An evacuee on the Greek island of Evia, which is currently on fire in an event made worse by climate change (Getty Images)
An evacuee on the Greek island of Evia, which is currently on fire in an event made worse by climate change (Getty Images)

The BulletinAugust 10, 2021

The Bulletin: The devastating new climate report

An evacuee on the Greek island of Evia, which is currently on fire in an event made worse by climate change (Getty Images)
An evacuee on the Greek island of Evia, which is currently on fire in an event made worse by climate change (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Devastating new climate report released, lights go out overnight amid surging electricity demand, and Tauranga port workers nervous about Covid scare.

A new climate report has delivered confirmation that we are heading for a much warmer world, with the consequences of that ever-clearer all the time. The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report shows that some level of warming and climate disruption is now totally unavoidable, and humans will be living with the effects of that for centuries. For The Spinoff, science journalist Veronika Meduna reports that the cause of that climate change is now certain and unequivocal – human activity. An example of the sort of work that went into it has been outlined in this piece on The Conversation by Victoria University’s professor Nick Golledge, who studies oceans and ice, which is melting.

The effects include the recent spate of extreme weather, which is projected to get worse. To quote from Meduna’s piece:

 A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and can dump it in extreme rainfalls in one place, while elsewhere the warmer air sucks more water from the land, leaving already dry areas even more parched. At the outer end of both these processes are extreme floods, heatwaves and droughts.

But look, you know all this stuff already. If you’ve read any reputable news publication for any length of time, the certainty of climate change will not be in any doubt. Nor will the feeling of anxiety and fear that comes with that be unfamiliar. The science on this has been clear for decades, despite the protestations of denial from well-paid liars and those they’ve deceived.

The report was described as “comprehensive and frank”– though it was tempered with optimism, in outlining scenarios in which the most catastrophic warming might be avoided. In comments collected by the Science Media Centre, Waikato professor Iain White said “we need to change how we live, how we move, and the structure of our economy.” This obviously needs to happen everywhere, but because this is a New Zealand publication we’ll keep the focus local. Professor White pointed to the upcoming Emissions Reduction Plan from the government, and warned against “the trap of techno-optimism”, by which some amazing new discovery might magically save us from ourselves. White added this point, which should drive it home:

“Science has done its job. It did it decades ago, frankly. Now it’s time for politics and related professions to do their job. Only now they have less time than previous generations of politicians and the implications are ever more certain.”

In response to the report, climate change minister James Shaw said the government would be “equal to the latest climate science”. “We must use this chance to review progress and make sure the actions we are committing to will cut emissions in line with what the latest science requires. Anything less will not be enough,” said Shaw. If he and other politicians around the world cannot find a way for those cuts to happen, and curb the power of the industries and systems that cause them, countless people will die.

It was extremely cold last night, and demand for power appears to have overwhelmed supply. Stuff reports tens of thousands of houses were affected by cuts as a result. Nothing like this has happened in a decade. Because this all happened 12 hours ago, there’s no rush to have a scorching hot take about what it means for the electricity generation system, but rest assured analysis on this will be coming.

Mariners on a cargo ship off the coast of Tauranga have tested positive, and dozens of port workers who worked the ship are not fully vaccinated. Our live updates reports that comes despite attempts to prioritise port workers for vaccines. It appears those efforts are not going well – the government is blaming “misinformation and hesitancy” for the delay, while the union says it is an example of “bureaucratic incompetence.”

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The plans and discussions of a small but active white supremacist group have been revealed after an undercover investigation. Critic Te Arohi journalist Elliot Weir infiltrated the group Action Zealandia, who have attempted to recruit members and push a fascist ideology at home, and are currently in the process of establishing contacts with violent neo-Nazi groups around the world. AZ members also discussed trying to do entryism with established political parties, to bring them towards white supremacy. Weir also posted a condensed version of his investigation outlining his process and the key findings.

The Helen Clark Foundation has released a new report highlighting the potential “brain gain” of NZers returning home due to the pandemic. Writing for The Spinoff, Laura Walters reports it comes alongside the remaining diaspora overseas feeling increasingly shut out of the country. The number of people coming home hasn’t necessarily increased, but net inward migration has been much higher over the past year in large part because fewer people are leaving.

A counterview on the timber shortage, and particularly the question of an export ban: I got this feedback from Rob, who has knowledge of the industry, and thought it would be worth publishing as a wider view of the issue:

The suggestion that’s been floating around that the government should limit the export of building products from New Zealand to alleviate the situation is at best naive, and disingenuous in the case of some interest groups.

The New Zealand log harvest is currently 2.5 times what the New Zealand forest products processing industry has installed capacity to deal with. Sawmillers in New Zealand are working at capacity to try and meet market demand , particularly for framing lumber where domestic demand has been exceeding supply recently. New building consents are at record highs. To my knowledge, most framing lumber produced in New Zealand is sold in New Zealand because that is the best makes for these sawmills, always has been.

There is a different debate that has been going on for a very long time and that is the export of logs from New Zealand Just like grades of beef there are grades of logs. For the most part sawmills can get the logs that they want provided they are prepared to pay a market price for those logs. The export market price, worked back to take account of transport, shipping, and port costs, has a significant influence on the domestic log price. Provided they pay their bills and engage in long term relationships, with give and take on both sides around what is market price, most mills would privately tell you they can secure the logs they need. 

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With thousands of Covid-19 cases in Sydney it’s likely that the city won’t again eliminate the virus, experts warn. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Justin Giovannetti writes about what went wrong in New South Wales with their Covid outbreak, and what the next period looks like. Duncan Greive analyses the implications of Stuff acquiring small media startup Ensemble. Josie Adams looks at some serious and possibly slightly less serious alternatives to timber in housing. Pati Hakaria writes about some of the best te reo picture books of the year. Liam Rātana, in partnership with Kiwibank, speaks to Miriama Kamo about what makes a great New Zealander. And rugby player Alice Soper reviews Head High, a returning show about school rugby and the pressures put on young men.

For a feature today, two pieces about the vulnerability of systems for processing plastic and other rubbish. The first comes from The Nation, and looks at how dangerous rising seas are to coastal landfills in the US. We’ve seen similar examples of this in New Zealand, where flooding has ripped open old dumps. The second one comes from the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jamie Morton, who has looked at where New Zealand’s used plastic gets exported to. Here’s an excerpt:

Greenpeace Aotearoa plastics campaigner Juressa Lee said it was especially concerning that much of this waste was still being dumped on countries like Thailand and Malaysia.

“A Greenpeace investigation a few years back showed that significant amounts of that ‘recycled’ plastic was being dumped, buried or burned at illegal sites in Malaysia with little concern for the health impacts on the surrounding communities.”

Emeritus Professor Ralph Cooney, of the University of Auckland, said Indonesia was able to reduce, reuse and recycle just 15 per cent of its waste, while 35 per cent was being dumped in landfills or incinerated.

In sport, a tragic loss of life: Cyclist Olivia Podmore, who rode for New Zealand at the Rio Olympics, has died at the age of 24. The coroner has yet to release findings on the cause of death, but as Stuff reports, it was sudden, followed a concerning Instagram post from Podmore, and the article included tags for where to get mental health support and help. Podmore’s family are in mourning, and people in the cycling community have expressed their devastation at the loss.

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