Brian Rudman’s opinion piece “Ditch fruitcake views on climate change” (New Zealand Herald, November 18), which rails against the proposed select committee on climate change seems to be motivated more by his personal dislike of Rodney Hide than any concern for proper parliamentary process, the national interest, local scientific and economic issues, and New Zealand’s own sovereignty.
He dismisses the need for a wide-ranging review because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us the science is settled, and the British Government’s Stern Review tells us climate change demands an urgent response.
And yet I suspect that if anyone told our Government to adopt a Budget written by the World Bank, Rudman would be equally up in arms.
Whatever the state of the global science, there are many local scientific matters that should be addressed before we start imposing huge costs on our local economy. For example, he quotes global sea level rises, which are no more than a statistical artifact with no relationship to what is happening on our own coastlines, where tectonic plate and earthquake movements have far more impact.
Also, sea level rising has slowed, not increased as Rudman claims. Sadly, many councils have rushed to regulate coastal development on the basis of these global predictions even though actual measurements show their local sea levels are falling rather than rising.
Similarly, he says “there’s more chance of finding an internationally respected flat-earther, or apostle of intelligent design, or even a Holocaust denier than there is of finding a peer-reviewed case against human assisted global warming”.
His terminology “human assisted global warming” is so weak and so subject to interpretation that he is probably right. After all, much “global warming” has been “assisted” by downright fraud and alarmist claims.
The urban heat island effect (caused by cities) is well recognised, and the extreme economic and demographic inputs into the IPCC computer models have also “assisted” in creating an impression of global warming.
There are scores of papers in peer-reviewed journals challenging the hypothesis that anthropogenic actions, and in particular, the burning of fossil fuels, are causing dangerous levels of global warming.
The select committee could also focus on science relevant to New Zealand. Rudman might like to find a peer-reviewed paper containing a simple equation describing the change in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from turning forestry into perennial pasture in New Zealand. We simply do not know the size and nature of the biological transfers or even whether the final outcome is positive or negative.
How can we base any form of taxation or subsidy on such ignorance?
And if we are determined to tax our nine million belching cows why don’t we require the Indians to tax their 290 million cows and buffalo? And what about taxing all those methane emitting termites, rice paddies, wetlands and mangroves? Why pick on us?
Most economists prefer a straightforward tax on fossil fuels because no one actually knows how to calculate most of the carbon dioxide footprints that the emission traders assume to be correct. It’s worth remembering that “carbon credit” trading was invented by Enron. Do we really want another round of life-savings to disappear down a “carbon-black-hole”?
Conversely, a simple tax on fossil fuel could be done with the GST.
However, the most powerful argument for repealing the Emissions Trading Act is that it was passed by a reluctant, divided and narrow majority in the dying days of Parliament in a manner that was undemocratic, failed to address the national interest, and in breach of longstanding constitutional conventions.
As (Minister for the Environment) Nick Smith said in a recent public forum, “the worst day in my life in Parliament was being confronted with a bill with over 1000 amendments with only three days to make a decision”. Those amendments had not been reported back to the select committee.
The new Government is surely entitled to revisit such a rushed and shoddy process.
The New Zealand Herald properly campaigned about the undue haste with which the Electoral Finance Act was rammed through Parliament. Compared to the emissions trading scheme the electoral act was a model of procedure.
Our constitutional conventions require that all bills presented to Parliament be supported by a regulatory impact statement. Such a statement should address three issues:
First, that there is a real problem.
Second, that all relevant alternative solutions have been identified and considered.
And third, that the proposed law will solve the problem better than all the alternatives, and its benefits will exceed its costs.
These assessments should be undertaken diligently, impartially and from a non-partisan position. The previous Government obscured the first, evaded the second, and ignored the third.
It also breached constitutional conventions by forcing through a bill containing over 1000 amendments with just three days notice.
Many hope the new Government will set a higher standard of parliamentary procedure, which should deliver better informed, and more soundly based policy.
Why would anyone oppose such a process?
The Australian and New Zealand economies are closely tied, and there is an obvious need to ensure that any responses to fears of global warming are in line with those adopted by Australia.
Otherwise we may only hasten the export of business, jobs and skilled New Zealanders across the Tasman.
The Australian Productivity Commission had recommended that Australia begin with a modest carbon tax and make the transition to an ETS, only if a deep, liquid international trading market has developed – which shows little sign of happening at present.
The proposed select committee provides an opportunity to seriously consider a similar approach, provided sound analysis demonstrates that taking any such action is in New Zealand’s interests.
It should also provide an opportunity to look closely at the way any climate changes may affect us in New Zealand, rather than depend on data and policies from the Northern Hemisphere.
The committee should also consider the lack of contestable advice delivered to the previous Government, which chose to rely on a small beltway group that controls climate issues within Niwa, the Royal Society of New Zealand, and most of our country’s input into the UN’s IPCC.
Labour’s then Climate Minister David Parker dismissed any independent climate experts, who provided rebuttal evidence, as a lunatic fringe.
In spite of Rudman’s assertions, John Key is more likely to make himself a laughing stock by rushing to adopt potentially catastrophic interventions, with massive opportunities for fraud, rather than taking a prudent approach in line with our trading partners, who are certainly not rushing to judgment given the state of economies around the world.