• Open Letter to National's Nicky Wagner on Climate Change

last modified June 23, 2013 by strypey

Danyl Strypes comments on the National Party's 6 point policy on climate change.

Kia ora

A few points on your newsletter:

Nicky Wagner wrote:

"That's why John Key recently announced National's goal of a 50% reduction in carbon equivalent net emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2050, or "50 by 50."

In 'Heat', George Monbiot's excellent and well-researched book on climate change, Monbiot points out that the latest science suggests industrialized countries need to reduce our carbon emissions by 90% by 2030 to curb the word consequences of climate change and sets out to demonstrate how this is possible.

I understand that there is no point is setting unrealistic goals. Which is why I can't understand the point of setting a goal which does not address the problem. It's like proposing that someone avoid asphyxiation by taking one breath every 2 hours.

"National is committed to boosting economic growth..."

This is a fundamental problem. Can you explain to me any way the economy could grow without increasing the amount of raw materials, labour and energy it uses? If not, continual economic growth is not possible on a finite planet let alone the exponential growth - the growth of the rate of growth - that Key is proposing.

"1. 'Cap and Trade' Permit System. We will introduce a 'cap and trade' emission permit system to cost-effectively reduce emissions across the economy."

The rich can afford to pollute while the poor are taxed for pollution resulting from an economic and technological system which they have little choice but to participate in.

"2. Fast-track Renewable Energy Projects. National will make it easier to build renewable energy projects by amending the Resource Management Act."

Renewable energy comes in many forms. Will these proposed amendments encourage people to use a washing line instead of an electric clothes drier or ride a bicycle instead of driving their car? Or will they merely remove the democratic rights of iwi, hapū and other community groups to have real influence over 'think big' commercial development that will affect them?

"3. Forestry Incentives. We will encourage more planting and less deforestation by giving some carbon credits to the foresters who plant the trees in the first place."

Who will pay for the carbon credits lost when these trees are cut down, which produces emissions from the breakdown of exposed soil even if the trees are not burnt? Will National be doing anything to encourage the manufacture of products from sustainably grown timber instead of plastic made from fossil fuels? Will this be rewarded by carbon credits?

"4. Boost Research and Development. Agricultural technology, especially in ruminant microbiology, has potential for big climate-change gains by reducing methane emissions from livestock. We already have the world's best research skills in this area, but there are few scientists working in this field. National will up the ante."

The only sustainable way to reduce the multiple environmental impacts of large-animal agriculture is to abandon it and use the land to produce sustainably-grown plant foods. This is a few shared by Cornell University ecology professor David Pimental:

Does National have a policy on ensuring that fruit and nuts trees are being planted in large numbers in areas where people live so that seasonal sources of essential vitamins, minerals and proteins are available as mineral fuel (oil, coal etc.) availability declines? Is research and development funding being spent on developing a diverse gene pool of such plants that can adapat to the various growing environments in Aotearoa as the climate changes?

"5. Global Action and Trans-Tasman Co-operation. A strong New Zealand voice on climate change is vital to the "brand" our exporters rely on.
National sees advantages in a trans-Tasman carbon market and co-operation with Australia on research and development."

Again the most sustainable way of conducting overseas trade is not to, due to the mineral fuels consumed and resulting carbon emissions from freighting products across the oceans that could be produced locally in a sustainable fashion. The only way around this is to make ships that can run entirely on renewable energy sources:

Does National intend to invest research and development funds in developing and producing this sort of technology in Aotearoa?

"6. Empowering Consumers. Kiwis need encouragement to make climate-friendly choices. National will ensure that New Zealanders have
access to the infrastructure, information and meaningful incentives that encourage the most climate-friendly behaviour."

As Monbiot points out, consumer choices are limited by the products and services made available to them by business. Without clear and enforced government directives businesses are often structurally prevented from making moves towards sustainability by the resulting short-term loss of profitability and competitiveness, especially the larger ones that make the most impact. We don't expect people to starve themselves to reduce carbon emissions and it's just as unrealistic to expect conscientious businesses to starve themselves of revenue while others continue to pollute and thrive. This can only result in the economic success of ecocidal business models.

Monbiot shows that many businesses want and need the government to enforce basic environmental protections and stop directly and indirectly subsidizing environmentally destructive business models, even if it has a negative short-term impact on economic performance.

"National's policy contrasts with Labour's failed record on climate change."

Excuse me for being skeptical. Effective reduction of carbon emissions requires major re-engineering and reorganisation of our society. It requires investment of resources and labour in experimenting with new, low-energy ways of doing things and a culture of free distribution of the results of these experiments. Government policy so far has amounted to rearranging the desk chairs on the Titanic and to me, National's policy seems no different.

For example, if National takes climate change seriously I would expect to see a timeline for the winding down of the New Zealand coal-mining industry,
starting with an immediate moratorium on new coal mines being opened. This would mean instructing state-owned enterprise Solid Energy
to cancel their plans to start mining coal in the Waimangaroa Valley, near Westport. Is National is serious about engaging with climate change as a global environmental issue or is the party simply making some concessions within Aotearoa as a way of buying the green vote?

Kotahi te ao
Danyl Strypes

Originally published on Aotearoa.Indymedia.org (May, 2007)