Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

So the Green Party has announced its new Climate Protection Plan, a $320(ish) tax cut for everyone earning an income in New Zealand, a 1% cut to the company tax rate, funded by a levy of $25/tonne on carbon-equivilent emissions for most polluting sectors, with a $12.50 rate for dairy and an exemption for all other farming sectors that have already kept their emissions at or below 1990 levels. They’ve also pledged that all the money raised by the levy will be refunded to the tax payer, and an independent panel will be set up to suggest any future amendments to the scheme.

This is one of those excellent policies that hits both highly technical and sensible policy benchmarks, and is great politics at the same time. The Greens were never happy with the idea of the Emissions Trading Scheme, being persauded to vote for the stronger version proposed by Labour only because it was marginally better than doing nothing, and due to the potential energy reduction of $1billion invested in insulating houses. The National version of the scheme is largely a giveaway, and where it isn’t, it’s functioning as a money-go-round and not actually reducing emissions, and the small amount of houses they’ve agreed to insulate is bizzare, given that we are already seeing reductions in health costs beyond what the first round of the scheme cost.

This presents the Greens, (and barring and announcements of a competing policy from Labour, the entire opposition) as a movement that can square the circle: They’ll use a carbon reduction policy to provide a tax cut to ordinary New Zealanders, (and because their tax cut is broad-base, it will stimulate the economy, too) and make the business environment even more competitive for companies that achieve low-to-zero emissions. This is an excellent scheme known more internationally as “Cap and Dividend”, and given the shocking failure of ETS policies globally, (mostly due to their vulnerability to business lobbying) a great second-try at making New Zealand more of an environmental leader. (Or perhaps more fairly, a close follower- we would have led in this if we had proposed this during the previous government rather than for the next one)

This isn’t a policy that can be de-railed as a “fart tax”: it’s charitable to farmers, and most charitable where they’ve stepped up and done their part. It’s fair to the rest of New Zealand, refunding us for the externalities heaped on us by polluters. And as a country vulnerable to climate change, especially any political destabilisation it might cause, becoming a leader or a close-follower in addressing emissions is in both our economic and social interests, not to mention our national security interests, given that the more extreme range of climate change prediction could leave New Zealand one of the few relatively agriculture-friendly areas of land.


edit: Looks like the $319 is based on two-incomes, so if you’re solo, that’s a $159.50 tax cut. This is, however, the amount after potential cost increases are accounted for.


If you had expected US President Barack Obama to have a consistent set of principles and stick to it, you would have been shocked today to hear that he turned down the proposal to build a pipeline for incredibly dirty Canadian tar sands oil. President Obama has been a lukewarm environmentalist at best while in the White House, but a number of factors converged to hopefully slow down the extraction of tar sands oil in a move that could avoid catastrophic climate destabilization. Here they are in order of narrative importance:

  • Popular opposition forced President Obama to delay his decision on approving the pipeline until after the election. If you had believed TransCanada, the company wanting to build the pipeline, this delay would have forced them to give up on the project. They didn’t give up, and republicans assumed this meant that Obama wanted to save face by approving the oil pipeline after his re-election.
  • There’s an election coming up, which is the one time Democrats in the USA tend to act as if they give two hoots about the left wing of their party.
  • As a result, Obama has fired his former chief of staff and installed someone less horrendous than the banks’ guy on the inside of the White House. Previous chiefs of staff have had such moronic opinions on political matters as “you won’t pass healthcare reform, you should back off it”.
  • The republicans in the Senate decided that they would support extending unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts, but in return, they would require the President to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline now, to try and sabotage him with his base before the election.
  • In a classic serendipitous backfire move, Obama was correctly advised that it was both bad policy and bad politics to approve the pipeline before the election, and so he actually ignored the cloud of lobbyists surrounding him and did something almost brave.

The question is whether this will be too little too late to start winning back Obama’s support after his unconditional bailout for big banks, his failure to reform campaign finance, his compromises on his healthcare bill, and his ridiculous extension of Bush Tax Cuts that rob normal Americans to pay the rich. Obama has a lot of work to do if he wants to get re-elected on anything like the historical expansion of the vote he had last time.

When the fact that I don’t eat meat comes up, practically the first question I always get asked is “Why did you become vegetarian?” I’ve always respected people who were vegetarian, at least after I understood the reasons to go vegetarian, but for the longest time I never thought that could be me. I used to be the king of bacon and sausages.

I’m always careful to say that my decision to change my diet was based on a lot of things, but there were two things that convinced me:

  1. Hearing how easy it was to be vegetarian, not just from other vegetarians, but from vegans, who would often sum up vegetarianism as “the least you could do.” I had already started sporadically cooking without meat, so I thought to myself, why not just step it up until I eliminate meat altogether?
  2. I firmly believe that we need to do more to improve the environment we live in, and mitigate the damage that global climate destabilization will cause, and I was challenged in a rather friendly way.

Those challenges were really rather simple- the first was that one person stopping eating meat does more for the environment than taking a car off the road. Then I heard someone ask why everyone who supported environmentalism wasn’t vegetarian, and I knew I had to do this. (I’m continuously amazed that the mainstream environmental movement does not ask people to become vegetarian if they care about the planet) If agricultural emissions are such a huge problem, everyone eating less meat seems like a really simple answer. And from there the reasons started multiplying- eating less meat isn’t only good for the environment, it’s cheaper! It’s not only cheaper, it’s healthier! Not only do you feel better, you start to feel more connected to animals and other people, knowing that you don’t have to cause anything pain just to eat. (incidentally, this is why I don’t try to convince people to eat less meat for the animals, I think animal rights is a thing most people understand after they stop eating meat)

The change in attitude that comes from not eating meat is impossible to adequately describe, it’s something that has to be experienced. I’ve not been seriously tempted to eat meat since I stopped in December 2010. In fact, I don’t really like the smell of meat any more, and I’m actively teasing my friends and two thirds of my flatmates about eating corpses.

Now, this doesn’t happen overnight. When I first started being vegetarian, I ate a really unhealthy diet, heavy in falafel, chips, cheese, processed soy food, mayonnaise, chocolate, nuts, and pretty much everything high in fat a vegetarian can eat other than avocadoes. I hardly saved any money from quitting meat at that stage, and as you’ll see if you think about it, it’s incredibly possible to be an unhealthy vegetarian with all the processed vegetarian foods available now. More than a year in, and I had my first soy meat in months last week. I still eat too much cheese, but now my fat comes largely from avocado, peanuts, and nuts. I get plenty of beans, I eat mushrooms every week, giant eggplants cut into cubes fill out my pasta dishes, and I heap tomatoes into everything. I very seldom eat milk or eggs, and I feel better than I ever have before, and I can function on low sleep for the first time in my life. My love of chocolate hasn’t gone away, but now I don’t eat meat, I notice how bad I feel after eating any significant quantity of it. I toy with thoughts of going vegan once I get a day job. (Working nights interferes with your ability to shop if you don’t have a car.)

If you care about the environment, your health, or even your wallet, being vegetarian is the least you can do. It’s easier than living without a car, and I do both. It took me a month to get it figured out, and I didn’t research it nearly as much as I should have. You can still have “hearty” food, warm things, substantial things. You’ll just start thinking about food more- you’ll rediscover vegetables and fruits.

And the best part?

In over a year of being vegetarian, I haven’t prepared a single damn salad, and I never run out of ideas to cook. Salads are something I only end up eating when I go around for dinner with the omnivores. 😉