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Climate Change’s deadly twin

Written By: - Date published: 6:34 am, July 12th, 2012 - 57 comments
Categories: climate change, water - Tags:

The oceans are doing their best to save us from climate change apparently… but just ending up dooming us in another way.

Oceans are absorbing a large amount of the excess CO2 that we’re putting out.  But it results in coral and shellfish unable to form their skeletons and shells.  This results in fewer fish as reefs are damaged, less food as fish and shellfish harvests drop, and less jobs as tourism and fishing industries struggle.

Fortunately the world agreed at Rio to stop any increase in ocean acidification and we can all expect governments around the world to halt all CO2 emissions…

In reality as news comes in that scientists have examined recent weather events and concluded that many were likely the result of climate change,  and the US records yet another hottest year, you might hope for some action, but all we get is continuing subsidies of polluters.

(Pattrick Smellie had a good column about our lack of action too)

57 comments on “Climate Change’s deadly twin ”

  1. Jenny 1

    I will get in here first before all the apologists, to say that we can make a difference.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Not unless you cut global energy use by 20%-30%.

      And the only way to do that is a massive global recession. Which, conveniently, is what is happening now.

      Faith and mantra repetition is not going to achieve the change you want to see.

      • aerobubble 1.1.1

        yeah, the market signal is louder than ever. Governments desperately trying to look like
        their austerity is ‘working’ just goes to show how utterly out of touch world governments are.
        The problems are three fold, ecological, economical, and cultural. At the core is
        private car ownership, energy sapping suburban living, cultural death to human communities, unmaintainable as the market again reiterates, fueled by banks printing debt as neo-liberals
        took power and handed the keys over to big finance. Forcing the Human economy to
        produce at any cost to planet, future generations or fiscal fairness. Our political elites
        have essentially just slammed on the accelerator and forced the world economy into
        one long skid, their efforts to steer us to safety are a joke while they keep accelerating.

      • NotAConspiracyTheorist 1.1.2

        Makes you wonder if the austerity proponents have ulterior motives. Maybe they’re all on the side of angels, trying to crash the economy to get emissions down. They can’t tell us that of course because then it wouldn’t work.

    • Colonial Viper 1.2

      Also in regards to the SciAm article you referenced yesterday – how long do you think it will be that the vast majority of our transport and freight systems in NZ are run electrically or by hydrogen fuel cell?

      Perhaps by believing in it enough it could happen within the next 15 years?

      My view: it’ll never happen. Horse drawn carts are going to be more common than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by the end of the 21st century. You should be happy that they are relatively low emission compared to current day vehicles, though.

      • Jenny 1.2.1

        Right to the heart of the matter CV. I agree with your critique as to electric or hydrogen fuel cell private cars. I thought that this was the weakest part of SciAm plan.

        All I can say about this is. This is an American made plan. And as we all know the Americans have a weak spot for, and a love affair with, the private motor car. There are other plans but I picked this one out of the crowd because it had the endorsement a generally conservative and well respected scientific journal that has an international reputation for only printing scientifically rigorous peer reviewed papers.

        In my opinion I agree with you, the internal combustion private motor car will never disappear. But it’s role will have to completely change. As a mass transit system, private automobiles are a complete failure, and will have to be replaced by public transport. Private cars should be for private use, ie leisure only. This would vastly reduce private automobile use, rush hour traffic jams, air pollution and pure waste.

        But apart from their thoughts on electric cars, the SciAm plan for complete global replacement of fossil fuels with energy from WWS for power generation, on its own this part of the plan would make a huge difference to climate change results.

        Never forget that coal for power generation is the number one source of Green House Gas emissions.

        • Colonial Viper

          Because of hydro and other physical resources in NZ, we can have a situation where fossil fuels make up only 5% of our total annual power generation.

          That is totally impossible in countries like China, India, UK and Japan. That’s a third of the world’s population.

          Further, transport is currently the most fundamental and hard to replace use of fossil fuels. Recognising that is the weakest part of the SciAm plan is recognising that the SciAm plan is fundamentally weak.

          Never forget that coal for power generation is the number one source of Green House Gas emissions.

          How can I forget? China’s coal consumption has increased by 200% in the last 20 years and still climbing.


    • MrSmith 1.3

      Jenny followed your posts on a resent thread (great stuff) and have a question, would you say reducing our methane emissions is the best place to start tackling the the problem. 

      • Jenny 1.3.1

        …. would you say reducing our methane emissions is the best place to start tackling the problem.


        Not necessarily.

        The thing to remember is that New Zealand’s total emissions are only 0.2% of the global total.

        Therefore the most important thing New Zealand has to do is to be an example of what is possible.

        To expect the whole world to change is unrealistic, one country has to be first. As yet no country has stepped up to the plate to implement the policies required. As in all collective action by human beings, leadership is often the decisive factor.

        Someone has to be first,

        Someone has to give the lead,

        Someone has to show by example that it can be done.

        It may be our world historical duty to give that lead. In my humble opinion no country is better suited to make the transition.

        As to what could and should be done, I have some ideas. But these are tactical questions. What is really needed is the political will to start.

        • mike e

          Farming would be more profitable if we slowly increased carbon taxes as farmers would be less reliant on imported fuels and fertilizers as well as making effeciency a priority.
          Just about all the dairy farms bar 1 I have visited in the last five years would be able to increase their output of milk by being better managed .
          Cows bein maltreated is very common with alot of cows milking on 2 or three teats because of neglect.
          Most of these dairyfarmers have got so much money they don’t give a rats arse about their animals their staff their ieffeciency.
          Because their so far up themselves they can’t see the wood for the trees.

        • Jenny

          The first serious political step we could take as a nation to signal to the world that we are willing to take action on climate change, is to abolish the Emissions Trading Scheme. (ETS).

          This should be immediately raised by the Green Party through a private members bill.

          The only ones to lament the passing of this scheme would be the polluters.

          Why the Greens ever supported a pollution trading scheme in the first place is beyond me.

          Without this shitty scheme New Zealand would for the first time, have to face up to taking some serious real world actions against climate change. (The sort of actions that this scheme was set up to prevent.)

          With such an initiative from the Greens the real debate on climate change in parliament would begin.

          Are they up to it?

          Or will they collapse like a blancmange in the face of screams of outrage from the polluters and the carbon futures speculators.

          • Colonial Viper

            What needs to be done is a $50B investment over the next 10 years; half in public transport systems and half in renewable power generation and energy de-intensification.

            Changing legislation will make minimal difference to our rate and type of energy use in the real world.

            • Jenny

              Changing legislation will make minimal difference to our rate and type of energy use in the real world.

              Colonial Viper

              Don’t ever underestimate the power of leadership. Without leadership no matter how much we want to change things, we will be running around like headless chickens.

              It wasn’t until the British parliament decided to mobilise the population that a fight back against fascism was possible.

              But as long as our political leaders sit like rabbits frozen in the headlights of the approaching disaster nothing will happen.

              Getting rid of the ETS is the first step to make them take that action, forcing them to step out of the headlights glare to see what really needs to be done.

              Without the ETS the international obligations our parliament has signed up to will have to be honoured not in money, but in real world cutbacks in emissions. Instead of, as at present under the ETS, our international obligations being paid out, with the financial speculators clipping the ticket along the way, and the polluters freed to continue business as usual. Without the ETS real mitigations will have to be put in place instead.

  2. AAMC 2

    As long as even The Greens speak of “Growth” and “GDP” and a return to “Surplus”, there’s no hope. Nobody has the political courage to lead on this issue. Not even those who formed a political movement around it.

    The incremental change of representative democracy, pr narratives and focus groups makes the whole thing a bit futile. We need radicle action now, but we won’t get it.

  3. Bunji 3

    And in today’s paper: Government’s decision will cost us a further $325 million over 4 years – presuming a low carbon price of $8/tonne.

    Great, I love subsidising polluters

  4. LoveIT 4

    Gosh, you are just so DESPERATE to be proved right. Good on you.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Its a desperate situation for the future of the planet over the next 100 years. But feel free to keep snoozing.

      • Richard Christie 4.1.1

        Try 100,000 + years

        • Colonial Viper

          I think its dubious to try and forecast this climate change as being a problem for the next 100,000 years. “Modern man” will be long gone by then, and with the zenith of industrial civilisation behind us, the biosphere will sort out excess GHG levels in a thousand or two years.

          • Kotahi Tane Huna

            “…the biosphere will sort out excess GHG levels in a thousand or two years.”

            Really? What mechanism do you propose will achieve this? Ocean uptake/invasion? CaCO3 neutralisation? The weathering thermostat? Wishful thinking?

            • Colonial Viper

              I’m assuming that human CO2 emissions will be negligible in 250 years time, and for the 1750 years after that natural carbon sinks pull in 6 GT of CO2 net pa. for a total of 10,500 GT atmospheric CO2 reduction.

              • Kotahi Tane Huna

                I’m sure the sums add up, but please would you cite a source?

                • Bored

                  I think broadly CV summed it up saying modern man was not part of the solution (long gones….). Myself I think we win a collective Darwin Award for preferring I Phones and “boy racer” cars that can do wheelies.

                  The planet will heal itself over time, I sometimes wonder if the Dinosaur demise was actually due to some super Darwinian industrial dinosaur who feeked up their environment.

                  • Bob

                    Or Climate Change, because surprisingly, the climate has always changed!!!
                    Have a read here http://muller.lbl.gov/pages/IceAgeBook/history_of_climate.html and you will see that the temperature was higher than it is now 120,000, 230,000, 310,000 and 410,000 years ago. The earth warms and cools fairly regularly, and so far none of these historic rises in temperature were due to human factors, so why do we think we are affecting climate now? In fact, if you look at the 3 million year temperature trend, it has always been incresing.

                    Making predictions based on the last 100 years data on a 4.5 billion year old planet is just plain stupid.

                    Also, higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere increases growth and fruit production of plants, this means more food. Why always look at the negatives?

  5. Lanthanide 5

    Meanwhile, the forests have been sucking up extra CO2 as well: http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/7265266/Carbon-dioxide-intake-soars

    • higherstandard 5.1

      I was under the impression they weren’t quite sure what the process was that was going on with terrestrial sinks.

      • Carol 5.1.1

        Did you read the article, HS? It is a report on a study just published. More research is needed to know if this shift is long term, and if it can be mitigated.


        A study into global warming has revealed our planet is now absorbing a much larger amount of carbon dioxide than it was 25 years ago.

        The finding poses many questions – particularly whether the increase is temporary. If so, reducing CO2 levels may get even harder in years to come.

        • aerobubble

          Yes, plants grow faster and bigger. Oceans absorb more. But still the CO2 in the atmosphere
          keeps rising, north polar seas sink further, planetary cooling shifts from the N.Pole to the continents. The question for me is not how to maintain max carbon burning, or crimp it some, but to significantly stop using petroluem (i.e ban the private motor car) and hold the existing
          reserves of oil for generations to come, not burning them all in the next 30 years.

          And secondly, what happens when plants can’t grow any faster having hit their own
          genetic limits. And the Ocean just dies in places. Or the Tundra is exposed to warming?
          The solution is simple, end the Americian cult of the private car.

          • Colonial Viper

            hold the existing
            reserves of oil for generations to come, not burning them all in the next 30 years.

            This is the way to do it. And western countries will need to make the biggest sacrifices from current levels, while developing countries have to greatly slow their rates of energy usage growth.

            But the modern free market says “consume more now for bigger profits upfront”.

      • NickS 5.1.2



        It depends on the climax state, type of forest, moisture and soil type/depth + rate of disturbance (tree loss + top soil loss).

        Basically though all temperate forests are net carbon sinks via locking carbon up in the soil through roots, and leaf litter (lignin takes forever to decompose). The net amount of carbon locked away though very much depends on above factors, particularly younger forests lock away more carbon per year than mature forests, but then mature forests can contain gigatons of stored carbon anyhow…

        In the case of NZ, mature and disturbed native forests (ones experiencing regrowth of main tree species) of different types actually stored more carbon than pine plantations per hectare if I’m recalling my notes properly. So from a Kyoto and land preservation (reducing slip incidence) approach, letting native bush and forest regenerate on stream banks and other steep, low profit, prone to slippage hill country actually makes more sense than planting pine.

        As for other sinks, wetlands are very, very good long term carbon sinks, only we have a stupid habit of turning them to dairy farms, and thus as the carbon rich soil dries out, the organic carbon stores oxidise and release methane and CO2 into the environment. So preserving and regenerating wetlands = good idea.

        Grasslands not so much, but changes in land use and pasture management can yield high soil carbon increases, which also increases pasture growth/quality.

        Though the above is mostly NZ focused :/

        As for citations, Nick has once again run into depression mode this year, and is experiencing high variability in ability to function, but also had to drop out of the course dealing with this stuff again /sigh

  6. Kotahi Tane Huna 6

    Greater absorption of CO2 is cold comfort when the atmospheric trend is still relentlessly upwards.

  7. jaymam 7

    Reservoirs of CO2, and an attempt to sequester CO2 in Montana at great cost.
    Note that the CO2 in the atmosphere is negigible compared with other reservoirs.

    CO2 reservoirs:
    limestone 60,000,000 gigatonnes
    sediments 15,000,000 gigatonnes
    methane clathrates 11,000 gigatonnes
    DIC deep 38,000 gigatonnes
    mineral 1,220 gigatonnes
    Atmosphere 750 gigatonnes
    DOC deep 700 gigatonnes
    other soil 600 gigatonnes
    Plants 550 gigatonnes
    peat 360 gigatonnes
    POC soil 250 gigatonnes
    DOC surface 40 gigatonnes
    POC deep 20 gigatonnes
    microbial 15 gigatonnes
    POC surface 5 gigatonnes
    Montana sequestration 0.001 gigatonne

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      Its great PR cover for oil and energy corporates though.

    • Richard Christie 7.2

      Note that the CO2 in the atmosphere is negigible compared with other reservoirs

      Here jaymam is laying another denial egg, desperately hoping uninformed readers will confuse this observation with an presumption that small relative reservoir equates with negligible effect on climate. Another fail.

      • Lanthanide 7.2.1

        Actually no, that is not his point at all. He’s showing that the man-made sequestration effort is very expensive and in contrast a pitiful waste of time. If we want to get serious about CO2 emissions we have to stop polluting at the source, or risk some of those other significant reservoirs listed being released, such as the methane clathrates.

        • Richard Christie

          man-made sequestration effort is very expensive and in contrast a pitiful waste of time

          I might even mostly agree with that observation, but if you think that was what jaymam was meaning to put across then I’d be surprised if you are even vaguely familiar with his past form in climate change discussions.

          • jaymam

            The CO2 in most of the reservoirs has transferred through the atmosphere over billions of years. A huge amount of CO2 is being added to and removed from the atmosphere by natural processes. Limestone which is by far the biggest CO2 reservoir is composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms. Those organisms have used the CO2 that has transferred from the atmosphere and dissolved in the sea. Yes, mankind has caused some extra CO2 to be in the atmosphere but there is no scientific proof that the extra CO2 has any significant effect on climate.

            • RedLogix

              The CO2 in most of the reservoirs has transferred through the atmosphere over billions of years. A huge amount of CO2 is being added to and removed from the atmosphere by natural processes. Limestone which is by far the biggest CO2 reservoir is composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms.

              Yes we all know this. It is called the carbon cycle and is taught at secondary school. Normally the processes involved are in balance, the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere by various processes being equal to the amount being removed by others.

              The crucial thing we are doing is digging up vast amounts of fossil carbon that was otherwise deeply buried well out of exposure to the atmosphere… and burning it up in an astoundingly rapid spike of excess CO2 pumped into the atmosphere which the natural processes cannot remove fast enough without consequences… like ocean acidification.

              Yes, mankind has caused some extra CO2 to be in the atmosphere but there is no scientific proof that the extra CO2 has any significant effect on climate.

              One of the essential characteristics of science is that it exquisitely and precisely defines it’s terms. Any ambiguity or lack of precision in the definitions always results in embarrasment. In this case you might want to tell us exactly what you mean by the term “scientific proof”…

            • Richard Christie

              Yes, mankind has caused some extra CO2 to be in the atmosphere but there is no scientific proof that the extra CO2 has any significant effect on climate.

              Don’t be a *ool, jaymam.
              Science deals with evidence; proof is for mathematicians, logicians and philosophers.
              The body of evidence that CO2 has, and has had, significant effect on climate is large, significant and growing all the time.


    • Kotahi Tane Huna 7.3

      11,000 gigatonnes in clathrates you say? That’s comforting. 🙄

  8. Observer Akl 8

    I can recall when the smog levels of London were as thick as a giant greatcoat. Nature had nothing to do with that, nor with the grey deaths and disability the filth caused.

    Nor did Nature have anything to do with the solution. Instead London sensibly and gradually abandoned toxic coal as a fuel. The problem went away.

    Guessing the effects of fossil fuels on a do nothing basis, is not a way to deal with pollution. Everybody over 7yrs knows that if you put filth into the air, you end up with seriously bad results; because the Air is not a rubbish bin. Neither is the Ocean a rubbish bin, nor any water supply.

    Deniers of Pollution are despicably stupid. They are lower than sewer rats, but unfortunately they own the toxins and they want to destroy our air and water. They love filth; they live for the stuff and they have become the enemies of every man, woman and child on the Planet. They are the shit faces of our Species. They don’t just foul their own nests, they foul ours too.

    All of their staggering wealth should be sequestered in vaults – for distribution to good men who are seeking to keep our air and all our waters pure.

    The Oceans are a huge and free resource of boundless good food. If only our terrestrial farmers could farm for free and as efficiently and cleanly as the oceans! To think that our Planet can provide boundless good food through our huge oceans – provided we let stocks recover and fish them sustainably – gives hope that we can live well.

    The so called scientific debate over warming/cooling is over. We are dealing with massive pollution. No debate required. All we have to do is punish the polluters for every gram of filth they spit, splash and splatter. Don’t worry, we will get to like a world free of pollution. Ask London.

    It makes sense to use free resources for free power and free food. Tell the scientists, the industrialists, the farmers, and their hyperactive lying lobbyists we simply don’t want their filth.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      The Oceans are a huge and free resource of boundless good food.

      Last time I looked, the fish stocks around the world were collapsing.

      • Populuxe1 8.1.1

        And with increasing levels of heavy metals.
        Better work those Indonesian slaves harder then.

        • Colonial Viper

          Not to mention radioactive particles from Fukushima spreading throughout the Pacific.

    • Bob 8.2

      What a crock of shit, no scientific debate is ever over! Name one thing that is 100% open and shut case in science………..I’ll give you a clue, there are none.

      Walking away from the climate debate with your fingers in your ears going la la la doesn’t mean it’s going away. There has still been not one single (except retrospective) climate model that has been able to fit the break in warming since 1998. You may come back with something along the lines of ‘it was affected by strong La Nina weather patterns’ like everyone else seems too, well what causes these? Why were these so strong? If the science is over we should have all the answers to these questions and be able to correctly predict them.

      • Kotahi Tane Huna 8.2.1

        There hasn’t been a “break in warming” since 1998. Why don’t you measure from 1997 and see what the trend looks like then, cherry picker?

        Even if we play your brainless statistically illiterate game, you’re still wrong.

        Now you’ve been proven wrong (or delusional) I bet you reject the facts and cling even harder to your false faith, like a feeble-minded cry-baby with a blankie. That’s my prediction.

      • Kotahi Tane Huna 8.2.2

        PS: Do yourself a favour and get a clue.

  9. Observer Akl 9

    Hi Draco

    You seem to be upset by my saying the oceans are a boundless source of free high quality food.

    They are under huge stress from Polluters who freely dump all types of toxins into them. They are hugely stressed by Harvesters who do not offer nursery protection, and who simultaneously do not allow fish populations to rebuild.

    I think I covered these two points in my comment.

    Do you believe that is sensible to destroy the benevolent Oceans by pollutants and over harvesting?

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      I was pointing out that the ocean isn’t boundless. It has limits that are presently being over stepped. You’re idea of farming them the same way we farm the land isn’t a good idea either – check out the damage that farming does to the land.

      The world is limited and the only real option we have is population control.

      • RedLogix 9.1.1

        Can you unpack ‘population control’ a bit?

        Personally I can’t see any magical/technological means around the fundamental limits of the planet either, so for the purpose of the discussion I’ll accept the premise.

        But how do we achieve it? The only options I can think of that have be shown to work are:

        1. We politically enforce a ‘one child policy’ as the Chinese have done.

        While immediately effective this is of course fraught with problems. For a start it would have to be imposed globally and even-handedly. For another there are real problem with gender selection due to so many cultures still preferring boys over girls.

        2. We raise the standard of living, education, and rights of women so that they choose to have only one or two children… as has been achieved by many European countries.

        The problem here is that achieving this will take generations, and the elimination of poverty everywhere. Moreover not all cultures respond to increasing wealth by allowing women control over their fertility. And in the end the planet cannot support 9 -12 billion humans living Western lifestyles.

        3. Prior to the invention of agriculture human beings evolved for over 4 million years on this planet in a sustainable balance with the planet. Our numbers while relatively low by modern standards.. and we narrowly avoided extinction at least several times… never exploded as they have done since we got the magic of cheap oil energy.

        Clearly we can live in an ecological balance with the planet, but suggesting that we throw away everything we have learnt and achieved over the last 10,000 years is not going to happen. For while Peak Oil will soon impose a newer and far more austere reality on the human race … I’m not sure we will ever unlearn all that science and technology. Nor would I want to.

        Ultimately the problem is not a technical one, it is a cultural one. Getting to the point where ALL of the nations and cultures of the earth to uniformly agree to allow women full and unfettered control over how and when they have children … does seem at present more than a tad ambitious.

        For while I agree with your sentiment DtB, I’m curious to know how you might think it could come about.

        • Colonial Viper

          I wouldn’t expect global agreement on anything much from this point on. Without abundant energy to fuel global logistics and transport systems, globalisation will end and localised emphases will grow again.

          • RedLogix

            And yet fundamentally so many of the critical challenges we face are inherently global in nature. Therefore I suggest the solutions must be global as well.

            As with climate change, no-one will agree to action as long as they believe others parties are not ‘pulling their weight’, or attempting to cheat on the agreement.

  10. Observer Akl 10

    Hello Bob

    My comment – which you called a crock of shit – went out of its way to say that the warming/cooling scientific debate is bypassing the destruction that pollutants are causing now.

    You know perfectly well that neither the sky nor the oceans are rubbish bins.

    If you think sitting on your ass talking about the warming/cooling debate is the effective way of saving our atmosphere and our benevolent oceans, then so be it.

    I understand if you don’t get the point. Polluters understand very little.

    • Bob 10.1

      If you frame your arguement solely around pollution then I completely agree. We should be doing more to reduce reduce pollution in our waterways, we should be doing more to reduce CO (that’s carbon monoxide, not dioxide) Sulphur and other pollutants in our air, we should be looking at ways of reducing consuption of plastics, and other substances that take millenia to break down, we should be recycling more heavy metals from cell phones, computers, batteries etc and fining those who just dump them. We should be doing a lot to protect our environment for future generations, and we have made a start, but trying to change peoples mindsets on science which cannot be proven (there is a lot of comelling evedence on both sides of the arguement, so the public will never buy into it fully) is not the right way to go about it. Push the direct environmental inpacts, heavy metal poisoning, respiratory issues, pictures of rubbish accumulating in the natural environment etc and make changes based on these reasons.

      If the side effect of this is the reduction of CO2, and greenhouse effect/global warming/climate change or what ever they decide to call it next is achieved, then we win on both sides. But as you can see, there is always going to be scepticism of science when they change the theory and say its proven, then change it again, it’s alot easier to prove our air quality is causing health issues, water quality causing loss of aquatic life and reduction of natural habitat is causing the decline of animal species. Work from this basis and the masses will follow, work from the climate change platform, and people (including myself) will constantly push back until proven.

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