Thursday, February 21, 2008

Greens spinning and hiding the truth

If you just listened to Russel Norman on the release of the Ministry for the Environment's report "Environment New Zealand 2007" you'd think things are bleak, you'd think cars are one of the main sources of blame and that the government is acting contrary to the report. Plus, of course, you'd think the now released "Chapter 13" is damning. Chapter 13 is just a summary, with a few broad recommendations.
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Sadly, scaremongering is one of the key currencies of the Greens, so I thought I'd actually READ Chapter 13, and given that transport is a field of mine I'd read the chapter on transport and read the chapter on air pollution (since previous government studies indicated that the environment impacts of transport are predominantly air pollution). You too can read the reports here. I wanted to know if the reports really DO damn road transport.
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So what HAS Russel claimed the reports have said? Well the claims are across a couple of press releases here and here. These are his key points on transport:
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CLAIM: Russel says the report "makes some inconvenient recommendations for action such as national environmental regulation and more public transport", and on the Youtube video he says it repeatedly calls for more public transport and that building a big motorway in Auckland goes against the report.
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FACT: The report DOES call for public transport to have a biggest share of trips, but does NOT call for no more road building. It doesn't at all mention reducing spending on roads.
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CLAIM: Russel says "This report shows that people want more convenient sustainable transport options. This means fast, cheap and comfortable public transport as well as safer cycling and walking." "Shows" but doesn't say. In fact it says nothing about people wanting more public transport at all, nothing about stopping road building.
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In fact if you read the MAIN report, you'll find plenty of inconvenient truths that Russel ignored:
  • Levels of PM10 particulates at roadside locations in Auckland appear to have fallen over the past 10 years" PM10 are particulates, the air pollution that causes the greatest damage to health.
  • "Benzene levels at monitored locations are at an acceptable level. Levels are higher near busy roads than in residential areas, but appear to be improving. This improvement is probably due to changes in vehicle fuel composition. Lead was eliminated from New Zealand petrol in 1996, so airborne lead levels are now very low.” So more good news.
  • The worst one appears to be “Levels of nitrogen dioxide are at an acceptable level around New Zealand, with the exception of some locations in Auckland affected by traffic emissions. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide in Auckland appear to be increasing". Hardly devastating.
  • Despite the war on cars of the Greens the report also points out that “Home heating is the main cause of air pollution in populated areas in the winter" Hmm don't see anything about people's home fires in the Green party statements, bit of an inconvenient truth that it ISN'T transport, but rather home heating in most parts of the country outside Auckland that creates most air pollution.
  • Vehicle ownership has increased, as have km driven (although down in the last year), and the vehicles people buy are getting bigger, yet this is largely a function of wealth. A good thing.
  • Fuel is cleaner now that it has ever been, with sulphur levels now 96% less than they were four years ago. Sulphur is the key source of particulates from transport emissions.
  • 10% of road vehicles create 40% of pollution, largely because they are badly tuned. Responding to this issue alone would make a worthwhile difference.

The real inconvenient truth is that air pollution is, by and large, getting better. Not that the Greens would admit it.

The report doesn't call for an end to road building, does not rank car traffic as the leading cause of air pollution and does not advocate the Green's pets of rail transport, or ANYTHING about shifting freight from trucks to rail or shipping.

In fact, it shows that while people own more cars, travel more km by car, most indicators of air pollution are improving, and besides much of the problem is caused by home heating. So what does that make the Greens other than masters of spin and scaremongering?

The transport chapter is here.

The air pollution chapter is here

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