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.