Tuesday, July 23, 2019



Still taking the piss

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled on the pillage of swamp kauri, stating clearly that export was forbidden unless it had been clearly turned into a finished product. But less than a month later, MPI was again approving minimally carved logs for export, pretending they were "finished products" so the pillagers could make a quick buck:

A Supreme Court judgment has placed Te Uru Rākau, the Ministry for Primary Industry forestry arm in the role of deciding what’s art and what’s a log.

Te Uru Rākau's call is a swamp kauri log with light carvings, similar to those found inadequate as to be considered a finished product, and a paua shell-dotted resin inlay is a genuine sculpture.

[...]

The decision to call an item exported in December, barely a month after the Supreme's Courts judgment, a sculpture has shocked the Northland Environmental Protection Society’s Fiona Furrell.

“I feel this Ministry is making a mockery of the Supreme Court ruling.”

And she's right. The "products" MPI is approving are no different from the raw logs the Supreme Court ruled were illegal. Which is not the sort of behaviour I'd expect from a government agency. But I guess that's what happens when you let yourself be completely captured by the industry you are supposed to be regulating.

"My generation's nuclear-free moment"?

When she was running for election, Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment". It was meant to convey a sense of both the scale and moral imperitive of the challenge. So how is her government meeting that challenge? By subsidising oil drilling:

The Government has extended an income tax exemption for oil rigs for another five years until 2024, despite leading a worldwide push not to subsidise fossil fuel companies.

It says the tax break is necessary to stop the oil rigs and seismic vehicles "churning" in and out of New Zealand waters every 183 days to escape all tax liability, and means that they will still pay other taxes to the Government.

Revenue Minister Stuart Nash simply told Stuff the decision was "the right thing to do" when asked on his way into caucus.


The explicit justification for the policy is that without it, less oil exploration would take place. Which is exactly what we need to happen if we are to prevent the destruction of the global climate. But it seems that the government would rather have the climate destroyed than have oil companies angry at it. So much for the nuclear-free moment...

"The most transparent government ever"?

In its Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, the government promised to "Test the merits of undertaking a review of the Official Information Act 1982 and provide and publish advice to Government". Originally, they planned to do this in secret, but when that was exposed, moved to public consultation. So how's it going? Sadly, it doesn't seem to be a priority:

A decision on whether to review 40-year-old Official Information laws has been quietly pushed back.

In March, Justice Ministry officials asked the public for feedback on how freedom of information legislation is working, with a view to carrying out a review.

A decision was due to be made by Justice Minister Andrew Little in June.

But documents published by the Ministry and the State Services Commission show that has been delayed until September.


"The most transparent government ever"? Yeah, right. And remember, this is a review of whether to have a review.

Meanwhile, I have been working my way through the submissions - which you can read here - and a number of themes have emerged. There is a strong strand of public servants complaining about Ministers and "no surprises" management pressuring them to make unlawful withholding decisions. There is strong demand from requesters for criminal penalties for intentionally and unlawfully thwarting requests - something supported by those public servants, and by the Ombudsman, who see it as giving them something to point to to resist Ministerial demands. There is widespread dissatisfaction from both sides with the slowness of the Ombudsman's review process, and from requesters about its one-sided nature. Almost all of the experts given followup interviews supported a full review (though some from the Law Commission wanted the government to implement their previous one), and none of them supported impunity for proactive release (which Ministry of Justice has been using this process to push). Any honest reading of these submisisons would find that the OIA should be reviewed. The question is whether "the most transparent government ever" wants to do that, or whether they want to retain the status quo. Hmmm, I wonder...

Monday, July 22, 2019



About time

In the wake of the March 15 mass-murder, the government moved swiftly to ban semi-automatic firearms, weapons for which there is really no case for being allowed to own in New Zealand. and now, it has announced phase two of its gun control plans: a national firearms register, and tighter licensing restrictions:

The government is to establish a firearms register and make major changes to the licensing regime, in the second phase of gun law reforms.

[...]

A second piece of legislation will now set up a national register, which is expected to take about five years to capture the estimated 250,000 licence holders in New Zealand.

Gun owners will be required to sign up to the register when they get a licence, get one renewed, or when they buy or sell firearms.

If a licence holder is not on the register after five years, they will have to proactively sign up.


Licenses will need to be renewed every five years, and there will be much tighter character requirements. Dealers will face tougher restrictions too. The changes should make kiwis a lot safer, with a minimal impact on legitimate gun owners. As for the gun industry, they'll no doubt scream bloody murder about it. And by doing so, they'll make the case for even tighter regulation in future.

Petty fools with fragile egos

Local body politicians are concerned that the hostile online environment might deter people from running, and want British-style laws to prevent "online attacks". So what sorts of attacks are they concerned about? Death threats (illegal under the Crimes Act)? Sustained online harassment campaigns(illegal under the Harmful Digital Communications Act)? Defamation (a simple tort)? None of the above:

Mr Cull said criticism was part and parcel of public life, but there should be limits.

"If you didn't allow it you wouldn't have a functioning democracy, but I think that too often it's playing the man and not the ball.

"We need to stick to issues."

Marlborough District councillor Cynthia Brooks, who was stepping down this year after two terms, said a lot of criticism stemmed from a lack of awareness.

It was especially noticeable every time there was a story on councillor attendances at meetings.


"Criticism". "Playing the man and not the ball". "A lack of awareness". And they call us "snowflakes". The first are simply a basic part of public life. The other has a very obvious recourse of more transparency about the job and what it entails. Neither seems to remotely reach the threshold required to justify any regulation of speech.

(RNZ also quotes a younger candidate, one used to social media, about curation. Which seems to be a much more mature attitude than that of the older, experienced politicians. Its the internet, you don't have to see anything you don't want to, and you'll almost certainly be much happier if you don't.)

There are real problems online with hate speech, threats, and serious online bullying. That's why we have the (flawed) HDCA. That's why we're having a conversation about hate speech. These petty fools and their fragile little egos aren't helping that. And no doubt, they'd use this post as an example of the "abuse" they face online.

Accountability?

When allegations emerged that civilians had been killed during an SAS raid in Afghanistan, NZDF was absolutely unequivocal in its denials, both the Ministers and the public. Since then, we've learned that they were well aware that there were reports that people had been killed. Whether they knowingly lied to us to protect their reputation is one of the central questions the inquiry is supposed to answer. And the inquiry is sufficiently uncomfortable about the evidence it has that rather than doing it all behind closed doors, it is going to force NZDF to face public cross-examination about its honesty:

The Inquiry into Operation Burnham issued an order for NZ Defence Force to appear during five days of public hearings and explain discrepancies which have emerged in its evidence.

[...]

The discrepancy was such the Inquiry said evidence about what NZDF knew, and what it then relayed to the Beehive, should be examined in public hearings.

The Inquiry said NZDF "made firm statements publicly that no civilian casualties occurred" and went on to support ministers making similar statements.

"These actions were taken despite the repeated allegations of civilian casualties in the media and elsewhere from immediately after the Operation until the present.

"Given that the statements of NZDF and ministers were made publicly, the Inquiry considers that they should be explained publicly."


Good. Though it will be interesting to see whether it is just the current NZDF leadership, or those who were in charge at the time (including former Governor-General Lt General Jerry Mateparae) who will face questioning. And it will also be interesting to see whether they answer, or try to hide behind another wall of bullshit.

Meanwhile, if you read the briefing to the Prime Minister in that article, their description of Operation Burnham claims that NZ troops were actively opposed by "a large number of armed insurgents, operating in small groups" who "attempted to outflank the force and fire on it from high ground". Which doesn't seem to fit with any description of what happened at all. Were NZDF talking up their raid to make themselves seem more heroic as well? And if they do such things, how can any of us trust them about anything?

New Fisk

At Cologne’s Gestapo museum, visitors are drawing modern parallels – can we really say they’re being simplistic?

Climate Change: Emergency measures

Over the past few months, we've seen a number of local authorities respond to public pressure over climate change by declaring a climate emergency. So what should they do next? Writing in The Spinoff, Sarah Thomson has some suggestions. Most of urban New Zealand's emissions come from transport and energy use, so local authorities should be trying to minimise those in the long-term, by planning for more compact and efficient cities. This means growing up, not out, ending urban sprawl, and giving the streets back to the people rather than cars. It also means using district plans to require efficient buildings, and local body policy to encourage uptake of solar panels - and councils doing that for the huge number of buildings they manage. One obvious thing missing is also to require large developments like shopping malls and parking buildings to install EV fast-chargers, to push the rapid uptake of greener vehicles.

Most of this is focused on city councils. But there's a huge role for regional councils as well. Most importantly, boosting public transport, so it can be a reliable replacement for cars for more people. Also, regional councils have control over air and water quality, so using those rules to drive electrification of industry and force destocking of dairy farms is vital. They're up against the RMA, which bans councils from explicitly regulating climate change, on this, but many councils already heavily regulate coal to prevent air pollution, and an increasing number are restricting nitrates to protect waterways. Pushing harder on that, and regulating natural gas to prevent NOx (which leads to smog) and leaks (which are straight-out contaminant discharges) is vital.

Of course, it can't all be done by local government. But they're one tool, and we should get them doing everything they can. Because otherwise, they'll be doing more of this instead.

Friday, July 19, 2019



Unfit to govern

This week, in the wake of National's opposition to even talking about reducing agricultural emissions and Simon Bridges' refusal to recognise that there is a climate emergency, I've been saying that National is unfit to govern. And it looks like the Herald's Simon Wilson agrees [paywalled / depaywall script]:

The past two weeks have in my opinion exposed the biggest climate change problem in this country. Cows? Nope. Cars? Nope. I believe it's the National Party.

This would be laughable if it wasn't for the pain it will cause. And not just environmental pain: in my view National's position on climate change will undermine our economy and damage us socially. Delays now will lead to crisis management later and the people worst affected will include farmers, coastal dwellers and the poor.

As long as National holds to this position, to me it demonstrates it is unfit to govern.


As he points out, National pretends to care, but opposes and undermines every effort to actually do something, and even promises to go backwards by reintroducing offshore drilling. And in the face of our biggest policy challenge, one which threatens to drown whole suburbs and push the entire farming sector into perpetual drought, that's simply not good enough. People should vote accordingly.

Make it 16

cropped-20190714_makeit16_logo_v2-8

Something I missed: not only did Youth MPs declare a climate emergency; they also launched a campaign to lower the voting age to 16:

Youth Parliament week in Parliament has seen the establishment of Make it 16, a campaign to lower the voting age in New Zealand.

“Make it 16 is a non-partisan, youth-led campaign advocating for more people’s voices to count in our democracy” says Oli Morphew, age 14, National Spokesperson for Make it 16. “We welcome anyone who wants a fairer and stronger democracy to join our campaign”.

Youth MPs representing all parliamentary parties have signed on to Make it 16.

As I noted earlier in the week, I find the arguments for a lower voting age compelling. Its basic democracy: teenagers have interests, they're clearly capable of expressing them, and so they should be able to vote. I look forward to seeing where this campaign goes, and to supporting it in future.

You can read more about the campaign on The Spinoff.

More police misconduct

Why do so many people mistrust the police? Because they pull shit like this:

The police are flouting the rules on breath testing, carrying out tests in people's homes to catch them out sometimes up to two hours after they were last seen driving, a Dunedin lawyer says.

Dunedin barrister Marie Taylor-Cyphers said in many cases the supporting evidential paperwork claimed the tests were taken roadside, though officers would later concede on the stand that was not the case.

She was concerned police were taking advantage of a naive public to catch them out.

"The breath testing very commonly occurs in private residences, in people's homes, most commonly in their lounges - this happens all the time," she said.

"In some cases there's very clear evidence that the police reference in their case that they can see that the person's got a glass of whisky or a gin and tonic in their hand when the police enter their home."


This happens by "consent": a person with a gun and a uniform "asks" to enter and "asks" to perform a breath test, relying on people's fear or respect for their uniform and position to gain compliance. And they get away with it because people don't challenge them - its just easier and cheaper to take the ticket or plead guilty than to mount a defence. They get a conviction, their stats look good, maybe they get a bonus for meeting their KPIs. And meanwhile, someone has their life ruined because of police intrusion.

As for what to do about it: just don't talk to the police. If they ask to "talk" to you, refuse (or at least, refuse unless you have a lawyer present). If they "ask" to enter your home or perform a search, ask if they have a warrant. And if they quibble, ask for their badge number, and issue a trespass notice. Make it clear that in this country, policing happens by consent - and when they abuse that consent for any, it gets withdrawn by all.

Thursday, July 18, 2019



There are solutions for this

The Herald reports that the housing shortage / bubble has hit a new level:

New Zealand is short of 130,000 homes, the tally having risen lately by 30,000, two economists say.

Jarrod Kerr and Jeremy Couchman, Kiwibank economists said: "This time last year we showed a shortage of 100,000 homes across New Zealand. Our population growth has outstripped housing supply again. We're now short 130,000 homes."

Residential building consents had hit multi-decade highs, they acknowledged, but it was not enough to keep pace with demand.

The shortage could get worse: "If things continue the way they are, the shortage will balloon to 150,000 this time next year."


There is of course a solution for this: the government could leverage its ability to borrow money a absurdly cheap rates to fund a massive house-building scheme, of social houses or of houses for sale. Not the pissing-about levels its been doing with KiwiBuild, but tens of thousands of houses a year. Or, it could leverage that same ability to fund 100% mortgages for first-home builders, or work on some sort of shared-equity scheme. In many of these solutions the scheme pays for itself, through sales, rents, or loan repayments (which can then simply be financialised and shifted off the government's books to a bank).

The problem is that all of these solutions - and indeed, any action to eliminate this shortage - would lower property values for homeowners, including MPs (who have extensive property portfolios themselves). Or it would lower expectations that they would rise endlessly. And so its apparently off the table. A supposedly "centre-left" government refuses to help those in need or solve a pressing social problem because the rich - including its own MPs - might whine.

But that's Labour for you now: putting the "right" in "centre-left". The days of Michael Joseph savage are clearly long gone.

Fonterra finally gets it

Milk producer Fonterra is one of New Zealand's biggest coal-users, using it to power all its South Island (and a few of its North Island) dairy factories. They'd previously "committed" to not building any new coal boilers after 2030. Now, they've brought that forward as part of a plan to cut emissions by 30% by 2030, and to net-zero by 2050. They're also planning to impose farm environment plans on their suppliers from 2025, which suggests they will be required to follow better practice to reduce methane emissions and clean up waterways, or have their milk refused.

All of this is good and welcome, but Fonterra needs to go further and rule out new natural gas plants as well. It's pretty much required by their 2050 target, but they should make it explicit. The planet can't afford gas any more than it can afford coal, and the sooner businesses accept that and commit to electrification, the better.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019



We should not subsidise fertiliser emissions

Yesterday the government released its discussion document on action on agricultural emissions. As sadly usual, it proposed enormous subsidies for farm emissions, including for nitrogen-based fertiliser.

This is a huge mistake. In addition to being one of the chief drivers of dairy intensification and freshwater pollution - things we want to stamp out - nitrogen-based fertilise ris in the ETS because it decomposes to nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is a potent and long-lived greenhouse gas, between 268 and 298 times worse than carbon dioxide, depending on what timescale you measure it over. Both farmers and the Independent Climate Change Commission are arguing that we should focus on long-lived gases, as they pose the greatest threat in the long-term. I don't think we have a long-term to average over anymore (in the long-term, we are dead, to riff on Keynes), but even with a short-term focus, reducing nitrous oxide is a hugely effective way of reducing warming, and one of the highest-impact things we can do to save the climate, to save ourselves.

So rather than subsidising farmers to produce this gas, we should instead be making them pay the full price of the emissions it causes - and removing the artificial cap on ETS prices so that the price can increase to its natural level. Farmers will no doubt complain that if they have to pay the full cost, they'll have to stop using it. Good. That's the fucking point. If there are high-value uses which justify the emissions cost, then they'll be able to afford to keep using it (or they'll make out like bandits by switching to alternatives). But for low-value uses, like fertilising marginal grass to grow cows and pollute rivers, we are all better off if people stop doing that.

The Youth Parliament votes for a future

Back in May, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick tried to put a motion to have parliament declare a climate emergency. National denied leave, and have since made it clear that they oppose any such motion. But today, the Youth Parliament did what the "responsible" adults refused to:



Simon Bridges will probably dismiss this as "irresponsible yoof" or some such bullshit. But who's being "irresponsible": the people voting to take the biggest policy challenge to face our country (and our species) seriously? Or the people who stuff farmer and oil company money in their ears and try and pretend it doesn't exist?

Time for a people's review of the OIA

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice conducted a public consultation exercise on whether to hold a review of the Official Information Act (this replaced their previous plans to hold a secret consultation with handpicked people). 285 people submitted on it, but their submissions disappeared into a black hole, as the Minister put back a decision. So, someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to request them. As a result, you can read them all here.

There's over 600 pages of documents there, including comments from a number of government agencies. It'll take a while to digest. But since the Minister is sitting on his hands, one obvious thing those of us who want to fix the OIA could do is go through them, identify the primary issues raised, and how to fix them - effectively to conduct a people's review of the Act, with recommendations reflecting the will of submitters rather than the public service elite.

Climate Change: National isn't serious II

The planet is burning. The ice-caps are melting. People are dying of heat waves, storms are getting more intense, huge areas are catching fire every year, and cities are running out of water. We seeing a climate-related disaster every week. So what does National party leader Simon Bridges think of all this? Here's what he said about it this morning:

I don't believe there is a climate emergency.

And that's the problem, right there. We have a huge, global problem, and the leader of our major opposition party refuses to accept that it exists.

National simply isn't serious about climate change. And until they are, until they advocate the sort of emissions reductions we need, and the sort of policies we need to get them, they are unfit for office. If you're wondering what personal action you can take on climate change, here's an obvious one: vote out National, and vote only for parties who will actually do something.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019



Putting agriculture in the ETS

The Interim Climate Change Committee's report on Action on agricultural emissions: Evidence, analysis and recommendations was finally released today, and as you might guess from the title, it is recommending that we actually act, rather than let farmers keep on polluting. While the headlines are focussing on the long-term plan for a farm-level levy system in 2025, the report actually recommends that agricultural and fertiliser emissions be brought into the ETS at the processor level as soon as possible. Which is a crude way of doing it, which obviously ignores all the things individual farmers can do to reduce their emissions, but its fail-safe, in that we get a price signal ASAP, rather than allowing it to be endlessly delayed by design questions and political cold feet (which was the story of the ETS: proposed in 1995, implementation dragged out until 2008, and arguably not properly implemented yet).

So, that's the good news: the ICCC has recommended action which will see farmers at least partly paying their way from next year. They'll have enormous free allocation, of course - apparently we can't expect New Zealand's tough, independent farmers to stand on their own two feet and pay the full cost of their pollution, unlike us weak city-folk who already pay the full cost of petrol and electricity - but there will at least be a marginal price signal. And even at the producer-level, that will shift the profitability of various actions, and maybe provide Fonterra with an incentive to start pushing its farmers to adopt best-practice to minimise their bills. With fertiliser, there will be a direct incentive to use less, just as there is for petrol.

The bad news? The government's discussion document isn't committed to this, and offers a "sector-government agreement" to support on-farm behaviour change as an alternative. I wonder which one farmers will vote for? But in addition to continuing to subsidise rural pollution, this is also not fail-safe, and instead provides a strong incentive for farmers to drag out and challenge the on-farm system so they can keep getting a free ride for as long as possible. Just as they've done with local government efforts to control nitrogen pollution.

I'd suggest submitting on the discussion document, but MfE's online submisison tool - "our preferred way to receive submissions" - requires a login with no apparent way to create an account (I guess they don't actually want to hear from people after all). You can however submit by email. As for what to put in there, try this:

  • Agriculture and fertiliser should be brought into the ETS at the producer level immediately.
  • There should be no free allocation for either. Farmers should pay for 100% of their emissions, just as people pay for 100% of their emissions from petrol and electricity. If the government insists on free allocation, it should be phased down linearly over a decade at most, so that farmers eventually pay the full costs of their emissions.
  • An on-farm emissions measurement system should be developed to allow the point of obligation to eventually be moved to the farm level to reward efficient producers, but that development should not delay the imposition of a price signal.
Farmers will complain that pricing with no free allocation will cause some of them to go out of business. Good. Driving inefficient, dirty producers out of business is the point of pricing schemes. Its a feature, not a bug. And the sooner it happens, the better.

Climate Change: National isn't serious

Agriculture is our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 48% of the total. It follows that meeting any credible emissions reduction target requires cutting agricultural emissions, most likely by having fewer cows. But National thinks people shouldn't be allowed to even discuss that option:

National's climate change spokesperson Todd Muller has criticised Te Papa museum for an exhibition he says is "biased and not science based".

The museum's Climate Converter interactive exhibition has an option labelled 'less dairying' as one way New Zealand can reduce its carbon footprint.

Mr Muller said that was a "kick in the guts" for rural families.

The Climate Converter allows users to pick a conservation option and watch the results on an animated mural.

Te Papa said it was based on a scientific report and the 'less dairy' option was one of 14 possible actions represented.


That report (from the Royal Society of New Zealand) is here. It looks at what our options are and the implications of various sorts of emissions reductions (an "emissions wedge" approach). It does this for every sector: electricity, transport, buildings, and of course agriculture. And because the Royal society doesn't believe in magic, or in hope as a policy, it focuses on things which actually work: like reducing the number of cows, rather than magic emissions-reduction vaccines which don't exist yet.

Todd Muller, the National Party, and Federated Farmers might not like that. But that's the scientific reality: if we are to reduce emissions significantly, we need fewer cows. Its that simple. And their refusal to consider this and opposition to people talking about it suggests strongly that they are not interested in significant emissions reductions. In other words, they are simply not serious about climate change, our biggest policy challenge. They're simply a pack of deniers and foot-draggers, unfit for government.

The UK commits fraud to deport people

How scummy is the UK Home Office? This scummy:

The Home Office lied to EU member states to remove victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in breach of European law, according to whistleblowers.

Legal experts have said the practice is “unthinkable” and “a disgraceful and illegal manipulation of the system”. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has urged the sources to contact Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee. “These are clearly serious allegations which must be properly investigated,” said Khan’s spokesperson.

Whistleblowers allege that, while operating as the third country unit, the now renamed Dublin cessation unit (DCU) regularly lied to other member states and manipulated the system by sending them “extra time” letters, falsely claiming asylum applicants had launched appeals. These letters remove the deadline – usually six months – after which someone seeking asylum can no longer be removed from the UK and sent to the EU country determined to be responsible for assessing their claim.

The practice, which started in 2013, apparently continued until at least December last year, the sources say.


The lesson here is that if you give immigration authorities a target for deportations, they will game the system to achieve it, including simply making shit up so they can throw people out and make them someone else's problem. You'd think that this would be a criminal fraud, especially given the consequences (detention and deportation). But I expect that the Home Office staff who falsified these documents will never be held accountable.

Monday, July 15, 2019



We should lower the voting age

The Youth Parliament is being held this week, and some of the youth MPs are campaigning for a lower voting age:

Molly Doyle, 17, is one Youth MP who wants this to change. She is part of a non-partisan campaign run by youth seeking to lower the voting age in Aotearoa.

"Our democracy is based on one person, one vote,” Molly said.

“People who are 16 can work full-time, consent to sex, drive, and own guns. They should also be able to vote."


I find the argument for a lower voting age compelling, and its even more compelling now, with climate change threatening young people's futures. Scotland has done the right thing. So has Austria. We should too. And I'm looking forward to seeing where this youth-led campaign goes.

Meanwhile, you'd expect a supposedly future-focused, transformative government to be supportive of this. Sadly, that seems to be too much to expect. Because at the end of the day, Labour is about preserving existing power structures - not overturning them.

Big solar is coming

Up till now, Australia has made its living by digging up coal and exporting it to other countries, destroying the global climate in the process. But now they have a new option: exporting solar power:

The desert outside Tennant Creek, deep in the Northern Territory, is not the most obvious place to build and transmit Singapore’s future electricity supply. Though few in the southern states are yet to take notice, a group of Australian developers are betting that will change.

If they are right, it could have far-reaching consequences for Australia’s energy industry and what the country sells to the world.

Known as Sun Cable, it is promised to be the world’s largest solar farm. If developed as planned, a 10-gigawatt-capacity array of panels will be spread across 15,000 hectares and be backed by battery storage to ensure it can supply power around the clock.

Overhead transmission lines will send electricity to Darwin and plug into the NT grid. But the bulk would be exported via a high-voltage direct-current submarine cable snaking through the Indonesian archipelago to Singapore. The developers say it will be able to provide one-fifth of the island city-state’s electricity needs, replacing its increasingly expensive gas-fired power.


Singapore is a long way from Darwin - 3800km, apparently. But HVDC transmission apparently makes sending power that far viable. It does invite the question of why not just send it to Indonesia, but I assume the scheme's backers think they can get more money from Singapore.

Similar schemes have been proposed for using solar in the Sahara to power Europe, but they've all been kindof colonial, focused on exploiting a poor country's resources to meet foreign demand, without doing anything for the locals (who probably want electricity too). This doesn't have that toxic dynamic. But if it goes ahead, it will help shift the global energy conversation further away from fossil fuels and more towards renewables - the direction it needs to be going in if we are to save the planet.

Friday, July 12, 2019



New Fisk

Trump’s hissy-fit over Darroch will blow a chill wind across Britain’s embassies in the Middle East

Climate Change: Even airlines are telling people not to fly

Last month I talked about the no-fly movement: people who refuse to fly or limit it to absolute necessity to avoid destroying the climate. Now, that movement has a somewhat surprising new member: Dutch airline KLM:

Dutch airline KLM has launched a campaign asking people to fly less. The video and open letter from CEO Pieter Elbers asks: “Do you always have to meet face-to-face?” and “Could you take the train instead?”

The campaign aims to encourage travellers and the aviation industry to consider the environmental impact of flying. It describes the “shared responsibility” of travellers and airlines to “fly more responsibly”, and says those in the industry need to “create a sustainable future for aviation”.


Which is a powerful sign that the airline industry's loss of social licence is extending beyond Sweden to Europe generally. I guess they really are worried about someone running an advertising campaign like this against them.

Climate Change: We need a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

In the 1960's, humanity faced a terrible threat: global thermonuclear war. Nuclear weapons were uniquely destructive and dangerous, and if more countries got them, the logic of MAD and the pre-emptive strike would put us on a hair-trigger to destruction. So, we did the sensible thing, talked it out ("jaw-jaw is always better than war-war", as Churchill said), and came up with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which we basicly agreed that we were all going to cooperate to ensure that there weren't going to be any more nuclear-armed states. And while its had high-profile failures - Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea - the NPT has generally been an overwhelming success. Australia doesn't have nuclear weapons, or Japan, or Brazil, or Germany - and its not like these countries don't have the capability or feel threatened by others.

Now, humanity faces a new threat: climate change. If we are to avoid making the earth uninhabitable, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to practically nothing over the next decade. The biggest source of such emissions is fossil fuels - or, to put it another way, the fossil fuel industry is the biggest threat to the global climate and our continued wellbeing (if not survival). If things continue as they are, the fossil-fuel industry's climate disruptions are going to kill hundreds of millions of people by the end of the century.

The NPT suggests a possible answer: a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. First floated in the Guardian last year, there's an article about it today in Climate Change News:

In a paper in Climate Policy, we make the case for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Taking its cue from the non-proliferation treaty for nuclear weapons concluded after just three years in 1968, a fossil fuel version could have three pillars.

These parallel those of the nuclear NPT: non-proliferation (an agreement not to exploit new reserves), disarmament (the managed decline of existing fossil fuel infrastructure) and peaceful use (the financing of low carbon alternatives through a global transition fund).

A process towards this end could start with an assessment of existing reserves, as well as agreement on the principles for the sequencing of production phase-down targets across countries and fuel types, with the aim of aligning fossil fuel use with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C warming threshold.


The paper cites NZ's offshore oil exploration ban as an example of the first step, and we are already a member of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a group of countries committed to phasing out coal-fired power stations (easy for NZ - we only have one). But if the government really wanted to act like climate change is "my generations nuclear-free moment", then taking a lead role in negotiating an NPT for fossil fuels (and backing it up at home with domestic bans and phasedowns) would be a good start.

Thursday, July 11, 2019



Reminder: Submit on the Zero Carbon Bill

Submissions on the government's Zero Carbon Bill close in five days time. Have you made a submission yet?

If you're wondering what to say, both Generation Zero and School Strike For Climate, the general thrust of which is stronger methane targets, shorter timelines, and better accountability mechanisms. If you're interested in freedom of information and our ability to hold future ministers to account, you might also want to argue for the removal of the odious secrecy clause, which would make practically everything the Climate Change Commission does secret. Or, if you feel you don't have time for that, you could add your name to the Generation Zero community submission - but I should point out that an individually-written submission has more impact than a group or form submission.

Submissions are due by 16 July 2019. Act now if you want a future.

Make Matariki a public holiday

Matariki has been and gone, but this year we saw a couple of op-eds arguing that it should be a public holiday, replacing the foreign monarch's fake birthday. And now, New Zealand Republic - a group which campaigns for an independent, New Zealand head of state - has launched a parliamentary petition campaign for that to happen.

The petition is hosted on Parliament's website. You can sign it here.

Its worth supporting. Unlike foreign monarch's fake birthday, Matariki is a day indigenous to New Zealand. Making it a public holiday would be a further way of marking our shift from being a British colony to being our own place.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in joining the campaign for a New Zealand Republic, you can do so here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019



Did NZDF lie to Ministers?

When Nicky Hager revealed US footage of the Operation Burnham raid, obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act, one of the obvious questions was whether Ministers had seen it - and in particular, whether they'd been told that it was edited and that warnings about the presence of women and children had been removed. The Herald (paywalled) got on to this, and the answer seems to be "no":

When launching the inquiry, Parker said he had been shown footage which showed people in the village were armed. He has now refused to comment on whether he was told of the deleted scenes and the US investigation.

Mark told the Herald he was aware the footage had been edited but had no recollection of being told about the missing 12 seconds or the US investigation into it being deleted.

Mitchell has confirmed he was not told of the missing 12 seconds or that an investigation had taken place into the deleted content. He said the footage he did see supported what he had been told about armed insurgents in the village and no inquiry was needed.

Brownlee said he believed he had been told. "As far as 12 seconds being removed, I have a recollection of reading that. I had that report at the time, I think."

English and Key have not responded to requests for comment.

The Inquiry into Operation Burnham has also refused to comment on whether NZDF informed it about the US investigation.


So two Ministers out of four say they weren't told, three refuse to say, and only one says they were. The inquiry I hope will be investigating this, but its looking like NZDF's post murder-spree spin-job, aimed at convincing Ministers that there was no need for an inquiry, tried to bullshit them. They may also have tried to bullshit the inquiry by keeping the US investigation secret (in that if they had informed the inquiry about it and provided the documents, the inquiry would simply have said so). And if any of this is confirmed by the inquiry, then there needs to be heads on spikes at NZDF - because lying to your civilian superiors is absolutely unacceptable in a military organisation, and that shit needs to be stomped on hard.

Equality comes to Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the Alabama of the UK: a backwards region where women and gay people are denied fundamental rights. But Westminster has just decided to fix that:

MPs have voted resoundingly to extend same-sex marriage and access to abortion to Northern Ireland, bringing the region into line with the rest of the UK on the two significant social issues.

The two historic votes, arriving within little more than a quarter of an hour of each other, were greeted ecstatically by equalities campaigners. With ministers promising to respect the results, they could have vital repercussions for people in Northern Ireland.

[...]

The changes came via amendments to an otherwise technical government bill connected to budgets and elections for the devolved assembly. In the first amendment, tabled by the Labour MP Conor McGinn, a longstanding campaigner for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, the Commons voted 383 to 73 to extend it to the region.


Its good news, and yet I'm also disquieted, because this vote violates fundamental UK constitutional norms. Northern Ireland has a devolved administration, and marriage equality and abortion rights sits squarely within that government's jurisdiction. Westminster overriding devolved administrations and legislating for them in their areas of competence without their consent is Not A Good Thing. Instead, it just seems like more odious English colonialism, no matter how well-intentioned.

And on the other hand: thanks to the DUP's antics, Northern Ireland hasn't had a government for the past two and a half years, and Westminster is having to legislate for them anyway out of necessity in order to ensure things keep working. But this goes well beyond keeping things ticking over, and its part of a disturbing trend of Westminster overstepping the constitutional mark and purporting to legislate for devolved regions (e.g. self-governing overseas territories and the Channel Islands on money laundering).

And on the gripping hand: if Northern Ireland doesn't like this, they can always declare independence, or unite with the Republic of Ireland (which has both same-sex marriage and abortion now). Or just stop pissing about, get their devolved parliament working again, and repeal it. Except they won't be able to, because there's in fact a parliamentary majority at Stormont for marriage equality, and the only thing which kept it illegal was the special rights of Ulster bigots under the Good Friday Agreement. So, this law probably isn't going anywhere, and the bigots are just going to have to get used to it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019



Australia spies on journalists

When the Australian government passed a series of new spy laws over the last few years, they pinky-promised that they wouldn't use them to spy on journalists and subvert freedom of the press. They lied:

The anti-encryption laws passed by the federal parliament last year have been used to bypass journalist protections in other national security laws, a cybersecurity researcher has said.

[...]

One part of the law updated the powers law enforcement have in executing a warrant. Added into the Crimes Act was the power for agencies to “add, copy, delete or alter” data on computers as part of the execution of warrants.

It was this new power the Australian federal police relied on, in the now-infamous photos of AFP officers clicking through and reviewing files for hours on end at the ABC headquarters.

The Department of Home Affairs admitted to using the new power in a submission to the review, stating the AFP relied on the power in raiding the ABC and the Canberra home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst in June.


I guess journalists having their information protected and requiring a special warrant under data retention laws means nothing if the government can just steal the information directly and identify their sources from their notes. Its just another step along Australia's road to tyranny - and it seems to be going along that road quite fast.

Justice for Operation Condor

From 1975 to 1989, the spy agencies of South America's right-wing military dictatorships cooperated in Operation Condor, a joint campaign of extermination against the continent's left. Roughly 400,000 people were imprisoned, 30,000 disappeared, and 60,000 murdered - kidnapped, tortured, executed, assassinated, or thrown out of flying aircraft. It was a crime against humanity, and over the past decades, its surviving architects have gradually been convicted and punished for it. And today, another 24 of them went were sentenced to prison:

An Italian court has sentenced 24 people to life in prison for their involvement in Operation Condor, in which the dictatorships of six South American countries conspired to kidnap and assassinate political opponents in each other’s territories.

The trial, the first of its kind in Europe, began in 2015 and focused on the responsibility of senior officials in the military dictatorships of Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina for the killing and disappearance of 43 people including 23 Italian citizens.

Those sentenced on Monday included Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who was president of Peru from 1975 to 1980, Juan Carlos Blanco, a former foreign minister in Uruguay, Pedro Espinoza Bravo, a former deputy intelligence chief in Chile, and Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli, a Uruguayan former naval intelligence officer.

Good. And hopefully they'll track down and prosecute the rest of those involved as well.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators of Operation Condor being hunted down and prosecuted like Nazis makes me wonder whether the perpetrators of Guantanamo, and US rendition and torture will be treated the same way in future. It took 25 years after the end of Condor for the prosecutions to really get rolling, so we're probably looking at at least another decade for that to happen.

Correction: It wasn't clear from the original article, but only one of the defendants - Jorge Tróccoli - is actually in Italy and facing prison. The rest were sentenced in absentia and will need to be extradited (though some are reportedly already in prison in their home countries). So its not quite the justice I thought it was. Still, the ruling itself that Operation Condor was a crime is useful, and even if not extradited now, those convicted will have this hanging over them for the rest of their lives, and if they ever set foot outside of whatever country is harbouring them, may find themselves Pinocheted.

Labour chickenshitting on abortion

When she was standing for office, Jacinda Ardern promised she would take abortion out of the Crimes Act. And to be fair, there was some early action on that, with an immediate referral of the issue to the Law Commission to look at options for reform. But the Law Commission reported back in October, and since then, the government has done... nothing. And its still doing nothing today:

[T]he Government has yet to publicly reply to Law Commission advice released in October or confirm what changes it plans to put up to a conscience vote in Parliament.

Last year, Little said he expected to have a Bill ready to go in early 2019, but it stalled in talks with NZ First.

In May, he said an announcement was weeks away, after a breakthrough.

It was still weeks away on Tuesday.

"Constructive discussions have been ongoing regarding abortion law reform and I'm pleased with where it's at," Little said in a statement.

"I expect to have an announcement to make in a matter of weeks."


And he'll probably say the same thing in a couple of weeks as well. Because when it comes to actual action, Labour are chickenshits, unwilling to confront the bigots in their coalition partner, let alone their own caucus. But as the article points out, the bill will be a conscience vote, so it doesn't really matter what those bigots think. They'll vote against, others will vote for, and I'm confident that in today's social environment, it will pass. That is, if MP's are allowed to vote on it.

Meanwhile, from this, and climate change, and poverty, it seems that the value of the Prime Minister's campaign promises is zero. They're just pretty lies told to secure election - and voters should treat them accordingly.

Climate Change: Timid and unambitious

When the government introduced the Zero Carbon Bill, people rightly asked what they planned to do to reduce transport emissions, which basicly had no policy at all other than the ETS. Today, they responded, announcing a "feebate" system which would see buyers of dirty vehicles taxed to subsidise clean ones. Its an obvious policy, and one I've supported for a long time. At the same time, in the current crisis, it seems timid and unambitious. The ice-caps are melting, cities are running out of water, and the government is planning to apply a vehicle fuel efficiency standard Japan and Europe had five years ago in 2025? So much for our "nuclear-free moment"!

A feebate scheme is an important part of any policy to reduce transport emissions and encourage the necessary switchover to electric vehicles. But the government needs to do more than this, and it needs to do it faster. They should be pushing this through the legislative process as quickly as possible, and implementing it immediately, rather than with a 5-year phase-in. As the Cabinet paper points out, a dirty car imported today stays on our roads for 19 years on average. So the quicker we turn off that tap, the better. But more importantly, we need to turn it off permanently. Other countries have announced phase-out dates for fossil-fuel vehicles, typically aiming to ban new sales in 2030 (and non-museum-piece registrations 5-10 years after). Such a date sets market expectations and helps drive the push for people to make their next car electric. But there's no mention of one at all in the Cabinet paper - the necessary action seems like too much for the government to take. And it certainly makes it clear that, contrary to the Prime Minister's rhetoric, we're not seeking to lead on climate change, we're not even being a "fast follower". Instead, our government is dragging its feet, just like its always done.

Monday, July 08, 2019



The wrong kind of trees?

The government's billion trees program is the sort of policy which could make a real difference to our emissions and the fight against climate change. But climate scientist Jim Salinger isn't convinced:

The Forestry Minister Shane Jones' one billion trees won't reduce carbon emissions, as too few natives are being planted, climate scientist Jim Salinger says.

[...]

Forestry New Zealand figures show in the first year, of the 91m trees planted, only 12 percent were native.

The figures are estimates based on the sale and distribution of exotic and native tree seedlings.

Dr Salinger said that ideally 90 percent of the trees planted would be native species as they store more carbon.

"The ratio of storage to carbon between natural forests and plantations like pine trees is 40:1 - so there's a huge difference. The reason being is with plantation forests, if you're going to grow radiata pine, they'll capture carbon for the first cropping cycle but then it gets harvested and it ends up as pulp and paper and ends up back in the atmosphere.

"So I'm afraid Shane Jones' idea of planting a billion trees, well, it might be good for three decades but then the carbon gets back into the atmosphere."


Of course, that assumes that the trees will be cut down. And I'm not sure we can actually assume that. Firstly, because carbon prices are rising, so in thirty years time it might not actually be economic to cut the trees down, in that the cost of carbon would exceed the value of the wood. This only requires carbon costs to triple or quadruple, and people expect that to happen within a decade if the price cap is removed. And secondly, because as the crisis bites, policy is inevitably going to change, so people who plant trees today may find themselves legally forbidden from cutting them down in future.

But there's a real question on which sorts of trees we should be planting. The government wants two-thirds of them to be natives (and is boosting the native seedling industry to cope with the demand), and this has tremendous environmental co-benefits - basicly we'd be beginning to return part of the country to the state it was in before farmers slashed and burned it all to make way for their sheep and cows. But native trees also soak up carbon more slowly than fast-growing exotics, so the quickest way to draw down carbon is to plant pine, or (worse) eucalyptus - which doesn't provide the environmental co-benefits. They're having a similar debate in Ireland, where the government wants to plant trees, but its all spruce rather than native oak.

And on the gripping hand: we no longer have a long-term, so short-term carbon absorption is all that matters. And TBH, at this stage, I think its a case of plant anything, anything at all that soaks up carbon, just get it in the ground and convert land back to forest as quickly as possible. Native trees are nice, but any tree is better than none.

Fuck the surplus. Feed the kids

Last month the government was celebrating another surplus. Meanwhile, children are starving:

One in five children are living in households where putting food on the table is a struggle, according to a new report from the Ministry of Health.

It found that many parents were stressed and anxious about providing food, or were forced to rely on charities or emergency assistance, because of a lack of money.

The report said almost 20 percent of children aged 0 to 14 were living in households experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity.

That could mean families that could not afford to eat properly, ran out of food because of lack of money, ate less, had less variety in their diets, relied on others for food, or used food grants or food banks.


This is simply evil. There is no other way to describe it. And stopping it from happening is why government exists in New Zealand. Unfortunately, our "left-wing" government would rather stash money away to win the approval of bankers and rich pricks than perform the task it exists to do. The gap between its rhetoric and reality couldn't be any more yawning.

Friday, July 05, 2019



New Fisk

Jared Kushner should be ignored – but we should remember this startling US Middle East plan from 100 years ago

Climate Change: Easy decarbonisation

If we are to avoid making the earth uninhabitable, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to practically nothing over the next decade. But that will still leave us with the problem of the carbon we have already emitted, which has already "baked in" over a degree of warming into the global climate, with horrifying results we now see in the news every day. Fortunately, there's an easy solution to this: trees. Lots of trees:

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

The scientists specifically excluded all fields used to grow crops and urban areas from their analysis. But they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit sheep and cattle.

Returning this area to forest would dramatically shift the balance of carbon in the atmosphere. And it would so so relatively quickly and cheaply - over decades, not centuries, and for tens of dollars a ton, not the hundreds required for (still non-existent) magic tech like "carbon capture and storage". And it would have other ecological benefits as well, such as provided habitat for threatened species.

Obviously, its a huge job. So's replacing all our fossil fuel infrastructure with renewables. But the planet won't be saved in a day. And the sooner we start it, the better.

What good is the SFO?

Former Waikato DHB CEO Nigel Murray allegedly misused public funds, spending more than $120,000 of public money on unjustified travel. He was forced to resign and the Serious Fraud Office began an investigation. But despite the SFO finding that the misuse was criminal, it has decided not to prosecute, because the cost of investigation and prosecution outweighed the amount stolen. Which makes you wonder what use the SFO is, or why we pay their salaries if they're going to refuse to prosecute.

The purpose of the SFO is to prosecute serious fraud. Fraud by senior public servants is serious by definition as it goes to the heart of public trust in government. For them to just shrug their shoulders and say "too expensive" sends a terrible message: to the public sector, who are being told they can steal from us and get away with it, and to the public, who are being told that their government will look the other way on corruption by their own. And neither message is acceptable. We should have absolutely zero tolerance for fraud by public servants. And if the SFO isn't going to apply such a policy, we need to sack their CEO, and appoint someone who will.

Thursday, July 04, 2019



Why should we subsidise climate deniers?

Yesterday, Environment Southland voted against declaring a climate emergency. Today, they want government money to help deal with the effects of climate change:

Local councils are hopeful the Government will make a move to help the regions combat the effects of climate change, following supportive recommendations from the Productivity Commission.

[...]

Nicol Horrell, the chairman of Environment Southland Regional Council, mirrors that sentiment.

"We would look forward to any help in that area," he told Stuff.

He explained, much like the other regions, Southland is asked to do more, "but the cheque doesn't come with it".


So the coal-fired dairy farmers of Southland want the rest of us to pay to clean up a mess they point-blank refuse to do anything about themselves. But unless they demonstrate some basic willingness to recognise the problem, I think that is going to be difficult to sell to the people of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin - the places where people actually live and where taxes are actually paid. Why should the rest of us subsidise climate change deniers?

Why Parliament hasn't declared a climate emergency

Why hasn't Parliament followed the lead set by our local authorities and declared a climate emergency? The answer is the National Party:

The Prime Minister’s admission that she is open to the idea of declaring a climate change emergency is nothing more than hot air and rhetoric, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Todd Muller says.

“This amounts to nothing more than political posturing and virtue signalling, the Climate Change Minister himself has admitted that he expects emissions to continue to rise until the mid-2020s, and declaring an emergency would not have any impact on this.

[...]

“When governments declare emergencies they are for natural disasters and requires the full and urgent attention of all relevant government departments. This declaration lacks all such substance and is merely a feel good statement with no plan or meaningful action standing behind it.


Conveniently, they oppose any meaningful action too. They are not a party which is interested in the future of New Zealand. Instead, they're a party full of climate change deniers, who want to do as little as possible so their farmer cronies can profit while the planet burns.

Again, this shows us that any political strategy which relies on building consensus with National over climate change is doomed to failure. There is no simply consensus to be found there. Instead, the government needs to work with its own coalition partners to establish policy facts and build public support for them that National dare not challenge - just as their predecessors did with the welfare state and the anti-nuclear policy.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019



Odious secrecy III

Back in May the government released its Zero Carbon Bill. While much of the bill was welcome, there was one big exception: it contained a secrecy clause, requiring the Climate Change Commission to maintain secrecy over practically everything it does. Not just over private or commercially sensitive information it obtains from businesses as part of its regulatory functions, but everything - including its internal drafts and advice on budgets, targets, and whether the government is meeting them. The clause effectively overrides the Official Information Act, making key advice in our most important policy area more secret than the darkest secrets of the SIS or GCSB.

How did this attack on accountability come about? I asked the Minister, who thought it was about the need to "safeguard legally privileged or personal information". This is rather odd, as these interests are already safeguarded under the OIA. So I asked the Ministry for the Environment, who drafted the bill. It turns out that the only advice on this issue is emails, some of which are released here.

Reading through them, it seems the government had wanted various bodies to be able to share information with the Climate Change Commission, and they had considered various ways of doing this. In the end, they realised that the only body they needed a specific clause for was the EPA, because it was bound by secrecy. They spotted the obvious fix: amend s99(b)(2) of the Climate Change Response Act to enable the EPA to share information. To address the EPA's concerns about confidentiality, they decided that "the s99 obligations of confidentiality [should] apply to the Commission in respect of that information". But somehow, the clause ended up wider than that, applying to all of the Commissions functions.

How did this happen? Unfortunately, we don't get to know. All the relevant advice is withheld as "legally privileged". That's right: the justification for a dramatic expansion of secrecy is itself secret. But its worth noting that nowhere in any of the published advice is the OIA or the interest of transparency mentioned at all. And the Ministry of justice - which should be consulted about anything to do with the OIA - was not consulted about it.

Maybe there's a good case for why the Climate Change Commission needs greater legal protection for its information than the GCSB and SIS. If so, the government needs to publish it. Because they haven't made any sort of case, and at the moment it just seems like an unjustifiable over-reach. And the net result will be to both undermine the accountability of the Commission, and reduce its credibility. And where our most important policy area is concerned, that is simply not acceptable.

Climate Change: Southland doesn't care

Southland - land of coal-burning dairy farmers - has become the first region in the country to explicitly vote against declaring a climate emergency. Their reason? They didn't want to "devalue" the word "emergency". Its an argument addressed powerfully in an editorial in the Otago Daily Times this morning:

Those who remain uncomfortable with the new language discount two crucial considerations.

The first is that the impacts of climate change have arrived and the new consensus is that they are ramping up more quickly than scientists anticipated. The danger is immediate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report of October last year made it clear ''unprecedented'' measures must be taken now.

The second consideration is that we on this planet share one climate system.

To think that because it is not raining here today, the emergency is not ours, is to fail to grasp this fundamental point.


While the big impacts have been mostly felt elsewhere - heat waves in Europe, drought in India, melting ice-caps at both ends of the planet - eventually it will be our turn. And inevitably, Southland is going to face a drought or a flood or some other climate-exacerbated disaster at some stage in the near future. But then I guess they'll do what farmers always do, and put their hands out to the rest of us to fix it. At which stage we should remember their refusal to lift a finger to prevent it from happening.

The same problems everywhere

New Zealand has a problem with police chases: officers going after fleeing drivers like rabid dogs, without any consideration for proportionality or public safety, often with fatal results. And according to an in-depth article in the Guardian today, the UK also has this problem, driven by the same rabid-dog mindset amongst police, and the same official reluctance to hold them to account when they violate policy and kill during chases.

Which makes court challenges by families the only real check on police behaviour. As the article makes clear, most families give up, exhausted by the process and wanting to move on with their lives. But they highlight an interesting case from a family which didn't give up, and which gained a ruling that a police chase was a violation of the victim's right to life.

Its a ruling worth noting because New Zealand has a similar protection in the BORA: "no one shall be deprived of life except on such grounds as are established by law and are consistent with the principles of fundamental justice". This is a high bar, and it means that killings by police need the strongest justification. And as the Independent Police Conduct Authority keeps ruling, in most chases, that justification simply does not exist. Police chases are dangerous, they are usually unjustified and disproportionate, and far better methods are available to catch offenders who flee.

The Police can ignore the IPCA. They can't ignore the courts. If we want police chases to stop, we need the family of a victim to bring a BORA case against the police. that's the only way the institution will learn that their killings are unacceptable.

ANZ should fuck off

Rapacious Aussie bank ANZ has responded to the threat of better NZ bank regulation by threatening to downsize its operations or even quit the country:

ANZ group chief executive Shayne Elliott told the Reserve Bank it might review the "size, nature and operations" of the business in New Zealand if the regulator went through with its proposed changes to bank capital ratio requirements.

The proposals, which could require the New Zealand banking sector to raise more than an additional $20 billion in capital to comply with the requirements, have met stiff opposition from the banks.

ANZ is the country's biggest bank, with almost a third of the home loan market and the biggest share of KiwiSaver.


But while they can scream and whine and stamp their feet, the blunt fact is that the market won't miss them. People don't stop needing EFTPOS cards or mortgages or KiwiSaver providers just because some greedy Australian doesn't want to do it. And if ANZ goes into a sulk and leaves, then other - hopefully, less greedy and New Zealand owned - providers will simply step in and fill the gap.

Its a mistake commonly made by big businesses: they think that their chunk of the economy "belongs" to them, and ceases to exist if they leave or shutdown. But insofar as "leaving" usually means selling up, all it means is that someone else does it instead. And even if they're willing to wear the loss of just abandoning their NZ operations completely, then insofar as the underlying business is profitable, someone else will do it instead. They can't take it with them when they go.

And in ANZ's case, its particularly obnoxious. This is a company which makes $2 billion a year in profit, and they're getting pissy about the thought of making a mere half billion for a few years to ensure they can cope properly with a banking crisis and don't effectively steal kiwis' money. This isn't a company we should have any sympathy for. Instead, we should tell them to fuck off back to Australia where they belong. That would at least end the siphon they have stuck in our GDP.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019



New Fisk

The people of the Middle East should be reassured by one thing – their autocrats are no longer a global anomaly

The future of wind

The Otago Daily Times has an in-depth article about the future of wind energy in New Zealand, and it is looking bright:

The news that wind will play the leading role in New Zealand’s energy future was put up in lights by Transpower white paper Te Mauri Hiko, released last year. The report stated that electricity demand was likely to more than double, to about 90TWh (terawatt hours) per year, by 2050. By then, electricity will supply more than 60% of our total energy needs, having replaced all coal-fired industry and electricity generation as well as 40% of gas-­fuelled industry. Electricity will power most aspects of our lives, including 85% of personal vehicles.

Wind and sun will generate all that extra power, with a little help from geothermal and tide energy, Transpower says. Most of the solar energy will be installed by households and businesses. Wind will be the energy source the big generators invest in most heavily.

To meet the demand, 4.5 average-sized wind farms, of about 60 turbines each, would have to be built every year, starting in 2025.


The big driver on this is going to be electric vehicles. Replacing cars is going to mean a roughly 25% increase in electricity demand, and if we're to avoid burning the planet, that electricity must be from renewable sources. And wind and solar are the best solutions for that.

The good news is that we've got a huge amount of generation already consented, but we're going to need a lot more. But we have the problem that generators want to drag their feet to keep prices high. So if we want this to happen, we are likely to need government investment to push the market.

Meanwhile, the article also suggests that hydrogen (whether for industrial uses or heavy transport) may be a solution to the Climate Change Commission's overcapacity fears: if we need to build extra wind farms to ensure security of supply on a rare windless day in the depths of winter, they can crack hydrogen rather than stand idle the rest of the year. Its early days yet on whether this is viable, but one wind company is currently doing the experiment, with a contract to supply hydrogen to a fertiliser factory. So I guess we're going to find out.

Climate Change: Join the climate strike!

If the sight of schoolkids striking for a future has been filling you with hope, good news: they want you to join them on September 27:

Students will take to the streets again demanding action on climate change, and this time they're inviting adults to join them.

Tens of thousands of students took part in strikes in March and May, and organisers are hoping the next action on September 27 will be even bigger.

The strike will mark the end of a global week of climate-focused events and challenges running from September 20.

Students want adults to show their support by walking out of work to join them.


Its part of a global general strike for the climate over the week of September 20 - 27. The problem is "business-as-usual", and the solution is to stop it. So, take the day off, and stand with the next generation so they can have a future.

Friday, June 28, 2019



So that's what they were trying to hide

Nicky Hager has released the previously classified US video footage of the Operation Burnham raid, and it shows that civilians were shot at by American helicopters the SAS called in for air support:

The video shows three men - said to be described as insurgents, but not visibly armed - being shot by exploding rounds while climbing a hill above village Khak Khuday Dad.

Another clip from earlier showed two men were visibly carrying weapons - a rifle and a rocket propelled grenade launcher - when emerging from a building that is said to have included a woman.

The building was the home of an insurgent being targeted by the NZDF which claimed it was a weapons cache, Hager said.

Hager asserted the presence of a woman seen leaving the building showed it was a home to unarmed civilians.


The first is simply murder. As for the second, NZDF's rules of enagement are clear that merely carrying a weapon is not proof that someone is directly participating in hostilities. US-style policies which classify all "military-aged males" as "hostile insurgents" to be murdered are neither legally nor morally acceptable.

And then there's this bit:
Among the release was a report by US 'initial assessment team" that found a video taken by an Apache helicopter had been altered to remove 12-seconds of audio, in which the presence of a woman among a huddled group 200 metres in front of the ground patrol is relayed to the New Zealand officers.

He said the Defence Force had not admitted the existence of this inquiry.


I guess this is what NZDF wanted to hide: evidence that there has already been a coverup, and that they knew they were attacking civilians.

Climate Change: Ambition in Denmark

Currently our parliament is debating a Zero Carbon Bill, which would set a climate change target of net zero carbon dioxide by 2050. Meanwhile, Denmark is aiming for a 70% reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2030:

Denmark’s government announced a “new political direction” based on an ambitious climate manifesto, released on Wednesday.

Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen, 41, became the country’s new prime minister on Wednesday, after she secured a political deal with three other left-wing parties to form a one-party minority government.

Under the agreement, the new government pledged to introduce binding decarbonisation goals and strengthen its 2030 target to reduce emissions by 70% below the 1990 level – the current target is 40%.

The left-wing alliance acknowledged this was “a very ambitious target” and that the last five points of emissions reduction to 70% would be “particularly difficult to reach”.

But the alliance warned “the world and Denmark are in a climate crisis” and that limiting global temperature rise is “not just the right thing to do, it’s also the most economically responsible one”.


This is what we need to do: stronger targets, driven by effective government policy to meet them. Instead, it looks like we'll continue to piss round, with governments leaving real action to be a problem for their successors, while doing absolutely nothing about agricultural emissions (our biggest greenhouse gas source).

Climate Change: More emergencies

Four more local authorities declared climate emergencies yesterday: Hutt City, Porirua, Bay of Plenty and Queenstown. All of which is great, and will hopefully see real action by these councils to limit emissions in their areas. But once again I'm asking: where's Parliament? We pay MP's the big bucks to lead us. How about they show that leadership, rather than sitting on their arses?

Thursday, June 27, 2019



What are they trying to hide?

When the NZDF was asked to release US information on Operation Burnham which would have revealed how the villagers died, they refused, claiming that the US objected. So, Nicky Hager and Deborah Manning requested it in the US, under that country's Freedom of Information Act. Unlike New Zealand, the FOIA is enforced through the courts, so when the US refused, they took the government to court. And they won:

The information will be of interest to the Operation Burnham inquiry, which is inspecting allegations made in Hit & Run that Special Air Service troop killed six civilians and injured 15 in a 2010 raid.

Hager said the New Zealand Defence Force had opposed the evidence being obtained, saying it could not be released to the pub[l]ic.

But he said it was provided "promptly and without fuss" by the US military after a freedom of information court case - similar to New Zealand's Official Information Act.

In a statement, he said: "Secret evidence has been a huge obstacle in the current government inquiry into Operation Burnham."

"The US court decision sets a precedent for New Zealand freedom of information as it shows that what was declared impossible by NZDF and the Ombudsman has turned out to be possible as a relatively routine release of public information in the United States."

Part of the problem is that the Ombudsman is simply unwilling to thoroughly investigate "national security" claims, because the law does not require them to be balanced against the public interest. So if NZDF says "a foreign country gave this to us and they would object to its release", that's it, its secret, no saving throw - even if that country would be forced to release it themselves if requested.

The lesson in this is that the "national security" clauses in our Official Information Act are broken, and allow agencies to hide too much. They need immediate reform. And the obvious one is to introduce a public interest test, requiring the interest in secrecy to be balanced against the public interest in release, as there is for other withholding grounds. The way legal advice is handled shows it is perfectly possible for the Act to accommodate varying strengths of interest in withholding and balance them appropriately with the public interest in transparency and accountability that comes from release. And there's no reason - other than the reflex, authoritarian secrecy of the defence establishment - that we can't do this for s6 withholding grounds as well.

(Hager and Manning will release the information tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what it reveals, and what NZDF has been desperately trying to hide).

Climate Change: Ignoring the real problem

Statistics New Zealand has released a new report on New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, with a sectoral breakdown shown how much is caused by different sectors of the economy. The data is crystal clear: half our emissions are caused by the primary sector, a quarter by the secondary sector (manufacturing), with the rest split evenly between services and households. So which sector does the Minister single out in his commentary? The latter:

“From 2007-2017 emissions from households were up, and emissions in other parts of the economy were down, showing we need to continue our work to build a sustainable economy,” says the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw.

[...]

“Farmers often get singled out as climate criminals, but this report shows we have work to do right across the economy. I know New Zealanders want to see our collective emissions come down, and that’s what this Government is focused on delivering”.


Its easier to show the problem with this in visual form:
NZEmissionsDatavis

[Datavis stolen from Stuff]

But it gets worse - because that dirty section of the economy, the one responsible for a huge chunk of our emissions? Its also the least efficient, and really not worth that much:
The dairy industry is now responsible for more emissions than the manufacturing and electricity and gas supply industries combined, rising 27 per cent over a decade.

The agriculture industry [sic - actually its the whole primary sector] as a whole comprises half of all emissions, but contributes less than 7 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the data shows.


And yet this is who the Minister, following successive governments, wants to protect: the dirtiest, least efficient part of the economy, which provides the fewest jobs and delivers the lowest economic benefit for its pollution. The kicker: most of it is completely unnecessary: we export more than 90% of the milk we produce, and the vast majority of the meat, wood, and coal we extract. From an emissions point of view, we'd be better off cutting these industries down to a size commensurate to our domestic needs, and shutting down the rest. But that would upset farmers, which is of course something we can never do.

As for households, we know what we need to do: make our next car electric, then install solar panels, while shifting to a more plant-based diet. We're not the ones resisting change here. But it seems the Minister would rather blame us to avoid having to confront the real problem emitters.