We need real incentives to combat climate change. By replacing our polluting gas-guzzlers with electric vehicles. But our government’s plan is looking a bit half-arsed, writes PAT PILCHER as he considers affordable EVs and Climate Change.
Nowadays, you can’t open a newspaper, go online or watch TV without hearing about climate change. It might sound innocuous, but the reality is that it’s one of the scariest things we’ll hopefully never have to experience. Now a proposed policy from the New Zealand Government is aiming to help Kiwis do their bit to tackle it. And predictably, farmers are raising a real stink about it.
So why all the fuss?
WHAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE?
Understanding the controversy requires that we first get to grips with climate change. It’s caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Sunlight warms the earth, and in a healthy atmosphere, the heat from sunlight will mostly radiate back out into space. Allowing everything to cool back down again. Unfortunately, years of pollution means that the heat that once escaped is instead trapped by greenhouse gases. This heat accumulates, and everything is gradually warming up.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a bit of extra warmth this time of the year couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. Scientists disagree. They warn that if average temperatures across earth increase by a mere 1.5 Celsius, interlinked ecosystems will begin to break down and unstoppable runaway effects could cause catastrophic damage to the earth and all the living creatures that inhabit it.
This isn’t a story made up by scientists to scare us. Venus – our neighbour and the second planet from the sun – already has surface temperatures that can melt lead thanks to a runaway build-up of greenhouse gases.
Now scientists warn that if something significant is not done soon, a mass extinction event – the sixth in around 540 million years – will accelerate and that as a result, a large amount of life on earth (including humans) will go the way of the dodo by the end of the 21st century.
“Scientists warn that a mass extinction event will accelerate and that a large amount of life on earth (including humans) will go the way of the dodo”
The millions upon millions of intricate ecosystems of the earth are a very complicated thing indeed. So it’s of little surprise that the number of terrible events scientists say will result from climate change are numerous.
The most up to date science warns that these will include sea level rising (some climate scenarios have them rising by up to four metres. Which will displace millions from low lying areas) and desertification (which would be nothing short of catastrophic for New Zealand’s agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, forestry and tourism).
Part and parcel of an increasingly arid environment is more wildfires and severe water shortages. Which, with an increase in extreme weather events, will drive massive crop failures. The net result of this – millions will be displaced as disease and famine spread. Leading to wars and conflicts, in which humanity collectively loses. And any survivors are forced into a increasingly precarious existence.
This might sound like the stuff of a bad sci-fi flick. But it’s actually peer-reviewed science. Science that’s backed by detailed modelling. And decades of research by some of humanity’s top scientists.
“This might sound like the stuff of a bad sci-fi flick, but it’s actually peer-reviewed science”
While I can already hear climate change deniers screaming at their screens as they read this, their views are likely to become irrelevant … as our planet and everything on it begins to wither up and die over the coming decades.
This makes for depressing reading. But it is avoidable. If we can reduce the volume of greenhouse gases dumped into the atmosphere and capture greenhouse gases already circulating, a world-ending crisis may be averted.
This is a mammoth undertaking that’ll require the co-operation of governments with conflicting ideologies and competing businesses across the world. It can be done. Something very similar already happened not so long ago.
IT’S NOT ALL BAD
Several decades ago, scientists found that a steady build-up of ozone-depleting chemicals had been stealthily accumulating in the atmosphere. Then in 1985, British Antarctic Survey scientists Farman, Gardiner and Shanklin published in a paper in Nature magazine that showed ozone levels were severely depleted in Antarctica and that a hole in the ozone layer had formed.
The news came as a shock to the scientific community. Which had assumed that ozone levels were much better than Farman, Gardiner and Shanklin had found. After much hand-wringing, world governments agreed to ban ozone-depleting chemicals. Now, the UN reports that the ozone hole will vanish within the next 50 years.
A crucial part in earth avoiding a Venus-like fate will involve reducing the amount of greenhouse gases we’re pumping into the atmosphere. Cars play a huge role in this. According to the US environmental protection agency, transport accounts for just under a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Given the extent to which we’ve all become dependent on greenhouse gas emitting vehicles, the problem might seem insurmountable, but it isn’t. Zero-emission vehicles are already a thing. They have their limitations – a limited driving range and long charging times. These are often cited by anti-electric-vehicle pundits. But the single most significant factor holding back their widespread adoption is their steep sticker prices.
PROPOSED GOVERNMENT SCHEME
Combating this has seen the Government proposing a scheme aimed at nudging Kiwis into buying cleaner, low-emission cars. This would lower the cost of electric vehicles, hybrids and lower emission cars while increasing the price of polluting vehicles like utes, SUVs and trucks.
Under the scheme, a new EV or hybrid would be around $8000 cheaper, while the sticker price of gas-guzzling polluting vehicles would increase by around $3000. The scheme only applies to new cars/trucks/vans/utes/SUVs sold in New Zealand for the first time. Which will see it only affecting new vehicles and imports. Second-hand cars be unaffected.
Given the high stakes nature of the situation, the scheme makes sense on many levels. Once bought, cars tend to stay on the roads for at least 20 years, so increasing the numbers of low to zero-emission vehicles should also result in a long-term decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Farmers and tradies who typically use utes, vans and trucks that emit high levels of greenhouse gases have lashed out at the incentive”
Farmers and tradies who typically use utes, vans and trucks that emit high levels of greenhouse gases have lashed out at the incentive. Saying it’ll put yet another tax on their operations and that these will get passed onto the public.
Greenpeace also says there are problems with the incentive. They question whether making vehicles $3000 more expensive is enough to turn buyers away from polluting greenhouse gas-belching vehicles. Especially vehicles costing upwards of a 100K or more.
While the scheme is a step in the right direction, we also feel that much more could be done. Perhaps New Zealand could learn a thing or two from Norway. Who, per capita, have more electric cars than anywhere else in the world.
LET’S LEARN FROM NORWAY
This is no accident. Norway has carefully used incentives and disincentives to make electric and hybrid vehicles a significantly more palatable option for car buyers.
Norway has not only made electric vehicles more affordable. They also use taxes on non-electric-vehicles to cover incentives for electric vehicles, meaning that electric/hybrid vehicles are tax-free, and have no registration tax, no annual ownership taxes, and no fuel taxes or road charges.
Even ferry fares are reduced. EVs can also use bus lanes, while public parking fees are also axed for electric vehicles. While their internal combustion petrol/diesel-burning counterparts are paying increasingly steep prices at the fuel pump, there are also free public charging stations.
I sympathise with farmers. But the reality is that most of the vehicles they use are subsidised by tax write-offs. It also strikes me as nothing short of incredible … that farmers are complaining when their very livelihood is so closely tied to the planet not becoming a polluted toxic dustbowl.
Steady improvements to battery technologies, plus more enlightened government policies and improving economies of scale will eventually see electric vehicles become commonplace in terms of affordable EVs and Climate Change. But the burning question now is: can we reduce the volume of greenhouse gases being belched into the air, before it is too late?