The impending election finally offers a true contest, with the two major parties appearing equally matched and plenty of smaller parties with varyingly sensible things to say. But the choices are never clear. And the same old rhetoric trotted out begs the age old question: “Who to believe?”
Here are some key environmental issues I would like to hear the leaders of the two main parties address, and the sort of things I hope Helen or John would endorse. Whether our goals are to conserve critical natural resources, curb carbon emissions, or generate clean electricity, better management of water is a common theme. So, I’ll focus on water.
The world aims to reduce carbon emissions. The majority view global warming as here and real. The possible effects on human activities aside, why did this suddenly float to the top of a long list of issues? Because it now is going to cost us money! Like refuse, we only recently began to reduce and recycle when it began to cost seriously to drop stuff off at the transfer station. Simple economics really, things that have a value are managed effectively. Increase the value, increase the management.
I struggle with the concept of private gain from public resources at no cost. Why should private people (and increasingly large corporates) benefit from a public resource, such as water, at no cost? Not only at no cost, but often also to the detriment of the public resource, as it is returned to waterways in a degraded state. Yet this is what happens with abstractive use of water.
Instead, would Helen or John introduce these initiatives?
- A user pays concept for water abstractions, pay for making money out of public water.
- Introduce polluter pays … pay also if you return this water worse than the way you took it.
- Use these fees to offset the significant costs that the public incurs as taxpayers and ratepayers to manage conflicting water uses, and to mitigate the effects of abstractions and pollution.
Continuing with the water theme … the effects of land use on water quality in this country have been intensively researched and reviewed, but still we fail to address the issues. It is another classic example of private gain from public resources. In reality, the “environment” in the form of water degradation is subsidizing intensive agriculture. Although cash subsidies are gone, non-cash subsidies are alive and well in the form of an acceptance of adverse agricultural effects on waterways.
How to address this complex and technically challenging issue? Take it away from the regions and bring it back to central government to act. The regions have demonstrated an inability to manage this issue across the country. We are in danger of “reinventing the wheel” regionally on an issue that is common to the whole country. This type of issue is similar to air quality standards, yet is what I call ‘the elephant in the room’ that central government seems unwilling to confront.
Is it not time we had a New Zealand equivalent of the US Environmental Protection Agency to deal with these nationally significant issues? Failing that, how about adequately resourcing MfE to deal with these issues?
Final watery issue … Power. Not the political kind, but the kind that lights up houses and runs heat pumps. The country has an insatiable demand for it. We seem unable to use it efficiently. Many people are unable to afford the cost effective alternatives, such as solar or home wind generators.
Renewables are the focus … wind and water. Many hydro options that were unaffordable at yesterday’s prices are now affordable at today’s, and many small hydro schemes are being dusted off. Many “green field” hydro schemes are coming under close scrutiny. The proposal to dam the Mohaka River a few years ago is a classic example. At the time the Mohaka scheme was proposed, it represented 20% of the annual increase in demand for power in NZ…20%!!
I would like our leaders to declare a moratorium on new hydro proposals. To counter the increasing demand, use the money that would be required to force them through the RMA process to instead subsidize the cost of solar hot water in residential homes, making solar hot water mandatory in all new homes.
Finally, and I guess that this might set the hare running, is it not time we had the debate on the use of nuclear power as an alternative to more hydro or wind? If we continue to accept the spiraling consumption of energy, must we not also accept at some point that there are no rivers left to dam and no more ranges left to put turbines on?