I, like most geoscientists I have met in resource industries, consider myself an environmentalist. We take a pragmatic view that our standard of living requires the use of natural resources, and it is our responsibility to discover and produce those resources with minimal negative impact – on the environment or society. Oil and gas have enabled the greatest advancements in human history – in reducing poverty, improving life expectancies and all the social benefits that followed – health, literacy, income, transportation etc etc. As outlined in my review, the human race has unwittingly been conducting a huge geo-engineering project for the last 150 years by recycling carbon into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, because climate scientists have clung to an old paradigm, we are depriving future generations of cheap, clean energy and instead wasting trillions of dollars in an unnecessary and futile pursuit to rid the atmosphere of carbon dioxide
Every energy option has benefits and risks/costs, Natural gas remains the most plentiful, rich, cleanest, least harmful and smallest footprint option – once you get past the misrepresentation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
My perspective is that there are genuine and pressing environmental issues to be addressed (also known as the Environmental WTF or where are the celebrities now file):
- The energy mix in NZ. As a consequence of banning domestic gas exploration, electricity generators need to look elsewhere for fuel to provide reliable, quickly available generation. This meant importing 600,000 tonnes of coal from Indonesia last year. Regardless of your position on greenhouse gases, this increases particulate pollution in the atmosphere.
- The quality of our waterways. Freshwater quality and waste treatment are obvious issues, and not isolated to dairy farming; our cities also put pressure on the resource. Given farming is, and always has been, the backbone of our economy, perhaps we should invest in helping farmers through investment in science rather than penalising them.
- Similarly, the ban on plastic supermarket bags provided a feel-good token environmental benefit. At the same time we export over 150 million plastic bottles, mainly to China, containing freshwater (for which we receive no royalty), knowing that an estimated 86% of the plastics in our oceans get there via rivers in Asia (Plastic Oceans International). Consents are already in place to increase the offtake to several billion litres year, and consents are being processed, under this supposedly Green coalition, which will increase capacity beyond 10 Billion litres/year.
- The lack of protection for native trees on private land, so urban developers can fell trees that are hundreds of years old, yet farmers can be fined for cutting down old pine trees planted for carbon credits.
- The conversion of valuable farmland to low-value pine plantations , again for futile emissions targets. Meanwhile people are wearing synthetic textiles and washing microplastics into the waterways, when we have proven NZ can produce world class wool and provide employment down the chain of farming, milling, weaving, design and manufacture.
- The renewed use of chlorofluorocarbons by China. These were banned in the 1975 Montreal Pact, as they destroy ozone. The figure below shows the increase in the rate of registered melanoma cases (blue) in NZ and the area of the ozone hole over Antarctica (red). This has only started to reduce significantly in the last two years and is now under threat again.
Area of Ozone hole (red) and Melanoma cases in NZ (blue)
- There are now plans to build windfarms offshore Taranaki to replace the energy provided by the gas industry. These plans have been endorsed by Greenpeace despite poorly understood environmental impacts – excavations that will rival offshore mining, construction and operating noise (an offshore seismic survey may last for two weeks whereas operating wind turbines will generate low frequency soundwaves incessantly for a large portion of the year). Similarly, while the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters (and they were disasters) are estimated to have killed 250,000 and 82,000 birds respectively, wind turbines are estimated to kill around 300,000 birds each and every year.