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Dr Muriel Newman

Crucial Questions Need Answers

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As a series of consultation meetings about New Zealand’s binding target for greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2020 are being held by around the country, questions must be asked about how well the public of New Zealand are being served on this issue.

Firstly, where are the details of the economic consequences of proposed targets? This is a crucial question especially as the government still hasn’t produced a Regulatory Impact Analysis of their proposed Emissions Trading Scheme which deals with emissions targets based on 1990 levels. Secondly, why haven’t we been asked the more fundamental question of whether New Zealand should be signing up to a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol at all? And thirdly, why are we even considering supporting any such treaty to stop global warming when global warming stopped of its own accord in 1998?

Without a doubt public consultation is at the heart of our Westminster style of Parliamentary democracy. It forms the foundation of the working of Select Committees, where public submissions regarding inquiries and draft legislation, is regularly called for.* The Government also uses public consultation to seek feedback on proposed policy initiatives. The problem is that in politics, if a minority group is organised and vocal enough, it can become a political majority with consultation meetings turning into a feeding frenzy to satisfy the avaricious appetite of political extremists.

Consulting engineer Bryan Leyland, this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, went along to one of these so-called consultation meetings for the 2020 emissions target last Monday:

“The meeting was at the Hyatt Regency ballroom in Auckland. There would have been at least 300 people there. I would say that more than 90 percent were convinced that man-made global warming was real and dangerous and at least 70 percent had been herded there by Greenpeace and the Green Party. Many of them had large professionally done posters with 40% by 2020 on them. They would have cost several dollars each and I suspect that Greenpeace had been handing them out as people came into the hall. I understand that Greenpeace also flew their leading protagonists from meeting to meeting. With a 2007 income of more than $400 million, this is the sort of thing that Greenpeace can do. But is this democracy at work? It is certainly a tactic that my friends in Iran would be familiar with”.

In his article “Salvation Circus” or government sconsultation, Bryan explains, “The whole show bore a strong resemblance to a ‘salvation circus’. Hard science, evidence, commonsense and economic realities did not come into it. As far as most people in the room were concerned, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represented the word of God. To these people, dangerous global warming was an established fact and it was beyond doubt that if New Zealand adopted 40% by 2020, we would save the world. To suggest otherwise was heresy.

“The meeting started off with a presentation by Nick Smith that included the usual IPCC curves promising environmental disaster as the world got hotter and hotter. He made it very clear that he was convinced that man-made global warming was real and dangerous and something had to be done”. To read Bryan’s full account, click here

So, with well-funded radical environmental groups having captured the public consultation process (and the Minister, by the sound of it!) one can only hope that policy development procedures are based on sound science and rational thinking. However, that might be overly ambitious, as according to Bryan’s report, the Minister indicated at the meeting that “the National Party relied entirely on the IPCC for their scientific advice”.

But first things first. The setting of an emissions target for 2020 pre-supposes that New Zealand intends to support a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. Yet the public has never been asked whether New Zealand should sign up to another international global warming treaty like the Kyoto Protocol.

Why should a small, poor, rurally based country with a tiny industrial sector be standing alongside the world’s largest industrial nations? Especially when it means committing to binding targets that are virtually impossible to achieve, because our emissions come largely from agriculture, which cannot be reduced unless we cut production and devastate the economy.

In an article condemning Stephen Tindall and other “celebrities” persuaded by Greenpeace to support the “40% by 2020” campaign, Catherine Beard from the Greenhouse Policy Coalition quantifies what the environmentalists’ targets would mean: “To achieve a 40% emission reduction in eleven short years we would have to take drastic action. If you took all transport off the road you would save around 20% of our national emissions, if you shut down our industry you would save a measly 12 %, if you went to 100% renewable electricity you would save an even more measly 11% (given we already have a high percentage of renewable electricity generation). Clearly it is not feasible to require 100% emission reductions from these sectors of the economy, but that is the sort of drastic action that would result in 40% emission reductions. Even to halve emissions from these sectors, would have a dramatic negative impact on our economy and lead to massive job losses”.[1]

Clearly, one would think that such ridiculous targets would not be considered by any rational Government – however, National has confirmed that it supports the long term goal of reducing New Zealand’s net emissions by 50 percent by 2050! In the meantime, the massive cost of their proposed Emissions Trading tax remains a source of major concern.

Dennis Avery, a senior fellow for the Washington-based Hudson Institute, who recently visited New Zealand has quantified some of the costs – and consequences – that we should expect from an emissions trading tax. He explains that “A 500-cow dairy might have to pay $250,000 per year for cattle emissions and manure handling permits, plus a hefty increase in its costs for low-carbon electricity and diesel”. In comparison he explains that “An Argentine dairy would pay none of these increased costs—and every dollar of cost differential would be a further incentive for Argentine dairymen to expand their exports at the expense of New Zealand”.[2]

He believes that no country in the world would risk as much for “global warming” as New Zealand if it installs an emissions trading energy tax, because of the fact that our economy is so dependent on farm exports: “If New Zealand taxes its cows and sheep hundreds of dollars per animal for methane emissions and manure handling fees, Argentina would almost immediately displace New Zealand’s farm exports. Argentina has more grass, more cattle, the potential for more lambs, a surging wine industry—and no Kyoto obligations”.

He also rubbished the low cost estimates that have been bandied around about the impact of an emissions trading tax for households saying that “The British government now admits its new carbon tax law could cost as much as $27,000 per UK family.”

Dennis said these things “to several New Zealand government ministers and business leaders at a private dinner in Wellington. My message was not welcomed. John Key’s new government seems to understand that New Zealand’s economy would be at terrible risk from carbon taxes—but its voters apparently don’t realise it”.

But do they? Maybe skepticism is growing here – as it is around the world – it’s just that without polls there is no way of measuring it.

There have been a number of opinion polls published in the US which clearly show that public concern over man-made global warming is waning. Just this year, a Gallup poll showed that 41 percent of the population believes that global warming claims are exaggerated. One Pew poll showed that only half of the public agreed that climate change is caused by people, and another found that global warming had dropped to the lowest priority issue for the President. A Rasmussen poll showed that 34 percent of the public thought that global warming was primarily caused by human activity compared with 48 percent who believed it was caused by planetary trends, and a Zogby poll showed that only 30 percent supported an emissions trading scheme.

In Australia, polls are showing a rise in public skepticism, while here in New Zealand, one of the only reported polls on this issue was published by the environmental group SHAPE NZ, which produced the questionable result that business people wanted a multi-party emissions trading deal to be put in place within 6 months!

Politicians study public polls intently. They are very influential in the policy development process as they provide an insight into public opinion in a way that is often not possible to obtain through other forms of public consultation. That’s why the NZCPR is so keen to recruit more volunteers for our Research Panel so that informed newsletter readers have an opportunity to help shape the direction of public policy in New Zealand – if you would like to help, please register here.

Information and feedback received by the NZCPR is indicative of the shift in public opinion about global warming. The BBC has just reported that international academics are now urging world leaders to abandon the Kyoto Protocol approach because it is having “no meaningful effect whatsoever”.[3] The Wall Street Journal provides a roundup of the world-wide increase in skepticism especially in Australia, as Senator Stephen Fielding threatens to vote down that country’s emissions trading bill – because the science of human-caused global warming doesn’t stack up.[4] Christopher Booker in the Telegraph describes how the cost of a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol (the Copenhagen Treaty) would have a devastating impact on the world’s economies.[5] And in the Spectator, James Delingpole has interviewed Australian Professor Ian Plimer, the author of the landmark book “Heaven and Earth”, who has not only explained that the climate change debate has been hijacked by ‘politicians, environmentalists and opportunists’, but describes anthropogenic global warming theory as the “biggest, most dangerous and ruinously expensive con trick in history”![6]

If such information was reflected in mainstream New Zealand media, public attitudes would be such that the Government would be consulting on exit strategies for the Kyoto Protocol instead of targets for 2020.

But that is where the NZCPR comes in. Our purpose is to provide an insight into the public policy process, exposing important research and information that is often ignored by mainstream media. On top of that we actively promote open debate free from the prevailing PC orthodoxy through our weekly guest commentators (Prof Ian Plimer has agreed to provide an article sometime soon), a growing number of influential columnists, and of course our controversial on-line Debating Chamber Forum.

However, as a venture born of the free market, operating without the umbilical chord of government funding, the NZCPR rises and falls on the support of readers. If you would like to see our work continue then I am asking for your support … with the value of a cup of coffee a week – or a month. For details (including useful information on climate change available free to all of those who are interested), please visit our donation page.

1.Catherine Beard, Celebrity Endorsed Climate Change – A Big Ask… 
2.Dennis Avery, NZ May Go Bust Over Global Warming 
3.BBC News, Time to ditch climate policies 
4.Wall St Journal, The Climate Change Climate Change 
5.Christopher Booker, The sun and the oceans do not lie 
6.James Delingpole, Meet the man who has exposed the great climate change con trick