Troy Bowker: Car tax another broken promise and green hypocrisy

OPINION:

Labour’s car tax is not only another broken promise regarding no new taxes, but it also is based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) battery production and disposal on the environment.

The hypocrisy from the political left to conveniently ignore facts which do not suit their political agenda appears to have no shame.

Politicians constantly advertise what they claim are the sparkling clean, green credentials of EVs. I believe these politically driven, so called “noble” assertions are badly misleading and dangerous for the New Zealand public to blindly accept without debating the environmental credibility of EVs and fully understanding the downstream costs to taxpayers.

No one in Government seems to have stopped to ask just how environmentally friendly EVs actually are.

In New Zealand, few have asked what we know about the supply chains of EV batteries, including the human rights implications of using child labour to mine essential elements necessary to make the large EV batteries.

The point being missed, ignored, or not properly debated, is the total cost on the environment from the manufacture, use, and disposal of EVs versus petrol or diesel cars.

There is plenty of research to suggest EVs are actually worse for the environment overall than fossil fuel cars, just as there is research they are better.

None of that research properly deals with the CO2 emissions from the disposal and recycling of batteries.The EV industry lobby groups all tell us to not to be concerned and to “hope” that technology catches up so that the production and disposal of EV batteries will at some stage have a much lower carbon footprint.Surely this is putting the cart before the horse .Why can’t they address the elephant in the room regarding disposing of millions of EV batteries in a climate friendly manner and provide hard facts to support this? They can’t and they won’t because they simply don’t know.

In future, when EV supporters in Parnell, Kelburn and Fendalton step into their Audi e-tron or Jaguar I-Pace to pick up the kids from their private schools, they will be directly benefitting from the car tax imposed on farmers, tradies and anyone else who either has no choice but to buy a petrol or diesel vehicle, cannot afford an EV, or simply doesn’t actually want to own one.

These urban liberals are the people Labour has chosen to subsidise rather than genuine hard working farmers, nurses, teachers, tradies and other middle income New Zealanders.

And what about the low income families of Otara, Porirua and Burwood who drive 15 year old people carriers because that’s all they can afford?

Some of those families – who are traditional Labour voters – can’t afford to heat their homes with electricity, or properly feed and clothe their children, let alone spend $60,000 to buy an EV.

A $6000 subsidy on a $60,000 EV is hardly relevant when all of your disposable income is paid in rent, food and heating your home.

I believe that when these issues are fully understood by the public, and the inconclusive message of how clean and green EVs are is replaced with reliable facts and sensible debate, Labour’s car tax will be seen for what is, political left ideology and hypocrisy at its worst.

The essential difference between ordinary cars and EVs is the latter’s massive batteries.

These are not the normal 12-volt batteries found in ordinary cars that can be recycled and present little if any risk to our environment or global labour standards.

To allow EVs to drive up to 500km in a single charge, these batteries weigh over 350kg and are made out of lithium, cobalt, copper, graphite, and nickel – mined in some of the world’s poorest countries.

The manufacture of these batteries does not come without an environmental cost. Once CO2 emissions from the production of batteries are taken into account, Germany’s Institute of Economic Research argued EVs do more harm to the environment than a modern diesel engine.

Manufacturing is only the start of the problem. After an EV battery loses its ability to hold its charge, the metals and chemicals inside them contain toxic substances that are currently very difficult and expensive to dispose of cleanly. Technology hasn’t developed enough globally to come up with a way to either dispose of them safely, or recycle them in the volumes required.

If Labour wants all of New Zealand’s approximately four million vehicles to be EVs, then before they tax us even more can they please outline the plan to dispose of millions of toxic used EV batteries generally driven by the urban elite? This is not an unreasonable request.

One option for the problem of battery disposal is to build giant specialist EV battery recycling plants at a massive cost, likely requiring vast government subsidies and much higher future taxes. Currently this option is completely untested and hasn’t even been mentioned by Labour in their recent announcement.

Another option is to ship the toxic batteries to countries that make money from taking the developed world’s rubbish. Not only would most New Zealanders regard this as morally unacceptable, thousands of journeys by huge vessels would be required, with significant carbon costs. And I thought the whole point of this policy was to reduce CO2 emissions.

As we stand today, the only viable alternative is to bury them here in New Zealand in land fill. Huge areas of land would need to be converted to graveyards for toxic used EV batteries. Suddenly the clean, green future with EVs that Labour advocates looks extremely dirty.

Used EV batteries are prone to spontaneous combustion, emitting poisonous gases into our air. The gases from the fires would travel large distances and be a huge risk to animals and humans.

A recently published academic paper by Swedish scientists Fredrik Larsson and Petra Andersson concluded “fluoride gas emission from EV battery fires pose a serious toxic threat”.

They warned not enough is currently known about the extreme danger from mass production of EV batteries.

Compared with normal fires, EV fires will be very difficult to put out. Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) national manager Paul Turner recently warned of the risk to human life from EV battery fires.

He reports EV battery fires trigger an irreversible chain reaction called “thermal runaway”, with fires burning at 1000C. FENZ is currently warning of the risks with the influx of a few thousand more EVs, let alone the four million that Labour want to bring into New Zealand.

Even more horrifying are the human rights violations in the production of EV batteries in the Congo, where over 50 per cent of the world’s cobalt is mined. A CNN investigation tracked the cobalt used for the production of luxury EVs to mass Congolese child-labour camps, involving children as young as 7. Adult supervisors were filmed assaulting children for not following instructions.

The mines are underground, not ventilated and the children are breathing in the polluted air and being beaten if they don’t follow orders. It is not known how many have been killed.

Under the Guiding Principles of Human Rights published by the United Nations, all member states and their business communities have an obligation to ensure the supply chain of goods they import are free from child labour exploitation. Clearly this is not the case for EVs.

These issues need to be addressed openly and transparently with the public, most of whom assume EVs are actually good for the environment and aren’t produced with the help of child labour in poor countries.

Both of these assumptions made by EV buyers are false in my opinion. If Labour cannot address these issues with the public prior to conducting their latest tax raid on the income of hard working New Zealanders, they need to abandon this policy.

Troy Bowker is executive chairman of Caniwi Capital Partners, which has a small part of its portfolio invested in Petroleum Equipment Services, a business which supplies infrastructure equipment to the petroleum industry. This business is actively supporting technology for the development of the hydrogen as an energy source.

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