N.Z. in lock down: DAY 36


Yesterday was DAY 36 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

But the economic environment that we need to move into post-COVID19 is not the old unsustainable, throw-away, biota demolishing monster of old. Not if the human world is to avoid early demise caused by inane decisions being made by powerful forces in spite of all the technology, all the knowledge and know how to the contrary. No. If the human world is to continue to grow and enhance itself the human’s that make that world possible much change.

Everything is there, except the political willpower to make that change. But it does not need to be like that.

The change I envisage is something that is not at all new in terms of what I espouse. I have long been a fan of green technology and know how. Whether it is hempcrete to replace concrete because the latter has a massive carbon footprint; the development of hydrogen as a fuel source for vehicles; the extraction of gold, palladium and other valuable metals from e-waste for re-use, the future is green technology.

But it is not just technology, though sustained investment in that will be very useful. The economic recovery will need projects that can be started quickly and get lots of people back to work in a meaningful way. One such thing would be a complete overhaul of the insulation in New Zealand’s social housing stock, which would create a trade boom. The number of houses ready for use in that inventory is nowhere near adequate and so there is a need for new housing projects – Christchurch has an abandoned saleyard at Addington which have not been used for decades; and could accommodate dozens of one/two/three bedroom dwellings quite easily.

There are large scale planting projects that could be getting underway to replant poor quality land that is not practical for farming, building or grazing. To that end I support the Green Party request for $1 billion, which it proposes to use for a range of community funded initiatives. Native forests are very effective carbon sinks and suck up huge quantities, but without intervention to stop possums and other animals from destroying new plantings and stripping foliage, they might become net carbon emitters.

Some projects will be longer term and are quite ambitious. Which is why it is interesting to note the Green Party also has a plan for a $9 billion investment in the New Zealand railway network. In line with New Zealand’s commitment to dealing with climate change, the Greens intend to promote railways as an alternative to the heavy investment in motorways. New Zealand has 1,067mm track gauges, which are similar to some used in Japan for fast trains that can reach speeds of 160km/h. Whilst expensive, the speed of the trains would enable people and goods to reach places nearly twice as fast as a vehicle obeying the 100km/h speed limit.

But as I said at the start, this all comes down to will power. The money is there – the Government has an unprecedented license to spend at the moment. The projects are there and some are shovel ready, whilst others are probably no further than back of the envelope calculations that look promising, and still more are ones that should have been done yonks ago.

So, who is going to give the go-ahead for these projects to get started and get New Zealand back to work?

 

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 29


Yesterday was DAY 29 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

One of the most constant – and least surprising – conversations that is being had is about the effect of the lock down on the economy.

As a Christchurch lad who witnessed the devastation of the 04 September 2010 earthquake, along with the February 2011 and June 2011 aftershocks, I think I have an idea of what could constitute grim times. It is certainly true that the pandemic has not physically destroyed any buildings, but the number of businesses closing around Christchurch, the jarring uncertainty about whether they will reopen, the massive job losses that are occurring, certainly have brought on a feeling of deja vu about it all.

I have huge sympathy for the many many people who have lost jobs, who do not know if they will have a job to go back to when most of New Zealand goes back to work. I know that the socio-economic toll grows the longer we keep the country in lock down and I agree that we cannot stay in it forever.

But that is where the doom and gloom ends. I am optimistic about New Zealand coming thundering back from all of this. Will it happen overnight? No, but with no past experience on shutting a country down and restarting it again, it was never going to happen overnight.

I am optimistic because there is a massive, almost unparalleled opportunity for an economic revolution right now in New Zealand. Earlier this year I wrote consecutive blog articles about why neoliberalism is a massive, abject failure here and why we need to be rid of it. Here now is that perfect opportunity to do exactly that. But not only is there a unique opportunity to get rid of an economic model that has failed the vast majority of New Zealand, the potential model that could go in its place is even more thrilling.

So what is that model that could replace the failed neoliberal experiment?

The model I am calling for is a massive investment in skilled trades; niche industries backed by a complete overhaul of the New Zealand no. 8 wire model of research. It will be green, it will be designed by New Zealanders and it will work for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

We have hundreds of tradies in bad need of a steady work stream. One thing that could sort a significant number of them out is refurbishing all of the state house inventory so that they have 21st century standards of warmth and dryness. This will indirectly partially pay for itself by helping reduce the problems many New Zealanders have around asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Another one is seismic retrofitting large buildings in high seismic risk areas with shock absorbers so that the buildings can sway backwards and forth, whilst the absorbers take the seismic energy. With hundreds of buildings in the South and North Island in urgent need of this and no idea how long before the next big earthquake hits, this is a priority we should take note of.

But it is not just singular buildings or jobs for a couple of people per site that we need. New Zealand is critically behind on infrastructure. We need a comprehensive overhaul of our railway system; we could be building a hydrogen plant and investing in that instead of fossil fuel; maybe a hemp crete research facility to help cut the carbon emissions of the concrete industry, which I understand puts out about 8% of total carbon emissions.

Much of the knowledge for these ideas is already there. But is the political willpower to do something truly radical?

You tell me.

 

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 27


Yesterday was DAY 27 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

When I woke up yesterday morning and turn on my social media, my initial thoughts were to look for the latest controversy from United States President Donald Trump’s press conferences. Instead one of the first things that came up on Twitter was an article from well leftist blogger Martyn Bradbury (CitizenBomber). Mr Bradbury was trying to understand how the international oil market, which has slumped massively as a result of COVID19, could go into negative territory – i.e. be effectively worthless.

My reaction to this news was mixed. On one hand I thought no doubt there will be many relieved New Zealanders who hope that the costs will be matched to some extent by a significant drop in petrol and diesel prices here. With that, equally they will be hoping that the cost of transporting goods is reflected in a drop their prices upon arrival at their point of sale. Also happy, I imagine will be the environmental movement, who will be hoping that the inevitable revival is checked by a change in how New Zealanders get around.

On the other hand, despite those many people working in what the political left term a “sunset industry”, I could not help but feel sorry for the thousands of people who work in the immediate refinery and distribution parts of the industry. The industry will definitely try to mount a revival, but its greater challenge could be a long term one to see how willing it is to invest in biofuel and hydrogen research.

No doubt the petroleum industry would have been shocked by this historic low. One month in which the developed world and much of the developing world has effectively ground to a halt except for essential businesses will no doubt cause a major dip in profit margins. It is unlikely even if all developed nations started significantly scaling back their COVID19 containment measures tomorrow, that prices would recover for 18-24 months if not significantly longer. Many countries are now seeing literal air quality improvements from the absence of petroleum and diesel powered transport before their eyes – in Punjab, one can see the Himalaya’s for the first time in 30+ years; Los Angeles, long known for its smoggy skies will be enjoying its cleanest view of the San Bernadino mountains in a long time.

The greatest challenge will be political. The technological means to invest in hydrogen and biofuel research are already here. The challenge for politicians will be extricate themselves from big oil’s embrace and taking steps to ensure that the few silver linings of a crisis in world history that has otherwise been a monumental disaster, are not lost on us.

 

 

Rio Tinto decision full of dross


Several years ago, a company linked to the Tiwai Point smelter illegally dumped thousands of tonnes of dross at several sites across Southland, after going into liquidation. Last week flood waters invaded a paper mill in Gore, Southland, where a large portion of the dross had been dumped illegally several years ago. A decision had been reached to remove it, and then Rio Tinto, one of the key players reneged. Citing corporate poverty, they have threatened to shut down the smelter, if made to participate in the clean up. So how did it come to this?

What is dross and how did it come to be in Gore?

It is the solid body of impurities that solidifies. Dross forms on the surface of metals with a low melting point by way of the metal oxidising. It should not be confused with slag, which is the glass like by product left behind after metal has been separated from its raw ore.

10,000 tonnes was dumped in a short time frame says the Mayor of Gore District by the operators of Taha Asia Pacific. It is part of 22,000 tonnes that was deposited at sites around Southland. Dross is a category 6 substance used to create phosphate fertilizer. Shortly after

What was the problem?

The 10,000 tonnes of ouvea premix is located in the old paper mill on the bank of the Mataura River in the town of Gore. Ouvea premix, when mixed with water, reacts to form gaseous ammonia. The gas fumes are lethal at 500 particles per million (ppm). Flood waters reacting with ammonia would have created gas concentrations much higher than that. The Mataura River flooded on Wednesday last week in a substantial event that partially flooded the paper mill.

What needed to be done?

Following the floods, the message from the public to Gore District Council was get rid of it now. It cannot remain in a location now demonstrably exposed to flooding, and in old, poorly maintained mill buildings where exposure to water leakage may cause lesser concentrations of gaseous ammonia to happen.

What happened?

Gore District Council, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters and another unknown party agreed in a meeting that the dross needed to be removed. N.Z.A.S. said it would put up $1.75 million to assist with the removal.

But Rio Tinto who are the majority owner of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters vetoed the decision.

What has been the reaction?

The reaction to the Rio Tinto refusal has almost uniformly been one of outrage. From the Gore District Council which naturally wants to ensure that its ratepayers and the environment are not jeopardised to the Aluminium Council, which was at the meeting and backed the removal of the dross, there has been palpable fury. From Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office and that of the Minister for the Environment and the ordinary resident in Gore there has been fury.

People – Ministers and members of the public alike – are demanding Rio Tinto come to Gore and explain their stance. Thus far no word from Rio Tinto has been received. Social media are suggesting that Rio are holding New Zealand to ransom over the dross.

Minister for the Environment, David Parker is considering legal action against Rio Tinto. The company

Who are Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is a company that formed about 150 years ago and has turnover of about U.S.$40 billion per annum. It has a chequered record in terms of corporate responsibility despite claims to being a good corporate citizen, in that it has been accused of being complicit numerous human rights abuses and environmental negligence cases. Social activists have awarded it two Roger Awards for what they view as poor corporate conduct in New Zealand.

Are there side issues

One of the problems, which seems to be a recurring theme in New Zealand in terms of third party operators, is cowboy operators coming in, doing a dross job – for lack of a more literal description – taking the credit and disappearing. In this case Taha Asia Pacific, which had a contract with N.Z.A.S. to syphon off the dross and reprocess it to extract more aluminium for recycling at the main plant. The company’s owners were based in Bahrain. The company went into liquidation in 2016, costing 22 people their jobs.

This is where New Zealand’s regulatory system falls critically short in a number of areas.

  • The regulatory body is short on staff and resources;
  • The rate of investigation and trying of suspect cowboy operators is not flash;
  • The penalties (or lack of) and the imposition of them tell such operators that they can probably get away with it

Climate change lessons not for New Zealand students


A friend came to visit a few years ago and we went for a drive to the Waimakariri River, which was running high after heavy rain a few days earlier. When we got to the river, I thought we would go for a nature walk through a reserve on the banks of the river. I started talking to him about my interest in the river and the natural processes in it. My mate looked at me completely blank, and I asked him why. He had never done geography and by his own admission was completely ignorant of the river as a natural system.

Tonight, reading The Press whilst eating dinner, I was reminded about that conversation when I read about a climate change teaching resource for students. And I wondered how many actually understand physical geography, or have even heard of it. I then thought a bit more about the issue and came to the conclusion, that rather than teaching students about climate change, they should first know a bit about geography.

Geography is much more than just maps, which has come as a surprise to several of my non-geography minded mates. Maps are just the favoured way of displaying data temporally and spatially. It is spread across a broad range of sub topics – physical geography, human geography, political geography, to name just a few. In the case of physical geography, it can then be further divided into hydrology, climatology and geomorphology to look at physical processes affecting our water, climate and land. You can see in the Venn diagram below the interactions of processes in geography.

Source: Kansas State University

Once a student has done a bit of geography and gotten to know a bit about the planet they live on, about the human, natural, social and economic interactions that go on, they can tackle climate change. Certainly it is a subject that should not be ignored. But I am honestly not convinced that at high school level, that this should be taught. And certainly not with the doomsday tint that the subject seems to have taken on. Climate change might be one of the more potent ways in which a planet under huge and unsustainable stress from human resource consumption is showing that pain, but it is not the only symptom and nor should we treat it like that. Resource consumption in general has pushed the world into the Anthropocene, the geologic epoch whose record will show the full extent of the ecological assault taking place.

I expect that this will get some push back, particularly from students who might think people like me are part of the problem. So be it. To deal with this, one must view it as a whole, which students are not being currently encouraged to do. And which, over the course of 8 separate sessions, in class cannot be done sufficiently in depth.