City is Right, Right Minister is Wrong

Posted on March 22, 2011

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In Parliament last week the Finance Minister Bill English was derisive and ill-informed in response to Gareth Hughes’ questioning on New Zealand’s economic vulnerability to Peak Oil (16/3/11 Q12).  English dismissed the Dunedin City Council’s “Peak Oil Vulnerability Analysis Report” on the basis of the title alone.    But then, if all he read was the title, he misread it.   English:

It is likely that it will not be particularly effective, judging from the title of it and the fact that a local council has very little opportunity to actually influence the Western World’s vulnerability due to its use of oil.

If the minister thinks “vulnerability” means “ability to stop it happening”  then he is half right.  Indeed a smallish city alone cannot prevent Peak Oil – but this though does not excuse anyone from acting to reduce energy consumption now.  The world is made up of communities – if they were to all take English’s attitude of  “we have little opportunity to actually influence” then nothing gets done at all.

So the Minister is half wrong in saying the DCC cannot prevent Peak Oil, but this is very different from an assessment of vulnerability – as the Minister would know if he had read the report.  The Minister is completely wrong if he argues that a Council has no responsibility to look to the future and make decisions that best prepare for that future.   The Council can and should take steps to address our sensitivity to there being less oil available – for example, how might we better structure our transport network to cope with a 50% reduction of fuel oil by 2050?

There is not going to be a singular event that definitively  signals “peak oil is happening now”.   Climate Change is the same.   With gradual and insidious change (though with increasing occurrence of catastrophic events in both scenarios) decisions made now need to made in the context of the knowledge of those scenarios.

Unfortunately the Otago Daily Times  is following English’s misguided lead.   The ODT  has now made the same mistake in calling the Peak Oil report and similarly the Dunedin Digital Strategy  “luxuries” we can’t afford (Editorial 22/3/11).    I applaud the DCC for having the vision to be developing strategies on which to base decisions that will stand the test of time.   Cost-cutting without a vision for the future would result in only short-sighted decisions and knee-jerk reactions.

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Posted in: Dunedin