On the whiner’s excuse “but we are so small”

Written By: - Date published: 9:07 am, September 6th, 2016 - 20 comments
Categories: climate change, Politics, sustainability, transport - Tags: , , , ,

Damon over at civicanalysis wrote an interesting post over the weekend “How New Zealand can help save the world” (and then pointed my attention to it 🙂 ). It looks at what we can do to structurally alleviate climate change.

Now I have some issues with his analysis, but the core of his argument is related to the all too frequent whine of the lazy and the deniers amongst us.

One strikingly defeatist mentality I come across frequently is the idea that New Zealand, a small island chained to the fence by agriculture exports which is responsible for over half of our emissions, will not change the inevitability of climate change due to the sheer amount of pollution being released by other countries and large companies.

When you consider that we produce less than half a percent of global emissions there seems a certain logical futility to it.

However, New Zealand is fully capable of achieving 100% renewable energy and being a leader in climate policy. Even better, we can provide the means for more progressive and equitable polices that, contrary to popular opinion, won’t decimate farmers or productivity. Best of all – we don’t have to be a guinea pig. We have plenty of international models to develop from.

And he then proceeds to point out some and misses other that I am sure readers here will be happy to point out 🙂

Now as someone who spent a few years being trained in earth sciences and keenly aware of geological timescales, I strongly suspect that doing these measures now may help Damon’s grandkids. However most of them are worth doing in their own right for purely economic reasons.

Electricity for instance. We’re going to need a much better system for distributing electricity over the next decades. From the improvements in batteries and systems, it is pretty clear than an all-electric transport is not only possible to build, but that is also going to be economic to operate. Sure petrol prices will have to rise. However that is going to happen as soon as the Saudis and others finish their ongoing market share and strategic war. In the meantime, when I replace my 18 year old car, it will be with electric transport.

It is also clear that new large capacity generation simply isn’t required in NZ – we have more than enough of that for times when wind and sun are low.

What we need to do is to improve and smarten our grid. And we need as a community to regulate distributors so that new cheap local and small generating capacity can be added to the grid and distributed without the self-interested interference by incumbents trying to leverage their over-valued assets.

Removing the need to import so much fuel will do wonders for our trade imbalances.

But as a strategic plan, this is obviously something that is well beyond the ability of the private market to even contemplate. It is something that is best done by the state. Of course we currently have a government that appears incapable to understand even such simple strategic economic developments like the city rail loop – so we’ll have to get rid of the lazy arseholes in cabinet first.

 

20 comments on “On the whiner’s excuse “but we are so small””

  1. Pat 1

    agree with the general thrust but would make one observation….you state..” It is also clear that new large capacity generation simply isn’t required in NZ – we have more than enough of that for times when wind and sun are low.”
    This could be said to be so at current population levels, but would it hold true with a threefold increase in population?

    http://nzier.org.nz/publication/grow-for-it-how-population-policies-can-can-promote-economic-growth-nzier-working-paper-20121

    • lprent 1.1

      As you can imagine, I’m a reasonably heavy domestic power user. I have electronics of all kinds around the place including a pair of heavy duty servers that run continuously. I also use dryers, heaters, hobs, etc.

      I’ve also been living in the same apartment since 1998. A few years ago I had a look at my archived power bills to get an idea of what power usage I had compared to now there are two of us.

      Over a year, with two of us, we’re using about 86% of the power that I alone used in 1999. Of course this was when I was mainly working at home so the consumption was high then. But we’re also using about 74% of the power that I alone was using in 2006 when I was going to a workplace.

      The reason is that Lyn forced me to upgrade things like my old CRT TV, heaters, and fridge. Replacement of the old hot water cylinder probably helped

      My computers have all been upgraded to systems that are a way more energy efficient.The insulation got upgraded at the exposed ends of my apartment in 2009 as part of a rebuild.

      But there are quite a few more computers and devices around than there used to be, and Lyn uses a a lot more shower time than my rapido showers..

      However I still have the same dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, hob, and oven. Being used by two people rather than one – and all of those are used far more than they were in the past.

      Now I just replaced my dishwasher. Based on the figures for the wash that I use compared to the same wash in the 1998 dishwasher, the power usage is less than 60% for the same number of dishes (and I am being conservative with that).

      While my bills have been rising substantially over the years, my apartments consumption has been dropping.

      I suspect that this is a pretty common trend, and one that I can only see continuing. That keeps the requirement for overall power consumption down. And this is what you see with population increases since the mid 80s. There has been a massive increase in population since then along with a proliferation of workspaces and retails spaces. But there has been very little new generating capacity added,

      • Pat 1.1.1

        agree efficiencies are being made in all manner of appliances and yes there has been a significant increase in population over the example period, but not a factorial increase I note…..nor have we yet added the substantial demand of electric powered transport , both private and public.
        Electricity currently (excuse the pun) supplies only approx one quarter of our energy demand

        • weka 1.1.1.1

          Then there’s the ghg footprint of replacing appliances with more efficient ones. Especially if that is happening repeatedly over time.

      • Naki man 1.1.2

        I cant see any of todays comments and most of yesterdays
        Is there anything that i can do to fix the problem??

        • lprent 1.1.2.1

          Try Ctrl+F5.

          What operating system and browser including their rough versions. Are you behind a corporate browser?

          I see that other people are having problems as well. I’ll turn off the http2 as an elimination and see if that corrects the issue.

  2. Lanthanide 2

    “Sure petrol prices will have to drop. ”

    I think you mean rise. [lprent: – corrected. ]

    “It is also clear that new large capacity generation simply isn’t required in NZ – we have more than enough of that for times when wind and sun are low.”

    What about silting up of dams? I understand that once a dam gets silted up, it’s very difficult and expensive to remediate. We might have the capability and resources to dedicate to a job like that now, but will we have the same capability and resources to do that job in 30-40 years time?

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      You need a lot of fossil fueled vehicles to dredge a dam, and it needs to be done every 50 years or so.

    • ianmac 2.2

      Lanthanide. I clean my water tank by inserting a pipe from the top, to act as a vacuum cleaner by syphoning water and silt to a lower level. I wonder if a much larger version would be feasible at a dam?
      Gosh. I could make millions by de-silting dams.

    • lprent 2.3

      Dams do silt if they aren’t maintained (ie dredged occasionally). But we have mainly mountain dams which require way less than long river dams like those on the Waikato (or the Nile). Annual maintenance on dams is pretty cheap. On our dams it remains pretty cheap up until the time that you have to refurbish generators and water pipes.

  3. save nz 3

    Great post +1000. It is very clear that NZ can not only do a lot more for climate change, but will benefit from doing so, and the sooner the better.

  4. Bill 4

    Decentralise the grid? tick

    Manage 10 million cows differently? Nah. Got to drastically reduce that herd.

    Put a price on carbon? Nah. Doesn’t work and won’t work. (Would need to be thousands of dollars per tonne. And that blows any semblance of equity out of the window…as well as, probably, ushering in economic chaos.)

    Government subsidies? tick But I’d be arguing for a direct resource subsidy paid for by reallocating the current fossil industry subsidy (a couple of billion $ per year) and giving it directly to people and business in the from of actual resource (free fossil fuel subjected to a sinking cap).

    • It’s not an either/or on dairy, btw. We should be reducing the herd and managing the bits that we keep differently.

      You’re right that we’re probably past a carbon price alone being sufficient, but it can be part of a package of measures dealing with the problem.

      • Bill 4.1.1

        Sure. I didn’t mean to imply it was ‘either/or’ with regards the numbers of ruminants in NZ…it’s both.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    Electricity for instance. We’re going to need a much better system for distributing electricity over the next decades.

    And the only way we’re going to get that is when electricity is produced and maintained under a single plan rather than under multiple competing plans designed to make a profit. In other words, we need it to be a government monopoly service.

    Removing the need to import so much fuel will do wonders for our trade imbalances.

    With the correct use of renewables, production of bio-fuels and use of sail I doubt if we’d need to import fuel at all. And that would be the most cost effective and economic way to power our society. The hydrocarbons we produce could then be used for more important things and then recycled to be used for other more important things instead of being sold for burning to cover the imports that we have.

    It’s pure delusion to believe that destroying resources through burning them is cheaper than not doing so.

    • The New Student 5.1

      So back to how it used to be? I can’t help but think this whole exercise has been a massive waste of money. Or rather, a massive redistribution

  6. Dmitry 6

    One strikingly defeatist mentality I come across frequently is the idea that New Zealand, a small island chained to the fence by agriculture exports which is responsible for over half of our emissions, will not change the inevitability of climate change due to the sheer amount of pollution being released by other countries and large companies.

    Why then did NZ bother with being first giving women the vote in the 19th century and going nuclear free in the 80s??? Wasn’t its impact the same insignificant fraction when compared globally that didn’t matter?

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