Ecological Overshoot is a tragedy, not a tactic

It’s an easy and sometimes advantageous strategy to overshoot a mark we have in our sights.

When selling a house, it is usually the case that the asking price is set higher than the expected selling price.  It gives some wriggle room for the negotiations between buyer and seller.

And in salary negotiations, a confident job applicant has been known to overshoot the job’s salary target in the hope of influencing the employer to anchor salary negotiations at a higher level.  That tactic can backfire on those who do not know the realistic salary expectations of the job.

It’s a tactic used in golf.  The chance of holing a putt increases by weighting the shot for the ball to go past the hole, rather than dropping in to the hole on it’s dying rotation.    The downside of this overshoot strategy is that when one misses the target, the next putt may be even more difficult.

So it seems to be when setting carbon emission targets.  The Paris target of less than 2 °C of warming, will be difficult to achieve.  So we see the tendency to allow global GHG concentrations to rise above the target level in the expectation of bringing them back down at a future time.

Technology may or may not satisfy the expectation.

If it does, then the costs of meeting the target will inevitably have risen over that time of procrastination.

If it does not, then there will be no consequence to the procrastinators – that will fall on future generations.

We can see this lose-lose overshoot strategy playing out now in the concept of Overshoot Day.

Developed by the Global Footprint Network, Overshoot Day is a means to flag the date on which we ask more from nature, than our planet can renew in a year.


Today (August 1st) is World Overshoot Day.  This date reflects human demand for ecological resources across the planet, being 1.7 times what the Earth can sustainably meet.

New Zealand had it’s own Overshoot Day.  May 1st was the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would have fallen if all of humanity consumed like we do. Our demand for the earth’s resources is equivalent to more than three earths.

What will life be like when the rest of humanity demands what we have and take for granted?

When selling a house, negotiating a salary or playing a golf shot, overshooting the target may be a valid tactic.  When overshooting the capacity of the Earth to supply resources, it is a tragedy in the making.

Submission on the Zero Carbon Bill

Anglicans CAN logoThis submission represents the collective views of the Anglican’s Climate Action Network (Anglicans CAN), Auckland, and does not purport to be the position of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Anglicans CAN is a group of Anglicans who have been raising awareness, providing education and supporting political action on climate change issues since 2006 under the initiative.

Cherished Earth is a climate justice initiative of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland. e initiative is about taking actions that connect Christian faith with caring for creation, and is the practical outworking of a commitment made in 2006 by the Anglican Bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand, including Māori, Pacifika and Pākehā.


Anglicans CAN supports the need to create certainty around New Zealand’s response to the challenges of our changing climate. We offer these considerations around the intentions of the proposed Zero Carbon Bill.

The overarching principle to apply in developing the Zero Carbon Bill, must be one of social justice, not just for New Zealanders, but for all peoples of the world and for future generations.  This implies equality in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, privileges and obligations.

For example, our climate actions must recognise the rights of people in developing countries to achieve the same standard of living and privileges that we take for granted. As the Earth cannot sustain our level of consumption of resources, it follows that our obligation is to reduce our consumption of the things we want but do not need.

Another example is that if incentives and subsidies are to be made available, they must be able to be taken up by anyone, regardless of income, assets or standing in the community.

The numbered paragraphs within this submission correspond to the questions posed in the Zero Carbon Bill Discussion Document.

1. The Government must set an ambitious 2050 target in legislation now.
A goal around “net zero emissions” is not adequate because it assumes an unspecified level of gross carbon emissions with offsetting to achieve a net position. Offsetting unconstrained gross emissions is not sustainable because the supply of land suitable for tree planting is limited, and the Government cannot guarantee that it will be able to purchase international carbon credits indefinitely.

That 2050 reduction target must focus predominantly on the release of new carbon to the atmosphere, and less on the recycling of existing carbon gases. New carbon is defined as carbon that is locked into the earth as coal, oil and natural gas, and is therefore, not already within the existing carbon cycle.

Carbon Dioxide generated by the burning and mining of previously sequestered fossil fuels is an example of new carbon. Methane emissions from the exploration and mining of fossil fuels is another example. The emissions from these sources must go to zero.

Biological sources of methane generated by the agricultural sector, is an example of a gas already within the existing carbon cycle. The emissions from this source have already stabilised (since 2011) and have grown by only 5.6% since 1990 (calculated from the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Inventory published by the Ministry for the Environment).

2. Anglicans CAN support none of the three options presented as the “best” target:

  1. net zero carbon dioxide excludes nitrous oxide and so this option cannot be supported.
  2. net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases does not explicitly provide for zero new carbon gases and so this option cannot be supported.
  3. 3. net zero all gases (CO2, CH4, N2O) ignores the fundamental differences between short and long- lived gases and so this option cannot be supported.

In place of these “best” target options we propose ones that:

  1. target gross zero emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel sources (2016: 84% of total CO2)
  2. target methane being stabilised at 1990 levels (2016: a 4% reduction to 1990 levels)
  3. for N2O, targets:
    – gross zero emissions from manure management (2016: 1% of total N2O)
    – 50% reduction of N2O from agricultural soils (2016: 94% of total N2O)
    – gross zero emissions from the application of nitrogenous fertilisers to land

3. How should New Zealand meet it’s targets?
Use of the term “net emissions” in each of the three options within the discussion document, make the explicit assumption that tree planting will offset gross emissions and that any shortfall on the target, will be offset with international carbon credits. Anglicans CAN do not see this as an acceptable response to the very serious challenges that global warming represents.

Our submission distinguishes between the emissions of new carbon from the mining and burning of fossil fuels, and the recycling of existing atmospheric and oceanic carbon already within the carbon cycle. Emissions of new carbon must go to zero in gross terms; they must not be off-settable through tree planting nor the purchase of international credits.

Having a target for zero new carbon means that tree planting can be focused on the removal (sequestering) of CO2 from the atmosphere. We recommended a separate target be set for the tonnage of CO2 removal by tree plantings.

4. Revisions to the 2050 targets.
We agree that the 2050 target could be revised but with the proviso that any revised target be no lesser a reduction target than exists already.  That is, once the initial target is set, any revised target may be increased but not reduced. We believe that it is very important that the Zero Carbon Act be protected from dilution by political interference.

It is acknowledged that the Act could need to be repealed. We envisage this only in exceptional circumstances, and then only following a public referendum that approves such a repeal.

5. Yes, we agree with the proposal for three successive budgets, each of ve years’ duration.

6. Yes, the Government should be able to alter the last emissions budget (years 10 – 15) but only during the term of the first budget period.

7. No, the Government should not have the ability to review and adjust the second emissions budget.  Any government having this ability, would work to negate the certainty the Act would provide, especially in the build up to government elections.

8. Anglicans CAN believe the Climate Change Commission ought have a role greater than just advising the government on policy decisions. In particular, we believe the Commission must have a regulatory role as noted in point 11 below. We have no view on the considerations the proposed Climate Change Commission may take in to account.

9. Yes, the Zero Carbon Bill must require Governments to set out plans within a certain timeframe to achieve the emissions budgets.

10. The single most important issue for the Government to consider in setting plans to meet budgets is that our economic system does not support economics based on planetary/national resource boundaries. For example, the work of the Global Footprint Network suggests that our present use of global resources, requires 1.7 earths to meet our demand. If every person lived like New Zealanders, we would require 3 Earths to meet the demand for resources. Such levels of resource use are clearly not sustainable, pointing up the need for an economic system that works within planetary boundaries.

11. The Climate Change Commission ought have a regulatory role (perhaps along the lines of the Reserve Bank and Commerce Commission) to ensure that actions are taken, and not just talked about. Such a role should be protected against political appointments and interference.

12. The NZETS needs to be replaced with a Carbon Tax.  The current pragmatism around there not being enough differentiation between an ETS and a Carbon Tax to justify the costs of changing over, ignores the ineffectiveness and abuses of the ETS that have occurred to date.

13. The proposed expertise that the Climate Commission must have is agreed to with the following additions:

  • Systems thinking expertise should be specifically included. Without this level of expertise, there is a danger that a reductionist approach to the issues will be adopted, leading to incomplete analyses and ineffective actions that work to sustain business as usual.
  • Likewise, a problem solving ability should be listed within the expertise requirements.

14. The Carbon Zero Bill ought not cover climate change adaptation.
To do so, runs the risk of taking the focus away from the urgent need to mitigate the drivers of global warming.

Adaptation strategies do need to be developed, but within their own enabling legislation.

15. The new functions around adaptation to climate change are NOT agreed with:
We believe that adaptation measures (including the new functions proposed) are necessary, but not desirable within climate mitigation legislation.

16. An adaptation reporting power should be established, but done so within a separate Climate Adaptation Bill and outside of the powers of the Zero Carbon Bill.

Dramatic videos flag a serious warning

As dramatic as these two videos are, they are not entertainment, to be oohed and aahed over.  They are warnings of rapid changes in the earth’s equilibrium.

The first video is from Canada: “There is twice as much carbon in the permafrost than there is in the atmosphere.  So if all the carbon in permafrost turned in to CO2, it would triple the CO2 in the atmosphere”


The second video is from Siberia.  If the sober words of the Canadian researchers do not worry you, then perhaps this dramatic footage will.


What to do?  Here’s an idea:

Anglicans in Canada pledging to make lifestyle changes to tackle climate change

Posted on: March 10, 2017 3:49 PM

Climate change-induced permafrost melting endangers the foundation of St. Mary with St. Mark Anglican Church in Mayo, Yukon, according to parishioners taking part in a Lenten project to fight climate change
Photo Credit: St. Mary with St. Mark Anglican Church

Be a light switcher to save cash and the planet

After testing more than 3,000 different theories before finding one that worked, Thomas Edison was reported as saying “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

A corollary of this Edison quote is that the most certain way to fail, is to give up. Which is what Professor Guy McPherson is doing, giving up.

Those particular 3,000 theories were about finding a filament that worked in the new electric light bulb.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Edison’s incandescent light was launched at a public ceremony in December 1879.  His belief then, that electricity would become so cheap that only the rich would burn candles, was proved correct.  And hasn’t our society become a better place for that invention?

Today, 137 years later, we need to move away from that old technology, not because of the cost of electricity, but because of the need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LEDs are the new lighting technology and many will be skeptical that replacing old light bulbs will have a material impact on climate change.

For sure, replacing one light bulb has only a small impact.  But if each New Zealand household, more than 1.5 million of them, replaced them all, then the impact would be significant.

How significant?  Stay with me while we do some easy maths.

Based on the average burn time for a light bulb of three hours each day for a year, a 60 watt incandescent bulb will burn 66 units of electricity and emit 9.8 kg of carbon to the atmosphere.  That’s the equivalent emissions from driving 32km in a large car.

The equivalent seven watt LED will burn less than eight units of electricity over a year and emit nearly 1.1 kg of the carbon – less than a 4 km drive in that same large car.

As well as helping save the world, light switchers will save cash too.

At $0.30 for each unit of electricity and a 3-hour burn time per day, a $9.95 LED bulb is paid for through electricity savings in just seven months.  That’s an incredible 172% return on investment.

Those returns are much greater when we factor in the lifetime savings of switching to an LED bulb – over $240 through replacing an LED once every 14 years instead of replacing an incandescent every year for each of 14 years.

led-bulb-green-backgroundThese comparison apply to LEDs of the same brightness and with a range of colour tints available, switching to an LED, gives no loss of light quality.

Being a light switcher is an easy do, will save you cash as well as demonstrating that we are not giving up on saving the planet.

Biochar a foil to doomsayer Guy McPherson

Climate doomsayer Guy McPherson was in Auckland last week, talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change.

I do not call him a doomsayer to belittle him or what he has to say.  For he is saying things that need to be said, things that too few want to acknowledge, let alone take action on.

When McPherson says “the situation (climate change) is far worse than it was (in 2014)”, the scientific evidence proves him right.  Atmospheric carbon levels have now exceeded 400 ppm and 2016 is projected to be the hottest year on record.

But then he goes on to say, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change … there’s nothing we can do to stop it”.  His denial of our will to survive is beyond defeatist.

For sure, the task of bringing atmospheric carbon back to levels the earth can sustain is ginormous.  But not even worth trying for?

As Yoda said in the future, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

And do two things we must, if McPherson’s non-future is to be avoided.

One is to eliminate burning fossil fuels.  As unlikely as that is, it will not avoid catastrophic climate change as the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to drive warming for decades yet.

Second is to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

High tech Carbon Capture and Storage processes are seen by many as the way to save the world.  But they either do not work yet, or are too expensive.  While politicians wait for technologic fixes, the risks become ever more dire.

There are two low tech means to sequestering atmospheric carbon that could be implemented from tomorrow if there was the political nous.

First is planting trees.  We can and should do that, but it will have only a small impact in the time scale McPherson talks about.

Biochar_1694Second is to make biochar and bury it in agricultural soils.

Making biochar from forestry and municipal waste would give us the win-win-win of renewable biofuels, improved soils and less atmospheric carbon.

This sounds an easy do but the scale of the challenge before us is daunting.

To hold global warming to under 2°C, atmospheric carbon needs to be under 350 ppm.  If emissions reductions had begun in 2005, a reduction rate of only 3.5% per year may have sufficed.  Starting today, the required reduction rate is 6% and if delayed until 2020, then it is 15%.   Biochar sequestration can achieve a 12% rate.  So doable it is if we start now.

As discussed last week, it is our perception of the risks that determines whether we take precautions or not.  If we assess a low risk to catastrophic climate change, Guy McPherson will be proved right.

Climate action: is there a place for the church?

Church leaders, lay people, activists, scientists and politicians gathered in Mangere on Saturday, 20 August for a Church Climate Workshop to explore what churches can do to address climate change. The workshop was an ecumenical event co-hosted by the Methodist Public Issues network, Sinoti Samoa and the Anglican Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.

Over 120 people were in attendance with Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians and Quakers coming from across the country to discuss what their congregations could do.

(L-R) Su’a William Sio; Korea Tiumalu; Dr Adrian Macey; Revd Prince Devanandan; … (hidden Prof. James Renwick);  organiser Betsan Martin

Keynote speakers were scientist Professor James Renwick, former climate negotiator Dr Adrian Macey, Mangere MP Su’a William Sio and Pacific Climate Warriors spokesperson Koreti Tiumalu.

Matheson Russell, convenor of the Diocesan Climate Change Action Group highlighted what already has been done in some churches including divesting from fossil fuel companies, statements by the Anglican bishops, and local initiatives to make church buildings energy efficient.

But the emphasis of the workshop was on the need for more action, urgently required to limit the worst effects of climate change, especially for our Pacific neighbours.

Koreti Tiumalu, leader of the Pacific Climate Warriors inspired everyone with the prayerful, culturally based and courageous actions of her group. She detailed their venturing to sea in vaka near Newcastle, Australia to protest against coal mining expansion, and a prayer vigil at the Vatican during the COP21 proceedings, where the group of Pacific youth were able to give a fine mat woven in Tonga to Pope Francis.

University of Victoria Wellington environmental scientist James Renwick showed graphs that detailed the dramatic increase in global temperatures over the last 150 years. 2015 temperatures were the highest on record, and 2016 looks set to be even hotter. He says the time for action is now, rather than waiting a decade or more to implement real change. “If we continue at this rate, we could be facing an ice free Arctic in a few decades.”

President elect of the Methodist Church Revd. Prince Devanandan proposed that clergy start preaching on climate change, and emphasized the major need to re-orient the education programmes of the church – theological education, and parish level adult and children’s education.

He also interviewed Cardinal John Dew as a special discussion for the workshop, reflecting on the papal encyclical on climate change ‘Laudato Si’. They explored questions of dominion and stewardship, and the links between poverty and the environment. Cardinal Dew emphasized the gift of ‘Laudato Si’ for all churches, indeed for all peoples.

Cardinal Dew suggested it is time for advocacy from churches. While working in our own organizations and institutions, we can bring an ethical approach to press for action from business leaders and government.

The workshop gave opportunities for attendees to find out and partner with the practical work and advocacy of climate organizations Generation Zero, 350 Aotearoa, Christian World Service, Coal Action Network, and A Rocha, as well as our own Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.

Part of the 120-plus audience listening to a range of climate activists. 

Churches were also encouraged to sign up for the ‘Pray for the Pacific’ campaign, where participating churches will hold a special service either on September 4th or 11th to pray for the Pacific and start a conversation about rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and changing weather patterns.

Ms Tiumalu said: “We cannot build a Pacific Climate Movement without engaging our faith communities. Faith is pivotal to our people, and like the ocean, it connects us. In the face of the climate crisis, we need prayer to carry our people and faith to build resilience.”

A choice – overshoot by more or less

Six days earlier than last year.

That day was last Monday. It was the day when the world’s population consumed the resources the earth would require a full year to regenerate. To sustain an average lifestyle, now requires the resources of more than one and a half earths.

For this year we overshot the earth’s capacity for sustainable supply by over four months.

Next year, the world’s ecological ‘Overshoot’ will be longer.

And longer still the following year and so on, year after year until the earth has insufficient credit in the resource bank for us to make our withdrawals from.

The resources in the bank include the soil to grow nutritious and safe food. And the water that sustains life on earth. And places to dump the rubbish we generate. And the energy we need to travel, feed, educate and enlighten us. And the biodiversity that inter-dependent species require to survive. And so much more.

earth overshoot day

Overshoot Day is an interesting way to assess sustainability. It is a concept introduced by the Global Footprint Network, an international not-for-profit organization with offices in California and Geneva.

The Network also developed the Ecological Footprint concept and from that the National Footprint Accounts.

New Zealand has a national footprint of 5.6 global hectares per person, well within the country’s carrying capacity of 10.1 global hectares. A global hectare is the statistician’s way of enabling comparisons between countries.

Our society has an ecological footprint more than twice as large as the world average. If the world lived as we do, then overshoot day would have happened on April 19th and we would need 3.3 earth’s to provide for our daily needs.

How does this compare against other countries?

Australia has an ecological footprint half as large again as ours. If everyone lived as Australians do, then overshoot day would have happened on the 7th March and 5.4 earths would be needed to sustain us all.

Fiji’s ecological footprint is less than half ours which places overshoot day on July 30th.

This level of resource consumption is clearly not sustainable. As has been said before, we have only one earth. Not 3.3 of them.

If sustainability refers to the ability of a system to maintain production for ever, then last Monday was the day when the system we call the earth, exceeded it’s ability to regenerate resources.

The consequence is that the earth’s capacity to sustain us in the future, is reduced.

So it is that we now need to make the choice that our politicians have failed to take a lead on.  Either to continue with our consumption-led growth economy and each year, withdraw ever more from next year’s resource bank.

Or to reduce our consumption of things wanted but not needed and live within the earth’s means to supply.

A Carbon Fast for Lent

Join us in #carbonfast2016

What is a carbon fast for Lent?

For Anglicans, Catholics and many others, Lent is the time when we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, facing challenge and temptation. It is a time when we reflect on God’s purpose for our life.

This year we challenge you to take a carbon fast – to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation.

Each day has one small action to take. You can download the one page calender with each day’s action here.

Find more details of each day’s action, as well as a daily scripture and prayer or on  www.facebook/GreenAnglicans

We hope that this year, Lent is a time when you draw near to God and find peace in His creation.