On Thursday, our Minister for Energy, Simon Bridges, attended the National Energy Research Institute (NERI) organised Energy Conference in Wellington, in order to launch his Smart Grid Forum initiative. It would be great if this signalled a change of heart, a shift away from the aggressive fossil fuel policy that has recently seen him travel the globe attempting to seduce mining and drilling companies to come here.

Unfortunately we were treated to the usual serving of hot air, about a “mixed and balanced approach” (ie pursuing fossil fuels whilst talking about renewables in order to look good). But the remarkable thing was, Bridges admitted that his words were hollow, acknowledging in the q & a session that “all of the above” was "good rhetoric, and that's why I use it."

We’re going to see more of this election year green-washing as the government attempts to schmooze voters into thinking they give two figs about our oceans and climate. But it’s shocking that a Minister will admit so openly that his words are designed purely to manipulate.

Why is this ‘all of the above’ framing so deceitful? Because even if we wanted a mixed approach, which is still insufficient to deal with our climate crisis, that’s not what we’re getting. We’re getting ideological and grossly unfair favouritism towards outdated fossil fuels.

Bridges is happy to wax lyrical about the benefits of renewables, but his approach is classic neoliberal ‘hands-off,’ relying on “competitive markets” to deliver the changes we urgently need. Yet meanwhile we provide fossil fuel subsidies of $46 million a year, spend vast amounts of taxpayer dollars on geological surveying to entice oil companies, and pay our hysterical Minister and his staff to provide PR for Texan oil firm, Anadarko (Campbell Live interview). This is very much ‘hands-on’, but he’s groping the wrong industry.

The Royal Society launched their report ‘Facing the Future: Towards a Green Economy for New Zealand’ at the conference, and it’s clear that “securing reductions in GHG emissions will be difficult without a supportive policy environment.” As the Director General of the OECD says:

“Low carbon technologies are facing an array of incumbent technologies that have a huge advantage based on vast investments over decades… The owners of these assets aren’t going to take kindly to their value being impaired by policies designed to tackle climate change.”

Our Minister’s loyalty to these companies obviously comes ahead of his commitment to the truth, or to dealing with climate change. His support for renewables goes as far as saying “wind and geothermal electricity generation could double or even treble over the next couple of decades,” – hopeful language that betrays a total lack of vision or plan.

Questioners challenged him on a number of obvious points – like how do we plan to get to the government’s oft cited goal of 90% renewables? "I'm optimistic," Bridges replied. "So you have hope rather than any sort of framework," noted his questioner. Sweet perhaps in a seven year old, not really what you want from an Energy Minister.

Bridges then told International Energy expert and IPCC lead author Professor Ralph Sims that he had “read a lot of books” (was this one of them maybe?) about climate change and that if the Professor would sit down with him for 15 minutes, “he would learn a lot.” This is to one of the world’s leading experts on energy. Awkward!

Our Minister finished on an inspiring note by reminding us of our tiny size and insignificance, implying that it wasn’t worth addressing our emissions anyway - and promising that “I'm not going to say I’ve got solutions." That was perhaps the truest thing he said throughout. We deserve a Minister who has more to offer than hot air.

Good rhetoric

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This blog is part of the #election2014 series. The series discusses New Zealand politics and the policies and, sometimes, lack of them, of our political parties. We hope that it provokes a bit of debate. 

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