The Point of Order check on Beehive press statements – which suggests ministerial globetrotting has been on hold during the Christmas-New Year holiday period – tries to keep watch over just one governmental rat-hole. But Wellington is riddled with these rat-holes – far too many for the news media to monitor, especially in an era when newspapers and broadcasting companies are having their more experienced watchdogs put down and increasingly treat their audiences as consumers rather than concerned citizens.
Readers should be grateful, therefore, for the work of organisations such as the New Zealanders Taxpayers Union.
The union has alerted us to Ministry for the Environment officials “enjoying luxurious trips abroad...”
Since July 2017 – it says – the ministry has spent $769,955 on international flights, at an average cost per person per trip of $6,637.
Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Jordan Williams says:
“The Ministry for the Environment has a section on its website where it explains to New Zealanders what they can do to help combat climate change, including flying less, working remotely, and using video-conferencing. The ministry claims that flying less is ‘one of the most effective climate change actions you can take’.
“But clearly Environment officials are not practicing what they preach, with officials opting for first class flights on the taxpayer. Do as I say and not as I do.”
The environmental hypocrisy isn’t the only issue raised by Jordan. He asks: why did it cost $14,112 to fly a single ministry director to Thailand? Was business class not sufficient?”
“Sending policy analysts on first class trips to international conferences is an insane use of money for a ministry that tells Kiwis not to fly.”
This is the same ministry, of course, that is instrumental in shaping government policies requiring us to stump up for fuel taxes, off-set our carbon emissions, and lose out on opportunities from oil and gas jobs in Taranaki.
The ministry instructs taxpayers to pay to offset their carbon emissions when travelling, but when Jordan’s union asked it whether the costs of flights included carbon off-set charges, “they said no.”
More information is available at www.taxpayers.org.nz/jet_setting_mfe
Journalist Rebecca Macfie, writing in Noted in November 2017, addressed the question of the real cost of air travel to the environment.
She referenced a report entitled “Our atmosphere and climate 2017”, published the previous month by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand.
It confirms that almost all the trends are in the wrong direction.
Our net greenhouse-gas emissions have risen 24% since 1990, and average temperatures are 1°C warmer than at the start of the 20th century. Last year was the warmest in New Zealand since 1909, and the five warmest years on record all occurred in the past 20 years.
McFie learned that if New Zealand’s emissions were divided equally among all 4.8 million Kiwis for a per capita measure, we rank as the fifth-worst greenhouse-gas polluters in the OECD.
She then determined to audit her own household’s emissions to find out whether the McFies were working hard enough to reduce their emissions.
After using an online carbon calculator to tick off some of the obvious areas that contribute most to personal carbon reductions, she found her household of two scored well below the New Zealand average for waste, energy and local transport emissions.
But then I had to confront the jumbo jet in the room. The computer program asked for the details of all flights I had taken in the past year: London; San Francisco; a couple of cheap hops from Stansted to Scandinavia; numerous domestic flights from Christchurch to Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Nelson.
The computer didn’t care whether the flights were for terribly important work, to visit elderly family members or to attend a funeral or a wedding (or even, in the case of my flight to London, to research climate policy). It just added up the volume of planet-warming emissions produced.
Suddenly, our household carbon footprint swelled from modest to enormous. All our recycling, waste-reducing, lentil-eating, cycling and EV-driving efforts were undone by the 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalents produced by two people who fly a lot.
McFie then cited a paper by researchers Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas, published in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters.
It says avoiding airline travel is one of the four most important things you can do to limit global warming (the others are having one less child, going car-free and eating a plant-based diet).
Although aviation is responsible for only about 2% of total greenhouse-gas emissions, it is one of the fastest-growing sources, particularly as the expanding numbers of the middle class in developing economies join the ranks of globe-trotting holidaymakers and business travellers.