Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Climate Change: Subsidising pollution forever

The government has announced more decisions about the ETS, specifically about the phase-down of free allocation. Industrial emitters have been receiving free credits for a decade now, originally tied to 2005 emissions levels, then linked by National to current production (turning it into a direct pollution subsidy). If we are to meet our 2050 target, this free allocation needs to end, and quickly. Instead, the government plans to continue it forever:

“We’ve consulted with stakeholders and are now providing them with the clarity and direction they’ve been asking for – a gradual and steady path of change with time for businesses and communities to adjust,” James Shaw said.

The plan is to begin phasing down industrial allocation at 1 per cent per year from 2021-2030, then at 2 per cent from 2030-2041, and at 3 per cent per year from 2041-2050.

And when you do the maths, it means the government will still be subsidising highly intensive industrial polluters by 20% of their emissions in 2050, the year we're supposed to be at net-zero emissions.

This is bullshit, simply bullshit. And it is bullshit neither the country nor the planet can afford.

But as with their bullshit lowball targets, I can't see this lasting either. As things get worse, pressure is going to build for tougher targets and for polluters to pay their own way. Any polluter who relies on this lasting deserves to go bankrupt.

The law means nothing, as usual

When Parliament passed the (flawed) Harmful Digital Communications Act, online incitments to suicide were the justification for it. They caused obvious harm, and unlike the clause criminalising exposing corrupt politicians on the internet, the amendments in that area were absolutely uncontentious. So when National MP Sarah Dowie, who voted for the law, was exposed as having sent exactly such a message to fellow National MP Jami-Lee Ross, I welcomed the prospect of her prosecution.

Of course, it didn't happen. Despite an apparently textbook case, as usual when an MP is involved in apparently criminal conduct the police decided that no charges would be laid:

Police will not pursue charges against Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie relating to a text sent from her phone to MP Jami-Lee Ross.

Earlier this year, police launched an investigation in relation to a message sent to Ross from Dowie's phone.

The complaints "did not reach the threshold of an offence", the police said.

Assault. Electoral offences. Bugging. And now inciting suicide. It is just amazing how often conduct which would result in instant prosecution if done by one of us peons is ruled to be non-criminal when done by a politician. Almost enough to make you think that the police's natural instinct is to protect those in power (who decide their budgets), rather than hold them to the same standards they apply to the rest of us. Its one of our most obvious and odious examples of corruption, and one which persistently undermines the rule of law. And it is something we should no longer tolerate.

Climate Change: No magic required

Retiring National Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy thinks that the Zero Carbon Bill's methane targets are "unachievable" and will need "magic" to get there. Hardly. The target is only difficult if you assume that cow numbers are fixed in stone and cannot change. If you don't assume that, then no magic is required. If we want to halve methane, simply halve the number of dairy cows.

But isn't that "impossible"? Hardly. To steal a line from the climate change deniers, cow numbers have always changed. Halving dairy cow numbers would merely reduce them to the level they were at in 1990. It requires no "magic", or even any mass-culling. It can be done within a decade, simply by not replacing cows within the normal business cycle.

Farmers' claims about the difficulty of reducing emissions don't tell us anything about reality. All they tell us about is the narrowness of their minds and their unwillingness to change. These people should not be allowed to dictate our survival. Instead they should be ignored.

Climate Change: Decarbonisation and price caps

Some interesting stuff out on decarbonising industry emissions yesterday. First, there's the news that Danone is to convert its Balclutha milk-drying plant to biomass heating, effectively making it carbon neutral. Its a good move, and exactly what we need to see. It also highlights just how unambitious Fonterra is being in merely promising not to build any more coal plants (while leaving the door open for climate-destroying natural gas).

Secondly, there's a report from Transpower, on Taking the Climate Heat out of Process Heat. This highlights the opportunity we have on this front - 37% of process heat emissions are for low-temperature processes (less than 100 C), which can be immediately replaced with heat pumps, while another 44% is medium temperature, which can usually be electrified as well. It also highlights the efficiency of electrical heating: usually twice as efficient as coal, and up to seven times as efficient using heat pumps, which means significant cost-savings, despite the higher apparent price of electricity.

Interestingly, a noticeable user of process heat is schools, and on that front is appalling to learn that at least 60 of them are still burning coal ("at least" because the Ministry of Education has no idea, and half of schools simply didn't bother to respond to Stuff's OIA request on the topic). Its especially shocking when you consider that solar PV is a no-brainer for schools - their demand is all during the day - and that there are multiple providers who finance the up-front cost of installation, and take their repayments out of the (much cheaper) electricity prices that result. This is something the government has direct control over, and an obvious area where they could step in to improve things.

So why isn't this switch happening as fast as we'd like? Fundamentally its a matter of carbon prices. And on that front, the news is bad: the price is up against the $25 price cap, a "transitional measure" that has now been in place for a decade. This is an ongoing situation which has been occurring since the middle of 2018, and it suggests that the natural price of emissions is much higher than $25. As for what to do about it, the answer is simple: raise it. And while the government has said they'll be doing that "no later than the end of 2022", pretty obviously they need to do it much quicker than that if we want proper incentives to decarbonise and plant trees. There is a strong case here for legislating under all-stages urgency, stronger even than there is for excise tax increases (in that the economic damage of polluters banking credits while paying the fixed price is much greater than that of people buying petrol a few cents a litre cheaper), and that is what the government should do. And to future-proof themselves against their own inaction, they should provide for the price cap to increase perpetually. That way, if the government's plans for auctioning and a "cost-containment reserve" are dragged out (as usually happens in this area of policy), we won't end up stuck in the same situation again, subsidising polluters while they make out like bandits.

Member's Day: End of Life Choice

Today is a Member's day, and an important one: the main business will be the committee stage of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. Since the fundamentalists on the select committee refused to do their job and recommend amendments to make a better bill, this is the only real chance to improve it. And because of that refusal (which effectively spat in the face of everyone who had submitted on the bill), its going to be done on the fly. This is obviously not an optimal process for any piece of legislation. But unlike Graeme Edgeler, I don't think Parliament should allow itself to be held hostage by a group of bigoted wreckers, or give them a wrecker's veto on the entire legislative process. MP's are there to do their jobs and legislate. If a minority are unwilling to do that, then the majority will simply have to work around them.

The committee stage is likely to be long and drawn out, with the bigots threatening hundreds of amendments to drag things out even further. But before we get to that spectacle, there's another committee stage to get through, on Hamish Walker's now-unfortunately named KiwiSaver (Oranga Tamariki Guardians) Amendment Bill. And no doubt this will be dragged out too in a desperate attempt at a filibuster.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of the contrast between today's expected debate and Parliament's tone when debating marriage equality. Back then, it rose to the occasion, helped by clear leadership from politicians who recognised the public mood. Now, we're going to see them at their worst, and its going to debase the reputation of the institution even further. It is unlikely to impress voters. But the solution is in our hands: if we want better behaved politicians, then we need to vote for them, and make it clear to parties that people who will engage in these sorts of antics do not belong on their lists.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Moving in the right direction

If we are to avoid making our planet uninhabitable, we need to decarbonise our transport sector. One of the most effective things individuals can do on this front is make their next car electric. And it seems like most New Zealanders have got that message:

Figures from a Trade Me survey show 74 per cent of Kiwis are considering an electric vehicle (EV) as their next car.

Trade Me head of motors Alan Clark said more than 1300 New Zealanders took part in the survey which looked at Kiwis' perceptions of EVs.

"We were stunned to find out that nearly three-in-four New Zealanders would consider an EV for their next vehicle." Clark said.

In 2018 it asked Kiwi motorists the same question and only half of respondents said they'd look at an EV for their next vehicle.

"With climate change top of mind for many people, a range of new models on the market, rising fuel costs and the government's new plan to subsidise EVs, we think more Kiwis will make the switch in the near future."

This is good news. While numbers are low at present, it suggests we're heading for a tipping point in consumer behaviour which should lead to substantial decarbonisation. It'll take a while, but we're definitely heading in the right direction.

But again, I'm forced to ask: why didn't the government push this even further, by announcing a date after which there would be a fossil fuel car import ban? Other countries are doing this, and it is an effective measure to drive fleet upgrade.

Good riddance

National MP Nathan Guy will retire from parliament at the next election. Good riddance. He's a climate change foot-dragger, who has consistently opposed any measure aimed at reducing emissions (here he is speaking against real methane targets in the Zero Carbon Bill, here he is calling them unscientific because farmers don't like them, and here he is is way back in 2006 making it clear he opposed farmers paying a research levy to fund finding a solution for their pollution). He's an impediment to finding a solution for New Zealand's biggest policy challenge, who would rather drown Petone than see his farmer friends change what they're doing. Our Parliament is better off without him, and the sooner he is out of it, the better.

The referendum bill

Yesterday the government introduced a Referendums Framework Bill to the House. The bill does what it says on the label: provides a framework for referenda - presumably on cannabis legalisation and end of life choice - to be held at the next election. The rules, including spending limits and advertising rules, largely follow those in the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993, with a few tweaks to allow for the fact that the referenda will be held at the same time as an election.

This is all good, and its great to have some rules for government (as opposed to citizens) initiated referenda. But there's a problem: the bill applies only at the next election, and repeals itself after that. But this is an ongoing need in our political system, with a government-initiated referendum on something (the electoral system, the flag, and now these issues) every couple of elections. At present, each of these referenda requires its own specialist legislation, taking up a chunk of valuable parliamentary time. Wouldn't it be easier to just do that once, to give us a framework Act which would be used in future, rather than having to start from scratch each time?

Monday, July 29, 2019

NZDF are murderers

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from the NZDF's latest admission to the Operation Burnham inquiry:

An SAS sniper killed an Afghan target without identifying if the person was armed during a controversial night-time raid.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) made the admission in a memo to the Operation Burnham inquiry published this month, after asserting the person was an insurgent carrying a weapon.

"It is not possible to determine conclusively whether or not the insurgent observed by the [remotely piloted aircraft] was armed at the moment he was engaged."

The Government inquiry, at a third public hearing on Monday, heard the killing of civilians is prohibited under international humanitarian law, and suspected combatants should be treated as civilians if there is doubt.

NZDF clearly did not do that, and appears not to have even tried. The latter turns this from (most charitably) a horrible accident in the heat of battle to depraved indifference. As for the shooter, they should be prosecuted for murder and/or war crimes.

Will National stay the party of climate change denial?

The National party has a long history of climate change denial. When they were the opposition to the Clark government, they opposed the carbon tax, opposed biofuels, and infamously drove a tractor up Parliament's steps to symbolise their opposition to farmers contributing to the cost of researching solutions to agricultural emissions. When in government, the first thing they did was gut the ETS and remove restrictions on fossil-fuel electricity generation. And back in opposition, they have opposed every measure the government has offered to reduce emissions. Why? Reporting from the weekend's party conference makes this clear: because their rural core vote are climate change deniers:

Addressing the party faithful, [climate change spokesperson Todd] Muller caused some to grumble as he spoke about the need for an agricultural response to climate change, pointing to “market signals” from consumers and businesses that could not be ignored.


The first question from the audience did little to suggest that message had got through.

“Methane is 0.000082 percent of the atmosphere, it comes from a cow, emanates from a cow at either end...could you please explain to me how it actually contributes to global warming?”


“The previous National government was quite comfortable that the science expressed by the global scientists in the IPCC reports were valid.”

“Rubbish,” interjected one audience member. “Are you saying the science is settled?,” shouted another.

A less extreme critique came from someone noting New Zealand’s minimal contribution to greenhouse gases compared to larger nations.

“Given that we’re 0.17 percent, even if we achieve and get to zero percent, what the hell are we going to achieve on a global basis from a global perspective and why do we need to lead the world?”

...and so on. They're not all like that, but these are National's core voters, the people it is there to represent. And with them, it seems like its denial all the way down.

Its a problem for National, because they are going to have to deal seriously with this issue next time they are in government. The climate crisis is not going to go away just because a bunch of backwards rural hicks don't believe in it, and urban voters (who are facing entire suburbs being drowned) are going to demand action. National will need to respond with effective measures, or risk losing the votes of the 80% of us who live in cities. It's that simple.

The Zero Carbon Bill is the real test of this. If they support it and strong methane targets, they're a credible party. If they oppose it, then they're a climate denial party and should be treated with all the seriousness such loonies deserve.

Something is rotten on the West Coast

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from Development West Coast contractor Kevin Stratful's demand that West Coast local authorities ignore the LGOIMA for his benefit:

A Development West Coast contractor has urged West Coast councils to "avoid" responding to requests for official information.


In an email chain to Coast mayors and council chief executives, obtained by Stuff, Stratful said all councils and the DWC should have a joint policy on how Official Information Act (OIA) requests were handled "and what process or policies are put into place to avoid them".

He said the leaders should agree on a "West Coast Way" of handling OIA requests. He also said he had previously been given "the chance to edit" responses before they were sent to the media.

"If current OIA request continue and the ED [economic development] unit is subject to OIA it will become a joke resorting to back street meetings and coffee shops to get anything done," he wrote.

Stratful has a lot to fear from LGOIMA. Quite apart from the usual oversight it entails, he's involved in a dodgy "waste to energy" incinerator scheme which has seen a mayor censured for purportedly signing contracts without the approval of his council. He has a direct conflict of interest over this with his employer. So he has reason to be particularly fearful of transparency. The good news is that the councils seem to have ignored his demands - and now they are public, its prima facie grounds for an Ombudsman's complaint for any withholds related to him or Development West Coast. By seeking to avoid transparency, he's simply told people where to point the spotlight.

Meanwhile, there's a bigger question here: Development West Coast is a charitable trust administering $124 million of public money given to the West Coast as "compensation" for the end of native forestry there. Its board is mostly elected by West Coast voters, with a few government and local body appointees. It deals with public money for public purposes. Shouldn't it therefore be directly subject to the LGOIMA oversight regime, like licensing trusts or various other trust boards are?

Tax the rich to save the climate

The Greens often say that social justice is a necessary part of environmental justice. How? There's a good example in an article from Le Monde by economist Thomas Piketty. It turns out that the rich are some of the biggest climate criminals on the planet, so solving the climate crisis means solving inequality:

However, it is increasingly clear that the resolution of the climate challenge will not be possible without a strong movement in the direction of the compression of social inequalities at all levels. With the present magnitude of inequality, the advance towards austerity of energy will be wishful thinking. In the first instance because carbon emissions are strongly concentrated amongst the rich. At world level, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half the emissions and the top 1% alone emit more carbon than the poorest half of the planet. A drastic reduction in purchasing power of the richest would therefore in itself have a substantial impact on the reduction of emissions at global level.

How? Private jets, multiple houses, big cars, and leisure air travel are some obvious answers. Higher taxation would help limit this environmentally destructive overconsumption, as well as providing the usual benefits of lower inequality (lower crime, better life expectancies, lower health costs and everything else). So if we want to save the planet, we really do need to tax the rich.

Friday, July 26, 2019

New Zealand's dirtiest emitters

A couple of years ago we learned the shocking statistic that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So what about New Zealand? If anything, its worse: a study by Stuff has found 68% of our emissions - 54.5 million tons - are caused by just ten companies:

Its largely what you'd expect: Fonterra with all its cows, petrol companies, the two electricity companies still clinging to fossil generation, Air New Zealand, and a few large industrial emitters. Not included, because they fell just outside the top ten: the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, which demanded a fat emissions subsidy from the government, then halved its emissions, and Bluescope (formerly New Zealand) Steel, which runs a dirtier-than-average steel factory in Glenbrook.

Stuff had to dig this information out of companies' annual reports, because currently it is all legally secret. The good news is that that is going to change: the government has decided to publish firm-level ETS data, allowing the public to scrutinise high-emitting companies and vote with their wallets where they can. Which suggests that there's absolutely no need for the secrecy clause anymore, and that it should be repealed entirely.

New Fisk

Genocides begin in the wilderness, far from prying eyes – in Ottoman Turkey as well as Nazi Germany

Spain fails to get a government

Back in April, Spanish voters went to the polls to elect a new parliament. The Socialists emerged as the largest party, with 28.7% of the vote. But despite being the only party with the possibility of forming a government, they have failed to do so:

Spain’s Socialist caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has failed at a second attempt to form a government after he could not reach agreement with his only potential coalition partner, the anti-austerity party Unidas Podemos.

Sánchez only needed a simple majority in parliament to get a deal across the line but after 48 hours of hectic negotiating the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, announced his party would abstain during the second round of voting and the result was 124 in Sánchez’s favour, 155 against and 67 abstentions.

The Socialists blame Podemos, for not accepting whatever crumbs they were offered (or better, offering them support for free). But it seems the Socialists weren't that keen on a deal in the first place, rejecting every reduced offer from Podemos. Which really doesn't seem like the basis for a successful coalition. Meanwhile, the Socialists also arrogantly demanded the support of the Catalan parties, while refusing to even discuss independence or the end of repression. Oddly, they didn't get that either.

As for what happens next, they have two more months to try and form a government, otherwise its back to the polls in November.

Another climate emergency

Whangārei has become the latest city to declare a climate emergency:

Whangārei District Council is the latest local body to formally sound the alarm over greenhouse gas emissions, by declaring a climate change emergency.

It's been warned that without urgent action, Whangārei coastal communities will be under water in the decades to come, and rising sea levels could also threaten the city's new $26 million Hundertwasser centre.

The council chambers were packed yesterday with members of the public, and more people waiting outside, in support of a move to declare that climate change is a threat to the Whangārei community, its biodiversity, its economy - and the life-supporting capacity of the planet.

So again: where's Parliament? What happened to "my generation's nuclear free moment"? Is the government actually serious about this, or is it just spewing more hot air?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Climate Change: Farmers plan to fail

The Environment Committee has begun hearing submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill, and farmers are first out of the gate, claiming that the targets are "unattainable":

Politicians have been told an "unachievable" 47 per cent methane reduction target would be setting farmers up to fail and investment in technology needs to be made first.


DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said he aimed to "send a clear message" that targets were "unattainable" for farmers and to convey their opinion that the books have been significantly "undercooked".

To point out the obvious, the targets are only "unattainable" if you assume that farmers can do nothing to meet them. But there's an obvious way to reduce biogenic methane by 47%: reduce cow numbers by 47%. And this can be done quite quickly within the farm business cycle, simply by not replacing cows as they are killed.

Obviously, farmers don't want to do that, because their imagination extends only as a far as a high-volume, low-value production model. But if they don't want to do that, then the onus is on them to find another way. And if they think there's a technological solution, then they need to step up, fund it, and adopt it.

But as usual, this isn't really a good faith argument. The fundamental problem here is that farmers don't want to change. And so they whine about the need for "research" (which they refuse to fund) and "technology" (which they refuse to adopt) as a delaying tactic, in an effort to keep on getting a free ride from the rest of us. But after nearly two decades of such whining and inaction, its become a little obvious. And we should not tolerate it any longer. Instead, we should make farmers pay their way for once in their lives, rather than leeching off the rest of us.

Climate Change: No doubt left

Since climate change first emerged as a global problem, the fossil fuel industry has worked hard to undermine and deny it, by trying to pretend its all natural variation. But science says there's no doubt left:

The scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming is likely to have passed 99%, according to the lead author of the most authoritative study on the subject, and could rise further after separate research that clears up some of the remaining doubts.

Three studies published in Nature and Nature Geoscience use extensive historical data to show there has never been a period in the last 2,000 years when temperature changes have been as fast and extensive as in recent decades.

It had previously been thought that similarly dramatic peaks and troughs might have occurred in the past, including in periods dubbed the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Climate Anomaly. But the three studies use reconstructions based on 700 proxy records of temperature change, such as trees, ice and sediment, from all continents that indicate none of these shifts took place in more than half the globe at any one time.

Previous shifts can be attributed to volcanic cooling. But the signal of industrial warming is now so strong and so widespread as to completely overwhelm it.

The authors naively hope that this will end climate denial. It should among actual scientists. But deniers are no longer operating in good faith, and have surrendered that title. Instead, they're just public relations mercenaries, advertisers, not scientists.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

New Fisk

Trump is powering the UK’s preparations for war – it is he who needs to be deterred, not Iran

Bastion Point 2.0

In 1863, in the lead up to its illegal invasion of the Waikato, the New Zealand government illegally confiscated the land of Māori living south of Auckland. One of the areas confiscated was Ihumātao, once one of the biggest farming areas in the country. Over the years, the stolen land was pillaged, quarried, and destroyed, but some of its archaeological heritage still survives. Now, its all going to be bulldozed by a foreign-owned developer to make homes for the rich.

The injustice of this ought to be apparent to all. This is stolen land, and rather than being returned, it is going to be split up and alienated forever. Local Māori have been occupying the site, but yesterday the police moved in to evict them - just as they had evicted Māori from Bastion Point 41 years ago. But the protestors have not given up, and are blockading the site in an effort to stop the bulldozers. They need your help, and your support. We should not be letting this happen in modern New Zealand.

More RMA reform

The Resource Management Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the country, both in terms of its impact and its influence. If you want to build a house, run a farm, or dig a mine, or if you have opinions on whether someone else should be allowed to, then you interact with this legislation, and the way it is written literally shapes the environment around us. So, every government since 1991 has engaged in "RMA reform", typically to enable rich people to do those things more easily while restricting the ability of the rest of us to have any say on it. And the current government is no exception. They've just announced plans to "reform" the RMA, tasking an Expert Advisory Group to look at various questions, including how it will work with the Zero Carbon Bill. The good news is that they seem to want to reverse many of National's "reforms", which involved making the RMA less democratic and allowing landowners to chainsaw any tree they wanted. The bad news is that taking a proper look at things takes time, so they don't expect to have a bill before May next year, which given usual slippage and the need for an election, probably means mid-2021. by which time the political landscape will have changed, and the desire for RMA reform (or rather, which RMA reform) with it.

The other good news is that they have identified some priority issues for immediate change. Unfortunately, there's no word on what these are, but I'm hoping they include s104E, which bans local authorities from explicitly considering climate change, as well as the parallel clause in the Exclusive Economic Zone Act. We're in the middle of a climate crisis, and it is utterly nonsensical to tie the hands of what could be an effective tool to prevent it.

Update: Environment Minister David parker has confirmed in Question Time that the government does not plan to urgently repeal s104E or similar clauses, or to restore tree protection (which National gutted). So there's nothing good here. As usual.

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.


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


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.