The Minister of Agriculture is afraid that he is unable to further respond to my letters in this matter and no further correspondence will be entered into.
All I asked the Minister for is the information his officials have been unable to give me. What evidence do they have that all enteric methane alters the composition of the atmosphere in a way that could contribute to global warming?
The first letter I wrote to him asking for this information he did respond to, he replied that methane levels in the atmosphere had increased since pre industrial times and that livestock numbers had increased too, so that proved that livestock were increasing the concentration of methane in the atmosphere. I replied to him that there had been a lot of fossil sourced methane released into the atmosphere since 1700AD and that the evidence he was offering was not only questionable but only circumstantial. I also pointed out to him that methane levels in the atmosphere were not an indication of very much at all because not much is known about why methane levels increase some years and decrease in others. The sources and sinks are not well understood and the effect on atmospheric methane of enteric methane is not known at all. If he wanted to use atmospheric levels of methane as his only evidence then he had to explain how global consumption of meat and dairy products has doubled in the last 30 years with little or no effect on atmospheric methane levels. In fact during recent times methane concentration has decreased up until last year when there was a small increase.
If agriculture was having the effect the Government and Fonterra and Dairy NZ and NIWA and Agresearch and Landcareresearch and others are saying it does, then one would not expect methane levels to decline, as it has in some years recently, while agricultural output of meat and dairy products was rapidly increasing.
The reality is that methane levels are influenced by many things and not very much is known about it. This means it is highly questionable for the Government and Fonterra and Dairy NZ and NIWA and Agresearch and Landcareresearch to use this as the only evidence they have that enteric methane contributes to global warming.
So I think it is reasonable for these organisations to supply any other real evidence they have to back up their claims. They should all put up or shut up, especially Fonterra and Dairy NZ whose behaviour over this global warming saga has been traitorous to say the least. The fact is they do not have any evidence whatsoever that all enteric methane alters the composition of the atmosphere in such a way that it could cause global warming. And until they do have that evidence (which unlike proving or disproving anthropogenic global warming) is relatively easy to obtain with some controlled atmospheric research, they should stop making the claims. So I pursued Mr Carter to put up or shut up.
I put it more politely than that; this is the letter I wrote to Mr Carter following his reply
Dear Mr Carter
Thank you for your undated response to my letter of the 2nd December 2009.
My correspondence to you has been for the purpose of extracting information that your Ministry officials have been unable to give me. The Ministry of Agriculture claim that all enteric methane contributes to global warming. We believe they are incorrect and information we have from NIWA’s Keith Lassey confirming that steady state emissions of methane do not contribute to an increase in the methane concentration in the atmosphere confirm this. For an activity to contribute to global warming it has to alter the composition of the atmosphere by increasing the concentration of a greenhouse gas. That is the official definition of climate change from the UNFCC.
Your Ministry told us that all enteric methane caused warming because it replaced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that methane had a greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. All this is irrelevant because it does not explain how the activity of an animal belching increases the concentration of methane, in other words alters the composition of the atmosphere. This is because if the production of that methane is from a steady state source, which is most of New Zealand’s enteric methane, it simply replenishes continually depleting stocks in the atmosphere; it does not increase them and therefore can not contribute to global warming.
It is your Ministry that is making these claims about all enteric methane and my correspondence with you has been to obtain the empirical evidence that supports the claim. Atmospheric levels of methane pre 1700 AD and post are evidence of nothing because a lot of fossil sourced methane has been released in that time. Not much is known about what effect methane sources have on the atmospheric concentrations and the fact that methane concentrations have declined up until last year despite increases in many sources, demonstrates that it is not as straight forward as your Ministry claims. The conclusions you draw about my beliefs regarding ruminant numbers and methane levels are incorrect and you may wish to reread my previous letter. My belief, as is Keith Lassey’s , is that a constant supply of methane from a constant number of ruminants does not contribute to an increase in atmospheric levels of methane and therefore it can not contribute to global warming. Most of our enteric methane is from a constant source. The scientists and officials that you say I have frequently contacted have not been able to provide the empirical evidence I seek, and despite writing two letters to me neither have you.
By not providing this empirical evidence and by refusing to correspond further a cynical conclusion, but the only reasonable conclusion one can draw, would be that you do not have this information either. If this is the case claims made by your Ministry can not be justified and you are now aware of this. You are also now aware that the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money could be being wasted by expenditure on researching mitigation options which may not be necessary. Research that seeks the empirical evidence that you and your officials are unable to provide me with would be a prudent first step before committing so much taxpayer’s money. You are now aware of this and of our grave concerns at the misrepresentation by your Ministry of the role enteric methane plays in global warming. Whether you wish to correspond or not does not change the fact that you are now aware that claims made by your Ministry are unfounded and that serious costs and other implications are resulting from this.
If you do wish to correspond we seek from you either the empirical evidence that all enteric methane alters the composition of the atmosphere or an admission that you do not have this information. Atmospheric levels of methane increasing since 1700AD are not sufficient evidence for reasons I have already mentioned. If we do not receive either of these two responses we will conclude that this evidence does not exist and will proceed on this basis.
The Minister did respond but it was only by sending another copy of the undated letter he sent me previously. Although this time he dated it. He did not address the questions I raised and by doing this he is as good as saying he does not have the information. The reason he does not have it is that it does not exist. That is why his officials have been ducking and diving for months now to try and avoid answering the questions I have put to them. They even lied in their responses rather than admit they were wrong. Despite this the Ministry persists making these false claims, The Minister and his Government persist with their policies to unjustly levy money on farmers and to commit taxpayers to unwarranted expense.
I have the same question in to Dr Smith and so it will be interesting to see what he says. He has previously stated that the reason all enteric methane caused warming is because it replaced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that methane had a greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. As I have pointed out to him and a number of people now, this does not explain how steady state emissions contribute to global warming because the concentration of methane in the atmosphere does not increase. He has now stopped using that explanation and replaced it with the reasoning that methane levels have increased in the atmosphere since 1700 and so have livestock numbers so therefore all enteric methane must cause global warming. We have expressed to him our thoughts that evidence of this nature is rather insufficient to base major Government policy on. We have asked him for either the empirical evidence that proves his Government’s claims about enteric methane or if that does not exist the methodology that is used that explains how an animal belching alters the composition of the atmosphere by increasing the amount of methane in it.
I will let you know what he says.