Climate change emergencies grow, but where is the political will?

The other day Auckland Council became another New Zealand local government body to declare a climate change emergency in the hope that it will bring the focus on the need for urgent action. And as more councils do start considering whether to declare, the spotlight’s glaring vision is focussing on the central Government’s (relative non)response.

Every single elected council in New Zealand could declare a climate emergency. Whilst the symbolism is great and would have impact if all councils actually did declare an emergency, the real leadership must come from central Government.

And such regional leadership appears unlikely. There are still, no doubt, regional, city and district councils around the country who do not believe that climate change justifies an emergency being declared. One of them is West Coast Regional Council, which is dominated by rural councillors. Despite significant storms visiting the West Coast on a more regular basis and despite increasingly large rainfall tallies being racked up, West Coast Regional Councillors have demanded evidence that climate change is occurring.

Six councils around New Zealand have now declared a climate emergency. Whilst their number compared to the total number of elected territorial authority bodies is small, they represent a very substantial chunk of New Zealand’s total population  at more than 2.1 million New Zealanders. Those councils are Auckland Council, Christchurch City Council, Environment Canterbury, Nelson City Council and Dunedin City Council.

This brings me back to the central Government. When it announced it was walking away from oil and gas in the coming decades, the left wing spectrum celebrated. New Zealand was taking a step towards sustainability; there might be hope yet for controlling anthropogenic climate change.

Yes and No. The far fringes of the political spectrum are absolutely convinced beyond a shred of doubt that there will be a catastrophe either way, but for entirely different and irreconcilable reasons.

The concern on the moderate right stems from several notable factors that I have described in greater depth elsewhere such as:

  • The affordability of carbon neutral vehicles
  • Long term transport priorities still based on a carbon heavy thinking
  • Unless there is a major effort to overhaul our transport system New Zealand will continue to need oil and gas
  • Some hospitals, and large public utilities continue to use fossil fuels for purposes such as heating with no plans to change their fuel type
  • Impracticality of having an entirely electric vehicle fleet – to say nothing of the sheer number of batteries that will need highly toxic components recycled

The concern from the moderate left also stems from factors I have already acknowledged.

  • The level of carbon is climbing rapidly and is now at 418 parts per million according to the Mauna Kea atmospheric observatory in Hawaii
  • Massive loss of biodiversity from ecosystem destruction has the potential to end humanity in 100 years or less
  • There is no Planet B within reasonable travelling distance of any space going craft

And then there is perhaps a third group, who have to try to reconcile the two moderate factions and make a case that central Government will listen to. They might include planners in local councils who have to make sense of the Resource Management Act and other pieces of law in determining what the council they work for can reasonably do. Others are scientists who could be looking at the sustainability of large scale biofuel from the waste stream or whether hemp can be used on a large scale as a building material.

It might be this third group that helps to make the case. By gathering the inputs from the left and the right  it can try to reach some sort of compromise. It would be between the need for some sort of economic continuity and need to hurry up and start putting promises into actions, but in a way that the public can buy into.




New Zealand economy slowing down?

A new report out shows bleak manufacturing figures. Some have suggested that these mean the New Zealand economy is slowing down.

In some respects I am not dreadfully surprised there are economic jitters at the moment. A smorgasbord of issues exist across the world at the moment, ranging from concerns of another potential conflict in the Middle East, to souring relations between China and the United States to lingering concerns about a banking sector melt down and what kind of Brexit Britain will achieve (or not).

What does all of this mean for New Zealand? Being a small nation that is considered to have one of the more open markets in the world, we are vulnerable to being buffeted by strong economic currents originating in other countries:

  • Concerns continue to linger about a potential financial sector melt down. Whilst the Dodd-Franks laws in the United States were a good start in terms of reforming the banking sector, there has not been any substantial follow up in any of the major markets.
  • Britain continues to lurch in a very round about way towards whatever form of Brexit it eventually takes – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, or something else, we really do not know. This is of particular importance to New Zealand as the U.K. has strong economic ties with New Zealand and a messy exit has the potential to upset trade.
  • Worsening Sino-American relations between the two super powers are not helping either. The virtual alienation of Huawei telecommunications company, which the United States alleges spies for the Chinese Government has seen billions of dollars wiped from its value, whilst at the same time immense pressure has been placed on western nations to block Huawei. As a nation with billions of dollars in trade with China each year, and Huawei being a significant player in the cellular phone market, New Zealand cannot help but notice this.
  • Tensions are high over alleged placement of mines in the Straits of Hormuz by Iran, which have gone on to damage several oil tankers. The resultant uproar has seen Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo visit Iran to try to act as a mediator, lest there be a military confrontation. Whether the oil tanker attacks cause a spike in oil prices I am not certain, but it will potentially make owners of tankers think twice before ordering their ships into the Persian Gulf.

Just yesterday though, it was acknowledged that New Zealand’s unemployment rate is down to a 10 year low. One problem now being faced is not whether there are jobs to go about, but where to find the labour that can competently fill those jobs. As a result some inventive measures are being worked out, such as enabling factor workers to transfer temporarily to other factory jobs if their normal industry is having a quiet period. New Zealanders are hanging on to their jobs rather than changing because of concerns about continuity of income, rents and bills. Every day expenses such as food and fuel appear to further undermine what income we have.

As yet Government policy has not really taken effect. Kiwi Build was well intentioned, but is still not in tune with affordability and is thousands of houses behind schedule despite the media attention and promises of legislation change to speed things along. Add to that, the Government’s tax policy has been a cop out with the refusal to implement a Capital Gains Tax joining the ranks of a host of other tax measures that have been introduced and then abandoned for fear of being an election loser.

The “well being budget” was overshadowed by the claims by National that it had all sorts of details about it that were meant to still be under wraps. Still it managed to introduce $1 billion of investment in the railways to make up for the lack of investment by National. It also set aside funding for supporting the introduction of compulsory product stewardship schemes. In addition there was money set aside to assist with vocational education by supporting apprenticeships and trade training.

In an increasingly cautious global context it might be that New Zealand’s economy is not doing so badly after all. But you would not know it from the inside looking out.


ACT: The leopard thinking it can change its spots

Yesterday it was announced that A.C.T. was changing its party branding. A.C.T. Leader David Seymour announced that his party has changed its branding in an attempt to change public perceptions of a party that has struggled since 2011. From a party with 5 Members of Parliament in 2008 including the man behind Rogernomics, Sir Roger Douglas, to a one man band that has consistently polled at 1-2% and only exists at all because of Mr Seymour’s hold on the Epsom seat, why has A.C.T. consistently struggled?

In recent years Mr Seymour, as the public face of A.C.T., has tried to soften the party’s image. A quite successful stint on Dancing With The Stars, which many people had thought was an April Fools joke – aside from some twerking – showed him as an under dog, given he was expected to exit early and perhaps ungracefully like his predecessor Rodney Hide did (after dropping his partner on stage). And New Zealanders do admittedly like an under dog – one who does better than expected.

Unfortunately for all of A.C.T.’s rebranding, the leopard is not going to change its spots. Deep down A.C.T. will still be A.C.T. – a party being kept alive out of convenience to the National Party. It can change its spots dozen times. It can make them pink the rest of it markings white. It could paint itself orange or some other bright colour, but deep down nothing has changed all is still the same.

It is still the party trying to undermine our checks on speech so that it is not responsible for its undisguised bigotry. Golriz Ghahraman will still be Golly to Mr Seymour, and still a Iranian refugee M.P. who is apparently trying to boss New Zealand around. It will still be the party that Louis Crimp, an avowed disliker of the Treaty of Waitangi who thinks Maori are savages and wanted to scrap funding for Te Reo Maori, supported.

A.C.T. will still be the party that refuses to recognize the necessity of tightening up controls on semi-automatic weapons. These include the availability of accessories and modifications such as the one that has enabled mass murders including the Christchurch mosque attacks. It did not want to know about the fact that there would be further opportunity to comment when the second tranche of law comes before Parliament towards the end of this year. Concerns that become all the more stark when one considers that the primary lobby organization for gun ownership in the U.S. – a country A.C.T. and to a lesser extent National think can do no wrong – the National Rifle Association is struggling in the face of several recent mass shootings, and students saying that they have had enough.

A.C.T. will still be the party that thinks climate change is a hoax and that the best approach is the business as usual approach. It will ignore the massive loss of biodiversity around the world, the rapidly worsening number of carbon particles per million. In the name of lesser regulation it will stonewall attempts to create a collaborative approach that brings business on board. Instead of relying on “market forces” that neither know nor care for environmental or social well being, which A.C.T. espouses, knowledge of the environment, technology and society would be put left right and centre and driven by the urgency of knowing time will be needed to adapt and therefore major steps have to be taken now.

Mr Seymour would be well advised to wind up the A.C.T. Party and start over. A.C.T. is a leopard. A leopard cannot change it spots and no amount of painting over its colours will change that. When their initial leaders resigned or left under a cloud caused by acts of stupidity that they brought upon themselves, A.C.T. should have taken the opportunity to under go a rebranding then to either be something other than a failed corporate party that pretended to be about responsibility and liberty.


The need to move against e-waste

Earlier yesterday, I was watching a documentary on Ghana’s electronic waste (e-waste) problem, which explored Abgogbloshie, an e-waste dump near the capital Accra.Situated on the banks of a river the dump takes tons of discarded computers, electronics, electrical parts and arrive there each year from Europe.

In a highly toxic environment, the burning of the plastic around the electronics exposes them to cancer causing dioxins that are released in the toxic smoke plumes. Fine particulate – not reported in the documentary – will most likely be falling down wind of the plume. And at ground level the cadmium, mercury, lead and other highly toxic substances from the crude dismantling of old and unwanted appliances will be accumulating in the ground where it has already reached levels 100x more than United Nations safety recommendations.

Thousands of kilometres away in New Zealand, we generate 90,000 tons of e-waste each year. Only about 1% of which – or about 900 tons – is actually recycled. The rest – computers, smart phones, printers, televisions, washing machines, microwaves among other items – is dumped at refuse stations, on the street and so forth.

I have opined about this before, but I am frustrated with the glacial action in Parliament to enact measures to deal with e-waste here. They could easily be including recycling programmes, product stewardship policies that result in a pathway from manufacture to end use, establishing places where the rare earth minerals can be removed from the devices and reused. The figures from New Zealand alone would support such moves – 600 tons of copper; 600 kilogrammes of gold; amounts of palladium, rhodium, silver and other minerals with economic value.

There are 118 elements in the current version of the Periodic Table of the Elements. 60 of them are used in some form or another of electrical components or electronic devices. Some like Niobium and Argon are not known to be toxic, but others like Cadmium and Tellerium are not only carcinogenic, but tetarogenic (causes defects in babies) as well. Given that the hazards of e-waste dumped in western nations as well, are often not well understood, it is difficult to imagine anyone in a poor country like Ghana wearing personal protection. This would include equipment such as gloves, boots, or taking measures such as washing their hands.

This is not sexy in the sense of getting public interest, but it is necessary, and when one thinks about how we source minerals a case for linking to climate change can actually be made. As with a lot of elements, many of the rare earth minerals come from mines in Africa, South America and Asia where environmental laws are lax and there is no requirement to remediate the land after mining. To create these mines vast tracts of potentially healthy forest are going to have to be wrecked and the flora and fauna in them displaced.

As with other forms of waste New Zealand needs to own its e-waste and deal with it. Expecting other countries to clean up our mess is simply not an option.


Errant stores dragging liquor industry down

A business that operates bottle stores and a dairy in Auckland has been heavily fined after the Labour Inspectorate found it to be in substantial breach of New Zealand labour laws. The business which was taken to the Employment Relations Authority by seven migrant workers who complained about their working conditions, lack of pay and accommodation arrangements was ordered to pay $196,542 – $96,542 in wages owed and a $100,000 penalty.

This is the latest in a string of liquor store violations of employment law or some aspect of their liquor licence. The Labour Inspectorate notes that 60 stores have been found wanting because of such breaches since 2012.

It was not said in the article whether Mr Reddy would be stripped of his managers licence. Irrespective, I do believe he should be made to undertake correctional training under supervision with a warning about long term consequences if further violations come to light.

What really bothers me is the number of people in this industry, but also the hospitality sector who are not from New Zealand and yet seem to think that because the authorities in their country of origin were corrupt, that ours will be too. More to the point, I wonder what it would take to get the message home to prospective managers from other countries, that compliance with New Zealand law is not something they have a choice about.

12 stores in the Bottle-O chain are currently facing investigations into alleged abuses of New Zealand law.

Without suggesting that the owner of the franchise is culpable, such a large number of stores being simultaneously investigated by the Labour Inspectorate does raise some serious questions about the culture of those places.

I believe that the communities in which they operate deserve to know whether these stores are compliant with New Zealand law. Stores that are found to have breached the law, should be made to display a notice in their front window for 12 months noting that they are in breach. The notice should mention what the breach was and should only be able to be taken down by a Labour Inspectorate staff member at the end of the notice period and assuming that no further violations occur in that time.

Should they commit further offences, their trading licence should be suspended until such a time as the Labour Inspectorate is satisfied that the operators are now fully compliant. Any further abuse of the law following that should be construed as a third strike and the offending premises shuttered.