Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Climate Change: Labour grovels to the sacred cow

Today, the government unveilled its response to He Waka Eke Noa's bullshit proposals to subsidise farmers through complicated spreasheets not-really price greenhouse gas emissions at the farm level. Sadly, despite the Climate Change Commission calling bullshit on the whole scam, the government has decided to adopt its core features of farm-level pricing and artificially low and subsidised carbon prices. They've been more careful about proposals for offsets, instead proposing a system of direct subsidies for certain types of on-farm vegetation, while allowing farmers to pay for the research to enable other types to be internationally recognised (good luck with that). But the core features of subsidies, complexity, and low prices remain. As for the effects, they're summed up in this table on p59 of the consultation document:


Yes, that's right: any of the farm-level pricing options is less effective at reducing emissions than the default option of just including agriculture in the ETS at the processor level, while being vastly more complicated and expensive to administer. Yes, the ETS is a blunt instrument, and means we don't directly incentivise farm-level changes. But it turns out to be more effective than the specialised, refined, and expensive instrument farmers are trying to foist on us. Sometimes, a hammer is good enough to do the job. What's really annoying is that we knew that all along, and have instead wasted a decade trying to deny it.

So why have they done this? Because the fundamental truth they're trying to avoid is that cutting agricultural emissions means cutting output and farmer profits. What we need to do is cut cow numbers, which can be done easily rapidly within the farm business cycle by just not replacing animals as they go to the works. The government knows this. Farmers know this. Federated Farmers screams it every time anyone suggests they pay their own way (and they're screaming it now, which shows they were engaging in bad faith all along). But they would all rather spew endless bullshit than recognise that fact in policy. So we have endless rounds of consultation and ever more complicated models to desperately try and do the impossible if only the spreadsheets are complicated enough. But in the end they come down to the same thing: reducing emissions means reducing output. Sure, the preferred farm-level levy results in smaller reductions in output. But that's because it results in smaller reductions in emissions. And that's all there is to say about it.

But in addition to being terrible policy, its also terrible politics. Labour is saying "we're pissing off both sides, so we must be doing something right". Which ignores the fact that one of those sides is only 5% of the population, and the other one is 85%. Treating these two sides as somehow equivalent is both foolish and anti-democratic. It also ignores the fact that the 5% will be pissed off no matter what is done - meaning their opinion is basicly irrelevant.

James Shaw has got his headline saying that Labour overruled him and he is unhappy with the plan (ironicly, because he proposed something even more complicated). Which is great for him. But the question everyone needs to be asking him is how exactly he will change this deal if the next election gives him the greater leverage he is constantly asking us for. Because if he's not going to do a Vader and alter the deal, there's not much point in him at all.