPherson’s presentation was as much philosophy as science. Much of his message is built around the undeniable truth that we are all, one day, going to die. Hence, we would do well to live in and for the present, express our love to those close to us, and act rightly according to our own beliefs and principles. Excellent advice, and a great philosophy for living well, what you would be told in any number of “life-coaching” books. Where he differs from most is in saying that all of us, i.e. all of humanity, and most other species, will be extinct in 10 years or so. Why is that, you might ask?

The detail on his view of the climate system can be gained by reading his “monster climate change essay”. A briefer overview, and what he bases much of the scientific side of his presentation on, comes from a blog postat the Arctic-News blogspot site,  written by “Sam Carana” (not his or her real name – you know why). This piece suggests that the globe will warm around 10°C in the next decade, and since such warming was associated with mass extinctions in past epochs, humanity and most vertebrates etc will be toast very soon.

The blog post starts by assuming the February 2016 global mean temperature represents the current average temperature of the earth, then throws in another 0.8°C for pre-1900 (0.3°C) and unavoidable future (0.5°C) warming. This is pushing it, as February was the warmest single month on record (in difference from normal terms), several tenths of a degree above the annual mean for 2016, and the amount of unavoidable future warming is small (maybe 0.1°C?), should greenhouse gas emissions stop now.

However, the next steps are where McPherson’s grasp of the science seems shakiest. Cutting aerosol pollution to zero (as would happen when and if industrial society falls over) will unmask another 2.5°C of warming. This is a factor of ten too large, as the actual amount would be around 0.25°C by current best estimates (see figure 10.5). Reduced planetary reflectivity (albedo) from loss of Arctic ice will add another 1.6°C (perhaps in the Arctic, but not in the global mean), plus the water vapour feedback, seafloor methane release etc will add an extra 3.5°C. So that’s another 7.5°C on top of essentially where we are at now, giving a total of about 10°C warming compared to pre-industrial, assumed to happen in the next 10 years. Then, all the world’s nuclear reactors melt down, and we are all extinct.

The way Guy McPherson talks about water vapour shows his sketchy grasp of atmospheric physics. He states that most of the water vapour in the atmosphere is above 6km altitude, where it “acts like a lens” to heat the earth. Most of the water vapour is actually in the lowest few kilometres of the atmosphere, as the upper troposphere is too cold to support much water vapour. Perhaps he’s thinking of the release of latent heat in the tropics, which does occur mostly in the upper troposphere, leading to a warming “hot spot” in the tropical upper troposphere as greenhouse gas concentrations rise (See AR5 WG1, figure 12.12).

Water vapour is of course a critically important part of the climate change story and is the main amplifying feedback of greenhouse gas increase. McPherson is trained as an ecologist, so it’s no surprise that he isn’t totally on top of the vertical profile of water vapour in the atmosphere. But, if your public profile depends on your image as an authority on “global warming”, you would do well to be clear on the science.

Now, the potential consequences of climate change, and the lurking feedbacks such as Arctic methane release and other carbon cycle changes, are an extremely serious concern, one that I think the governments of the world have yet to really take on board. The risks of severe food and water shortages, population displacements and conflict over resources, already has the potential to endanger hundreds of millions of lives – even with another degree or two of warming (as outlined in the last IPCC report). But truly catastrophic and extremely rapid climate changes do not look to be on the cards, at all. Earth’s climate is not poised for “runaway” change (as per Venus), nor is there any clear indication from the geological record that the climate system is so sensitive to greenhouse gas increase that 10°C of warming in 10 years is imminent, or even possible. The climate community of course does not know everything about past climate change nor about what the climate system is capable of if pushed hard. But, the extinction in 10 years scenario is really at the outer edge of speculation about the future.

Even without imminent extinction, the consequences of climate change are more than dire enough to galvanise us into action. My perception is that concerted global action within the next decade can avoid the worst consequences. The flip side is that business as usual, even for another ten years, could lock in changes that do indeed put global society at risk and threaten possibly hundreds of millions to billions of lives. Not instant death but a very unpleasant future for a very long time. I find that prospect plenty scary enough, and it leaves room for us to take action. Let’s take it.

Gareth adds: McPherson’s views are a good example of real climate “alarmism”. Deniers love to paint the IPCC or consensus position on climate change as alarmist, thereby implying that their rejection of that consensus is somehow sensible or moderate. McPherson’s stance shows that to be a mere debating trick. The truth, of course, is that by rejecting the consensus view on what we can expect, deniers are as extreme as McPherson — polar opposites, but just as guilty of exaggeration.

31 comments on “Climate change change vs scaremongering ”

  1. weka 1

    A couple of articles from scientists refuting McPherson’s work (in 2014), from a comment in the Hot Topic post,

    http://planet3.org/2014/03/13/mcphersons-evidence-that-doom-doom-doom/

    https://fractalplanet.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/how-guy-mcpherson-gets-it-wrong/

  2. Macro 2

    Thanks for posting this weka.
    As you are aware – my thoughts on the matter of MacPherson’s claims fall much in line with those of Jim Renwick and Gareth Renowden above.
    Further to the above article on the misconceptions of MacPherson it is important to state that he bases his outlandish claims on a misunderstanding of feedback loops. His “thesis” is based upon the misconception that feedbacks are multiplicative, and true there are many differnt feedbacks in the climate system – both positive and negative, but he claims that they have a multiplying effect on each other which is clearly erroneous, as their effect are not multiplicative but additive – and that is a big difference.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Feedback loops have an exponential nature:

      When the loop gain is positive and above 1, there will typically be exponential growth, increasing oscillations, chaotic behavior or other divergences from equilibrium.

      • Macro 2.1.1

        The feedback maybe exponential as you say – but that is not argument that MacPherson is making. There are numerous feedbacks (Water vapour, artic methane, albelio etc) – and his thesis is based upon a belief that they interact multiplicatively whereas they do not.

        • weka 2.1.1.1

          Does that mean that if take phenomena 1 and phenomena 2, they will each have the same effects together that they would alone, whereas GM is arguing that you get double (or whatever) the effect of each because they are happening together?

          • Macro 2.1.1.1.1

            Yes essentially that is the case. By doing this he calculates a 10 degree increase in global surface temperatures in 10 years. That is obviously an outlandlish claim. And as Jim Renwick notes in his post on Hot Topic; inflates each forcing in some cases by a factor of 10 – eg the elimination of aerosols. He gets these figures by incorrectly misinterpreting the nature of feedbacks. He is an ecologist – not a physicist. However even ecologists need to understand the physics.

        • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1.2

          It’s entirely possible that they will interact multiplicatively rather additively.

          It’s a complex system of relationships. An increase in one could result in a multiplicative increase in another.

          Personally, I’d expect it to be a proportional change and that is always multiplicative although most like measured in decimals of less than one. Added together they then, overall, be greater than one and at that point we have an exponential increase.

          No, I don’t think that things are as bad as McPherson thinks but I also don’t think things are as optimistic as the IPCC reports either.

        • Given that CC itself is exponential in nature, even additive feedbacks are a huge problem.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1.2

        Climatologists use the term to describe different phenomena than the one described by sound engineers. Even jargon depends on context.

        There was a post or comment about this on Realclimate some years ago – I’ll try and find a link…. to no avail. In any event, the terms are not interchangable:

        Climate change feedback (Wikipedia).

  3. Bill 3

    I don’t really care about McPherson. As someone said in a thread hereabouts, he’s the carbon copy negative of a denier.

    And as you know, I kind of do care about the numbers (eg – the available carbon budget and what not) . But anyway, putting all of that aside, something worth throwing in is that there seem to be a large number of people who don’t act because they believe we (or they) will be able to adapt as stuff ‘comes down the line’.

    And that’s the scary one for me; this idea of, or faith in simple adaptation.

    Even if we are of a mind to find it acceptable for those in temperate regions (us) to adapt to an average global surface temp increase of (say) 2 degrees even as that average surface temp increase makes living impossible for however many millions in equatorial or tropical regions, by the time we act on the basis of that immediate and impacting 2 degrees scenario, there will be another x degrees of warming locked in. And sure, maybe we adapt to that additional temperature too. But by then there’s another x degrees of warming locked in.

    And this is putting any feedback loops to one side. But there seems to be a kind of Peter Principle implicit to the idea of adaptation because of the lag time in warming.

    So whereas in management terms, the Peter Principle suggests that employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” – relying on adaptation to survive likely CC we (or some lucky few in the right place) adapt right up until the situation we find ourselves in is beyond adaptation.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle

  4. AB 4

    McPherson is a gift to the CC deniers. He gives their accusations of alarmism some credibility.

  5. johnm 5

    Canadian Climate Scientist, Paul Beckwith says we’re in a climate emergency.He believes we must:

    1. Stop all emissions now
    2. Geoengineer the Arctic to stop its melting
    3.Start direct CO2 removal from the atmosphere asap.

    Peter Wadhams also advocates we must do 2 and 3

    Can’t see it happening though, we certainly will continue on our merry way with BAU and eventually CO2 will get to 450ppm.

    https://paulbeckwith.net/

  6. Andre 6

    Something I find really disappointing is when discussion starts about a specific mitigation measure such as a carbon tax, there are always poo-poohers jumping in to say we shouldn’t be dreaming about it because it’s not enough on it’s own to solve the problem.

    There is no magic bullet, there’s just the sum of a lot of different mitigation measures we can do now, a lot of development of new mitigation measures, and a lot of adaptation we won’t be able to avoid. How much and how expensive the third one will be depends on how serious we get about the first two.

    • Bill 6.1

      Too many people put far too much store by carbon pricing. And the studies show, conclusively, that a price on carbon as a central plank to any mitigation policy…well, it’s akin to standing on a train track and walking down the tracks ‘away’ from the train. Doesn’t even really buy much time.

  7. Red Hand 7

    Walk, cycle or use public transport
    Reduce meat, fish and dairy consumption (or stop eating them)
    Grow vegetables and fruit trees
    Turn off the lights, get rid of TV, dishwasher, dryer, heat pump, motor mower, leaf blower, hedge and string trimmers
    Reduce or stop air travel overseas
    When travelling stay in a homestay, camping ground or apartment
    Go boating in a sailboat
    Avoid supermarkets
    Avoid packaged goods
    Get a big, well made kete and use it

    • b waghorn 7.1

      and hope like fuck science comes up with a fix because 7 billion humans and climbing says that we art going to learn the hard way what happens when you ignore cause and effect.

  8. Andre 8

    Some interesting thoughts If Tillerson (ExxonMobil CEO) gets the nod for Secretary of State it will open up opportunities to publicize how they’ve been deceitful about climate change since the 70s at least

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-henn/trumps-pick-of-rex-tiller_b_13552612.html

  9. The Pants Of Doom 9

    When are we going to face up to the population issue?

    It’s time we made having children considerably more expensive. We do not need more humans. This is going to be a very hard call but someone needs to make it.

    Turning off appliances is not going to cut it.

  10. Pat 10

    if nothing else McPherson at least got climate change on the news and on the home pages of the daily newspapers for a few days……no mean feat in the current environment.

  11. Incognito 11

    A different perspective on climate (change) and possibly off-topic, but only ever so slightly IMHO, and a very interesting read:

    http://sciblogs.co.nz/guestwork/2016/12/10/ice-ages-earths-wobbly-orbit/

    If I had to put money on it, I’d say the Earth has experienced its last ice age for a very, very long time.

  12. CnrJoe 12

    did any of you even see how fast the last tens went bye?

  13. Sabine 13

    i just came across this at the site of the great orange satan aka Dkos.

    A diary about winter in Iceland that apparently never came this year.

    http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/12/10/1609543/-The-Sun-Has-Gone-But-Winter-Never-Came-A-hike-amongst-snowless-mountains-near-Reykjav-k

    but other then that all is well.

  14. Venezia 14

    Jim Renwick states ” My perception is that concerted global action within the next decade can avoid the worst consequences.” But are those with power to take ” concerted global action” coming anywhere close to this? The Paris agreement can hardly be decsribed as “concerted global action”. Thats the worry. For those with the power, retaining that political power and the focus on economic “growth” are the antithesis of what is needed.

  15. Seemorerocks 16

    Renwick’s science is at least 10’years out-of-date and hopekessly inaccurate. You don’t have to accept the near-term extinction but you can’t fault his science . Every statement is supported by scientific research that is at least up-to-date.

    How about doing something radical and start with reality and then sort out your response.

    Here is Prof. McPhersons response to Renwick

    • johnm 17.1

      Right at the end of Guy McPherson’s NZ tour Prof. James Renwick of Victoria University turned up and introduced himself. Instead of checking out the up-to-date references provided to him Renwick wrote a hit piece relying on grossly out-of-date information from the 4th IPCC Report.

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  • Shifting all Isolation/Quarantine Facilities to a Single Air Force Base: The Need for a Critical Ana...
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    7 days ago
  • Letter to the Editor
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    1 week ago
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    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
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  • Stewardship land is conservation land
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  • Driving Out The Money-Changers Of Reactionary Christianity.
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  • Climate Change: Overshoot
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  • Says it all
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  • Skeptical Science New Research for Week #36, 2020
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  • ‘Compassionate conservation’: just because we love invasive animals, doesn’t mean we should pr...
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  • Is Euthanasia a health priority for New Zealand at present?
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  • If not now, when?
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  • Is that it?
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    2 weeks ago
  • Methane is short-lived in the atmosphere but leaves long-term damage
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  • Community Values
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    2 weeks ago

  • Government backing Māori landowners
    The Government will provide up to $1.69 million through the One Billion Trees programme to Māori landowners to make their whenua more productive through the planting of forests, both native and exotic, and improve economic and environmental outcomes, Forestry Minister Shane Jones has announced. “Around 1.5 million ha of land ...
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    14 hours ago
  • New tools to make nature more accessible
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    1 day ago
  • PGF makes Māori history more accessible
    One of the most significant battle sites of the 1860s Land Wars will receive $2.96 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to improve the site and help tell the New Zealand story to visitors, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones have announced. Nanaia Mahuta ...
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    2 days ago
  • Making it official: The journey of te reo Māori | Kia whakapūmautia: Ngā piki me ngā heke o te r...
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  • Better-than-forecast GDP reflects decision to protect New Zealand
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    3 days ago
  • Boost for COVID-19 related Pacific education needs
    The Government is investing $39.7 Million over four years to support the educational needs of Pacific learners and families in the regions hardest hit by COVID-19, with Auckland getting an immediate boost, Associate Minister of Education Jenny Salesa says.   “Like all New Zealanders Pacific families want learners to do well ...
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    3 days ago
  • More resources for kiwi conservation
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    3 days ago
  • Improving access to affordable electricity
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    3 days ago
  • Government achieves 50 percent women on state boards
    Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter announced today that the Government has reached its target of 50 percent on women on state sector board and committees – setting a new record level of women on state sector boards. “This Government is committed to having more women in leadership roles - ...
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    3 days ago
  • Record transport investment to help economic recovery and save lives
    Transport Minister Phil Twyford released today the final Government Policy Statement on land transport (GPS) 2021 which outlines the planned $48 billion investment in services and infrastructure over the next decade. “The final GPS supports our Government’s five-point plan for economic recovery by confirming our record investments in transport infrastructure ...
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    3 days ago
  • Advancing clean energy technology
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    3 days ago
  • Major milestone reached in Pike River Re-entry
    The critical area for forensic examination known as Pit Bottom in Stone has been reached in what is a major milestone for the Pike River re-entry project, Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little announced. “The infrastructure located in Pit Bottom in Stone is of very significant interest in ...
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    3 days ago
  • Economic recovery guides Govt response to retirement income policy review
    The Government is working on how New Zealand’s retirement income policies and settings can best support Kiwis in light of the COVID-19 economic recovery, with the help of the Retirement Commissioner’s latest review, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi said. “The Retirement Commissioner’s three-yearly review into New Zealand’s retirement ...
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    3 days ago
  • Iwi community hub opens in Murupara
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    3 days ago
  • PREFU shows economy doing better than forecast
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    3 days ago
  • Spruce-up for Ōtaki community facilities
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    3 days ago
  • PGF funding for Jobs for Nature programme
    The Provincial Growth Fund will provide $11.88 million to fund fencing and waterway projects nationwide that will improve the environment and create jobs in their communities, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has announced. “These projects will create more than 100 jobs nationwide with work starting within the next couple ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Procurement to promote jobs, Māori and Pasifika businesses and sustainability
    As part of the COVID-19 recovery, the Government has strengthened its procurement rules to ensure its annual $42 billion spend creates more jobs, uses more sustainable construction practices and results in better outcomes for Māori and Pasifika, Government Ministers announced today.   Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford says the $42 ...
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    4 days ago
  • Timaru’s Theatre Royal to be upgraded and new heritage facility built
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    4 days ago
  • District Court judge appointed
    Chrissy Montague (formerly Armstrong), barrister of Auckland has been appointed as a District Court Judge with Family Court jurisdiction to be based in Wellington, Attorney-General David Parker announced today. Ms Montague commenced practice in Auckland in 1987 and went into general practice dealing with Wills, Estates, Trusts, Conveyancing, Relationship Property ...
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    4 days ago
  • Approval given to Commercial Film and Video Production Proposal
      A Proposal to provide for the development and operation of commercial film and video production facilities in areas of Christchurch has been given the go ahead. Hon Poto Williams, Associate Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration, has approved the Proposal, which was prepared and submitted by Regenerate Christchurch. Minister Williams ...
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    4 days ago
  • Supporting a thriving wānanga sector to benefit Māori learners
    As part of the Government’s focus on building closer partnerships with Māori and enhancing the quality of, and access to, Māori medium education, a payment of $8 million will be made to Te Wānanga o Raukawa in partial recognition of its Waitangi Tribunal claim (WAI 2698), Associate Education Minister Kelvin ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Jobs for Nature boosts efforts to restore Kaimai-Mamaku
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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • New Zealand first in the world to require climate risk reporting
    New Zealand will be the first country in the world to require the financial sector to report on climate risks, the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw announced today. The changes build on the huge progress this Government has made to tackle the climate crisis. “Today is another step on ...
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    5 days ago
  • Economic data highlights impact of Auckland moving out of Level 3
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    5 days ago
  • PM statement on Cabinet COVID-19 Alert Level review
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    5 days ago
  • More mental wellbeing services for young people in regions
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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
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  • Government joins forces with Central Otago communities to clean up waterways
    The Manuherekia catchment in Central Otago is the third exemplar catchment to be targeted as part of the Government’s plan to clean up waterways by supporting community-led programmes.   Environment Minister David Parker said the Manuherekia catchment is vitally important to the people of Central Otago.  “The Manuherekia rises in the ...
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    5 days ago
  • Government confirms new Dunedin Hospital design
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    6 days ago
  • Join the one in a million reo Māori moment
    New Zealanders across the country are set to mark history as part of the Māori Language Week commemorations led by Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori this year.  Māori Development Minister, Nanaia Mahuta says the initiative will mark history for all the right reasons including making te reo Māori ...
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  • Education initiatives add to momentum of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2020
    More than 1000 teachers, support staff and school leaders have graduated from a programme designed to grow their capability to use te reo Māori in their teaching practice, as part of the Government’s plan to integrate te reo Māori into education, Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis announced today. Being trialled ...
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  • The Toloa Tertiary Scholarships for 2021 aims to increase Pacific participation in STEM
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  • Financial support for timber industry
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  • New Zealand seeks answers to the Gulf Livestock 1 tragedy
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  • Government backs East Coast marine infrastructure
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  • Government mourns the passing of Epineha Ratapu
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  • October round of fisheries decisions
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  • New Zealand to host Bledisloe Cup in October and ready to attract other international sporting event...
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  • Hundreds more regional apprenticeships
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  • New parking solution for Christchurch hospital
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