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.

The awareness of climate change is here. Now who does the planning?


This is an acknowledgement of Greta Thunberg’s climate change protest movement. It is also an acknowledgement that simply willing her and her movement to shut up and go away is simply not going to happen and – despite my reservations about how New Zealand is/is not tackling climate change – it would be a bad thing for youth if it did.

Ms Thunberg and those helping make her campaign possible have done an A+ job of mobilizing the youth of the world along with a lot of adults. The young Pakistani lady Malala inspired human rights activists, but Malala did not succeed in a large scale mobilization of youth despite being only a similar age to Ms Thunberg when she was shot.

Ms Thunberg’s job is not finished. Not by a long shot. Now that the protesters are mobilized, the challenge will be to keep going and convince the politicians that this is an issue that we are running out of time to make a meaningful attempt at resolving.

But now that the activists are mobilized and demanding change, there is a major question looming on the horizon. It is one that I honestly do not think policy makers, analysts or the sectors that are going to be affected by the change being demanded have addressed. In fact I wonder how many of them have even thought about it?

Who is going to do the planning? Who is going to work out all of the areas that are going to be affected and establish meaningful contact with the leaders in those sectors?

Do they even know how to start? Maybe, maybe not. So here is a suggestion on what they do, except I expect it to be much more advanced planning than the brief S.W.O.T. analysis I have done below:

STRENGTH

  • More than just an environmental gain to be had
  • Social justice and better equality
  • Economic gains

WEAKNESS

  • Partisan politics
  • Divisive individual voices
  • Little thought currently been given to associated planning matters
  • Passing legislation and enacting it takes time
  • Lack of long term vision

OPPORTUNITY

  • Green tech
  • Not all solutions have to complex or costly
  • Opportunities for significant job creation
  • Biofuel industry?

THREAT

  • Conservative denialism
  • Anti-science and anti-technology agendas on the left
  • N.I.M.B.Y.’ism from some environmentalists for certain infrastructure
  • Political corruption
  • Lack of trust in data

A plethora of questions can arise out of this, such as (but definitely not limited to):

  1. How will we go aboutĀ  establishing steering groups to manage different aspects of the planning – I see one for the social planning such as getting schools, hospitals and essential services off oil and gas, one for the broader economy, one for industry, one for law makers, a third for public input; who will oversee these individual groups.
  2. What time table are we going to working towards – the 2030 time frame by which it will be too late or the 2050 timetable for getting New Zealand off oil and gas?
  3. Who will work with individual sectors to identify their needs and help develop work around’s that are acceptable to government policy?

I wish Ms Thunberg and her campaign all the best, but I hope that the adults will talk to the protesters in good time about the need for a multi-partisan response. I hope that they talk about the compromises needing to be made. I hope that it is made known that the same science that is showing such alarming carbon readings can be the basis for some great social, environmental, economic and technological outcomes.

But to do that, we have to have a blue print of how to go forward.

And right now we have nothing.

The need to keep National on board with climate change


Every nine years (the average for the last 30 years)there is a change in Government. With it there is the inevitable change in policy focus, emphasis on what is important, what will become – in the words of former Treasurer and Prime Minister Bill English “nice to haves”. Some fields of policy that needed further progress will stall, whilst other areas of importance will get more focus on them.

In the case of National, there is the sure fire certainty that a new National led Government will have a strong economic focus. Just as we would expect Labour to focus more on social issues and the Greens on the environment, we should know to expect by now that National will have an economic focus whether we like it or not.

One catch is recognizing that an M.M.P. environment requires compromise. In an M.M.P. environment you need allies in Parliament. These are parties that will become potential coalition partners. As such National is unlikely to want to dispense of A.C.T. and therefore there will always be an element of outright denialism in any government that forms. The only way to get rid of it would be to persuade Epsom voters that A.C.T. is a liability.

The same environment that stops fringe parties hijacking the discourse is the same one that is discouraging, with the aid of a lingering “Think Big” hangover, really visionary policy making. New Zealand has shown a real adversity since the late 1980’s to introducing really forward looking policy and the matching steps to make it happen. We need visionary policy with those matching steps if we are going to tackle the environmental monster being unleashed.

This is not to say I support National. I do not. But National is not as far on board with climate policy as people would like to think and this is showing in the announcements being made by its leader Simon Bridges. It is showing in the rhetoric coming from some Members of Parliament like Matt King who believes that the whole thing is a green conspiracy. Farmers who make substantial contributions to the economy through dairy, meat and wool product are largely National supporters. National is not going to come on board without some concessions regarding economic growth, which I believe would probably include slowing down the timetable for phasing out emissions. There will be concessions on transport and/or farming and/or industrial emissions.

But this is not to say that all is lost and that we should give up now. We should not – I have long said that even if one is not entirely convinced about climate change, there are enough other environmental problems being caused by the huge resource consumption that we need to act now.

There are areas though that we can invest in which might help to persuade National Party voters to consider putting before their M.P.’s:

  1. Hybrid vehicles have a future – rather than ban petrol vehicles outright and possibly provoke a resurgence of the far right in New Zealand politics, lets phase out anything over say 15 years old
  2. Introduce a common standard of biofuel for vehicles – the investment and research that would be needed would be a potentially substantial job creation exercise in its own right
  3. Help the building industry explore things like hemp crete, which absorbs carbon
  4. Help airlines such as Air New Zealand research biofuel development – Air New Zealand has already started, but it might need a helping hand
  5. Allow businesses that put solar panels on their buildings to keep any savings in power tax free
  6. Put bulk goods on rail – milk from dairy plants, petroleum and so forth

For New Zealand to address climate change successfully we need National on board. Without National on board, New Zealand’s efforts at addressing climate change will fail.

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?