Thursday, February 17, 2022

Owen Jennings: Cars versus Cows

What is the difference between a car and a cow?  Both can get you from A to B but the car adds Greenhouse Gas (GHG) to the atmosphere doing so while the cow doesn’t. The GHG produced by the car hangs around in the atmosphere for centuries, apparently, whereas the GHG from the cow is largely gone in 10 years.

The car’s contribution accumulates.  The cow’s contribution revolves – she simply replenishes what is lost.  The car’s contribution keeps building up, adding to the quantum of GHG as the car goes further.  The cow’s contribution stays static with no additional GHG produced.

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s cow numbers in New Zealand grew significantly.  The total GHG’s produced increased as well.  By 2000 the expansion was largely over and the cow’s GHG levels stabilised then started moving down slowly and steadily. No extra cows meant no extra GHG.

Think of it like people in a room.  Assume a hundred in the room and 5 are leaving but 10 are entering.  The numbers in the room are increasing.  Now assume 10 are leaving and only 5 are entering.  Obviously, the number in the room is falling.  So New Zealand livestock numbers are contracting and the stock of GHG they have created is also falling.  No additional GHG, no additional warming, even a slight cooling.

Because the Government is handing out massive dollops of money to overseas companies to come and buy farms to plant trees livestock numbers will keep falling.  Even more “people will leave the room and the cloud of cow’s GHG will diminish even further.

A Ministry for the Environment Zero Carbon consultation document states, “stabilising   our   short-lived   gases   (methane),   would   mean   our   domestic   emissions   would   not contribute to any further increase in global temperatures”.  The Climate Change Commission agreed.

The challenge in New Zealand is that much of the focus is on the GHG cows are producing today.  All the measurements relate to tonnes of emissions – tonnes that are produced but overlooking tonnes that disappear.  Few are stopping to ask, “what about measuring warming”?  After all its warming we are concerned about – not emissions per se.

Farmers want someone to show them how much actual warming they are responsible for.  “Show us how much warming we are actually causing and we will pay our fair share”, is a common retort.  Right now, they are getting CO2 equivalents thrown at them.  Everyone from the IPCC down keep dishing up comparisons with C02 while farmers are fighting back arguing their GHG (methane) and car’s GHG (CO2) are two totally different gases with vastly different properties.  “Apples and onions”, says Andrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers President.  “One accumulates and one passes through.  CO2 equivalents are unscientific, factually wrong and distracting”.  He has a lot of supporters.  Oxford University’s Prof Myles Allen and his team say it clearly, “Using conventional Global Warming Potentials (GWPs) to convert [methane]to “CO2-equivalent” emissions misrepresents and heavily overstates their impact on global temperature”. New scientists, Dr Frame and Dr Macey agree.

Farming leaders talked the Government into letting them figure out how much warming they were causing and how they should pay for it.  Unfortunately, the Government designed the proverbial camel instead of a horse.  They labelled it He Waka Eke Noa.  Rather than simply having Federated Farmers, the political wing of farming and rural matters, come up with a solution they ended up with too many people on the committee, with too many agendas that produced half-backed, confused, incomplete compromises.

Now farmers, busy with their farming operations in the height of the season, are being asked to opine on two levies – an on-farm tax or an industry wide tax.  Both come with masses of bureaucracy, ‘jobs for boys’, millions in overheads, measuring systems that produce a different result every time they are deployed and no certainty the GHG will reduce.  Farmers have no idea whether they are expected to pay $5,000 or $50,000. They don’t even know what targets they are supposed to aim for.

Farmers read the science that comes down from on high and they are not impressed.  They are constantly reminded that the methane molecule is a powerful force in absorbing radiation but they also read that there are 230 CO2 molecules vying for that interaction for every methane molecule and 10,000 H2O molecules are doing exactly the same thing.  One Richie MaCaw, even in his heyday, against 10,000 under 19 year olds sounds like disappointment for Richie.

What really upsets farmers reading the science is that methane’s effectiveness is limited to one band on the electromagnetic spectrum that operates at 50% efficiency at 1.8 parts per million.  This severely limits Methane’s ability to play any role at all in absorbing energy and slowing down escaping photons of energy up through the atmosphere.  Why is this ignored?

Farmers have calculators that can compute their contribution to the 1 degree C the world has experienced.  NASA tells them that all methane is 0.00018% of the atmosphere, that 15% of that minor amount comes from the world’s ruminants and New Zealand has 1% of those ruminants.  The number that jumps up in the calculator window is 0.0004% of a degree warming every 100 years.

Can you blame a farmer if he wonders whether that amount of warming is causing droughts and floods, hurricanes and tornados, melting glaciers and rising sea levels?

They simply conclude that much of the issue is political rather than scientific and logical.  They no longer have the votes to change governments and the seeming endless campaigns involving dirty rivers, winter mud, vegans and vegetarians, housed animals etc puts them on the back foot.  They will reluctantly pay something for their assessed sins.  For many greenies it won’t be enough but farmers will stick to their guns and simply ask, “when you can tell me accurately how much warming I am causing on my farm I will pay up more willingly”. 

Cars and cows have one more important difference.  Cars need oxygen to produce their GHG.  Cows use CO2.  Growing grass and the increased vegetation on their farms takes up CO2 in the photosynthesis process – remember third form science and the natural cycle CO2 cycle?  Farmers love helping the planet by using up CO2.  They would like more recognition for it.

They are also pumping funds into science to come up with animals that produce less methane and feed additives that limit methane.  They feel they are doing their bit.

They object to suggestions they need to cut their herds and flocks by 15% to meet their targets.  They point to the Paris Accord that required restrictive measures to avoid cutting food production.  As the world’s most efficient food producers with the smallest carbon footprint they can see some other country making up the shortfall causing greater emissions. Pain and no gain.

A car or a cow?  Cows win, hands down.

Owen Jennings, a former Member of Parliament and President of Federated Farmers, maintains a keen interest in ensuring agricultural policies are sensible and fit for purpose.


DeeM said...

Don't waste your time reasoning with the likes of James Shaw. He's an eco-fanatic who doesn't understand the actual science.
As for NZ's CCC, they're from the same camp. Of course they are, James appointed them.
Ardern is just as bad. She'd jump off a cliff if the UN told her to do it.

Unfortunately, Luxon is making lots of worrying noises at the moment and could easily be mistaken for a Labour Party supporter...with a blue rinse....if he had any hair. Don't expect much relief there.

Logic and reason, as well as science, have well and truly left the building in NZ. The only parties with semi-sensible climate policies that I can see are ACT and New Conservative. And they've got no chance.

Terry Morrissey said...

Owen you have been around farming for a vey long time now. Surely you should know the scent of bullshit when you smell it. It does in fact have a much sweeter smell than UN and government corruption. Climate change is just another gravy train. How about we vote for a party that will scrap both the Paris and Kyoto agreements, ETS and carbon taxes?
There is no sense in trying to reason with this government,the greens,national or act. "Never argue with a fool. They will drag you down to their level,then beat you with experience"

Allanatnz said...

Half of Tesla cars are made in China so it's a good bet that those sold in NZ come from there. While she is imposing carbon taxes on pretty well anything that produces Co2, she is using taxpayer money to subsidise cars made in a country where Co2 emissions are increasing. No, I must have something wrong there.
Imposing carbon taxes and damaging the economy of a country which produces less than 0.2% of global emissions when much larger emitters are increasing theirs doesn't make sense, unless you are doing it purely for personal glory.