Monday, December 02, 2019

Climate Change: How to get there

Writing in Stuff, Joel MacManus looks at what we need to do to meet the Zero Carbon Act's targets. The core of it:

1. Convert 85 per cent of vehicles on the road to electric.

2. Eliminate fossil fuels from all industrial heating up to 300 degrees Celsius.

3. Double our electricity production, without using more fossil fuels.

4. Research and develop new technology that will reduce the amount of nitrogen that gets converted to nitrous oxide in animal urine.

5. Plant enough trees to cover any emissions gaps.

These are immense changes, but its not as hard as it sounds. We have maybe twenty years to do this, which is about the time it took for horses to be replaced by cars, or for intercontinental air travel to kill passenger liners, or for New Zealand to build most of its hydro dams. A gradual transition needs the government to have policies which push in the right direction, with rising carbon prices and increasing regulatory pressure on polluters. But we could go faster if we treated this as the civilisational challenge that it is.

Meeting the methane target is harder. On this, the article relies on magic bullet methane reduction technology. Which is the same cross-your-fingers-and-hope strategy farmers have been pretending to rely on for the past twenty years, and which has produced exactly squat. We can't afford to wait any longer to reduce emissions, so while a technological solution would be welcome, we need concrete ways of reducing pollution now. And that means reducing the herd: fewer cows, burping and shitting and pissing less. Farmers react to this idea as if its the end of the world, but its worth remembering that we had almost 20% fewer cows a decade ago, and less than half as many thirty years ago (which is the timescale we're looking at). How low we need to go depends on the final methane target, but either way, it doesn't need a mass-slaughter, just a gradual reduction in herd sizes with the business cycle. It is going to mean that farmers are going to have to move away from mass commodity production if they want to stay profitable, but they need to do that anyway, so we might as well use climate (and freshwater) policy to push it along.

We can do this. But we need the government to lay the policy foundations, keep up the pressure, and ratchet up ambition if it seems like we're succeeding easily. And we need them to do that for decades. Which means that we as voters need to make sure the political parties know we want them to do this, and that we will punish any backsliding viciously at the ballot box. And you can start that by sticking it to National next election.