Environmental policy: My view

As I type this article, I am reminded how much environmental news and policy is playing a role in my life at the moment. Sitting on the same desk as the computer being used to write this article, is a folder with course material for an environmental media monitoring assignment. Next to it is another folder on another course regarding the Resource Management Act and Local Government Act. Both are part of my Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management.

When I follow each election I think about all of the policy areas that I think are in the greatest need of change. The ideas I record are the result of my observations over the last three years since the previous election. They are also an attempt to record changes in my thinking to see if there are trends emerging, just as I am supposed to be doing in the current assignment for 72396: Environmental Perspectives and the Media, for the Open Polytechnic.

In the last three years, I have observed a growing intensity in the discourse about climate change. This has been amplified by a combination of both national and international events – the Paris Accord and the determination of nations to go ahead with it without the U.S., recognizing that the questions about how the climate is coping with man made emissions are too big to ignore; the realization that New Zealand emissions have continued to grow despite taking pledges like other nations to curb them.

The other major environmental concern that has bothered me is one that is much more obvious. The rate of resource consumption and the generation of waste has reached a tipping point where it is reasonable to believe that the economic and social well being of nations around the world, without regard to economic status will substantially – and possibly permanently – decline without substantial and sustained action. We see it in the huge amount of waste plastics and other materials being found in the oceans, the laissez faire approach to containing the radiation still leaking into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima.

Some of my views have not changed in three years, whilst others have taken substantially greater importance. In no particular order, I believe the following should be priority areas to tackle:

  • Our ecological foot print
  • Carbon emissions
  • The marine ecosystem
  • Fresh water resource
  • Electronic waste

A surprisingly large amount can actually be done on the basis of just a couple of broad policy changes:

  • A comprehensive recycling programme for electronics, plastics, aluminium, wood and paper
  • A change in land use patterns

The first one needs to be supported by city/district/regional councils and central Government alike. Voluntary participation by councils should not be an option – when I was a kid there used to be a council supported aluminium collection facility in a shopping mall carpark at the weekend, which was very well supported. What is so hard about restarting that? What is so hard about requiring every supermarket to have a plastic bag drop off facility and charge $1 a bag? Or simply ban them – whilst department stores such as Farmers, Briscoes and so forth definitely contribute to the plastic bag problem, I doubt the average person takes 5-6 bags at a time as they would from doing their weekly grocery shopping.

The second one is something that the central Government can give direction on, but which local councils with amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 and Local Government Act 2002 would need to take responsibility. Philosophical differences and concerns from private property owners are a certainty, but this does not need to be a draconian exercise.

If every large electricity user installed motion detectors in their buildings and set them to work between the hours of – say for arguments sake – 0700 and 1900, with an absence of motion turning the lights out, I believe the investments would pay for themselves with time. They would also serve a secondary purpose of reducing carbon emissions from coal/oil/gas fired power stations such as Huntly, Whiranaki and Otahuhu.

There are also significant alternative energy options available for New Zealand to explore. Many cities – Nelson, Christchurch, Blenheim, Tauranga – have good sunlight hours, and could therefore support or encourage solar energy, as the price of solar panels for this type of generation has fallen significantly. Tidal power is another if the problem of barnacles collecting on the turbine blades can be addressed – an estimated 8,800 megawatts of potential generating capacity, or roughly what we have now – is thought to exist in tidal energy.

The marine ecosystem is one where I believe New Zealand has an international obligation to introduce or – if such a treaty is already being drafted – support and assist an internationally binding agreement on steps taken to reduce waste in the oceans.

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