Friday, January 31, 2014

Generation Zero: The Flipside

Andrew D Atkin:

If you're a young person who wants to join Generation Zero and help fight the good fight, and save the world from global warming, then it's important that you read this.

Generation Zero doesn't seem to want to expose you to the other side of the story (they blocked me from their Facebook page for trying to do just that) but I do. Note that a truly informed opinion is an opinon grounded in the other side of the debate, so please hear me out.

From my experience the leaders of Generation Zero do not operate in a sincerely objective manner. They have their ready-made conclusions and if you tell or show them how they are wrong (I tried) they will simply get defensive. They will either outright ignore you (usually) or respond with childish counter-arguments. Alas, you can only challenge someone when they are first prepared to challenge themselves!

Generation Zero believes in and promotes forcing a compact city form as an idealised goal, to the end of (supposedly) reducing carbon emissions and improving our quality of life. This position is clearly solidified in their ideology, and that is not going to change - facts be damned. It's a shame, because they could have established themselves as an honourable organisation pushing for innovative solutions to carbon reduction, but instead they have become a bigot-level thinking advocacy group set to do more harm than good.

From here I will develop a list of counter-responses, quoting their spokesperson, Sudhvir Singh, and others.

Generation Zero quotes are in bold. My responses in normal font:


1. What you might not know is that in 2013 we experienced record hot temperatures on both sides of the Tasman. Unsurprisingly, the international scientific community released another major report concluding that temperatures are going to continue to rise this century, and that humans burning fossil fuels are “extremely likely” to be the underlying cause.

Local temperatures will always fluctuate, always have, and often quite radically. Global temperatures have not changed in the last 15 years. It's the global warming that we need to focus on.

Though I am not arguing against the idea of problematic anthropogenic global warning in this post, what I said is nonetheless a fact, known to Sudhvir Singh, and should be stated. His indirect impression-creation that global warming is already here and perceptible is manipulative and wrong.

2. We're missing our opportunities to move towards a low carbon future...our national transport funds are almost completely dedicated to building roads and encouraging car dependency at the expense of other transport options.

I bent over backwards trying to explain to these people that cars can be (and have been) made to be highly efficient, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with car dependency - at least for those who want it. VW, providing a most striking example, has made an experimental car that uses about 10% of the energy of a standard car today. This is just the beginning of where modern transport technology can go.

I explained to Generation Zero that you have to look at context in determining transport efficiencies because whether or not public transport is more or less efficient varies radically, depending on how the mode is used and the climate it's operating in. All of it went on deaf ears.

By far the biggest carbon reductions can come from improving cars and their operating climate - not suppressing their use. Transport in most countries represents only about 10-15% of total energy demand, so if you can reduce the basic energy consumption of cars to anywhere around the 10% mark, from where they are today, they can then become an essentially moot concern.

Really we just need to put an eco-tax on fuel consumption - not force people into public transport, of which can be and often is more environmentally destructive than cars.

3. We called on councils to avoid relentless and expensive sprawl and instead develop visions for liveable cities with greater housing and transport choices that keep the best and brightest talent in New Zealand.

Good lord where have I heard that before? A direct copy-and-paste of Green party and City Vision hogwash.

Firstly, sprawl is generally cheaper than intensified development. Intensification requires demolish-and-rebuild for greater capacities whereas sprawl requires simple add-on's at the fringes - rightly paid for by those who wish to live in those developments.

And what is a liveable city? I suppose that's subjective. But a liveable city is certainly not a city that leaves you with diabolically unaffordable housing (Auckland's reality today - due to Generation Zero policy ideals), and it's not a city controlled by planners who believe it's their role to control demand rather than just co-ordinate it.

Sudhvir Singh also speaks of keeping the "best and brightest" in New Zealand with anti-sprawl policy. Oh boy. You cannot hope to keep good people in your locality by depriving them of their personal housing choice, by making the family home almost completely unaffordable (a natural necessity of forcing higher densities). We see this in Amercia today. Places like Houston, Texas, that allow sprawl have the highest population growth rates within the USA today. Go figure, Sudhvir!

Also, recent surveys have shown that over 85% of the New Zealand market wants to live in detached homes. Don't talk about people's supposed attitudes towards housing, Generation Zero. Just look at the facts and respect consumer demand. Forcing people to live in high-density developments is not choice.

The following is a snapshot from the NZ Herald website, displaying their survey results on housing preferences, from about 10,000 people.

Sudhvir also refers to sprawl as "relentless". Ok, so you just got this picture in your mind of sprawl rampaging out into the wilderness gobbling up all what's left of the farmland and forests. Right? That's how you propagandise without outright lying: Leave out the key facts - induce assumptions instead. Speak with suggestions - don't give real perspectives.

Well, you will never hear it from an organisation like Generation Zero, but you will hear it from me and the Ministry for the Environment: Only 1 part in 125 of New Zealand is covered over in artificial surfaces. Globally, urbanisation accounts for only about 1-2% of the total land area.


The elephant in the room behind the argument for forced high-density development is the Metropolitan Urban Limits. If it's true that people want to live in a high-density city, like Generation Zero says, why then do we have to (artificially) make fringe development so expensive? Why are we so afraid of the competition?

Why do we have to make it so that only rich people can have the choice of living in new low-density townships? I made the point to Generation Zero that they need to explain how, exactly, we justify doing this. How do we justify making fringe sections sell for $300,000+ instead of a more natural $50,000-100,000, by artificially restricting land supply? In this question lies the real conversation. But of course I got no answer. The propagandists and (more realistically) the propagandised almost always avoid the real conversations.

4. We presented our nationwide speaking tour to over 2300 people in 14 locations across New Zealand asking Kiwis “What’s the holdup?” to action on climate change. We rated local body election candidates in major cities, grading them on their commitment to solutions for a liveable low carbon future. We took to this information to voters online and offline, including over 50,000 flyers, to keep our elected representatives accountable. To cap off the year, Metro Magazine awarded us ‘the best new political force’ in the country.

And that is why they scare me. Public opinion rules the world and Generation Zero are high on (misguided) conviction and low on shame.

Generation Zero targets young people (who realistically don't have a clue) to do their advocacy for them. What can I say? I would love to have an army of children to post all my pamphlets for me, for what I believe in, but I would never have the nerve to use people who don't really understand what they're pushing to work for me - no matter how right I believe I may be.

I expressed this point to Generation Zero, and that I thought it was a bit creepy that they target children for promotional ends. That was when I got blocked from their Facebook page and with all my previous and highly-informative commentary (and links) wiped out. I guess it was a bit too close to a sensitive truth.



Paul Young, from Generation Zero, is arguing for light rail, Bus option numbers don't add upthat he strangely calls affordable (nope, it's always terribly expensive) for Wellington central.

I am extremely familiar with Wellington and the Newtown/Kilbirnie/airport area. I live there. I have not gone into serious detail with this rail V bus question for Wellington, but with Wellington central's size and topography pushing for a rail-based system ahead of buses is simply bizarre. The demand is not there to justify rail over buses and never will be. Wellington is simply too small and already too built-up. Thankfully Wellington council is not taking the rail option seriously either.

I'll respond to quotes:

Officials claim bus rapid transit could cater for up to 6000 passengers per hour in each direction. However, this seems to assume 60 buses, all 100 per cent full. Guidelines from the United States Transportation Research Board indicate a realistic maximum is around 80 per cent of that: 4800 per hour. This is before considering whether other regular bus services would need to share the spine corridor. Spine study modelling had 21 buses per hour doing this, including the Airport Flyer and Brooklyn routes.

Do the maths. How many buses can you put on a road at any one time - or a dedicated road? Far more than 60. You can also employ articulated buses if required, and with modern technology you can even platoon buses to create literal road-trains. The theoretical capacity of buses is enormous and vastly beyond what Wellington could ever realistically utilise - now or in the foreseeable future.

Paul is making references to official statements about bus systems that don't really apply. Also, if you're going to look at employing rail, which requires a dedicated guideway, then an apples-to-apples comparison requires that you also compare rail to bus systems operating on dedicated guideways. Appreciating that buses have the ability to park off-line at their stops, incredible capacities can ultimately be achieved if a dedicated line (like what rail has) is employed. Also, dedicated guideways would only need to be employed in the demand hot-spots, unlike rail which requires dedicated guideways for the entire network. [Interesting piece on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) here].

Buses are always a much cheaper system to run and construct than rail. They are also more responsive to real demands, flexible, can be built with high energy-efficiencies (congestion charging and express services would do a lot to that end, and employing hybrid technology and regenerative braking with mechanical flywheels could alone cut fuel by 50% at least), and buses are far more reliable because when a bus fails you just take it off the road; by comparison when a train fails it blocks the entire line until it's sorted out (with passengers having to be rescued by buses).

Considering the huge opportunity and large sums of money at stake, this decision is too important to let politics get in the way of the best outcome for our city.

I couldn't agree more but that is exactly what you're doing, Paul. Getting all those kids who don't have a clue to push your rail ideologies (on virtual faith), threatening to politicise what should be an engineering decision. Building a train in Wellington central is a mad-man's game.



Generation Zero are celebrating this article on their Facebook page, and embrace it as a reason to invest in public transport. It reminds me of Sudhvir's reference to some study that (apparently) showed that walking makes us feel as good as falling in love - an inherently spurious isolated research finding of which probably controls for nothing. (You can know you're looking at dodgy science when people claim to have measured the unmeasurable!).

Generation Zero needs to take a course in serious thinking. Firstly, the article hyper-linked above that suggests that young people are ambivalent to driving obviously tells us little. Young people are ambivalent to driving, when they are, because they just don't need to drive. They have parents to taxi them, no kids to drive around themselves, and no job to get to...and other. In any circumstance an article like this can never be translated into a public policy conviction as it tells us nothing in itself about what we need to know, to know how to develop a modern transport system.

I should not have to point this out. But I do because Generation Zero have their pre-conceived ideals (and a lack of commonsense) and as it seems any 'loose' article that backs up their ideals is embraced without serious consideration. Generation Zero has been brainwashed into the idea that public transport is inherently virtuous. It's these "default" assumptions that lead to this kind of empty and undisciplined thinking.



More rubbish from the dump. Same old rubbish...

And my broken-record response (I had to do it)...


Would it be cheaper to just plant trees/plants to offset carbon, rather than spending huge money and energy on refining plants so as to turn them into liquid fuel? Almost certainly. Think new plantations - not biofuels. Enormous room for re-greening on this planet.

Public transport:

It's not more energy efficient - but it is potentially less carbon dependant. But so are cars. Cars have been built to be 10x more efficient than they are today, experimentally using diesel based hybrids. 

An enclosed motorcycle is potentially incredibly efficient - vastly more efficient than public transport; and scooters--especially electric scooters--are already vastly more efficient.

Why the bias for traditional public transport?

Clean cities:

High-density cities concentrate emissions over a given area so are less healthy than low-density cities (people inhale more crap, basically). High-density cities also induce higher psychological stress, as discovered by recent research findings (ref. Scientific American Mind). 

Covering longer distances can be done cheaply and efficiency depending on how you do it - and with a minimal footprint. It's the re-accelerations in an urban environment that consumes most of the energy - not the cruising between the stops.

The overwhelmingly most significant thing you can do to reduce carbon emissions is employ electronic congestion charging throughout the cities, to avoid stop-and-go congestion. This should be at the top of your agenda.

High-density cities are only created through force - making land outrageously expensive via artificial land rationing, so people can't afford the quarter acre section. This ruins disposable income, economic investment, and likewise makes environmental investment very hard (no money left!).



A great video by Bryan Caplan that Generation Zero (staff and founders) need to watch. (I really do love people who can see the truth of things in its most simple form!). Dare to ask yourself, Gen' Zero...."Was I wrong?". It's painful, but all of us need to learn to do it, sooner or later.

....More to come