Green on the outside, red in the middle

By   /   November 6, 2013  /   19 Comments

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Rather than blackmailing these communities by telling them it’s oil and gas jobs or no jobs at all, maybe the National party should reflect on why as a party they aren’t also having these debates given that sustainable regional development and climate change are two of the most pressing issues facing our country and our planet.

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I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues. Access to clean water, clean air, safe food and protection from pollutants is as much about social justice as it is environmental and economic sustainability. Our environment and our economy are two sides of the same coin. And as such I am extremely proud of the work being done within the Labour Party both on the recently adopted environment policy platform and the policy development work that platform will guide.

As David Cunliffe said in his conference speech we need to transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels to a low-carbon renewable energy future and the accompanying jobs. It’s a transition that started under Helen Clark’s leadership through such policies as the Emissions Trading Scheme and a price on carbon, a moratorium on any new base load electricity generation from fossil fuels, and a biofuels obligation. Policies that have all been decimated or canned by the current National government. It’s a transition the next Labour government will lead on again.

The missing element of the current debate around offshore oil and gas exploration is the fact that we seriously lack any alternatives. We are a heavily carbon dependent economy. Fossil fuel extraction is a significant part of our economy and we couldn’t simply turn the tap off tomorrow and continue to enjoy the quality of life we enjoy today. That’s why the immediate focus must be on developing the alternatives and beginning that transition right now. Otherwise we’ll be having the same debates in twenty, thirty, forty years time.

And in the meantime we need to learn from the Rena and Gulf of Mexico disasters and implement tougher bottom lines for any new activities. For example we need to ensure we have top notch robust regulation and risk assessment analysis. To say the Exclusive Economic Zone Act falls well short is a massive understatement – it is a developers charter. We also have concerns about the agency doing the consenting – the Environmental Protection Authority. When the EPA legislation was going through Parliament Labour proposed an amendment to make ‘environmental protection’ one of the purposes of the ‘Environmental Protection Authority’ and National voted it down. That speaks volumes.

Labour is committed to a low carbon future. While there is of course debate within our party about the speed and nature of that transition, the goal is not in question. And the debates we are having as a party are the same debates being had out there in communities right around the country who want to see opportunities for workers here at home rather than overseas, but not at the expense of our natural environment. Rather than blackmailing these communities by telling them it’s oil and gas jobs or no jobs at all, maybe the National party should reflect on why as a party they aren’t also having these debates given that sustainable regional development and climate change are two of the most pressing issues facing our country and our planet.

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19 Comments

  1. Phil Toms says:

    Electric cars are viable and can be charged at night. This would save billions in foreign debts for oil. Rare earth technology for batteries is new and lucrative. We have abundant rare earth minerals in NZ and should invest in this new technology. Much less polluting methods of extraction have recently been developed. Electric vehicles produce zero carbon emissions.

    • Moana Mackey says:

      Electric vehicles can indeed be charged at night (and provide battery back-up at peak times) provided people don’t just come home and plug them in at peak times because it’s easy. This is simple to manage though by working with lines companies who could use ripple control type technology (and developing smart meter technology) to manage peak load. The vehicles themselves are still prohibitively expensive so right now commercial vehicle fleets and heavy vehicle fleets are the more likely focus.

      • GreenPaddyNZ says:

        Actually it is the batteries that are prohibitively expensive. The whole goods-in-exchange model is the problem. We should shift to a services-in-exchange model for either the cars or the just the batteries (depending on your technology).

      • YogiBare says:

        Bill McKibben’s movie, “Do the Maths”, claims we have already discovered enough fossil fuels to destroy life on this world five times over, if we are foolish enough to keep burning them. Assuming he’s correct, it begs the question why are we looking for more in the deep, dangerous waters off our coast?
        http://act.350.org/signup/math-movie/

    • Francis says:

      Not to mention electric trains, which don’t even have the troubles of batteries. The complete electrification of our railways really should be a priority, then it needs to take over from the existing trucking industry (mostly via shifting far more of the road maintenance costs onto trucks, also potentially banning or limiting truck usage on the main trading routes where there is a rail alternative).

      It would also be great to see more inter-city passenger trains, and ones with much more affordable pricing. Currently, it costs much more to take the train from Wellington to Auckland than it does to fly. The main reason being that inter-city trains receive no subsidy whatsoever, even though they are much more environmentally friendly than planes, cars, and even buses.

      Of course, instead, we’re seeing services shut down (eg Capital Connection) and railway lines shut down (eg. Napier to Gisborne), due to not being “profitable”, even though the social and environmental benefits are far greater than the monetary profits received from them.

  2. Bananasareforever says:

    @Moana
    There are plenty of alternatives to fossil fuels,
    Fontera produces enormous amounts of ethanol as a bi product, we should be blending that with 15% petrol and converting all petrol cars to E85, Its cheap, cleaner burning and not that expensive to convert your average fuel injected petrol car thats never than 1990.
    Bring in a government subsidized scheme like they have in Australia and convert cars to E85 and LPG injection, and make both E85 AND LPG tax free,
    We also need to be making our own Bio Diesel, we have plenty of Agricultural and Horticultural waste that could be made into a blended bio diesel, and we could also be growing specific crops to produce bio diesel.
    And finally we need a government scheme set up for Solar power, like Australia and Germany where all of our houses have panels and we offset our power consumption but putting power back into the grid.
    Im no Greeny or tree hugger but I am a mechanic and I have traveled around the world and seen all of this already happening, so there is no excuse that we can’t do it here in NZ, we are already 10 years behind.

    • Moana Mackey says:

      Agreed – there is much we can do right now but it needs leadership and a concerted strategy from Government to get it to scale. And it’s about more than liquid fuels or electricity generation. Plastics, resins, polyester etc etc – all made from oil. So much of our world is made from fossil fuels beyond the obvious energy markets. Wood is a viable alternative for energy and plastics etc and for example developing a proper timber processing industry in NZ instead of shipping raw logs overseas would have the added advantage of facilitating the development of biofuels and these specialised tertiary products alongside.

    • PETER says:

      Well said Moana. Common sense. It used to be the norm in our country. Of course a lot of this new energy would not be needed if our population had not increased by 1.2 million in the last 20 years. We had adequate power with 3 million. It is also the biggest environmental issue world wide and nobody in NZ is mentioning it. It would also make a difference if our population stopped voting for party politicians and voted uncompromised independent candidates into parliament who’s first loyalty is to the people who elect and pay them and not to a political party.

  3. AndyS says:

    Electric vehicles. Let me look, there is the Holden Volt at $80,000 for a 4 seater. It’s actually a 5 seater but one of the seats is taken up by the 200kg battery.
    It does have “extended range mode” though. This remarkable innovation is actually a petrol engine that charges the battery, to save you the hassle of waiting 12-16 hours for the battery to charge at a charge point.

    Technology never ceases to amaze me. Holden Volts, especially.

  4. alan bainbridge says:

    I totally agree with your article, and most of the above comments, but there is an “elephant in the room” that doesn’t seem to get a mention in this debate.

    “Extractive agriculture” (see the work of Graeme Sait) is a term used to describe how carbon (along with trace minerals) has been mined from the soil since the second world war, through (so called) modern industrial farming methods. This carbon has migrated to the atmosphere and oceans, representing two thirds of the excess we now have.

    The good news is that organic matter (carbon) can be returned to the soil by changes to agriculture. These changes would be more labour intensive (ie lower unemployment) and require less petrochemical input (less imports). Its main “side effect” would be healthier food and a healthier population.

    Some people have already started down this path – want to join them?

    • Moana Mackey says:

      We have a very passionate and active member of our environment policy council who is all over the soil carbon issue so yes we are looking into the potential 🙂

  5. DOUGAL says:

    for goodness sake! there are too many people that is the fundamental problem. We have to find ways to humanely reduce the population before nature does it for us.

    • Kath Lauderdale says:

      Not so… the Earth could arguably sustain about 40 billion people if done sustainably apparently.

  6. Jenny says:

    Kia ora Moana,

    David Parker claimed last year that National and Labour’s policies on mining are not much different. Has this position changed?

    Labour says views on mining close to Govt’s

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10822510

    Labour’s finance spokesman, David Parker, says his party’s policies on oil, gas and mineral extraction are close to those of the Government.

    “I don’t think we are much different from National,” Parker said.

    Lynn Prentice at ‘The Standard’ has claimed that Green Party and Labour Party policy on coal mining “look remarkably the same” and censors any different viewpoint on his blogsite.

    The Standard “Open Mike 07/10/2013”
    http://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-07102013/#comment-706297

    [lprent: 12 week ban as per my warning yesterday for not indicating that you have searched for parties policies. The first paragraph has no supporting links. Even a cursory look at this early phase shows that they seem to have policies that look remarkably the same.

    If Lynn is right….

    And the Green Party, and the Labour party policies on mining “look remarkably the same”…. As the National government clearly haven’t changed their position, then the Green Party, or the Labour Party, one or the other, must have changed their policies.

    Moana can you help me out here?

    Can you tell me which one it is?

    Are the Labour Party now opposed to all new coal mines which is the Green Party official position?

    Or have the Green Party watered down their opposition to new coal mines?

    What about deep sea oil drilling? David Parker claims that the National government have “continued on with the programme that we started in respect to oil and gas”.

    Are the Labour Party now like the Green Party opposed to deep sea oil exploratory drilling?

    Or are the Greens prepared to allow some deeps sea drilling to go ahead?

    • Moana Mackey says:

      Our position is as I laid out in the post. David was responding to claims from the Nats at that time that Labour and Greens had policies of stopping all fossil fuel extraction – existing and future – on taking government. Which neither of us do. His point was that we aren’t as far apart as they were trying to claim. In relation to the Greens while we agree on many things we do not have the same position as them on no new coal mines. As long as we produce steel for example we need coal and better to use hard coking coal from the west coast than import inferior coal with higher emissions. We do have a policy of not mining lignite however. And in saying that NZ Steel are piloting Lanzatech’s technology to convert some of those waste emissions to fuel. And a proper price on carbon is also needed.

      In respect to the Government’s oil and gas programme we did start that when we were last in Government, and the current Government have picked it up and put it on steroids and at the same time canned all support for alternatives we implemented alongside the exploration programme. In 2005 Cabinet was told that Maui gas was more than 90% depleted. This had serious implications – if the market wasnt settled and the price of gas shot through the roof power prices would also shoot through the roof and the effect on our economy would have been enormous so we started a programme to look for more. As it turned out the field wasnt as depleted as originally thought but it highlighted two important points – the way we price electricity needs to change and just how incredibly dependent our economy is on fossil fuels and the risks that go with that.

      The transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels is the crucial point. Developing the alternatives now whilst applying the lessons learnt from disasters like the Rena and Gulf of Mexico regarding current practices.

    • Moana Mackey says:

      And the other point I’d make is that when David P made those comments we didn’t realise the full extent of what the Nats were planning in terms of gutting ETS and allowing collapse of carbon price, gutting RMA, banning protests against deep sea drilling, shutting the public out of having a say in issuing of marine consents etc etc

      • Jenny says:

        This all sounds like good news Moana. With dozens if not hundreds of activists mobilising around the country and all polls showing majority opposition, Labour distancing themselves from National, and the Green Party reconfirming their outright rejection of deep sea oil in any form. The makings of a broad consensus is building up, and National is becoming increasingly isolated.

  7. Woodburner says:

    On electric vehicles – they should be seen as part of a solution, but not the whole solution.

    Currently, EV’s are a viable substitute for smaller passenger vehicles. this would reduce the need for petrol – currently petrol is about 1/3 of the total liquid fuel use in NZ, with diesel, avgas and fuel oil making up the remainder.

    Deisel use is where we need to focus. This fuel is used heavily in transport and agriculutre, and for the types of vehicle required for these tasks there are no real electric alternatives – yes there are isolated examples of bespoke vehicles but no mass scale breakthroughs. There are some 26tonne diesel-electric hybrid trucks being trialled in the UK which are interesting. This is where biofuel needs to come into the equation. SCION has done a lot of work looking at the potential of repurposing the wood industry to produce biofuel rather than raw logs for export. These kinds of ideas are where I believe our energy future lies. Report here: http://www.woodco.org.nz/strategic-plans/woodscape

    I don’t believe we can ever escape oil completely because it is a fantasticly mobile and compact energy source. What I do believe is that we can drasticly reduce our reliance upon fossil energy through electric cars, 100% bioethanol and biodiesel as the combustion fuels of choice, and as a result slash our emissions profile considerably. I also believe this could be achieved within 10 years, in NZ.

  8. Jenny says:

    After giving over a $100 million to Solid Energy to keep on damaging the climate I wonder how much New Zealand will give in relief aid to the Phillipines? In all justice, NZ should be prepared to spend as much as we have recently spent to damage the climate.