Tuesday, May 21

Ignore the ignorant climate change school strikers

A new round of School Strike 4 Climate rallies commenced globally on Friday March 3rd and Cyclone Gabriel almost certainly increased the number of students attending events in eleven cities in New Zealand. With chants such as “No more coal, no more oil, keep our carbon in the soil,” I’m coming to the conclusion that high truancy levels may actually be better for children’s education than attending school.

The protestors marched for five key demands:

  • An immediate end to seeking any new fossil fuel resources anywhere.
  • Lower the voting age to 16.
  • Double marine reserves by 2025.
  • Establishing and implementing a regenerative farming transition fund for farmers.
  • E-Bike rebates for lower income households.

It is clear that while climate change adaptation is starting to be embraced by the radical left at a parliamentary level, instead of being attacked as de-facto denialism, this rationality hasn’t filtered through to high school students. Aside from the fact that everything on the planet contains carbon, including 12% of the atoms in the human body, the expectation that the world could immediately stop using coal and oil is simplistic, low-resolution thinking.

Globally, wind and solar energy remain extremely expensive and depend on large government subsidies. In the United States, 60% of energy comes from gas, oil and coal. A natural gas turbine the size of a residential home can supply energy for 75,000 homes. To create the same amount of energy from wind, 20 turbines covering 16 square kilometres of land (imperial measurements in link have been converted to metric) would be required. A wind farm of this size requires 27,000 tonnes of iron ore, 45,000 tons of concrete and 800 tonnes of non-recyclable plastics for the blades with each turbine having a lifespan of 20-25 years. Solar and wind power are also unreliable and are subject to seasonal conditions that vary the energy they generate even on a daily basis.

The global economy, record low levels of absolute poverty, record high lifespans and our day to day lives all depend upon petrochemical products. Over 6,000 products used on a routine basis contain petrochemicals including antihistamines, antiseptics, clothing, ballpoint pens, your cellphone, computer, deodorant, hair colouring, makeup, refrigerators and their refrigerants, water pipes and wind turbine blades. Are the students demanding that all carbon be left in the soil really going to give up using those products to slow climate change? Of course not and why should anyone?

The school-strikers demanding the voting age be lowered to 16 do their argument no favours by demanding immediate, radical action when they have clearly not demonstrated any research into the topic they claim justifies lowering the voting age. Generation Zero co-ordinator Sophie Todd’s advocacy of e-bikes subsidies for low income households is based on the belief that the Government currently provides subsidies of up to $80,000 for the rich to buy electric vehicles. She’s about 1000% off the correct figure.  I suppose when you think that the science has been settled and that we should simply listen to scientists, why would you bother to ensure you know the facts. However, even climate scientists are not qualified to dictate environmental policy to governments given that it takes knowledge of economics, politics and public policy to even determine whether radical action on climate change is practical. 

One of the few advantages of the severe lockdowns during the Covid 19 pandemic is that it demonstrated that it is possible to reduce emissions and what actions would need to be taken to do that. New Zealand’s net emissions in 2020 dropped 5%, just short of the 5.4% global total. If the world were able to replicate that drop every year, for the next thirty years, the world would have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; a goal that both National and Labour have for New Zealand.

In 2020, the Prime Minister closed our borders to non-citizens and residents on March 19. New Zealand was placed into Alert Level 4 Lockdown from March 26 until April 28, then Alert Level 3 until May 14. Auckland went into Alert Level 3 again from August 12 to the 31st. During Level four people were required to stay home as much as possible, travel prohibited except for necessities or exercise, gatherings were prohibited with all public and educational facilities closed, all businesses except for essential businesses were closed and attendance of weddings or funerals was severely restricted. Subsequently the police were given the authority to enter private dwellings without a warrant to ensure compliance with these rules. The Government then subsidised the wages of employees for non-essential businesses up to $585 per week at a cost of $12 billion. The Government allocated a total of $25 billion in the 2019/2020 financial year ( 7.3% of GDP) and $16.1 billion in the 2020/21 financial year.

Keeping people under virtual house arrest for nine weeks of 2020 reduced the amount of petrol being consumed by cars and reduced carbon emissions for one year by an amount that would achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 if replicated every subsequent year. In addition the Government shut down virtually the entire economy and borrowed billions of dollars to pay people not to work. If that is the sort of action that is required to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to reach our emissions goals for just one year, what are they going to have to do for the subsequent 29 years? Double the amount of time people are locked in their homes at the threat of warrantless police searches, while getting paid to do nothing the following year? By 2027, most of the economy would be shut down and most of the population housebound all year round to achieve the zero emissions goal and we would need to  increase the levels of repression for another 23 years!

So is it possible to slow climate change? The Covid lockdowns demonstrated that it is possible to reduce emissions significantly in the short-term. However, even if every government on the planet did what is necessary to achieve these emission reductions, life would become a dystopian fascist nightmare decades before we still failed to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.