Politics and consumers require climate change action

July 29, 2008

The ODT has two stories about climate change. One is an opinion piece headlined Debunking the climate change deniers by Doug Mackie, research fellow in the chemistry department at Otago.

The other is a news story on consent hearings for a wind farm and quotes Professor Bob Clark who said available scientific data on global warming did not justify the belief carbon dioxide emission controls could be used as a means of managing or stopping future climate change.

I spent last Thursday with a discussion group learning about climate change. Chatham House rules apply so I can’t discuss the presentations. But my conclusion was that regardless of what science has established, consumer demand and politics require producers to reduce carbon emissions.

Our competitors would grab any opportunity they can find to impose non-tariff barriers and could use carbon emissions, real or invented, to do it. Retailers will use low carbon emissions to give a marketing advantage and consumers wealthy enough to have a choice will take the carbon footprint into account when making a purchase.

That isn’t all bad news because using water, fuel, power and fertiliser more efficiently has enviornmental and economic benefits.

However, not everything required by the Kyoto Protocol makes sense. For example you can cut down trees and replant in the same place or leave the land to regenerate without incurring a carbon liability; but if you replant somewhere else, you will.

The people negotiating on our behalf need to address stupidities like this to minimise the economic cost and maximise the enviromental gain.


Can Houdini get out of this one?

July 29, 2008

Richard Long  sees a striking similarity between Winston Peters and Houdini:

Imperious self-assurance. Charismatic. Thick, curly black hair. An expansive smile. A love of performing.

 These were descriptions of Harry Houdini, the great Hungarian-American escape artist who thrilled audiences 100 years ago. Today they sound uncannily like our own great political trapeze artist, NZ First leader Winston Peters.

… As he prepares for today’s parliamentary showdown with Opposition MPs, Mr Peters must feel as hogtied as his famous doppelganger. If he manages to wriggle free he deserves to be listed up there with Harry as one of the great escape artists of all time.

The trouble for Mr Peters is that he is being pinged in at least three directions about quite different sets of donations to his party, and questions about where the money went and why it was not declared. That’s like being handcuffed and straitjacketed inside the water torture cell.

…IT MAY well be that Mr Peters has adequate explanations for how such donations have been used, even if there has been a failure to declare.

He may have felt boxed in last week with the visit of United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and failed to concentrate sufficiently on explaining rather than attacking his critics.

But he will need to do better with the answers this week, although he will be tempted to continue the counter-punching role, in which he revels, rather than giving explanations, which he hates.

Apart from his political opponents, Mr Peters is facing an increasingly exasperated prime minister who watched as the undeclared donations saga last week upstaged what should have been a major political showcase in the visit of Dr Rice.

… She will not want to precipitate an early election, but if she cannot coax suitable explanations from Mr Peters and, if she calculates her image as a strong leader would be enhanced by action, she could strip Mr Peters of his portfolios.

NZ First would be sealing their own death warrant if they responded by bringing down the Government over that.

Mr Peters would, in these circumstances, portray himself as the injured innocent and go on an all-out campaign for the pensioner vote. With Tauranga being a lost cause, he needs a focused campaign to get his party vote over the 5 per cent threshold. Presently it is hovering nearer four.

Harry Houdini, the escape artist, would no doubt approve.

But Peters isn’t supposed to be entertaining us, he’s supposed to be hleping to run the country which puts his antics in a very unfavourable light.

P.S. Long discussed this issue Jim Mora and his guests on The Panel  this afternoon.


ETS on-hold until after election?

July 29, 2008

Duncan Garner notes that the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation is 31st on the order paper.

Labour could elevate it quickly but that doesn’t look likely.

If the election is in 3 months, then Clark has 6 weeks to pass the ETS into law before the house rises. She doesn’t have the support. She needs Winston and NZ First. Maybe she can keep him as a Minister in return for his support. But there are so many opposing groups that now want the ETS sent back to select committee for reconsideration.

My sources around Parliament say 6 weeks ago the Government was 70-30 in favour of passing it before the election. 3 weeks ago, I’m told they were 50-50. Today, I’m told it is 30-70.

Neither Clark nor Parker will say it’s dead. Neither will say it’ll pass. It’s in limbo land – and no one is pumping any oxygen into it to keep it alive. Unless Peters rescues Clark, her dream scheme – the one that helped her get a top United Nations environmental award – is dead. Will she hand her award back too?

Don’t hold your breath.

And given most of the Nats belong to the Climate Change sceptics society, the scheme could be seriously watered down by next year.

I like that assumption National will be in government 🙂

However, whatever they think about the science, all indications are that the National caucus has accepted that politics and emotion demand action on climate change. However, unlike Labour they also believe that something this important should not be a vicitm of party-politics and they are prepared to take note of the many submissions and calls for the legislation to be returned to the select committee for proper consideration.

There are questions over what if anything our ETS will do for the environment but there is no doubt that what’s under consideration would impose huge costs on the economy. Delaying the legislation might ensure it is given the serious consideration it needs so we get the best environmental and economic outcomes, regardless of who wins the election.


Handwriting now a lost art

July 29, 2008

I’d better start with a confession: I prefer a key board to pen and paper because my handwriting is appalling and I once spent several minutes trying to transcribe my shorthad before realising it was longhand.

That is unfortunate for a journalist and it’s probably unusual for my generation for whom tidy hand writing – and good spelling – were among the basics required from us at school.

But it’s probably the norm for the current generation of school children who are having to relearn the art of handwriting because they’ll need it when they sit exams.

The disjunction between the acquired skill of keyboarding and the need to handwrite exams has led some schools to incorporate handwriting lessons in years 11 and 12 as students find they have to relearn the art of using a pen and paper quickly – lost after years of using computers, laptops and mobiles.

The senior English teacher at Barker College, on Sydney’s North Shore, Sue Marks, says she has had top students forced to do remedial courses to get their handwriting legible enough for HSC examiners to read.

Sydney Grammar will not accept typed essays in the later years of high school. The headmaster, John Vallance, says the school places a very strong emphasis on ensuring every student can write legibly.

“Handwriting is an important expression of a student’s personality, which is certainly not demonstrable through keyboarding,” Dr Vallance said. “It’s a skill this generation should not lose.”

I think he has a point about not losing the skill but If my handwriting expresses my personalilty I might be in serious need of therapy.

While the cautious toe-dipping of NSW Board of Studies is mainly directed at issues such as equality and practicality, there are other concerns among senior educators about the onslaught of technology-driven methods on the very process of learning and thinking among young people.

Barker’s Dr Marks said: “The process of writing – whether it be by hand, or on a computer keyboard – is closely connected with the process of thinking. Research points to the fact that thoughts are generated, not merely recorded, through the process of writing.

“So my fear, in relation to the rise of abbreviated forms adopted by many when emailing, text messaging and instant messaging, is that the capacity for deep thinking, fostered through writing, will be eroded.”

Dr Marks said it was not that writing using these technologies was inherently detrimental to deep thought. “In my view, as society becomes more and more dependent upon technology, it will become increasingly important for clear and cohesive writing to be taught in schools.

“If this is not the case we run the risk of students’ writing – and thinking – reflecting their text-messaging practices and becoming little more than a series of truncated ideas. Many of today’s students are quite capable of sophisticated thought, but as grab-bites become the norm in modern communication technologies, it is vital that the skills involved in producing thoughtful, developed compositions, reflective of higher order thinking, are fostered in our schools.”

It is a view shared by Roslyn Arnold, honorary professor of education and social work at the University of Sydney, whose original PhD was on school children’s writing development. Professor Arnold argues that it is the act of writing that actually creates, not simply reflects, thought.

While keyboarding did not necessarily have a detrimental effect on writing, just focusing on the speed of communicating could rob a student of the opportunity of deep reflective composing, she says.

A poster in the English Department at Otago says: I read therefore I think. If these people are right then it might also be true that we think because we write.

If computers are interfering with our ability to think deeply and clearly we have a problem, and even if they don’t, we need to equip children to write with pen and paper so they can cope when the power goes off.

Hat tip: goNZo Freakpower


Let’s not forget the $158,000 debt

July 29, 2008

In all the excitement over whether or not Winston Peters and NZ First received donations which ought to have been declared, let’s not forget there is no question that they took $158,000 from the taxpayer for their 2005 election campaign and have yet to pay it back to Parliamentary Services.

The Auditor General found it was illegal at the time and the fact that NZ First supported Labour to make it legal in retrospect does not make it right. Nor do the donations which Peters says have been given to charity cancel out the debt to the taxpayer.

Until the money is repaid, every cent Peters and his party spend on their campaigns is a cent they owe to the tax payer and that tells us they think getting re-elected is more important than repaying what they owe.


Can blustering be genetic?

July 29, 2008

Ever wondered why Winston Peters can’t give a straight answer to a simple question?

There is an indication that it might be genetic in his brother Wayne’s interview with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon  yesterday which is transcribed here. When asked about the Spencer Trust and donations to New Zealand First his response was:

“You can read between the lines. . .if anyone is suggesting there was somehow some misconduct with respect to the Spencer Trust they’re going to be sadly embarrassed,” he said.

Responding to that remark, Sir Robert said Wayne Peters sounded like a Winston Peters clone.

“He’s obviously implying it did reach the party and if that’s the case why not say so?” he said.

“This is just silly, it’s fudging the issue. I’m not holding my breath for an accurate answer.”

Silly, yes and whether it’s a result of nature or nurture this shows there is obviously a family failing when it comes to giving straight answers. 🙂

P.S. Ryan has just interviewed University of Otago associate law professor Andrew Geddes on how donations to political parties might have been legally channelled through trust funds prior to the Electoral Finance Act. It will be on-line here  soon.


Mahinerangi wind farm approved

July 29, 2008

The ODT  has been told that Trustpower’s $400 million Mahinerangi wind farm has been approved by the Environment Court although it has not had official confirmation. 

Upland Landscape Protection Society legal co-ordinator Ewan Carr said in Cromwell yesterday the wind farm had been approved by the court, “subject to conditions”.

“But we don’t know what the conditions are.”

The UPS was the main appellant in an appeal to the Environment Court after the project was originally approved by a joint committee of the Clutha District Council and the Otago Regional Council last year.

The wind farm  will have 100 145m-high turbines capable of generating 200MW of power which is enough to supply about 100,000 homes.

Results from a Reserach New Zealand  poll released at the weekend found 84% of people asked were not opposed to wind farms although opposition doubled to 26% when people were asked if they would mind seeing them from their homes.


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