Wise words for the Schoolkids

OPINION: Wise words for the schoolkids

This Friday’s strike by school students calling for action on climate change has the support of some of our wisest citizens. Wise Response Society secretary DUGALD MACTAVISH explains why.

WISE RESPONSE considers the best way to show support for Schools Strike 4 Climate is for each of us to take control and lead the way with personal emissions reductions.

In 2018, the International Panel for Climate Change stated that, to avoid traumatic changes in the climate, it was vital to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5deg, yet even with the international reductions pledged, we are currently on track for over 3deg.

New Zealand’s strategies for addressing national emissions are the Zero Carbon Bill, and Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and an independent Climate Change Commission to recommend a pathway to achieve, or better, zero net-carbon by 2050. But these measures are currently bogged down in the political arena.

Even with effective policies in the Zero Carbon Act, it seems likely that it will take four to six years to start to see results on the ground. This loses at least one third of the 12-year period considered by the United Nations that remains to instigate profound change.

Therefore, despite our climate emergency, and the inventory of opportunities that could be used to mitigate right now, there is a real risk the emissions footprint of most New Zealanders will remain virtually unchanged before these legislated instruments might have any effect. And all the while there is a growing risk of triggering runaway climate warming.

The quite inspiring groundswell of young people appealing for decisive action against the climate threat, thus offers us all a lifeline as it is appealing to our consciences as well as to our reason. They present us all with a simple yet stark choice.

We either shift rapidly to a low-emissions economy, or we continue living this same model in the full knowledge that eventually we will bequeath a planet that can’t be resuscitated.

If its to be the former, and accepting the uncertainties associated with international and national actions, an opportunity we all can control is to voluntarily take greater personal responsibility for our emission footprints. This will get the transformation under way, perhaps start to demonstrate many associated benefits and build the political licence for the government to get in behind the process without fear of political reprisal.

Wise Response stands with all young people appealing for the avoidance of a global climate catastrophe by effective greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

In our view, this will require from all nations states an unequivocal commitment to a pathway that delivers safe global limits, and by our Government, immediately incentivising, provisioning and enforcing climate mitigation ahead of short-term economic and political considerations.

But to provide the impetus for these actions by our leaders, the best each of us can do is be willing to assess and start voluntarily stepping down the emissions footprint that our current life and work propagates.

The Wise Response public seminar tomorrow in Dunedin is intended to support the call of our children for real action by equipping us for that task. The meeting will be held at Castle One, Otago University, at 7pm.

*The Wise Response Society describes itself as a coalition of academics, engineers, lawyers, artists and sports people who want New Zealand to plan how to deal with serious threats such as climate change. Its chair is the biologist Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark and its patron is constitutional law expert and former Prime Minister and environment minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer. Members include brothers Brian (poet) and Glenn (former international cricketer) Turner, academic and politician Bryan Gould, former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams, geologist Emeritus Professor Peter Barrett, energy and climate specialist Professor Ralph Sims, novelist and Booker Prize winner Keri Hulme, artist Grahame Sydney and former All Blacks Anton Oliver and Chris Laidlaw.




Free public meeting: Tackling our Climate Emergency Head-On!

Want to do your bit to combat climate change?  Want to be prepared for the Zero Carbon Act?  Come and find out how with emissions reduction planning and implementation for City, business or personal.

TIME: 7pm – 9pm
DATE: Thursday 14 March
PLACE: Castle One, Otago University, Dunedin Campus

  • Situation and challenge: world GHG trends,  the remaining global carbon “budget”, NZ’s breakdown of GHG emissions and necessary trajectory Assoc. Prof. Emeritus Bob Lloyd, Climate Consultant
  • Dunedin’s energy profile and opportunities to make us more sustainable, including co-benefits – Assoc. Prof. Janet Stephenson , Director, Centre for Sustainability
  • What we can do as a City: Dunedin’s emissions footprint, and the development of city-wide actions to reduce this; the DCC’s organisational footprint and ambition – Marian Ioannou and Jessie Wu, Corporate Policy team, Dunedin City Council
  • What you can do as an individual: ways to measure, monitor and manage personal and household energy and carbon footprint to reduce emissions  – Austin Hansell, Enviro-Mark Solutions
  • What you can do as a business: how to profile and monitor your carbon footprint, the gains that are being made and their importance for the likes of fund access, risk and liability and carbon credits  – Dr Ann Smith, Enviro-Mark Solutions
  • Q and A: where to from here?

Please forward this email and Poster (PDF) to anyone you think will be interested.  The Flyer is for anyone to  print and publicly display.

Seminar arranged by Wise Response Society

Further information: Dugald MacTavish (Sec) admin@wiseresponse.org.nz

Wise Response Press Release re Low Carbon Report

A PDF is available here: WR Op Ed on Prod Comm’s Final Report. 18Sept2018

Opinion Press Release:

Low Carbon Report exhibits dangerous political compromise

After decades of sitting on our hands, the simple the act of commissioning an inquiry into becoming a low carbon economy has been hugely positive on public perception.  But the Productivity Commission’s final report on transitioning to a low carbon economy seems flawed in a way that could seriously undermine our future efforts to combat climate change.  These are conclusions of the Otago-based but NZ-wide Wise Response Society, according to its Chair, Sir Alan Mark. 

It is self-evident that the earth’s life supporting capacity sets the upper bound for our continued safe occupation of planet earth.  Currently, the combined ecological footprint of the way we do business and our lifestyles exceeds that capacity by more than 50%, which, if not reversed, can only lead to a sticky end.  Indeed, the imperative to transition to a lower carbon economy at all, is but one expression of that excess.  

“Thus” Sir Alan says, “the key flaw in the assessment is the Commissioners refusal to consider the transition in this context of ecological overshoot and the profound impact it will have on correctly framing the issue and on our ability  to remedy it”.  

And while some technological changes will help, the Commission appears over-reliant on these, while the more fundamental changes required to respond to our energy and material limits, are not included.  Neither are the implications for our international transport (including air travel which is clearly an intrinsic element of our domestic economy), or changes to food and tourism sectors properly addressed.

Terms with insufficient scope to tackle the deep seated issues has been a reoccurring issue with recent inquiries, including on the Zero Carbon Bill. Thus, our fear now, he said, is that key flaws in the report will be carried over into terms of reference for the proposed Climate Change Commission, when it is crucial it has the expertise and scope to operate without constraint in recommending whatever it considers necessary to achieve the goal of net zero carbon by 2050.   

Conflicted terms of reference

The previous Government defined the purpose of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry as to “identify options for how New Zealand could reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions through a transition towards a lower emissions future, while at the same time continuing to grow incomes and wellbeing”. The Terms also required “increasing wellbeing … including sustainability …increasing equality, social cohesion, and resilience to risk”. 

“Given the close relationship between GHG emission levels and GDP, many would agree that growing incomes, while at the same time slashing our emissions, might not just be feasible.  Moreover, it is common knowledge that the global economy has been sulking ever since the 2008 Global Financial Crash, which we know has economics experts scratching their heads” he added. 

Growth ideology persists

Yet for decades, systems modelling has predicted the global economy will fail due primarily to resource constraints.  This prediction is supported by steadily diminishing energy returned from each new unit of fossil fuel extracted – be it oil, gas or coal. A “no growth” scenario would literally reconfigure the “decision space” for a transition that is the subject of their enquiry.  It is not a question of if, but when, yet that scenario is still entirely ignored in the Final Report.  “We provided examples that contraction is already happening, and we argued for focusing on the how to handle limits collaboratively, rather than just the same old expansion and more through competitive advantage ” Sir Alan added.

Treating gases differently

Perhaps due to political pressure, the Commission’s emphasis seems to have become focussed on “low emissions” rather than “zero emissions”. They may believe that this could be compatible with the 2oC target, but it seems a high risk approach leading to a 50 – 100 year overshoot before coming anywhere near a target like 1.5oC. Importantly, some changes triggered by an overshoot can be irreversible – e.g. collapse of part of the Greenland ice sheet or permafrost collapse, or a transition in thermohaline circulation – and that is before getting into all the biophysical and social impacts. Thus, peak climate forcing is important and making exceptions for short term agricultural gases, deviates from international practice and increases the risk of losing control of the climate.

Other issues

Other errors of judgement Wise Response identify include an over-reliance on forestry to offset gross carbon emissions (particularly those from fossil fuels) when it’s high risk and at best, just buys time.  They maintain optimism in technological innovation as well as the concepts of “decoupling” emissions from economic growth and carbon capture and storage, when their feasibility at scale is still unproven.

Helpful recommendations

Recommendations the Society does applaud include the clear statement that our very small share of the total global emissions (<0.2%), does not justify inaction, as about a quarter of global emissions come from countries with emissions less than 1%; we need a system of emissions budgets recommended by an independent advisory Climate Change Commission; the advantages to be had of moving urgently against emissions; and the massive opportunity for offsetting by restructuring our transport systems. 


Political challenge

A key observation Wise Response endorses is that “shifting to a low-emissions trajectory will critically depend on cross-party political leadership and fortitude”.


Wise Response says that they are not blind to the political conundrum facing the Government between recognising the extent of change required by NZ and other nations together to restabilize the climate and that some of the measures required to achieve it are likely to be deeply unpopular. 

But what we deny at our peril is that the prerequisite for a productive economy is a stable climate and sustainable resources, so the transition pathway must be determined by what achieves that and not what we are willing to forgo.  

“Our next, and possibly last, opportunity to get this right is through an adequately briefed, independent and representative Climate Change Commission.  If all political parties and sectors fully appreciated the gravity of our situation, we are sure there would be no demand for political compromises that might hinder genuine analysis or delay essential action” Sir Alan said. 

“It’s also apparent from efforts by other states to shift to a lower-carbon economy that our government will need to be prepared to explain the need for some possibly harsh new policy to the public, so that they are willing to accept them in our common interest for the younger and future generations welfare ” he concluded. 

Further information:

Alan Mark PhD, ΦΒΚ (Duke), Hon DSc (Otago), FRSNZ, KNZM

Emeritus Professor

Ph: +64-3-479-7573; Pt: +64-3-476-3229; Mob. 027 2473093

email: alan.mark@otago.ac.nz


Wise Response AGM, 28th August 2018

The Wise Response AGM will be held in the Centre for Sustainability Seminar Room, Castle St,  Dunedin from 3.30 – 5.30pm, Tuesday 28th August 2018.

The committee can number up to 14 members, can co-opt and is currently:

Alan Mark (Chair), Bob Lloyd, Brian Turner, Donna Watson, Janet Stephenson, Jim Simpson, Jocelyn Harris, Liz Slooten, Mark Jackson, Nathan Surendran, Pat Scott, Philip Temple, Rob Lawson (Treasurer), Lisa Ellis, Dugald MacTavish (Secretary).


(a) Minutes of the previous Meeting
(b) Correspondence
(c) Chairperson’s report on the business of the Society
(d) Treasurer’s report on the Society’s finances and the Statement of Accounts
(e) Any Annual Plan (none)
(f) Election of Committee Members which will consist of between 4 and 14 members.
(g) Election of Officers (Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, Spokesperson and any other that the meeting decides)
(h) Fixing the annual subscription/donations (if any) for the ensuing year
(i) Confirming patron(s)
(j) Motions
(k) General business and programme for 2018/19

Wise Response 2018 ANNUAL REPORT



Wise Response Inc Submission to the Zero Carbon Bill, July 2018

Wise Response has released its submission to the Zero Carbon Bill.

It is available to download as a PDF (1MB) here: Wise Response Society Submission on the Zero Carbon Bill 19 July 2018 Final

We welcome comments on the submission. Please email these to secretary@wiseresponse.org.nz

Submissions to the Zero Carbon Act may be viewed here: Ministry for the Environment.


The Otago Daily Times have covered Climate Change and Wise Response’s position in their weekend magazine.




Dunedin Science Festival – Climate Change Forum

Climate change: Why, when and how do we respond?

Very brief introductions by experts from Otago University and Victoria University, including James Renwick, will be followed by discussion and questions from the audience.

We will discuss environmental, human health and social impacts of climate change, renewable energy, the pros and cons of offsetting, how much time, money and other resources should be spent on mitigation vs adaptation?

How prepared is Dunedin and Otago for Climate Change?


  • James Renwick: Climate change – see video here
  • Prof Bob Lloyd: Energy
  • Alex MacMillan: Health
  • Susan Walker: Biota
  • Lisa Ellis: Social – see video here
  • Associate Professor Janet Stephenson: Summary/Conclusion – see video here

Event will be held in the St David Lecture Theatre Complex, St David Street, University of Otago