Monday, August 30, 2021

The action of a sociopathic narcissist

Parliament will be meeting tomorrow, despite level 4, after efforts to have a virtual sitting were thwarted by the National Party. The Māori Party and The Greens will not be attending - for them, level 4 means level 4, despite the fact that MPs are classed as "essential workers". But National Party leader Judith Collins will be attending. And she will be travelling from Auckland to do so.

This is irresponsible and wrong. MPs are essential workers, but Collins travelling to Wellington is completely unnecessary for Parliament to fulfil its function. National has Wellington-based MPs who can speak for the party and cast its proxies. But then they might get the media attention instead of her (or worse, outshine her).

Travelling from a covid-hotspot to a less-infected zone, with the consequent risk of spreading the disease throughout the country, solely so you can get media attention, is the action of a sociopathic narcissist. And if Wellington gets covid cases as a result, we will all know who to blame.

The danger of over-zealous enforcement

Over the weekend, police threatened a man with arrest under Covid-19 lockdown powers for filming them making an arrest while on their government-mandated exercise. It seems like a clear over-reach and abuse of power - contrary to the view of the threatening officer, it is not illegal, or "obstruction", to film police in public. But in The Spinoff, lawyer Andrew Geddis points out that our lockdown law is so poorly phrased as to allow police to get away with it.

There's another example today from RNZ: a story on police enforcing lockdown in Dunedin over the weekend has (among some examples of clear dickish behaviour) this rather chilling bit:

Dunedin police are reminding people a lack of preferred chips at the local supermarket is not a reason to travel outside your neighbourhood, as dozens flouted lockdown rules over the weekend.
Apparently someone stopped at a lockdown checkpoint had told police they were driving to the other side of town to buy their preferred snacks. Which may not be sensible - most people would just decide to buy stuff next week instead - but at the same time: people are allowed to buy food from anywhere in their local authority region (or from the nearest location, but its an "or", not an "and" or "must"), and its not really the role of police to be policing what people buy or where.

Individual cases of over-enforcement are bad and unjust, but this also has an impact on overall lockdown compliance. In the UK, police destroyed their social licence, and social licence for lockdowns, by policing people's food shopping and deciding what was and wasn't "essential" (even at one stage trying to stop people buying easter eggs). It would be bad if the New Zealand police were to do the same here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Climate Change: NZPAM takes the piss

Last month, the Labour government outraged Aotearoa by granting two new fossil fuel exploration permits in Taranaki. In a context where the planet is literally on fire and even the International Energy Agency is saying "no more fossil fuels", it seemed like an extraordinarily stupid decision, and utterly inconsistent with the government's proclaimed climate change goals. So did NZPAM even consider them? I asked, and according to documents released under the OIA, they did. Weirdly, they believed allowing more fossil fuel exploration was consistent with Aotearoa's net zero by 2050 target. But their reasons for this are... questionable:

Officials consider that the grant of a petroleum exploration permit in response to this Bid is not inconsistent with New Zealand’s 2050 target, for the following reasons:

a) The 2050 target is a domestic target. However, petroleum produced from petroleum mining permits in New Zealand is processed and/or combusted both in New Zealand and offshore. Oil is refined in Australia or Singapore. Approximately half of the gas produced is converted by Methanex to methanol (in New Zealand), then exported and used for petrochemicals. Other gas is used by Balance (in New Zealand) to produce fertiliser for both domestic use and export. Other gas is used domestically for electricity and heat generation.

b) The 2050 target relates to net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As such, the 2050 target does not relate directly to gross GHG emissions, and it does not prohibit the use of petroleum as an energy source or as industrial feedstock (e.g. gas use by Methanex and Balance). The CCRA provides a legal framework which manages New Zealand’s GHG emissions, including those from the petroleum sector.

c) The 2050 target does not require an immediate cessation of nonrenewable energy use. The CCC’s recommendation is that 50% of all energy consumed should from renewable sources by 31 December 2035 in order to meet the 2050 target. As such, the continuing production of energy from non-renewable resources in the near and medium term (during the 10 year term of the proposed permit and thereafter) is not inconsistent with the CCC’s advice or the 2050 target.

[Emphasis added]

This is simply taking the piss. The first point ignores the fact that fossil fuels = emissions, where-ever it is processed. The second is utterly ridiculous, a semantic game aimed at hiding the fact that this will increase emissions. The third simply misses the point. But its exactly the sort of nonsense you'd expect from a captive agency which refuses to accept that the world has changed and that the industry they exist to regulate (and therefore the agency itself) does not have a future.

So why is their Minister letting them get away with this bullshit? Sadly, it seems they're part of the problem. The advice goes on to say that:

The Minister considers that, within the context and mandate of the [Crown Minerals] Act, “the benefit of New Zealand” is best achieved by increasing New Zealand’s economic wealth through maximising the economic recovery of New Zealand’s petroleum resources.
I wonder of the residents of Westport, which got hit by a record flood less than a month after the Minister made this decision, would agree?

We need to end fossil fuels, for our own survival. And the first step to doing that is by prohibiting the grant of any new exploration and mining permits for fossil fuels. There's a first stab at legislation to do that here. The question is whether the Labour government will pass something like this, or whether we'll have to de-elect them in favour of a government which will.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Climate Change: Too little, too late, as always

For the past few months, I've been screaming about the government's ETS price settings: basicly, they set the price cap at which they will flood the market too low, creating a real risk that its going to happen this year, resulting in an extra 7 million tons of emissions, at a cost to the government of over a billion dollars. Well, today the government finally announced they plan to do something about it: they're going to raise the price cap next year:

To encourage individuals and businesses to stop burning fossil fuels, everyone must pay a price for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit. The market price is currently $50 per tonne, teetering at an upper guardrail the Government set last year.

But since prices may need to go as high as $250 per tonne for the country to eliminate fossil fuels, according to the Climate Change Commission, the Government is resetting this upper guardrail, shifting it from $50 to $70. This will take effect next year.

(The announcement is here, and it was actually floated in a consultation document back in April).

This is better than nothing, but it doesn't solve the immediate problem. In fact, its made it worse, because the carbon price has now spiked over $50 / ton as buyers expect they'll be worth more in just four months. And if the auction price tracks the spot-market price like it did last time, the cost-containment reserve will be triggered at the next auction on 1 September, flooding the market with 7 million more tons of pollution. The government having to cover those seven million tons somehow (at currently twice the NZ market price) is the least of the problem. Fundamentally it is seven million tons the planet cannot afford.

And the icing on the cake: based on this year's growth, a $70 / ton cap probably isn't high enough, meaning we'll face exactly the same problem next year, and risk releasing another 7 million tons. And ditto the year after that, and the year after that as well...

Markets need room to move and space to find their price. Unfortunately, the government is clinging to prices developed literally in a different world: their price structure was developed back in the days when carbon was only $25/ton and hard up against the then-price cap, and to policymakers the idea that they could double seemed unimaginable. And even the Climate Change Commission's advice, from just six months ago when prices were $35/ton, suffers from the same problem: a complete failure to imagine that prices could rise. Meanwhile, the changes to the ETS (and the perception that denial was over and that they would stick) guaranteed they would. And then, that guarantee created further upwards pressure, as we've seen today. The government's failure to do what is required and legislate proper price settings to let the market find its level without the crutch of the cost-containment reserve has condemned us to repeated crises over the next few years, at a cost of millions of tons of completely avoidable emissions and billions of dollars of completely avoidable expenditure. The question is how much they will waste before they admit they were wrong, do the right thing, and eliminate the CCR entirely.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A final result in Samoa

Samoa's Supreme Court determined the last election petition today, resulting in HRPP MP Loau Keneti Sio retaining his seat. Four other HRPP MPs have been unseated by election petitions, and three have resigned as part of settlements, giving a final election result of FAST 26 — HRPP 18.

Of course, that's not the last word: there will still be seven by-elections, plus the possible appointment of additional women under the 10% quota. But for the moment at least FAST has a secure majority, and they will retain it unless the HRPP wins every by-election and has one (but only one) of them won by a woman. Given the precision of the result required, that seems unlikely, even assuming the last five months of HRPP antics haven't caused voters to change their minds.

Public Servants, the OIA, and independent oversight

The Spinoff this morning has a piece by an anonymous public servant on the Official Information Act. It makes the valuable point that public servants are inherently conflicted about transparency and incentivised towards secrecy simply because they want to do their jobs. The release of embarrassing material results in more work for them, or in work being binned when politicians realise it is politically unacceptable, or in shit flowing downhill from Ministers and managers outraged at the above. The result is pressure to game the system to hide embarrassing material, and repeated layers of arse-covering so those Ministers and managers get to censor information for their own political interest before it is released.

So what's their solution to this inherent conflict? In a typical bureaucratic move, its to try to make it somebody else's problem:

If we truly want to restore the promise of the OIA, and almost as importantly, the public’s trust in the OIA, we need to address this. The Ombudsman offers some oversight, by reviewing complaints, but they can’t review every decision, and nor should they have to. Instead, decisions should be made from the start by an independent body.

This is, of course, much easier said than done. It’s the agencies that hold the information being requested. The agencies also have all the knowledge about what the information means, what else is happening, and any other context that might be needed to make decisions. It’s clear that we can’t cut the agencies out altogether.

But it isn’t impossible. Our systems of justice, mediation, oversight, and other decision-making have countless examples of ways to get information from one party to make an independent decision. A new independent body could maintain relationships with the experts, and with ministers, while staying impartial, and keeping the trust of the public.

Which sounds good, until you think about it. There's an obvious impact on request timeframes. And it doesn't actually solve the problem: it doesn't make that inherent conflict go away, so the pressure to game the system themselves will be replaced by pressure to lie to and withhold information from this independent body. Meanwhile, it would require an entire parallel bureaucracy - a Ministry of Transparency? - which would face bureaucratic pressures of its own, notably the need to maintain relationships with the bodies it was "policing" (this is also a problem for the Office of the Ombudsman). And of course it would immediately be subject to budget cuts and austerity measures from Ministers who are no friends of transparency (as happened to the Office of the Ombudsman under National). So its really a non-starter as a transparency measure.

But the desire for actual independent oversight is a good one. And we already have a perfectly good body capable of doing it: the court system. Many countries - notably the US and UK - allow freedom of information decisions to be litigated in court, and we are quite unusual in not allowing it (at least not until after the Ombudsman has ruled, by which time its often pointless). And this has the advantage of producing actual binding legal precedent which public agencies are required to follow, rather than Ombudsman's "guidelines" they ignore at will. The UK's hybrid system, which directs complaints first to an Information Commissioner, and then to a specialist Information Tribunal which is subject to the full scrutiny of the court system, seems to work well, producing binding decisions at low cost to requesters. Moving to such a system would be an improvement from the current one. It wouldn't remove public servants' inherent conflict of interest. But it would mean we could police it far better than we do at present, and with real consequences.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Biofuels and incentives

Biofuels are likely to be a key means of reducing our transport emissions in the short-to-medium term, allowing immediate reductions by substituting some level of lower-carbon fuels. But Newsroom reports that business has its hand out for incentives to produce them:

In its submission, Refining NZ obligingly lays out six incentive options. Naomi James tells Newsroom that the first priority would be to support capital investment, but operational support would come close behind.

One of the options would be to fund the capital or operational support through a levy on individual passenger carbon emissions – for example, through the International Visitor Levy.

Obviously, rapidly establishing new production capacity in Aotearoa is going to cost money. But if business wants the government to provide that money, then the government should get equity in exchange. Because that's what happens in the real world when business ventures want capital from other people. And if they don't want to do that, then the government can and should just establish a business to produce the fuels itself, and drive them out of business.

But its also worth looking at what incentives fuel polluters will face to adopt biofuels, and what that adoption is worth to the government. On the first front, the proposed sustainable biofuels mandate would set fines of $300/ton of emissions where the requirements are not met. A litre of diesel produces 2.7 kg of carbon when burned, so that gives them an effective incentive of $0.81/L to comply (unfortunately, there's no bonus for overachievement). To that we can add the cost of avoided ETS credits - biofuels are not included in the ETS and so don't attract liability - which is currently $50/ton, or another $0.20/L. So under the proposed scheme they'll be facing an effective incentive of $1.01/L to produce biofuels, about two-thirds of the retail price, and three times the importer margin of fossil fuel. On the second front, the government internally prices carbon at $150/ton, so that tells us what biofuel is worth to it: $0.40/L times the effective efficiency of the fuel (the proposed mandate will be actually looking at net lifecycle efficiency, and setting a direct emissions reduction target rather than a volume target). So for biodiesel made from leftover cooking oil, at 50% efficiency, that means about $0.20/L; for biodiesel made from wood, its probably $0.30/L.

Of course, the actual number that matters here is production costs. On that from, in 2010 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment estimated the cost of biodiesel from wood at $1.85/L (p. 37; note that this is 2010 wood prices). The cost to import a litre of diesel is currently $0.75, so even with that implied $1.01/L incentive, the government may still need to provide a subsidy to make it cost-competitive. Still, it seems that the amount required would be less than the cost of the emissions avoided, so the government would still be ahead in the long-term. Alternatively, it could just increase the fines for non-compliance with biofuels mandate to triple rather than double the internal carbon price, and then it all works out quite happily, with no subsidy needed.

It was always going to end like this

In July, the US officially ended the occupation of Afghanistan, slinking away in the middle of the night and not even telling their Afghan "allies" to avoid the bad PR of footage of them leaving. And since then, the Taliban - who the US ousted back in 2001, but who never went away - have been rolling up the country. And last night, it came to a head when they reached Kabul. The US re-enacted Saigon, ferrying Americans from the roof of its embassy. And the Afghan president fled into exile, probably with a container load or two of US dollars. And so the war in Afghanistan is finally over after twenty years. And the Taliban won.

It was always going to end like this. Armies can smash a country and overthrow a government and install a puppet regime, but they can't make people love that regime or fight for it. Unless underlying differences are settled - a big ask in Afghanistan - then the people you ousted, or their successors, will be waiting to take power the moment you leave. You have to leave sometime - people eventually get sick of spending billions of dollars a year and seeing their kids come back in bits to murder people on the other side of the world for no apparent purpose - and so here we are. All the money the US spent - nearly a trillion dollars, at last estimate - all the lives that were lost, all the people that were maimed or broken on both sides, all of it was for nothing. The only people who benefited from this obscene war were the arms companies and their shareholders, who made out like bandits. War really is a racket.

Aotearoa spent $300 million and ten lives sucking up to the US in Afghanistan. That was also wasted. Our involvement was a mistake from start to finish. But while we were there, we encouraged people to collaborate with us, and so endangered their lives. We have a moral obligation to those people, and a duty to evacuate them, and to resettle them in New Zealand if that's what they want. And it is utterly shameful that the government has resisted recognising that duty for so long.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Climate Change: The IPCC rebels

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of its Sixth Assessment Report, ringing the warning bell even louder. How these reports are produced is that the scientists agree a consensus, and then the governments go over it line-by-line and redact it to fit their own views, which means that it tends to be watered down. So a bunch of scientists working on the third part of the report - the "what we need to do about it" part, due out next year - have simply leaked it:

Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next four years, coal and gas-fired power plants must close in the next decade and lifestyle and behavioural changes will be needed to avoid climate breakdown, according to the leaked draft of a report from the world’s leading authority on climate science.

Rich people in every country are overwhelmingly more responsible for global heating than the poor, with SUVs and meat-eating singled out for blame, and the high-carbon basis for future economic growth is also questioned.


The top 10% of emitters globally, who are the wealthiest 10%, contribute between 36 and 45% of emissions, which is 10 times as much as the poorest 10%, who are responsible for only about three to 5%, the report finds. “The consumption patterns of higher income consumers are associated with large carbon footprints. Top emitters dominate emissions in key sectors, for example the top 1% account for 50% of emissions from aviation,” the summary says.

[You can see how rich-country and fossil-fuel country representatives would object to that message...]

And if these people only emitted as much as the rest of us, and gave up their jetset lifestyles and overconsumption, we wouldn't be in nearly the same mess. As for how to make that happen, taxing them out of existence would seem to be a good start.


The Justice Committee has called for submissions on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. Submissions can be made via the online form on the parliament website, and are due by 8 September 2021.

This bill is important. It would stop bigoted parents and quacks from torturing children in a perverse effort to change who they are. There's a clear public interest in protecting people from such practices, so they are free to be who they are. I urge everyone who cares about LGBTQ rights to submit on this bill.

Stuart Nash: Funded by racism

Troy Bowker is a racist. And as Newsroom shows this morning, he's been funding one of our most conservative and foot-dragging cabinet ministers:

Stuart Nash, Minister of Regional and Economic Development, received at least $51,000 in direct and indirect donations from Troy Bowker, the controversial investment banker who recently accused animation entrepreneur Sir Ian Taylor of “sucking up to the left Māori-loving agenda”.

In a response to a LinkedIn comment by Taylor celebrating New Zealand’s Pacific heritage, Bowker said: “Another example of European NZers not being proud of their own ancestors … FFS. Wake up NZ.”


Bowker and Nash have a longstanding political relationship. According to donation records filed with the Electoral Commission, Nash received a total of $51,000 from Bowker over the 2014, 2017 and 2020 elections – either directly or through Bowker’s investment company Caniwi Capital. Bowker also helped fund a 2014 report examining the possibility of establishing a new centrist party, led by Nash, to compete with National and Labour. Nash has repeatedly described Bowker as a “mate”.

At this stage the political class pooh-poohs any suggestion of undue influence with the claim that $50,000 isn't a lot of money. And everyone else in New Zealand laughs bitterly at them, because to us, its a fuck-ton of money. Not Auckland-house-deposit money, but enough to make a normal person a hell of a lot more comfortable. And you don't give someone that amount of money unless you either have deep ideological similarities, or you want something in return. Nash needs to explain which of those categories he falls into. And if he wants to eliminate the lingering taint, he needs to return it to sender as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, thanks to Aotearoa's secretive election funding laws, we have no idea how much money Bowker has given to political parties (as opposed to candidates). He could have given any of them up to $15,000 a year, and we'd be none the wiser. We need to fix that, by lowering the disclosure threshold immediately.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The real cost of Huntly

What's the real cost of the Huntly power station? 4 million tons of carbon dioxide a year:

Genesis Energy emitted more carbon dioxide in generating electricity last year than any year in the last decade, as it used more coal to make up for a lack of hydropower and gas.


The energy generator and retailer put out 4029 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the last financial year, 82.5 percent more than the average of 2207 kilotonnes between 2016 and 2020, and more than any year dating back to at least 2010, as far as Genesis' publicly available statistics go.

This is about 5 percent of the country's total emissions.

At the government's internal valuation of $150 a ton, the social cost of those emissions is $600 million a year. Which makes it economic to spend that much a year on killing it to eliminate those emissions. At current costs, it is worthwhile for the government to do that with just three and a half years of emissions (versus 5 in my previous estimate).

Genesis could be part of this solution itself, but it refuses to be (wouldn't want that price to drop!) And their announcement today of large investments in grid connected solar is welcome, but also essentially PR window-dressing: a tiny fraction of what is needed to put Huntly out of business, and so clearly designed to keep it - and the windfall profits it generates - around for as long as possible. And again, if the market is not going to fix this problem, then it is clearly time for the government to step in and fix it for them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Market failure

Aotearoa needs to rapidly decarbonise its electricity infrastructure and replace old fossil fuel generation with renewables. Aotearoa also needs to increase its total generation to cover the expected load from the electrification of industrial and process heat, and from EVs. The proposed Castle Hill wind farm could be a core part of the solution to both problems, generating 860 MW of clean power. So you'd expect the big, state-controlled gentailer behind it to be eager to build it, right? Of course not:

Genesis Energy has sat on a granted resource consent for what would be the biggest wind farm in the country for the last eight years, and has no plans to build it.

The Castle Hill Wind Farm, consented on a site north of Masterton, could double Genesis Energy's current annual renewable electricity generation. The annual generation of the farm would be the equivalent of the power generated by at least 850,000 tonnes of coal.


In a response to RNZ, a spokesperson for Genesis Energy recently said: "No construction is currently planned at Castle Hill."

The reason? Genesis (and all the other power companies) make windfall profits from the marginal unit of electricity being generated by gas or coal. Displace those dirty fuels, and they make less money. So they prefer to keep the country perpetually on the edge of a supply crisis to maximise profits (and the closer it is to that crisis, the more money they make).

The government needs to put its foot down over this, and either exert the control of its majority shareholding to force state-controlled power companies to build what is needed, or just forcibly acquire the projects they are hoarding so they can build it themselves. But the current situation, where greedy gentailers effectively conspire to burn coal and create blackouts to maximise profit, is both unsustainable and morally unsupportable.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The electricity market screws us again

Last night there were blackouts across the country on the coldest night of the year, and there's a risk of more tonight. The immediate cause was record high demand - it was cold - plus Genesis deciding not to turn on an extra unit. But the real cause is the electricity market, which rewards shortages with windfall profits and so encourages our gentailer oligopoly to undersupply. We've known about that problem literally for decades, ever since Max Bradford first fucked things up. But the government has never bothered to do anything about it beyond minor tinkering because, well, that would be work, and generators (and their shareholders) would kick up a stink over being deprived of their "rightful" profits.

But what can we do about it? Re-nationalisation, so that the electricity system works as a system rather than as five big companies scrabbling for profit would help. But in the short term the most effective thing the government can do is simply to build the generating capacity the gentailers refuse to. And at the government's current internal carbon price, this is cost-effective simply to kill Huntly and stop it emitting any more carbon (and similar logic aplies to the Stratford gas turbines). As for the what, the generators are sitting on a huge portfolio of consented windfarm sites, which they are refusing to build (and which will expire soon if left unbuilt). If they refuse to build them, the government should nationalise them and build them themselves.

Climate Change: Another warning

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Sixth Assessment Report last night. And it says pretty much what you'd expect: we're burning the planet, things are going to get bad, but we still have control over how much worse they get. This is pretty much the same as they said in their last two reports (at least); what has changed is the level of certainty and the level of urgency. The question is whether governments will pay attention this time when they haven't to the previous absolutely dire warnings (but maybe actually being on fire will help them get the message).

The government says it will rise to the challenge. But that's going to mean doing a hell of a lot more than they're already doing. Our climate target - the statutory target the Climate Commission designs its budgets around - is inadequate. Our policies won't meet even that weakness. The clear message of the IPCC report is that every ton matters. But our government is on track to allow polluters to emit another seven million tons this year, basicly because they're too lazy to stop it. The other clear message is that we need deep cuts to methane to limit warming. But our government is still protecting farmers, rather than legislating to cut cow numbers. As for the Climate Change Commission, they see no urgency, saying that

We will use it for our Climate Risk Assessment, due in 2026, & our advice on the fourth emissions budget in 2024.
That budget will cover emissions from 2036 - 2040. The IPCC is clear that that is too late, and that we need to cut emissions now.

Covid has shown us what government can do if it puts its mind to it. Closing the borders and paying everyone to stay home so we didn't die was radical, but necessary and effective. We need the same level of effort against climate change - a war footing to decarbonise and demethanise: kill coal, kill gas, and kill cows, as quickly as we can. Anything less is suicide.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Climate Change: Should we buy out dairy polluters?

Farmers are New Zealand's biggest source of emissions, producing just under 40 million tons a year, mostly in the form of methane from livestock. Dairy farmers are responsible for roughly half of those emissions, making them our single largest polluter. And now, there's been a radical suggestion: just pay them to stop:

Farmers should be gifted a one-off $12 billion payment to stop dairying and convert to industries with a lower carbon footprint, an environmental researcher says.

Speaking at the Environmental Defence Society conference in Christchurch on Thursday, Dr Mike Joy said the dairy industry's yearly $12b export earnings were effectively a government subsidy that allowed harmful land use.


Joy believed the only way to turn the tide was to pay farmers in high-risk areas like Canterbury to stop dairying.

“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would say this, I would not have believed you. Pay the $12b and get the cows off there.”

Turning $12 billion into a currency that matters, its 80 million tons of carbon at the government's internal cost of $150 / ton. That's roughly four years of dairy sector emissions. So if this actually happened, the investment in decarbonisation would pay off after just four years. Which seems like a bargain (killing Huntly has a longer payoff, killing Glenbrook a shorter one).

There are two problems: farmers probably value their polluting lifestyle at more than a single year's exports. And paying them off is going to be a hard sell when they've basicly exported any social licence they once had. Why pay these polluting fucks? Why not just regulate them into oblivion, and shrink the industry that way? But obviously, we can do both, using regulation as the stick to break their spirit and lower the price, and then eventual buy-outs as the carrot to shrink this industry to a sustainable size.

What is a sustainable size? That depends on the catchment, but half seems like a good ballpark to aim for in the medium term, and would help meet our international climate commitments. And no, that doesn't mean less food - they export 90% of their product, so there is scope for significant reductions. If farmers are worried about making less money, maybe they should move to a higher-value export model, rather than the current model of bulk low-value commodities and trying to make it up on volume.

Marsden Point and security of supply

NZ Refining's shareholders are voting today on the future of the Marsden Point oil refinery, and whether to shut it down and shift their business to an import terminal. They've clearly read the writing on the wall and recognise the new reality: oil has no future, their refinery is a stranded asset, and the quicker they bail out of it, the less money they'll lose. But in the leadup to the vote, foreign experts have been weighing in, fearmongering about security of supply. What if there's a war (these experts are Australian, so their thinking is dominated by the idea of a war with China) or some other sustained disruption to global shipping? What happens then?

The answer is "exactly the same thing as would happen if the refinery remained open", because it runs on imported oil, and the supply of that is just as vulnerable as a supply of imported petrol.

Which highlights the core problem: a huge part of our primary energy supply is imported. It also points at the solution: insofar as there is an energy security impact, it can be mitigated by reducing our reliance on oil. And in the current context, that means moving to EVs and biofuels as quickly as possible. The more of those we have, the less we have to give a damn about what happens in the Middle East, or what bullshit power games are happening between the US and China. Eliminating oil gives us actual security, and frees us from all those dangerous entanglements built around protecting its supply.

Viewing oil refineries and fossil fuel infrastructure as "strategic energy assets" is twentieth century thinking, and part of what got us into this mess. Now, we need to recognise that they're just deadweight, a 1.2 million ton a year source of carbon we can no longer afford. In the future, our "strategic energy assets" are going to be local and distributed: solar panels and wind-farms everywhere. Security of supply is built into that model, because its not dependent on a single point of failure, and you can't stop the sun from shining or the wind from blowing. Marsden Point's big shareholders can see that future coming, which is why they're getting out. What's weird is that so many other people, including people ostensibly paid to think about the future, can't.

Update: And its done! Polluting carbon capitalism looked at the future, saw it had no place in it, and gave up. Which is a tremendously positive sign.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

On the wrong side of history, like always

Parliament debated the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill this afternoon, and voted to send it to select committee by a margin of 87 to 33. The only party opposed? National.

This is a bill aimed at ending the torture of LGBTQ kids and giving them the freedom to be who they are. But under the guise of "needing more debate" (which they then explicitly voted against), National opposed that. Which is I guess what happens when you get wiped out at the polls and only your religious bigot rump survives. But its another example of how the party and its members consistently stand on the wrong side of history (and then salves their conscience by pretending to apologise for it in their valedictory speeches). And for a party which claims to be the main opposition party, its absolutely appalling.

Climate Change: Unfit to govern

We've just had record floods on the West Coast, and freak wind events in Auckland. Greece and Turkey are on fire. And in what seems like a blast from the past, National's climate change spokesperson is calling climate change "bullshit":

National Party MP Stuart Smith has described a government climate change plan as the "science of bullsh*t" during a talk in Ashburton this week.

Suggestions that warmer temperatures would not cause an increase in extreme rain events, contrary to the government's National Climate Change Risk Assessment (NCCRA) plan were floated by the Kaikōura MP during his presentation.

Smith, who is the National Party's climate change spokesperson, confirmed that he was making official parliamentary enquiries with Climate Change Minister James Shaw around the legitimacy of the report during the meeting which sparked several heated reactions from patrons.

Smith said, in light of recent flood events in Mid Canterbury, that a Niwa flood risk study showed flooding risk would actually fall as the climate got warmer and had been ignored by the NCCRA document.

[Mid Canterbury has just had two floods in a row, one of them a 1-in-200 year event - I/S]

The claims have been sparked by a recent Tailrisks Economics report into the NCCRA who claim the report commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, was based off a false premise that climate change would cause an increase in extreme weather events and flooding.

So who wrote the NCCRA that supposedly contradicts NIWA? That would be... NIWA. Who as a science-based organisation, might actually change their mind as new data comes in. As for the question of whether to believe them or Tailrisks Economics on whether climate change causes extreme weather, hmm, an organisation of acknowledged experts in our atmosphere and weather, or a random economics consultancy who are experts in nothing except saying whatever they're paid to say? That's a very hard choice. And the fact that Smith is publicly choosing the latter shows that he is unfit for office. And by keeping him in that position, National is showing they continue to be unfit to govern.


A ballot for three member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • New Zealand Public Health and Disability (Restriction on Crown Funding Agreements and Unfunded Cancer Medicines) Amendment Bill (Shane Reti)
  • Overseas Investment (Exempt Investment from OECD Countries) Amendment Bill (Damien Smith)
  • Crimes (Child Exploitation Offences) Amendment Bill (Ginny Andersen)
Sadly, the really interesting bills in the ballot failed their luck roll again. But I guess there's always next time.

An immediate perception of corruption

Over the course of the Covid crisis there has been unease with border restrictions, as people have found it difficult to get MIQ spots. And meanwhile, the government has been secretly letting billionaires in:

Billionaire Google co-founder Larry Page visited New Zealand amid Covid-19 border restrictions after his child fell ill in Fiji, Stuff can reveal.

Kiwi businessman and philanthropist Sir Stephen Tindall, who knows Page personally, confirmed he visited New Zealand because his young child required hospital treatment in Auckland.


Various details of the visit, including where Page stayed, whether he spent two weeks in a managed isolation facility and the grounds on which he was granted entry across New Zealand's closed border, remain a mystery.

Immigration and internal affairs ministers won't comment on the case and the Government refused to say whether Page was a citizen.

The fact that Page is a billionaire and isn't known to be an NZ citizen - he wasn't born here, and has no known association with this country - creates an immediate perception of corruption. Which makes the government's silence on this case simply unacceptable. As with Peter Thiel, who National sold citizenship to in 2011, there is a strong public interest in transparency about whether they have cut a similar deal (or are just letting page skip the queue and potentially endanger us all because he is rich). And an even stronger public interest in accountability if they have. And until the government comes clean, we're entitled to think they're dirty.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Throw the landlords out!

The Spinoff this morning has a horrific cartoon from the Side Eye about how people are being locked out of owning their own home. Along the way, it points out that the only people who benefit from this crisis are property investors, and that there's remarkably few of them: only 7100 people own more than 4 rental properties, against 1.4 million renters. And weirdly, our entire housing market is designed to benefit the former group, rather than the latter.

Why? Its not as if that's enough votes to matter (especially compared to 1.4 million). But you just need to look at who our MPs are, who they compare themselves to socially, and how many houses they own. Our MPs are basicly landlords and property speculators, and so they design policy to suit - and enrich - themselves. Solving this crisis the obvious way - taxing excess wealth, and building enormous numbers of houses to crash the property market and realise the human right of secure housing - would make them poorer and offend their friends and families, so is off the table. And so the voices of 1.4 million kiwis (and the millions more who want a fair society) don't matter.

As for how to solve it, well, those 1.4 million kiwis and their friends can vote. And we should use that weapon actively. Don't vote for house-hoarders, landlords, or speculators, Possibly, don't vote even for people who own a house. Throw the landlords out!

One way of fixing it

Yesterday, in response to upcoming industrial action, DHBs decided to take the nurses' union to court, claiming they weren't doing enough to guarantee safe staffing levels during the strike. The core issue in the strike is... safe staffing levels, so there's a heavy dose of irony there. And its a lovely coincidence that the very next day, Dunedin Hospital is being slapped with legal action over its unsafe staffing levels:

Fears patients could die waiting for treatment in Dunedin Hospital’s beleaguered emergency department have prompted staff to take legal action demanding urgent improvement.

Pressure of high patient numbers and low staffing levels routinely meant staff went into the toilets to cry, emergency department health and safety representative Anne Daniels said.

Last Thursday, after a nurse told her there were no toilets free to cry in, Ms Daniels lodged a provisional improvement notice (Pin) with the Southern District Health Board.

The notice, an action under the Health and Safety at Work Act, requires a workplace to display the notice and take steps within eight days to address the safety issues raised or face possible further action.


The notice said staff had experienced ‘‘emotional, psychological, ethical and physical harm’’ while in a workplace which did not meet Australasian guidelines for triage patients.

The next step would be prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which has severe penalties for running an unsafe workplace. The officers of the DHB are individually liable (and legally cannot be insured), and face fines of up to $300,000. If they're found to be reckless - which a long history of ignoring safety complaints should establish - then they could go to jail. Which you'd think would provide an incentive. And it also shows what else nurses could do if their concerns about safe staffing continue to be ignored. DHB's can either address them cooperatively through the bargaining process, or they can defend themselves against prosecution by WorkSafe. Their choice.

5,000 employed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics have been released, and outperformed expectations again, with unemployment dropping to 4.0%. There are now 117,000 unemployed - 5,000 fewer than when Labour took office. Which, given the pandemic, is a pretty spectacular performance. Throw in a drop in underutilisation and increased wages, and it looks like whatever else Labour is doing, it has this area of policy right.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First is the committee stage of Andrew Bayly's racist, anti-immigrant New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Fair Residency) Amendment Bill. Labour has sadly decided to back it - apparently they value the votes of dying, racist NZ First voters more than those of their own supporters - so it should pass. After that ugly display, its on to first readings. How many get done will depend on how long the House spends being racist, but they should at least finish the Secondhand Dealers and Pawnbrokers (Electronic Records) Amendment Bill (also from Bayly), and probably move on to Simon Bridges' Income Tax (Adjustment of Taxable Income Ranges) Amendment Bill and David Seymour's Regulatory Standards Bill. Which means there should be a ballot for two new bills tomorrow.

Speaking of new bills, there's a new one from Labour's Barbara Edmonds, the Oaths and Declarations (Realm of New Zealand Languages) Amendment Bill, which would allow affirmations to be made in any NZ language (meaning Gagana Tokelau, Vagahau Niue, and Te Reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani). This ought to be completely uncontroversial, and an excellent candidate for the new short-cut mechanism which allows bills to be bumped to the top of the order paper with the support of 61 non-executive MPs. But so far it has only attracted the support of Labour MPs, and not even the Greens are supporting it yet. Which is I guess a nice example of the toxic dynamics of our Parliament...

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Incentives work

Huh. It turns out that incentives to buy EVs and lower their price relative to fossil vehicles work:

The first month of the "feebate" saw a huge spike in electric vehicle sales, which nearly quadrupled.

There were 1944 pure EV and hybrid light vehicle new registrations during July, according to new registration stats released by the Ministry of Transport - Te Manatū Waka.

That compares to 521 the previous month, and 483 in July last year.

The Herald and Stuff articles also have a breakdown of vehicle types, which oddly does not match Ministry of Transport figures. From table 2a here, the real numbers are: 759 new light pure electric, 538 used light pure electric, 430 new light plug-in hybrid and 207 used light plug-in hybrid. In a month.

Its still a small proportion of new registrations - 7.6% of new vehicles and 5.2% of newly-registered used ones. But that's triple and double the previous rates respectively. If this policy produces a step-change resulting in faster adoption, we can consider it a success.

The next step of course is to get those dirty, inefficient, dangerous utes off the roads. And that should hopefully start happening when the "fee" part of "feebate" kicks in next year.

Monday, August 02, 2021

The government is breaching the right to housing

Housing is a human right, one which the New Zealand government accepts through its adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. And now the Human Rights Commission has stated the obvious: we're breaching it:

Successive Governments have breached New Zealanders’ human right to housing, the Human Rights Commission says.

Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt​ said the current housing crisis was an institutional failure.

“Frankly it is a failure of our democracy. There is insufficient appreciation in New Zealand to the rights of a decent home, which is binding in international law.” Hunt​ said.

The Commission will be holding a formal inquiry into the right to housing to Aotearoa. And my inner cynic says the government will ignore it, while they sit there raking in their untaxed capital gains and profiting off our misery.

Climate Change: A $3.5 billion mistake

In May last year the government increased the ETS fixed price option to $35, as a prelude to moving to an auction-based system with a cost-containment reserve. At the time, carbon prices were $25 - hard up against the previous price cap - so it must have looked impossibly high. In retrospect, setting it do low, even for a final year, is looking like a huge mistake. How huge? 30 million tons worth:

More than 80% of companies in New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme paid the NZ$35 fixed price option (FPO) instead of surrendering allowances for 2020 compliance, according to EPA data, saddling the government with another 30 million surplus NZUs to digest.
That's 30 million extra tons NZ polluters will now be allowed to emit, over and above the 120 million tons they had already stockpiled by past abuse of the system. The social cost of that carbon on the government's books is $4.5 billion (though part of that cost has been met, so the net cost is $3.45 billion). But fundamentally, its 30 million tons. 30 millions tons that we - and the planet - cannot afford.

If another government policy had resulted in a $3.5 billion blowout, you'd expect to be hearing a lot about it. On this... crickets. As for how to fix it, the government will need to gouge that 30 million tons out of future ETS allocations, to make polluters use their stockpiled credits. And they need to make sure that they don't give polluters any more.

And on that front, remember that the government is at a real risk of blowing the ETS budget again on 1 September if it doesn't raise the auction price cap. The cost of that mistake is another 7 million tons, valued by the government at just over a billion dollars. Normally when faced with a completely avoidable billion dollar mistake, the government would be legislating urgently to stop it. But on this, they're just sitting on their hands, pretending helplessness. If they'd had that attitude to Covid, we'd all be fucking dead.

This government was meant to cut emissions. Instead, they've allowed an extra half a year's worth, just in the last year, by poor policy design and a refusal to correct it. And that is just not acceptable. The government needs to start treating this like an actual, Covid-level crisis - because it is. Every day they delay doing that, the worse it is going to get.