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Driving us backwards

by Tim Jones
Andy Foster’s transport policies put him at odds with the public’s demand for climate change action.

A few weeks ago, Wellington saw a massive turnout for the Wellington edition of the worldwide School Strike for Climate. And we have just elected a City Council which appears to have a majority for progressive action on issues such as climate change and a low-carbon transport system for the city.

Yet the city has also elected long-standing Wellington City Councillor Andy Foster as Mayor. While Andy deserves congratulations for his successful campaign, I fear this may be bad news for Wellington on some key climate change and transport issues.

I support a number of Andy’s policy positions, including his lack of enthusiasm for the proposed airport runway extension – a terrible idea at a time of rising emissions and rising seas – and his opposition to the deeply dubious Shelly Bay development plans.

Also, Andy is a strong supporter of better walking and cycling facilities for the city, and I’m hopeful that as Mayor he’ll continue to support initiatives such as the Let’s Get Welly Riding Vision.

But when it comes to anything larger than an e-bike, Andy is mostly about cars. More cars, on more roads, going through more road tunnels, covering more of the city in asphalt, like some sepia-toned picture in a photo album coming suddenly and horribly to life.

Transport makes up about 60% of Wellington’s greenhouse gas emissions. The city has committed to sharply reducing those emissions over the next ten years, but if Andy’s plans go ahead, those emissions will continue to increase: our car fleet is still overwhelmingly powered by burning fossil fuels, and that isn’t changing quickly enough to lead to emissions reductions.

Cars are a really bad way of moving lots of people through a city: quite apart from all those greenhouse gas emissions, they simply take up too much room, whether in the middle of the street or stored at the side of it.

Mass transit such as light rail, on the other hand, is a very efficient way to move people, and it frees up space in our city for more important uses than storing large metal boxes on wheels: housing, for example. Mass transit also contributes to a city that is made for people, not cars.

Yes, building mass transit is expensive. But so is building more roads and more road tunnels.

We should do what makes sense for the city: pick the option that moves more people, more efficiently, using less space and producing lower emissions. That means mass transit supported by better bus services, walking, cycling and micromobility – all of which will free up the existing road network for journeys that genuinely need to be taken by road.

At the apex of a long political career, Andy Foster has a choice. He can work with his progressive new Council to take the urgent steps necessary to reduce Wellington’s emissions. Or he can attempt to drive us backwards into the car-dominated, climate change-denying past. History will not be kind to those who make the latter choice.

38 comments:

  1. Philly Buster, 16. October 2019, 8:01

    Here’s the thing. One season of cruise ships in Wellington will wipe out any measures taken to reduce emissions. Shall we ban them? I don’t know where this “Andy is all about roads” comes from either. LGWM said that we wanted another tunnel through Mt Vic, he’s just pushing what the majority of people wanted and it will be needed for any mass transit chosen. The current two lane tunnel is no longer fit for purpose. [Have you read ‘too early for a tunnel decision.’?]

     
  2. Neil Douglas, 16. October 2019, 8:31

    Philli Buster – you may be interested in this paper and the slide show that I presented on the growth in cruise tourism to NZ and the negative aspects. Apparently cruise ship tourism would be the sixth biggest country in terms of CO2 emissions! And NZ is one of two OECD countries not to sign up to MARPOL which aims to stop bottom of the barrel high sulphur fuel being used from next year.

     
  3. Tim Jones, 16. October 2019, 8:42

    In my view, we should indeed ban cruise ships coming to Wellington. As you say, they produce a horrific level of emissions. Personally, for me, a second Mt Victoria tunnel is not a no-no: it’s a second car tunnel I’m opposed to, as that increases road capacity and will simply entrench (no pun intended) the current car-dominant transport system. We need a decisive turn towards low-carbon transport, and building more road capacity will prevent that from happening.

     
  4. TrevorH, 16. October 2019, 9:44

    A second tunnel will greatly ease congestion and help reduce emissions. This is SH1, a vital lifeline servicing the airport and the regional hospital, and fundamental for commerce and Wellington’s resilience. Let’s get on with it.

     
  5. Neil Douglas, 16. October 2019, 10:07

    Don’t ban cruise ships Tim, just make sure that they pay to park up at the port at the right rate and that they don’t burn bottom of the barrel oil from their funnels whilst they are parked in our harbour. If Sydney can stop them smoking crude bunker fuel whilst berthed at White Bay and Circular Quay why can’t GWRC (as it owns a good share of the port)? They could even invest in portside electricity and get cruise liners to pay for the power.

    Most cruise passengers are decent folk. 50% are aussie battlers having a holiday – nothing bad in that is there? The’d probably fly here and travel round in a white ‘maggot’ camper van otherwise.

     
  6. Conor Hill, 16. October 2019, 10:57

    Just as an aside, Andy was one of the people at the School Strike for Climate action. Or at least said he would go.

     
  7. Michael Gibson, 16. October 2019, 11:53

    Neil, I have just emailed and commended your comments on cruise ships (“Don’t ban cruise ships etc.”) to newly-elected GW member Thomas Nash since it should be right up his alley.
    Good stuff!!

     
  8. Curtis Nixon, 16. October 2019, 12:07

    There are good new roads and bad new roads. A second tunnel is a good idea. It will add to capacity while not taking away any land that could be used for other things. We need to solve our climate change issues without attacking car use, cruise ships, airplane flights or other entrenched parts of life. Otherwise you risk alienating people who would otherwise support you.

    Can we have both light rail and a new tunnel?

    And yes Conor, I did see Andy F on the School Strike for Climate march. I said hi and he gave his usual vibrant smile and a hi back.

     
  9. Helene Ritchie, 16. October 2019, 12:51

    Curtis – a fact: a second tunnel and widening of Ruahine Street will take away land which was Town Belt land. Cr Foster tried to ensure that by way of many amendments…and then Parliament amended the Council’s agreed local draft Bill.

     
  10. Sasha, 16. October 2019, 14:27

    Let us ban air travel in and out of Wellington while we are at it. Why stop at cruise ships.

     
  11. Ian S, 16. October 2019, 15:18

    CentrePort could insist that all cruise ships stop burning of fossil fuels and connect to the electricity supply when in port. But this would only mitigate a small proportion of the pollution that these ships create. Rotterdam does this, but they are also trying to improve the local air quality for residents. This is not seen as such a big problem in Wellington.

     
  12. Conor Hill, 16. October 2019, 16:27

    This is Andy Foster describing the Town Belt when other changes were proposed:

    “The Town Belt has a special status. It has its own Act – good luck changing that. You would have to change the Management Plan. You would have to change the District Plan zoning. You would have to get around that the Mayor and Councillors hold the Town Belt in Trust on behalf of the Citizens of Wellington. In that role we are obligated to act in the best interests of the Town Belt. I don’t think there is any chance of the community agreeing to any of that.”

    Not sure why he feels like it differs for a road. A contradiction for him to explain.

     
  13. Benny, 16. October 2019, 16:29

    When, oh when will the regulator say: “you can’t have cruise ships if they burn fuel”, “you can’t have planes if they use kerosene”, “you can’t have buses if they run on diesel”, etc. This obviously goes for cars too. If one operates on fossil fuel, the single highest priority should be to replace, convert, or ban it. Simple, no?

     
  14. Barbara S, 16. October 2019, 16:37

    I agree with Michael Gibson. That is an excellent paper Neil Douglas has written on cruise ships.

     
  15. Ms Green, 16. October 2019, 16:42

    Air quality is a problem in Wellington. There are pollutiing diesel buses downtown, but as far as I know most monitoring and most records are done by NIWA at Baring Head (Cook Strait!) and some still in Victoria Street?

    GWRC needs to clarify where Co2 monitoring is done, when and what air quality is like in downtown Wellington (say Willis St) especially when a dirty diesel goes past or is bunched with many others; and in the Mt Victoria Tunnel and other key places. GWRC need to report to us regularly from key places ( including at the port?) It has failed to do this core responsibility of assuring the public that it is monitoring co2 emissions in key places. As part of addressing the climate crisis, let alone its RMA responsibilities, it needs to improve.

    Then it needs to focus on light rail…and replacing the dirty diesels.

     
  16. Michael Gibson, 16. October 2019, 16:49

    Thank you, Barbara (and Neil) – just to let you know that I had an immediate and very encouraging response from Thomas Nash and I am confident that the issue is in very good hands.

     
  17. Leviathan, 16. October 2019, 17:32

    Ms Green – NIWA does indeed measure global CO2 levels at Baring Head, precisely because it is a clear and steady no-stops trip to Antarctica. Apparently it is even better and more reliable than the top of the Mountain in Hawaii.

    Measuring global CO2 within the city would give wildly varying results – every day – there is an air quality CO2 measuring station at the junction of Vivian St and the motorway off ramp that I think is run by GWRC.

    Air quality is, without a doubt, terrible in the Mt Vic tunnel – one of the prime reasons for the argument we need a new tunnel. The existing tunnel is simply no longer fit for purpose.

     
  18. Leviathan, 16. October 2019, 17:43

    Tim – your writing is good, but full of hyperbole. “But when it comes to anything larger than an e-bike, Andy is mostly about cars. More cars, on more roads, going through more road tunnels, covering more of the city in asphalt…” That’s sounds feisty but it’s not really true. Foster is a pragmatist first and foremost – I believe he has accepted that we need a second tunnel at least partly because the existing one is no longer fit for purpose. He’s hardly car-mad – he cycles and runs around in a pair of aged shorts that are dangerously close to getting him arrested for indecent exposure.

    By the same token, he is keen to support large and speedy improvements to the cycling and walking network, and I believe he knows that Public Transport needs to be sorted asap. Pragmatically he will probably support buses rather than stick his neck out for Light Rail.

     
  19. Henry Filth, 16. October 2019, 18:28

    Whatever Wellington does, it will have no discernable effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. This does not mean that Wellington should do nothing. The moral high ground is a useful place from which to engage in debate. What it does mean is that Wellington must be seriously looking at mitigation strategies.

    What access is there to the airport after a 3m sea level rise? Is Days Bay/Eastbourne still a viable community when the only access is by ferry? Where would the main trunk railway line be re-routed to? Will there need to be a pontoon bridge across Civic Square Lagoon to the new Central Library?

     
  20. Olav, 16. October 2019, 21:22

    Henry Filth – 3m sea level rise?! I have studied the literature, I have looked at the models, and I have spoken to people researching climate change. That number is only being thrown around by climate alarmists. An intelligent conversation about climate change can only be had if people present sensible data.

    We must all fight the fear mongering.

     
  21. John, 16. October 2019, 21:54

    Well if you live on Ellice St like right next to the tunnel then you would not want the tunnel to be built. Philosophy of not in my back yard applies here. A second tunnel is inevitable, but I agree it should be used for public transport / cyclists / pedestrians.

    Andy Foster often catches the #2 bus to Karori where he lives. Hopefully now he is the mayor that bus service will dramatically increase much like the Johnsonville service improved drastically under Lester’s watch which is the suburb he lives in. When he is not bussing or running, Andy can be seen driving around in a 2.4L Subaru Legacy. Clearly he needs a more environmental friendly vehicle. Have not seen him on a bike yet!

    Cruise ships bring money to the city. WCC and GWRC need to figure out how to get more money out of them. Perhaps if they bring in a Wellington city tourist tax that will be another way to bring in more money.

    Given Foster has been in the council for 27 years, he has had enough time to make his mark. He is a career politician with no real experience outside those walls. He might be an affable man and decent person underneath but I feel he is just a caretaker mayor. Let’s hope he lasts as long as Lester!

     
  22. Really?, 16. October 2019, 22:48

    Peter Jackson’s theories on Shelly Bay are more likely to be smoke and mirrors for a campaign to oust Lester who didn’t pander to his wishes, and a knicker twist with developer Ian Cassels. Not to mention PJ doesn’t want more traffic in his neck of the woods. Cassels and Lester and the Council should have sued PJ for his rantings on Facebook, which are still up.

    On the other hand I give PJ some credit, The developer’s plans were ho hum for anyone sentimental over the spot. PJ probably has a better imagination for it which is why he ought to talk to Cassels and come to some agreement.

    Ian Cassels challenge to Peter Jackson: http://www.thewellingtoncompany.co.nz/projects/shelly-bay/

     
  23. Kerry, 17. October 2019, 9:13

    Henry, Olav. Yes, 3 metres of sea level rise by 2100 is unlikely, but cannot be ruled out.
    — A figure given here is that 2.4 m by 2100 is ‘physically possible.’
    — The two biggest uncertainties are how successful we will be in managing emissions, and what will happen in the antarctic, where there are recent estimates that the rate of change may double.
    — Continuing sea level rise after 2100 is virtually certain, and some of our grandchildren will live to see it.
    — Sea level rise is not the whole story. Planning must also allow for storm-surge and wave run-up, and both will increase with rising temperatures.
    — Wellington is the most vulnerable of NZ’s main centres, because it has an unusually low tidal range, and adding something for sea level rise has a relatively greater effect.

    The reason why larger figures are ‘only being thrown around by climate alarmists’ is that the climate science deniers pounce on anything uncertain, including the future.

     
  24. Brent Efford, 17. October 2019, 10:34

    There is a need for more tunnel access to the Eastern Suburbs but it should NOT be via Mt Victoria and it should NOT be for cars. SH1 and other streets provide 14 lanes between the CBD and the east already available for cars, whereas public transport exclusively has only one, alternately bidirectional – and even this is in an awkward location away from the Growth Spine via Newtown.
    The sensible location for a second tunnel is under Mt Albert, and should be for light rail, pedestrians and cyclists (and electric scooters etc) only.
    Don’t forget that Cr Andy Foster was one of those stymieing the Waterfront Tramway, intended to be a gradual low-cost start to regional light rail, in the mid-1990s (yes, he has been around that long!). So at least he is consistent in his anti-railism!

     
  25. Henry Filth, 17. October 2019, 15:35

    As far as I can tell, nobody actually knows what’s going to happen. That’s usually the case with the future. But planning based on the best-case scenario so that nobody is “alarmed” seems somewhat more akin to wishful thinking.

     
  26. Guy M, 17. October 2019, 16:42

    Re a 3m sea level rise – when (not if) that happens, we will all be long dead – ie it is not happening in our lifetimes. But the world does need to be aware that this day will come one day – maybe not for 1000 years, but when it does, oh boy. Certain countries will be wiped off the map – ie the whole of Bangladesh, with 163million people (probably double by then) who will all be homeless and stateless, as their country will have been completely washed away.

    Florida also will be long gone, and the evil empire of Mar El Lago will be a subterranean palace like Atlantis. Vast swathes of the world’s cities will be gone – Venice for starters, but also much of Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Napier, Tauranga, etc, as well as Amsterdam, – well – probably the whole of Holland as 50% of it is only 1m above sea level, many of the low lying parts of the UK like the Norfolk Broads, etc and many – no, all – of the Pacific Islands that are based around Atolls. Total, absolute, catastrophic cataclysmic destruction – but no worries, as we’ll be pushing up daisies. So, an interesting conundrum for the future: do we worry about the 1m rise in the near future or the 3m in the far off future?

     
  27. Dave B, 17. October 2019, 22:50

    Guy, are you sure it won’t happen in our lifetimes? A quick estimate of the likely volume of the land-based ice of Antarctica and Greenland, spread out over the entire surface of the earth, calculates out at about 80 metres. So if it all melted and slid off, that is the kind of sea-level rise we could get. Are you confident that the slow rate of melt that has occurred over the last few decades won’t suddenly go into a runaway-condition and cause the apocalyptic events you talk about to happen much sooner?
    No-one can be sure, and of course there is the tendency to scare-monger. However it is risky to assume the future will always be a nice, predictable extrapolation of the past.

     
  28. Richard Dantes, 18. October 2019, 4:21

    Any discussion around Shelly Bay should start with the fact that it was given to Taranaki Whanui as a tiny redress for breaking the NZ statutes with their ancestors which stated they would always own 1/10th of the greater Wellington area. Given that REAL levels of redress would bankrupt NZ – this piecemeal offering was accepted. Did you know Titokowaru was Taranaki Whanui?. Learn the lessons of your past – and do the right thing now. [abridged]

     
  29. Guy M, 18. October 2019, 9:34

    Dave B – no one can tell the future, for sure, but the ice cap is something like 5km thick in some places – that’ll take a while to melt ! I’ve heard it calculated that if the Greenland ice melted it could raise global sea levels by over a metre but if Antarctica ice melts it would raise global sea levels by over 5m – not sure where you have heard 80m – but if that happened then we’re all going to have to live up in the Southern Alps. Or more likely: the world as we know it will no longer exist.

    But I’m reasonably certain that isn’t going to happen in the next decade. More than that and I’ll be long gone.

     
  30. Dave B, 18. October 2019, 11:58

    Guy M – according to Wikipedia (that fount of all knowledge):-

    Greenland Ice Sheet:
    – Volume 2.85 million Km³
    – Estimated contribution to sea-level rise if melted: 7.2m

    Antarctic Ice Sheet:
    – Volume 26.5 million Km³
    – Estimated contribution to sea-level rise if melted: 58m

    Total combined sea-level rise therefore 65m. OK, a little less that the 80m I mentioned above, but still enough to turn Mt Victoria into an island. But the unknowns are: will it all melt, and if so, how quickly will it happen?

     
  31. John Rankin, 18. October 2019, 13:56

    @DaveB and @GuyM: don’t worry too much about sea level rise. By the time the rise is enough to do serious damage, the oceans’ phytoplankton, which produce over half of the planet’s oxygen (85% by some estimates), will have mostly died. This is Gaia’s way of stopping us humans from doing irreparable damage.

     
  32. Steve Doole, 20. October 2019, 8:17

    Tell me how the math goes for sea level rise; a really simple calculation seems to show that likely average sea level rise from all ice melting is less than a metre, or does it?
    From the internet: The total area of the oceans is about 360 million square kilometres. Total ice is about 50 million cubic kilometres (km3).
    If all the ice volume were spread even over the existing ocean area (without adjusting for density etc) = 50/360 = 0.138.
    Tell me what the units are for 0.138. Is it metres or kilometres ?

     
  33. Richard Bayly, 20. October 2019, 11:04

    Steve, if you divide km3 by km2 your answer will be in km.

     
  34. Guy M, 20. October 2019, 15:04

    Steve Doole – neither – it is a ratio between the two, so it’s not a unit.

    But regardless, I’m not a scientist nor a mathematician, and I’m going to trust in science – that these scientists have done their calls and their homework and if they say that the ice is going to rise by a set amount, then I’m not going to argue with that. If you want to check your maths, you could seek out the paper “Combustion of available fossil fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice Sheet” published in 2018 and available on Science Direct if you follow this link. They (Ricarda Winkelmann, Anders Levermann, Andy Ridgwell and Ken Caldeira) say that Antarctica holds the equivalent of 58m in sea level rise, but they note that would take thousands of years – and only contributing only about 16cm rise by 2100.

     
  35. Northland, 20. October 2019, 22:04

    Steve, a volume divided by an area is going to be a length. You have divided km3 by km2 so you are going to end up with kilometers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimensional_analysis

     
  36. Dave B, 21. October 2019, 13:38

    Steve, the above answer of “0.138” you get for your sea-level rise calculation will be in Kilometres. In other words 138 metres. This is a lot more than the 65m total derived from Wikipedia’s combined estimates for Antarctica+Greenland ice-sheets melting.

    I suspect your “total ice” figure of 50 million Km³ includes “sea ice” as well as “land ice”. Because sea ice is already floating (and therefore already displacing its equivalent mass of water), it will not contribute to sea-level rise if it melts. By contrast land-based ice (mostly on Antarctica + Greenland) is currently sitting on the earth’s rock-structure and supported out of the sea. If it melts or slides off to become floating ice then it will definitely add to sea level.

    Taking the Ant+Gre estimated land-ice volumes and dividing them by your figure for total ocean surface-area of 360 million Km², gives a sea level rise of 80m. However because low-lying land will become flooded, the effective “ocean surface area” will enlarge, meaning that the total rise will be less than it would be if confined only to the existing ocean area.

    I believe the best-estimate for sea level rise if all the land-ice melted is somewhere between 65 and 80 meters. If this is inevitably going to happen then at some time in the future whoever is around will have a mighty big problem. But if, as postulated by some climatologists, the rate of melting might suddenly shoot up then we could have a mighty big problem sooner than we think!

     
  37. steve doole, 22. October 2019, 8:50

    Richard, Northland, and Dave B, thanks for clarifying the math result.
    138m sea level rise seems higher than I read, so I guess only a few minds are thinking a melt of all ice will occur, including glaciers. I note that Arctic sea ice isn’t what it was 30 years ago, and can be absent in summer.

    Guy M – do climate people have theories on how much water vapour a warmer atmosphere will absorb, and are there other factors? (Perhaps movies on this topic a couple of years ago began from similar math.)

     
  38. steve doole, 28. October 2019, 8:00

    WCC has a map online which displays likely areas inundated by various rises in average sea level.
    Has anyone indicated how little or much sea level rise would compromise under ground services – storm water, waste water, electricity, and phone? Maybe drinking water could continue the longest. Once waste water pipes become permanently unusable, the city stops functioning I guess.
    I wonder how rapidly could the city change these services to be like Venice?

     

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