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New Zealand’s New Low Carbon Economy Stays Difficult

Written By: - Date published: 9:52 am, November 7th, 2021 - 36 comments
Categories: australian politics, climate change, local government, science, uncategorized - Tags:

First the Southland District Council plants a block of pine trees many years ago. Then they decide to strip the trees and get to the coal underneath.

That’s New Brighton Collieries, owned by Bathurst from the ASX, working with SDC on both ends. The Australians get resource consent from Southland District Council as regulator to figure how to expedite extraction from Southland District Council as forestry block owner.

Forest and Bird Society, the most successful legal protector of New Zealand nature, appeals with a judicial review in August. The claim is that SDC didn’t take climate change into account.

Southland Mayor Gary Tong responded that: “It’s a transition to better ways of doing this cleaner and greener, that is the focus, the only means of creating energy in some parts of New Zealand. We all want to make a cleaner, greener planet, but we can’t do it in five minutes.”

We can’t do it in five minutes. Another line for Greta’s next speech.

600,000 tonnes of coal ready to send CO2 into the atmosphere. With exploratory drilling finished they are ready to start work in 2022.

But just 20 k’s down the road, there’s a proposal to use some of our good clean hydro electricity for a big datacentre. Meridian already support it.

Marginal cost of electricity for operating this massive centre is the key attraction.

Of course, data centres aren’t massive direct providers of employment, but they have been seen as enablers of economic development as they enable the digital economy to advance quickly. Likely more chances of nationally-domiciled spinoffs than there have been from Bluff aluminium that’s for sure.

A new trans-pacific data cable plan brings this plan one step closer.

Hasn’t happened yet, $700m of bold cash needed to front to make it happen. Also Tiwai Point to close since it will need around 100MW annually, new branch mains feed, etc. Not easy. Hard.

And sure, free enterprise means deals happen between those who hold property and those who hold investment capital. Business. But the regulator Southland Council didn’t need to hand over the trees of property owner Southland Council to help the coal diggers from Australia.

On the same week as COP-26 and we sign up to all manner of promises, could the government not at least have made a statement stating what they wanted to see happen to this country, starting with Southland? Can we even try to keep the coal in the ground?

With its lines just a few kilometres away, could the most critical state agency charged with our energy transition even start to figure out how it might assist?

With coal deals like this supported by local councils, silence from central government on alternatives, and aggressive Aussies with money simultaneously gaming local government (Bathurst) and central government (Rio Tinto), our desired low-carbon future economy appears very, very hard.

36 comments on “New Zealand’s New Low Carbon Economy Stays Difficult ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    It’s a transition to better ways of doing this cleaner and greener, that is the focus, the only means of creating energy in some parts of New Zealand. We all want to make a cleaner, greener planet, but we can’t do it in five minutes.”

    Good post – and useful because it speaks to a pragmatic reality that people will continue to use energy regardless. We can talk about over-consumption in a small fraction of the world's population all you want, the reality is this is nothing compared to the massive growth in demand from the poor in the world who currently under-consume.

    And these poorer people will always be compelled to select the cheapest form of energy they can access – which for the moment remains coal.

    For the foreseeable future NZ is fortunate to have a buffer of hydro and geothermal potential to get us through the next decade or so. We have some low hanging de-carbonisation fruit such as de-coaling our milk processing plants and transitioning to EV’s that will take us in the right direction. But at the same time the natural gas reserves are not forever and it's my sense NZ is going to have to make some hard choices around energy sometime around 2040.

    Of course the atmosphere doesn't care if a molecule of CO2 comes from NZ, the US or the PRC, whether it was emitted a second or decades ago – all that matters is the total and the trend. This is the ultimate big picture challenge we all face – yet we remain so often stuck in silo thinking to address it. (We see this behaviour most vividly at events like COP26 – well intentioned but weak on getting to the outcomes that matter.)

    • garibaldi 1.1

      "We can talk about over-consumption in a small fraction of the world's population all you want". Surely it is unbridled Capitalism that has brought this about. Furthermore Capitalism will not solve the problems of "the massive growth in demand from the poor in the world who currently under-consume." It is Capitalism that has brought this about as well ie the greedy few show no concern for those who are not winning..

      Better equality in industrialisation and better distribution of resources would go a long way to alleviate many problems but it will not happen under the worlds current Capitalist systems. That is why we are stuck in silos thinking about it and then going blah blah blah at expensive hapless conferences.

      • RedLogix 1.1.1

        Better equality in industrialisation and better distribution of resources would go a long way to alleviate many problems but it will not happen under the worlds current Capitalist systems.

        No it won't. It simply doesn't work on the numbers. The fraction of people 'over consuming' however you define this – is far smaller than the poor people under-consuming. Whatever you take from the rich, simply doesn't get the poor out of poverty.

        Besides these zero sum games are silly – how are you going to politically enforce this state of perpetual poverty for centuries into the future?

        • Grafton Gully 1.1.1.1

          "The fraction of people 'over consuming' however you define this – is far smaller than the poor people under-consuming." People who choose to have an immaculate lawn, kwila decking and carved hornbill casques. Role models for "the poor people under-consuming". Pity they don't choose less consumption – but why would they ?

          https://www.yourhomeandgarden.co.nz/inspiration/outdoors/how-to-maintain-your-lawn

          https://www.google.com/search?q=kwila+deck&rlz=1C1CHBF_enNZ812NZ812&oq=kwila+deck&aqs=chrome..0i512j69i57j0i433i512j0i512l2j0i20i263i512j0i512l4.9741j0j15&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

          https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34504217

          • RedLogix 1.1.1.1.1

            Most people tend to think that the 'over consuming rich' as pretty much anyone better off than them. Yet compared to roughly 6b other poor people in the world – you're insanely wealthy.

            Somewhere in a video my partner and I were watching recently there were two images juxtaposed – one of a woman squatting over a dung fire in obviously third world conditions. The other of a typical first world woman unloading a washing machine. I asked my partner – which do you choose?

            It feels very weird to be on a left wing forum making the argument against poverty.

            • Drowsy M. Kram 1.1.1.1.1.1

              We can talk about over-consumption in a small fraction of the world's population all you want, the reality is this is nothing compared to the massive growth in demand from the poor in the world who currently under-consume.

              The fraction of people 'over consuming' however you define this – is far smaller than the poor people under-consuming. Whatever you take from the rich, simply doesn't get the poor out of poverty.

              Pay no attention to the [over-consuming] man behind the curtain!wink

              Ah, the over-consumers – such role models for future generations.

              https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/submissions/te-kuha-appeal

              We’ve been here before.

              A money-hungry mining company is trying, yet again, to obtain permission to turn Te Kuha mountain into an open cast mine.

              They are absolutely relentless in their pursuit of Te Kuha's coal – regardless of the devastating cost to its pristine forests.

              So you and I must be unfaltering in our defence of the many native and threatened species that call it home – no matter what it takes.

              • RedLogix

                As I said elsewhere – the definition of 'over consuming' usually being 'anyone better off than me'.

              • mikesh

                I think most of us would be willing to consume less if we could be sure that everybody else was doing likewise.

                • Drowsy M. Kram

                  Agreed, and that ensures most won't voluntarily consume less. For some, overconsumption is a way of life – maybe even a reason for being.

                  Time for a ‘cold shower’ about our ability to avoid a ghastly future [13 January 2021]
                  While the paper is a pull-no-punches assessment of the state of global biodiversity, its main purpose is in fact to demonstrate how little capacity we seem to have regarding any real chance to change the course of things. Everything from biodiversity death spiral, to runaway climate change, to overconsumption and overpopulation, to acute political impotence to do anything meaningful and at the necessary scale — we provide an admittedly brief, yet stark appraisal that things are heading in the worst possible of directions.

            • Drowsy M. Kram 1.1.1.1.1.2

              Overconsumption and the environment: should we all stop shopping?
              Over-consumption is at the root of the planet’s environmental crisis. One solution, proposed by author JB MacKinnon, is that we should simply buy less. But would that really work?

              • Ad

                Old fashioned signals of resilience:

                There are still a fair few weatherboard houses in New Zealand, with lean-to's tacked on to the side which are their construction timber storage holds. After this many months I've pretty much used up every scrap.

                There are also still a lot of home garages with arrays of tools – enough to do most tasks on your car, or to make a fence.

                And there are still lots of houses with internal storage of 'glory boxes', blankets and linen. Even people who still do bottling and making their own Christmas cakes – though indeed it’s now uncommon.

                There are even a few with good-sized gardens and nurseries – whether they generate much for the table or not is of less moment. I will be spending this week getting the peas beans and tomatoes out of the glasshouse and into a protected part of the back garden.

                There is through lockdown a huge growth in crafts from weaving and carding, to pottery, to all kinds of fibre and clothing.

                The phrase 'Number 8 Wire' was both a signal of resilience and very little working cash on hand.

                Those old skills we got from originating as an agricultural and low-cash country – whose primary practitioners are now aged well into their '80s – will get called on more and more up to Christmas and into the extraordinarily tight constraints of 2022.

              • RedLogix

                Why is it that every solution you have to offer seems to demand taking something from someone?

                • Drowsy M. Kram

                  Why is any suggestion that the golden billion share their wealth – take one for the team, so to speak – so unpalatable?

                  Answer that question honestly and you'll understand the root of my pessimistic outlook for this iteration of civilisation.

                  A deeper and more nuanced understanding of the sustainability of wealth is crucial to a green, resilient, and inclusive future,” said World Bank Managing Director for Development Policy and Partnerships, Mari Pangestu. “It is essential that renewable natural capital and human capital are given the same importance as more traditional sources of economic growth, so that policymakers take steps to enable long-term prosperity.

                  According to the report, global wealth grew significantly between 1995 and 2018, and middle-income countries are catching up to high-income countries. However, growing prosperity has been accompanied by unsustainable management of some natural assets. Low- and middle-income countries saw their forest wealth per capita decline 8% from 1995 to 2018, reflecting significant deforestation. Meanwhile, the value of global marine fish stocks collapsed by 83% due to poor management and overfishing over the same period. The projected impacts of climate change may exacerbate these trends.

                  In addition, mispricing of assets like carbon-emitting fossil fuels can lead to overvaluation and over-consumption. Development can be put on a more sustainable path by taking a comprehensive view of wealth and putting in place policy measures including carbon pricing to better value and nurture assets such as forests, mangroves, and human capital.
                  https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/10/27/global-wealth-has-grown-but-at-the-expense-of-future-prosperity-world-bank

                  • RedLogix

                    Why is any suggestion that the golden billion share their wealth – take one for the team, so to speak – so unpalatable?

                    It's not so much as unpalatable – as stupid. It would achieve little of lasting value.

                    Let me do some simple numbers. Lets go with the rough estimate that say the top 10% could cut their consumption by half. In real terms that would be say the whole of North America cutting back to something like Europe and releasing something like 20% of total consumption.

                    Now if that extra 20% taken from the top 700m people was now spread evenly over the remaining 7b people – and assuming we could do this with perfect equity – the gain seen by all the poor in the world would be in the order of 2%. In other words they'd still be poor.

                    And that's assuming the total global economic pool doesn't also shrink because of the enforced collectivism all this mass sharing implies.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      It [sharing wealth] would achieve little of lasting value.

                      Still, every little bit helps eh wink

                      Your "simple numbers" are a very simple justification for not sharing any more than we do now. But do they add up?

                      Setting aside the damage done to spaceship Earth, this iteration of civilisation is fabulously wealthy.

                      World’s Wealth Hits Half A Quadrillion Dollars
                      [10 June 2021]
                      The world's total net wealth has hit $431 trillion, nearly half a quadrillion dollars, and over a quarter of it is controlled by millionaires.

                      Millionaires control wealth valued at about $126 trillion dollars.

                      Let's say each millionaire shared half their wealth – and, to keep it simple, let's say that each millionaire would also get an equal share.

                      So, $63 trillion dollars, to be divided equally among ~7.9 billion souls. That's about US $8,000 per person, so a family of four would benefit to the tune of $32,000.

                      That's more than the median annual income in Luxembourg (which tops the table of median annual income by country at 26,321 (PPP, Current Int$)), and more that someone unlucky enough to live in the poorest countries could expect to earn in their (short) lifetime.

                      Being wealthy adds nine more healthy years of life, says study

                      The millionaires would still be wealthy, and everyone else would be better off (in some cases beyond the regional dreams of avarice).

                      See, I can do "simple numbers" too smiley

                      Just about the only downside would be the enormous increase in global consumption, but at least it would be consumption by those that really needed it.

                      But it's all too hard, what about the mechanism of redistribution, "enforced collectivism", shrinking economic pool, etc. etc.

                    • RedLogix

                      The other way to do it is to simply take the total GDP of the world (wealth as you used it is a misleading number because much of it isn't liquid enough to be 'shared') – and divide it among whole population. Depending on the accounting method used you get to a number around U$10 – 15k per capita. Or something like NZ Super.

                      But this doesn't do anything about total carbon – it merely uses an accounting trick to spread it out more evenly. Morally nice for you, useless against CC.

                      Let's say we have to reduce consumption by 70% by say 2030 to make the kind of urgent difference you insist is necessary. Now the number is a whole lot lower – around the kind of per capita GDP of say Keyna – or about 15 – 20% of NZ at present.

                      And then you have to enforce this miserable dystopian vision indefinitely into the future. That’s an unanswerable challenge that makes storing a few tonnes of nuclear waste look like child’s play.

                      Again I find it weird to be making the case against poverty on an allegedly left wing site.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Again I find it weird to be making the case against poverty on an allegedly left wing site.

                      I agree, entirely too weird to be encountering resistance to increased ‘wealth sharing’ on an allegedly left wing site – that’s more ACT’s cup of tea. Re your ‘concern’ about enforcing “this miserable dystopian vision indefinitely into the future“, let’s make it a one-off. Looking good!

                      Why poverty in New Zealand is everyone's concern
                      Liang describes poverty as a "heritable condition" that perpetuates and amplifies through generations: "It is also not hard to see how individual poverty flows into communities and society, with downstream effects on economics, crime and health, as well as many other systems. Loosen one strand and everything else unravels."

                      A Kete Half Empty
                      Poverty is your problem, it is everyone's problem, not just those who are in poverty. – Rebecca, a child from Te Puru

                      Time for a ‘cold shower’ about our ability to avoid a ghastly future [13 January 2021]
                      While the paper is a pull-no-punches assessment of the state of global biodiversity, its main purpose is in fact to demonstrate how little capacity we seem to have regarding any real chance to change the course of things. Everything from biodiversity death spiral, to runaway climate change, to overconsumption and overpopulation, to acute political impotence to do anything meaningful and at the necessary scale — we provide an admittedly brief, yet stark appraisal that things are heading in the worst possible of directions.

                    • RedLogix

                      I agree, entirely too weird to be encountering resistance to increased ‘wealth sharing’ on an allegedly left wing site

                      No resistance whatsoever – indeed the data has shows that while there is an extreme global elite who definitely skew the figures – for the most part the gap between poor and developed nations has been closing. Mainly because during the period from WW2 onward more nations were able to build their economies and trade than ever before. It was patchy, imperfect process, but by 2020 less than 10% of the world lived in extreme poverty. That's my vision of sharing – it is to bring everyone into the modern world. On the current track most of humanity will be upper middle class by current standards at the end of this century.

                      The path that takes us there requires clean, cheap and abundant energy. That gives humanity choices, options and enables the innovation necessary to manage our existing resource base and discover new pathways. Getting all of humanity past the demographic transition literally makes a new species of us, and opens the door to endless possibilities well beyond my limited imagination.

                      Your vision takes us in the opposite direction, the mass of humanity hobbled by a miserable, unreliable and inadequate energy base, that cannot amount to anything more than a slow, erratic reversion to pre-industrial poverty run by a global cabal of techno-feudal overlords ensuring we remain all equally poor forever.

                      With all of your education I would have hoped for better.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      With all of your education I would have hoped for better.

                      As would I wink

                      The path that takes us there requires clean, cheap and abundant energy.

                      Clean, cheap and abundant energy is required, but not sufficient – best of luck.

                      Your vision takes us in the opposite direction, the mass of humanity hobbled by a miserable, unreliable and inadequate energy base, that cannot amount to anything more than a slow, erratic reversion to pre-industrial poverty run by a global cabal of techno-feudal overlords ensuring we remain all equally poor forever.

                      Not my vision, but whatever floats your yacht.

                      Returning to a 1970s Economy Could Save Our Future
                      We’d contract energy use by half. Shrinking consumption is the solution we can actually live with.
                      https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2021/11/04/Returning-1970s-Economy-Could-Save-Our-Future/

                      The 1970s – so “pre-industrial“! How did anyone even live way back then?

                    • RedLogix

                      Sure we could shrink NZ's economy by half (although good luck with getting a majority to vote for that) – but that ignores the rest of the world.

                      While little old NZ is busy reverting back 50 years in time, everyone else in the developing world will be busy doubling or tripling their economies. And utterly obliterating any impact we might have.

                      The first 10 minutes of this recent presentation carries this message in more detail. Particularly the graph at around 6:40. if you want to take the shortcut.

                      And for me a highly encouraging political development – one Dr Kathryn Huff – who has the most remarkable bio, a strong research background in MSR's and advanced nuclear – is now heading up the DoE agency in charge of this area. A short but impressive intro to her agenda here.

                    • RedLogix

                      Not my vision, but whatever floats your yacht.

                      I know it's not your intended vision – but then again one of us could make a 3000MW power plant run.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      …but then again one of us could make a 3000MW power plant run.

                      S000 powerful wink

                      The globe is warming, and we both want this iteration of civilisation to get that trend under control, while moving towards a fair consumption space for all.

                      You favour one set of responses, I favour another, and the same human behaviours that brought us to this point will thwart the implementation of meaningful solutions.

                      1.5 degrees of warming is locked in; 2 degrees is baked in – and so on. Regrettably, spaceship Earth will have to (hopefully only figuratively) beat us over our collective heads before we change our ways – it’s going to be, as you say, "a bumpy ride".

                      The World Is on Track for a Disastrous 2.7 Degrees of Warming, UN Confirms [27 October 2021]
                      Overall, G20 countries are not even on track to meet their previous NDCs, let alone their new goals. The UNEP report found that if countries met their net zero pledges, we could limit global warming to 2.2 degrees Celsius — but many climate action plans will not be implemented until after 2030 and some remain unclear and ambiguous.

                    • RedLogix

                      I was reading about CC sometime back in the 70's and working at the time directly in the geophysics field. (In a pretty junior role it has to said – but it was a formative experience.)

                      I've worked with not one but two bona-fide climate scientists.

                      I was part of a team that confirmed the global scope of the Great Oceanic Conveyor currents in the deep Southern Ocean.

                      I worked with IR instrumentation for many years, the principles of which are the direct basis for the basic science of CC. At the same time I was also working with some of the most powerful radioactive nuclear sources ever present in NZ.

                      I have been staunchly defending the CC science here for more than a decade.

                      I have spent the last 2/3rd of my working life in heavy industrial processes and have a competent knowledge of how they function and especially how to automate them.

                      In particular when I read about the potential for new industrial pathways (literally I just scanned one that will easily deliver truly carbon free steel before replying here) I have a sense about whether the numbers add up or not. It's literally what I do for a living – making sense of what the process is telling me.

                      And right now the process I'm working with is producing it's first trial batches of lithium hydroxide – that is an essential material in the EV revolution.

                      So how about sparing me the moralising lectures on the perils of CC?

                      Also see my response to Adrian at 6:10 below. You think you're the pessimist.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      You must be very proud.

                      So how about sparing me the moralising lectures on the perils of CC?

                      You want me to spare you the lectures laugh

                      Anyway, seems we're on the same page re the seriousness of civilisation's self-imposed plight – nice to find common ground.

                      Time for a ‘cold shower’ about our ability to avoid a ghastly future [13 January 2021]
                      While the paper is a pull-no-punches assessment of the state of global biodiversity, its main purpose is in fact to demonstrate how little capacity we seem to have regarding any real chance to change the course of things. Everything from biodiversity death spiral, to runaway climate change, to overconsumption and overpopulation, to acute political impotence to do anything meaningful and at the necessary scale — we provide an admittedly brief, yet stark appraisal that things are heading in the worst possible of directions.

                      https://conservationbytes.com/2021/01/13/time-for-a-cold-shower-about-our-ability-to-avoid-a-ghastly-future/

                    • RedLogix

                      Check the date on this.

                      And frankly I’m past that kind of quote above. Much of it amounts to nothing more than a performative renting of sack-cloth and purity point scoring.

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      Much of it amounts to nothing more than a performative renting of sack-cloth and purity point scoring.

                      No arguing with that critique.

  2. barry 2

    "can't do it in 5 minutes" – We have had 30 years!

  3. Patricia Bremner 3

    I thought Councils have to put their activities through a carbon sieve? That obdurate coal guy … and council. This is denial and downright stupidity. Until there is a high unclaimable tax on such "investments"& "activities" to make it untenable, this will continue. Drive investment towards renewables and sustainability.

  4. Adrian 4

    One point lost in the whole argument is that not every single tonne of coal or litre of petroleum needs to be eliminated from use to control excess CO2, only enough to tip the rise into a reasonably steep decline.The one concern I have which I hope not to live and see is that if we completely eliminate CO2 in the atmosphere or minimise it too much then the fine balance that allows our environment to be warm enough to grow food in most places will evaporate with far graver consequences than currently exist. Samoa which can grow almost anything has an average annual temperature in the low 20s about 10 degrees greater than the food growing cooler marginal parts of NZ.

    • Obtrectator 4.1

      "The one concern I have which I hope not to live and see is that if we completely eliminate CO2 in the atmosphere or minimise it too much then the fine balance that allows our environment to be warm enough to grow food in most places will evaporate with far graver consequences than currently exist."

      Something tells me you won't have to worry too much about that one. And anyway, no biggie reversing it, I'd say.

    • RedLogix 4.2

      That's a fair question. The answer isn't completely simple but essentially CO2 once it gets into the atmosphere will exert an influence on climate for many hundreds of years. It's generally accepted that the 'safe' level of CO2 to maintain our current climate was under 350ppm – or roughly what it was at the turn of the 20th century. Right now we're closing in on 420ppm last I looked.

      The implication from these two facts is that simply getting to 'carbon zero' is not sufficient. We actually have to remove that excess CO2 from 420ppm (or more depending on where we peak) to back under 350ppm.

      I'll put this simply – if the human race went extinct tomorrow and no more fossil carbon was ever burned – that excess would persist in the atmosphere for centuries. Quite long enough for truly dramatic changes to occur. Think about this.

      It means that sometime this century, and the sooner the better, we have to go carbon negative. In other words using energy intensive technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere because the natural process is too slow.

      If we imagine to achieve this with solar panels, wind towers and growing organic kale …

  5. gsays 5

    The obscenity is, Captain 'Five Minutes' wants to cut down trees that are doing the needed job right now and into the future. Before he flogs the coal off, making the problem he is responsible for, bigger.

    The good old, blinded by a balance sheet, approach. So mid last century thinking.

    • Michael 5.1

      After striking that particular blow for the climate, Tong is moving on to better things. he wants to roll Sir Tim Shadbolt out of his job as Mayor of Invercargill. Stands a good chance too, on the basis of his record as environmental steward.

    • mac1 5.2

      Being a citizen from a 50000 population living in a province the size of Israel, it can be sometimes alarming that a group of rural-based corporate entities can influence the ecological well-being of such a large land area comprising, sea, mountains, river valleys drowned and asl, reserves, national parks, fishing, salmon, viticulture, sheep and dairy, forestry and horticulture.

      Is it the same with Southland where a small grouping of our population can so influence and change such a large land area?

      Our area assumed single authority status, not even an overview by a regional authority.

      It is a precarious state…………

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