Friday, August 15, 2008

A few random thoughts, in no particular order

CAN anyone explain the bizarre behaviour of the police? The officer in charge of the inquiry into the killing of Weymouth teenager John Hapeta went on radio on Wednesday to assure the people of South Auckland that there was no danger to public safety. Yet the TV news subsequently showed a clip of a uniformed cop at the crime scene toting what looked like a semi-automatic rifle.

If it was just another South Auckland street murder with no wider implications, why the firepower? Were the police expecting an armed attack, or was it just a gratuitous display of force to impress people? Your guess is as good as mine.

The police seem to lurch wildly between macho overkill (the Urewera “terrorist” raids, with all that ridiculous paramilitary paraphernalia) and excessive caution (holding everyone back at a “safe assembly point” while Navtej Singh lay bleeding to death on the floor of his Manurewa liquor store). There may be a consistent logic to their tactics, but it escapes me.

* * *

JOHN KEY, in his speech on National’s benefits policy this week, had a dig at Labour for using euphemisms such as “social development” and “income support” – anything to avoid that wicked word “welfare”. National, he promised, would call a spade a spade.

Key could start by banning the use of the word “clients” for beneficiaries. A client is someone who pays for a service. “Client” in the context of welfare is a bullshit word designed to make beneficiaries feel better about themselves and take their minds off the discomforting fact that they're dependent on the taxpayer. It panders to that particularly pernicious form of political correctness that decrees we mustn’t use any term that might be construed as demeaning, even if in avoiding it we have to be downright dishonest.

* * *

I’M SURPRISED more attention hasn’t been paid to the proposed national policy statement for renewable electricity generation, released this week by the Ministry for the Environment (fresh from the triumph of its Fruitgrowers Chemical Company remediation at Mapua, Nelson, which was the subject of a withering condemnation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment).

The stated objective of the policy is to promote renewable electricity generation. But hang on, what’s this? “When considering proposals to develop new renewable electricity generation activities, decision-makers must have particular regard to the relative degree of reversibility of the adverse environmental effects associated with proposed generation technologies.”

What this appears to mean is that local authorities, when considering resource consents for new hydro dams, must take into account the fact that a hydro dam can’t be easily dismantled and taken away. So at the same time as the government claims to be encouraging renewable power generation, it’s placing yet another obstacle in the way of hydro development. According to the National Business Review, a spokeswoman for Energy Minister David Parker said this was intended to protect New Zealand's remaining rivers from exploitation.

This strikes me as having one foot hard on the accelerator while the other is firmly planted on the brake. But perhaps I’m missing something.

* * *

JIM MORA, on his splendid afternoon programme on The Network Formerly Known as National Radio, referred this week to interesting political research emanating from the University of Southern California. It appears academics there have found that in times of uncertainty, swinging voters are most attracted to politicians with a clear ideological commitment. What they look for is plain speaking and firm opinions, not cautious middle-of-the-roadism. Could I suggest that the National Party write away for a copy of the findings?


Steve Withers said...

A couple of comments.

Clients and "demeaning".

Not everyone on a benefit is receiving welfare. In fact, most are not. Disabled people. Mentally ill or handicapped people, superannuitants.

None of these are demeaned by receiving a benefit. Nor are children in foster care, widows of war veterans or atheletes receiving state funding. There are many more.

There are about 18,000 people on the unemployment benefit. Presumably you refer to them, though most aren't on it more than briefly.

Maybe the DPB? Most don't stay on it for long. Are abandoned wives / husbands demeaned by seeking help?

Perhaps the problem is one of definition. Exactly who is it you think should feel demeaned?

Why can't the rest - the vast majority - simply be clients?

As for electricity generaton, the problem is actually a lack of any focus on conservation. We waste a huge proportion of the electrical power we generate. Profitable, perhaps....but it does raise the question as to why we have to destroy rivers to support waste on a grand scale?

One can readily understand why power companies hate conservation. There is not only no money in saving power, there is LESS money in saving power.

Using resources wisely runs counter to the clearly unsustainable ideology currently responsible for degrading the planet: rampant growth forever without a thought for environmental or resource limits. The National Party's stated intention of weakening the RMA is just one example of how resources already under pressure by competing interess are plundered FASTER by the greedy.

At some point we have to stop privatising the commons and socialising the negative consequences.

I see the Arctic Ocean is likely to be ice-free in Summer by 2013.....about 55 years earlier than expected just a few years ago.

But the National Party wants to build gas-fired power plants. Never mind we are running out of gas and it will only help the ice melt even faster.....and aid the release of sea bed methane that has already begun....and methane is 20 times worse than CO2 for retaining heat.

The government is wise to try to stop the pillaging of the remaining resources and to take steps to encourage conservation like geing rid of incandescent bulbs and moving to CFLs and high efficiency bulbs. The light bulb move will save 277megawatts of power use at peak each day....and that's half of a Project Aqua. There is a lot more we could do if we thought about it for 10 minutes.

For $2billion we could install passive solar water heating on 550,000 homes and reduce residential power use by between 15% and 50% - depending on the time of year. That is worth several Project Aquas and it could be finished within 5 years and create a significant local service industry.

...and we wouldn't have to dam any more rivers.

But no one can charge for power generators and their political allies ("PPP" anyone?) don't wan to think about spending money to save money.

This isn't new. The passive solar idea has been around for over a decade. We could be utterly risk free power wise by now and without any need for new generation at all.

Steve Withers said...

Can I also compare the 2 billion for saving power with the $2.1 billion to dig a motorway tunnel through part of Auckland? There is little doubt in my mind thet money would better spent on power saving than more roads for cars in one part of one city to save a few minutes.

Especially with petrol sure to become more expensive as time goes on. More and bigger roads makes less sense...and public transport is kept unattractive by starving it of the investment that - again - would in the end save us all a mountain of money.

But there is no money in saving money.