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?



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.

Hybrid vs Electric car – New Zealand market warming up

When the Government announced in 2018 that New Zealand would give up oil and gas by 2050, many people, myself included tried to imagine what New Zealand’s vehicle fleet would look like then. Some of us might have envisaged huge plug in walls at supermarkets and service stations. Some might have thought about how the bulky power cords that exist in electric cars such as the B.M.W. i3 and whether people would be willing to drive around and find somewhere they could leave them on charge overnight.

Reality did not take long to bite. Many New Zealanders can only afford a second hand car that might cost N.Z.$15,000 or so, and might have several years of age. When petrol prices, registration and maintenance are factored in, even that becomes a challenge for a number of people. Because of that our car fleet is one of the oldest in the western world. Australia, for all its lack of action on climate change has forbidden a car to be older than 10 years, whereas Toyota Surf’s, Subaru Legacy’s and Ford Falcon’s from the mid 1990’s are still commonly seen on New Zealand’s roads.

Electric charging cars are being challenged by a surge in hybrid options, especially from Toyota, whose aim is to provide a hybrid option for every single vehicle type in its range by 2025. Toyota’s hybrid range thus far includes:

  • Camry (N.Z.$41,490)
  • Corolla (N.Z.$33,490)
  • RAV4 (N.Z.$47,990)
  • Prius
  • Yaris (to be confirmed)

The ones still to have hybrid options included are the 86, C-HR, Fortuner Highlander, Prado and Prado 200. Notably the newer additions to the New Zealand range have existed overseas for several years. Toyota announced in 2012 that it was going to introduce a RAV4 hybrid, whereas they have only just started to appear in New Zealand in recent months. The same company introduced a hybrid Yaris to the market the same year.

But the electric car market is fighting back. Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Tesla have all introduced models to the market. Depending on age of the vehicle model and the year when it was new, prices range from $8,000-$15,000 for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV at one end of the scale to $90,000+ for Tesla’s Model S. In fairness to electric cars, which have the perception of needing to be plugged in more frequently than perhaps they do, the longest range ones can go up to 540km in the case of the Tesla Model S. Other models are more restrictive and the shortest range ones might be best as urban area run-abouts.

It also has Government support on its side as petroleum and diesel vehicles are going to be phased out by 2050. And lofty as these plans might seem, if a bit of forward planning is done, there are also significant economic benefits from making the New Zealand private vehicle fleet more efficient. The question is, do the motoring lobby want to know?


New Zealand Zero Carbon Bill Passes

Poor David Seymour. Vehemently opposed to the Zero Carbon Bill, which passed through Parliament yesterday, and in complete denial that man made climate change is a thing, his existence in a Parliament that is slowly awakening to the monster we have unleashed, must be pretty depressing. Sure Mr Seymour can take credit for our attempt to tackle euthanasia, and he might support moves to address cannabis legalisation, but the failure to convince National to pull its support will be viewed as a substantial defeat for the right.

If we put David Seymour aside, this is a pretty encouraging outcome for New Zealand. National’s decision to support the Bill at the Third and final reading was a victory for bipartisan ship and needs to be acknowledged here. If elected Mr Bridges said that his government would make changes, which I expected. No law is perfect either in its design, or implementation. Joe Painter in his 2006 in his 2006 paper “Prosaic geographies of stateness” examined the mundane actions of the state employees who have to give effect to these regulations, such as the police officer who arrests a drunk smashing windows and support diversion, thereby avoiding a conviction. The offender has no criminal record, can still get a passport and hold down a job because those implementing law enforcement did not proceed further.

If we look at this in a climate change context, with our planet understood to be to be in a critical state, how strongly we enforce the regulatory regime will become a major issue. People we call bureaucrats in invisible offices allegedly shuffling paper are actually the ones trying to make sense of our international obligations, our domestic laws, the data being collected by institutions such as National Institute of Water and Atmospherics and trying to turn it into acceptable policy. I have concerns myself, which are quite different from those of National, but they are worthy of mention. I expect that if I entered a word search forĀ  terms such as “biofuel”, “hydrogen fuel cell” or “hybrid”, the results would not be flash. Not because those phrases do not exist – in some form they most probably do, but because they represent a significant departure from this Government’s understanding of what would constitute green technological investment. Context. Aside from the aversion to investing in new technology I have described elsewhere, practical details about how we are going to reconfigure the fuel and energy infrastructure, who will pay for the electrification.

Whilst there is encouragement to be drawn drawn this, there is a long road ahead with obstacles. They include major powers not coming to the party, domestic challenges and potential changes in the science.

David Seymour will be grumpy, as will conservative National members, but there are worse things than having flawed carbon legislation.

Extinction Rebellion protests not helpful

Yesterday 200 activists from Extinction Rebellion caused disruption in central Wellington. They occupied an A.N.Z. bank branch, blocked intersections and formed a group outside the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (M.B.I.E.). The protests which were part of a 60-city world wide disruption campaign were not well received by the Police, Prime Minister or members of the public.

Activism that is peaceful is perfectly fine and there are many examples of peaceful activism that have drawn impressive results. But activism where disruption involves illegal activity such as trespassing or causing nuisance, whilst gaining media attention, is not a great way to get public support.

Whilst being an activist myself, there is one thing I will not do except in exceptional circumstances: break New Zealand law.

The one instance where I believe breaking the law might be necessary is in the improbable – not impossible – event that indefinite martial law is declared or one of the core Acts of Parliament that form the basis of our constitutional framework is suspended. But as this is talking about the realms of the quite improbable, I see no need to break New Zealand law.

But to Extinction Rebellion an organization established to protest government policies that they say are leading humanity to its nadir, it is apparently okay.

The protests yesterday are not their first. A few weeks ago protesters aligned with Extinction Rebellion trespassed into the railway corridor in Christchurch to stop coal trains. In doing so they delayed the transit of four freight trains for several hours. In doing so they interfered with railway track that would have had to be checked over for potential damage before trains could be allowed to pass over it.

I said I am an activist, and I am. I have much time for peaceful activism and believe that there are stronger ways of getting messages across than participating in activity that disrupts for the sake of disrupting. Extinction Rebellion could have had a protest outside Kiwi Rail offices, or crowd funded an advert in the media or handed out flyers.

More surprising was the belief of some at the Amnesty International New Zealand office, that such disruption as that caused by the railway protest was okay. Based on what I have been told in the past, this stance sounded like a departure from their normal law abiding approach.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern correctly said that the A.N.Z. protesters were doing no one any favours. Disrupting a bank where people are trying to carry out their legitimate financial procedures is not likely to curry any favours with the New Zealand public, or the Police who probably thought they had better things they could have been doing.