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Will Technology Solve Climate Change?

Written By: - Date published: 6:01 am, February 14th, 2021 - 87 comments
Categories: climate change, sustainability - Tags: ,

This recent essay from Powerdown author Richard Heinberg, states the dilemma in which we find ourselves in the clearest and most succinct and well argued form I have seen: to prevent global catastrophe from climate change and the concurrent ecological crises, we have to drop GHG emissions, and fast. Low carbon tech is part of that, but trying to replace current tech with renewable powered tech, within a perpetually growing economy, will increase emissions. Heinberg also proposes solutions. – weka

Cross posted from postcarbon.org

Will Technology Solve Climate Change? – Post Carbon Institute

Richard Heinberg

January 27, 2021

The following is Richard Heinberg’s contribution to a two-way discussion with Adam Dorr, an environmental social scientist at the nonprofit think tank Rethinkx. The exchange was hosted by Pairagrapha platform for written dialogue between pairs of notable individuals. For the entire exchange, click here.

When humanity started using fossil fuels, it gained access to tens of millions of years’ worth of stored sunlight. The result was a Great Acceleration of everything we had been doing—including growing food and harvesting renewable and nonrenewable resources from the natural world and turning them into technology, products, and waste. Our population grew eight-fold (from one billion to nearly eight billion) in a mere two centuries.

But then the consequences appeared: climate change, resource depletion, soil erosion and salinization, species extinctions, plastic pollution, and more. It’s tempting to think of these as mere technical glitches that we can solve with more technology. After all, we’re accustomed to using energy and technology to solve every imaginable problem, and many people have grown rich in the process. But it’s hard to escape the perception that a massive energy boost has enabled our species to proliferate too quickly, and to use too much of nature, to its own long-term detriment.

Zeroing in on climate policy, essentially the same message shouts through the data. Yes, we can substitute low-carbon energy sources for fossil fuels, but each alternative has a drawback. Solar and wind are intermittent sources, requiring energy storage and redundant generation capacity to balance out daily and seasonal peaks and troughs. Nuclear is expensive and produces radioactive waste.

Then there’s the 20 percent challenge: only a fifth of final energy used globally is in the form of electricity. That means we will have to change how we use energy—replacing an enormous amount of infrastructure for transportation, building HVAC, manufacturing, and agriculture in order to electrify these activities. And we will have to create infrastructure to make low-carbon fuels for technologies that will be especially hard to electrify. Altogether, it’s by far the biggest manufacturing and construction project in human history.

The trouble is, that project will require an enormous amount of energy and materials, entailing mining, smelting, other high-heat processes, transport, and waste. And, at least in the early stages, roughly 85 percent of the transition energy will come from fossil fuels. With low-carbon technologies like solar panels and e-cars, emissions are front-weighted, occurring mostly during manufacturing. So, a big pulse of emissions will result from the transition itself. We could fix that with technology by building machines to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, but, once again, in the manufacturing stage these will simply add to the emissions. And it’s unclear who would pay for them.

When energy analyst David Fridley and I did a months-long deep dive into the opportunities and costs of the energy transition, we concluded that scale was the biggest challenge. If we assume that energy usage will continue its growth trajectory in nations like the US, then there’s no realistic way through. It’s only if we assume a substantial reduction in energy usage that the project becomes feasible. But that requires us to question human behavior and expectations about economic growth.

Low-carbon technology is good. But by itself it will not resolve humanity’s ecological dilemma.

*          *          *

Our environmental crisis is often framed just in terms of climate change. But resource depletion, destruction of wild habitat, and pollution also lead to collapse—just by other means. All result from economic over-expansion.

A useful metaphor for what we must do is, “take our foot off the accelerator.” If you’re headed toward the wrong destination, it doesn’t help to get there faster; instead, slow down and change direction.

In recent decades, there have been only two significant periods when greenhouse gas emissions declined: the global financial crisis of 2008-9 and the economic shutdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. During both periods, energy usage fell. In other years, despite record levels of solar and wind installations, emissions grew anyway, because economic growth stoked increased energy usage, and most of that increase came from fossil fuels. Yes, both of these periods entailed pain and suffering that no right-minded person would wish to repeat. But neither event was planned for the purpose of reducing energy usage while improving human lives.

Ecological economists understand that aiming for perpetual growth on a finite planet is a ticket to tragedy. They’ve spent years designing strategies to make life more enjoyable and secure while minimizing consumption. These strategies include sidelining GDP in favor of economic indicators that emphasize quality of life, and focusing on policies to create jobs rather than hoping profit-seeking corporations will prioritize job creation. What if we actually planned to reduce energy usage significantly while revamping the economy to promote happiness and well-being? Then it would be far easier to replace our remaining energy usage with renewable sources.

Taking our foot off the accelerator won’t do anything to repair damage already done; it just keeps us from doing more damage in the meantime. So, what to do about all the carbon we’ve already shot into the atmosphere, that will keep the climate destabilized for centuries or millennia?

Building machines to suck CO2 out of the air is a reflex response for people hooked on technofixes, but there’s almost no market for carbon dioxide; the effort would have to be subsidized and it serves no other useful purpose.

However, there are ways of capturing and sequestering CO2 that would help solve many ecological problems at once. Reforestation would provide habitat for species we’re currently driving toward extinction. Carbon farming (i.e., farming in ways that sequester carbon in soil) would increase soil fertility, improve water retention, and reduce chemical pollution. And anything we do to protect and restore ecosystems—including the oceans—will help nature take care of the increased load of carbon dioxide that we have imposed upon her.

These solutions could sequester gigatons of carbon each year. And they move us toward a destination, in terms of health and security, worth inhabiting.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

87 comments on “Will Technology Solve Climate Change? ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    Do we fear forests?

    Are we afraid, deep down, of the Dark Woods?

    We've certainly armed ourselves well enough to keep them at bay: chainsaws, fire, arborcides, bulldozers and grazing animals to prevent their return.

    In Vietnam, defoliants were rained-down onto the jungle to strip them of their insurgent-concealing leaves: do civilised humans suspect that Outlaws lurk in the dappled shade of forests, threatening to sweep into town at any moment?

    Now, people* claim that planting trees in response to climate change WON'T WORK, because, FIRE!!!

    I don't think it's fire they're afraid of.

    * The non-outlaws I've debated this issue with 🙂

    • RedLogix 1.1

      Are we afraid, deep down, of the Dark Woods?

      Not me. I visit them reverentially and treat them as treasures.

    • weka 1.2

      There's a theme that runs through much of NZ culture about this, it's in early and then later poetry and literature, and it still exists today in many forms. Got to beat back the bush. Some of it is pragmatics (if you truly want a paddock the bush next door will perpetually try to thwart you), but I also suspect fear. Imagine arriving in NZ in the 1800s from the UK and seeing all that unadulterated and unconstrained life. I know some early Pākehā loved it, but I suspect that many, and increasingly, couldn't handle the intrusion into the civilised mind. The wild having been long put in its place back home, it would have been wild seeing so much wild. Some people's hearts opened, other's hardened.

      Seems like there is fear of powerdown for the same reason. Those of us already acquainted with the wild and not afraid of being part of nature are largely not worried about a life with less accoutrements. What to do about the fear is an interesting thing to consider, given the seriousness and timeframes.

      • Robert Guyton 1.2.1

        Yes, weka.

        If we had the time (maybe we do…) we could write new stories and tell them to our children; stories that replace Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Baba Yaga etc. which tell of terror in the forest. Even Sleeping Beauty and the over-vigorous roses champion the champion who can slash back the undergrowth!

        • weka

          No time like the present! (I suspect we do have time. Even as we're running short of linear time, there are other kinds to work with).

          The stories of the evil forest, are they teaching stories of how to manage our fears?

      • shanreagh 1.2.2

        Agree Weka & Robert Guyton……I have long said that at heart many NZers are tree haters and this started, as you said, right from the early times. 'Beat back the bush' sounds less confronting. With the over stocking and intensification of land for dairying particularly in muddy Southland we could say some of us are 'earth' or 'land' haters. We have a history of being reliant on, and attracted, to extractive industries……gold, coal etc. Our subdivisions are wrought from artificially flattened tracts of land.

        A psyche change really.

        A big picture from Govt with little step changes for a population that has to be won over.

        I must admit that having at last been able to acquire, through Freecycle a late model gas/electric stove, my long term dream, that the powering down of gas options including gas BBQs that were for so long touted as safer in terms of fire in summer, has really caught me.

        I am a fiendish recycler working for years to persuade others to minimise wastage, recycle, upcycle and over use in the textile industries so I feel a bit put off. There will be 100s of others with the big noise about gas BBQs who are wondering is that the biggest and best target to achieve early runs and the greatest buy in.

        This is why this is attractive

        However, there are ways of capturing and sequestering CO2 that would help solve many ecological problems at once. Reforestation would provide habitat for species we’re currently driving toward extinction. Carbon farming (i.e., farming in ways that sequester carbon in soil) would increase soil fertility, improve water retention, and reduce chemical pollution. And anything we do to protect and restore ecosystems—including the oceans—will help nature take care of the increased load of carbon dioxide that we have imposed upon her.

        If carbon farming has the same effect as regenerative farming then I am all for it.

        Agree too with this Weka

        I definitely see the major problem right now is the lack of imagination and ability to see how things can work differently. Or maybe it's just that power is in the wrong hands, there are plenty of people who can see how to make it work.

  2. Stuart Munro 2

    The technologies that can 'solve' our carbon problems are mostly out there already, and a fair proportion of them are biotechnologies. But little or no effort is going into developing even the simplest of them, things like hemp panels for housing, which ought to be being used to soak up Fonterra's sneaky nitrate discharges even now.

    Big ones that remain are steel and cement – major coal users – and aluminium, a reduction assisted electrolytic process. Solar steel and cement are quite possible, and the combination of no carbon emissions with a reduced raw material and transport cost ought to make that adaptation palatable.

    The thing that concerns me is that when such obvious low-hanging fruit in climate terms, are blatantly being ignored, just how much faith can we repose in strategists who, not so long ago, asserted the benefits of pushing our population up willy nilly, as if they actually wanted to make our climate commitments unattainable.

    • weka 2.1

      I definitely see the major problem right now is the lack of imagination and ability to see how things can work differently. Or maybe it's just that power is in the wrong hands, there are plenty of people who can see how to make it work.

      The steel one is interesting. Where's the sweet spot between powering down and retaining the best of our tech used in ultra efficient and wise ways?

      • Stuart Munro 2.1.1

        I think the answer is almost an aesthetic – a conscious preference for gracile design. Things that should have marked our patterns of living long since had not corporate advertising driven desire down less elevated paths.

        The heavy industrial route is by no means efficient, and many processes are greatly improved by a light-footed approach. But that will require wresting control from the failed demiurges of the market, and setting them to work constructively. Cue interminable whining.

        • weka

          do you mean gracile design of industrial processes?

          I was wondering about aesthetics too, but more so in lifestyle terms. Does the powerdown worry people because they think they'll have to wear sandals and homespun?

          • Stuart Munro

            I think more industrial processes could be lightened than many proponents expect – goes into some of that quality stuff that Imae was getting into – that the perfect factory is not stuffed with machinery but as close to empty as you can make it. Hard news for those who have barely assimilated the production mentality.

            But a lot of gracility can be worked into everyday life. A 3litre SUV is not required except in pretty exceptional circumstances. A well made lightweight bike can handle a lot of commuting.

            The connectivity ought to be sustainable, but driving long distances ought to be less frequent. Mind, with the gig economy, asking folk to give up their way to work is no small thing.

            I don't sense enormous resistance to locally produced garments – except on price. But relative consumption may become an issue – high carbon lifestylers may attract resentment or erode the patience of moderate users.

            • RedLogix

              I think more industrial processes could be lightened than many proponents expect – goes into some of that quality stuff that Imae was getting into – that the perfect factory is not stuffed with machinery but as close to empty as you can make it.

              So I’m curious – how many heavy industrial plants have you designed, built, commissioned or operated?

              • Stuart Munro

                Never had the capital of course – have you?

                But I've worked in quite a number of them. There are tropes affecting their efficacy that are largely psychological "the way we do things here" sort of thing.

                It's particularly pernicious in deepsea fishing because boats are often bought second hand, with what design there is having been tweaked for other circumstances, and the managers making the decisions never having set foot aboard an operating vessel.

                If you've studied the failure of Detroit and read a bit of Deming you'll know the patterns.

                • RedLogix

                  Apart from a handful of major dairy sites like Whaheroa Rd, the Tiwai Point and Glenbrook smelters, Kawerau and Tokoroa papermills, the refinery at Marsden Pt, and some gold processing plants in Otago – there really aren't all that many heavy industrial plants left in NZ.

                  As a result I suspect many kiwis really haven't much first hand sense of what role they play, how they work – and how very entwinned into their modern lives they are. Literally every single built item or service in your life has a major part of it's life story in such a plant.

                  I'm at a bit of a loss to convey this accurately – but since leaving NZ I've had the privilege of working alongside seriously talented engineers, process and mechanical people who opened up a view of the world I just couldn't see in NZ. I've worked within teams of people designing, building and commissioning several substantial new plants – and trust me it's an amazing experience.

                  The sheer scale and detail, the subtle tradeoffs and brute energy being tamed. The sheer elegance of some of the solutions and the depth of experience these people have often made me feel like the village idiot in the room, or at the very least made me wish I'd done Process Engineering at uni instead of Electrical. And my personal experience was but a tiny sliver of a view into a global system of immense complexity and interdependence.

                  However the one topic I always enjoyed the most was Thermodynamics – and I guess that's why I place energy at the deep core of the human civilisational narrative. The distinctive feature of humanity is our ability to create technologies which decouple us from a total dependence on the natural world – at least to some degree. And all technologies can be regarded as exquisitely directed and controlled forms of energy as it interacts with materials.

                  Seeing some of it in action at world scale has definitely expanded my view. And why I tend to react to poorly specified terms like 'de-power' with considerable skepticism.

                  • Stuart Munro

                    If you say so – and you'll note de-power has never been part of my line.

                    The heavy former soviet vessels however, are not a path to sustainable fisheries, the lighter Tomi Maru style craft achieving much more with less crew and lower fuel consumption. But the charter exercise always prioritized externalizing cost, not developing best practice fisheries, and the result is much as you'd expect.

                    We are however headed into the crunch of some furious efforts to reduce carbon. If our government has not the stomach to develop alternatives at the heavy industrial end, as they have not for agriculture, the burden of the Paris commitments will fall disproportionately on consumers.

                    Alternative processes offer some benefits beyond the direct savings on coal or emission costs – there are a number of companies that might pay a premium for solar refined metals to construct a narrative of sustainability around their products.

                    The original cryolite process for aluminium refining is nearly a century old, and the main contemporary industrial process deriving from it makes heavy use of sacrificial carbon electrode reduction. In a world where carbon reduction is undesirable, an alternative process is worth examining. But NZ could live without the smelter – steel and cement production not so much. And steel and cement are more amenable to process revision – a decent heat source will do most of the work.

                    • RedLogix

                      Yes industrial plants do evolve in the general direction of 'more efficient, less capital, less waste' etc over time. A competitive market alone ensures this is the case.

                      The plant I was involved in up in Canada was a prime example of exactly this trend at work. A small agile company achieved something two much larger corporates had attempted and failed at. But the tradeoff with the lighter footprint was that it was more difficult to operate – it had much less process buffering (almost none) which made the automation and control aspect absolutely critical and it proved difficult to maintain high availabilities.

                      The takeaway point I'd like to make here, is that all the compromises we were forced into were ultimately dictated by the relatively small and expensive energy source we were dependent on in this incredibly remote location. (I used to sit in the morning meeting with my back to a wall, it was -40degC outside and dark – and comtemplate that past that 100mm or so of sytrene the next significant item of civilisation was around 500 km south of my butt.)

                      But if we'd had an energy source – say hypothetically an order of magnitude larger – all of the compromises and limitations we encountered would have been so much less onerous. The energy, water and mass balances could have been done at a more robust and ultimately more efficient scale.

                      The actual machines and process units you can physically see in an industrial plant are only a surface manifestation of something else more fundamental – the flow of energy and it's complex interactions with materials and mass flows – that's invisible to an eye not trained to see it. And the basic law that governs this interaction, is that the more energy you can economically bring into the system – the more efficiently you can make the mass flows operate.

                      Before industrialisation for example metals smelting mainly consisted of crudely breaking up the ore, then heating it with charcoal and maybe some primitive chemical processing. It was incredibly inefficient and often wasted more metal than it recovered. It was dangerous, labour intensive work with seriously toxic impacts on the men who did it and the local environment they dumped the waste into.

                      A modern ore processing plant by comparison has at least three or four orders of magnitude more energy available to it – and their efficiencies and safety are by every measure dramatically better. And this trend is only set to continue.

                    • Stuart Munro

                      There is a diminishing return on so-called economies of scale, not least of which is the cost of change in monolithic processes.

                      For all such talk, Fonterra, for example, does better by medium sized distributed plants than by overcentralisation.

                      But metals are a funny game – the old saw about market pricing still holds for the raw metal – that price is set by the second cheapest cost of production.

                      But the world is complicated by things like carbon costs, they open the door to niche or localised production changes that Rio Tinto, processing offshore where ground rent and labour is cheap, cannot necessarily access.

                      The best bang for the carbon buck is likely in things like hemp – a reasonably readily processed sink to soak up the carbon mischief of poor design processes. These work without whatever goto cheap energy you'd prefer – so it is not the constraint it might be.

                    • RedLogix

                      There is a diminishing return on so-called economies of scale, not least of which is the cost of change in monolithic processes.

                      Maybe I wasn't clear – yes more energy is often accompanied by a larger scale, but not necessarily, and it's not what I'm really trying to get at. Every mature industry will have a core of larger base units that produce the bulk of the commodity – and then have a constellation of smaller, diversified producers operating at smaller scales to deliver specialisation and innovation.

                      It's energy intensity that drives productivity, efficiency and safety more than anything else. The argument about 'how much' energy is a different thing.

                      Another example – talk to anyone in the recycling industry, which in the past decade has developed quite remarkably. They'll all tell you that the limit on what they can achieve in terms of they materials they can work with, and their recovery rates is almost totally governed by the cost (and therefore intensity) of their energy inputs.

                    • Stuart Munro

                      recovery rates is almost totally governed by the cost (and therefore intensity) of their energy inputs.

                      Recovery rate is a function of the production paradigm – the quality paradigm pursues different ends. Though the process design of the recycling is pretty poor in this clip (lots of labour devoted to reversing poor mixing), the high end product is a function of order, not energy. How Plastic Bottles Are Recycled Into Polyester – YouTube

                    • RedLogix


                      If you care to watch this short video it will give you an exact picture of what I do for a living and where I'm coming from with my thinking here.

                      As I've outlined above – all technological processes are the interaction of energy and mass flows – and the control system component shown in this video is the one of the key tools we use to precisely manage and direct this interaction. Note carefully – the expressed goals are efficiency, recovery, quality, water management and safety – all of which I think you've correctly alluded to above.

                      Well this is how it's done.

  3. Pat 3

    Whatever strategy is adopted to move our societies away from carbon emitting practices it needed to start yesterday and that means there is no time to wait for years /decades of R+D and rollout and it also means that reduction in fossil fuel use needs to decline rapidly so it is evident that energy reduction is a critical component of any strategy.

    If we are to reduce energy consumption then the obvious place to start is 'nice to haves' and excesses rather than the necessities of life….and to date we dont even appear willing to consider that.

    Dosnt bode well for our species.

    • Robert Guyton 3.1

      Is the spread of humanity across the face of the planet comparable to a bacterial colony on an agar-filled Petri dish?

      The bacterial colony will eventually die through consuming all available food and drowning in its own waste because the dish is a closed space and the agar a finite resource.

      Is this the case for us humans though. Is the planet and it's "stuff" finite?

      The technologists seem to believe that there's no end to it, and that going deeper is the way forward: mine more of the physical world but also "mine" ideas/technologies, even down through molecular and atomic levels, which seem limitless.

      Others believe that such an approach is reckless and following it thus far has brought us and the other-than-human world to the brink of collapse, as per the bacteria in the Petri dish and the idea of doubling-down on technology is more than foolish.

      • Pat 3.1.1

        Curious you should use the bacteria analogy….so did Al Bartlett.

        And it is a good one

      • RedLogix 3.1.2

        Is the spread of humanity across the face of the planet comparable to a bacterial colony on an agar-filled Petri dish?

        A very biological analogy. Yet humans are not unthinking bacteria – we adapt with intelligence and technology, we literally re-invent ourselves all the time.

        Yes we will tend to consume much of the Petri dish, but we have the chance to re-shape into a new form, one that rears up, steps outside the dish and thrives in it's new world.

        Consider an infant growing in it's mother's womb – at some point it reaches the limits of that miraculous space and must move on. Yet it always retains another deeper kind of connection to it's parent.

        • Robert Guyton

          RedLogix – agreed; we re-invent ourselves, but does that change the resource on which we depend; air, water, soil/food etc. We may be clever little devils, but there's only one earth 🙂

          You talk of "moving on" as per a newborn baby and that gives me no comfort; escapist fantasies don't move me at all.

          I do think though, that the planet's replenishing capabilities are encouraging; self-healing system, it seems, and that by following the guidelines it works to, we humans might be able to ride the wave.

          All in all though, we're not showing the sense of urgency or appropriate focus I think is necessary. I'm banking on something from out of the blue to get us over the line.

          No idea what that is, only I suspect evolution of thinking/feeling will reveal something…

          • RedLogix

            You talk of "moving on" as per a newborn baby and that gives me no comfort; escapist fantasies don't move me at all.

            Yet arguably it's an entirely real and biological analogy – and much more pertinent to complex and high order creatures than bacteria are.

            And here's an interesting way to extend the analogy. In the womb the infant develops eyes – but there is only dim light to see. We develop lungs – but there is no air to breath. We develop arms and legs – yet there is nothing to lift and nowhere to run. It would seem from the perspective of the infant that it is doomed – all this potential and growth yet the world it inhabits is so terribly finite.

            Yet in our emerged adult form the purpose of this growth is obvious to us.

            • Robert Guyton

              Ha! Not so, good RedLogix!

              Inside of the womb, the unborn babe is communicated-with constantly by their mother, receiving encouraging messages that tell of a welcoming, viable world. Sounds and other impressions from without, signal to the unborn child, a world of liveliness and other beings who are clearly able to live outside of the womb.

              The cold depths of space provide no such communications.

              I think there's a lesson in that 🙂

              • RedLogix

                Yes within the next few centuries or more we may evolve past our planetary origins – but honestly that wasn't my primary thought here. If we're going to do spaceships we need to get it right on this one first.

                And all good spaceships need lots of energy to run.

                • Robert Guyton

                  The Earth is a spaceship that runs on sunlight.

                  Some people underestimate that resource 🙂

                  • RedLogix

                    Sunlight is well understood in great detail. But as I've explained before you cannot get around the basic physics of solar irradiation – it's diffuse (which means you need a lot of land to capture a decent quantity), it's intermittent (which means you need a storage mechanism to cover the daily, seasonal and weather related variance), and it arrives at only a modest quality (which means you need a fair bit of thermodynamically inefficient technology to turn it into a useful form like electricity or work.)

                    In the pre-industrial photosynthesis era we got around the first limitation by invasion, conquest and empire. We got around the storage problem by turning sunlight into food and wood. But we never had the technology to turn sunlight directly into high quality forms – and this inhibited industrialisation dramatically.

                    In the industrial era we're not so keen on empire anymore, but the amount of land required to fully power a prosperous and efficient world is still dramatically more than most people imagine. The storage problem is solvable, but it does introduce substantial technological costs – and the closer you get to 100% the more expensive it gets. And finally yes we now have solar panels and wind generators, but again at the scale necessary to power the world and the relatively short lifecycle of these devices – demands a huge amount of material resource that needs continuously replacing on a prodigious basis.

                    So in this respect I agree with the idea that SWB tech, while useful and may well yet surprise us with what it can achieve, cannot support a BAU case that is just a status quo projection of our current trajectory. Or to put it simply – I'm skeptical that SWB will ever be a 100% drop in replacement for fossil fuels. I could be proven wrong, but that's my bet for the time being.

                    • Adrian

                      In the future according to my son the alt energy researcher, the vast majority of process manufacturing will occur about 15degrees either side of the equator as that is where solar is most efficient and therefore cheap. Solar is not really that efficient in NZ as we straddle the 40s latitudes. Is it a loss jobs wise for us ? Not really as future factories will be pretty autonomous.

                      When it comes to enough for us there is already 50 years of consented wind projects ready to go as soon as we need them and the price of production drops a little more. He is confident that when the change comes it will be remarkably quick, as history has always shown us when demand, availability and price intersect.

                      Real estate hint, buy land in northern Australia.

    • weka 3.2

      "and to date we dont even appear willing to consider that."

      Getting there I think. Five years ago there was a lot of rejection of the idea that climate action would require any sacrifice. Seems like we're more able to have that conversation now. Not enough by any means, but there is a definite shift. The onus now is on the people that know how to make life better while we reduce excess consumption to step and show the way. Would be nice if politically there was more support (20 Green MPs in 2023 would change a lot), but I still think there's going to need to be a big push from outside parliament.

      • Pat 3.2.1

        I submit gas BBQs….the push is going to need to be monumental

        • weka

          it remains to be seen if NZ will throw its toys out of the cot over BBQs in lieu of climate action and the lives of their grandchildren. But I take your point. The mahi there is to find out why the BBQs matter so much and show people how to replace the experience while giving up the gas. I'd guess there is also work to be done in educating people about the seriousness of climate change and ecological collapse.

          • Rosemary McDonald

            …find out why the BBQs matter so much… giving up the gas.

            Here in the Far North we pay the highest rates in NZ for our electricity.


            We have frequent power cuts, and many of us live in bach- type homes where even if there is electricity available the wiring is of such a standard that simply turning on an electric stove ring when the oven is on blows fuses.

            Ditched the electric stove and purchased a two ring gas burner set up on an alumnium camping table. Purchased small electric toaster oven for small baking and roasting work. The little electric hot water cylinder is at least twenty years old….but this system does the two of us just fine for now…

            However, when whanau are staying or friends arrive it is the hooded gas bbq that steps up. Entire meals for numerous people can be cooked on the grill as well as stuff stir fried or boiled on the side burner. And this can be done outdoors as it is way too hot to be cooking inside.

            We filled two gas bottles up in late October…cost of $60…and despite many extras at our table we've only used $30 worth of gas up to last week.

            The old electric hot water cylinder was going to be replaced with a gas system…as is the norm up here…but that plan has now been shelved.

            Not sure what to do long term now. Solar hot water might be a plan but we'll also have to think about cooking without gas. Perhaps a woodburner with wetback might be the plan.

            Getting just a little bit hoha with the narrative that cooking with gas is a 'lifestyle choice'…and this is usually from those who live with cheaper and more reliable electricity supplies.

            And no…this is not going to fix the price issue…https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/green-business/124224899/new-zealands-largest-solar-farm-proposed-for-top-of-country. This massive enterprise is literally just down the road and while no doubt it ticks a few green boxes, it promises nothing in the way of more reasonable power prices.

            The Far North also has the highest wholesale electricity prices in the country, allowing the company to get a good price for its power, Andrews said.

            The solar farm may help bring down the price of power in the Far North, “although we don't want it to lower too much, of course”, he said.

            • Pat

              your suggested solution?

              • Rosemary McDonald

                As I said…perhaps solar hot water. But cooking? Electricity costs too much and is too unreliable. We laugh in a power cut up here as most of us have some form of gas cooking. We have to.

                You want us to go 100% electricity?

                Re-nationalise all aspects and areas of electricity generation and supply. Remove profit motive and bring prices down to where they are affordable by all.

                In the meantime, I'm going to give serious thought to woodfired outdoor cooking options.


                • shanreagh

                  You want us to go 100% electricity?

                  Re-nationalise all aspects and areas of electricity generation and supply. Remove profit motive and bring prices down to where they are affordable by all.

                  I'll support that. The two aspects (withdrawal of gas and rejigging the energy industry) should have gone hand in hand.

                  As for the solar chappie and others of his ilk, I would support some sort of investigation and if there is any sort of Govt support $$$$- wise or regulation-wise for any part of his programme then it should be beholden on this company to be guided by prices that are set by Govt pricers and not by other energy dealers.

                • Pat

                  Id suggest that there are two main causes of the dilemma you face….poor housing stock (wiring) and supply of reliable electricity at a reasonable price,….gas isnt the solution to either of those,

                  The housing issue needs to be addressed anyway and it would be foolish to install gas in any new or ungraded property so we dont do it (as per CC report) and we develop additional (preferably local) electricity generation…the differential pricing issue I think should be addressed with a single public transmission entity that equalises the cost country wide.

                  And woodfired (charcoal) options were typical until about 30 or so years ago as far as I recall

                  • shanreagh

                    we develop additional (preferably local) electricity generation…the differential pricing issue I think should be addressed with a single public transmission entity that equalises the cost country wide.

                    If there was a seriousness and concern for people in the plans put forward, these mitigation measures would have been part and parcel of the CC.

                    I was expecting something like Grant Robertson's profound meeting of all concerns during the first responses to level 4 lockdown.

                    The breadth of the vision as to who might be affected by what the Govt was doing and how they planned to mitigate it took my breath away. They had thought of everything, tax ,unemployment, higher electricity use by those confined to home, help for charities etc.

                    By contrast CC documents seem like thin bitter gruel with little sign of a person at the beginning, middle and end. We are here, now.

                • The Al1en

                  All electric – cooker and water heater here, and a daily average usage of 6kw.

                  On the West coast since September, it's been under $3 per day, so $80 to $85 per month.

                  House has a wood burner with wetback connected, so actually expecting those prices to drop in winter.

                • Brigid

                  Solar hot water and a wetback. Borosilicate glass vacuum tubes with a stainless steel storage tank is the most efficient system I believe.

                  Then that's your hot water sorted for the whole year and you can cook on your woodstove/fireplace during the winter.

                  The system I designed for my sister in Waipu circulates hot water from the wetback through the solar tank in the winter and the sun does the same in the summer. Hot water is delivered by way of the heat exchanger in the tank.

            • shanreagh

              Getting just a little bit hoha with the narrative that cooking with gas is a 'lifestyle choice'…and this is usually from those who live with cheaper and more reliable electricity supplies.

              Agree with this comment. Mine may be a bit of a lifestyle choice but I have twice had to use gas BBQs when we had electricity outages including when a fuse on the power pole outside exploding in pouring rain. Those with fragile electricity supplies, and some parts of Southland also have these, rely on having an alternative source for cooking and boiling water, for washing people mainly, to keep healthy.

              • Pat

                and what will you do when the gas is no longer available?

                • shanreagh

                  And when will that be Pat? Apart from the imposed Govt deadlines when would the gas have naturally run out?

                  Actually I wonder at the focus on this as a way to get the electorate behind and supporting the Govt in the climate change scenario. I suspect push back will delay this and allow a change of focus from the whole climate change programme. And we will all be the losers.

                  I already have gas connected and I will install my gas/electric stove. Once domestic piped gas is pulled it will not be my problem or I will cross that bridge later.

                  I have already down sized from a 4 burner gas BBQ and have a selection of camping stoves, including what was called a Benghazi burner in our household (not the sand and petrol and half gallon drum of the Western Desert) running on other types of fuel in my civil defence kit.

                  • Pat

                    at current rates of consumption (and the use is increasing) around 50 years but in NZ about 8years….and as the the supply decreases and if demand increases there is likely to be a bidding war for what remains…so when (not if) gas is not available what will you do?

                    • shanreagh

                      I have already told you that. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

                      I am hoping that electricity renationalised or the prices re-jigged.

                      If solar comes with its own set of prices that are not artificially linked to electricity costs then that will be a preference also. NZ domestic energy planning, is & has been, in my view predicated on fads……little or no govt support for changing to things like solar or wind power as they have done in Germany or Australia.

                      As far as my one remaining small single burner gas BBQ perhaps we could have a Govt buy back as we did for the guns. If the damage to all of us as a nation by continuing is as bad for us & the world as guns then this seems fair to me.

                  • Pat

                    why would the government buy back gas appliances ?…especially when weve known for years the gas is limited

                    • shanreagh

                      Why would Govt have bought back guns when we have known for years it was a matter of time before some nutter would go bad again. And we have had them all through our history right from the policemen on the West Coast to Aramoana to 15 March.

                  • Pat

                    Youre seriously comparing gas BBQs to guns?….the scrappy will probably give you a couple of bucks for it

                    • shanreagh

                      I think the damage that unaltered unaddressed climate change will make the loss of human life by guns pale into insignificance.

                      We will have species loss, people loss, global warming, sea level rises. We need to make the punters see the big picture and we don't want to stumble at the first fence by making a big bad thing out of a small but important way of life for some NZers.

                      You seem to think I am personalsing this. I'm not. I actually use my alt sources of outdoor cooking more than my tiny gas BBQ.

                      I've been around Govt circles to know that unless you expect and counter the unexpected right from the beginning it will rise up and bite you on the bottom.

                    • Pat

                      Gas BBQs are a distraction by those seeking to delay any action on CC just as were energy saving bulbs and showerheads….if we are too stupid not to see that then we dont deserve saving…and offering buybacks makes them look even more foolish.

                • gsays

                  You could try this on for size…


                  My horticultural father-in-law did some research on this to provide energy for his yam processing sheds. I don't know why he didn't proceed.

            • shanreagh

              And no…this is not going to fix the price issue…https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/green-business/124224899/new-zealands-largest-solar-farm-proposed-for-top-of-country. This massive enterprise is literally just down the road and while no doubt it ticks a few green boxes, it promises nothing in the way of more reasonable power prices.

              The Far North also has the highest wholesale electricity prices in the country, allowing the company to get a good price for its power, Andrews said.

              The solar farm may help bring down the price of power in the Far North, “although we don't want it to lower too much, of course”, he said.

              The phrase used by my teenage self seems an appropriate comment for the above quote….'far out'.

              Are we all going to miss the boat as far as reasonable energy costs are concerned with no commitment from those promoting new sources of energy to bring price competition to market and being a part of lowering energy costs, to consumers?

            • weka

              I hear you Rosemary, and the primary issue there is whether NZ will do a just transition or not. We know who's going to get the short end of the straw, so I think highlighting the issues you raise is bloody useful right at the start.

              Afaik, LPG will remain available for existing gas appliances for quite some time. The ban is on new installs and appliance from 2025 ish. So for people already relying on gas, there's that. Over time I would expect some supply issues (just a bit more work to buy), but not in the short or even medium term.

              But the issue will be for people needing those options from 2025. Not the people who prefer to cook on gas than electricity, but those that need a cheap and easy way to set up a way to cook.

              Ideally we'd see a range of new tech coming on board that helps in that situation. Some of the solar cookers are starting to look good beyond the alt tech crowd, but this is still a massive cost issue. Maybe WINZ should subsidise them 😈

              Down south it's easier in some ways, because the climate means we're all used to burning firewood (there's going to be some regret at all the woodburners that got pulled out in the past decade). But also, power supply is pretty good albeit expensive. Totally support nationalising the industry. Fuck Max Bradford and the mates he rode in with.

          • gsays

            The answer to non gas BBQs is here. Charcoal. When you make it, in a well designed retort, it is virtually emissions free.

            Here is a design.

            The leftovers can be turned into biochar, by treating with a liquid tea (comfrey, chookpoo, seaweed).

            A unit I would like to get my mitts on:


            • shanreagh

              The one positive for gas is that it is/was able to be used in high fire risk times. Many people moved from charcoal to gas as they found that the times when you felt like sitting and eating outside coincided with the times you were not allowed to use your charcoal BBQ. If this could be overcome with better designed BBQs, sparkless and perhaps better charcoal then much plus a small hand-in payment for the old gasburners then all the concern about BBQs would disappear I suspect. We may not even need the payment.

              I used to put my charcoal in the compost.

              • weka

                Can none of the charcoal BBQs be used in a fire ban? (i.e. there is no tech that is currently suitable).

                • shanreagh

                  Back in the day the advice was that there were none. Now perhaps there will be better closed charcoal BBQ designs coming on that would mitigate the possibility of sparks causing fires.

                  I would have loved to have seen a Grant Robertson 'we've though of everything' statement here that NZG is investigating sources of closed charcoal burners.'

                • gsays

                  I have a drum smoker. The charcoal basket can be raised to use as a bbq/grill.


                  • weka

                    that is seriously cool. So it's completely contained and the airflow comes from the top?

                    Can you preserve meat with that?

                    • gsays

                      Yes to self contained, but grilling is usually done with lid up.

                      The airflow intake is the pipe on the right, just below the height of the lid. The exhaust is the pipe on the lid.

                      One of the great features is the airflow. The intake and exhaust have a wee disc on top of them so air can be shut off or fully opened.

                      With good charcoal I can have a 10 hour cook at about 65-80 degrees celcius- low and slow.

                      I have tried to do jerky in it but the temp got away from me a couple of times and rendered some venison crispy.

                      For any food based diet folk out there, I have smoked mushrooms, tomatoes, cabbage and tried marrow jerky. Jacket spuds and kumera come out irresistable.

            • gsays

              Oops, that link should be:

              Interesting fact: the term collier used to apply to charcoal makers back in the day. In the 1800s the coal miners took it. I understand the charcoal makers have it back now.

        • shanreagh

          Predicating the seriousness of the need for measures around Climate Change on gas BBQs (and bearing in mind that for many Joe & Jane Public this will be the extent of what they know about NZ's response to Climate change) was a mind bogglingly silly place to start. If they wanted a ‘hearts and minds’ approach as opposed to/ or as well as a rules and regulations approach then mitigations and the 'how to live without your gas BBQs’ should have been part & parcel.

          I am concerned that we may lose the impetus for change as we fight battles because we have not read our constituency.

          Where were the 'Emperor has no clothes' people who said 'Ah hey boss we might unleash a blow-back that could lose us any credibility and buy-in if we don't look carefully at the gas BBQ concept?'

          • Pat

            Id suggest that if the 'constituency' is that mind numbingly self interested then no matter what it is proposed its a lost cause.

            • shanreagh

              This is a sad statement.

              Humans generally are 'mind numbingly self interested'. We have had to be to survive .

              The trick with our Covid responses was to elevate that into a Kennedy-esque 'what you can do for your country.' (while still looking after your own self interest)

              We need to look at how to persuade and taking toys away without strong mitigation or alternatives or replacements included in the documentation seems like a poor way to start.

              • Pat

                I can see the headlines now….."Gov wasting taxpayer money to buy worthless/useless BBQs"

                • Sabine

                  Gov investing in huge buy back programme of newly banned gas bbqs to allow affected people to buy a new appliances under the new CC regulations. All the old appliances will be recycled and reused.

                  In many parts of NZ cooking on gas bbqs is not only a way of live but also often times the only means of cooking food……..

                  fixed your headline.

                  • Pat

                    I know which headline would predominate….and they are not banned.

                    • Sabine

                      No you don't know.

                      Same as with re-nationalising the power supply, or re-nationalising water supply, etc. We don't because those that tell us what to think are still making good bank on these utilities. And you and i and Rosemary pay for it, no matter how expensive or how shitty the delivery.

                      The only ones whining about the gun buy back programmes are the ones that did not want to sell their guns back to the government. Every else was actually quite happy about it.

                      So why not try first before proclaiming that it won't work, or because some schmuck complains about some people getting money to get a cooking facility that is environmentally friendly.

                    • Pat

                      Again …they are not banned.

                      And if the Government accept and implement the commission's report then we may well get the opportunity to discover what headlines predominate

          • weka

            Predicating the seriousness of the need for measures around Climate Change on gas BBQs (and bearing in mind that for many Joe & Jane Public this will be the extent of what they know about NZ's response to Climate change) was a mind bogglingly silly place to start.

            they didn't, the MSM did that. LPG is a fossil fuel and burning it emits GHGs that are driving climate change. Trying to remove LPG from other uses but not BBQs would be complicated when we've got better things to do.

            I get the political argument, but we're running out of time. At some point we just have to bite the bullet and get people up to speed. The BBQ issue should be an opportunity to advance climate understanding. Sadly, I don't think that Labour are on board enough yet.

            • shanreagh

              I get the political argument, but we're running out of time. At some point we just have to bite the bullet and get people up to speed. The BBQ issue should be an opportunity to advance climate understanding. Sadly, I don't think that Labour are on board enough yet.

              Agree with this 100%. I don't think Labour are on board enough either. The lack of enthusiasm walking the talk is concerning to me and others who want to Govt to be seriously on message and if this means addressing the items that some NZers have taken from this, gas BBQs, then so be it.

              It also has implications for our restaurant industry with fast flash electricity for restaurants not being available and even induction cooking is still prohibitively priced.

              It is all very well this idea of "If you built it – they will come: Field of Dreams' nirvana of waiting for clever people to improvise, invent to replace as a means of washing over of concerns. BUT……..

              So by all means let's have the CC ideas but running alongside let us have some ideas/generate some ideas of how to replace the things that are vital, economical electricity and the things that make for a quality of life and a civil defence resource…. how do we cook outdoors?

              As for the idea that we take our gas BBQs to the scrap merchants….sure but you can bet your bottom dollar that even the small return you may get now will plummet to zero once we have them there in quantity. So we will have full landfills and fly tippers and Gas BBQs in situ being used somehow.

  4. Incognito 4

    Now, more than ever, do we need a re-think and re-design the future of work. Job creation is all about joining the rat race of consumerism and chasing material wealth, which only sparks joy momentarily, but long-terms only leads to deeply unhappy and unhealthy people.

    I don’t give a rat’s arse if technology is allowing BAU and maintain status quo whilst possibly only aggravating the human condition. From what I’ve seen so far, this is the most likely (as in: preferred) scenario and it ain’t impress me much crying

    • weka 4.1

      why don't you give a rat's arse?

      Future of work, and people having a choice between wage slavery and sparking joy is one potent doorway into action. Imagine if that was presented as the actual choice? Hey, we can powerdown, work less, have more joy, spend more time with those we love, or we can keep our flatscreen TVs, latest iphones, flash new EV and break our backs and the lives of our kids maintaining that (sorry, no more overseas holidays though).

  5. Obtrectator 5

    Population, population, population ….. or, as J B Priestley once put it (I forget where): "too many bloody people".

    Too much biomass tied up in units of humanity. Why then do so many news stories about population drops (either actual or anticipated) still seem to regard them as a disaster that has to be prevented at all costs?

    Applying energy-intensive techno-fixes won't do anything to address that fundamental root cause of all our problems.

    Once we've raided everything that's around, that'll be it, folks. Mother Nature is the ultimate quartermaster, and she ain't got no secret reserve stores.

    • weka 5.1

      well to state the obvious, the global economy requires perpetual population growth doesn't it? If NZ's population dropped or became steady, wouldn't that nobble the neoliberal project?

    • Snape 5.2

      “Applying energy-intensive techno-fixes won't do anything to address that fundamental root cause of all our problems.”


  6. pdm 6

    I still reckon NATURE itself is the best bet to resolve `so called' climate change.

    It always has and always will.

  7. Snape 7

    “well to state the obvious, the global economy requires perpetual population growth doesn't it? “

    Other way around! Population growth requires more jobs (or the unemployment rate would skyrocket). More jobs is dependent on an expanding economy.

  8. weka 8

    Re LPG, maybe we should be designing for resiliency as well. This is happening in a 'first' world country and it likely to get worse the further we push GHG emissions. NZ won't be immune from this.

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