University readings resonating with life


I am currently studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma of Planning from Massey University. The Diploma which will take me two years to do part time has a core paper called Planning Theory, which I have to do. And as I work my way through the readings of the paper I have found that several of them resonate to varying degrees with life as we currently know it.

Take the paper Public participation in planning: An intellectual history by Marcus Lane (2005) which has a significant segment on Sherryl Arnstein’s 1969 paper called The Ladder of Participation as an example. Arnstein was a social worker somewhere in the United States, where she witnessed the effects of civil planning including the disconnect between planners and the communities their work impacted on. She describes an eight rung ladder which is a bit like the property ladder – the most disconnected are not even on the ladder. Of those who are, the ones on ladder rung no. 1, 2 and 3 are the most disadvantaged with those who choose to participate in the public planning process simply being manipulated by having the terms of their engagement controlled by authority. Those on rungs 4 and 5 are consulted about matters of the day, and might have input, but in reality it is but a token gesture. But the real power, which includes the ability to set down the rules of engagement, determine what subject matter shall be up for discussion and – not quite admitted to, but certainly implied – what happens to the public input after statutory consultation ends is reserved for those on rungs no. 7 and 8.

The ladder of public participation (Arnstein S., 1969)

I cannot help but wonder about how well Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation could describe New Zealand in 2019.

Lane (2005)also goes into depth about three planning models. The first, the blueprint model, which western countries have largely transited away from, but which many former Communist states are still beholden to are large scale, top down exercises. They were not as the former Soviet bloc nations found out in any respect designed for public input. This is consistent with positions 1, 2 and 3 on Arnstein’s ladder. No.’s 4 and 5 are best described by synoptic planning, where public input is tokenistic. Synoptic planning is subject to criticism – much justified – though it is still a potentially viable mode today because it allows some input, provides a means to address the issues and tries to address the problems that enter into all planning such as the trade off’s, actions taken and so forth.

Another one by Joe Painter (2006)examines the Prosaic geographies of stateness, in which he explores the mundane acts and processes of everyday life. Painter argues that the act of passing legislation in itself is not all that powerful. The power is in the actions of the agencies and individuals tasked with giving effect to it – the Police who decide whether to arrest a suspect and charge him/her; the nurse administering medication in a hospital or the doctor writing the script; the clerk who has to write the letter telling the owner of a property whose pool has no fence of their legal obligations and so on. It turns out that the mundane and the ordinary have more clout than one thinks by their collective and individual actions.

The theory of planning can at times be dry, but for one to understand how the bureaucrats we entrust with planning the use of our resources and amenities reach the decisions they do, we need to understand the nature of the profession they work in.

Reducing harm from waste: Product stewardship


Product stewardship is an environmental management strategy for a product through all stages of its life. From when it is designed, through its production to the end of its life, product stewardship requires all who are involved in the life cycle of a product to to take responsibility for its environmental impact.

A product stewardship scheme is being investigated by the Ministry for the Environment, which is now taking public submissions on the matter. Instead of using the linear economy model which promotes the current destructive and wasteful practices, the circular economy is viewed as a more responsible model. In a linear economy natural resources are taken from the ground, they are made into something in a factory, which is then used by humans before being disposed of. In a circular economy goods are manufactured, the consumer uses them before they get returned to the manufacturer. The manufacturer will then ensure that the valuable components such as wiring, microchips and so forth as well as valuable elements such as gold, copper, silver and palladium which make up the device can be extracted and reused.

This makes logical sense for a range of products that are either resource intensive to make. One such example is aluminium which requires a smelter. These typically require many megawatts of electricity to run so that the smelter pots can melt it. Recycled aluminium is much less energy intensive to melt down and can be reused many times over.

There are a range of environmental and economic benefits that have been identified by the Ministry. There is scope for significant technological innovation, development of new processes and improvements in efficiency that can be found.

It has taken awhile to get this far. The first serious move to address this growing problem was in 2008, when the then Fifth Labour Government introduced the Waste Minimisation Act 2008. It set its purpose down as thus:

The purpose of this Act is to encourage waste minimisation and a decrease in waste disposal in order to—

  •  protect the environment from harm; and
  • provide environmental, social, economic, and cultural benefits.

This seems a rather outdated purpose for the Act. Protecting the environment from harm is obvious, but it could have defined harm, which I have assumed to mean “harmful waste and waste making practices in the natural environment”. The second part is also quite vague and extremely broad. As with the previous part I have tried to be more specific and therefore clarify “environmental” as the natural as well the man made environments (urban areas, significant human activities); “social” as society wide in terms of health, education, and so forth. In terms of economic gains, I look at the potential for energy development, technological innovation and potential export opportunities – New Zealand prides itself on being clean and green but shows reluctance to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the more proper management of waste.

I hope that something serious comes of this. New Zealand cannot afford further dilly dallying on its environmental reputation. Tourists are starting to see us for what we are – a nice nation with a few dirty secrets – and they are saying so to their families and friends when they go home. If we want those people to come as visitors we need to do better. If we want “clean and green” to be honest, we need to do better. This is as good a place as any to start.

National Party reshuffle leaves its climate policy in neutral


Over the weekend, the weekend just gone, the National Party had their annual conference in Christchurch. It was – among other things – a chance for the rural and urban wings of the party to meet as one and see how they are (not)reconciling their differences over climate change.

Until now National Party M.P. Todd Muller (M.P. for Bay of Plenty) had been held the climate change portfolio. Mr Muller, who until today had been No. 31 on the party list, has had a promotion following the resignation of Nathan Guy (M.P. for Otaki), who is standing down at the 2020 election. As a result, but also partially out of dissatisfaction with the efforts to negotiate a deal with the Government on agricultural emissions, Mr Muller has lost the Climate Change portfolio.

The rural wing of the party, it would appear does not believe in climate change and does not want anything done on the issue. This will no doubt concern National Party leader Simon Bridges, who despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s tumble in the polls, is still a long way behind her. The need to keep the blue-green wing of the party on board at a time when the Government is trying to make significant inroads into the issue is critical in order to avoid National conceding seats at the 2020 election.

Scott Simpson (M.P. for Coromandel), takes his place as Climate Change spokesperson. Mr Simpson is not known to have the contacts Mr Muller did in the rural community. In 2017 he was appointed National’s spokesperson for the environment. In that capacity he has been critical of Minister for Environment Eugenie Sage, following revelations that 55 micron L.D.P.E. bags would only work 20 times or so instead of the recommended 55 times to pass the multi-use test.

Mr Simpson will need to move quickly on Climate Change whether he wants to or not. The Zero Carbon Bill, which addresses how the Government should try to reach our 2050 goal of being carbon neutral, closed for submissions on 16 July. National will need to achieve some sort of reconciliation soon between its rural and urban wings over climate change, lest New Zealand First whose membership has a significant rural component undermine their vote.

He will be further motivated by the fact that the Government, whilst on one hand is definitely forging ahead with climate policy, on the other is very definitely lacking ideas or a willingness to try anything radical. There are a number of steps that they could be taking fairly rapidly such as compulsorily recycling all aluminium, which is very energy intensive to manufacture at a smelter. There are also a number of longer term initiatives such as developing biofuel from the waste stream to power vehicles, using waste to energy plants to generate electricity and provide hot water to communities.

Can Mr Simpson be the successful bridge between the blue-greens and the rural wing of the National Party, or will he let the work started by Mr Muller slide in favour of other priorities?

 

Youth politicians the new big thing


As schools prepare for the start of a new term, teachers and students alike will be looking at the calendar and wondering when the next climate strike is going to fall. The protests which have been a rallying point for young people, too young to vote, have drawn both criticism and praise for what they are trying to achieve. And as their confidence at protesting grows, so it appears are the number of people who think that they should still be in school (despite the last two weeks being official holidays).

Youth politics and youth politicians are not new. Since about when I started voting there has been a Christchurch City Councillor named Yani Johanson. Cr. Johanson first started as a youth board member advocating for things like a new skateboarding rink for youths to take their wheels after complaints about their behaviour in public places. Another one who turned to politics early on was young Auckland lady Chloe Swarbrick who came into the public eye for trying to moderate an argument between a pair of fellow Mayoral candidates. A year later in 2017 she entered Parliament as one of New Zealand’s youngest ever Members of Parliament on the Green Party list.

New Zealand has a healthy – I will not say proud – reputation of having a Youth Parliament every two years, which debates issues important to them. They are school students with an interest in history, politics and current affairs who are selected by their local Member of Parliament to represent them in the Youth Parliament.

Thanks to social media, and politicians in Parliament and increasingly the large city councils recognizing the need to champion youth issues, youth politics and politicians are on the rise. At the up coming local government elections a 26 year old lady named Louise Hutt is standing for Mayor of Hamilton. A few years ago a young man named Sam Broughton took over the Mayoralty of Selwyn District in Canterbury.

Knowing that this is just the beginning it is time for society to acknowledge the following things:

  • The generation currently in high school and the generations that follow will have to deal with the effects of our hugely unsustainable appetite for resources and climate change
  • They understand that simply declaring emergencies will in itself not solve the problem – the idea is to raise awareness
  • Thanks to the social media we accuse them of being addicted to they are substantially more clued up to as to what is happening than we are willing to give them credit for

But some seem slow to get the message as those who challenged South Waikato District Council earlier this week found out. S.W.D.C., which has responsibility for an overwhelmingly rural part of Waikato, where the major industry is dairy farming, objected to the challenge lodged a climate change activist group dominantly populated by students and young people that it should declare a climate emergency. They were reacting to a challenge by Extinction Rebellion. One of the councillors even went so far as to call them terrorists.

Perhaps S.W.D.C. was more concerned about the elections looming large in a few months time and did not want to be seen to be turning against their rural mandate. Perhaps they have never considered climate change to be an issue that they need to deal with. Whatever their answer to the question of why they were so negative, it struck a jarring note when numerous other councils have been wanting to appear environmentally responsible and – even if they did not declare an emergency – acknowledge the concerns of young people.

It is time to acknowledge the rise of the youth politician because young people as politicians is a phenomena that is only going to grow in strength and popularity.

My submission on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill


The Climate Change (Zero Carbon)Bill has been receiving submissions from the public over the last few weeks on how it should tackle carbon. My submission below tackles some of the concerns that I have articulated over the last year or so about addressing climate change.

INTRODUCTION

I generally support the Climate Change (Zero Carbon Bill)on the understanding it is part of a substantially broader effort to address anthropogenic climate change. No one segment of the economy, government or society will be spared the effects in the worst case scenario. Therefore no part of these first three can ignore the probable impact on the environment that makes it possible for economy, society and government to exist.

Legislation, whilst useful, can be repealed or diluted. This is most likely to happen if it tries to achieve too much too soon. This Bill of Parliament in its final form will therefore need to be able to provide for encourage the use of common knowledge and science to help societal, economic and government sectors reduce their environmental footprint.

For example we know that aluminium is hugely energy intensive when being made in a smelter, but that recycled aluminium is not (1). Therefore a logical response should be to institute a recycling programme nation wide to cut down power generation.
We know that anthracite is the cleanest burning of the four coal types. Does it not therefore make sense to allow only anthracite to be burnt in coal burning utilities?
We know that in Denmark, regular waste is burnt to drive a turbine that supplies hot water to towns (2) – could such technology work here?

Other nations are experimenting with bio waste as a fuel source. Air New Zealand for example has been experimenting with biofuel as an alternative to the current aviation fuel (3). If we are to peacefully transition from fossil fuels to the future energy sources, we need to develop interim fuel sources. Local small scale variations such as using waste cooking oil/fat, which might be sustainable in large urban areas.

Sources:

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-benefits-of-aluminum-recycling-1204138
https://www.c40.org/case_studies/98-of-copenhagen-city-heating-supplied-by-waste-heat
https://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/press-release-2017-biofuel-rfi-update

RECOMMENDATIONS

I have broken my recommendations down into categories of urgency.

Break priorities into four or five categories urgency – e.g. IMMEDIATE, SHORT TERM, MID TERM, LONG TERM

In IMMEDIATE term put things like establishing aluminium and steel recycling programmes; changing types of coal being burnt

In SHORT term put things like local government plan changes; N.E.S.A.Q. changes if necessary, as they will need to have public input; an A.A. working group to look at necessary fuel standards for biofuel

In MID term look at things like establishing biofuel programme as an alternative to petroleum; changes to building code to provide for hempcrete, which is carbon friendly as it does not create as much carbon based gas as concrete manufacture does.

In LONG term, the eventual ending of fossil fuels, per the Zero Carbon legislation and the April 2018 announcement about the end of such fuels by 2050

Keep the Parliamentary review and inquiries and other legislative mechanisms to a minimum. Much of this is based on known technology and science developed and put into practice overseas. Legislation should be for filling in gaps where business, communities and planning practitioners cannot achieve goals on their own or within their collective means.