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Nick Smith lying with numbers.

Written By: - Date published: 11:55 am, July 29th, 2009 - 8 comments
Categories: climate change, john key, national/act government, scoundrels - Tags: , , , ,

Nick Smith is the front-man for this government on climate change, and it appears that he knows absolutely nothing about the numbers. The ones he has been using are not related to his claims. It is puzzling because he was an engineer who are usually accurate users of numbers. It is more likely he is simply lying with numbers for political reasons.

Keith Ng is passionate about numbers and particularly about accurate and relevant ones, as he has proved over the years ripping various ministers and organizations spare orifices. Keith has just ripped Nick Smith a new one because the numbers that he has been using around NZ to say that strong greenhouse gas emission controls would cost too much prove exactly the opposite. It will cost more to do too little.

On Q&A on Sunday, Nick Smith claimed that Greenpeace’s campaign for a 40% emissions reduction was unaffordable, and cited a report showing that it would have “a cost of about $15 billion per year at 2020”, or $60 per person per week.

This is catastrophically bullshit. The report cited by Smith wasn’t even about emissions reduction!

As the authors of the study say

To be clear, this report investigates the impact of changes in New Zealand’s AAUs under the framework of an international agreement whereby New Zealand takes responsibility for any emissions above a given amount. This is not the same as investigating different domestic emissions targets and should not be interpreted as such.

The emphasis was added by Keith. As Keith points out

In fact, in all the scenarios discussed in the report, New Zealand’s emission was held at 87.7Mt. Every single one of those scenarios assume the same level of emissions!

That’s because the report was investigating how New Zealand would fare at different levels of carbon credit allocations. Carbon credits are worth money. So the more we get “for free”, the richer we’d be obviously. If we didn’t have enough, we’d need to buy them from other countries; this would hit our balance of payments and exchange rates, and that’d make us poorer.

When the report said that “40%” would cost $15b, it meant that if our carbon credit allocations were reduced by 40%, and our emissions level was unchanged, then it could cost New Zealand the equivalent of $15b.

In other words Nick Smith is attempting to use a report about the costs of NOT reducing greenhouse gases to claim that the cost of reducing them is too high. As Keith Ng says..

Of course, the “$15 billion” was the worst-case-scenario. It’s not outlandish, but it’s definitely on the high end. But since Smith thought it was a reasonable enough scenario to use for his own ends, I’m happy to hold him to it:

According to the analysis that Nick Smith has been waving around, if we keep to the current emissions trends, it will cost us $15b per year or $60 per person per week by 2020.

Normally I’d just assign this as being the result of a politician being an numerically illiterate as are some of the journalists who have been swallowing this numeric waffle religously (the cold and gormless Guyon Espiner comes to mind).

However Nick Smiths wikipedia page says

Smith was educated at Canterbury University achieving 1st Class Honours in Civil Engineering, was an AFS Scholar to the U.S. and eventually gained a Ph.D. with a thesis on New Zealand landslides[1]. Before entering parliament, he worked as an engineer for the Rangiora County Council, and as director of his family construction company.

You can say many things about engineers but not that they are numerically illiterate. In this case Nick Smith is clearly capable of understanding the numbers. So why is he misrepresenting them? It has to be deliberate and political.

This government is less concerned about the long-term well-being of the country and more about short-term political gains. This has shown up in their attitudes about many areas. It looks like it is showing up in the politics around climate change as well. Gareth at Hot Topic runs through these political factors.

Listening to Smith this morning confirmed my view that the National-led government is making climate policy on the hoof. There has been no proper consideration of how New Zealand could cut its emissions, no strategy developed or even emerging, no integration of ideas. Climate policy is being played as a purely political issue, because there seems to be no real appreciation of the seriousness of the problem.

Regardless of what you think about the validity of the science of climate change* there is no such thing as a free lunch with climate change.

There are clear costs to any country that is part of the Kyoto and shortly Copenhagen who does not reduce emissions significantly. They wind up paying for carbon credits to countries that have dropped them. A country that we trade with who see us failing to attempt to hit 15% by 2020 while they are trying to hit 30% or more are not going to look kindly to John Key trying to weasel out of paying NZ’s share of the pain.

Trying to drop out of the attempt to ameliorate climate change effects is also impossible for a trading nation like ourselves. We’d find trade barriers snapping up like walls and our economy dropping like a stone. There is enough momentum behind the climate change programs now to overwhelm the GATT and WTO opposition. It will be easy to claim that countries like ourselves are simply hiding the true costs of production because they do not include carbon costs, and are therefore dumping our goods. There will be more support for this view after Copenhagen. Carbon emission border taxes are likely to become a valid and accepted trade barrier against emission free-loaders.

But of course John Key is probably aware of this. His advisers in trade and foreign affairs would have told him. But he probably expects not to be in office when the shit hits the fan. That is his trademarked way of operating.

* My view is that the current ‘official’ IPCC worst case science is grossly optimistic. At the time it was made there was insufficent work done on the West Antartica ice sheet (WAIS) and the Greenland icecap to look at potential effects. They look worse than anyone was expecting for how how fast they have melted in the recent geological past.

8 comments on “Nick Smith lying with numbers.”

  1. PaulD 1

    Lying with numbers is a habit Smith picked up in his position as ACC Minister.

  2. Deborah 2

    Keith Ng is passionate about numbers and particularly about accurate and relevant ones, as he has proved over the years ripping various ministers and organizations spare orifices. Keith has just ripped Nick Smith a new one

    Lose the language, guys. “Ripping an orifice” looks awfully close to a rape metaphor to me. I had a go at DPF over this a few weeks back – Keeping up rape culture.

    [lprent: Never occurred to me. It is a common expression in the military and management to describe people having large chunks of their ego being ripped from them. I could have used the metaphor of Keith tearing a few kilo’s of flesh off them like a predator. However I’d have difficulty describing Keith’s post in any other way. It is a pretty brutal, and devestating. ]

    • Derek 2.1

      I struggle to see how it’s a rape metaphor. Unless you assume the ripping is being done with a penis, on some part of the body that’s not currently an orifice. Which is kind of a strange assumption to make in the first place.

      • Richard 2.1.1

        I’ve always read “riping a new orifice” as a near-rape metaphor.

        I think you’d need to be pretty clueless to not read it that way.

        But maybe I just see dicks everywhere.

    • felix 2.2

      The phrase refers to ripping holes in a person’s argument. That’s why it’s a “new” orifice.

      I’ve never understood it to be in any way a rape metaphor and I think you’d really have to be bending over backwards to see it in that light.

      • George D 2.2.1

        I always thought it had sexual connotations. It undoubtedly has violent ones.

  3. Chris G 3

    The Nats and righties will continue to fudge the numbers and shield their eyes from the truth because they know the truth (Climate change and steps towards mitigation) is a direct challenge to their fundamental beliefs and way of life and they refuse to accept that they would need to change their way of life or that they might be wrong.

    That actually goes for anyone regardless of political persuasion, but it seems the virus is more common amongst righties. dorks

  4. Macro 4

    The fact is – all of Smith’s figures are “worst case scenario’s” which assume “Business as Usual” as far as taking action towards reducing GGEs – the way Roger Kerr and the Business Round Table want the country to run. The simple fact is, that the Earth can no longer sustain developed and developing nations continuing to operate along the lines of “Business as Usual”. We are already committed to at least 2 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels. Continuing to pour Carbon into the atmosphere at our current rate will only exacerbate the problem to such an extent that even the climate scientists cannot predict what the final outcome will be! It is a very dangerous game that Smith and the BRT et al are playing and it affects us all.

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