Marg O’Brien – Climate Karanga Marlborough
Marg is at the kitchen table, glued to her laptop and surrounded by books and notes...
Tom, thinking about when dinner might be coming, bravely interrupts: “Studying up on climate stuff?”
Marg: “Yeah, but this time I’m interested in the people side of things… the growing inequality… how are we going to cope? More than ever, we need ‘Team New Zealand’ to fight Covid but will the Team stay with us for the climate extremes coming our way? Will we hang together if inequality keeps growing?”
“You know Tom, we so need to support the way we pull together. Look, like the way we worked together after the recent storms. We need to be a socially cohesive bunch… not have the rich getting richer and the poor poorer…”
Google Assistant: “Social cohesion and community resilience are important resources in the recovery after a disaster. Inequality contributes to disaster vulnerability. Investment in social cohesion and community resilience during peaceful and prosperous times is critical to strengthening and leveraging these resources during a crisis… “
Marg: “Spot on Google! Thanks for that!”
“You know Tom, our economic system is so crazy. If money goes to investors it’s seen as profit. If money comes to us, the workers who are labouring away, it is seen as a cost. No wonder business people want to bring in automation or shift most of their business overseas to get work done cheaply!”
Tom: “But doesn’t that mean we get cheaper goods back?”
Marg: “Yeah, but when people are employed here, they get job experience and learn, they pay taxes and spend money locally. The money circulates. Sending the jobs overseas means that only people rich enough to be in business get a good deal ̶ not the rest of us!”
Tom: “I guess we’re always hearing: Go out and support local businesses. Buy New Zealand made!”
Marg: “Yeah, and when we export our jobs we give all these good things away and our people end up displaced and unemployed instead”.
Tom: “But we’ve got friends who run businesses. They’re not all cut-throats… I know at work they are keen to have us all paid a living wage. And at the pub the other night they were talking about some of the wineries looking after wetlands and farmers getting tree planting going…”
Marg: “You’re right. I’ve been reading about ‘Corporates for Social Responsibility’ that are meant to consider people, communities and their environment… a wider purpose than just profit. There’s also now a whole lot of businesses called B corps – that’s businesses that are Beneficial!”
Tom: “Isn’t this just a lot of talk, though. Haven’t you been calling this “green washing”?
Google Assistant: “Tom, the B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of high quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater good...”
Tom: “Okay Google… that’s enough!”
Marg: “Tom, Google is only trying to help! What Google missed was that more and more B Corps are addressing the dual crises of climate change and social inequality!”
Marg: “Well, it’s an improvement! When companies first started doing this stuff, it was often a sort of an altruistic add-on, like helping with food parcels at Christmas or planting a few trees on the weekend. Now companies, like the B Corps are taking a step further so this wider purpose of people and planet as well as profit…”
Google Assistant: “…is incorporated into their business model and activities.”
Marg: “Yeah, that’s right Google! You know Tom we have over forty businesses that are B corps now! Like the Nelson business that you get your chia drinks from… that you just love after you’ve been cycling. And the Raglan firm that produces your coconut yogurt. They all care about the environment and keep well-paying jobs in our communities. Some have even declared a Climate Emergency!
Tom: “Okay… okay. I get it! But, thinking about the ‘people’ side of our own little home environment here… have you thought about dinner?
Marg: “Good idea Tom. Why don’t you cook tonight and do your great spinach omelets? And I can get a bit more of this people, planet and profit stuff into my head. I’d like to talk about it at my next garden club meeting!”
Tom: “Wait a minute! Wasn’t it your turn to cook tonight? I think we might need a bit more of that B Corp stuff here in this house!”
Tom Powell & Budyong Hill
Tom and Budyong are co-chairs of Climate Karanga Marlborough
At a recent speaking engagement in Ashburton, MP Stuart Smith, the National Party’s climate spokesperson, criticised the 2020 National Climate Change Risk Assessment report (NCCRA) prepared for the Minister of the Environment under the 2019 Zero Carbon Act. As documented by NZ Herald local democracy reporter Adam Burns in a 4 August article, MP Smith called the NCCRA “the science of bullshit”. This follows an opinion piece by MP Smith in the Marlborough Mid-Week, dated 29 July, stating that the NCCRA report was, “an expensive load of rubbish”.
Straightforward political posturing, you might say. But the basis for MP Smith’s criticism is a report by the Wellington consultancy Tailrisk, which some might remember as coming into significant criticism from public health officials in April last year after Tailrisk issued an analysis questioning the necessity of the Covid lockdowns. It is no surprise that the economists at Tailrisk were well over their heads when dabbling in public health issues.
The same might be said of Tailrisk’s critique of the NCCRA. The reports which make up the NCCRA were assembled over 9 months by professionals from industry (AECOM, Tonkin & Taylor), NIWA and academia. The report won an award for technical documentation from the Resource Management Law Association of New Zealand. Considering the report’s pedigree, an economist questioning the science behind the report is laughable at the very least.
The root of Tailrisk’s criticism is a misinterpretation of a basic hydrological parameter in an obscure 2019 NIWA report referenced by the NCCRA. The NIWA report is a survey of New Zealand rivers, where the authors calculate a statistical parameter called ‘mean annual flood’ (MAF). MAF is used in the calculation of flood severity (e.g., the size of one-in-one hundred year floods), so it is important to hydrologists, but it is not a proxy for flood severity, and the report cautions readers against misconstruing it as such.
Tailrisk nonetheless incorrectly interpreted MAF as a proxy for flood severity. Climate modelling reported in the NIWA report shows that MAF increases for a number of west coast rivers in the coming years (‘the wet get wetter’) but actually decreases in most Canterbury rivers. The decrease is due to predicted increasingly dry conditions in Canterbury. You can imagine that rivers might undergo a number of years of decreased flow due to drought, lowering their MAF, but still host increasingly severe floods every few years or decades.
Tailrisk thought they had found a serious contradiction to the conclusions of the NCCRA report that they could sink their teeth into and blasted the NCCRA as being unscientific. MP Smith echoed this misinterpretation in his comments at the Ashburton meeting.
It is disturbing that the National Party spokesperson would believe the rantings of a contrarian economist over the army of industry, government and academic specialists who prepared the NCCRA report. A simple phone call to a hydrologist or a climate scientist would have cleared up Tailrisk’s misinterpretation in an afternoon.
More disturbing is that MP Smith is noted as suggesting that climate change would not cause an increase in extreme flooding, counter to the consensus of NIWA and IPCC climate scientists.
His talk at Ashburton does a considerable disservice to the residents there, who had just suffered horrendous flooding in late May. The flows on the Upper Hinds and Ashburton/Hakatere Rivers were reported to be the highest on record. If the community is going to rebuild with enough reinforcement to withstand future floods, they need good scientific advice. Telling people that they shouldn’t expect increased flooding as climate change progresses is simply dangerous.
So, what is the National Party’s purpose in spreading misinformation about the NCCRA report and climate change-induced flood risk? Are they following the lead of the National Rifle Association in the US, which shows up in towns after mass shootings to rally the faithful against new gun control laws? Do they think that telling rural folks that climate science predictions are wrong will win them votes?
We’ve seen conservative political parties overseas turn against science when it suited them. We saw the Republican Party in the US turn against the teaching of evolution in schools as a way to attract the conservative Christian vote. In the last decades, we have seen the Republicans turn against climate science at the behest of their fossil fuel industry patrons. Their latest attack has been against public health measures to address the Covid pandemic – resisting lockdowns, masks and vaccination. And, we’ve all seen how poorly the last US administration responded to the pandemic. It has been grimly surprising to see one of the world’s wealthiest nations tally up the world’s highest number of Covid fatalities.
In contrast, New Zealand followed the advice of public health officials and is one of the few countries to have eliminated the virus and kept it out. We are the envy of the world for this accomplishment. Needless to say, listening to scientists is good public policy.
Let us hope that the National Party does not follow down the road of the US Republicans. Climate change, like the pandemic, is too serious an issue for political point making at the expense of overwhelming scientific consensus.
Tom and Marg are milling around the kitchen, watching the latest storm raging outside.
“So, what do your friends at work think of the government’s new ‘feebate’ scheme?” Marg looks over at Tom from the kitchen table.
Tom: “The ‘what’ scheme?”
Google Assistant chimes in: “Tom, the New Zealand Government has recently announced a Clean Car Discount program, which some have called the new car ‘feebate’ scheme. It provides a cash subsidy for imported new and second-hand electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles starting this month, and an added fee on high emissions vehicles starting in January 2022.”
Tom: “GOOGLE, YOU KNOW HOW I HATE IT WHEN YOU LISTEN TO OUR CONVERSATIONS!
Google: “Sorry Tom. It is part of your subscription. You’d have to purchase our premium option if you want limited privacy. Would you like me to direct you to the Google Store now?”
Tom: “Never mind, Google. Now, where was I?”
Marg: “The car feebate scheme.”
Tom: “Oh, yeah. Well, most seem OK with it – especially the ones thinking about buying an EV. A few have grumbled about the extra cost of new utes and some just don’t like the government interfering”.
Marg: “Interesting. And I suppose the ones who don’t like the government interfering don’t believe climate change is real?”
Tom: “No, they don’t seem to disagree with climate change, they just feel that the car they drive is a personal choice. They feel we each should have the freedom to address the problem in our own way. The government shouldn’t be telling us what to do.”
Marg: “Hmmm…I see their point. No one likes to be told what to do. I know you bristle a bit when I remind you whose turn it is to cook dinner.”
Tom gives her a look of indignation.
Marg: “So, how did your friends feel about the Covid lockdowns? That was a classic case of the government telling us what to do.”
Tom: “Well, that was different. Everyone agreed with it. They knew the virus was dangerous and didn’t want people getting sick and dying. They all have families, you know.”
Marg: “But how different is it? We all know that as climate change progresses, people are going to suffer from more extreme weather. Some are going to lose their homes and their livelihoods and some are even going to lose their lives. We are already seeing this in other parts of the world. Look at what the West Coast has been going through. It’s horrific!”
Tom: “I suppose Covid was more immediate – we needed to get after it in a hurry. It seems like there is still time to get after climate change. The climate is still pretty comfortable and we’ve always had nasty weather from time to time.”
Marg: “Not according to the scientists. They say we should have been reducing our emissions long ago. And, the longer we wait, the harder it is going to be to turn things around.”
Marg: “Remember, it is advice from the scientists that is helping us keep Covid out of the country. They have a pretty good track record with giving good advice, in my opinion. “
Tom: “I guess they have gotten us through Covid pretty well. But it sometimes seems like they are trying to run our lives, just like the government – always telling us what to do.”
Marg: “Well, I guess that’s the issue, isn’t it? Do we trust the scientists and give up some freedoms in order to do what is best for everyone, or do we push for our individual rights, no matter what?
Tom: “These rights we have are important – I’d hate to give any of them up.”
Marg: “But you need to remember that it is our special country that allows us those rights. Not everyone in the world has them. We can’t take them for granted. And, they come with obligations. Sometimes, like during emergencies, we need to work together to help everyone pull through, for the good of the country and for the rest of the world. And, global warming is an emergency.”
Tom: “OK, I get it. You’re saying we have both rights and obligations, and they go together.”
Marg: “Good. You got my point. And now, Tom, is a time of obligations.”
Tom: “What obligations?”
Marg: “It’s your turn to cook dinner.”
Six months ago, the Prime Minister declared a climate emergency in New Zealand. She said climate change was “one of the greatest challenges of our time”. “Our nuclear-free moment”, as she called it earlier.
So what has happened since then? Has anyone heard anything more coming out of the government about climate change?
I’ve heard a few things and they are well wide of the mark.
Air New Zealand, a majority government-owned airline with a near monopoly on domestic air travel, is now advertising on the TV again. Air travel is one of the most emission-heavy forms of travel in New Zealand and world-wide. Does it make sense to be promoting it? It seems like the ‘climate change’ equivalent to advertisements promoting smoking.
And, then there is the seemingly pointless public service advert from EECA, the government’s Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority, under its “Gen Less” campaign. Here’s this chap, abandoning a climate protest to tell us, “Why give up the things we love to save the world, when we could have the exact same effect by giving up the things we don’t love?”. Who is he kidding?
We are all going to need to make sacrifices in adapting to a low-carbon lifestyle. That’s what happens when there is an emergency. People sacrificed in the Second World War and they sacrificed during the Covid pandemic. We are all going to need to make changes and not all of them will be to our liking.
And, who in this modern world doesn’t “give up the things we don’t love” as a matter of daily life? The whole point of ‘just say no to wasted energy’ is vague and silly. Who consciously wastes energy? What this advert appears to really promote is ‘business as usual’. And, in a subtle way, for the futility of climate protests!
If EECA were really serious about climate change, it would be telling people how to conserve electricity so that Genesis can stop burning coal at the Huntly power station.
The government has been very good in its messaging about the emergency measures needed to address the Covid pandemic. The adverts have been clear, consistent and based upon solid scientific advice. With the exception of a few grandstanding politicians, the “team of five million” largely followed those directives, sacrificing freedoms but leading to the successful elimination of the virus and a return normal everyday life.
We face a similar threat from climate change, if not necessarily to ourselves, certainly to our children and generations of Kiwis to come. We’ve listened to the science community as they’ve guided us through Covid. Likewise, we must listen to the scientists who are telling us that climate change is serious and emissions reductions should have started yesterday. We are running out of time to address this problem!
So, where are the government adverts reinforcing the simple things that we can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions?
So far, what we’ve heard is, “fly more”, with more travel being one of the reasons we are in this climate emergency in the first place. And then there is the guy telling us to stop wasting energy (and stop protesting about climate change).
To be charitable, perhaps it is a matter of the government’s left hand, represented by the various department mandarins and CEOs of the state owned enterprises, not knowing what the right hand –Parliament, is actually saying.
Still, after 6 months, we are stuck with the uncomfortable feeling that this government is not serious about its declared climate emergency. How are people to believe there is a climate emergency when the little messaging we hear from government so far has been so contradictory and muddled?
We’ve all heard the predictions. As global warming continues, future generations will face more uncertain weather and a range of ever-more-frequent related disasters. Storms will become more intense. Between storms, warmer weather will make forests and farms drier and more prone to drought and wildfire. Sea level will rise and marine industries will become more uncertain as ocean waters warm and acidify. It all sounds pretty scary. Future generations will need to be prepared, resourceful and resilient.
But will it also be more expensive for them?
There are a few things that are certain to go up in price. For one, insurance costs for homes and businesses will go up. We already see this in places around the world, where wildfire and flood risk have increased. That is, if insurance is available at all, since there are now places where insurance companies have stopped offering insurance due to the risk.
The other price increase that seems assured is council rates, as councils face the increased costs of upgrading and maintaining vital infrastructure. Sewage treatment plants will need upgrading to prevent spills during ever larger floods and coastal storm surge as sea level rises. Municipal water supply systems will need to be diversified and fortified with additional storage reservoirs as droughts become more common and intense. Think of Auckland last year.
Coastal property abandoned due to sea level rise will need to be bought, in part if not in whole, by councils, since they consented those developments in the first place. Think of Matata, where the council recently bought-out coastal properties in an area subject to flooding. There may be help from central government with these costs, but councils will be expected to front a major share.
Although not quite as certain, all indications point to food prices increasing, as farmers worldwide deal with ever more extreme weather events. Floods, droughts and extreme heat, winds, rainfall and unseasonal frost and hail have ruined crops since the earliest days, and these are all expected to become more frequent as climate change progresses. More frequent crop failures and an increasing cost of crop insurance can’t help but be reflected in higher food prices.
If this all sounds pretty scary, wait! There’s more!
Added to these will be the indirect costs to society due an ongoing battle with climate change. Even if Aotearoa and the rest of the world manage to achieve net zero carbon emissions in this century, the fight will be far from over. IPCC climate models show that, in order to stabilise the world climate at a liveable level, greenhouse gas emissions will likely need to go “negative” for decades following. This means pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, either biologically (through forests, wetlands, capture in soils, biochar and aquaculture), or industrially, through burning of biomass and capturing the carbon dioxide or by capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air.
At this point, biologic methods are the more cost effective and are likely to continue to be into the next century but these projects will require active management in order to prevent them from losing carbon due to wildfire, disease and drought. This means many of society’s workers and resources will be devoted to developing and maintaining these carbon “sinks”, and will not be available to grow food or support other industries. Removing carbon dioxide industrially will likely take even more resources away from our economy.
No matter how we cut it, the worsening climate emergency is not only going to make our children’s and future generation’s lives more difficult due to extreme weather events and ecosystem disruption, it is going to make their lives more expensive. In a sense, they will pay for a portion of today’s prosperity, the prosperity allowed us by the burning of fossil fuels.
It is sobering to think, that when we jump into the car to run to the market for a litre of milk, much of the carbon dioxide that comes out of the tail pipe will someday need to be removed from the atmosphere at the diligence and expense of future generations, so that they can have a liveable planet.
The message here is clear. The sooner we cut our emissions, the less it is going to cost our children’s children and their children to come.
The recently formed Climate Commission has just released it first report, Draft Advice for Consultation and is now asking for public comment. The report describes how the country can meet the greenhouse gas emissions reductions required by New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act, in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Buried back in Chapter 8, the Commission examines how these emissions reductions stack up with our international commitments to reduce emissions. The long and short of it is, without significant additional effort in emissions reduction, we are on track to miss an international commitment for 2030 and will need to purchase billions of dollars’ worth of emissions credits on the international market in order to keep our word.
How did this happen?
The emissions reduction commitment in question was agreed upon as part of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, to which New Zealand is a signatory. This commitment is to, by 2030, limit New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions (gross emissions minus CO2 removals by forestry) to 30% less than the level of its gross emissions in 2005. In order to meet this commitment, the Commission calculates that New Zealand can emit no more than 585 million tonnes (Mt) CO2 equivalent (CO2e) over the next 9 years, from 2021 to 2030.
The problem is, the Climate Commission’s plan through 2030 achieves the targets set in the Zero Carbon Act but isn’t enough for the Paris commitment. Combined with an estimate of 2021 emissions, the Commission’s plan yields 628 Mt CO2e by 2030 – 43 Mt over the Paris commitment. The Commission goes one further, suggesting that a more realistic analysis of climate modelling suggests that the net emissions needed to meet the Paris agreement’s target of no more than 1.5°C warming should be 564 Mt CO2e, or 64 Mt more than the emissions trajectory of the Commission’s plan.
So, if the government buckles down on emissions and follows the Climate Commission’s recommendations we will still be 7-11% over our Paris commitment by 2030. The Climate Commission suggests that the government could meet the shortfall by purchasing offshore emissions credits, as other countries have done and will continue to do. Depending upon the international price of carbon in 2030 and the availability of such credits, the Commission estimates that these could cost the country as much as $11.5 billion.
What do we do?
Do we just give up on the commitment altogether, tossing it into the “too hard” basket? Or, do we start looking for reputable offshore credits and start putting aside the foreign currency needed to buy them?
To me, neither of these two strategies exemplify the Kiwi spirit. Think of the spirit that stepped ahead and gave women the right to vote; that stood up to our alliance partners and banned nuclear weapons and nuclear powered ships from our harbours; that risked lives in the Southern Ocean to save some of the last of our planet’s whales; that worked as a team of 5 million to keep a deadly pandemic at bay.
There is another option. We can all do what we can to limit our emissions.
Each litre of petrol not bought, each hectare of native forest or wetland restored, each lamb or calf not born to end up in a slaughterhouse, each airline flight cancelled due to low passenger demand, they all add up. Companies can play their part too, by moving up plans to replace a coal furnace with a wood burner; by replacing automobile fleets with EVs or plug-in hybrids, by replacing crowded offices with work from home; by hosting meetings and conferences online instead of in person. There are many ways, big and small that we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without needing a government incentive.
I, for one, don’t like the thought of New Zealand facing derision from its OECD neighbours for a lack of action on climate change. If we put our minds to it, we can do that bit more required to meet the 2030 Paris emissions commitment. I say we give it a go.
Tom’s brother Gavin is visiting on his way back to the North Island.
“So, Tom, now that you have an electric car, you are a certified, card-carrying tree-hugger!” Gavin says with a laugh.
“Who’d of thought that the kid doing burnouts in front of the church at two in the morning would become a greenie?”
“Shush, Gavin! Jimmy just got his license and doesn’t know about that. And, I’d appreciate it if he didn’t find out. Bad example, you know.”
“OK, Tom, the secrets of your wild and crazy youth are safe with me.”
So, how’s the electric car working out?” Gavin asks, nursing his cup of tea.
Tom: “Great so far. I don’t have to visit petrol stations anymore and the extra on the electricity bill isn’t that much. And the car is so quiet. I especially like ‘one-pedal’ driving. I hardly touch the brakes anymore.”
Gavin: “One pedal? How does that work?”
Tom: “It’s called regenerative braking. Instead of braking to a stop, you simply back off on the accelerator pedal. The car uses the electric motor to slow the car down and put electricity back into the battery. I only need to use the brakes in an emergency.”
Gavin: “Well, that is clever. I’ve always thought it was a shame to waste all that energy when you hit the brakes. Speaking of batteries, though, isn’t there a problem with recycling these electric car batteries? Seems like we’re headed to a future full of electronic waste”
Tom: “I don’t know, Gavin. They haven’t been around all that long. I suppose someone is looking into it. Let’s ask Google Assistant.”
“Hey Google, can car batteries be recycled?”
Google: “Lead-acid car batteries can be easily recycled but currently there is no recycling facility in New Zealand…”
Gavin: “Wait a minute Google. You’re talking about EV batteries, like lithium ion batteries.”
Google: “You need to be more specific with your questions! My servers don’t have all day, you know! You’ve just wasted 2,359 milliseconds that I’ll never get back!”
“Sorry Google!” shouts Tom. He leans over and whispers to Gavin, “He can be a bit testy when there is lots of internet traffic, you know.”
Google: “The recycling of lithium ion batteries is complicated and limited to only a few companies so far. For example, Tesla, the electric vehicle manufacturer, recycles its EV batteries. There are many different types of batteries and they are changing as new types are developed, meaning that recycling techniques need to change along with it. Some places, like the European Union and the UK, are requiring increasing amounts of battery collection and recycling to prevent pollution from batteries disposed to landfills.”
Gavin: “Thanks Google. Well, if we end up with as many EVs as they say we are, we’ll need to be recycling the batteries. So, what about the stress on our electricity system? Won’t all these EVs eat up all our power?”
Google: “EVs will likely require more generating capacity for the electricity system. But with new technology, their large battery capacities will help even out peak load in the electricity grid and even store power from wind and solar. This is expected to reduce the need for new power lines and new generation to handle loads when electricity demand is high. In essence, EV batteries plugged into people’s homes will store energy for when the electrical grid needs it. These ‘car to home’ systems are available now in Japan and will be coming to NZ in the next few years.”
Gavin: “So, with more generation capacity, you’ll be able to buy a more powerful EV, Tom”
Google: “And, you’ll be able to keep doing donuts in front of the church for years to come.”
Tom: “Google, you’re not supposed to know about that!”
Google: “Your secret is safe with me, Tom, though I note that you haven’t rated my service in more than a year now. More than just two sentences this time, and little Jimmy never has to know.
“Marg, it’s time for us to make some New Year’s restitutions.”
“Restitutions? For what? What have we done? I remember at the wedding my parents talked about you needing to pay restitution for stealing their only daughter and unpaid live-in house cleaner. That was a laugh! And you took them seriously and asked what they thought was fair!”
“Well, your dad looked kinda angry. You know, I can never tell when he is kidding. And no, not that kind of restitution. You know, when you decide to do things differently in the new year.”
“Oh, you mean new year’s resolutions! Well, we could certainly make some resolutions. How about we start by resolving to lower our household carbon emissions a bit more?”
Tom, looking sheepish: “OK, let’s see, what could we do?”
Marg takes a moment and thinks. “You’ve already stopped flying to Christchurch to visit your friends. Taking the bus and train saves quite a bit. Now we just need to switch KiwiRail to electric trains. Have you heard the idea to use the Tiwai Point power to convert the South Island trains to electric? That would save even more travel emissions.”
Marg goes on: “And with the electric car we aren’t burning as much petrol as before. You are riding the e-bike more for errands around town. Good savings there.”
Tom chips in: “We’re eating a lot less beef and lamb. I’ve found a place to buy New Zealand made charcoal, which saves on the emissions of overseas charcoal kilns. We’re composting all of our food scraps and taking the garden clippings to green waste. You know they make it into mulch instead of burying it in landfill.”
“We did create a bit of emissions flying to the islands for holiday before the lockdown. But we offset it with tree planting, didn’t we?”
Marg: “Yes, a bit more native forest is a good thing, but we can only plant so many trees. We’re just gonna need to cut back on flying. It’s a big source of emissions.”
Tom: “Well, traveling overseas probably won’t be much of an issue this year, not with the pandemic still at full tilt. OK, we can resolve not to fly overseas this year. That’s one. So, what else?”
Marg taps her chin as she thinks: “We’ve already installed a low emissions wood burner and put a heat pump in the bedroom. That saves on electricity.”
Tom: “How about this: I decided not to go in with my brother on that bitcoin investment because of the emissions.”
“Good one, Tom.” Marg breaks a smile: “But you haven’t given up watching dancing cat videos. I’ve seen you watching them when you think I’m not looking. You know about the emissions from live streaming on the internet. Maybe you can download a movie of them instead.”
“OK, I’ll give up the cat videos. But, they are so cute! OK, that’s two resolutions. What else?”
Marg pauses and looks perplexed. “I’m running out of ideas.”
“Maybe we can ask Google Assistant. He seems to know everything.
HEY GOOGLE, WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO TO LOWER OUR EMISSIONS?”
Google: “There is still much more you can do. There are heaps of websites with emissions savings ideas. When you aren’t watching dancing cats, try visiting www.genless.govt.nz or www.mfe.govt.nz.“
Tom rolls his eyes, “OK, thanks Google.”
Google keeps going: “Think reduce, reuse, recycle. Marg, you could be repairing old clothes instead of buying new ones. I note your sewing machine has been gathering dust lately. Or maybe just check the op shops before going to the department store. Tom, you should be fixing things more instead of replacing them. You don’t need a new lawnmower – just sharpen the one you have. There is also volunteering…”
Marg: “Hey, good idea Google. You know, Tom, you’ve got free time on weekends. Maybe we could start volunteering for a few things, like planting trees or catching pests or delivering meals to shut-ins.”
“I’ve got enough to do, thank you! Why would I want to volunteer to do more?”
Google: “Maybe as restitution for stealing your in-law’s house cleaner?”
“Hey Marg, look at these beautiful grapes I picked up at the market.”
Marg looks up from her laptop: “Grapes? This time of year? Where are they from?”
“Er… Lemme see… California. Says here on the label.”
Marg looks daggers at me: “You mean those grapes came all the way from California? Do you realise how much greenhouse gas was spewed into our atmosphere to get them here? We are meant to be decreasing our carbon dioxide emissions.”
Google Assistant pipes into the conversation: “According to tables assembled by the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (the DBEIS) for 2020, one tonne of long haul airfreight creates 1.13382 kilogram of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas per kilometre travelled. The distance from San Francisco to Auckland is 10,487 kilometres, so one kilogram of grapes airfreighted from California creates approximately 11.8904 kilograms of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas.”
“THANK YOU, GOOGLE! Marg, it is so creepy the way he listens in on our conversations.”
Marg cracks a smile: “How do you know ‘he’ is a he? Google could be a ‘she’, you know. ‘Computer’ is a feminine word in many languages. And don’t try to change the subject – that 500 grams of grapes you just bought created about 6 kilograms of greenhouse gas.” That’s probably more than driving the Subaru to Picton.”
Undaunted, Google pipes in again: “Picton is 29.4 kilometres from Blenheim. Your Subaru makes 11.0 kilometres per litre of petrol and one litre of petrol creates 2.30176 kilograms CO2, so a trip to Picton creates approximately 6.15 kilograms CO2. About the same.”
“Wow, you’re right, Marg. That’s a lot more emissions than I expected. So, does this mean we need to stop buying imported fruits and vegetables?”
Marg (now with even a bigger smile): “Well, not necessarily. It depends on how they are transported. Produce sent on ships creates much lower emissions.
Google now hits his/her stride: “According to the 2020 UK DBEIS tables, long haul shipping of refrigerated produce creates 0.01308 kilograms CO2 equivalent per tonne-kilometre, or about 1.15 percent of the emissions due to airfreight. So airfreight spews about 87 times more greenhouse gas than sea-freight to move the same weight of produce the same distance.”
“So, how do we know which imported fruits and vegetables are airfreighted and which are sea-freighted?”
Google: “It has to do with how perishable the produce is. Importers prefer to send produce by surface because it costs less, but some things won’t last the journey. According to a 2007 Lincoln University report, most vegetables, including fresh asparagus, green beans, peas and sweet corn tend to be airfreighted, but only a selection of fruits, including cherries, berries, peaches and grapes are airfreighted. Apples, oranges and bananas are mostly sent by sea-freight.”
“Well, that’s lucky for you, Marg. You won’t have to give up your fresh banana smoothies.”
Marg, looking serious now: “So, the moral to the story is to buy local fruit and vegetables, when you can. Buying local also helps our local farmers and businesses during these tough times. This is what we’re meant to do.”
Google: “But local isn’t always better. The Lincoln report points out that in some cases, local heated greenhouse vegetables create higher emissions than imported vegetables because coal or natural gas is burned to keep the greenhouses warm and enrich the air inside with CO2 to promote growth. For example, a 2008 report by AgriLINK NZ states that hot house tomatoes grown with coal heating in Christchurch produce 4.475 kg CO2 per kilogram of tomatoes. Most of the greenhouses in Marlborough also use coal for heating”.
“Crikey, that’s almost as high as airfreighted from overseas! So, what can we eat?”
Marg smiles: “Well, we could go back to eating only what’s in season. I grew up eating only fresh fruit and vegetables when they came into season, and it didn’t spoil my childhood.”
“Spoil it? You mean those wild days you spent partying at Tahuna beach when you were a teenager? You know, I heard about that from some of your friends. Frankly, I was shocked to hear about it!”
Marg sighs: “Those were the days…”
These are a collection of opinion articles principally written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim. Some articles have been written by other CKM members, and their names appear with those articles.