Friday, July 31, 2009

IPCCC doesn't stand for Ignoring the People at the Climate Change Consultations

Governments are not very good at asking the people what they want. Understandable I guess – they don't do it often (triennially) and they don't really think that they should have to.

By people I don't mean corporate lobbyists, of course. I've never been sold on the idea that a company is a legal person. If they were people, even the Australian banks in this country would be paying tax. Anyway the corporations that fill the political parties' election coffers always get their say, regardless of which way the election swings.

No, by people I mean the ones the whole political and economic system is supposedly for. Politicians have this strange notion that because they can cobble together a majority of MPs in Parliament they have a democratic mandate to enact all their policies, even the obscure ones. Actually most voters probably have only a vague knowledge (at best) of party policy, beyond the headline issues. For people who only see a choice between Coke or Pepsi (as Russel Norman famously called Labour and National), why bother to compare all the food additives?

Now I'm not suggesting that we should all be consulted to death on every policy. In fact the select committee process is pretty good for getting people's views on most issues before Parliament (or would be if our schools taught civics education so that people knew what a select committee actually is). But I do think the public should get a say on the big questions. By which I don't just mean sex, drugs and smacking children.

What I mean is things like New Zealand's 2020 greenhouse gas emissions target. 2020 is only a decade away, but the implications of that target are going to be significant for the next hundred years. Climate change is a watershed issue with a dividing line, in my view, is between those that cannot imagine anything much different from the status quo, and those who recognise that the status quo is a dead end, down which we are rapidly accelerating.

So I congratulate the Government on holding public meetings to talk about climate change. At the Hamilton one I saw a clear majority for a strong, I would say responsible, target. It could also be described as the most scientifically defensible target. Unfortunately the Minister for Climate Change Issues, Nick Smith, has already misread the economics and stated that reducing our emissions by 40% , as is being called for at public meetings, would cost NZ about $15 billion a year, or around $3000 per person. This is simply not true.

The NZIER report he is quoting does not actually say that. In fact it contains so many arbitrary assumptions that it does not say much of anything that is informative. First of all, it assumes that whatever international commitment we adopt, the Government won't change any policies to help us meet them and that our actual greenhouse gas emissions will reduce by the same rate regardless. This means that the estimated cost differences between weak and responsible commitments are based on the price of simply buying emission permits on the world market.

Secondly it assumes that regardless of the cost of buying carbon permits, no new technologies will develop and no more forests will be planted. This is an unbelievable assumption for an economic analysis to make and deeply flawed. Thirdly, it uses a 'worst case scenario' of $200 per tonne of carbon to work out the costs at a 40% commitment, but uses $100 per tonne to work out the costs for smaller commitments. When these three factors are combined, the report looks intellectually dishonest but very useful for propaganda purposes.

It is worth examining what it would cost to reduce our emission by 40% from 1990 levels, and how it could be most cost effectively achieved. But lets not fall for the old lie that There Is No Alternative (to mugging our grandchildren).

(from my Waikato Times column 31 jULY 2009)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Medical marijuana bill defeat an indictment on NZ MP's

I have a friend who wakes up every morning and wants to vomit. Most of the day he wants to vomit. Food often makes him actually vomit, and he sometimes vomits blood. The doctors have given him some pills for the nausea but they are hard to keep down. There is one very effective inhalant that his specialist has recommended, but he is not allowed to use it.

Another friend is tetraplegic. That's like paraplegic but with all four limbs incapacitated. He lives in constant pain. The doctors gave him morphine and other pain killers, but he won't use them because he becomes like a zombie when he does. He doesn't have much quality of life, as you can imagine, so anything that gives him some is very welcome. He found a herbal remedy that takes the edge off his pain, makes it manageable and gives him some get-up-and-go. Apparently a lot of people with spinal injuries use it, but when my friend grew some the police arrested him and a judge locked him in Mount Eden prison.

The medicine in both these cases is called cannabis. Whatever people think about the recreational use of cannabis, I find it difficult to believe that anyone thinks sick people should suffer needlessly. Yet they are. Many sick people around New Zealand have tried everything the doctors can offer to no effect, and they know for a fact that cannabis is the only thing that works. They are not asking for a Pharmac subsidy. They are just asking us to please stop arresting them.

This week the Parliament was given a chance to vote on a proposal to do that. It would have allowed sick people to use cannabis for specified illnesses, if they had the written support of their doctor or a specialist. Metiria Turei's private member's bill provided for verified medical cannabis users to register with the Medical Officer of Health and police and get a Medical Cannabis Identification Card. This would exempt them from criminal prosecution for cannabis use, so long as they abided by the conditions.

The bill could be tidied up I'm sure. Police would have comments about potential snags and loopholes, doctors might disagree about the list of specific illnesses. That is what the select committees process is for. Unfortunately no one will get a say because Parliament voted overwhelmingly to keep prosecuting sick people for therapeutic use of cannabis.

Its hard to say why. The debate was full of the usual drug hysteria but I know for a fact that most MPs don't believe those old tired lies. I have had too many tell me privately that they agree with allowing medical use, even as they indicated that they would have to vote against it. No matter how necessary, humanitarian and cautious the bill, they don't want to be seen to be “pro-drugs”.

I can't resist commenting that this doesn't prevent them attending drug glamourising events such as the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. Drug samples are handed out with abandon at Beehive functions, and Associate Minster of Health Peter Dunne has even received money from multinational drug dealing company British American Tobacco (I'm sure it wasn't a bribe because it was only 100 pounds and surely no politician could be bought that cheaply).

That's a diversion though, because this particular debate is not about the usual drug hypocrisy. It is simply about the State denying very sick people the right to use their medicine. Double standards frustrate me, but the disinterested and vicious cruelty of New Zealand's MPs this week has angered and disgusted me.

(from my Waikato Times column, 3/7/09)