Young eco-warriors press for change – if they get what they demand, they should brace for a lower standard of living

The latest  cohort of school students  took  to the  streets  last week  to  demand  climate  change action. In  Wellington, several thousand strikers marched to Parliament.

Izzy Cook, one of the organisers, said they had their own list of demands.

“Investing in a just transition to a sustainable future, reducing agricultural emissions, prohibiting the use of fossil fuels nationwide so phasing them out, getting climate education [and] honouring our neighbours in the Pacific Islands.” 

 The demands were handed over to Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

But he said it’s not just him who needs to be listening.

“It is a shared problem around the Cabinet table. It is energy, transport, agriculture, health. It stretches right across government.

“So to some extent, every minister has to be a climate change minister, because it affects everything we do.

“I completely accept the scale and speed of change isn’t yet what it needs to be to turn this ship around.”

In  Christchurch,  Mayor  Lianne  Dalziel was  shouted  down as  she sought  to spell  out   some  of the hard truths.

In  Auckland, over a thousand protestors were  on the march, demanding  change,  or  as  one encapsulated  it:

“We want action, there’s a lot of promises, a lot of words, a lot of bureaucracy, but we want change.”

Whatever  the  government  does   when  it presents  its  response to the Climate Change Commission’s draft proposals on the issue, Point of  Order  suspects  it  won’t  satisfy  these  student  protestors.

And   though  their  fervency   in skipping  school   to  advance  the  cause  can  be  admired, the  real  issue    is  whether  this  new generation  of  climate  change  warriors  comprehends  what  sacrifices  may have to be  made  in  their  adulthood  if  the  targets  proposed  by  the  Climate  Commission  are to  be  reached.   

There  could  be  very  different  marches  on  Parliament – for  example – if  electricity  has  to be   rationed  and  regular  power  blackouts  become a    feature  of  life  in NZ  after  fossil  fuels  are  banned.

And  how  will  New  Zealanders react when  living  standards  fall   because  what  is  earned  from  agriculture  exports  is  trimmed  through the  new  limits  on agricultural  emissions?   

Coincidentally, news  media have  been  portraying, in a slightly  different  context, what   might be coming  to  NZ:  high  wholesale  electricity  prices  are  putting   thousands  of  jobs  at  risk.

As  Hamish  Rutherford  reported  in the NZ  Herald, in February  the  Whakatane paper mill said  high  electricity  prices  were  part  of  the  reason  why  the town’s  largest  employer  was  closing.

At  the start  of  April, NZ’s  largest  user  of  gas, Methanex, warned  that  after  shutting   one of  its  plants in Taranaki, 75  jobs  had been  lost.

Then  the  Major Electricity  Users  Group, which speaks for  some  of  NZ’s  largest industrial  companies   warned that the  electricity  system is failing to  deliver  affordable  electricity,  a  failure that  is seeing the  lights  go  off in  factories  around the country.   

MEUG chairman John Harbord says   companies in the group  see high  prices  continuing indefinitely.

Rutherford  says   low  lake  levels and  problems  in  the gas  market might  explain an  increase  in pricing,  but  not  to the  extent being experienced now.

And  where  might  prices go   when  hundreds  of  thousands of  electric   motor   vehicles  on  NZ’s  highways are needing fuel?

Energy  and  Resources  Minister  Megan  Woods  has  asked  the  electricity  regulator  to  look at  the  functioning   of  the  wholesale  market.

But  if  the  Electricity  Authority  finds  the  market  is  functioning  normally  what can  she  do?  Pray for rain  to  fill  the  lakes?

An  industry  expert,  Bryan Leyland, notes  storage lakes that should be close to full are at their lowest level in 20 years, that we have a serious shortage of gas and, thanks to the ban on exploration, this will get worse. The coal-fired station at Huntly is now running flat out and it seems that the “last ditch” oil fired gas turbines at Whirinaki are being called on.

“If we had a properly coordinated system steps would have been taken to ensure that sufficient energy was held in reserve in the lakes, in gas storage and in the coal stockpile to get us through. Right now the country desperately needs unusually heavy rain quite soon. NIWA is predicting average or low rainfall. If it doesn’t rain the high prices will continue. These will hurt poor people most and more industries will shut down putting more people out of work.

‘’Assuming that nothing is done – as seems to be likely – the future outlook is that the drive to shut down fossil fuel generation and build more windfarms will exacerbate the problem of extreme price fluctuations. When the wind is blowing, prices will crash and when it stops blowing, prices will skyrocket….. Given the shortage situation, the electricity can only come from burning more coal at Huntly and for every tonne of coal industry saves Huntly will need to burn 2 1/2 tons of coal to provide the necessary electricity. And the latest is to subsidise electric cars that will also increase coal consumption at Huntly. Madness.”

It’s not a  pretty outlook  on the  energy  front. But  will  the  climate  change  warriors    recalibrate  their  cause?  Point  of  Order  won’t  be betting on it.

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