Pays more to build fairer future

By Rosemary Penwarden

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PRIORITIES: Can we still meet our pledge to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020? PHOTO/FILE
PRIORITIES: Can we still meet our pledge to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020? PHOTO/FILE

What if global warming is a hoax? What if more than 97 per cent of the world's climate scientists are wrong; and we really could keep burning more oil, gas and coal, pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without causing climate change and global warming?

What if the associate Minister of Finance, Minister of Economic Development, Science and Innovation, Small Business, Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment (all one person) has got it right and we can spend $11 billion on Roads of National Significance, continue with his government's expansive fossil fuel agenda, and still meet our latest pledge to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020?

Perhaps it's the "innovation" in the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment that allows the government to urge us to consume less fossil fuels while enticing foreign companies like Shell and Tag Oil to come here and drill for more. Perhaps it's "innovation" that explains how our two Ministers for Climate Change Issues are also the ministers in charge of drilling, digging, fracking and selling stuff - all activities that increase carbon dioxide emissions and make climate change worse.

Perhaps it'll work.

We're an optimistic bunch, we Kiwis.

But what if the 97 per cent of scientists are right? What if, just in case, we took the precautionary approach? Say, instead of spending $46 million subsidising foreign companies to drill for more oil and gas, what if the government decided to go hard for a share of the global $5.8 trillion in clean (non-carbon emitting) technologies?

New Zealand's estimated potential share is $22 billion annually.

Our dairy exports, as a comparison, are around $15.5 billion annually.

What if, as a precautionary approach, the government made it attractive for people and businesses to reduce their CO2 emissions?

So that if you were a big polluter you paid more and everyone else got a tax break. Instead of handing $1.3 billion worth of free carbon units to polluters so they can sell those units at $4 a pop, making a tidy $3.80 profit at taxpayers' expense, what if polluters actually paid for the damage they caused? Helped clean up the mess they made? And the revenue they paid went back to us? That's fair.

What if the government made other things fairer too - like, say, free doctors' visits up to age 18, thus including the age group that often really needs medical help and advice?

What if it made early childhood and all education cheaper, put more teachers in our schools and made sure everyone could afford to heat their homes by restricting the profit power companies make?

We are an optimistic bunch, but we do take the precautionary approach when it comes to riding bikes, driving cars and letting our kids out on sunny days; we put on our helmets, make it click and slip, slap and slop.

But what if global warming is a hoax?

What if the scientists are wrong and we create a better, fairer world for nothing?

Rosemary Penwarden is a freelance writer and member of several environmental and climate justice groups. In between projects, she loves to divide her time between her 2-year-old grandson and elderly mother.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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