Dec 28, 2007

A Rant On Left's True Interest in Climate Change

Several articles, blogs and the silly Editorial in the current edition of NZ Listener have helped create the following rant.

Whether it be the Democrats in the US or the Labour Parties in New Zealand, the UK and Australia, parties of the centre left have been drawn to the issues surrounding climate change, and see these issues as a great new means by which they can capitalise on popular support to either hold on to power (New Zealand and the UK) or win power (Australia and the US).

Why is this? Why are the rank and file of these parties so easily mobilised by talk on climate change? And why do the policy responses proposed rely so heavily on taxes and mitigation, rather than on technological solutions – carbon sequestration and hydrogen?

In summary, we believe that parties of the left see climate change as a once in a lifetime opportunity to redraw the political map, in a way that suits their interests. But the opportunity could be lost if it becomes widely accepted that abundant, non-polluting fuel sources might be close at hand. The opportunity to create a new political paradigm depends on the twin arguments that oil production is peaking, that it is a finite resource that is going to run out, that it is inevitable that the price of oil must rise, and that time is running out, we are reaching a tipping point, we have to cut our greenhouse gas emissions now.

Why? Because if you believe in “peak oil” and that we have reached a tipping point on climate change, it not too big a jump to the conclusion that it is essential to force behavioural change, and what better than the collectivist solution to behaviour change. People need to be discouraged from using the private motor car, instead they should travel in public transport. People living out in the suburbs are selfish because they need to commute, lets build more high rise buildings in the cities, and collectivise the way we live also. To achieve this we will impose a price on carbon and ration the amount that can be emitted. By playing with the rules, we can determine what industries remain competitive, we can stop those already rich dairy farmers getting richer, in summary, we have a wonderful new mechanism to control.

And we might also have a chance to challenge the current economic orthodoxy. Maybe we can convince the masses that economic growth is a bad thing- environmentalism might be fused with economics to create the new sustainablility paradigm (see for example the Editorial in the current edition of the Listener – someone has been reading Bill McKibben) and read nearly every speech from the Government.

But won’t the people rebel once they realise that they can no longer behave the way they like to behave, they can no longer fixate on the private motor vehicle, they can no longer by a large section out of town for lifestyle reasons, when they realise that all their costs are likely to rise?

Of course not. Climate change has replaced both God and Marx. Up until the age of revolution the down trodden were kept under control through religion. Life might be hell, but belief in God meant that if you behaved, and stuck to the agreed norms, you would live for eternity in a happier place. The Marx came along, and “Marx light”, as we call socialism. By belief in the Party, in a great leader, in the solidarity of the union etc. people were likewise prepared (for a few years anyway) to put personal interest aside for a respect for a great collective good.

Unfortunately for many God is increasingly hard to believe in and is losing support because you can’t prove that he exists through science. Marx was tried and failed dismally. Socialism was almost as disastrous. Then along came the 1980s. People relearned the basic principles of economics. The market was able to reign free. People who would never have dreamed of doing so before, began owning shares and property. They became more prosperous. The left lost favour. Any left wing party wanting to have any hope off achieving power had to change its economic orientation and also embrace the market. Economically, there is now very little to differentiate parties of the centre left and centre right. How can parties of the left differentiate themselves in these circumstances?

Along comes climate change and a new chance to revert to the original collectivist, control economy model that parties of the left have always hankered for. Climate change is even better than religion. There is a real chance that people will be panicked into a radical change. 9 out of 10 scientists believe in it. And there are now popular high priests on the subject preaching so effectively on the subject that pretty much everyone is becoming a true believer. The media is daily buying into the agenda. No storm, flood, heatwave, blizzard occurs without climate change getting the blame. If something isn’t done fast the sea level will rise, fertile farmland will flood. We face a Noah like great flood and global starvation at the same time. No doubt there will be plagues and don’t forget the locusts.

But there is a threat to all this happening. The hydrogen economy. A near limitless source of energy that doesn’t produce greenhouse gasses. An economy that will allow growth to occur without the environmental guilt.

New Zealand for example has a wonderful opportunity to lead the way in hydrogen solutions. We have a relative abundance of energy (both power from renewable sources such as wind and hydro and huge coal reserves – 1,000 years worth of coal reserves) and we have lots of water. If the wind is blowing and we have a heavy snow melt or lots of rain, New Zealand has more energy than it can use. The spot price for electricity drops to close to zero. Why not turn it into hydrogen? All you need electricity and water. The hydrogen could be used to power cars, trucks and busses, and even buildings or groups of buildings. New Zealand’s greenhouse gas contribution could reduce substantially.

The problem is that while hydrogen is easy to make, it is very difficult to reticulate and store – particularly over long distances. The big cities (Wellington will be the exception once its wind farms are all up and running) are quite a long way from the energy sources that would be the best locations for making hydrogen. More research is needed to solve the problems associated with reticulation and storage. New Zealand has the scientists available to do this research and solve these problems, but they are being told that this is not a high priority. Funding is tiny compared to the potential opportunity.

So why are the media not asking some fundamental questions about what is going on? About Government’s true motivations and about why we are underfunding the obvious solution to our climate change dilemma?

Why are more journalists not going to the companies and sectors that are going to be most directly affected and ask them what the Government’s climate change policies are going to mean for them?

Why have they not questioned why someone with a history of far left political engagement was hired by MfE to develop the PR strategy for Government to deliver the new left wing nirvana?