Rohan Quinby: Hodgson - Share The Pain
Hodgson: Share the Pain
By Rohan Quinby
During my time in politics, I learned two important principles. The first one is: why kick ‘em when they’re standing? The second is: share the pain, when you can get away with it. This second principle I would now recommend to Pete Hodgson.
The minister has been roundly criticised in clean, green New Zealand for asking farmers to help fund research to cut down on bovine emissions that contribute to climate change. The reaction of dairy and beef farmers to the so-called "flatulence tax" have been a little disproportionate.
Mind you, the entire sector is a little disproportionate.
50% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock farming, but farming as a whole contributes only 7% to this country’s GDP. Animal products account for 36% of agricultural exports, but livestock farming uses 76% of agricultural land in New Zealand.
As a result of Kyoto commitments, the government has to take steps to reduce overall emissions of greenhouse gases. And if research can discover a cleaner fart, then New Zealand farmers will be the first to benefit. Unfortunately, most farmers don’t see it that way. In fact, they’ve wound themselves into such a fury that many are threatening to withhold the proposed levy.
Back to the principle of sharing the pain. Maybe, just maybe, Hodgson could have got together with Marian Hobbs to mitigate this political crisis by asking others to contribute to a cleaner environment. I’m talking about car owners.
New Zealand is the only country in the OECD that does not regulate vehicle emissions. To make matter worse, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of vehicle ownership in the known world. According to the last State of the Environment Report, car ownership has increased at more than twice the rate of population since 1972. In a city like Auckland, where less people use public transit than the citizens of Los Angeles, it means that simply breathing the air can be hazardous.
Although there have been calls for vehicle emissions testing, the word from the Hive has been that they don’t want to do anything that would make car ownership too expensive. Of course, if they were really concerned about the costs of transport for the average person, they would overhaul the way that public transit is funded and run in this country.
But let’s look at a jurisdiction where emissions testing has been brought in and see what kind of benefits it has delivered. In British Columbia, the Air Care testing programme is credited with reducing vehicle emissions by 35 per cent in its first ten years.
The vast majority of harmful emissions come from a minority of vehicles: the program identifies over 100,000 excessively dirty vehicles every year. Reductions in air pollution are credited with saving lives, reducing hospital visits and are estimated to contribute up to $1.6 billion in savings to the provincial economy.
And the whole program doesn’t cost taxpayers a cent. Annual costs are met through fees.
My advice to Hodgson? Share the pain. Get Marian Hobbs to bring in vehicle emissions testing now, and you undercut the complaints of farmers that they have been unfairly targeted in the drive for a cleaner environment.