Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dear Mr Grocer get a fair deal for embodied carbon in Paris or don't agree to anything.

New Zealand's climate change Minister Tim Grocer is currently collecting input from New Zealanders on what he should take to the Paris climate change talks in December.
One thing we should appreciate is that at least the New Zealand government is not as appallingly cynical as many. There is not a New Zealand representative competing for space in the private jet park at the climate change talks unlike 140 other attendees. Like a good boy scout Mr Grocer will be catching a regular commercial flight.
But the fact is the circus at climate change talks has become frankly disgusting. Most of the attendees demonstrate more interest in politics and making money than they do in the global environment. Some are career hypocrites with business interests in promoting climate change policies, others are politicians who simply anticipate some very good French catering. Climate change politics has become a farce.
In Copenhagen the Zimbabwean contingent were basically there to go shopping and made little secret of the fact. Once again the Chinese (the world's second largest economy) and so-called "developing nations" like Singapore (which has the best Net International Investment Position in the world) treated the occassion as an opportunity to laugh at our boy scout earnestness while offering to do practically nothing. It is no wonder that the United States has scoffed at the whole thing. True green environmentalists decry the United States but fail to see that the real politik is not about saving the world but using this issue as a means for national advancement.
And Europe's holier than thou impression in the climate change stakes is pretty questionable too. It's much vaunted carbon market is based on "UN" offsets derived from paying Indians and Indonesians to say they have swapped some coal boiler for a natural gas one - even though nobody ever checks that savings were actually made. That's why the European market became increasingly questionable because the projects it was based on were corrupt.
As for the Kyoto Protocol scam it didn't take the US five minutes to see that the Protocol with its 1990 base year was essentially a giant European rort designed to see America spending real money on Russian "hot air" because the economies and emissions of the constituents of the former Soviet Union had dropped 50% when it dissolved in 1991. Why 1990 was chosen as opposed to 1992 when the Russian Federation was established? This was a political decision with no bearing on the climate at all.
Then there is the hystrionics of the climate negotiations themselves. Representatives from around the world get packed into a hall to negotiate deals in boiler room conditions. There's tears, there's sentimental speechifying and finally cheers when the exhausted representitives finally agree a text they can take back to their governments to be ... well usually ignored. It would be dramatic if it happened once, but it happens every COP and the results are simply terrible policy.
Consider the Kyoto Protocol. Under the Protocol if you are Saudi Arabia and you pump 9.9 million of barrels of oil per year from under the ground which will emit 4.2 million new tonnes of CO2 when burned (typically within that year) you are actually only responsible for only 0.46 million tonnes of CO2 produced by pumping, venting and flaring. But if you are New Zealand and you ship 30,000 tonnes of forest products (our third largest export) which have been recycled from the atmosphere over the past thirty years you are responsible for emitting the entire 15,000 tonnes of embodied carbon which is deemed released to the atmosphere even though much of it ends up as building products or paper. It isn't even remotely fair.
Why does that happen? Well it happens because embodied carbon is too hard to think about when you've been sleep deprived in a marathon negotiation session and hardly anyone worries about sustainable forestry nations like New Zealand (NZ forest products are from replanted plantations forest). So we get a shit deal because everyone else is too busy trying to suck up to Russia or Saudi Arabia or some other vast emitting nation. If you were completely logical about it Saudi Arabia would be obliged to pay for the sequestration of all it produced. The rest of the world would pay Saudi Arabia through oil prices and Saudi Arabia could buy the cheapest sequestration it could find. But it doesn't work that way because of politics.
And when it comes to politics we get screwed. Our climate change Ministers come home looking like they fought hard being all rueful and  hairy chested but actually in reality they just took most of the world up the arse. They then have the temerity to tell taxpayers that because they failed and the "international community" has set the rules against us we taxpayers have to suck it up and play by the rules. It must make the Singaporese who don't admit or concede anything wet themselves laughing for months. Our problem is our suck up representatives don't play hard ball like Singapore and demand a reasonable deal. They want to be the good little country willing to take their medicine for the good of the whole world. Like we're rich or something.
Because we aren't rich. We are a second world economy. Most of our international income comes from selling milk products, hospitality (tourism) and forestry. Our PPP adjusted GDP per capita is in the $32,000 range which is better than most but is definitely not in the $42,000+ territory of most first world nations, including Australia (who don't play climate change ball either). It is certainly well short of "developing" Singapore's $82,000 per person per year.
So my question is why don't we stick up for ourselves for a change, because worst case, if climate change comes along in a hundred years it won't be New Zealand that suffers one helluva lot. Because climate change is not the end of the world. The highest concentration of CO2 in the last 800,000 years is still within the history of human beings. Life on earth has coped with way way worse. Even 12,000 years ago we had some pretty exciting experiences with ice ages which shook things up in a way the modern world would find pretty hard to cope with.
As for warming usually the Earth copes by producing more clouds and growing more biomass while most species cope by migrating. The problem is we have this weird idea called land parcels which we "own" and we've based the whole monetary system on it. Economically what climate change is about is the loss of land values from coastal real estate. Cities like Singapore, Amsterdam, etc who will cease to exist if sea levels rise. New Zealand (like Russia) could even benefit from climate change in a way that Australia (fires), and a number of other nations really would not.
So if all the clever clogs in Australia and Singapore really can't be bothered doing anything to reduce their energy intensity why should our people show "moral leadership" other than to strut a bit at climate change talks? Kiwi can't eat moral superiority.
Of course for some people New Zealand should be the green angel of the world. It should be 100% sustainable with the lowest energy intensity etc. Most such people are vast hypocrites who rely on other people emitting so they can enjoy their chardonnay. They're Al Gore or Prince Charles types who say do as I say not as I do. Well, really that isn't possible.
New Zealand can't participate in the global economy and be the most remote nation on earth without needing a fairly high energy intensity. Sure, you can hide behind rules excluding international shipping and air travel but fundamentally that's dishonest. The fact is the dairy industry, tourism and forestry are all energy demanding industries. Ideally our forestry carbon sink would balance our agricultural methane emissions but realistically that depends on commodity prices and that depends on a whole bunch of things which have nothing to do with carbon.
And this is the problem with carbon in the real world. Because it is effectively a tax imposed by government, and because tax consistency around the world is impossible (because nations cheat), you can't expect the carbon market to ever be any more perfect than say the highly compromised global trade in agriculture which is full of rich nation farmers like the French and Americans shitting on poor farmers in other parts of the world.
So Mr Grocer when you come back from Paris looking all rueful and hairy chested after the histrionics of the climate change negotiations I suggest you don't try and tell us any bullshit about New Zealand leading the world, or being tough but reaching final agreement, or any of the usual blather. Tell us how we were screwed over again and what the Government is going to do to try and minimise the effect of the stupid compromise it agreed to on behalf of our population.
New Zealanders do care about climate change and the environment. We are proud our electricity is 80% renewable, our forests are a potential sink for Saudi's oil carbon and a potential source of biofuel as well. But none of it works if we are subsidising politicking backsliders who are bigger and richer than we are. We can't carry China. We can't carry Australia. We can't even carry Singapore.
If you can't bring back a fair deal don't bring back anything at all.
And a fair deal means a fair deal for embodied carbon. One that treats it exactly the same way as oil. New Zealand like Brazil, like Indonesia, like Malaysia can grow trees for the world and should be paid to grow trees for the world. Ultimately only sequestering CO2 in biomass can compensate for digging the stuff out of the ground and burning it in the first place. The price of carbon added to energy should be the marginal global cost of sequestering it. Growing states should be paid and extracting states should pay them. Swapping coal for gas should simply change how much you pay, not provide an offset. If we can't get a system which recognises this simple reality we are just boy scouts in a room full of shysters.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Change the flag debate highlights left wing malaise

There appears to be a movement afoot in left wing circles to piss on the Prime Minister John Key's plan to change the New Zealand flag. The argument goes that the $26 million to be spent consulting the whole country could be better spent on child poverty.

To my mind this highlights everything that is wrong with the left wing in New Zealand. Namely:
1) It is driven by vitriol not anything constructive
2) It is petty given that $26 million would do very little to change child poverty
3) It is contradictory in that it supports a symbol of British imperialism which is antithetical to left wing values
4) There is no useful alternative.

Let's expand these specific criticisms to broader observations.

1. Vitriol
The entire left wing campaign during the last election was subverted by left wing and media fascination with the attacking the Minister in charge of the GCSB and SIS, the Prime Minister, John Key. The idea was that John was sending his spooks to spy on "ordinary New Zealanders". The fear and loathing was palpable.
And John Key was completely right. New Zealanders shrugged and wondered what all the fuss was about. What the fuss really was really about was that various left wing leaders have been spied on in the past and they were worried that any incumbant might use the power of military spy agencies to remain in power. But that wasn't communicated probably because it's a paranoid delusion, and everyone would recognise it as such. So they talked up "ordinary New Zealanders" who generally have very little of interest to spy agencies, and very little reciprocal interest in our nation's spies.
The effect of this paranoid hysteria was to completely alienate the electorate and Labour got the biggest drubbing in its history as a result. It was completely deserved. Labour had failed to communicate what it was for.
The only time Labour has won in the past has been it has been able to clearly communicate a decisive policy difference between itself and National. In 1984 it was (perversely) about liberalism over the National incumbent's outrageous state control. In 2001 it was about a vision of a creative, egalitarian, society over a divisive, privitised, and class dominated one. Vitriol is an ugly, and weak emotion. It doesn't inspire confidence. It anything it inspires dread for the vitriol poured on a common enemy today could be poured on one's own head tomorrow. 

2. Pettiness is about not only not being able to tell the difference between the big stuff and the small stuff, it's about actively favouring the small stuff over the big stuff. In the flag case $26 million is small stuff. By contrast the $3 billion per anum being spent on Defence is big stuff. Just to put that in perspective $3 billion is the same amount as spent on all state highway contruction and maintenance, half of all local road construction and maintenance, all public transport and all road policing. $26 million is slighty more than they spend on road safety ads. Right now the Ministry of Defence has a defence white paper out for consultation, looking at the future of the defence force that costs all this public money. Does the left have a view? No. It's the usual claptrap. Why? Because they have no vision.
Pettiness is putting big focus on small things for small reasons. Focus on John Key is pettiness. John Key grew up dirt poor, studied, screwed people over and fought tooth and nail to get rich, and then worked his butt off to become Prime Minister. He's been a prick. He's been a dickhead. He lies and he backstabs. Welcome to success! That's what it takes. The idea that anyone will be elevated to high office through their shiny halo and holy persona is ridiculous. But fixating on one person's negative traits is to completely miss those traits which have made him one of New Zealand's most successful Prime Ministers and it looks suspiciously like jealousy.
David Lange had the 1984 election won when he told Robert Muldoon that he respected Muldoon's abilities. It was a put down but it wasn't a petty one. We haven't seen that from the left for a long long long time.
The more the left focuses on small things the more it seems to everyone else the less it is focused on big things. That means the things that effect the electorate. That means pettiness will inevitably attract nobody.  What people want to see is a future where they will do better. They don't care about John Key, politics or anyone else.

3. Contradictory
The left quite often seems incapable of seeing the contradictions of its own policy positions. More often than not it adopts policies because they seem trendy rather than because they are helpful. This is where the effect of Green policy is at its most subversive.
The problem is that most left wing politicians fall into the Green target demographic. They are wealthy urban dwellers from well-off middle class homes. Huge numbers of labour followers are school teachers now into their late fifties who were hippies in the 70s. Greens do not target farmers or farm workers, or the urban poor for the simple reason they know instinctively that Green agricultural and industrial policies are often ill-thought out nonsense. Green voters are well-off urbanites whose incomes typically come from taxpayers or providing business services so abstracted from industry as to be on a different planet. The Green delusion is built on that inter-generational arrogance that parents are all thick and there are better ways of doing things. That and large amounts of hypocrisy (and don't imagine we haven't all been there). It is an ideal which suits idealists and those who rebel against their parents but rarely has any deep thought put into it.
At core the Green ideology is built on the German folk movement of the 1920s which was a Luddite reaction to industry. It holds that there was some kind of idyllic past time of peace and plenty when people worked the land in harmony with one another and nature. It envisages horse power, sail boats and planting cow horns by the light of the moon ( a requirement of biodynamic organic agriculture).
This has translated into a twenty first century "custodians of the earth" notion which holds that humankind has a duty to look after the planet. While there is nothing wrong with the concept of sustainability but there is a rather infantile notion embedded in some strains of popular environmentalism that humankind is at the centre of the cosmos and that our planet is weak and defenceless like a puppy. This is total crap but it results in policy based on sentimental notions of what would help the planet which can easily be manipulated by the cunning.
For example the Greens hate cars. They pretend they don't but really they do. They even hate electric cars. Cars are seen as the enemies of this idyl and the world would be so much better if everyone used bicycles and trains instead. Of course bicycles and trains work really well if you live in the city centre and your city was built around dray deliveries. But most cities these days are built around cars.
Cars carry babies, groceries, children, dogs, and other stuff without physical effort over long distances very quickly. They have liberated women like no other tool (it is no coincidence that the world's most patriachal nations won't let women drive). Cars expand the options of a worker seeking work. Cars provide freedom and they are massively popular demonstrated by the fact the global automotive industry is still growing.
The Greens hatred of cars means they propose "smart cities" which are built around (guess what) trains and bicycles. But to make that work they need to concentrate cities into apartments and rail networks. So "sprawl" is a dirty word and "smart cities" are "sustainable" and make up a million and one tedious arguments to justify that outcome.
This is where the manipulation comes in. Who owns the land those apartments are built on? In  most countries its a rich landlord. Does that landlord want competition from people owning their own land and building on it? Not really. The less competition the more they control prices. So suddenly rich landlords really like the Green ideal. Making them rich is "smart" and "sustainable".
But what about the workers? For many workers the best way to save is to pay a mortgage not a rent. That way they pay towards equity in an asset rather than simply meeting a cost. Even better the asset tends to appreciate. If they buy an apartment there is very little preventing a developer from building a new apartment next door and their asset can not only stop appreciating but start depreciating. Land on the other hand is always in demand as human populations grow. Therefore it is less risky to borrow in order to buy land, and there are international banking rules recognising this.
Now if you try and concentrate workers into "smart cities" eventually demand for housing will outstrip supply and prices will start rising. Then workers won't be able to buy land and save. And this is exactly what is happening in Auckland right now because the city itself has adopted a Green policy of restricting growth so it can become a "smart city".
The Greens support this because they are wealthy inner city dwellers or their children. It benefits them. Weirdly the National party which has more rich land owners in it opposes it and demands Auckland city should start releasing more land, which the city has refused to do. But Labour, who you would think would support poorer workers, supports the Greens and that makes no sense.
Poorer workers do not live in tenements and go to work in factories by tram or train anymore. Poorer workers work all over the city. They need mobility more than anyone. Check it out. Who rides $1000 bicycles to work? Rich mostly male office workers. Who takes the bus or train? Middle class office workers. Who drives a $1000 clapped out van or car? The poor. Which does Labour party policy help the most: themselves, the green demographic.
What's worse is that Labour party see this as the poor being out of touch! They regard a guy who works in a panel beaters (a terrifically polluting industry) and races cars at night (unsafe) as a troglodyte, not a potential member. 
Does this matter? Fuck yeah! It means the poor see their nominal representatives as shiny arsed sell outs who have no idea what they need. Labour might bump up their benefit a few bucks and pay for an army of welfare people to ask them about their needs but when it comes to creating more jobs, reducing costs and making their lives better they have no ideas.

4. No alternative vision
The Labour party has no vision. It's fiddling while the country builds. It can't decide what it stands for so at the moment all it stands for is pissing on John Key.
John Key is actually a good prime minister. He has a vision, he communicates it, he gets elected by huge margins. Labour should be better not bitter.
How could Labour be better? By not doing the three things above for a start. Then what it needs is the following:
1. A housing policy which is not captured by Green thinking and looks to expand supply.
2. A local government funding policy which works.
3. Changing the RMA so that it doesn't try to apply the same rules to pristine National park as everyone's backyard.
4. Changing the tax base away from GST to a capital transaction tax. GST is doomed anyway.
5. Reform the IRDs outrageously grasping role in split families and create a just system. This affects a lot of people.
6. Making the bureaucracy more intelligent and more targeted to need and not just larger and stupider.
7. Reform the tertiary education system which is a runaway paper producing nonsense industry doomed by global change.
8. Reform the primary and secondary education systems to create citizens not students.
9. Reducing business income tax and business income tax loopholes. It works.
10. Cut the defence force to a reasonable size, its ridiculous.
11.Transition the health system to an insurance based one like Canada or Germany. This improves health outcomes and provides investment capital that Government spending doesn't.
12. Tighten the rules on foreign land speculation in New Zealand and change welfare rules so that our policies mirror those of Australia.
That may seem like a loose bunch of ideas but to be blunt Roger Douglas's "There's Got to be a better way" (which everyone heard of and nobody read) wasn't much better and that at least started a debate.

Ultimately I personally don't care who runs New Zealand as long as they do it well. No market (including for politicians) works well when choices are constricted by poor quality. If the Labour party doesn't step up it will die. In a country of this size we need at least two reasonable alternatives. At the moment Labour has proved itself incapable. That doesn't leave any choice. For the country's sake the left needs to pull finger and get to work.

Oh, and change the flag. I like the one Rocket Labs uses. You can recognise it instantly whether its 10 pixels across or in a sea of flags or both. And that is what a flag is for, rallying to.

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