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Carlos Chambers on what Google thinks, a stellar NZ example, the flaws of purely rational thinking, trust us we're doctors, Dilbert & more

Carlos Chambers on what Google thinks, a stellar NZ example, the flaws of purely rational thinking, trust us we're doctors, Dilbert & more

Today's Top 10 is another guest post from Carlos Chambers who is a member and spokesperson for Generation Zero.

Generation Zero is an "organisation of young New Zealanders working to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities and independence from fossil fuels". He is active on Twitter via @CarlosChambers1. His first Top 10 is here.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

1. What Google thinks
Co-founder of Google, Larry Page last week spoke out in a TED talk in Vancouver, about the company’s future, and why he would consider leaving his billions to Elon Musk (founder of PayPal, Solar City, Telsa Motors and SpaceX).

Felix Salmon (Reuters) examines the ethics and logic of the claim.  He argues - better a small chance of creating a permanent and positive change to the way the world works, than giving yourself a larger chance of making a more limited intervention. 

Page had words that sounded harsh even in his soft voice for businesses that lacked the same lofty goals of an Elon Musk or a Google. “Most people think companies are basically evil. They get a bad rap. And I think that’s somewhat correct,” Page said. “Companies are doing the same incremental thing that they did 50 years ago, 20 years ago. That’s not really what we need. Especially in technology, we need revolutionary change, not incremental change.”

I hugely admire and revere Elon Musk and much of what he has done, by looking hard into the future, spotting trends and problems and building impact driven companies - in the e-commerce, solar and now space travel areas in savvy ways.

But ultimately, I think the Bill Gates, through he and his wife’s foundation would have a better ROI for Page, and a better chance at enabling him to make a deeper positive impact than Musk.

2. A (Kiwi ?) clean tech benchmark
Kiwi clean tech darling LanzaTech last week grew its investment purse by $60 million, with series D funding coming from a handful of smart international investors. Stephen Tindall’s clean tech investment fund K1W1 was joined in the round by German, Japanese, Malaysian and Chinese finance. 

The award winning business is a stellar example of what New Zealand could do. Economically, clean technology just makes sense. I know there are other New Zealand clean tech success stories are out there (notably Carbonscape who are greening the steel making process) - seek and support!

Kiwi tech companies have been doing well on the capital raises recently, with Vend raising a further $25 million (in series C) to boost international expansion.

New Zealand-founded bio-fuels innovator LanzaTech has attracted US$60 million in its latest capital-raising round, including a US$20 million commitment from Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsui, which will join the LanzaTech board.

Mitsui said in a statement it would actively contribute to "developing next-generation biofuels and chemicals made from waste gases."

"Through this investment, Mitusui is going to be involved in marketing of LanzaTech's technology, business development and product take-off worldwide."

3. Fashion knows best ?
Intelligent, hipster, fashion, party magazine Vice hosts an interesting response to an attack on one of it’s journalists by Forbes writer, John Tamny. Tamny calls Shane Smith a global warming alarmist.

Smith sensibly outlines the flaws in the statement, backing these up with examples (some of which I am sceptical about attributing to anthropogenic climate change).

While concerning that Forbes is publishing content denying climate change is human-induced, perhaps most interesting is that Vice, and Forbes magazine are now having discussions about the topic.

Magazine’s I usually reach about for fashion, party, hipster and startups news are having the climate discussions. This is heartening - and shows the gravity and depth of the IPCC’s latest report.

Did the markets predict Hurricane Katrina? ($125 billion in damages/costs)

Did they predict Hurricane Sandy? ($71 billion in damages/costs)

How about the Fukushima disaster? ($58 billion clean-up)

Typhoon Haiyan? (7,500 dead or missing and $12.5 billion in cleanup costs)

The drought in California? ($5 billion estimated loss in 2014 revenue alone)


Market analysts anticipated none of these because their focus is the economy, NOT the environment. Those guys are looking to make money, while scientists are overwhelmingly in agreement that not only is global warming happening, but that the worst is yet to come.

4. Decreased production, increased cost
Suzanne Goldenberg writes on the effect of climate change on the world’s food, arguing that countries’ governments’ are paying more notice to the most recent report by the IPCC, due to the direct impact on humans’ food system.  The report finds climate change will decrease food production and increase its cost.  It’s true that we humans don’t tend to realise and appreciate things until we properly feel it.

Think global, eat local.

In that time, climate change has ceased to be a distant threat and made an impact much closer to home, the report's authors say. "It's about people now," said Virginia Burkett, the chief scientist for global change at the US geological survey and one of the report's authors. "It's more relevant to the man on the street. It's more relevant to communities because the impacts are directly affecting people – not just butterflies and sea ice."

5. The flaws of purely rational thinking
A thorough summary of the fifth assessment report by the Economist on how the climate is affecting the Earth's ecosystems, the economy and peoples' livelihoods.

The author JP spells out the consequences in the IPCC report in clear terms, along with high level comparisons to the last report of the same kind, in 2007.

The author argues that GDP is an inadequate measure of the effects of climate change and points out the flaws that arise from the purely rational economic thinking that the measure is premised on. He also points out the vagaries of using any model to assess a challenge which is the size and breadth of climate change.

So how much might all these influences affect the world economy? The IPCC's surprising answer to that is: hardly at all. A 2°C rise in temperature, it says, could result in worldwide economic losses of only 0.2% to 2% of GDP a year. The trouble is, as the IPCC also says, this figure is misleading. GDP is a bad measure of climate impacts and the economic models used are hopeless ("completely made up", said one recent critic). GDP does not account for catastrophic losses, which may be the most important kind. As an income measure, it gives less weight to the poor—but the poor are more vulnerable to climate change than the rich. That is true both between countries (Bangladesh is more vulnerable to floods than the Netherlands) and within them (richer Bangladeshis live in safer areas). The models do not take account of things like "tipping points"; do not care if carbon concentrations go sky-high and assume that if an economy were ravaged by drought or floods, it would suddenly have lots of "spare capacity" that could be redeployed.

6. Tech and transport demand
The wave of technology is doubling up with the wave of increased demand for transport choice
. Interestingly, the later wave is not limited just to the tech-star’s Generation Y, but includes baby boomers and empty nesters, argues the article.

The product: a mind shift and a Tsunami of apps and other walkability innovations in cities around the world.

This is not to say that New Zealand’s fair cities don’t face their own unique issues and challenges around walkability, not necessarily addressed - but some of the innovations in this article are a great starting point.

I can’t wait to see how things like the HACKAKL: Transport “hackathon” style weekend - Auckland’s first “civic hacking” event spawn Kiwi transport solutions for that city.  A city with it’s own plethora of transport issues. 

Fueled by a fundamental shift in the way people move about communities, cities, and regions, new innovative technologies are being introduced to the masses. These tech tools facilitate the ability to walk to places and use forms of urban mobility other than cars. Technology-based solutions and information platforms include such apps as RideScout, Walkscore, Walkonomics, and Transit Screen. They’ve emerged in response to interest from both Millennials and Baby Boomers wanting information-rich mobility options to guide them to where they need to go.

7. Insurance innovation in Africa
James Kariuki from the Business Daily Africa writes
 on the first successful iteration of a smart new insurance offering for East Africa - with the first successful claim in Wajir Kenya.

The insurer, Takaful Insurance of Africa insured with an index based livestock insurance product.  The product offering complies with Islamic practice, and uses satellite imagery to calculate and compensate policyholders.

Are financial institutions stepping up in places that need it, and will continue to as large tracts of East Africa dry out over time?  Insurers seem to be moving with the times and joining the innovation party.

Who said insurance is a stale industry?

Takaful Insurance CEO Hassan Bashir said the index-based Livestock Insurance product (IBLI) is aimed at giving pastoralists a fallback plan during natural hazards.

“Our goal is to show pastoralists that they can use a fair and ethical business model to protect their assets from a natural hazard in East Africa,” said Mr Bashir.

The livestock insurance conforms to the Islamic concept of takaful in which risks are shared among group members, who, through a contract called tabbaru (donation) contribute to a risk fund. It is paid out according to a member’s contribution.

More fulsome coverage on the insurance providers site.

8. Trust us, we're doctors
A collection of medical practitioners co-author this editorial in the British Medical Journal, providing a health professional's perspective on the issue of climate change, and calling for urgent action on the same to ensure human survival.

As is typical of doctors, they cite sensible, respected research sources and also look at the suite of health and human benefits reducing some of the current emissions heavy patterns would result in. A nice even expression of the global picture and a call for personal responsibility for health professionals.

This was written in the week leading up to the IPCC’s report - we can only guess how the views expressed could and would have been strengthened after the authors read that report.

What we all do matters, not least in how it influences others. Those who profess to care for the health of people perhaps have the greatest responsibility to act. And there are signs of action being taken. Within the health system, organisations and health facilities are reducing their carbon footprint. Barts Health NHS Trust has, for example, reduced its energy bill by 43% since 2009. The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, himself a public health physician, has called for divestment from fossil fuels and investment in green energy. We should all respond.

9. SuperFund investment choices
You might have missed the NZ Super Fund dropping $292 million into US oil and gas investments, alongside private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which overall has $94.3 billion in assets under management, and just under $10 million in energy in resources.

This seems part of a strategy to create a diverse investment portfolio and expertise in energy sectors.  Last year the fund invested in Waltham, Massachusetts-based wind energy start-up Ogin to help grow it’s capital before going public.

The fund’s manager admits that the oil and gas investment is open to a continual passive exposure to the energy sector, but doesn’t let this stop him. Personally, I can think of better ways to invest my money than into US oil and gas.

Looking at LanzaTech would be one smart start.

The NZ Super Fund is committing up to $US250 million to invest in North American oil and gas assets alongside private equity giant KKR.

10. 'New Zealand has great potential'
The Royal Society of New Zealand released a new report on the benefits to New Zealand in pursuing a greener economic direction.

The report, Facing the future: towards a green economy for New Zealand, "presents evidence from local and global trends suggesting that New Zealand should carefully review its development direction, and discusses the potential for the country to move towards a green economy."

If a picture paints a thousand words, this accompanying infographic produced by the Royal Society must rack up a few more.

Picking up on the report, NZ Herald reporter Jamie Morton had this great feature article taking a look at whether we’re currently doing enough to get there, and what can be done.

The overall verdict? Plenty of potential but a looong way to go.

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The Carrington-et-al report is essentially on the money. Except about money.   :)


Yes, we need growth in green energy and green activities - but at the expense of current ones. That's displacement, not growth. Even then, total impact has to be scaled-back by several orders of magnitude by yesterday, so the current fiscal system can't fit the need.


Those who Professor about Economics and Business (there's  two associated with the report, others I could name too) need to address economics in a powerdown situation, and come up with a workable solution.


Or maybe the planet is better off if we crash the system, and work locally?


I chuckle whenever I read such an offering from western upper-middle-class academia - they can't envisage a world without cars, so it must be electric ones. The problem isn't environmentally-neutral cars and fuels, the problem is transporting people (presuming its a need and not a want) from A to B. Maybe that's not fair - maybe they know damn well and are just smart enough to realise that it'll never sell unless they placate the bozos who can't contemplate non-growth or a carless world.


Either way, watch it get ignored by our political 'leaders'.


I think the planet would be better off if we as humans go fast. We can do a lot more damage to its eco-system still if we have prolonged death throws, unless we get our act together. 

"a world without cars" indeed. The academics (who arguably are our brightest and should have the least vested interest) have no concept of how radically different the world will be. They just see BAU with a bit of adjustment, maybe things costing a wee bit more. Take the recent Auckland Uni report on how the suburbs can power themselves...

hmmm, frankly mindboggling incompetant la la land that lot.





The elites are so ruthless that they destroy themselves

"As you see, here society literally commits suicide by having the elites draw so much wealth from the accumulated resources that nothing is left to commoners – who die out. But, as the elites don’t produce anything, the wealth stock disappears and the final result is that they also disappear."…


"The MRK model has highlighted a factor that so far has been scarcely explored: how the unequal distribution of wealth affects the trajectory of an economic system in overshoot. This is an important parameter because, in this period, we are seeing an epochal transfer of wealth from the lower classes of society to the elites. Whether this phenomenon will accelerate collapse or slow it down, we cannot say. But surely it is something we need to study and understand."




Well, there's only four basic human activities:  food, shelter, transport, security.


Game of Thrones is yer primer here.  It bumps along the bottom in each of these activity sectors.


Food and Shelter - obvious.

Transport - because food and materials (ores, trees, production facilities) don't co-locate with cities, villages or collections of hovels.  Consider the nearest iron ore body....

Security - because the crooked timber of human nature guarantees that some people will regards others as prey, not as brothers/sisters.  And because it's far, far easier to Take than it is to Make. And because, over the long sweep of history, violence certainly pays.  Current example:  Putin's Russia.

So #6 needs to think a little wider, because all its examples assume urban activity only.  Not food production and distribution.  Not bulky stuff like metals, bricks and their production processes.  Walkability, cargo-bikability etc do not begin to address our production and distribution systems.


Bullocks and canals plus coastal ships, maybe.


But that assumes a whole different mode of living.


See everything really Is connected to everything else....


"See everything really Is connected to everything else"

That is correct, and the simple formula is,

a x b x c x d = our present economic system.

So when one's ability to do one fails what of the others? or indeed the answer (above)?

It has to be smaller, or,

"And because it's far, far easier to Take than it is to Make" only in the short term, what you point at is highway men or bandits or the wild west. which one won out? Highway men are not very common in most parts of the world today. That would of course be a brief end game....


in extreme even 0.

I'd rather it not be zero myself.




Um, sorry to rain on yer Friday, but large parts of the world have functioned as a series of isolated holdfasts, with totalitarian government, racketeering up the wazoo, incentivised by raw Fear, and all this for many, many centuries at a time.  


It's actually an extremely stable system, because it achieves the twin aims of low population growth (= sustainable, read on for how achieved) and wonderfully predictable government (get up any of any higher classes' nose, you're dead, your family is in bondage if they're rilly lucky, and all your property is belonga guess who).


Consider the Dark Ages, and consider Dylan's great quote (1993, cover notes for 'World Gone Wrong') - 'some might term today the New Dark Ages'.


Quarrelsome Tribes - humanity's factory default.  And it's a darn sight easier to press That little button than you may think:  consider Zimbabwe.


Here, Waymad is closer to reality.


The problem for Carlos - and the Gen that is Zero - is that he doesn't want war, a crash, or anything else. Fair enough; if I was that age, neither would I.


It'll be interesting to note the number of posters hereabouts, who won't comment on this thread, do comment every time a thread involves 'housing', and are of an older agegroup (ie, the ones who left his generation the mess).


Reckon I could name them now!


PDK instead of abusing others for taking an interest in real problems like housing maybe you would like to comment on the below and how it relates to NZ powering down. I have put it up before and each time others comment on it and you are noticibly absent.


NZ vehicle km travelled (VKT) is 37Bkm in 2012. This is for cars and light commercial vehicles (LCV).


Electric cars do about 15kWh per 100km. So that’s 4650GWh per annum if all those vehicles were electric. That’s about the same energy as the aluminium smelter uses.

Those cars would best be charged by wind farms, as when the wind is not blowing the existing hydro storage can be used. This is because the short term variability in wind is very small compared to the seasonal variation in hydro, for which we already have storage.


If each car cost $30K, then the cost of wind turbines to charge it would be about $2000. I used the 37B VKT /3.1M (cars and LCV - = 9000km per annum. This is 1350kWh per annum on average. A wind turbine has 0.35% capacity factor so to get 1350kWh of wind energy in a year you need 1350 kWh/8760 hours in a year / 0.35 = 0.440kW of wind capacity. Wind capacity costs about $2700/kW. So the investment is $2700*0.440=$1200. And I doubled it almost to pay off the landowners (it can’t be that much paid to landowners or wind generation would be too expensive already).


So to build wind farms fast enough to supply electric cars you need to spend money on new generation at a rate one fifteenth the rate of the people buying the cars in the first place. Is that affordable to the industry? If the entire fleet was replaced in 10 years, you’d need about 500GWh of investment per year in wind generation. Total demand is about 40000GWh so that’s 500/40000=1.24% pa. Which is less than the historical electricity demand growth rate. (Fleet age is 13years in 2012 pg 9)


Is there enough wind? Prior to the recent flattening of demand there was about 9000GWh of new wind generation consented or undergoing consent. There is about 90000GWh of potential wind generation taking the good sites only. All of it on already modified farmland, far from dwellings and near existing transmission. The grid can handle the capacity as its largely already been built for peak, and the entire fleet can be charged without increasing peak demand loading. So that’s the NZ electric car situation in terms of supplying the electricity.


Other issues – is there enough material to make the batteries for the world fleet, can they be made cheap enough fast enough, can you smelt the steel to make the wind turbines without emitting too much CO2?? Can you drive far enough in an electric car that it would be a true transport system?? What about agricultural machinery??? Shipping??? Air travel????


Some caveats. I agree with your figures but keep in mind that 39% of NZ's total energy use was from renewables. As fossil fuel scarcity increases then more demand will be shifted onto the electrical grid to provide energy for these other processes. This is likely to put further pressure on power prices (yes, I note your point about Tiwai point). Secondly, I do wonder about your last paragraph myself because I think in the very long run these will be the defining issues.


Other issues – is there enough material to make the batteries for the world fleet, can they be made cheap enough fast enough, can you smelt the steel to make the wind turbines without emitting too much CO2?? Can you drive far enough in an electric car that it would be a true transport system?? What about agricultural machinery??? Shipping??? Air travel????

Manufacturing of electric cars is complex and requires a whole range of processes which require a functional industrial society to produce. My concern is that once the energy crunch begins, the cost associated with all resource extraction will increase (as huge amounts of energy are required for mining, processing, transport etc.). In this case it seems unlikely to me (just my opinion) that electrical cars will become more affordable as time passes (as manufacturing costs may rise).

See this commodity graph and notice how metal price moves lock-step with oil price (energy). This is no coincidence. I doubt in a situation of declining energy we are going to see decreasing costs (barring an economic collapse occuring in which cause few people will be able to buy electric cars!). If you want to watch an interesting video then I'd highly recommend Peak mining and implications for national resource management lecture from Dr Simon Michaux (Bach App Sc in Physics and Geology and a PhD in mining engineering). It's a sobering video that puts this problem in context and I'd highly recommend you watch it.

Also, seeing as fossil fuels power our society their decline will mean likely contraction of the physical economy (which requires energy). This contraction will (and is currently) manifest itself as increasing economic hardship for the average person. I.e. earning power will get lower, more people will lose their jobs, and cost of living (for essentials) will likely continue to rise. In this case expensive items such as cars become more cost prohibitive. I think the future of transport will largely be public transport, rail, bicycles, electric bikes and a small group perhaps having access to an electric vehicle.



good post, realistic...



Brendons whole proposal is undermined by one principle, that complexity requires a surplus. But his (and a good many peoples) answer to the energy shortage problem is an increase in complexity.


JB's example below of Lanzatech is an example. What they are trying to do is complex will probably never produce revenue.


Housing as a real issue, well which comes first? Simple you are unable to see anything past housing. Actually though the economy uses energy, houses are part of that economy, when we have less energy we will be able to afford less housing.

Electric cars, more like $65k. On top of that there will be a scramble for EVs as ppl realise the future, so the costs dont look to get cheaper.  Production rate is another issue....

Hence we will have more public transport and move around less and bea lot poorer...




I remember reading a little while ago an article about self-driving cars (was it in a previous top ten?):…


This would quqite significantly change the math, would it not? More generally, changing of transportation patterns is a factor that should be taken into account. It might offer some solutions.


Lawerence Livermore labs have published their annual US energy use graph. As ever it is transportation that has massive waste components around it.

So yes, transport is the zone where reformations could make a lot of difference- low hanging fruit.


Excellent thinking Brendob.



Good work.

Solar is likely to be part of the solution as well. A typical 5kw system will produce say 6000 - 7500 kwh, enough for 4-5 cars.

So a number of households with the right roof configuration will be able to be energy self sufficient for their cars, with a fair bit left over.

Noting that Mitsubishi are now on tv advertising their plug in hybrid SUV, plug ins are likely to go from early adopters through to mainstream very quickly, it seems to me. A 10 year changeover for say 75% of the car fleet seems very realistic.


Sorry, but Brendon is well replied to by Plutocracy.


I live off solar (200 watts of it) and run a 1.6 kwh/day house - which blows the most optimistic estimates well out of the water.


But the fact that you named a Japanese car manufacturer blows your - and Brendon's - wish-list out of the water.


This is a global problem - global finance, global population overshoot, global resource-depletion, global coming powerdown, global unaddressed pollution, global aquifer draw-down.


Yet you two think NZ will just go on happily, uninvaded, unoverrun, unchecked, just buying magic Misubishis. As Belle says on another thread, you're a bit late for that. We have so many things to do the get sustainable - to a level we can maintain more or less indefinitely - that electric cars for the western middle-class in a tiny country at the bottom of the world, aren't part of the conversation.



And we have a 10kw system that produced 54kwh today. We use in a fairly extravagant house about 40kwh per day, so would have some left over for cars- and could tap into hydro etc from the grid if needed.

Mitsubishi and I'm sure every other major car manufacturer in the world, are rushing into plug ins; and I agree, not for NZ's benefit, but because they see a world market, and not insurmountable manufacturing hurdles. They will be very happy to sell those cars to New Zealanders, assuming we have the wherewithall to pay for them.

There is no short term shortage of energy in the world- sadly from a climate change perspective, there are centuries worth of coal left in the ground. There may be lithium shortages- I have no idea- but I'm pretty sure production costs for batteries for cars will continue to follow a Moore's Law route for a few years yet.

I assume Brendon's point was partly that renewable electricity, certainly in NZ, can be relatively easily ramped up. So to power our fleet of cars over 10-20 years should be straightforward with the right pricing signals and some political will. (It's a shame we've sold off the power companies, but that is an aside).

Worldwide renewables will ramp up; maybe Thorium will also play a role. 

It seems more likely to me that water and food will be more problematic, and mostly to those poor countries with still rapidly growing populations. (Why aren't they addressing those, remains a mystery). They will likely have civil wars as a result, but are unlikely to do much invading, and certainly not of NZ.


I'm impressed. 10k!  What do you do - weld all day?


Yes, the only question about your lifestyle/consumption rate is: how many of you can the planet support at that level?


And the answer is: somewhere south of 2 billion.


The third world are being screwed out of their resources and chance, by us via the IMF and the World Bank. The politicians we need to keep them repressed, aren't into educating them about overshoot. I agree about one thing - if you had to pick a place as far away from the scrapping that must happen, NZ is it. It's a pity that both major Parties, many local authorities, and a lot of deluded others, think that we need more people....


"The new report breaks with this approach. It sees the climate as one problem among many, the severity of which is often determined by its interaction with those other problems. And the right policies frequently try to lessen the burden—to adapt to change, rather than attempting to stop it. In that respect, then, this report marks the end of climate exceptionalism and the beginning of realism."


#4 lame statements like "think global eat local" - costing efficient kiwi farmers sales since 1990. Espoused by people who haven't heard of clover ryegrass grazing systems and container shipping.


Innovation Pops Commodity Price Bubble

Expanded supply, brought about by innovation and investment, has helped moderate commodity prices over the past year after a decade of demand from China helped push up prices.…


Great story about Kiwi clean tech company LanzaTech ....


... pity that they've decided to close up the business here and to clear off to Chicago .... where the tax incentives and government grants are fatter than ours ...


Lanza Tech have now been going 8 years and still no revenue.


Where's the beef ?


There are alternative uses for the CO stream that use a lot less capital eg running a turbine to generate electricity. Why doesn't that happen now - because it is uneconomic. There is no particular merit in making liquids from the waste stream. Recovering the energy is the objective in the most economical manner is what matters.


Cleaning up the gases ex a steel mill is notoriously difficult and while there is no debate re the technology in the lab or pilot plant - the economics of a production plant are unproven. Scaling up this type of technology may not offer economies of scale.


They are also straying from their original project before getting what they were set up for running.  Not a good place for super saving dollars I suspect.




Here is a very good weekend read on private equity and its behaviour