Find the Hoax: Climate Change, Clean Diesel, Household PV Panels

Editor’s Note: Here is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Before I remove myself from the conversation, I’d like to wrap up my part in the discussion of climate change with a couple of key points. For decades we have known that the two largest impacts that individual people have on the environment are driving and eating meat. Compared with these, choosing paper or plastic bags at the checkout counter, or recycling your toothbrush are essentially meaningless. A friend recently called it “polishing the silver on the Titanic.”

Whatever happens at COP 21 in Paris over the next fortnight, I don’t see how drastic changes can be made to transportation or diets within a timeframe that will be meaningful for the next couple of decades. There are two reasons for this.

First or all, any transition would take a long time when we consider the number of cars in the world and the increasing demand for animal-based diets. Second, there is so much carbon in the atmosphere already that even if we stopped releasing it tomorrow the effects of elevated levels of greenhouse gases would persist for decades. We are already locked in a certain amount of warming. Think of it as carbon momentum. This is true whether you drive a Holden or a Prius or take the bus or ride a bike.

The best available data analised by the best scientists show that over the last half century there has been a measurable increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events. In other words, scientists made predictions, collected data, and proved the predictions to be accurate.

In 1969, the lead track of The Rolling Stones album Let It Bleed said it all:

Oh, a storm is threat’ning; My very life today; If I don’t get some shelter; Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

The floods is threat’ning; My very life today; Gimme, gimme shelter; Or I’m gonna fade away Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 10.15.59 am

Weather volatility hurts agricultural economies and costs municipalities near large water bodies. This is true whether you drive a Holden or a Prius or take the bus or ride a bike.

On a final point, climate change has a disproportionate impact on the poor because those with disposable income can buy themselves out of many effects of climate change – in the short term.

Another thing that some people with disposable income do is buy certain ‘green’ products that allow them to maintain their lifestyles but to placate their carbon conscience. One example is “clean diesel” such as Volkswagen’s range of fine German automobiles.

In case you missed it, the latest chapter in the VW fraud story is that the carbon emissions and fuel consumption ratings on 800,000 vehicles were falsely reported to make them look better than they are, including the company’s own green tick of excellence called BlueMotion. Germany’s own Spiegel magazine call the claims “a fraudulent lie.”

Another example of where claims and actual numbers do not add up is solar electric power, also known as photovoltaic or PV. A paper published this year by the Electric Power Engineering Centre at the University of Canterbury concluded that the potential reduction in carbon emissions from PV in New Zealand was minimal, and that many PV panels have a carbon footprint 10 times greater over their lifespan than wind turbines or geothermal energy. These findings suggest it would be better for the environment to simply buy power from a company that provides 100% renewable electricity than to put solar panels on your roof.

Financially, there is only a small sliver of New Zealand households for which PV is a sound investment. Another paper by the Electric Power Engineering Centre found that the only households that get a good return are those with high daytime power use and that do not need to borrow money to purchase the panels. In other words, people who are paying cash and are at home during the day using lots of power.

Dr. Allan Miller, co-author of the study, gave the examples of a large family home with a heated swimming pool or a retired couple running heaters during the day, but only if they do not need to take out loans. The study also emphasised what we have known for many decades: investments should be made in energy efficiency and conservation before even considering solar electricity.

What this all goes to show is that no matter what we do, our community is likely to experience increasingly volatile weather in the coming decades and that many well meaning but ill-informed people are investing in the wrong things. As I wrote in last week’s column, quality matters immensely in the sustainability movement, and so does using the best available data. Unless we are able to leave dogma behind we will never move forward.


Peace, Estwing

Upping the Game Against Deniers

Editor’s note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


It’s great to see the climate change skeptics gearing up for the COP 21 in Paris at the end of the month. They have arrived on cue with all the old tricks along with some new ones.

They’re still taking their advice from the inter-web advice trolls, the most popular remaining: ‘the climate has always changed.’ Tick.

Next up: cherry-picking data to show individual data points instead of long-term trends. Tick.

Alas, a new one: selecting old headlines about climate change that have not come to pass. Clever, our dear Chronicle letter writers, but researching the headlines was surely not your own work. Could you please include the website you got them from? A five second Google search leads me to believe it was

And then there is: those who believe the 98% of professional climate scientists and believe the mountains of data and peer-reviewed research are simply prone to living in fear and only seek to make others join them.

On this final tactic, I believe it’s callous toward thousands of New Zealand farmers who are experiencing the effects of increasingly frequent extreme weather events that impact the economic viability of their operations. Combined with volatile meat and dairy prices and high debt levels, is it any wonder that depression and suicide are major issues in rural New Zealand? Many farmers do live in fear of extended drought or devastating flooding and slips, as they could lead to foreclosure and loss of one’s life’s work.

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But I digress. The point I wanted to make is that those with a radical bent to deny the best available science will grasp at anything and everything to sway public opinion. They’re very good at it, and as a result the scientific community and the environmental movement need to be extremely careful about what we put out there.

Quality matters a lot, and this is where the sustainability movement often fails itself – by allowing and even supporting low-quality work in the public sphere. The attitude appears to be that doing anything is better than doing nothing. I disagree. In many cases well-intentioned by misdirected efforts can do more harm than good. Those in the international aid field know this all too well!

And so it is with caution and a critical eye that I view new initiatives, especially those coming from government sources. On the other side of the coin, you may imagine the delight of discovering initiatives that are both robust and courageous, such as the Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration:

We have come together, as a group of Mayors representing local government from across New Zealand to:

  1. acknowledge the importance and urgent need to address climate change for the benefit of current and future generations;
  2. give our support to the New Zealand Government for developing and implementing, in collaboration with councils, communities and businesses, an ambitious transition plan toward a low carbon and resilient New Zealand;
  3. encourage Government to be more ambitious with climate change mitigation measures;
  4. outline key commitments our councils will take in responding to the opportunities and risks posed by climate change; and
  5. recommend important guiding principles for responding to climate change.

We ask that the New Zealand Government make it a priority to develop and implement an ambitious transition plan for a low carbon and resilient New Zealand. We stress the benefits of early action to moderate the costs of adaptation to our communities. We are all too aware of challenges we face shoring up infrastructure and managing insurance costs. These are serious financial considerations for councils and their communities.

To underpin this plan, we ask that a holistic economic assessment is undertaken of New Zealand’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and of the opportunities and benefits for responding. We believe that New Zealand has much at stake and much to gain by adopting strong leadership on climate change and ambitious emission reduction targets at the UNCOP meeting in Paris in December.

Some smart and dedicated people drafted this document that includes seven guiding principles: Precaution; Stewardship/Kaitiakitanga; Equity/Justice; Anticipation; Understanding; Co-operation; and, Resilience. Spot on.

The full declaration can be viewed here:



Death on the Farm

Warning: This post contains images of dead animals. Feel free to skip this one if you think you may be squeamish. But please tune in to the next one for an uplifting post on climate deniers and climate heroes.


It seems the last five months have been about death on our farm, and the neighbouring properties. It started with the dead sheep over the fence – I’ve counted around 30 so far – dating back to July.

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Here are three dead ewes at the bottom of a land slip.

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During the long, damp, cold winter we bottle fed two lambs. Babe was an amazing friend for our daughter and as spunky and loyal as a dog. He died overnight of pulpy kidney with no warning. When I found him the next morning I was devastated. I have not cried that hard in a long time.

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Then Babes step brother, Sausage, died of the same condition last week. I did not cry.

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Along with these two lambs I also found three others dead on the neighbour’s property. About a month ago this ewe died leaning against our fence and left an orphaned lamb. We rescued the lamb and rang the farmer, but he’s got bigger issues to deal with than collecting a lamb. She is still with us for now.

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It’s strange how you feel sorry for some animals when they die, but kill other ones intentionally to eat. This lamb is in our freezer.

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Pests are another huge issue for us. I buy rat poison by the 3kg bucket. Along with killing mice and rats, even the odd possum will overdose on rat poison. But the main way I kill possums is with a “humane” possum trap that breaks their necks instantaneously. I think it is a great tool, manufactured locally and reusable. I have anchored it to this frame and put it on our roof because that’s where most of the possums go at night.

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We have tallied about six possums so far, and the numbers will only increase as we move from spring into summer.

All of this death, I have to admit, has hardened my once sensitive feelings about cute little fuzzy animals. I have always been an animal lover and have rescued countless injured creatures during my life. Nowadays I shrug when I see that our cat has killed a baby rabbit. From the earth and returned to the earth – all creatures great and small.

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I remember agonising over the first chicken I killed for dinner. Now it’s easy, especially after dealing with all the heartbreak over this winter. Thanksgiving is on the horizon and there are three roosters on the menu.

Peace, Estwing

Smart, Fearless, Tireless and Resilient: Key Lessons from Sport

Editor’s note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


With a few swipes of the thumb, I set the alarm on the “smart phone” for 4:30 and went to bed only slightly less excited than a child on Christmas Eve.

At 5:30 the next morning, my daughter stood in the doorway of the master bedroom saying, “’Scuse me mama and papa.” I opened my eyes, checked the time, and jumped out of bed.

“Come on,” I said scooping her up like a loose ball bouncing on the pitch, “We’re going for an adventure.”

It was halftime by the time we reached Stellar, and we had to park two blocks away. As we walked toward the nightclub turned morning club on this special occasion, I realized with sudden horror that Verti and I were both wearing green tops. Hopefully everyone would be watching the large screen televisions and not notice our hasty wardrobe choices.

For the most part that was true. All eyes were on the game as the Wallabies clawed their way back from an 18-point deficit following the sin binning of Ben Smith. The tension was palpable for a few tense minutes, until…

The bar erupted as Dan Carter’s sublime drop goal turned the tide, followed by his long distance penalty kick and Beauden Barrett’s thrilling chase of fullback Smith’s kick.

By seven o’clock in the morning I had experienced nearly the full range of human emotion. It was wonderful. And that is the point of it all, isn’t it? Being fully human.

The debate about humanity and technology has existed for well over a century. One of my favourite stories as a child was that of John Henry, “a steel-driving man.” The popular American folk tale has been told in song by Johnny Cash, Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Van Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Bruce Springsteen, and many others. Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.51.17 am

As the legend goes, John Henry’s prowess as a hammerer was pitted against a steam driven hammer in a race of man against machine. At the end of the 35-minute race, according to,

“John Henry held up his hammers in triumph! The men shouted and cheered. The noise was so loud, it took a moment for the men to realize that John Henry was tottering. Exhausted, the mighty man crashed to the ground, the hammer’s rolling from his grasp. The crowd went silent as the foreman rushed to his side. But it was too late. A blood vessel had burst in his brain. The greatest driller in the C&O Railroad was dead.

After his race against David Pocock for the try line, Beauden Barrett was anything but dead. On the contrary, in that moment he and his teammates expressed the ultimate feeling of being fully alive. Here were 15 men running and jumping and tackling and kicking and celebrating. Here were 15 men being fully human. Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.58.03 am

I have always believed that we are most fully human when we engage our brains and bodies and emotions at the same time. That’s what’s so great about sport.

In my opinion, what makes the All Blacks the best is that they create an unparalleled synergy on the field, and that they can bounce back from adversity and find a way to win.

Ben Smith has been my favourite AB since I first picked a favourite. The World Cup final only confirmed it. Along with being smart, fearless, and tireless, he showed true resilience after receiving a yellow card. Within a second of the infraction his hands were in the air acknowledging the mistake. After the TMO review, he accepted the card with a nod.

Returning to the field, Smith’s performance was brilliant, setting up Barrett’s try with a phenomenal kick after picking up a turnover from the attacking Wallabies. At the end of the game, I was pleased to see that he was the one kicking into touch.

As the crowd inside Stellar erupted again, Verti and I made our way out onto a quiet street that was underwater on another Sunday morning just four months earlier.

Like sport, climate change is less about technology and more about humanity. People, not solar panels, will be what tackles this immense foe. Teamwork will be essential for victory. Resilience is critical.

At the end of the day, it’s about people. And even at the beginning of the day, as my daughter reminded me, we can’t always rely on technology for what’s most important.


Peace, Estwing


Sidebar: Who are the leaders on climate change in our community?

Please send me stories of local people stepping up and making a difference.



Let it Rot: Anything and Everything

Building soil structure and fertility is fundamental to most permaculture projects. Our farm is no different. At any given time we have three to five compost piles – each one cubic metre – going somewhere on the property.

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I believe in free range compost, and building piles near where the final product will be used.

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This pile had a bunch of pumpkin volunteers sprouting so I decided to let them grow. We will get up to 50 kilograms of pumpkins from these plants for very little effort.

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With a hot composting system, we run all organic matter through it, including possums, dead chooks, goats, and a few lambs that sadly died this spring.

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We have also been building hugelkutltur swales and hugelkultur mounds. Yesterday I was managing the waste stream at a large community event and brought 3 barrels of paper plates, serviettes, and food scraps home. I tipped the barrels among the branches that I have been collecting for this hugelmound. The free-range ducks helped themselves to bits of bread and sausages among the plates.

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The branches will keep the plates from blowing around in the wind until I cover the lot with soil. I have been cutting branches along the drive and around the house and feeding them to Goat Buster. He happily eats the leaves and some of the bark. Then I put the stripped branches onto the mound. GB poops out the leaves he ate and helps improve the soil of the paddock.

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Here is a hugelkultur swale we built less than a year ago. It is thriving with a diversity of plants, shrubs and trees, while moderating water flows on the farm.

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Using these holistic management techniques are already showing significant results although we have been on the property only 15 months.


Peace, Estwing

Ecological Farming is the Most Affordable Option

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

I could not agree more with Wanganui provincial president of Federated Farmers, Brian Doughty, and his recent thoughts on the damage caused to vulnerable slopes due to outdated management practices and June’s weather bomb: “We need, at least, to think outside the square in an attempt to minimise the effects from an ever-increasing number of these storm events because it will happen again.” Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 9.45.38 am

A difficult and costly repair job after the flood.

From my reading of Brian’s Conservation Comment, he makes two main points in the second half of the piece: 1) climate change will bring more frequent extreme weather events; 2) redesigning our farms to work more closely with nature will save farmers money in the long run. As any regular reader of this column recognises, these are two of the central tenants of eco-thrifty renovation.

When eco-thrifty thinking is applied to the land it can be called “holistic land management” or “permaculture” or “ecological farming.” Whatever you call it, it relies heavily on pattern recognition. Specifically, the patterns that Brian addresses are ridges and gulleys and the best locations to place tracks and fences within the landscape to minimise damage from slips. This is sage advice, and we wish Brian could have been on the committee that chose to move the Sargent Gallery into a floodplain.

Designing with recognition for the patterns in nature has two clear advantages for farmers: 1) higher productivity; 2) greater resilience. In the day-to-day workings of a farm, holistically managed farms are more profitable, and during extreme weather events – either storm or extended drought – are more resilient.

And who would have guessed that ex-farmer and current Letters writer G.R. Scown was an eco-farmer long before it was fashionable?!? I admit to pleasant surprise as he waxed eloquently (Letters, 22-10-15) about worms, soil bacteria, humus, moisture retention and seaweed.

Similarly, I have experienced great results in pasture quality using some of the methods Scown describes along with rotational grazing. The result is a win-win-win situation that includes a healthier mix of pasture species, healthier animals (from eating better plants), and a resilient farm better able to weather both ends of predicted weather extremes.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford and Berkeley published in the journal Nature concludes that, “Climate change could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output as much as 23 percent by the end of the century” (Bloomberg News). Another recent report identifies that “Land degradation is costing the world as much as $10.6 trillion every year, equivalent to 17% of global gross domestic product” (Guardian, 15-09-15).

But none of this would be news to our outstanding regional council. For a long time, Horizons has taken a holistic, proactive and hands-on approach to land management and working with farmers. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the leadership shown by Horizons and the high quality advice and support offered by expert professionals.

I have been impressed with more than one regional councillor’s understanding and advocacy for holistic perspectives on issues ranging from watershed management to environmental education. Getting rid of the “Green Rig”, for example, was an excellent decision.

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Poplar poles planted this winter on a vulnerable hillside. 

I have also worked with a number of Horizon’s staff on issues of soils, slopes and tree planting. The advice was top notch and the customer service outstanding. I actually enjoy paying my rates because I know my dollars are doing great work. Speaking of which, I seem to recall reading that the regional rates bill was going to increase by $2 per household to buy more poplar poles for farmers. I reckon that should be doubled because decades down the track we’ll all be better off for it.

– Estwing