An actual plan for dealing with climate change


The vision I have is a combination of reducing waste sources that are energy intensive or create significant carbon emissions, looking at environmentally sound alternative materials and applying some common sense law changes. I have opined and given these as examples in the past, but I have not tried to present an outline of how New Zealand might tackle the unsustainable manner in which we are living – until now. I write this to briefly examine some steps that New Zealand could be taking and the basis for those steps.

We use a wide range of minerals that appear on the Periodic Table of the Elements in manufacturing goods. Some are highly toxic and cannot be easily recycled or are being phased out. Others like aluminium however are growing considerably in both use and the amount being wasted. Aluminium stands out because it is hugely energy intensive to create one unit of it in a smelter – New Zealand’s Tiwai Point smelter for example has most of the output from Manapouri hydroelectric power station being directed to it. This is notable because recycling aluminium only requires a fraction of the power needed to manufacture a unit of it.

How much work would it take to re-establish a nation wide aluminium recycling programme at community level with drop off depots?

Many of the elements used in electronics and other everyday items are mined from countries that are quite politically unstable and have little regard for environmental law. As a result large tracts of forest are being wiped out with no rehabilitation, destroying vast tracts of the ecosystem and the habitats of flora and fauna. This destruction is releasing vast amounts of carbon based gas back into the atmosphere, whilst also affecting the native lands of indigenous peoples. Yet we wonder why there is conflict.

This is where e-waste recycling, known in the e-waste world as urban mining, has the potential to become very important. My research last year for Open Polytechnic of New Zealand found that 60 of the 118 elements of the Periodic Table were in use in electronic waste. 90,000 tons of e-waste is generated in New Zealand per annum, of which about 89,000 tons is not recycled. Yet the amount of copper, gold, silver and palladium that could be recovered is in commercial quantities and would go some way towards reducing the need for another ecology destroying mine – in New Zealand alone it is estimated that 600 kilogrammes of gold and 600 tons of copper could be recovered each year.

At the moment I am compiling responses from across New Zealand of city, district and regional councils to a set of questions I have e-mailed to them. When it is complete I will send the compiled document to the Minister for Environment to try to hasten a policy announcement on e-waste.

It is one of the most constructive materials ever conceived by man, but also one of the most damaging in terms of carbon based gas emissions. In 2015 about 4.20 billion tons of concrete was manufactured, compared with about 1.00 billion tons in 1960. Carbon dioxide emissions per annum from concrete manufacture make up about 8% of total emissions. New Zealand’s contribution is fairly minor (0.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, compared to about 702 million tons from China). Roughly half of the carbon dioxide emissions in the manufacture of concrete come from the chemical conversion of limestone to calcium oxide – emissions that will be impossible to avoid as long as we continue relying on calcinating limestone.

Hemp concrete is a material that has been tested by various researchers and has been found by the British Department of Business Innovation and Skills to actually store carbon. I am not sure what work has been done with hemp concrete in New Zealand, and it might not have a major impact on our overall carbon emissions, but here exists scope for New Zealand researchers to investigate further.

A few weeks ago I mentioned a suggestion that people will have to stop flying, in order to reduce the emissions caused by large scale consumption by airlines of aviation fuel. At the time I mentioned that an Air New Zealand study had been undertaken to see how planes could handle a biofuel blend. In 2009 a test flight was done. It was successful and the Boeing 747-400 aircraft used managed to complete all tests without a problem. In 2016, with no obvious attempt by the Government to establish a biofuel programme or support industry in doing so, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia decided to collaborate on a biofuel project, to examine whether or not biofuel can be produced locally, thereby lowering production costs whilst also creating jobs and reducing carbon emissions.

Biofuel is, as I have long suspected, been a potential alternative various fossil fuels. This now appears to include to the Jet-A1 fuel. The challenge will be finding out whether the jatropha seeds experiment of 2009 can be made successful or an alternative found.

 

A coming oil crunch?


It has been reported that United States President Donald Trump’s policy of preventing Iran from exporting oil to other countries may lead to an oil crunch. With several key Persian Gulf states not expecting to increase production to cover any shortfall, it is possible that a shortage of oil could take effect from any time after 01 May 2019.

So, what is causing the prospect of an oil crunch?

The United States has a hard line against Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro who is resisting calls to step aside. Mr Maduro is widely recognized as having caused the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, which now suffers frequent black outs, critical shortages of just about everything, hyper inflation among other effects. Mr Maduro accuses the United States of trying to topple the government and of being an imperialist state. This isĀ  despite the threat of severe sanctions being implemented. Those sanctions include punitive actions against countries that try to buy Venezuelan oil, in the knowledge that Mr Maduro’s government and military will probably squander any income generated. Sanctions of this nature will take effect on or immediately after 01 May 2019 according to United States National Security Advisor John Bolton.

The United States also has a hard line against the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Officially America is not calling for regime change, but its continuing tightening of sanctions on the Persian nation suggests otherwise. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that oil brings in U.S.$50 billion of revenue for Iran each year, which comes in large part from sales to China, South Korea and India and which are under pressure to cease buying Iranian oil.

How will it affect New Zealand?

It is too early yet to tell how the market will manage this. Other countries such as the United States and Russia may increase production to try to offset the shortage of Iranian oil and to stifle any global supply concerns. One suggestion is that Saudi Arabia may increase production to offset the loss of Iranian production, but the Saudi’s have said nothing about doing so. Other countries in the Middle East, such as Iraq and Turkey are less than enthusiastic. Iraq believes that Organization Petroleum Exporting Countries needs to make a group decision, whilst Turkey and Iran have been seeking to improve economic ties. Their non compliance may with U.S. sanctions may cause oil prices to become unsettled.

As for New Zealand, our oil prices are going to increase again. The vast bulk of our petroleum comes from overseas and historical records show that just a small drop can cause chaos. As for our vehicle fleet, its old age – 14.1 years was the average age in 2014 compared to 9.8 for Australia at the same time – and high number of used vehicles being imported mean our petrol and diesel consumption figures are not as good as they could be. Those with inefficient gas consumption will once again be starting to look at hybrids such as the Toyota Camry, Corolla and Prius. More environmentally conscious people wanting to change their cars might be looking at Nissan Leafs and other electric vehicles. Our politicians and commentators will once again debate the merits of a greener outlook, but as soon as prices drop, they will probably forget again.

Soaring road toll something New Zealanders need to own


At the weekend I read of another fatal crash. This one killed 8 people, including a couple that were supposed to be getting married in May. Coming just a few weeks after a Chinese family in a van were involved in an accident near Tekapo on a gravel road that killed five and injured another three, and with a single week long period in which 26 people were killed, it really is time to confront a sobering problem.

There are only so many excuses we can continue to make for our sky rocketing road toll. And it frustrates me to no end the amount of excuse making that goes on.

How about looking at the many people who do not drive with their lights on when it is raining? Why do so many people go through the red light at the intersection? Or let themselves be found on the wrong side of the road when going around tight bends – the speed signs as one approaches tight bends are there for a reason: its the safest speed it is designed for and if you find yourself on the other side the truck coming around the corner will not be able to stop in time.

It is time to own the fact that we are not great drivers my fellow Kiwi’s. It is time to accept that not all of those pesky tourists who come in from China and elsewhere, who we moan about not knowing the rules are no worse in many respects than us. In many cases, the tourists are politer.

Even if we took the steps that I recommend and made all tourists coming off long haul flights wait twelve hours to get their cars; even if we made them sit a theory test before they were allowed to hire a rental car, it does not change some very sobering facts. It does not change the fact that we do not require for example that all of our new imports have their lights set to turn on when the driver starts the engine – they do in Canada. Nor are our judges consistent in sentencing convicted offenders. This is illustrated by there being at least one offender in New Zealand who has been convicted of drunk driving at least 12 times and was still driving when he last appeared before a judge.

We as New Zealanders have the power to change all of this. We have the power to

  • demand stiffer sentencing;
  • demand that all cars come preset to have their headlights come on when the engine is started
  • Make all licenced drivers get vehicle insurance
  • Make fleeing police an instantly jail worthy offence
  • Require alcohol locks permanently for anyone who drinks, drives and causes death and/or injury as a result of that drunk driving

And there are other things we can do. Such as stop the blame game with tourists, who despite their numbers increasing by 30% in the 10 years to 2014 are involved or cause a declining percentage of crashes involving death and/or injury.

It is our road toll in our country. Lets stop the blame game and own it.

Especially as wild weather, which is another thing our drivers are not good at adapting to, moves up the country. Driving home from work today I went up State Highway 1 briefly and a road that normally has cars doing 80km/h was down to 65-70km/h because of the wind driven rain and crap visibility. Yet I still saw people with no lights on; people driving too fast.

And we wonder why our road toll is so bad.

New Zealand transport policy still favours roads


Five days a week I drive 6km from my home to my work near Christchurch Airport. Each time I approach the Harewood Road State Highway 1 intersection I am reminded what a road loving nation we are. And two facts about New Zealand transport are undeniable:

  • There are too many cars on the roads with only one person driving them.
  • Too much freight goes by truck.

However getting people to get out of their cars and take more appropriate transport is proving difficult. For example car pooling is something that can only be done at community level. Because of that it might only be successful at community level and organized on social networking sites like Neighbourly.

In Christchurch the geography of the city, even post earthquake supports buses, and a crude bike wheel (ring and spoke) model would be best. A central exchange like the one that currently exists should have an inner bus ring (currently lacking), and an outer ring (currently serviced by the Orbiter bus which runs at 10 minute intervals during daylight hours. Spokes spaced at regularly intervals around the compass connect the ring routes. The Christchurch model is trying to reconcile with the post earthquake changes to the bus network.

What might work in Christchurch I accept will not work everywhere. This is why Wellington has a regular commuter train service out to Porirua, Upper and Lower Hutt, as well as Waikanae, and its inner suburbs. But whilst Wellington is lucky enough to have a good railway network its bus services seem to be in need of an overhaul, if the political debate in the lead up to the 2019 local government elections are anything to go by.

Trucking is an obvious mode of transport on New Zealand roads. The rental car company I work for knows this well as we often have long haul drivers coming in to pick or drop off cars. But also there are New Zealand roads where trucks simply should not be, because those roads immediate physical environment does not and will not in the future permit their safe transit – the roads around Kaikoura are one such example. And this is where I think the merchant marine might be useful. For non-urgent freight that simply does not need to be on the road, send it by ship might be more cost efficient. This model might also enable a ferry network to operate along the South Island’s east coast – a regular ferry from Lyttelton to Wellington did indeed used to operate.

In those same nine years, there was an opportunity to tighten up the road code and safety regime for buses. It was not taken and now we are having cowboy companies driving dungers or overseas companies with no knowledge or experience of our roads and road code. Fixing these will help to give people confidence in the bus networks again.

National M.P. for Rangitata Andrew Falloon in a sponsored Facebook advert was promoting a four lane highway from Christchurch to Ashburton. When I challenged him, he pointed out that National had subsidized Kiwi Rail by $250 million per annum. What Mr Falloon did not say was that National chose to back diesel locomotives from China instead of working with Hillside workshops in Dunedin and others who might have been able to design locomotives for New Zealand conditions. I had also in the past heard of drivers on lines in the North Island being concerned that the level crossing alarms were not working properly and having to approach level crossings on sections of the track where the speed limit was much higher than what they were doing. Mr Falloon might have to have a look at the state of the railways post-National.

The Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges is claiming that National is environmentally responsible, yet he is promising to undo environmentally responsible things other parties have done. For example on one hand, yes, the Government has not properly thought through the oil and gas announcement. But here would have been a great opportunity for National to rip the rug from underneath them by announcing a nationwide biofuel programme that would:

  1. Create jobs in a sector not really understood
  2. Justify a suitably bigger investment in research to understand whether the N.Z. vehicle fleet is ready
  3. Show some environmental credentials by reducing the carbon emissions

The resistance to biofuels probably does not come from politicians so much as from petroleum companies, upset that their business model is no longer fit for purpose and trying desperately to stave off anything that end it. If a suitable blend can be developed the waste stream in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland might be able to sustain it.

I am however waiting, like much of New Zealand for substantive policy announcements on these issues by the Minister for Transport Phil Twyford. No timetable has been set, and maybe in that time, tired of a lack of direction New Zealanders might realize we need to own the problem.

Can we still address poverty in New Zealand?


New Zealand has just ruled out one of the best measures for helping to address poverty. Is it still possible to do so?

Good question and one that irrespective of governing coalition, New Zealand must try to. The country that likes to think it is egalitarian and that the spirit of giving people a fair go is alive, has no choice if it wishes to reasonably continue thinking this.

It is a question that will rankle the supporters of the Labour-led Government of Jacinda Ardern. It will rankle many of them because the C.G.T. to many was a fundamental part of any policy platform for dealing with poverty. It would appear New Zealand wants to address poverty, but is absolutely loathe to introduce any sort of measure that check the unsustainable wealth accumulation by the top 5-10% of income earners. So, to cut to the chase, what are the options?

Is New Zealand even agreed on a definition of poverty?

To me poverty is the inability to afford and access the essentials for a life of dignity. What is life if it cannot be lived in a state of dignity where a human being is not degraded? To me, nothing. It is when one is unable to afford basic medical care, shelter, food, transport and education.

In one respect New Zealand is making progress, in that we are enacting a progressive increase in the minimum wage. It rose last year from $15.25/hr to $16.50/hr; from 1 April this year to $17.70/hr; from 1 April next year to $18.90/hr; from 1 April 2021 to $20/hr.

One thing New Zealand can do is ensure that the benefits administered by the Ministry of Social Development are fixed to a Consumer Price Index or other appropriate measure, and adjusted annually on 1 April each year. The rules for administering the schedule of benefits should be reviewed at the same time.

New Zealand can also try to implement the nearly 100 other recommendations that were made by the tax working group.

I still believe though that New Zealand should broaden its income tax regime. Currently the brackets sit at:

  • 10.5% for income up to $14,000
  • 17.5% for income between $14,000-$48,000
  • 30.0% for income between $48,000-$70,000
  • 33.0% for income above $70,000

A top tax rate of say 37.5% could take effect on incomes over $250,000 per annum, whilst the others are more evenly spread instead of a tight range covering just $56,000 between the end of the lowest bracket and the start of the highest.

No mention in the T.W.G. report appears to have been made of a luxury goods tax. Some might call it a jealousy tax. I disagree as it would be on assets that probably out of the reasonable reach of 95-99% of the worlds population. How would it be implemented and at what financial value does something become a luxury good? To be clear to me a luxury good is something that is surplus to the reasonable maintenance of life, and purchased simply because the buyer wants it for reasons of prestige and can afford it. As for what passes as a luxury asset, it would be any car, property, jewellery, aircraft, helicopter, rare items such as art works, other collectables. One can discuss valuations at which such assets can be defined as luxury goods upon inspection, however I think the following could be a good start (and exclude family homes, immediate business assets):

  • vehicles worth $250,000+;
  • yachts worth $1 million+
  • property other than the family home worth $1 million+
  • any helicopters, private jets