The Minister for the Environment Replies....

Letter from the Minister

Letter to the Minister

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Quick comments on response from the Minister for the Environment:

 The response from the Minister for the Environment was the last to arrive.

As with the responses from the Minister of Energy and Science and the Minister of Education, no attempt is made to address my requests for specific scientific evidence justifying the evocation of certain images to portray the nature of energy and how Earth’s surface energy system works.

My hypothesis is that the evocation of current popular images confuses and may well be counter-productive to the communication of Climate Change issues. I believe there are more effective symbols* available to achieve key objectives and it is time for Governments and NGOs to invest in a complete review of images commonly evoked. Without sustainable images of energy humanity cannot exist.

Some may notice the Minister’s letter is in response to my letter of February 1, 2004. No such letter exists.

The Minister is responding to my letter of November 17, 2003. My sad (and expensive) experience is that such confusion seems typical of the department with dedicated workers being overworked, under-resourced, operating to impossible deadlines and having little time to reflect on the huge environmental issues they have to confront.

 The Minister states: The New Zealand Climate Change Office has undertaken extensive research over the past three years or so into how much people know about climate change.

She goes on to say: The design of the current Four Million Careful Owners climate change public awareness campaign ( is based on this research.

 I have forwarded the Climate Change Office a formal request to view the research. If it is extensive as claimed, it will supply the scientific evidence supporting their choice of symbols and strategy for communicating Climate Change issues and should provide answers to my questions.

I have been unable to find such scientific evidence from any other source. It could be the Climate Change Office research is of inestimable value and should be in the international public domain. Flawed images of energy have caused the collapse of major civilisations in the past.

Some of their research findings seem counter-intuitive to common sense too.

 In general I am keen to learn how the research delineated and clarified the two issues of what symbols New Zealand citizens are aware of and how do individuals respond at the primal level to the images the symbols* evoke.

 *At this point I should provide my definition of image. It is not as used by search engine link buttons (illustrations, photos and graphics) and is the definition Google provides:  

web Definition:

image - an iconic mental representation; "her imagination forced images upon her too awful to contemplate" - More definitions

The example given reveals the complex way we generate and experience images. It captures some of the tensions between voluntary and involuntary processes.

In other words, any symbol used to communicate an idea has the potential to become an image in a person’s mind. The symbol may be any form or media - word text, photos, film, cartoons, illustrations, sounds – anything that stimulates an image. As such, a symbol of any form can be equally potent in eliciting and reinforcing responses. When “energy experts” and climatologists dismiss a word or term as “just a phrase or metaphor” or “ just a handy term” they ignore the primal emotional response generated by the image. By contrast, the PR industry maintains a powerful focus on these primal responses as they shape most of our reactions.

 In particular I am very keen to see the evidence supporting the use of symbols such as:

 climate change (a process of change because of variations in seasonal, subterranean or solar activity versus Climate Change or the Human Effect – long-term changes to climate patterns because of the impact of human activities.)

 greenhouses (human structures designed to suppress air movement versus our atmosphere which facilitates air movement and thermal convection –a vital element in the communication of Climate Change issues.)

 Greenhouse Effect (rather than the less anthropocentric Atmospheric Effect)

 greenhouse gases (These evoke images of greenhouses rather than Warmer Trace Gases. Evoking the latter image has more direct associations with elements central to Climate Change issues i.e. trace gases are very potent and dominate thermal processes on the surface of our planet. My own informal surveys indicate our universities are producing engineering graduates who believe CO2 constitutes 3-5% of the atmosphere and business/marketing graduates who have never heard of our  “carbon footprint”. I expect The Climate Change Office research to confirm an extensive ignorance of the nature and potency of the Warmer Trace Gases.

 global warming (a healthy, life-sustaining process versus the Climate Change issue of Thermal Energy Build-up /the ambiguous Global Warming.)

 Ozone – or rather its omission. An educator recently informed me it is best to omit reference to ozone in communicating climate issues as it “complicates things too much”. This makes sense within the context of greenhouse models of atmospheric processes. The Climate Change Office research may provide the rationale for omitting reference to this extremely potent and vulnerable trace gas.

 Water – or rather its omission. The Climate Change Group education resource for all our primary schools asks, “Where do the most important greenhouse gases came from?” and discusses only carbon dioxide and methane. Its Website adds the trace gas, nitrous oxide: Greenhouse gases in our atmosphere (largely carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) trap warmth from the sun and make life on Earth possible. Without them, the surface of the planet would freeze.

The omission must be based on counter-intuitive evidence in that without water vapour Earth’s average surface temperature could well be over 20°C colder and its reaction to thermal changes is the most powerful and unpredictable. More important, atmospheric water symbols evoke potent imagery of weather and have profound links to the common experience.

Conserving energy = using less energy.The evocation of sustainable images of energy is vital if we are to understand how the climate works. The Climate Change Group defines conserving energy as using less energy.  This is a radically different definition to the one inherent in the Principle (law?) of the Conservation of Energy. The evidence for its use also seems counterintuitive to communication of the range of options available to us because of energy’s capacity to be transformed.

 Chapter Six of Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy –Land of the Lost Trace Gases - uses the Climate Change Office publications to present an alternative model of communicating how Earth’s surface energy system works. I employ simple circles to represent atoms (atmospheric masses) and waves symbols to represent energy in transit. My hypothesis is that these symbols evoke more accurate and sustainable images of atmospheric processes than does the use of symbols of greenhouses, sunrooms, cars with closed windows and sealed bottles.

The model is also outlined in a more conventional form at 

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The letter from the Minister...

Office of Hon Marian Hobbs

MP for Wellington Central
Minister for the Environment
Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control
Minister Responsible for Archives New Zealand
Minister Responsible for the National Library 
inister with Responsibility for Urban Affairs
Associate Minister for Biosecurity

Associate Minister of Education

Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

 -1 March 2004

 Dave McArthur

 Dear Dave

Thank you for your letter received on 3 February 2004.

The New Zealand Climate Change Office has undertaken extensive research over the past three years or so into how much people know about climate change as well as the measures they might adopt voluntarily or with encouragement to reduce greenhouse emissions. Measures identified include being more energy efficient and conserving energy.

The design of the current Four Million Careful Owners climate change public awareness campaign ( is based on this research – the campaign reiterates the message that people need to do their bit to reduce to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including conserving energy and being more energy efficient.

Thank you for your interest.

Yours sincerely

 Hon Marian L Hobbs

 Minister for the Environment.

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The Letter to the Minister...


Wellington 3


17th November 2003


The Minister for the Environment
Marian Hobbs

Dear Marian,

I, like you, believe the future of New Zealand is in having a scientifically literate population. If we are to enjoy the benefits of a Sustainable Knowledge Economy, I believe a major prerequisite is that New Zealand develop and maintain sustainable images of energy processes.

 The Ministry of the Environment uses and promotes of images that have profound implications for our world-view. My experience is that the use of these images is creating obstacles to the Government achieving its stated NEECS and Kyoto objectives.

 In my search for sustainable images I have asked a series of questions of the images your department uses and formed some generalised hypotheses on the basis of my research.

Could you please supply me with the scientific evidence underpinning your use of the following images of energy processes? The summary of the evidence I know of and some of my hypotheses that have evolved from it are in brackets after each question.

 ***What scientific evidence is there that the use of images of Earth’s atmosphere as a greenhouse effectively communicates atmospheric processes to the general population?

 (I know of no research and I hypothesise the use of the image Atmospheric Effect generates significantly fewer learning blocks than does the use of the image of Greenhouse Effects.)

 *** What scientific evidence is there that the use of images of Greenhouse Gases is more effective than the use of images of Warmer Trace Gases in communicating energy transformations in the atmosphere?

 (There is no evidence, as ‘Climate Change experts’ use no other term in public than Greenhouse Gases, despite many despairing at their ability to communicate to the general population the vital role of the Warmer Trace Gases and the potential of human activities to impact on their balances.)

 *** What research has been done on the impact of the use of Greenhouse images of atmospheric processes on the development of strategies for ameliorating the impact of human activity on Climate Change e.g. of use of air in insulation?

 (I know of no research and I hypothesise that the use of the Greenhouse image of the atmosphere suppresses the use of key images of the convection and conduction capacities of air.)

  On a related note:

 *** What scientific research has been done on the impact on levels of scientific knowledge in the general population by the use of the image that humans can conserve energy in their daily lives?

(I know of no research and hypothesise that the image of transformations within constancy inherent the Principle of the Conservation of Energy is a more sustaining image and is less vulnerable to Greenwash.)

 Note: I emphasise the phrase image use, as my experience is that our top ‘Climate Change experts’ and ‘Energy experts’ are so engrossed in the debate about the existence and extent of Climate Change they completely fail to register that I am not questioning the science in the debate but rather the science in the communication of the debate.

 Thank you for forwarding me your evidence. As a nation we are making very large investments on the basis of the images your department uses. It is vital we know the impact of these images on all levels of awareness, especially at primal levels.

 Yours truly

 Dave McArthur

 Energy is Eternal Delight -William Blake.
Join the journey of Bonus Joules at
(in search of a sustainable language of energy.)

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