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.

Assessment of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill


As a response to the growing concern about the impact of climate change on New Zealand, and in order to give effect to our commitments under the Paris agreement of 2015, the Government has drafted the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)Bill. This article attempts to assess the C.C.R. Bill.

The Bill of Parliament is broken into the following parts:

  • Part 1A focuses on the establishment of the Climate Change Commission, its powers/functions/duties, composition and so forth
  • Part 1B focuses on the establishment of the emission reduction targets, the emission budgets and the processes for establishing these budgets, as well as the role of the Commission and the monitoring of the targets
  • Part 1C focuses on adaptation to climate change
  • Part 2 examines consequential amendments

There are good parts in this Bill of Parliament. They include provision for:

  • A Climate Change Commission that will include a range of figures from scientists to people in the business community, as well as those familiar with local government and planning processes
  • Reducing emissions that are not biogenic methane to net zero by 2050; reduce biogenic methane by 24-47% by 2050 and by 10% or more by 2030
  • A sequence of emissions budgets that act as stepping stones towards the above targets
  • Require the Government to develop policies for adaptation and mitigation

There is however significant room for improvement. There does not appear to be any mention of providing for more immediate as well as intermediate steps that do not need substantial policy development and which are already known to work. The lack of urgency around these has been a cause of concern among environmentalists and the Green Party, but are also potentially likely to have useful social outcomes such as improved energy budgets. I have covered all of these concerns in previous articles.

This will need a comprehensive roll out so that all agencies are aware of their obligations, but also the tools and resources at their disposal. One of the biggest problems across policy making in New Zealand and probably true of the world is the number of agencies that do not communicate and whose awareness of where they fit into the larger framework of policy is not new. For policy to be effectively given effect to, this must improve.

I expect that this Bill of Parliament will run into significant resistance when it returns following the closure of submissions. A.C.T. will oppose it point blank. National will want business concessions and be concerned about the impact on the economy and tax payers, some of which might be granted, but not all. New Zealand First as a coalition partner will likely support it, but have significant concerns about the impact on rural communities. Labour and the Greens will support, but will differ over the extent to which they should move, which might cause tensions inside the coalition.

Businesses will have concerns, and some of them will be quite valid. Others will be more about protecting sectors that are considered to be sunset industries, because in a world adapting to climate change they will probably be phased out. As adaptation is the name of the game, technological and procedural innovation are likely to feature strongly in any attempt at staying relevant.

 

Holy Cow! Too many cows in New Zealand


We eat their meat. We drink their milk and make cheese, butter and cream products. We use them to introduce children to agriculture. Its beef is one of our favourite meats at the supermarket. But holy cow, New Zealand has a problem with their environmental footprint.

In Canterbury alone it is estimated that there are about 1.3 million cows, or about 2.1 for every single person living in the province. Each cow will produce the effluent equivalent of about 11 people going to the toilet, or between 14-15 million people in Canterbury. And Canterbury is paying a steep environmental price for it. In 2007, prior to the National Government of Prime Minister John Key taking office, the number of dairy cattle in Canterbury was 754,000. By 2016 that number had risen to 1.27 million.

The province, which is noted for its superb thousands year old ground water in deep aquifers under the Canterbury plains is in danger of having its drinking water supply wrecked by the spread of nitrates. Dr Alistair Humphries believes that in 100 years, it will not be possible to drink the tap water in Canterbury.

Each cow needs many litres of water to ensure it can drink, to ensure that the grass it will eat is adequate. A litre of milk will take about 1,000 litres of water or 1m³ to manufacture. In other words the 2 litre bottle of milk in your fridge takes about 2,000 litres (2m³) of water. In order for a 500 cattle farm to produce the roughly 2 kilogrammes of milk solids that each healthy cow will put out at their peak per day, roughly 1,000,000 litres of water or 1,000m³ will be needed. That has to come from a ground water source or be diverted from a river. As one can imagine in a country where dairy farming contributed $14.4 billion to the New Zealand economy in 2016, the pressures on our freshwater resources both at the surface and in the ground are considerable.

Many farmers are making an honest effort to reduce the impact of their herds on the natural waterways of New Zealand. Measures include fencing off streams so that easily erodible dirt banks are not crumbled, and to stop them defecating and urinating in the water. Some are replanting shelter belts that were torn down when the farm was converted to dairying so that irrigators could move through. Replanting damaged river banks with low level plants that help to anchor the bank is another measure.

However there is a problem. Cows also make a substantial contribution to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. The estimated contribution of the dairy sector to New Zealand’s overall climate emissions are about 43% caused by carbon dioxide and about 11% caused by nitrous oxide. The gases mainly come from biological processes – livestock burping in the case of the carbon dioxide and cows urinating in the case of the nitrous oxide.

It has been acknowledged with some resistance on both sides of House of Representatives. Initiatives have been tried such as developing grass that does not induce so much burping, alternative forms of fertilizer to reduce the amount of nitrates going into streams and medical research to see if the nitrous oxide discharge can be reduced.

But for all the good work these farmers are doing, it does not address the core problem with the 10 million cattle in New Zealand – there is simply too many, and the total defecation and urine output from them all would be roughly equivalent to about 140 million people or about 85% of the population of Bangladesh. Large scale depopulation of herds is not something a dairy farmer will want to do and it will be a vote killer for a lot of politicians if they are brave enough to try. Unfortunately the cold nitrate loaded fact of the matter is if New Zealand wants its clean green reputation back, several million cattle are simply going to have to go.

 

National climate emergency? Not at this rate.


On Thursday Environment Canterbury declared a Climate Change Emergency. Just hours later on the same day, Nelson City Council followed suit. Widespread applause followed.

On the surface, the councillors gathered around respective tables in Nelson and Christchurch can say that they have done something positive for the climate, but on the other hand, despite being able to make an educated guess as to what it means, I wonder if anyone has a clue what it would mean on paper.

Granted Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw says it has no legal standing, the time for words is passed.

I am concerned though that all it will end up being is another layer of symbolism on top of a wad of earlier actions that were symbolic but lacking in substance. Under Prime Minister Helen Clark there was a move to reduce exhaust fumes, without really understanding that most exhaust fumes are invisible and that in effect the measure being introduced was just window dressing. For real progress on vehicle emissions there would had to have been steps taken to address the state of the New Zealand car market or a maximum age a car could become before it is permanently removed from the roads.

As mentioned in earlier columns there are a host of steps that New Zealand could be taking right now which we appear reluctant to do so. For example an energy audit done by the Green Party done a decade ago found that New Zealand could reduce its household energy use on average by 10-15%. If that were coupled with more recent ideas such recycling all aluminium, which would significantly reduce reliance on electricity from Manapouri power station.

For all of successive governments talking about having a strong knowledge based economy, even 20 years since the then Labour Deputy Leader Dr Michael Cullen promised a “knowledge economy”, New Zealanders still seem rather averse to higher levels of investment by both the public and private sector in science, technology and research. Compared to the O.C.E.D. average of 2.4% in 2017, New Zealand spent about 1.3% of its G.D.P. on science. These results may be linked to a general lack of investment in schools in science and mathematics – my two bogeyman subjects at high school, but ultimately two very important ones that everyone needs to know a bit about. Labour has committed to increasing the percentage of G.D.P. spent to 2.0%, but how this will be spent and and on what, remains to be seen.

Following on from this, it needs to be noted that a report has come out suggesting that cutting back the methane from farm animals is not on its own, despite being the largest portion of New Zealand’s green house gases, going to significantly reduce the impact of emissions. Which raises a quandary, because New Zealand’s climate change focus has been on this and will now have to be reviewed just as the Government starts to look at ways of ramping up its response. Does that mean we have the science all wrong?

What we need in terms of climate planning is a clear set of objectives that we are to achieve. For that we need policies that give effect to those objectives and rules to enforce the policies. But we also need to be realistic about the potential change of pace – on one hand we need to move reasonably quickly because the window is closing on how long the world has before some of the natural changes become irreversible. On the other hand, simply going in and laying down a whole wad of rules without thinking about who will be affected by them and how, is a sure fire recipe for trouble.

So, in summary, it is all very well for Canterbury and Nelson to declare a climate emergency, but unless there is a clear idea of what it is meant to achieve, how and when, it is really just another layer of symbolism.