Friday, July 21, 2006

No credibility

In a press release, National's Nick Smith criticises the government's climate change policies, saying

"New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions are growing at four times the rate of Australia and three times the rate of the United States, but still Labour has no policy.

"They have dropped the carbon tax, the fart tax, the incentives for clean energy and the negotiated greenhouse agreements.

"It is an embarrassment that the only initiative on climate change this year is a gumboot, gifted to mayors and councillors with the words 'Are you thinking about climate change?'."

All of this is true (well, most of it; according to the UNFCCC's Key GHG Data compilation, our gross emissions have actually grown slightly less than Australia's since 1990), but it immediately begs the question: what's National's alternative?

Oh, that's right: sticking their head in the sand.

While the government's position is as pathetic as their one on foreign aid, National's outright denialism and opposition to the very policies whose demise it is now supposedly lamenting leaves it with simply no credibility on this issue.


Dude, I'm calling you on the use of "denialism". That's an ugly word ...


Posted by Russell Brown : 7/21/2006 06:56:00 AM

Still if we are going to adress the substance and not the person - they have a point.

Posted by Genius : 7/21/2006 07:37:00 AM

Hurray, someone noticed. I heard Nick 'Kyoto' Smith on Sunday whittering on about how the Government is not setting the right economic incentives to make people change their polluting habits. Well, no shit, for "economic incentive" BTW, read tax.

I wonder if National are having a wee bit of an epiphany here or just climbing onto any old band wagon to try and score "hits" on the Government.

The trouble is, they are crying wolf so loud and so often it is hard to tell what is serious and what is not. Is Peters getting crotchety with the (pretty useless NZ media) on a par with PT Field's misdemeanors? Does DBPope's behavoir as a teacher on a par with election spending mishaps? Is dog chipping really a national disaster? Point is, they are destroying their ability to be taken really seriously when something really serious happens. A bit like Act when Ridney was Mr. Perk Buster. Headlines for a day then no-one cared.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/21/2006 08:18:00 AM

Genius: I fully acknowledge they have a point, and that the government has no policy. It's just a little strange for people who question the very premise of climate change policy to be complaining about it - let alone complaining about the demise of policies they vigorously opposed.

If national has changed its mind on this, then they should say so - and offer to support the immediate introduction of a carbon tax.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2006 08:31:00 AM

I find it completely hypocritical for NIck Smith to decry Labours' backdown on the carbon tax and methane research charge ('fart tax') when his party took such a contrary position on this issue until very recently.

I think that Idiot is right, we shouldn't trust Nick Smith or National until we actually see some proof - otherwise it's just partisan point scoring, and possibly a very cynical attempt to take 1 or 2 precent of the Green vote (enough to win and election on) and subvert democracy.

But then I trust Nick Smith about as far as I could throw him...

Posted by Anonymous : 7/21/2006 09:13:00 AM

Perhaps National doesn't want a "carbon tax" but a "carbon tax cut".

Pollute less - and get a tax credit. Pollute even less and get a bigger tax credit.

An incentive for those who behave well, rather than a deterrent for those who behave poorly. Surely we can see the argument (whether we accept it as valid or not) that the government doesn't need a tax increase, and that those who think the surplus is big enough might oppose a carbon tax for those reasons rather than environmentally idealogical ones.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 7/21/2006 10:34:00 AM

In the general spirit of Russell Brown's opening comment: i/s, "begging a question" is one thing, "raising a question" is quite another. It's an objection to someone that they beg a question - they're going round in a circle if they do. It's *no objection* to someone that what they say raises a question. Learn the difference, live by it. Look it up if you have to.

You appear to use "beg a question" to make an unrelated point: you i/s-beg-a-question if and only if you raise a question to which you have no answer. But it's not generally a problem to raise a question you can't answer. Perhaps no one can. Perhaps you have some advantage because at least you don't pose as though you can (yellow gumboot? wtf?). At worst it's irritating or non-constructive to i/s-beg-a-question. (Nick Smith is very irritating and probably incoherent, but so is Fisk etc.)

Free free to make yourself up a "Denialist begs question" t-shirt! :)

Posted by Anonymous : 7/21/2006 12:54:00 PM

Graeme: then they need to say so - but National pointedly hasn't even done that.

Saying "government bad" doesn't carry much weight if everyone knows you're worse.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2006 01:59:00 PM

Russell: It's an ugly position, which even a few years ago could only be sustained by gross intellectual dishonesty in the face of overwhelming evidence. Fortunately, it now seems to be limited to a shrinking little nut cult of kooks and paid industry shills. Unfortunately, our Leader of the Opposition is one of them.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2006 03:14:00 PM

No, no, I/S, you're quite right - as you basically always are on this issue - it's just that the word "denialism" makes me want to run screaming ...

"Denial" would do.


Posted by Russell Brown : 7/21/2006 04:06:00 PM

Nick Smith. "A politican with a tongue so forked you could hug a tree with it."

I believe Lindsay Perigo once said that, and it's true here again -- not for his 'denialism,' but for denying the implications of his denialism.

It's not the first time he wants to eat his denialism and have his cake too.

Posted by Peter Cresswell : 7/21/2006 06:19:00 PM


I agree that potentially National could argue against a carbon tax on revenue grounds, and argue for 'good behaviour tax credits' instead.

However I think you could rebut such an argument like so:

1) Firstly, problem behaviour (co2 and other g gas emmissions) is easily identified, measured, hence taxed. Good behaviour to substitute for the replacement behaviour is less so.

for example, with respect to car emmissions, the problem is co2, the substitute behaviour might be more cycling, more public transport use, changes in living location or work practices, etc. With respect to power generation, the problem is co2 emmissions, the solution might be a mix of less energy use, more wind generation, etc. Same 'bad behaviour' problem economy-wide, and it's fairly easily measured (eg roughly similar emissions per litre of petrol across various cars, or eg there are only a handful of power generators, so the absolute cost of installing measuring devices in all of them is small). A multitude of 'good behaviour' replacements, each with varying degrees of Co2-emission reduction.

It would be impossible (or extremely costly) to devise a system of good behaviour subsidies, when you're not sure exactly which behaviours are good, people have different preferences across different types of behaviour, etc.

In contrast a unit of co2 from a car is identical to that from a power generator, hence simple to tax and equality is maintained across different industries and behaviour types. Its easy to match the tax level to the harm caused - much harder to match a subsidy to the harm averted by undertaking of the subsidised behaviour.

2) Secondly, subsidies rather than a tax would give people higher incomes, hence they may end up performing more of the harmful activity (driving their cars, say), if the 'income effect' of the subsidy outweighs the 'substitution effect' of the price change induced (sorry about the econ 101 speak).

I guess a pure behaviour changing policy would tax co2, and simultaneously lower income tax rates.

Anyway, I know you weren't actually putting that argument, but if National were to do so I suspect the best rejoinder would be something like the above.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/21/2006 06:39:00 PM

What we want is some sort of cross-party consensus on this issue - it is a very big issue, like superannuation was in the '80s and '90s where decisions were made in the now to minimise very large fiscal implications in the medium term.

The reality is that every party in parliament has been useless.

Even the Greens, who have a coleader that knows a great deal about this issue and is a very serious and honest person, allowed herself in 2002 to be diverted into a rubbish "No Compromise" on the far less significant issue of "GE" which in the end amounted to three years of NOT being inside of the Cabinet actually doing the hard yards on climate policy - the Greens are no less blameless than every other party.

So it is good if National wants progress on the issue - Labour should take them up on it and invite them into the "solution tent" because the Greens somehow managed to NOT get into Cabinet in each of the last three elections which delivered Helen Clark governments and will NEVER get into Cabinet in a Brash led government which basically means the Greens must have made some strategic decision to always find an excuse not to get into government and actually do serious stuff - they just want to do private member's bills on issues that are very important to particular constituencies but isn't the big stuff relevant to the most vulnerable in society ...

Posted by Anonymous : 7/21/2006 08:17:00 PM

I may be reading far to much into this, but is it possible that Nick Smith is trying to shift National's policy here?

Posted by Anonymous : 7/21/2006 09:44:00 PM

Isaac: Of course he is. Unlike Brash, Nick Smith understands that climate change is happening, and what it will do in the long term to National's core supporters down on the farm.

The problem is he's hamstrung by National's past positions, and the seeming refusal of the current leadership to allow him to move from merely criticising the government (first, for wanting to do something about climate change; now, for not doing enough) to advancing serious policy of their own.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2006 09:59:00 PM

Anon: it would however be very easy to devise a series of "good behaviour" subsidies for big business, whose emissions do tend to be measured.

Why the Nats might want to do this is left as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2006 10:01:00 PM

What makes you think the Greens would be able to achieve significantly more inside cabinet? If Labour won't give way on the less significant issue of GE, why would it accept Green policy on climate change? The problem isn't the Greens, it's the morons who vote for Labour and National.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 7/23/2006 11:11:00 AM

that damn democracy just keeps letting the foolish mases decide their own destiny.

Posted by Genius : 7/23/2006 11:24:00 AM