BOOKCASE

The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World’s Greatest Challenge
by Kirsten Dow and Thomas E Downing
• Earthscan, London • $54.99

Hot Topic: Global Warming and the future of New Zealand
by Gareth Renowden
• AUT Media • $26.43

Biofuels for Transport: Global potential and implications for sustainable energy and agriculture
by Worldwatch Institute team
• Earthscan, London • $178.14

The Atlas of Climate Change provides thought-provoking assemblage of information in an easily digestible format. If one picture is worth thousand words then you would need to wade through 500-page book to learn what you can from this book’s 100 pages. (If you are keen, maybe try the Stern Report – or the three-part IPCC Fourth Assessment if you are really keen.)
The Atlas comes in six parts, devoted respectively to signs of changing climate; its mechanisms, its drivers; its impacts; what’s being done about it, and; what you can do about it. Each section has several double pages with maps and diagrams and helpful text.
The ‘Part 1’ signs are in the news all the time: Giant icebergs from the break up of the Larsen ice shelf calve off babies that float past Dunedin, an unprecedented hurricane in the South Atlantic (which has never before been warm enough to support such tropical storm), floods and windstorm events have doubled in 20 years. For future impacts in ‘Part 4’. think Katrina. Think sunken Tuvalu.
The ‘Part 2’ mechanisms are basically the greenhouse effect enhanced by raised levels of greenhouse gases emitted by industry and commercial agriculture. But these interactions are complicated by oceanic circulation that takes centuries; by the unexpected volatility of the land-based ice masses; by plant life that grows faster and captures more greenhouse gas as the CO2 level rises (CO2 fertilisation) but wilts with higher temperatures; and by clouds which both reflect incoming sunlight and amplify the heat-trapping effect of the greenhouse gases. All this is well illustrated.
This complexity leads to climatic uncertainty so great that warming is projected to be anything from possibly benign 1.5 degrees Celsius to certainly catastrophic 6ºC.
What emerges is the yawning gap between what needs to be done and what the politicians can agree to do. Only you can deal with that, by personal choices, including at the ballot box (as discussed in ‘Part 6’). Until you get that chance, you can keep abreast of what the politicians say by checking it out against this splendid atlas.
Of course it’s this big picture that matters for New Zealand as for every other country, since we are all in it together in spaceship Earth. How the big picture looks in our corner is of more than passing interest to the privileged four million who live here – should little New Zealand be in the lead or should we hope the ‘big boys’ sort it out for us? As guide to thinking on this hot topic, Hot Topic is timely Christmas reading for New Zealand managers wondering how to cope with the issue of the century.
Of course, that question is not the same question as ‘do we have problem?’ which the denial faction have plugged – to whom Renowden gives (to quote the blurb) “a devastating rebuttal – one that is in no way invalidated by the uncertainty noted above. Falling off cliff is to be avoided whether it’s six or 60 metres high.”
Hot Topic is the first popular science book to put global warming into New Zealand context and it can usefully inform the developing national debate, now that we are moving from our traditional posture – as one European expert put it to me – of all talk and no action. Whether or not New Zealand should lead is good question, surrounded as it is with major trading partners that have no commitment under Kyoto.
That is situation that will likely change in year, with the end of United States’ President George Bush’s second term, and maybe even sooner across the Tasman – you will know before this is in print.
But apart from the benefit to our businesses from being ahead of Australia and the United States in adapting to the new carbon-priced world, Renowden argues New Zealand cannot afford to lose the clean green image of its exports. Restrictions on air travel and food miles campaigns could hit our tourism and primary industries hard.
But, he points out, New Zealand’s primary industry strengths make it well placed to become low-carbon economy. The potential for land-use improvements that take carbon out of the atmosphere, through the natural process of photosynthesis of plant material (that uses the sun’s energy to make biomass – plant material – out of water and the carbon in the atmosphere) has not received the attention it deserves.
During the development of the Kyoto Protocol, and of policies to implement it, the focus has been on reducing energy sector emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As the focus shifts under the need to respond not only to climate change but also to ‘peak oil’, New Zealand’s strengths will work to our advantage so that, taking Chuchill’s maxim, we can be optimists, seeing opportunity in difficulty.
For New Zealand that opportunity lies in sustainably produced biofuels making Biofuels for Transport essential reading for any manager trying to assess future transportation options. Peak oil in the traditional sense of passing the point of maximum production of an oilfield, producing province, or globally may or may not be with us. But dear oil, engendered by demand outstripping supply in world of such high political risk that investment has been slow for years, means that biofuels are expanding rapidly – though in many cases far from sustainably. Investing in sustainable biofuel supply is no-brainer for New Zealand, tail-end Charlie as it is to global oil supplies and endowed with natural resources for biofuel supply like no other developed country.
Biofuels for Transport is comprehensive assessment of the opportunities and risks of the large-scale production of biofuels, which is both global in scope and deeply informed by country studies from Brazil, China, Germany, India and Tanzania. Most valuably it looks at the vexed question of food versus fuel from rational perspective.
Driving up land values and returns to farmers, demand for biofuels is replacing agricultural support in the United States and Europe, with an ending of the export subsidies that have lowered world prices and impoverished third world farmers, accelerating the drift from the land. Increased returns from the land will attract the investment needed to raise soil quality and productivity, realising potential synergies in the production of food and fuel. Managers everywhere, but especially in New Zealand, must read this book if they feel need to understand the future.

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