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Katharine Moody on the MAD doctrine, plaudits to Winston Peters, how science makes environmental controversies worse, fighting climate change by not focusing on climate change and more

Katharine Moody on the MAD doctrine, plaudits to Winston Peters, how science makes environmental controversies worse, fighting climate change by not focusing on climate change and more

This week’s Top 5 is from is from Katharine Moody, a senior tutor at Massey University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences in Palmerston North, who comments on as "Kate".

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

1.  The MAD doctrine and climate change.

In the 1960s, the United States government came up with a solution to nuclear holocaust, aptly called the MAD doctrine.  To save the planet from nuclear war, we needed more nuclear weapons.

Now we have the New Zealand government telling us that the solution to our atmospheric pollution, is to continue to pollute (whilst planting trees or buying credits from someone else who planted trees).  

This solution to climate change is called “offsets” and frankly, it’s MAD too, especially when the number crunchers tell us it just won’t work

2. “Sometimes the stuff at the end of cows can get into your ears and contaminate your thinking.” 

Plaudits above to Winston Peters for simplifying the debate on the Zero Carbon Bill.  Many in the agricultural sector are trying to ground their argument for lower methane reduction targets in the complex science of climate change, citing the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s recent study.

But really, their objection has nothing to do with climate science at all and everything to do with being denied the ability to continue to pollute (via the use of those “offsets” discussed above).

Jeremy Baker of Beef + Lamb NZ talks to Newsroom:

“Amid the flurry of press releases [on methane targets], there was little discussion of New Zealand’s third major greenhouse gas: nitrous oxide, which comes mostly from livestock urine and fertiliser. Nitrous oxide would have to shrink to net zero by 2050, just as carbon dioxide from cars and coal will - and Beef + Lamb NZ’s Jeremy Baker told Newsroom his industry was ready and willing to do this, despite the challenges.

Crucially, nitrous and carbon emissions can be offset by tree planting on farms and elsewhere, but methane can't as the proposal is for gross cuts, says Baker.”

In other words, if solving the climate crisis involves any requirement to actually pollute less, it just doesn’t work for Jeremy’s constituents because;

“At the moment the only option is to reduce the herd.”  

I take from that, that according to Beef + Lamb, stock reduction is not an option – just as reducing nuclear weapons was not an option for the US powers-that-be.

3.  How science makes environmental controversies worse.

Daniel Sarewitz suggests that “nature resists unitary characterization” and that, rather than needing more science as a means to resolve our environmental conflicts, what science has already provided us with is an “excess of objectivity”.  Elsewhere he explains:

“There is plenty of science to go around. You don’t really need to distort the science.  All you need to do in many cases is find the ‘right’ science.  That is not an indictment of science or scientists, but a statement about the complexity of reality and the difficulty of defining problems in very narrow ways… The scientific finding never tells you what to do.  That is always determined by what you are trying to achieve; and what you are trying to achieve is always guided by values and interests.”

So, what are we trying to achieve with this climate change legislation? If it is to become a beacon of global citizenship, then the UNFCCC framework and its corollary IPCC science, is the ‘right’ science for us. 

But if we want to improve Aotearoa/New Zealand’s environment, then it is not.     

4. Fighting Climate Change by Not Focusing on Climate Change.

I’m not a fan of time-bound slogans introduced by politicians wanting to ‘save’ someone or something. The Smokefree 2025 campaign, for example, is so lucrative that government surpluses have come to rely on this punitive tax.  

In 2011, when the time-bound target was adopted, had the government chosen to raise the purchase age of tobacco products by one year every year, you would need to be 26+ years old this year to legally purchase these products, and 32+ years old in 2025. 

Point is, government can improve both society and the environment through regulation without a punitive price mechanism.  Every year that we don’t raise the legal age of purchase is another year the tobacco industry grows new addicts.

And there is a disturbing parallel between Smokefree 2025 and Zero Carbon 2050  ̶  hardship associated with the regulatory decisions will disproportionately punish the already impoverished in our society, as James Shaw explains on the Zero Carbon Bill;

“Households that are in the lowest 20% bracket for income may be more than twice as affected [by the Zero Carbon Bill], on a relative basis, than those households with an average income.”    

An alternate, and perhaps less punitive approach, to lowering our GHG emissions is called climate pragmatism.  It has three regulatory objectives:

  • accelerate energy innovation,
  • build resilience to extreme weather, and
  • pursue no regrets pollution reduction measures.

Pursuing water quality improvement in New Zealand is one such no regrets pollution reduction measure, that will co-benefit our GHG emissions trajectory.  No one will regret having fewer algal blooms and a restoration of our clean green international reputation.

5. Payment for ecosystem services.

One could argue that the coalition Government’s billion trees programme combined with a strengthened NZ ETS (carbon market), is a form of payment for ecosystem services

But, if it is, it’s the wrong one for New Zealand to my mind.  Pinus radiata is a cake-and-eat-it-too approach with respect to climate change.  The “offsets” planted today, will have likely been harvested by 2050, and they degrade, rather than enhance, our natural ecosystems.

I would rather government subsidies were spent on the regeneration of permanent, native forest cover that actually enhances our biodiversity, through providing habitat and food for our endemic wildlife, alongside the planting of specialty tree crops.  

If we pursued climate pragmatism and the associated no regrets pollution reduction measures, regenerative agricultural practices would be particularly relevant in transforming both our environment and our economy. 

As rural land owners convert hill country pasture back to permanent native forest, reverse engineer drained land to wetlands, and convert fertilised pasture to organic, it seems sensible to me that government should assist farming through this needed transformation by way of payment for these restored ecosystem services. 

Examples of the ‘right’ kind of science and the real solution to climate change for Aotearoa New Zealand is found here and here.  It’s called the family farm.

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#1 Being ex-military i can tell you the MAD doctrine stood for Mutually Assured Destruction. the principle wasn't more weapons but that in the time it took for the weapons to travel to their targets, the opposition would be able to launch sufficient numbers to ensure the initiator of the conflict would not survive it either. However for this to be effective multiple arsenals of different types of weapon were required, which ultimately meant for both sides, that there were many times the number required to utterly destroy the entire planet. Some of the leadership solutions to the consequences was to bury command structures deep under ground (US has Cheyenne Mountain) out of reach of all but the biggest impact fused nukes. If the final nuke war had occurred, those complexes would have been their occupants graves as well, because the surface would likely have been largely uninhabitable for hundreds if not thousands of years. Mad indeed, and we still live in it's shadow as the 'Boomer' subs still prowl the seas.

And just as mad is the emissions trading schemes which are the centre piece of the 'offsets'. Those who believe those are effective are just as deluded as the leadership of the cold war era when they think that by giving the rich and powerful a way to avoid changing their practices they can save the planet. We need to change the way we do things. Perhaps we should be holding organisational leadership to account for consequences that they knew about but suppressed, or should have known about when they made decisions on enhancing profits?

#2 Oxides of nitrogen are major emissions from gas turbine engines too.

#4 very well said. But politicians never miss the opportunity to bleed the masses of more money to feed their particular trough.

All in all a very good Top 10. Thank you Kate.

Cheers, great additions.

"If the final nuke war had occurred, those complexes would have been their occupants graves as well, because the surface would likely have been largely uninhabitable for hundreds if not thousands of years"

You mean like Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Nature also persists at Fukushima and Chernobyl. Lesser quality of life / lower life expectancy possibly but not uninhabitable.

No. One nuke each on those targets, and both airbursts with the blast bubble barely touching the ground. The final nuke war would have seen not only air bursts but multiple surface explosions, many concentrated on significant targets including military installations and population centres. And with multiple weapons targeted on single targets. The resulting destruction and contamination would have very many times worse, and the radioactivity launched into the atmosphere through dust and debris would have spread that contamination to areas that were not hit. the planet might have been able to heal itself, but would that have been in time to save the people in the shelters? Unlikely i think. Plus any survivors would like emerge into a comparable stone age, where virtually all infrastructure would be either destroyed or barely functional. Rebuilding would be a monumental task.

Best movie I've ever seen on the implications;

Looks like disaster porn.

" is a docudrama account" - no scientists were hurt in the production of this film :)

My Dad was a physicist, worked for the US Government on nuclear research here

He thought it as close to a best guess as anything he'd considered. It's definitely not disaster porn, I think that's why it never made it big. Too confronting.

you can say a lot of things about MAD of course . The most salient fact that Kate omitted that is actually WORKED - rather unlike the type of magical thinking she spouts.

"As rural land owners convert hill country pasture back to permanent native forest, reverse engineer drained land to wetlands, and convert fertilised pasture to organic, it seems sensible to me that government should assist farming through this needed transformation by way of payment for these restored ecosystem services."

This sounds eminently sensible at first glance, but the quid pro quo is massively decreased farm income:

  • Converting pasture to permanent native forest cover decreases effective hectares to farm, with a proportionate effect on theroretical income no matter what sort of 'farming' is possible.
  • Creating wetlands from effective hectares - ditto, plus ripping out tile drains and plugging or removing culverts is capex.
  • Converting fertilised to organic pasture decreases production and is possible only on a limited range of typically high-quality soil types to begin with.

So whichever way one parses this, it's more immediate expense, which is unlikely to be fully offset by transfer payments by way of 'environmental services', and greatly reduced income - both internal to the economy by way of reduced need for rural services, and to the external economy by way of reduced exports.

One may as well posit a massive reduction in Tourism, to be limited to those stalwarts who can get here and back by rowing, sailing or gliding, so as to eliminate long-haul air travel.

It's about as environmentally sensible, but, as with the rural changes Kate suggests, raises immediate issues related to work, income, and wellbeing....

'Sustainability' can never be quoted as a sole objective. The correct frame of reference is 'Sustainability at what level of Comfort'.

State your preferred level of Comfort, Kate.

Surely there is no level of comfort above sustainability otherwise its not sustainable.
Your 3 bullet points are all doable if we give up on our belief in perpetual growth and we aren't handicapped by the unscientific use of gross emissions.

No. Technology advances. Only real limit to 'sustainability' is available energy. If you have energy then you can make pretty much anything you want in essentially unlimited quantities, and we have unbelievable amounts of energy available to us through PV and nuclear, with costs that will inevitably fall and fall as we automate more and more of manufacturing/installation and maintenance processes.

Don't be trapped into thinking of economic growth as being all about accumulating or consuming more 'stuff', in our technological era dominated by digital products it is no longer true.

No, there aren't 'unbelievable amounts of solar or nuclear. Both are resource-limited, solar by rare earths and other elements, nuclear by uranuim deposits. And both rely of the growth-requiring financial system remaining intact, to facilitate trading.

I live on 200 watts of solar, have for 15 years, but it doessn't scale to replace oil

My preferred level of comfort is on-going life on the planet, and in NZ, with the rich sort of biodiversity and wonder that nature affords.

Like many detractors of sustainable agricultural practices, your arguments are grounded in perceived lower returns, but neither of the two farmers in the examples provided are complaining about their profitability. Sustainability is not a pipe dream, waymad. We just have to 'believe' in it in the way that we previously believed in orthodox economics.

I'm not arguing for or agin 'sustainable agriculture', whatever the definition-du-jour for That happens to be. I'm more concerned with the completely foreseeable social and economic consequences of what you're pushing here: the trick is in the Transition, not in the end goal.

After all, we can easily regress to periodic starvation amongst quarrelsome tribes, and that's been the default configuration of humankind since we ex-chimps got ourselves language and stopped hunting/gathering. PNG would be the poster-child here.

It would also enact PDK's sandwich-board assertion that the End is Nigh and we need Fewer of us all. But none of this is any sort of recipe to keeping the majority of Us, at some fraction of the level of Comfort we currently enjoy. So, and again, what's the Transition Plan for implementing this?

Because, without that, it's all Academic.......

The transition plan is a PES approach (as per #5). Coast Rica provides good case study - and they consistently score very high comparatively on the Happiness Index even though their per capita GDP is much lower than ours. Again, waymad, it just requires buy in and a willingness to seek a new and better future.

Costa Rica is damn near on the equator (lat 9.7489° N to be precise). So plants grow like Topsy, there's no need for heating at any time of year (Daytime temperatures range between 15 ° and 45 ° C. The sea always has "good" temperatures between 23 and 30 ° C.)

Please pick a realistic-for-us example from mid-40's latitude, and do recall that many more people (remember them?) die of cold than of heat, and that plants need sufficient GDD to make it to maturity and thus be of use to us......

And then there's human nature to factor in: Costa Rica or PNG?.........

I think you are going off-topic. You asked how farmers/rural landowners were to transition if they were to, "convert hill country pasture back to permanent native forest, reverse engineer drained land to wetlands, and convert fertilised pasture to organic" as I suggested in the article.

I said via a PES scheme (assuming your point was how can they replace lost income). I see it as very little difference to subsidizing the planting of pines instead (as we are doing with the 1 billion trees programme) - and our native forest can be used to offset carbon emissions as well - it's our ETS after all.

Here's how early diarists from Cook and Banks' expeditions described the New Zealand forest cover:

‘… A tangled and impervious forest… ’ ‘… immense woods and lofty trees of the finest timber...’ ‘… little else than a succession of steep irregular hills covered in the stateliest forests and the densest underwood in the world.’

Regardless of returns, less farmland and less intensive farming equate to less food. If this is being supplied from other countries then there is no net gain for the environment.

Less food can be addressed to a limited extent via efficiency - less meat, less food waste, different crops, less overeating. Also note Jevon's paradox so the efficiency will just allow us to feed more people. The real problem is the number of mouths that expect feeding.

Much as we might like to think of ourselves as needing to play our part in feeding the world, we are fools if we pursue that aim at the expense of our environment. Neither can NZ control/influence the size of any population, other than our own. From what I can gather, it is synthetic fertilsers that have managed to boost crop production such that there has been food to support the kind of population growth we have seen since its discovery (the Haber-Bosch process).

I believe the future of mass-produced nourishment is again one that will come out of a laboratory by way of synthetic food production. But I don't see that as NZ's future. I think Guy Trafford gets it right when he talks about concentrating on the future niche market food consumers.;

Via sustainable pastoral-based agriculture.

The bit I have trouble with here is the assertion that we can make NZ beautiful while importing food from other places. If the other places also take the same approach then less food. People will swallow (pun intended) extra costs but take away their food and they tend to revolt.

I never said NZ would need to import food from other places. I'm saying other places, like the US and China, will take advantage of genetically engineering laboratory grown foods and set about feeding the world with those raw commodity products. We in NZ can eat our own high quality, non-GE produce, whilst still having excess to import to the niche customers that Guy speaks of in his article.

Good points.
#5 gives the lie to the whole policy. If there's no place for regenerative agriculture but there is a place to carry on using FF indefinitely if you plant a tree then Zero carbon is bollocks.

Yes, mad :-). Not that I'm against working with nature to improve the atmosphere. I'm against providing incentives for pinus radiata monoculture, particularly when we have such wonderful natives.

I've always had a love for red beech having made a couple of coffee tables out of a piece I dragged out of the river. Really heavey and quite beautiful.
Turns out quite a lot of work had been done on production both pre a and post harvest in forest service days. But of course pinus radiata is hard to beat on a purely commercial basis. As a carbon store it only needs the addition of arsenic to make it all good.

I would rather government subsidies were spent on the regeneration of permanent, native forest cover that actually enhances our biodiversity, through providing habitat and food for our endemic wildlife, alongside the planting of specialty tree crops.

We could allow sustainable logging of native trees. Which would accomplish all of the above without the need for subsidy. And encourage farms to be converted to native bush. And provide us with unique valuable wood products to export.

But we are not allowed.

Absolutely, sensible. Very hard to justify a return to native logging without the requisite evidence of regeneration. So, when Shane's new department can point to the number of new natives planted that have survived long enough to be comfortable that they will survive to maturity, I would say that selective harvesting ought to come back into focus. Hard woods are the future - high value logs, but more importantly, extremely high value value-added goods.

There already is a mountain of data on sustainable rimu helicopter harvesting management. But the politicians preferred we got our hardwoods, clear felled, from SE Asia so it was canned. Nice one greens.

I think the idea of sustainable harvest of rimu involves selectively choosing trees that are nearing end-of-life, or have fallen already. I'm not sure how commercially viable that is given our industry would be competing with clear fell from imported timber. What we should be doing is looking at banning the importation of overseas timbers felled from unsustainable forestry practices. Start planting our own sustainable forestry, and yes, then re-commence sustainable yield of existing forests to meet local NZ market demand.

Harvesting end of life trees was exactly how it worked and it was profitable. Very difficult for the lay person to tell the difference between a harvested stand and a set aside stand. It was a great system but sacrificed for urban votes.

Perhaps as a result of this co-management agreement, sustainable harvest will be reintroduced;

And if we banned the importation of timbers sourced as a result of unsustainable harvesting, and prevented the export of our native timbers other than in finished goods form, all the better. High value product, high value jobs.

He's a professional spinner, Kate. just ignore. Reminds me of the late Jack Carter (Queensland's answer to Fred Singer). So-called selective logging requuires helicopters, and is uneconomic. What they do is trash the forest dragging logs. And it's a nutrient draw-down, of course. Just like grazing the high country every summer and hoping it can go on forever.

And of course it's not the 'greens' fault that others trash their forests - it's undiscerning demand.

As usual PDK you don't know what you are talking about. Logs are lifted vertically out so no "dragging". Please. Branches, upper stem left in the forest - very little nutrients left in wood or bark and rapidly replaced from the undisturbed litter layer and natural mineral soil weathering. It is the greens fault - as usual they banned before thinking through the consequences and left the planet worse off. Should have shown leadership instead and plowed the money back into pest control and expanding the natural forest resource rather than just throwing people's livelihood's on the virtual signal scrap heap.

I've worked out your natural home Profile - somewhere north of the Brisbane River.

You'll be right at home

btw - time for a modus-operandi change. I just look for the false phrase nowadays - this one is 'left the planet worse off' . No it didn't.

Off-setting mechanisms allow the world to cost pollution on a global basis. The carbon footprint of milk production in NZ is lower than in 90% of the world and milk powder is sold to a global market. The idea of arbitrarily reducing pollution here without offsetting the cost is climate change denialism to the nth degree. If we arbitrarily reduce production here, the price of milk powder rises and more milk is inefficiently produced - the planet dies faster. But with global offsetting (or comparable price method) the inefficient producers get priced out faster than the efficient producers - the planet doesn't die.

The planet dies faster if NZ decides to reduce milk production? Bit of an emotive argument I think. I also think this premise is wrong;

But with global offsetting (or comparable price method) the inefficient producers get priced out faster than the efficient producers - the planet doesn't die.

With so much of the world's agricultural production subsidised by governments who are 'printing money'; and so much of the world's agricultural production not subject to the Paris agreement; and with the Paris agreement itself not being legally binding - I somehow think those producers subject to offsets will be priced out faster anyway.

Bulk commodity sales of these ag protein products at the cheapest price because (you think) we are the most efficient producer, simply is not forward thinking for NZ. It is old school economics.

To tackle Global Warming we need to recognise it is a global issue. The IPCC has this offsetting mechanism (it is not perfect) that allows for the global pricing of carbon pollution. We need to follow it (or something similar) for the good of the planet. We need to put self-interests aside - neither the endless pursuit of profit or the beautification of local NZ are viable options.

Pastoral dairy farming is efficient, because it does not require stock to be placed in barns during winter and reduces the requirements for feed to be trucked in. It can be carried out in reliably temperate climates - NZ, Tasmania, Chile and some parts of Argentina are ideal. If any of these places were suddenly to pretend the climate is not a global issue and make arbitrary cuts to milk production then the price of milk increases. This will encourage the high pollution production of milk and (see cartoon at top of page) destroy the planet.

Kate, I asked this question the other day and you don't really answer it here, but during your research did you identify anywhere any study that identified how much land is required to sustainably support a population?

I have heard on occasion that the planet already has too much population to be able to survive. But what is that based on? I guess that the type of life style will need to be quantified as well, as consumerist types will sustain less population than subsistence? I am only postulating here but for little NZ how much population should we target before the growth must be stopped?

Given about 20 kW of electricity you can (even now) grow enough food for an adult to survive on in a few 10's of cubic meters, equivalently a few 10's of m² land area in sunny tropics in a climate controlled glasshouse will do it. That currently costs about $200k to do using PV power, expensive, but doable. But efficiency of making food is likely to be increased dramatically in next few decades by chemically synthesising feeds for meat producing animals (lower power life-support for space travel being the driver). As we humans get wealthier providing sustenance quickly becomes a non-limiting factor for supporting greater populations.

There would not be a single number per hectare per person - given the different productive qualities of land.

Perhaps someone has used this ecosystem approach/framework to assess New Zealand;
But if so, I haven't seen the study.

There is another (somewhat similar) framework used to assess the sustainability of communities;
But environment/ecosystem is only one of the factors assessed - so it isn't aimed at 'self-sustaining' sustainability (as is the planetary boundary approach).

EAT-Lancet recently used the planetary boundary approach in their study;

They used the population parameter of 10 billion people (needing to be fed) by 2050 and how to do that within the planetary boundary.

Closest to answering your question that I've come across. The video is really worthwhile.

I've downloaded the PDF and will peruse tonight. But at first glance, this is ignorance and platitudes. Is there a paper at all, on the energy-in, energy-out relationships in the food system? The headings in the conclusion remind me of the sustainability efforts at my local Uni - about the changing-lightbulb level. De-carbonong food equals no trucks, or at least, no just-in-time distribution system. I think what you have there, for all the collective intelligence, is a mass misunderstanding of the paradigms facing us. A first-world abhorrence of the possibility that life-as-they-know-it might come to an end, mixed with a lack of appraisal of their contribution to the existential problem.

I'll search it with interest.

Did you register to download the full report? Once you've had a read, let me know what you think.

I've read the Summary, thrice. And here's my thoughts.

If this was a thesis, it should have been rejected. And you could have done that yourself, after what I've posted hereabouts.

Two straw-man goals, and arguably a third. And by line seven, the indefensible Achilles Heel is evident.

The first straw-man proposition is '10 billion by 2050'. Three billion of those aren't here yet, and We haven't a hope of getting to that number before collapse. So why the need for this echelon to promote it as an unchallenged goal? Absolutely the same reason Jacqueline Rowarth used to spout the same message (9 billion in her case). Their narrative is who they are, and therefore they don't challenge it. What is the medical-profession metric of success? More lives extant per time. So to them, 10 billion is self-justification, 3 billion is a disciplinary failure. See the problem? These folk will all be smarter than me, but they're starting from a false base-line in terms of ecology.

The second is related to the first, it is unsurprising they chose it (due to the fit) and I've pointed out it's fatal flaw before. The Millenium Development Goals (MDG) advocate elimination of 'poverty'. Wealth is actually access to resources and the energy needed to proffer them. In a bounded system, that has to have the codicil 'per head'. So less planetary inhabitants equals a greater portion per person. The MDG's avoid this point like the plague.

So both arguments are for an unlimited growth within a bounded system. Really, there's only one discipline (its not a science) which operates with enough lack of information to claim that possibility with a straight face - economics. Medicine should have a smattering of physics and ecology, and should know better. You can see glimpses here and there that it does - they suggest the recycling of phosphorous, quite correctly. This was done, once, by cities including Berlin. But the increasing chemical contamination of city waste-water, forced abandonment. Few modern cities (Adelaide is one) are attempting this energy-intensive, infrastructure-requiring process. But more than 50% of global humanity live in cities, fed from far away - imagine getting the phosphorous (and other nutrients) back from New York to the mid-west? In non-FF trucks? Pipelines?)

They correctly identify Climate-Change as a threat, but only because it threatens their head-counting metric (including them) one suspects. But where they drop the ball is that seventh-line mention of calories. Then, having identified the need for calories, they fail to ascertain how many calories it costs us to deliver calories (it's a deficit, the underwrite is 10-27 calories of fossil energy, which they're arguing for us to abandon, per one of food). See the flaw? Replace oil with something of half the EROEI, and you're advocating a huge spatial coverage (oil was underground, all renewables are above-ground spatial, with the questionable exception of geothermal) yet they argue for a static food-producing footprint. That 'Without hot air' site I recently referenced: was as available to the writers as it is to you and I. Why not addressed?

This is an energy (calories) issue. Always was. And beyond the calorific subsidy of fossil fuels, you don't support 10 billion. The LTG charts were absolutely right. These people are right in advocating dietary change, but only because of too many people. We could all be meat-only eaters if there were one billion of us. And if they want to de-carbonise food, they need to advocate rapid population decline, coupled with abandonment of the city accommodation format (it requires too much energy to input/output). They're trying for cake and the right to eat it too. Was it peer-reviewed by an energy-type? I'll look through the long form and check.

Thanks for the critique, Murray, your perspective always adds significantly to my understanding. We all look at research projects/outputs through different lenses - mine is based in the social sciences; yours in the physical sciences. Mine is admittedly utopian - yours is technocratic.

Hence, I agree with you that the population projection will likely never get there, so, in that sense, it was a false assumption to start with. And yeah, as a thesis, a student would not be encouraged to start with a false assumption (without declaring it as such - which these authors did not do).

But to my mind there is a social knowledge benefit to their modelling that false assumption against the planetary boundaries, which is effectively trying to take an LTG approach to food consumption and production, based on a BAU population projection.

The value of the study is as a utopian exercise, which in planning theory, Friedmann defined as "imagination without realization - chiefly an academic practice", part of what he called the social mobilization tradition in planning.

So, the authors make a valid, hard hitting up front point about present food/nourishment reality (e.g., obesity in Western economies on the rise while starvation/undernourishment plagues the ROW) and then (as per your comments) ignore predictions of energy resource-depletion that would thwart/prevent/disallow their subsequent humanitarian (i.e., utopian) exercise.

Here's Friedmann (that planning theorist) on whether that kind of academic work is right/wrong - good/bad;


1) "This solution to climate change is called “offsets”" - we should be aiming to reach zero carbon via the least cost path. If that includes using offsets for a period, so be it. As more & more trees are planted the available land left to plant more trees on decreases & the cost of the land goes up. Eventually the offset cost will exceed the carbon price.

2) Farmers probably should be on a transition path that has them at net zero carbon by 2050 as well as everyone else. If they have 100% subsidy now it should reduce by 3% per year. I expect NZ farming will be well decimated by international synthetic products well before then anyway. NZ is going to face both the cost of going carbon neutral and a significant reduction in a major economy sector.

I note that methane converts to CO2 in the atmosphere so has both a short & long term effect. (One presumes that farming increases both net methane and CO2 over and above any natural land cycle - I haven't read the scientific details)

4) We shouldn't put a date on NZ zero carbon. Climate change is an international problem (China, US, EU, India, Russia & Japan are the biggest emitters). Whatever NZ does, it simply doesn't matter. If the world goes to oblivion NZ goes with it. We should simply adopt the international carbon price (or proxy thereof) & let the market make the investment decisions. [The productivity commission work indicated about NZD250/ton CO2e (real current NZD) to get to zero carbon - that's about 10x the current NZ price - there is no way NZ wants to be paying 250 while the rest of the world pays 1/10th]

Meanwhile in the world of actual pollution - as opposed to conflated CO2 - rates are plummeting. You will never hear this from
green scaremongers. In the UK since 1970:

"Sulphur dioxide pollution in Britain has since declined by 97 per cent. Nitrogen oxide pollution is down 72 per cent, non-methane volatile organic compounds down 66 per cent, PM10s (large diameter particles of soot and other matter) down 73 per cent and PM2.5s (small diameter particles) down 79 per cent."

Massive strides made in the US on air pollution as well. Now they've got other pressing problems;

All over the place.

He's cherry-picking, always does - you just have to work out what the hook is.

In this case, offshoring of industry and reduction of coal for home heating.

Almost all First-world pollution counts look as if they're improving, but that smog over China is our big-box purchase.

If only you hadsome facts on pollution to back up your opinions PDK. It would spare us a lot of high horse lectures. ""Here's an environmental story not many people know about. Between 1990 and 2008, US manufacturing output grew by one-third. Yet air pollution from US factories fell by about two-thirds.

How did this happen? One possibility is that by cracking down on air pollution, we simply pushed our dirtiest factories overseas to countries like China. If so, that would be bad news — it would mean we're offloading pollution elsewhere rather than cleaning it up.

But this gloomy story doesn't appear to hold up. In a recent NBER working paper, Georgetown economist Arik Levinson estimated that more than 90 percent of the drop in US factory pollution since 1990 was due to companies adopting cleaner production techniques — things like switching fuels, becoming more efficient, recycling, or adopting pollution-capture technology.

...And what he found was that the decline in pollution wasn't driven by offshoring. US factories were genuinely finding ways to cut emissions. In fact, the industries that saw the biggest drops in pollution intensity actually grew as a share of output."