28 August 2012

Neil Armstrong coal mines carbon dioxide and global warming the High Court moon walks us to a very hot place

On the same day as the death of Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to step onto the Moon, became public, the New Zealand High Court moon-walked its way to it's own off-the-world moment. It decided that greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are off-limits in the planning for an open cast coal mine. That's as just as 'out of this world' as denying that the Moon landings ever happened.

On Saturday, two bits of news struck home to me very strongly. The first was the death of moon-landing astronaut Neil Armstrong. The second was the decision of the New Zealand High Court that for new open-cast coal mines, their carbon dioxide emissions and global warming are legally and jurisdictionally unrelated in the Resource Management Act.

The moon landing. I remember very well as a seven year old listening attentively to the 'one small step' broadcast in 1969. The whole class was silent under the spell of our teacher's scratchy transistor radio.

It's one of my most strongly held memories of my childhood. I guess that reflects well on that class of seven-year olds. They stopped playing bullrush, sniffing with colds, and fighting over play-lunchs to listen attentively to the unfolding of one of humanity's most historic moments.

While I was still fondly remembering the Moon landing, the next news item struck.

It was the New Zealand High Court decision barring discussion of carbon dioxide emissions when coal mines seek Resource Management Act consents (see Radio NZ, NBR and TV3 and the Otago Daily Times).

Of course this is about the Perth coal company Bathurst Resources and their Escarpment Mine Project.

Bryan Walker of Hot Topic has posted that this project represents New Zealand doing a Pontius Pilate and washing its hands of the emissions.

I have previously posted that the decisions by councils and the Environment Court to date reflect the zombie ETS infecting the Resource Management Act with climate madness.

My Saturday morning reverie of the Moon landing was rudely stopped and I sort of grumbled to myself;

"Open-cast coal mines and global warming are unrelated!! Thats about as sensible as saying the Moon landings were faked by NASA. Neil Armstrong would just have smacked someone in the face!"

From small half-asleep reactions, blog posts do grow. With the wee footnote that it was actually Buzz Aldrin who punched the Moon landing denier.

I could do a review of the legal issues, but that would be just more legal-climate yadda yadda. I will just note that back in the early 1990s, the Bolger National Government not only considered that greenhouse gas emissions were an adverse effect under the Resource Management Act; they also considered the RMA to be one of the main tools to deal with global warming.

As for the science of it, I will just point to a couple James Hansen charts from his The Case for Young People paper.

The first is cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide. Approving new coal mines adds to cumulative global emissions of carbon dioxide. The second chart shows likely scenarios for temperature. The more carbon dioxide accumulates, the higher the likely temperature.

The facts are that each time a new coal mine is approved, we are just adding to the temperature overshoot above two degrees.

Why is it that the High Court can't apply this simple logic? Why are we even in a position where the High Court can sever the undeniable link between new coal mines, the volumes of carbon dioxide accumulating globally, and the inevitable temperature rise? What has has happened to our legal and planning systems to make this sort of decision possible?

To me this outcome - where the global effects of more GHG emissions are legally severed from approval of a new coal mine - is just as 'out of this world' as denying that the Moon landings even happened.

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