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Policies heading in opposite directions – trolley buses versus climate change

A few weeks ago the Wellington Regional Council opened its climate change strategy for public input and suggestions. In the Council’s own words [1], “as well as planning for and adapting to the effects of climate change, we also want to ensure we are doing all we can to mitigate climate change by addressing greenhouse gas emissions.”

A laudable goal, particularly given the increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists about the rising costs of infrastructure damage due to the extreme weather that a warming world brings. Recent news reports noted that New Zealand’s storm damage bill had exceeded $100 million since the beginning of this year alone, with more to come.

Which is a vital issue for Wellington ratepayers, given that many of the infrastructure assets managed by the Regional Council are vulnerable to climate change, such as the essential flood barriers along the Hutt River.

So given the importance of the issue, it was strange to see the Regional Councillors dutifully lining up to make climate change worse by voting to get rid of the trolley buses. In the same week that the council started to consult on the climate change strategy, the majority of our elected councillors took a firm step backwards and decided to increase Wellington’s transport emissions. Yet the information about the climate change strategy seems to pretend this never happened: “Currently we do this through activities such as promoting and providing low emission transport options, supporting ecological restoration activities and sustainable land use, and encouraging household energy efficiency” (emphasis ours).

As Kerry Wood pointed out in a well researched article in wellington.scoop, [2]the allegedly “clean” diesels being enthusiastically promoted by the Regional Council have dramatically higher carbon emissions than the actually clean electrically-powered trolley buses. So in a world where scientists are calling for aggressive de-carbonisation of the transport fleet, the Regional Council’s decision to move in the opposite direction based on dodgy economics and cherry-picked data seems like an exercise in perversity.

Given the very clear air-gap between what the Council is saying and what the Council is doing, it does beg the question as to what the purpose of the climate change policy actually is. Despite the increasingly urgent need for significant emissions reductions – clearly identified in the strategy – the Regional Council’s transport policies have headed in exactly the opposite direction; massive roading projects have been enthusiastically championed, railway stations have been closed [3] and the bus network is now being aggressively re-carbonised.

So perhaps the climate change strategy is merely window dressing, meant to give Councillors a warm glow without necessitating any tangible action. Perhaps it’s designed to function like a cloak of green acceptability that can be wrapped around the shoulders of Councillors who are actively voting to make the planet less habitable for their grandchildren. Or perhaps the thinking of Council officers and our elected representatives has merely become so compartmentalised that they’ve lost the linkage between cause and effect.

After the climate change strategy has wound its way through public consultation and eventually comes to a vote at the Council table, it will be interesting to see how it proceeds. Wellington already knows the views of the green-leaning Councillors, Paul Bruce (retired meteorologist) and Sue Kedgley (former Green MP), who both voted to keep the trolley buses [4]. We can presumably expect them to follow their convictions and their track record.

So the real question is how the anti-trolley Councillors will vote. Will they also follow their pro-carbon convictions and their track record of making the planet a worse place to live if it will save a few dollars, and vote against the climate change strategy? Or will they take the easy way out, saying one thing whilst doing the opposite?