Word of the week – “pantiwadulous”

The Royal Society of New Zealand released its statement on climate change last week. No, I didn’t write it, we have real climate scientists for that, but I did comment on the drafts. It says what the Royal Society of London, the US National Academy of Sciences and all the rest have said, namely that:

  • it is happening
  • we are causing it
  • we should do something about it

Here’s the response from our own bunch of skeptics, running roughly:

  • we don’t like the people who said this
  • we don’t believe the huge pile of very consistent evidence that everyone else believes, coz it’s just circumstantial
  • there has been no warming since 1958 (that’s a new complaint to me)
  • the climate varies anyway
  • you can’t predict the future with absolute certainty, so we’re not going to try at all, and nor should anyone else

So, when a small number of people have dug their feet in this much, it’s hard to see what possible evidence could ever change their positions. What can be done, other than (to paraphrase Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) to be polite and wait for them to die?

Anyway, on to lighter fare, the Ministry of Transport’s report on “Surface transport costs and charges” (overview, full report.) The headline numbers are that, surprise, surprise, no-one pays the full costs of their transport:

  • cars directly pay 64% of their costs,
  • trucks directly pay 56% of their costs
  • buses directly pay 68% of their costs
  • rail users directly pay 77% of their costs

The main costs that aren’t directly paid for are building roads, congestion, deaths and injuries due to accidents, pollution, and noise. The main difference between road and rail costs are that rail users are supposed to pay back the cost of building the track; road users do not pay back the cost of building the road.

So those who travel less subsidise those who travel more, and taxpayers are subsidising road users more than they subsidise rail users, and truckers get more subsidy than anyone else. Of course, these figures aren’t entirely accurate and changes in costs can alter them (oops – $1/litre petrol drives NZ’s roading programme).

You can argue about whether this system is fair, you can argue about whether truckies should have to pay what they are asked to pay, you can argue how sustainable this is, and how sustainable it might be if there were no subsidies and every user paid the true costs, but please, at least start the discussion with the facts.

24 thoughts on “Word of the week – “pantiwadulous”

  1. Possibly not related, but sort of:

    Last week (or was it the week before?) there was the convoy protest that caused me to have to go into town and OMGo’clock to avoid being caught in traffic and missing an important meeting. Whether the truckies are right or wrong, I don’t know (haven’t studied it), but they did not endear themselves to me that day as I spent 2 hours wandering round the yet-to-wake-up city, killing time.

    Anyway, last night I was on my way to Tawa, travelling at 100km/hr, and was first tailgated and then overtaken by three articulated truck-and-trailer units. It’s somewhat frightening having these gigantic bits of machinery bearing down on your teeny-tiny self, parking themselves on your ass, then barely missing you as they sweep by at speeds that you know would be messy should anything go wrong.

    I found myself wondering if the general truck population is going for some kind of intimidation thing to try and make people take notice of their ‘plight.’

    1. Well, we could consider the smearing of yourself and your family across the tarmac to be one of the indirect social costs that truckers are keen to avoid paying for. And hey, they have great big trucks are important to the economy, just like farmers, so I’m sure we’d all agree that they deserve subsidies.

      To quote one of the people interviewed in the Herald article on the truckers protest: “You only have to look at the trucks. Enough is enough, get rid of the government,” – who can argue with that, eh?

      hmm… I seem to be more sarcastic than usual today…

      1. They are not important enough for me to sympathise with them when they use bully tactics.

        I am just cranky today. Sarcasm requires effort.

        1. Well, I’m sure that they don’t want to use bully tactics, but they have to, see, coz of the liberal media who don’t give people the true story about how truckers are all the salt of the earth, just trying to feed their children, small business owners without whom the entire economy would all collapse, so really, they’re bullying us for our benefit. That’s how selfless they are.

          woo, don’t know what it is about this issue, but it’s really helping me tap into those reserves of sarcasm that I’ve been storing up for a rainy day.

          1. Keep going, I’m enjoying it.

            One of those big shiny chrome bumpers that they use to fill up my rear vision and the flashy LEDs, would feed their family for a month.

          2. Ah, but you see, that shiny chrome bumper is actually a form of advertising, like a peacock’s tail. They’re demonstrating the fitness of their business in comparison to other, less-adorned truckers, in the hope of attracting more nubile customers. So really, the bumper should be tax-deductable, like other business costs.

          3. So you’re saying that the shiny-bumper guys, despite their claim to be on the verge of starvation and poor little Jimmy needs new shoes and so we should all sympathise and let them keep paying less for their use of the roads they make money from than the rest of us, are using the shiny-bumper to advertise how successful they are?

            No wonder I have no sympathy.

            By the way – today’s lecture = Weber and Durkheim in the Thunderditch with Marx as referee. WTF?

          4. Ah, but they’re advertising their relative success, compared with other truckers. So they can’t possibly cut back on that, coz then their children would be starving more than the starving children of other truckers. They are being entirely rational (for very small values of rational).

            And ‘Maximum’ Weber versus Émile ‘Crime and Punishment’ Durkheim? In a zombie cagematch? I’d pay good money to see that.

            (Although I’d be betting on Marx to stop the fight and write seven hundred pages explaining why the fight is rigged.)

  2. And then there’s the other skeptic argument that accepts that climate change is looking pretty likely, but that voluntarily reducing CO2 emissions just isn’t going to happen, and that we’d be better off spending our current resources on thinking up ways to cope with it.

    1. There’s a whole taxonomy of skepticism, but I think the three main stances are:

      1) It isn’t happening
      2) It is happening but doesn’t matter
      3) It is unstoppable so why bother trying

      The first is ludicrous, the second increasingly untenable, and the third is worryingly seductive. It’ll work fine, and at very low cost, for quite a few decades…

      1. Indeed. But your phrasing is, to my mind, begging the question of whether there actually is a workable solution.

        I’m still reading around the issue, but currently my understanding is (very paraphrased):

        1. We’re going to run out of oil ‘soonish’.
        2. It’s going to suck.
        3. Assuming we haven’t shown incredible foresight and had some lucky developments, the best option to keep things (i.e. civilisation) going somewhat is going to be coal.
        4. Using coal will put out lots of CO2.
        5. People won’t care as long as they can keep surfing the internet/watching TV.

        Yes, my worldview is a little bleak at the moment. 🙂

        1. True, coal-to-liquid fuel is one of those scarily seductive solutions.

          But then again, if we’re constraining ourselves to technological solutions* then we have a zillion and one ways of making electricity at much lower carbon cost and affordable financial cost, compared with coal. And the likely per-mile costs of lithium-battery powered electric vehicles should be such that only silly buggers will still be driving something that uses petrol all the time. Hence there’s technological reasons for optimism.

          *Actually, watching the TV/surfing the web is a pretty low-carbon lifestyle, compared with, oh I don’t know, flying off for foreign holidays, or buying actual physical objects.

  3. I’m just a bit unsure on the figures. Given that a very large percentage of people in NZ use cars (even if they don’t drive them) you could argue that the incidental costs of motoring *are* being borne by car users.

    1. You could argue all sorts of things, if you want to stretch your logic enough. Like – all those car drivers delayed my bus this morning, but I spent that time reading a good book and thus increasing my earning potential, so I should be paying them for that priviledge.

      However, I like logic, and it makes me unhappy when people abuse it. Logic doesn’t have many friends these days, rarely gets asked out on dates, so I think we should all be nice to it.

      1. Logic should try being a little more socially ept (i really don’t care if that’s a proper word or not, i like it – ept, ept, ept… has a nice ring), using deodorant and avoiding telling people that life is pointless if there is no god.

        (i might know one too many philosophers)

        1. I think I prefer uninept (or noninept) as the opposite of inept, in the same manner as unundulating1 is the opposite of undulating…

          1 courtesy of Peter Bowler’s The Superior Person’s Book of Words

  4. In the overall context of who pays how much of their actual costs for using the road, I recall reading in The Sunday Times back in 1977 or 1978 about a study in the UK which concluded that the average family car destroyed about UKP100 worth of roading per year. The average heavy lorry destroyed about UKP100,000 worth of roading per year.

    I am inclined to suspect that truckies in NZ aren’t paying their way anywhere as closely as I am in my 800kg car…

    1. Yup, road damage depends upon the fourth power of the weight. So road costs should depend upon the weight x the weight x the weight x the weight again. So weight is kinda important here.

      (Strictly, it’s the axle weight that matters, so the layout of the truck, how many axles, rigid vs. artic, trucks might spend half their time empty, and so on, complicate this.)

      If we’re comparing a truck, which can have up to 8.2 ton per axle, with a car that has half a ton per axle, we’re looking at more than 50,000 times more damage. Road user charges for a one ton diesel car are $36 per 1000 km. For a truck, the equivalent charge would be getting on for two million dollars. For a 40 ton truck, depending on layout, the actual charge is a few tens of thousands of dollars.

      Oh man, those poor truckers, I don’t know how they cope, I really don’t, especially with the Government piling on another $500 hike in charges this year. It’s sheer daylight robbery, I tell you…

      1. There is another component which should figure somewhere in that calculation, and that is axle layout.

        A guy I talk to on the bus works for ValleyFlyer, and he commented the other day that tag-axles (the second one on the back of the bigger buses) actually cause quite a bit of damage when the vehicle turns sharply, as evidenced by the way their yard gets ripped up by the bigger buses. Thus trucks with multiple axle configurations like most semi-trailers (OK, Artics to you!) should be penalised even harder than single axle configurations, which I think does happen in that RUCs are determined by axle configuration as well as vehicle mass.

        And you have your sarcasm byte well and truly full on today, don’t you?

        1. Feel free to dig through the diagrams and tables in the LTNZ RUC book, to work out how this is taken into account or not, but there’s plenty in there about different costs for different layouts.

          But yes, anything without Ackermann steering is going to do more damage, although I could believe it’s only a factor at low speeds and sharp turns.

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