Friday, November 23, 2018

Climate change: Not a good solution

Engineering New Zealand has weighed in on what we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and as expected their solutions focus on energy and transport (agriculture not really being their department). And most of it is the expected stuff: more wind and renewable energy, better energy storage, alternative fuels, mass transit, and a higher carbon price to help drive all these changes and effectively tax stupidity. But there's one miss: variable road pricing:

Use more variable road pricing to lessen traffic. Unfortunately, electric vehicles create traffic as much as fossil-fueled ones. Engineering NZ suggests reducing congestion on city roads using digital, variable road pricing that changes in line with actual demand, and doing the same with parking prices, to encourage people to use ride-sharing and other options at busy times. They also suggest cutting city car parks. "Driving down demand for rush-hour roads and parking means regulators making brave decisions," says the group.

The theory here is that pricing will manage demand and force behaviour changes. But what it means in practice is doing to getting to work what spot-price retail electricity does to power bills. The technology is also inherently massively invasive of privacy - it requires tracking every vehicle on priced roads so that they can be billed, which means effectively monitoring people on every trip. Throw in the fact that workers don't control working hours or commute times, and what it seems to be is a way of driving the poor off the roads so the rich can have shorter commutes in their giant filthy SUVs - a policy which would no doubt appeal to Mike Hosking, but which doesn't promise anything to the rest of us.

But fundamentally, it misses the point. Climate change is not about traffic management - it is about greenhouse gas emissions. Policies need to be focused on reducing or eliminating those emissions. This policy is not about that at all, but about efficient traffic flows. It may produce marginal gains, but these are incidental to its real purpose, and meanwhile it punishes clean and dirty vehicles equally (and if it didn't, it would be easier simply to tax the dirty and skip the rest). Its not a climate change policy, but a regressive and invasive traffic management policy looking for an excuse. If we want to reduce transport emissions, we need to ratchet up the efficiency of the transport fleet on the way to taking dirty, polluting fossil fuelled vehicles off the roads entirely.