NZ climate policy shambles, and other summer reading

by Gareth on December 17, 2012

It’s summer down south, and New Zealand’s politicians have embarked on their summer break. It’s summer in Waipara too, and with yesterday topping 30ºC and today heading in the same direction, your blogger has immediate climate concerns of an irrigation and vine management nature to attend to. So, with apologies for what may turn out to be less frequent posting over the next few weeks, here’s a quick round-up of stuff worth reading.

The NZ government will be relieved to be heading to the beaches after being battered by a hail of criticism for their climate policies over the last week. Brian Fallow, the NZ Herald‘s economics editor, was especially direct in his dissection of NZ’s climate policy settings post-Doha:

The Government’s climate change policy is a shambles and a disgrace. Unless, that is, you are happy for the costs of the inevitable adjustment to a low-carbon future to be needlessly increased and pushed onto the young, in which case it is doing a great job.

Gareth Morgan joined in, calling for the government to come clean about what its policies really mean:


National really should be proud of its pragmatic judgement that capping emissions is beyond us. At least then New Zealanders would be faced with that fact and could begin to think about our future. With a dairy industry that has raised the number of cows from 2 to 4.5million and is incentivised to keep expanding those numbers ad infinitum, there is no chance emissions will be capped. Isn’t the relevant question then whether that’s the sort of industry we wish to underwrite?

Bear in mind that the average industrial dairy unit in Canterbury produces as much raw sewage as a small town, NZ’s rivers and lakes are being polluted by agricultural run-off, and that dairy farmers and their business arm Fonterra appear to have a stranglehold on agricultural policy. If Morgan’s question was put to the general population — the population that is paying taxes to subsidise agricultural emissions, seemingly in perpetuity — then there would be only one answer.

All of this is proving frustrating for sustainable business expert David Thompson, writing in Idealog:

The scientists aren’t wrong about the threat, I’m not wrong about our capability and the last I heard, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was unable to fit us into his busy schedule. So unless someone can give me a really good argument why we’re better off doing nothing, let’s take control. Now.

That call to action is echoed (on a somewhat bigger stage) by Naomi Klein, in an interview at The Phoenix where she discusses her involvement with Bill McKibben’s Do The Math campaign, and her decision to have a child:

If anything, the experience has made Klein all the more a fighter. She now believes that denying her desire to have a child, because of the mess being made by those willing to destroy the planet for profit, would be a form of surrender.

“I guess what I want to say is, I don’t want to give them that power,” she told me. “I’d rather fight like hell than give these evil motherfuckers the power to extinguish the desire to create life.”

Klein’s views on how to approach the emissions problem — nationalise the oil companies — are hardly likely to enter the mainstream any time soon, but we need people like her articulating approaches that go beyond the business as usual approach that created the mess — both economic and climate-related — that we have to start cleaning up. And it’s getting more and more difficult the longer we allow the people who claim to be our leaders to do nothing.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

noelfuller December 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Direct national control of fossil fuels interests on the proviso that all profits go directly to clean energy projects has been on my mind since the sixties. Because of the part they have played, and continue to play in their campaigne of misinformation I would not offer compensation to directors but retire them on pensions right out of the way. Regretably there are nations that act the same way as coal interests do. Good on Klien anyway.

noelfuller December 17, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I did speculate Gareth that you were holding your brolly over you favourit vine.

Gareth December 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm

It would have to be a big brolly…

More urgent at the moment is making sure that the truffle trees are getting plenty of water – and that means poncing around getting wet while unblocking rotary sprinkler heads.

[Stomps off, refreshed by an iced lemon barley water.]

Bob Bingham December 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm

If it were not for the dairy and cattle industry we would not be in bad shape, thanks to our forebears who put in the hydro power. Each cow produces 14 times as much waste as a human and so we are looking at an equivalent population of some 50 million. As for emissions, Europe buys our products and they get CO2/methane free food.
To make a real difference we should be converting our transport to electric as much as possible. Fuel is our biggest import bill and we should be working hard to reduce it. We can make more hydro, geothermal and wind power and become clean and self supporting.

andyS December 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Each cow produces 14 times as much waste as a human

I don’t meet many cows chucking out plastic bottles or driving to the supermarket in a Range Rover.

Are you able to flesh out this argument a bit more; perhaps where the “14” figure came from?

Macro December 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm

“Are you able to flesh out this argument a bit more; perhaps where the “14″ figure came from?”

gezz! 30 seconds googleing produced this:

http://www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/Environment/Natural-resources/Land-and-soil/Applying-effluent-to-land/

“The average dairy herd (244 cows) produces the same amount of effluent as a town with about 3400 people, such as Otorohanga.”

(A quote from the 3rd paragraph.) You say you have a degree in maths – you do the rest.

Intellectual laziness!

andyS December 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm

So you are counting effluent as waste?

What is organic fertilizer then?

Kiwiiano December 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm

It’s organic fertilizer when it’s spread lightly over the soil at rates that allow the natural soil bioflora to manage the influx.
It’s effluent when it’s a bloody firehose pouring onto porous sandy/gravels that allow it to percolate rapidly into the water table or local waterways where poisons wells and/or reduces the streams to a smelly anaerobic mess.

Thomas December 17, 2012 at 9:25 pm

To add to Marco:

Read this: http://www.getgreenliving.com/which-is-worse-1000-cars-or-1000-cows/

Then take the number of cows in NZ and compare to the number of cars. Do the math. You might be surprised.

We can – in principal – electrify a reasonable percentage of urban transport. Electric cows are a different matter… ;-)

Bob Bingham December 18, 2012 at 7:48 am

I read it in an article and it does seem reasonable considering the amount of manure they produce. I will admit that it is not so toxic as ours as they dont eat meat.

Kiwiiano December 18, 2012 at 7:59 am

Just out of curiosity, why should our faeces be ‘toxic’. We have an instinctive and cultural aversion to them, probably derived from precautionary avoidance of potential pathogens, but folk who have composting toilets like the Clivus Multrum don’t appear to have any problems recycling the end-products. The Chinese and other cultures have been recycling human waste for millennia.

CTG December 18, 2012 at 9:12 am

It’s not so much that our faeces are toxic. It’s just that hindgut bacteria in the faeces, such as E. coli, cause us problems if ingested into the foregut. This isn’t a problem if the faeces are used as manure, but that’s the reason you must wash your hands after you poo :-)

John ONeill December 17, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Agresearch was doing work on activating genes for tannin expression in white clover, to reduce the amount of nitrous oxide getting into the air. Having to offshore all the field trials didn’t make for speedy results. For methane, selecting less gassy cows and tinkering with their gut flora might help. Failing that, I’m reminded of a chapter in Jared Diamond’s book ‘Collapse’, where the inhabitants of a tiny, isolated Pacific island decided that eating meat was a luxury their community couldn’t afford, and slaughtered all their pigs. We’re telling the Aussies they have to give up coal, their biggest export and power source; maybe we’ll have to ditch dairy.

Kiwiiano December 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Well, apparently we have to target getting our CO2 footprints down to 10% of what we take for granted currently. Actually, if we’re pushing fossil carbon out 100x faster than all the volcanos combined, I wonder if 10% is too high.
Just imagine everyone cutting back on that scale. Transport, entertainment, dwellings, clothing, even food…..
Unless we cut back on population, although 90% of the planet’s folk are going to query why THEY have to draw a short straw. Probably violently.
Why is that little pink birdie in the tree going “oink, oink”?

Dappledwater December 18, 2012 at 12:09 am

NZ’s rivers and lakes are being polluted by agricultural run-off, and that dairy farmers and their business arm Fonterra appear to have a stranglehold on agricultural policy

Not only does the excessive agricultural run-off deoxygenate waterways and suffocate the attendant aquatic life, but once it reaches the ocean it accelerates ocean acidification. The input of extra nutrients to the coast ocean supports larger populations of phytoplankton. These incorporate carbon into their organic tissues and when they die, they sink to the seafloor where bacteria remineralize the organic tissue back into carbon dioxide.

Oyster hatcheries in the US are experiencing the painful results of this coastal ocean acidification amplification – oyster larvae in Oregon and Washington state have been dying from too-corrosive surface waters for around 5 years now. That’s the future that awaits New Zealand, unless the idiots are removed from positions of influence.

Thomas December 18, 2012 at 4:43 pm

I heard anecdotal reports that the Coromandel harbor oyster farms are seeing a very significant death of shellfish this year. Could be the early onset of warm weather, acidification, a virus or a combination of these that weaken the shellfish’s systems and cause disease. We had significant failures of harvests in the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island and north over the last years already.

Dappledwater December 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Thomas, I believe NZ’s current oyster problems are the result of disease, rather than acidification. Whether this has arisen naturally, or is the result of excess nutrient pollution, is an interesting question.

Thomas December 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Perhaps environmental stress is making the process of disease more likely.

Bob Bingham December 18, 2012 at 7:56 am

Every time it rains it washes all the effluent from the fields and oil from the roads and towns and dumps it in our estuaries. These are breeding grounds for our fish and they are really suffering.I belong to an environmental group planting trees to stop erosion and pollutants entering the streams but it is a huge task.

noelfuller December 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm

algal blooms aflict oysters at this time of year – worst ever seen in the Bay of Plenty. On the west coast warnings are in place from Hokianga almost to New Plymouth.
Govt notice here

Mr February December 19, 2012 at 12:59 am

Another consequence of the Groser and National policy shambles of opting out of a second Kyoto period is that New Zealand’s access to the international Kyoto-based carbon markets will cease from 2015.

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