When you think about who could suffer the most from the sweeping reforms proposed by the Climate Change Commission, the ceramics industry is probably not the first on your list.
But the threat from the Commission’s plan is real for the artists, clubs, students, collectors, and employers who use LPG and gas-fired kilns to craft their pottery.
In its draft advice, the Commission proposes to ban new gas connections from 2025. Amateur and professional artisans could be locked out of their hobby or business in the name of lower emissions.
It is not just pottery that could be affected. Glass blowers, foundries and jewellers all typically rely on gas or LPG for their heat, as do some coffee roasters.
Electricity is not a perfect substitute for gas in these activities. Gas-fired kilns produce a reducing atmosphere that puts a beautiful glaze on pottery pieces that cannot be re-produced in wood- or electricity-fired kilns. Clean-burning LPG and gas allow kilns to operate in cities.
Participation in local pottery clubs has grown rapidly in the last few years. People enjoy coming together to make pottery. They like making something they can take home and use. Regional identities have developed based on the techniques of potters in each area.
The Climate Commission now threatens these sectors. And it is not just jobs and income at stake. It is our culture and heritage.
The Commission’s strategy is to eliminate things which produce emissions. Blunt tools like blanket bans require the Commission to form a view about which activities are worth their emissions, and which are not.
Culture and heritage – the pleasure of making something you can take home – is hard to put in a spreadsheet. And the joy of moulding clay or the satisfaction from making a glass sculpture is not a collective thing. It is different for every one of us.
But try telling that to the Commission. Its plan has officials making value judgments on our behalf about the collective merits of our hobbies and businesses.
It does not have to be like this. Policy makers have another way to lower emissions: offsets.
Emissions offsets reduce emissions but leave choices about how and where emissions come down in the hands of citizens. That means our diverse values, not the government’s monolithic judgments, determine which activities are worth the emissions cost.
So, what are offsets and how can they protect heritage?
Consider Jessie from Auckland. Her favourite hobby is making hand-crafted pottery. For more than a decade she has made beautiful products in her garage with her LPG-fired kiln.
Jessie wants to play her part in bringing down emissions. One way she can help is to switch to an electric kiln. But going electric means she will no longer be able to make her signature pieces.
Jessie can play her part another way. She could fund emissions reductions elsewhere in the economy equal to the emissions from her gas kiln.
Hypothetically, Jessie could make a deal with the local gas-fired electricity station to burn a bit less gas this year. She could convince a taxi driver to switch to a Prius a few weeks sooner. Or she could plant a few Douglas Fir trees in her back yard.
Whether Jessie gives up her gas kiln or encourages an equal fall in emissions elsewhere, she makes the same contribution to lower emissions. Either way, she reduces her carbon footprint.
In practice, offsets do not depend on knowing the manager at the local power station. Instead, offsets are organised by the Emissions Trading Scheme (“ETS”), which has been operating since 2008.
The details of how offsets work do not matter. The point is that offsets give artisans and hobbyists like Jessie a way to take responsibility for their emissions without giving up the thing they love most.
This logic holds no sway at the Climate Commission. It recommends hard bans throughout its report, a poor substitute for flexible offsets. The Commission’s plan puts itself at the centre of how and where emissions come down, making every sector and every hobby beholden to the judgments of officials or Ministers. Officials need more power, say officials.
The Commission might recognise the cultural value of glass blowing, foundries or coffee roasting and exempt those activities this year. But what about next year? What about the next government?
To avoid being the next victim of bans in the name of lower emissions, it will be necessary for industry bodies to convince officials at the Climate Change Commission, the Ministry for the Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, the current government, and all future governments, that their hobby or business is worth saving. And not just this year. Every year.
It does not have to be this way. Offsets provide genuine, lasting emissions reductions as well as security for our most treasured activities. Offsets mean we can reach our emissions targets without the needless, wasteful sacrifices the Commission now demands from us.
New Zealand needs a Climate Change Commission which understands the dangers of concentrated power and the benefits and protection from letting us decide how and where emissions come down.