Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Shell NZ, it's all a gas

Ron Jager, Chairman of Shell New Zealand had a lengthy opinion piece in today's Southland Times (no link), where he claimed that natural gas has a bright future in New Zealand. Jager talks about his love for the New Zealand environment and the need to halve our green house gas emissions so that we can "avoid the impact of climate change". He explains how natural gas burns more cleanly than other fossil fuel and there is such an abundance of the stuff that we have around 250 years of supply (based on current consumption). Of course the Maui A platform, off the coast of Taranaki, has been operating without incident since 1979 and it is easy to think that continuing to extract gas from other sites won't be an issue either.

There may be an abundance of natural gas but the process of extracting it will no longer be as straight forward as Maui A. The next generation of gas extraction in New Zealand won't be from shallow sea platforms, but deep sea drilling in the Great South basin (over 1,300 metres rather than 100 metres) and fracking.  Research has shown that fracking is not as clean as it's promoted to be and the proceess leads to a high level of methane leakage.

Rather than follow the lead of countries like Germany and make serious steps at cutting emissions, our Government has decided to follow the worlds largest polluters and welcome the fossil fuel industry with open arms and our GHG emissions are increasing alarmingly. Despite all the green talk or green wash, the fossil fuel industry is going all out to extract a prehistoric energy source to feed their profits and shareholders in increasingly desperate situations. The resulting environmental damage is best seen in images:

Canada's tar sands reserves cover an area the size of France (around 140,000 km2) and is the most polluting source of fuel. 

Coal mining in the Hunter Valley, Australia, is doing irreparable damage to some of the best arable land in the country.

Fracking in the US and Australia is having a serious impact on farming and livestock and Australian farmers formed the "Lock the Gate" movement in a attempt to keep frackers off their properties.

Accidents through serious oil leaks are having a devastating effect on natural environments. While Shell lays on the greenwash here, their reputation in Nigeria isn't that great. 

A Chevron drilling accident off the coast of Brazil that released the equivalent of 2,400 barrels of oil into the sea, an event that will become more common as deep sea drilling grows.

Coal-fired power stations are still being built around the world

Many cities in developing nations have massive air pollution problems because of coal power stations and fossil fueled industries that are having to produce products to meet the consumer demand in the Western world.  

According to Naomi Klein in her latest book 'This Changes Everything' the lobbying power of oil and gas companies is immense. It is not that there is a lack of alternatives to fossil fuel, it is the dominance of oil companies (6 out of the ten highest earning companies are in the oil industry) that is able to block any attempts to curb their activities.  We need to stop these real threats to our future on this planet and New Zealand, as one of the highest emitters per capita in the world, needs to take a leading role. The alternatives to fossil fuel exist and the technology is improving dramatically:

Wind Lens turbines.

Germany now produces more electricity than it needs partly due to the increase in domestic photovoltaic installations.

A number of self sufficient, zero emission skyscrapers are being built around the world and super efficient houses are now easy to construct.

All we need is the determination and the will! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Terrorist Threat Increases Alarmingly!

The terrorism threat is mounting in New Zealand, the Prime Minister claims there are up to 40 people here who are capable of repeating the sort of action tragically experienced in Sydney. New Zealand's terrorist threat has has been upgraded from very low to low. Legislation has been passed under urgency to provide greater powers to the SIS to allow surveillance without a warrant for 24 hours. The threat of the Islamic State is seen to be greater than any terror organisation existing in the Middle East prior to this. The Government has put all its energies into protecting us from the danger of IS related activities and the increased surveillance capacity will hopefully protect us in our new low risk environment.

There have been 3 deaths in New Zealand over the past 60 years because of terrorist acts and they all occurred over 30 years ago. Two perpetrators were New Zealanders and the other was a friendly state. In 1982 a local "Punk Rock" anarchist blew himself up when trying to destroy the police computer in Wanganui; in 1984 Ernie Abbot, the caretaker of the Wellington Trades Hall, was killed by a bomb placed by a yet to be identified terrorist; and Fernando Pereira was killed when the Rainbow Warrior was bombed by the French Foreign Intelligence Service in 1985. There have been no deaths from terrorism since, despite ongoing conflict in the Middle East and our own military involvement.

The SIS hasn't had a great record in identifying terrorists in the past. Green MP Keith Locke was spied on from the age of 11 years because it was felt he was a threat to the state, Ahmed Zaoui was also thought to be a terrorist and an actual terrorist act on the Rainbow Warrior was missed completely by the SIS and was cleaned up by the police. The Urewera terror raids in 2007 on Maori activists and Save Happy Valley protestors ended up with a few minor firearms charges and all involved are back with their families.

The threat of terrorism has been communicated with a high level of concern from our Prime Minister, but perhaps there are much greater threats to ordinary New Zealanders. According to the Women's Refuge 14 women, 6 men and 10 children are killed by a family member each year (on average). 5,000 people die every year because of tobacco use and second hand smoke and in 2012 93 people died because of drivers influenced by alcohol.

In 2011 the Government cut funding to the Women's Refuge by $800,000. This organisation provides the most support for those suffering from domestic violence across the county. The Government has put a hold on plain packaging for cigarettes and we now have two Government MPs who were once employed by tobacco company Philip Morris. The New Zealand Law Commission provided the Government with recommendations on how to reduce the harm from alcohol consumption and only a few were implemented.

Despite the Government's reluctance to deal effectively with the 5,123 people who die each year because of family violence, alcohol and tobacco, at least terrorism is regarded a lot more seriously. We can sleep safely in the knowledge that IS related madmen won't attack us in our homes and John Key and his team of merry spies are watching over us.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Government Given the Bums Up!

From the North to the South, in fine weather and foul, Tim Groser and his Government got the bums up from New Zealanders. The nationwide Heads in the Sand protest today provided a physical expression of our concern that climate change deserved greater attention. Our Government Ministers need to get their heads out of the sand on this issue.


Mission Bay

West Auckland

Browns Bay








Fossil fuels are destroying our future!

This Government is committing ecocide!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Head in Sand Leadership is Driving NZ

The Southland Times described a report from the New Zealand Initiative (NZI) claiming mining was the key to rural prosperity. Although listing a range of extractable minerals this appallingly ignorant report strongly supports coal and lignite mining as the road to rural prosperity.

The New Zealand Initiative is being disingenuous in its claims that mining will benefit rural communities. There are very few mining communities in New Zealand that are prosperous and the nature of extractive industries is that they have a finite life and generally cause negative social and environmental outcomes. In using Australia as an example of the benefits of mining The NZI ignores the damage caused to Australia's rural communities. Australian farmers are leading the protests against coal mining and fracking with the Lock the Gate movement.

The well researched document Jobs after Coal explains the social and environmental consequences of coal mining and its chequered history as an industry. The NZI report only focused on the short-term earning potential and, based on past experience, much of the profits gained from any mining industry are not invested back into the local community. Most mining companies operating in our country (despite their names often including the words 'New Zealand') are actually overseas owned.

The NZI report also includes support for a dismantling of the RMA to allow for easier access to our minerals. Given the negative impacts that mining generally has on the communities they operate in, it is extremely important that a solid process is used to determine those impacts and full consultation occurs. New Zealand already has a reputation of being one the easiest countries in the world to do business in. Our Government's willingness to subsidise and encourage fossil fuel extraction was given special mention in a brief economic overview of our country in a recent issue of The Economist: ..."the offer of oil concessions will please investors" (The World in 2015, The Economist).

Our New Zealand Government is obviously influenced more by the likes of the narrow corporate interests represented in NZI than our climate scientists and local business people who are focused on a more sustainable future. NZI members are dominated by banks and investment companies and the New Zealand influence is debatable when it includes an odd mix of powerful multinationals, including BP and Imperial Tobacco.

Many of our most successful business people make up the Pure Advantage alliance and yet their championing of benefits of the green economy and our long-term sovereign interests are being actively ignored. It is hugely embarrassing to many of us who are concerned about the fate of our planet and future generations that our Government is not prepared to engage and promote those views.

At this very moment in Lima, the nations of the world are pledging huge reductions in green house gas emissions, the EU is aiming for a 40% reduction and the US is talking about reductions close to 30%. Per capita New Zealand is one of the worlds worst polluters and yet Tim Groser withdrew New Zealand from the second Kyoto commitment announced that a paltry 5% reduction by 2020 is the best that we can do.

What I have described provides a good background to the event that I am helping to organise this Sunday, the Invercargill Heads in the Sand protest. A good number of us are meeting on Oreti beach to demonstrate our frustration at our Government's active refusal to logically engage with the real concerns about climate change. Oreti beach is best known for the fossil fueled dreams of one Burt Munro but this Sunday, from 11:30 am, it is our climate that will be our focus.

Similar protests are occurring on Sunday around the country.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Government Responsible for Invercargill Poverty

Invercargill provides a good snapshot of New Zealand society. We are a city of around 51,000 people and have a breadth of industries to support our local economy. Within our wider province we have an aluminium smelter, New Zealand's largest dairy factory, a number of exporting manufacturers and the region earns about 12% of our national export income with only 3% of the population. We also have a highly successful tertiary institution in the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) that pulls in overseas students and provides a wide range of courses to lift the qualifications and skills of our local workforce. Venture Southland is proactive in promoting the region and leading research and development to grow a more sustainable local economy.

We are also ethnically diverse with growing Maori and Pasifica populations and many immigrant workers. We have an unemployment rate that is similar to the national average of just above 5%.

I recently wrote a post about inequality and income distribution in Invercargill based on the previous decile ratings of our school communities. Those ratings were based on the 2006 census and I thought I would do a reassessment based on the new ratings that have been revised using the 2013 census.

One would expect that the income distribution in a highly productive community, with such low unemployment, would fit the familiar bell curve. Most households should be earning good incomes, a very small group struggling financially and a similarly small group that are very affluent. This isn't the case.

Out of 28 school communities 11 have a 1-3 decile rating and despite strong economic growth in the region over the past three years we have a decile 1 school for the first time since 2006. Our very poorest have got poorer. 9 schools have a decile 4-7 rating but 3 of these are decile 4 and only 1 is decile 7. We now have 8 schools that are rated in the affluent decile 8-10 group (down one from 2006).

The median income from all sources for those of working age in Invercargill is only $27,400. Only 23.5% of us earn more than $50,000 and almost 37% earn less than $20,000. A living wage is currently estimated at 18.80 an hour to give an income that would allow workers to "live in dignity and to participate as active citizens in society". This comes out at $39,000 annually for 40 hour weeks over a full year. Given our statistics probably around 60% of Invercargill people eligible to work do not earn a living wage.

I believe that Invercargill people and the Southland region are doing more than our share to support the national economy and to try and stand on our own feet. It is central Government that has failed us. Our hospital is underfunded and in crisis, we have had no social housing built since the 90s, our road funding has been cut, local state sector staff have been cut (DoC and the IRD) and the cost of electricity has caused energy deprivation for many. We no longer have any emergency housing for those in desperate need and there are plans to sell off most of our existing state housing (the money generated is unlikely to be injected back into our community).

As with the rest of New Zealand there are more early childhood centres and aged care facilities being built and the service industry is growing. Despite creating more employment the developers of many of these new businesses are subsidised by our taxes but most only pay the minimum wage to their workers to maximise returns.

John Key claimed on election night that he was going to work for all New Zealanders, he hasn't up till now and he has given no indication of when that work will begin. Meanwhile inequality grows and the future for most Invercargill people (especially children) under this Government is looking bleak.

John the Don and the Family

Head of Dark Ops (Jason Ede

The Hit Man (Cameron Slater, father John Slater)

Corporate operative  (Carrick Graham, father Doug Graham )

One of the family (Judith Collins)

Slater was then asked what he would do about Collins' resignation. He said: "I always give back double" and "Judith always gives back double"

You don't mess with the family!