Are transformative climate measures too threatening for the establishment?


When George Monbiot wrote his great article (Days of Rage) about the inadequate response of governments to the climate emergency, I read it three times because it felt so important. He said environment groups are arguing the only realistic approach is incrementalism. He said they will campaign, issue by issue, sector by sector, for gradual improvements.  But he said that system change was the only fast and effective means of transformation.

Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) are system change, they will transform the economy. It is not incrementalism. They will bring down emissions and cause everyone to change their way of living, working and travelling.

Transformative Climate Measures are too threatening for powerful men

Monbiot further wrote, “The demand to decarbonise our economies is not just a threat to carbon-intensive industry; it is a threat to the world order that permits powerful men to dominate us. To give ground to climate campaigners is to surrender power.”

It set me thinking about what the response will be to our petition for Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs). You see, once the Climate Change Commission has set this year’s budget for the carbon  and the year passes, next year their budget will decline. Every year individuals are given fewer TEQs to accompany their payment for their fossil fuel energy.

Air NZ is 51% owned by Government. So with a declining carbon budget and energy rationing, aviation would inevitably decline.

That means unless they buy a great many TEQs Air New Zealand will have fewer TEQs next year to surrender along with its money when the company buys its aviation fuel.  But Air NZ is 51% owned by Government.  So Government has a pecuniary interest in the viability of the aviation industry in Aotearoa.

Government has a pecuniary interest in electricity companies too.

Take electricity, a form of energy, some of which is generated from fossil fuels at Huntly Power Station. When any household pays for its electricity, it also has to cough up TEQs. All electricity retailers carry a “carbon rating” in units; one unit represents one kilogram of carbon dioxide – or the equivalent in other greenhouse gases – released in the fuel’s production and use.

Coal burning Huntly Power Station is owned by Genesis which is 51% government owned.

Huntly Power Station burns both coal and natural gas, and coal is brought into play when the hydro lakes are low and the demand is high. According to Wikipedia, Huntly contributes half of the carbon dioxide produced by electricity generation in the country. Huntly is owned by Genesis and Government has a 51% shareholding in Genesis.

Genesis Energy is also a big gas retailer. As at 2016 it had 39%  of the natural gas market. They sell bottled gas for your household or pipe it to your home. Genesis, because of Huntly, will probably have the worst carbon rating of all generators so customers will have to pay in TEQs as well as money. And next year they will have fewer TEQs to use Genesis suffers. You can’t tell me that government will enjoy watching its shares and dividends in Genesis decline.

When the topic of TEQs was examined by the UK All Parliamentary Committee more than a decade ago, they deemed it the best of all personal carbon trading schemes. They also said it was “ahead of its time”. And over the years they quietly forgot about it.  One has to ask why.

I don’t think it is too hard for an economist to look at TEQs and say, “Oh, with energy declining year by year, it will mean the economy will decline.” Economists will know that as total energy grows so does the GDP – in lockstep – according to the graphs.

No doubt Treasury officials will be telling government that they should not to consider a bar of TEQs. “Oh just put the environmentalist’s nice idea quietly in the bin”. Ah yes, give a pat on the head for those well-meaning climate campaigners as they leave.

The powerful men that Monbiot referred to are no doubt sitting at the top of Treasury ready to advise any enthusiastic MP or Minister that the climate be damned, the economy has to grow.

4 thoughts on “Are transformative climate measures too threatening for the establishment?”

  1. No more exceptionalism, no more incrementalism….
    Thanks Deirdre – I’m a new reader of your blog, not on twitter can’t stand it.

    I wonder if the question we need to start asking our politicians and their advisors is
    – “Is there any evidence of GDP not being linked to fossil fuels?”

    This allows two lines of inquiry:
    1) How can we decouple ourselves from fossil energy?
    2) What is the GDP we want in NZ?

    1. G00d thinking Nic. I don’t however think it would be possible to ask what our GDP should be. I am far more interested in whether people are housed, fed, happy – all the social indicators and whether the biosphere on which we depend is still liveable. Social and environmental indicators should be reported weekly in my view.

      But the one about reversing the question is clever.

  2. Totally agree Nic- great comments.
    And- how do we adopt more useful measures than GDP?

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