Gordon Campbell on shifting to electric vehicles, and who killed Haiti’s President?

db30b47ad56a674a7a1fWhile the nation paused last Friday to share the existential horror of farmers and tradies maybe having to pay a little more in future for a new emissions-emitting Toyota Hilux from Japan… The real losers in this “ute tax” scenario will continue to be everyone else. Presumably, we will all have to pick up the tab if the rural sector refuses to adapt to climate change or reduce its waterways pollution, unless the changes required can be made entirely cost free, for them at least.

But enough of that. Lets talk about utes and SUVs instead. As the Climate Change Commission tells us (see chapter 14) these comprised 8 out of the 10 best-selling vehicles in NZ in 2019. We get a lot of them second hand from Japan. Why is Japan also a left-hand driving country? Good question. Most left-driving countries share a colonial history with Britain. Some historians say that Japan drives left partly because medieval samurai used to share the same narrow lanes as ordinary pedestrians. To minimise nasty accidents, this meant that samurai (most of whom of course, drew their swords with their right hand) had to walk on the left, with their swords sticking out further left, and thus not injuring the oncoming foot traffic. In the 19th century, the British had also helped the Japanese to build their train system, so again…this expert assistance influenced the choice by Japan to use the left hand side of the track/road.

That lucky choice (for us) by Japan will alleviate some – but only some – of the problems we face in accessing enough electric vehicles (EVs). Unfortunately (for us) most of the uptake of EVs is occurring in Europe, and much of the research is being done in the US, with both being right hand drive regions. Meaning: we’re going to have to wait for quite a while before the Japanese market for second hand, left-hand drive EV utes and cars increases. In other words, it is not merely the existence of non-fossil fuel utes and SUVs with comparable performance abilities that is going to be relevant to our ability to switch, on schedule. Such vehicles are already being developed. The question is more about how long it will take for us to gain access to them in sufficient, affordable numbers, via Japan.

Change the Building Codes
Even if we move now to limit fossil-fuel vehicles by 2025 and ban them outright by 2035, there will still be plenty of them on our roads by 2050. Still, the earlier we can start to get them off the road now, the less money that future governments will have to set aside for a “cash for clunkers” programme.

Obviously, the rural and urban sectors alike will have to shoulder the additional costs from the necessary transition to EVs. Despite the persecution fantasies of the Groundswell NZ crowd, these costs have not been invented out of thin air by the Ardern government or by bureaucrats in Wellington. Climate change is a global phenomenon, and so are the responses to it. The EU for instance is proposing to enforce an effective ban on new fossil-fuel cars from 2035, and a 55% cut in CO2 emissions from cars by 2030. Plug-in hybrids will count as low-emission vehicles only until 2030.

As governments around the world pursue these targets, they will have to address three basic and related problems (a) the cost of switching to zero-emissions vehicles (b) the relative lack of the infrastructure that those zero-emissions vehicles will require; and (c) the shortfall in the number and types of zero-emissions vehicle models currently available. On that last point, the demand in the EU in particular, is ramping up both the supply and the improvements in the performance stats for EV vehicles, including utes and SUVs. The range, performance, upfront price, and total ownership costs of zero-emissions vehicles are all improving rapidly.

As for the second point though – the infrastructure required for EVs – such matters can’t be left to the market. In Australia, a recent Grattan Institute report on practical ways to reduce climate change emissions has called for central government to make changes now to the building construction code, so as to require new houses and apartment complexes to contain battery re-charging stations:

The National Construction Code (NCC) should be amended to require new houses and apartments to include electrical cabling to car spaces and garages that could support later installation of vehicle charging points. This requirement could also apply to significant alterations and additions to houses and apartments. Doing the electrical work for a charging point is much cheaper at the time the building is built or added to, rather than later.

As the Grattan Institute report also points out, central government will also need to address what upgrades the electricity grid will need to cope with the future demands on it from the battery re-charging of EVs, along with (perhaps)a system of differential pricing to encourage the re-charging of EVs during off-peak times. In recognition of the supply problems from right hand drive regions mentioned above, the Grattan Institute report also recommends that Australia adopt the (slightly wider) US standards for heavy trucks. Wider heavy trucks may be easier to cope with on wide outback roads in Australia than on New Zealand’s narrow main highways.

Inevitably, zero emission vehicles and high emission vehicles will co-exist on our roads all the way up until 2050. During that time, the transition to EVs will offer an opportunity to plan how this change will interact with measures like congestion pricing. Perhaps a reduction in the cost of vehicle registration could be one way of rewarding motorists who drive zero-emissions vehicles, in the context of an overall shift to a more user-pays system of meeting the costs of road maintenance and upgrades. (Emissions are not the only cost that cars and light vehicles make on society.)

These changes – and the related regulations – are being driven by the need to reduce transport-generated emissions. As the Climate Change Commission report recently pointed out, transport generates a third of the long-lived climate change emissions in this country. Moreover, (at chapter 14, para 30) the Commission adds:

Travel by light vehicles, such as cars, utes, vans and SUVs must be reduced as a priority, with light vehicles accounting for over 70% of transport emissions in 2019.

So the so called “ute tax” isn’t a wilful option dreamed up by officials in Wellington. It is the first step towards (a) making EVs relatively affordable and(b) deterring the fresh purchases of emissions-generating vehicles. Those fossil fuel cars and utes will still be available, but will cost more, in recognition of the environmental harm and social costs they cause. (Presumably, as the demand for oil falls, so will the price of filling the tank of your emissions-emitting dinosaur.) Beyond our shores, the world is steadily moving on: reportedly, one in nine new cars sold in Europe last year was either an EV or a plug-in hybrid. It’s a groundswell.

Footnote: To counter the public’s anxiety about the range of EVs, central government will have to invest heavily in EV-charging stations. The EU has proposed legislation that would require countries to install public charging points no more than 60 kilometres apart on major roads by 2025. It foresees 3.5 million public charging stations for cars and vans by 2030, rising to 16.3 million by 2050. There is a quid pro quo here. In Europe, car-makers have signalled they would only accept tougher emissions targets in return for massive public investment in chargers. The European Commission therefore estimates that 80-120 billion euros (ie, $US 95-$142 billion) will need to be spent on public and private chargers across the EU by 2040.

Does New Zealand have as yet, even a ballpark figure for what our public investment in EV charging stations by 2030 or 2035 will cost?

Haiti & Peru
Just an update on how some of the major international news stories that flashed across the 24/7 news cycle a few weeks ago are developing. Six weeks after he won the election in Peru, left wing schoolteacher Pedro Castillo looks like he will finally be confirmed on July 28 as the nation’s new leader. Bogus allegations of voter fraud by the sore losers among the country’s urban economic and political elites have been dismissed by the courts for lack of evidence. Now Castillo will begin the Herculean task of making the country’s dysfunctional political system work to the benefit of all Peruvians, amid what has been the worst per capita death rate from Covid-19 in the entire world.

In Haiti, the picture is getting ever murkier as to who was behind the recent assassination of the country’s president Jovenal Moise. The official fall guys have been the squad of Colombian special forces soldiers hired to protect the President. Several of them have been killed, and others imprisoned. As Amy Wilentz has pointed out in the Nation, the Colombians seem to be unconvincing culprits since (a) despite being elite commandos, they had no exit strategy at all for leaving the country once the job had been done (b) they arrived on the scene an hour after the assassination and (c) none of Moise’s much-touted personal “palace guard” unit suffered a scratch or fired a shot to defend him during this night-time attack. The prime minister Claude Joseph – the acting interim PM – had been fired by Moise barely 48 hours before the assassination.

As Wilentz says, the speedy efficiency of the Haitian police also seems suspicious, given their inability/reluctance to investigate, let alone prosecute those responsible for several massacres this year alone, within opposition strongholds. As she concludes :

In all likelihood, Moïse was not killed by a highly trained foreign commando unit but by powerful local figures…, shadowy background operators working for some dominant but nervous group that Moïse’s continuing rule seemed to threaten. Hence the extent of the president’s injuries, which speak of personal animus. Hence the sudden vanishing of his security team. Hence the continued presence in the country of the Colombians. Hence perhaps, the ongoing rule of the fired prime minister. Because they didn’t do the murder, the Colombians didn’t feel they had to leave Haiti, and they didn’t realize they were going to be blamed. Once they saw what was coming, they dispersed and fled, but not very far.

Yesterday, Joseph agreed to step down and allow Moise’s appointee Ariel Henry, to become the new prime minister – apparently this concession was made after Joseph had been snubbed by a group of foreign diplomats on Saturday. Ironically, Joseph will now become Haiti’s foreign minister. Once again, the international community will pin its faith in “ elections” as the Band-aid on Haiti’s problems – even though the same political/business elites that have systematically looted the country over the past few decades will be running those elections, which appear certain to have low voter turnout. The winner is likely to enjoy little in the way of mass support.
For an example of the looting by Haiti’s elites, it is hard to go past the Petrocaribe scandal, a programme created by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to help Haiti recover from the 2010 earthquake. As Wilentz says:

Once [Moise’s mentor and predecessor Michel] Martelly was in power, more than $2 billion in Petrocaribe funds vanished, with Moïse, not yet president, playing a part. A 656-page Haitian Appeals court report implicated Martelly, Moïse, and Laurent Lamothe, Martelly’s prime minister. No one involved in these crimes was ever called to account by the two successive governments of Martelly and Moïse.

Somehow, civil groups working at the grassroots continue to help the nation’s impoverished communities. (The median annual income in Haiti is only $US800.) Some of these community organisers, like the leading human rights advocate Antoinette Duclair have been killed for their efforts, with her murder – and that of the prominent journalist Diego Charles – occurring only a fortnight before the assassination of Moise. These crimes have not been investigated, let alone prosecuted.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the only widely popular (among the public) President the country has seen in the past six decades, was twice elected by the people, and twice deposed by the elites who hate him, in coups. Now 68, Aristide returned last week from Cuba, where he had been treated for a health condition, reportedly Covid – related.

Haiti’s Kriminels
Here’s the main single off his new album Pray for Haiti by the Port-au-Prince born and raised, and now New Jersey based, hip hop emcee Mach-Hommy:

And here’s the similarly atmospheric “Au Revoir” track from the same album… If you have trouble picking up the lyrics, don’t turn to sites like Genius for help. Mach-Hommy served Genius with a takedown order, explained by him as “The game is to be sold to you; not told to you.” So there. Consider yourself sold to.