Antarctica’s geopolitical storm: With New Zealand in the eye


New Zealand is a critical jump off point for nations sending supplies, personnel to Antarctic research facilities. Christchurch International Airport hosts the New Zealand and American Antarctic operations. It is an ideal location as one of the closest airports in the Southern Hemisphere able to land Antarctic bound aircraft with the American McMurdo base near to the New Zealand Scott Base, named after British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who died in an ill fated expedition to beat Norwegian explorer Roald Amunsden to the South Pole in 1912.

With oil and mineral resources on the wane in some parts of the world, nations are starting to eye up Antarctica. Exploration has not yet shown what minerals or energy sources exist down there, but the untapped reserves are thought to be considerable. With the potential for a minerals race in which nations try to find a way around the legal and physical hurdles, a very real thing, it the last geographic bastion free from economic development may be in jeopardy.

Nations such as China are becoming interested in what exists down there. China has no claim to the ice and no national presence in the way that New Zealand or the United States have, but that has not stopped significant interest being expressed.

New Zealand’s Ross Sea Dependency is about to have its sovereignty tested. With more international interest in the area, the potential for finding ships that have no good reason to be in those waters is going to increase. With that comes the potential for conflict. Thousands of kilometres away from civilization and in some of the coldest, most hostile waters in the world Royal New Zealand Navy frigates might find themselves confronting ships from bigger, more aggressive powers who have not the same regard as we do for the rule of international law.

How would we react? Would we escort them out of the area? Arrest them? Open fire?

The Ross Sea has a range of important marine species in its waters, some of which are in serious decline elsewhere. Opening up Antarctica would potentially threaten them.

But there also exists the potential for a major environmental disaster. Aside from many nations not having the same regard for the Antarctic environment that New Zealand does, many are also less prepared for dealing with the stark environmental challenges of doing anything at all down there. If, for example there was a major oil or fuel leak from a ship or rig or other facility somewhere, it could be days before any ships could reach it, days before anyone could know the actual nature and extent of the emergency, during which time, the ability to control the damage would have significantly decreased.

We might be a small, peaceful nation trying to make our way responsibly in this world, and well done for doing so, but we need to have an honest conversation about our role in looking after Antarctica. One that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Getting ready for the Alpine Fault


It is New Zealand’s biggest seismic hazard, short of a Hikurangi Trench subduction zone rupture. The Alpine Fault earthquake that is expected to occur in the next 50-100 years has been well publicized. But how much are communities close to the fault doing to prepare for a magnitude 8.0+ earthquake?

The Alpine Fault, New Zealand’s answer to the well known San Andreas Fault in California, is the tectonic plate boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate where they intersect in the South Island. Every 300 years or so this fault line ruptures in a magnitude 8 earthquake. A sequence of 24 events over the last 8,000 years points to earthquakes in 1100AD, 1450AD, 1620AD and finally around 1717AD,

No part of the South Island will be spared prolonged shaking. Many people, especially i in the lower North Island, will also notice the earthquake. Shaking intensities along the rupturing segment of fault are likely to be up to MMX, which is strong enough to heavily  damage all structures, with many failing and large objects such as televisions and microwaves being moved about. Liquefaction, lateral spreading, landslides and seiching of lake bodies will occur as well.

Alpine Fault Magnitude 8 is a collaborative and ongoing project to improve the readiness of councils across the South Island in terms of their ability to respond to such an event. It has buy in from emergency services, Civil Defence, social groups, the N.Z.D.F., agencies working with lifeline infrastructure and others. The aim is to improve modelling of the potential hazard, engage emergency management and planning experts and use the knowledge gleaned to fill gaps about how to respond.

I anticipate that much of the work that has been done will have been brought into sharp focus by the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016. This was the largest onshore earthquake to hit New Zealand since Murchison in 1929. It caused widespread damage across the northern South Island and lower North Island. The quake exposed weaknesses in transport arrangements with both the railway line and State Highway 1 closed – traffic had to be rerouted through the Lewis Pass in order to reach Picton.

Despite the Kaikoura earthquake and lingering shadow of the Christchurch earthquake, not all councils appear keen to progress their disaster planning. Westland District Council found itself in hot water in 2016 for rejecting Plan Change 7, which sought to address the planning issues that Franz Josef township finds itself confronting. The township straddles the Alpine Fault, which is clearly visible from the air as a crude gash in the landscape. Critics pointed out that the council has a duty of care to all in the District and that by failing to address the risks posed, it leaves itself open to court action by anyone in the District at the time of such an earthquake.

Yet the risk remains. Other councils are pressing ahead with their own plans individually, to be fed into the overall A.F.8. planning framework. It is a proactive council that stands the best chance of success, for no one knows when 300 years of seismic stress on the Alpine Fault will give up the ghost. The only certainty is that with the same confidence that darkness will come into a room when the light goes out, one can conclude it is inevitable.

Time for a petrol price inquiry


I have read of petrol reaching another all time high price in New Zealand today. This is on a commodity that in December 2017 New Zealanders were paying one of the highest pre-tax (i.e before tax added) prices in the world for. Due to some countries like the Netherlands having substantially higher taxes on fuel than New Zealand, we come in about mid field in the O.E.C.D. for total price after tax paid.

Do we need a goods and services tax (G.S.T.)on petroleum and diesel? I am not sure of the answer to that. The Automobile Association New Zealand has long called for a removal of G.S.T. on fuel, and says that it would lower petrol prices by 10c/L, and reduce pressure on already pressurized budgets.

Sure there is a petrol tax coming and petroleum companies do not want to have dollars shaved off their profit, but since when was that new? Sure the Middle East looks dicey at the moment – but that is the way it has been for most of the last decade. Sure there are costs incurred in refining product and getting it to the market, but again, that is the way it has been for yonks.

Basically it is theft and New Zealanders are blindly thinking “she’ll come right” eventually.

Well, no. It will not come right unless we kick this mentality that has cost us much as a nation, and is set to cost quite a bit more before long, to the curb. This notion that somehow the market will correct things and petroleum prices will come down is stuffed.

So, who is going to petition the Minister for Energy, Dr Megan Woods about the disgusting theft that petroleum companies are getting away with? There is no justification for any of the companies whose global parents hundred hundreds of billions of dollars (U.S.)per annum and are comparable in some cases to G.D.P.’s twice as big as New Zealand to not pay tax in full and on time.

Exxon Mobil NZ in 2017 made N.Z.$143 million profit, up 57% on the previous year. In the same year B.P. New Zealand increased its profit 65% to N.Z.$243 million and Z Energy increased their profit in the same time to N.Z.$263 million

It would cost me $100.80 to filll a 1.4 litre Hyundai Getz from completely empty at $2.24/L. A 3.0L Toyota Surf would cost $89.05 to fill its 65L tank with diesel at $1.37/L.

Yes, we need to be cutting down on carbon emissions, but until there is a serious uptake in electric cars, which still have a number of barriers in the way and hybrids, New Zealand is not going to make inroads on its Paris Accord obligations. But to get there, those vehicles must first become more affordable. Right now a hybrid or electric vehicle is simply not in the budgetary of many New Zealanders.

Greens move on tyre waste, announce plans for other waste types


The Green Party Annual Conference has wound up, with the party taking steps to keep both the social wing and the environmental wing of the party happy. In a weekend where the party had to address significant concerns arising out of the mess left by Metiria Turei’s departure in 2017, a back to basics approach was announced. It would see the party return to dealing with its core issues, whilst enjoying the fruits of some significant policy wins.

In keeping with their back to basics theme, the Green Party announced moves against waste tyre dumps in New Zealand. The problem, which in June 2017 saw an announcement of investment in a tyre processing facility, is one that New Zealand has been lagging behind other countries on for awhile.

It is not the only significant announcement that was made on waste, which I personally believe rivals climate change in potential severity if not addressed, but also in terms of opportunities for clean tech and new research. It was also announced that a waste stewardship programme would be designed for a range of waste types including tyres, lithium batteries, agri-chemicals and synthetic greenhouse gases.

All of this is well and good, but a much more wide ranging approach is needed for waste across the board. Whether it is common waste such as paper, plastic, wood, glass, or more problematic waste such as chemicals, waste fuel by products, electronic waste or otherwise, a comprehensive plan is needed. I believe a national policy statement on waste management, backed by appropriate rules and objectives. Councils need to introduce bylaws that are specific to their area, and compliant with any eventual policy statement.

Mayors of city and district councils around New Zealand have registered their support for increasing the fee for dumping rubbish at landfills from $10 to $40. The only problem I have here is that this then increases the risk of illegal dumping by the few that refuse to comply with local bylaws pertaining to waste, so I wonder if that means their councils would then be prepared to more aggressively pursue those who dump wherever they can instead of using their council bins.

Maybe this will come out over the next few months with regards to waste. I certainly hope so. New Zealand needs to reduce its waste footprint in order to maintain our current environment and improve our environmental standards in the long term. The growing realization that reducing waste can involve job creation should help to soothe the fears of those who think that the ever suffering rate/taxpayer will be further encumbered with costs that they can ill afford it.

A bigger question is how willingly will consumer and industrial advocates come on board and realize it is not all a Green conspiracy against their agenda’s and profits.

 

 

 

 

Banning plastic bags tackles small part of a big problem


Yesterday the Government announced that New Zealand would phase out plastic bags within 12 months. The announcement, which was made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage comes amid a growing backlash against single use plastics.

The announcement, whilst welcome is in some respects more of a feel good measure. Whilst single use plastic bags are a very visible part of the plastics problem in New Zealand, in terms of the larger waste issue, plastic bags are a relative minor issue. Paper, glass, wood, materials such as polystyrene and so forth will continue to get dumped in landfills or recycled at negligible rates. Electronic waste will continue to go into landfills at between 72,000 and 85,000 tons per annum with only 1% of that being recycled.

The announcement did not escape criticism. David Seymour, Leader of the A.C.T. Party said it would punish consumers who find the bags easy and convenient. He also attacked the lack of science qualifications held by Green Party Members of Parliament. Nor did it escape criticism from the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges who likened it to low hanging fruit and that no real gains would be made. Mr Bridges claimed that the Government had bigger problems on its hands and needed to address what he called “plummeting business confidence”.

Both of these criticisms come from desperate politicians wanting to undermine something that they know will be well received by the public of New Zealand. Much has been made of the growing number of seabirds, fish and other marine life being found to have died from consuming plastics that their bodies are not able to digest. One also cannot ignore the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the central part of the northern Pacific that has an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in it. That is about 680 pieces of plastic for every single human being on the planet.

I doubt that, despite the incoming ban, plastic bags will actually be fully phased out. Several questions need to be asked – and answered about this:

  1. How will the Government deal with imported products that come in plastic bags – last time I got an electrical device there were about three small plastic bags each with a component relevant to the device. They were single use bags in that once opened there was no further use for the plastic.
  2. Will there remain drop off bins after the ban takes effect for those who have stockpiles of plastic bags? I suspect that there will always be a small number of plastic bags retained by New Zealanders and there will be people all over the country with a cupboard holding a few, just as my parents have.
  3. Businesses seem to be enthusiastic about the ban, but there will always be a few that are non-compliant. Will the Government enforce the ban somehow?

All in all, a nice feel good ban. Greenpeace and the other environmental N.G.O.’s might be happy, but the war on waste has a long way to go before it reaches anything approaching a successful conclusion.